Every MLB Team's Most Encouraging Sign for the Future
As September edges closer, there are still 16 MLB teams within 4.5 games of a playoff spot. That means that for more than half of baseball, the future is now.
From David Price's dominance in Detroit to Andrew McCutchen's imminent return in Pittsburgh, what follows is a look at the most encouraging sign for each team. For the clubs that have already tumbled out of the race—or that were never in it to start—examining the bigger picture is required.
The Most Encouraging Sign: The rise of the farm system
The Houston Astros' rebuild has been moving along at a glacial pace, but the process is starting to pay dividends.
With 52 wins, the Astros have already surpassed their total from a season ago. That gradual improvement has been powered by homegrown players like Dallas Keuchel, and there are plenty more on the way.
Houston's system checked in at the No. 3 spot on Bleacher Report's Post-Trade Deadline Farm System Rankings. Mark Appel, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft, has already made it to Double-A. Shortstop Carlos Correa is out for the year with a fractured fibula, but the 19-year-old was having a monster season before he hit the shelf. In 62 High-A games, Correa posted a .926 OPS.
Los Angeles Angels
The Most Encouraging Sign: The dominance of the bullpen
Early in the season, the Los Angeles Angels bullpen was a mess.
That's just not the case anymore. On August 17 when Huston Street gave up the lead in the ninth inning, that was just the second time that one of Los Angeles' relievers had botched a save since June 22, per the Angels PR Twitter account.
With Street leading the way, the dominance of the bullpen is particularly crucial for the Angles because the rotation has dealt with injuries and inconsistent performances.
The Most Encouraging Sign: The team still has 10 games left against the Los Angeles Angels
The Oakland Athletics endured a miserable week, as the team went 1-6 on a road trip through Kansas City and Atlanta.
During that run of poor play, the squad scored more than three runs on just one occasion. As a result, manager Bob Melvin's club has dropped into second place in the AL West.
Of course, the Athletics will have all sorts of opportunities to take on the first-place Los Angeles Angels between now and the end of the season. The AL West clubs meet 10 more times during the stretch drive. So far, Oakland leads the series 6-3.
The Most Encouraging Sign: The potential of Felix Hernandez pitching in the AL Wild Card Game
Nobody wants to face Felix Hernandez in the wild-card play-in game.
The right-hander has been dealing and is the leading contender to lock up the AL Cy Young Award. Hernandez has posted a 13-4 record with a 1.90 ERA while limiting the opposition to a .195 average.
As it currently stands, the Seattle Mariners occupy the second wild-card spot. That means that if the schedule lines up, King Felix might just be pitching Game 163.
The Most Encouraging Sign: The inevitable arrival of Joey Gallo
The 2014 season has been a debacle for the Texas Rangers.
There's no diminishing the role that injuries have played in the Rangers' seriously underwhelming campaign. However, another concerning takeaway from the season has been the club's utter lack of power. The Rangers rank second-to-last in home runs in the American League.
That should be changing in 2015. Top prospect Joey Gallo has gone yard 40 times while splitting the season between High-A and Double-A. As Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas points out, the left-handed hitter has now become the first minor league player to hit 40 home runs in consecutive years since the 1981 and 1982 seasons.
Chicago White Sox
The Most Encouraging Sign: Chris Sale just keeps getting better
It's easy to forget just how young Chris Sale is.
The left-hander is pitching in his fifth season for the Chicago White Sox even though he's still just 25 years old. The best part for the White Sox is that Sale just keeps improving. With a 10-2 record and a 2.12 ERA, Sale would be the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award if not for the brilliance of Hernandez.
There's no question about it: Sale is the most underrated pitcher in baseball.
The Most Encouraging Sign: Francisco Lindor is on the doorstep of the big leagues
Mathematically, the Tribe is still in the wild-card chase.
However, for the Cleveland Indians to make an October run, the team will have to climb past four other clubs between now and Game 162. Looking further out on the horizon, there are lots of reasons for optimism, but most of the positivity centers on the impending arrival of Francisco Lindor.
