Each MLB Team's Potential Huge Bust for 2018

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2018

Each MLB Team's Potential Huge Bust for 2018

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Last month, my colleague Jacob Shafer took a look at each MLB team's potential breakout star for the 2018 season.

    Now it's time for the "glass half-empty" side of that discussion.

    Ahead we've identified the one player from each team who looks like the most likely bust candidate for the upcoming season.

    That's not to say all of these guys are going to bust or even that we're predicting them to do so. They simply have the highest probability of failing to live up to expectations.

    Bust candidates were identified based on previous track record, regression metrics and, in a few cases, just simple gut feeling.

    Let's get started.

AL East

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    Drew Pomeranz
    Drew PomeranzPatrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Baltimore Orioles: 3B Tim Beckham

    The 2008 No. 1 overall pick put together a strong first half with the Tampa Bay Rays and caught fire after a deadline deal sent him to the Orioles, posting an .871 OPS with 10 home runs in 230 plate appearances.

    However, a .365 BABIP and a home-run-to-flyball ratio that jumped from 10.6 to 20.6 percent could both be tough to duplicate. At the very least, expecting a full season's worth of what we saw in Baltimore over the final two months looks like a pipe dream.

          

    Boston Red Sox: SP Drew Pomeranz

    Pomeranz emerged as the No. 2 starter for the Red Sox last year, going 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 173.2 innings.

    Below those surface stats, he had a 3.84 FIP and 4.31 SIERA, so it's fair to say luck was on his side. He also managed to pitch around a 1.35 WHIP as his hits per nine innings (7.2 to 8.6) and walks per nine innings (3.4 to 3.6) both climbed.

          

    New York Yankees: SS Gleyber Torres

    Let's preface this by saying Torres has all the tools to be a superstar down the road.

    However, expectations are so high and he's still so young (21) that it's almost impossible to envision him living up to the hype once he finally makes his Yankees debut.

    The fact that he's coming back from Tommy John surgery only further stacks the deck against him, and while he'll have every chance to secure the everyday second base job, a season of ups and downs could be awaiting the precocious infielder in 2018.

          

    Tampa Bay Rays: DH Corey Dickerson

    It was a tale of two halves for Dickerson, who was an All-Star for the first time in 2017:

    • 1st half: .312 BA, .903 OPS, 24 2B, 17 HR, 42 RBI, 60 R
    • 2nd half: .241 BA, .690 OPS, 9 2B, 10 HR, 20 RBI, 24 R

    That second-half swoon, coupled with the fact that he'll no longer have Evan Longoria and Logan Morrison hitting behind him in the lineup, leaves him looking like a prime candidate for overall regression.

          

    Toronto Blue Jays: LF Curtis Granderson

    Does the Grandy Man have anything left in the tank?

    The 36-year-old signed a one-year, $5 million deal after posting a 103 OPS+ with 26 home runs last season.

    However, his production plummeted down the stretch following a trade to the Dodgers (135 PA, .161 BA, 72 OPS+) and it's fair to wonder if that was the beginning of the end for the three-time All-Star.

AL Central

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    Avisail Garcia
    Avisail GarciaRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Chicago White Sox: RF Avisail Garcia

    There might not be a bigger regression candidate among hitters than Garcia.

    After years of teasing with his offensive potential, the former top prospect exploded for a .330/.380/.506 line that included 27 doubles, 18 home runs and 80 RBI.

    Unfortunately, that stat line was propped up by a .392 BABIP that ranked first among qualified hitters and looks completely unsustainable. The question is not whether he'll regress, but how far.

          

    Cleveland Indians: SP/RP Mike Clevinger

    Yonder Alonso was a tempting option here, but his modest two-year, $16 million deal shows the Indians know what they're getting into rolling the dice on a player whose production dipped after the All-Star break.

    Instead, we'll go with Clevinger, who went 12-6 with a 3.11 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 137 strikeouts in 121.2 innings spanning 21 starts and six relief appearances.

    He looks like the odd man out for a spot in the rotation heading into spring training, and a 3.85 FIP and 4.24 SIERA are a good indication he pitched over his head a bit in 2017. He's terrific rotational depth and a potential bullpen weapon, but expecting him to again be an impact starter might be wishful thinking.

          

    Detroit Tigers: SP Michael Fulmer

    As the one player on a rebuilding Tigers roster who looks like a potential cornerstone, there will be no shortage of pressure on Fulmer this coming season.

    After seeing his strikeout rate (7.5 K/9 to 6.2) and ERA (3.06 to 3.83) both move in the wrong direction last season, and amid an offseason of trade rumors, the former AL Rookie of the Year is in an interesting spot heading into 2018.

    In fact, he looks similar to Julio Teheran, who has struggled to find any level of consistency in Atlanta, so don't be surprised if he goes through the same ups and downs as the Detroit rebuild progresses.

         

    Kansas City Royals: SS Raul Mondesi

    If Mondesi can't win the starting job over Alcides Escobar for a rebuilding Royals team this spring, it might be time to start reconsidering his long-term place on the team.

    The No. 1 prospect in the Kansas City system prior to the 2015 and 2016 seasons and a top-50 prospect leaguewide for three consecutive seasons, per Baseball America, Mondesi has a .181/.226/.271 line in 209 plate appearances in the majors.

    A .305/.340/.539 line with 13 home runs in Triple-A last year is a reason for optimism and he's still just 22 years old, but it's time for him to show something at the next level.

          

    Minnesota Twins: SP Ervin Santana

    Santana would have been the pick for the Twins even before he underwent surgery on his right middle finger, which is expected to sideline him for 10 to 12 weeks.

    That only makes his outlook cloudier.

    The 35-year-old had a strong season, going 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with five complete games and three shutouts in 211.1 innings. However, a .245 BABIP and 4.46 FIP both indicate regression is to come. 

AL West

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    Shohei Ohtani
    Shohei OhtaniJae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Houston Astros: RP Chris Devenski

    While he still has a chance to be a valuable reliever, Devenski saw his overall game trend in the wrong direction during the second half of last season:

    • 1st half: 52.2 IP, 2.73 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 2.