The switch-hitting shortstop has split the 2014 season between Double-A and Triple-A and should end up in Cleveland early in 2015. As you can see in the video above, Lindor is renowned for his glove work. Plus, he also has the tools to impact the game at the plate, as well.
The 20-year-old isn't just the top prospect in Cleveland's system—he's one of the best players in all of the minor leagues. On Baseball America's Midseason Top 50 list, Lindor landed in the No. 6 spot in the rankings.
The Most Encouraging Sign: David Price is dealing
The sky is falling in Detroit.
With the Kansas City Royals rolling along, the Detroit Tigers have dropped into second place in the AL Central. It hasn't helped that the team's pitching staff has been hit by a flood of injuries, either.
Price, however, is doing his part. Over the weekend, the 28-year-old outdueled Hernandez in his first start at Comerica Park since becoming a member of the Tigers. A rematch of Hernandez and Price in the AL Wild Card Game would be incredible.
Kansas City Royals
The Most Encouraging Sign: The airtight bullpen
The Kansas City Royals bullpen has been absolutely ridiculous in 2014.
As Lee Judge of The Kansas City Star notes, the club has lost just once all season when leading after seven innings. That ability to shut the door in the late innings will be a major advantage for the Royals during the stretch drive and during a possible October run, when every run counts.
The Most Encouraging Sign: The team's loaded farm system
Barring a late run, the Minnesota Twins will be finishing in the cellar of the AL Central. While the 2014 season has been a disappointment, the future is extremely bright for the Twins.
Minnesota has the No. 1 prospect in all of the minor leagues in Byron Buxton and the No. 9 prospect in Miguel Sano, per Baseball America's Midseason Top 50 list. Buxton and Sano aren't the only Twins prospects who make the grade, either. Minnesota also has three pitchers who crack the rankings.
The Most Encouraging Sign: Ubaldo Jimenez might not start again
The Baltimore Orioles brought in Ubaldo Jimenez to lead the club's starting staff. Instead, the 30-year-old has been the weak link in the rotation.
After his most recent poor showing against the Cleveland Indians on August 16, manager Buck Showalter didn't exactly offer a vote of confidence when asked by Dan Connolly of The Baltimore Sun whether the right-hander would get another start.
"If something like that was going to change, he'd hear it from me first, obviously."
One of the central issues for Jimenez is that he just won't stop walking batters. In 2014, the starter has issued 66 free passes, which is the most in the AL. O's fans certainly wouldn't mind seeing Jimenez demoted to the bullpen while the team looks to run away with the AL East.
Boston Red Sox
The Most Encouraging Sign: The potential to compete again in 2015
After winning the World Series last fall, the 2014 season has been a major letdown for the Boston Red Sox. The team sits in last place in the AL East, and that's likely where it'll finish the season.
However, the shrewd dealings of the front office at the trade deadline put the Red Sox in a perfect position to compete again in 2015.
The club picked up an array of prospects by jettisoning its veterans to contending teams. The move that sticks out, though, was the acquisition of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Power bats are nearly impossible to find on the market, and that's exactly what the Cuban provides.
New York Yankees
The Most Encouraging Sign: There could be one more playoff run for Derek Jeter
As Derek Jeter embarks on the final stretch drive of his career, the New York Yankees are improbably still in the playoff conversation.
The Yankees are three games out of the second wild-card spot despite the fact that the club owns a negative-37 run differential, according to ESPN.com. General manager Brian Cashman has pulled off a number of low-profile trades to keep the Yankees in the race. Most importantly, the executive hasn't traded away what remains of the depleted farm system.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Most Encouraging Sign: Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon are still calling the shots
It's easy to criticize the Tampa Bay Rays right now.
The team just sent away Price on deadline day after an impressive July turnaround had seen the club climb back into the wild-card chase. Worse, the return for the lefty ace appears to be underwhelming. Then again, it's never wise to bash GM Andrew Friedman.
Along with manager Joe Maddon, Friedman has led the Rays to five 90-win seasons in the past six years. That won't happen this year. But history suggests that the Rays could just win 90-plus games again in 2015.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Most Encouraging Sign: August struggles haven't ruined the team's playoff chances just yet
August has been a bad month for the Toronto Blue Jays. In 15 games, the team has posted a 4-11 record. Despite that slump, Toronto's postseason chances haven't been crushed just yet. The team is 3.5 games out the second wild card.
There aren't a lot of reasons for optimism in Toronto, but it certainly helps that Edwin Encarnacion, the club's most dangerous hitter, is back in the lineup after nearly a month-and-a-half out.
The Most Encouraging Sign: Tony La Russa has the chance to clean house
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been racking up losses during an injury-marred 2014 season. The only reason why the club isn't in last place in the National League West is because the Colorado Rockies, the worst team in all of baseball, are also in the division.
This offseason, big changes are needed as the franchise looks to rebound from a forgettable campaign. Fortunately, the D-backs have chief baseball officer and three-time World Series champion Tony La Russa around to make the necessary moves.
The changes will need to start at the top, and GM Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson are prime candidates for dismissal.
The Most Encouraging Sign: The team has big trade chips to deal
Since starting the season 23-16, the Colorado Rockies have tumbled into a 26-59 slide. Suffice it to say that all sorts of changes need to be made in the winter.
One positive angle to consider is that the Rockies definitely have assets to deal. Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are both sidelined for the season, which admittedly won't help their value on the trade market. Still, they're the type of dynamic players who would bring back a monster return, which would redirect the trajectory of the franchise.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Most Encouraging Sign: The team should only get healthier
The Los Angeles Dodgers training staff has been busy as of late.
Juan Uribe, Hanley Ramirez and Hyun-Jin Ryu have all hit the disabled list recently, but the team doesn't expect to be without any of them for a "significant amount of time," according to Brian Kamenetzky of ESPN Los Angeles.
Josh Beckett has also been out of action since August 3, but manager Don Mattingly isn't ready to rule him out for the season just yet, as he explained via Kamenetzky.
“We’re going to do everything we can to have him have the opportunity to pitch again this year.”
Even with the health problems and the team's generally unimpressive play, the Dodgers still hold a 3.5-game edge in the NL West.
The San Francisco Giants
The Most Encouraging Sign: The team is somehow still in the playoff race
The San Francisco Giants have been slumping for a while. Since June 1, the club is 29-38, and yet the team is still right in the middle of the discussion for a playoff spot. Not only is manager Bruce Bochy's squad a serious wild-card contender, but the Giants are also still in the mix for the NL West crown.
It's difficult to imagine that the light-hitting Giants will overtake the Dodgers in the division, but then again Los Angeles is showing no signs that the team is ready to pull away from the rest of the West.
The San Diego Padres
The Most Encouraging Sign: The season is trending in the right direction
The San Diego Padres are destined to finish in third place in the NL West in 2014. While it's difficult to be happy with the club's position in the standings, it is worth noting that the Padres have been trending upward. Since July 1, the team is 22-18 and starter Tyson Ross has been particularly impressive.
In his last 10 outings, the 2014 NL All-Star has posted a 5-4 record with a 1.91 ERA. It's not out of the question to think that the Padres could reach .500 before the end of the season.
The Chicago Cubs
The Most Encouraging Sign: The rise of the team's position-player prospects
There are Chicago Cubs players all over the Baseball America Midseason Top 50 list. Chicago has three prospects in the top 10 and four overall. Of course, that includes center fielder Arismendy Alcantara and second baseman Javier Baez, who have both already landed at Wrigley Field.
Shortstop Addison Russell, who ranks No. 5 on the list, could join Alcantara and Baez in the big leagues next season. As you can see in the video above, the 20-year-old, whom the Cubs acquired as part of the Jeff Samardzija deal, has ridiculously quick bat speed.
Unfortunately, none of the five players who made the cut are pitchers.
The Most Encouraging Sign: The team is getting healthier at the right time
The Cincinnati Reds have a lot of work to do if the team is going to climb back into the wild-card chase.
The good news is that the Reds are slowly returning to full strength. Cincinnati activated second baseman Brandon Phillips from the DL for the team's series with the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals, per Mark Sheldon of MLB.com.
Just when first baseman Joey Votto will return to action remains much murkier. Manager Bryan Price wouldn't offer a "timeline" when asked when Votto will be back on the diamond, according to Sheldon.
The Most Encouraging Sign: The team is just as good as anyone in the NL
Over the weekend, the Milwaukee Brewers proved that they can beat anybody in the NL. The Brewers swept aside the Los Angeles Dodgers to become the first team to accomplish that feat in 2014, per the Los Angeles Times.
There could still be three teams from the NL Central that make the postseason. However, it's becoming increasingly apparent that the St Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates will have to settle for wild-card spots if they're going to do so.
The Most Encouraging Sign: The Probable return Of Andrew McCutchen
There aren't a lot of players who can do what McCutchen does.
The Pittsburgh Pirates should soon have the reigning NL MVP back in the fold. Manager Clint Hurdle explained via Tom Singer of MLB.com that the Pirates are planning to have McCutchen on the diamond for Tuesday's game against the Atlanta Braves.
Even with the center fielder out since August 3, the Pirates have remained in the mix for a wild-card spot. McCutchen's return should prove to be a decisive factor in the NL playoff race.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Most Encouraging Sign: Michael Wacha's rehab is moving in the right direction
Michael Wacha hasn't pitched in a game for the St. Louis Cardinals in over two months. However, the right-hander's recovery from a stress fracture in his shoulder is moving in the right direction.
On Monday, the starter threw a 35-pitch bullpen session with no issues, as manager Mike Matheny explained via Chris Hrabe of KMOX. Wacha will still need to take part in a rehab assignment before rejoining the club, but if the Cardinals can get him back soon, that would be a major lift as they look to catch the Milwaukee Brewers or at least hold on to a wild-card spot.
The Most Encouraging Sign: The "unhittable" Craig Kimbrel
From injuries to a fundamental inability to score runs, the 2014 season has not been a smooth one for the Atlanta Braves. One area of the game in which the club hasn't had any problems at all is the ninth inning.
This season, Craig Kimbrel has been "about as unhittable as anyone could possibly be," as Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets. The closer owns a 1.80 ERA and has racked up 80 punchouts in 50 frames while limiting the opposition to a .138 average.
The Most Encouraging Sign: Finishing .500 is an obtainable goal
After piling up 100 losses a season ago, the Miami Marlins weren't supposed to be good in 2014. Apparently, the Marlins weren't aware of those expectations.
With a 62-62 record, the Fish have already matched their win total from 2013. Impressively, the Marlins have done much of that winning without Jose Fernandez, who is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. In the Cuban's place, 2014 NL All-Star Henderson Alvarez has stepped up to become the staff ace.
New York Mets
The Most Encouraging Sign: The team's array of young starting pitchers
The New York Mets have a ton of talented young starters. Zack Wheeler leads the group, while Jacob deGrom and Rafael Montero have also seen big league action in 2014. Plus, the team has top prospect Noah Syndergaard in Triple-A.
The Mets will almost certainly finish the season under .500. However, with so many promising arms, New York will make some noise in the NL East in 2015.
The Most Encouraging Sign: The play of Ben Revere
It's a challenge to find any encouraging signs from the Philadelphia Phillies' 2014 season. The team is in last place in the NL East, and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. did nothing to improve the squad at the deadline.
One player who has been a bright spot is Ben Revere. The center fielder is second in the league with a .315 average, which means he still has a chance to pass Justin Morneau and claim the NL batting title.
The Most Encouraging Sign: The success of the highly talented starting rotation
October is all about pitching, which is great news for the Washington Nationals.
The Nats have one of the most imposing starting staffs in baseball, and it all begins with Doug Fister. The veteran right-hander is 12-3 with a 2.20 ERA in his first season in the NL East. Considering that Stephen Strasburg might just be the team's No. 4 in the potential postseason rotation, there's a lot to like about Washington's chances in the playoffs.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.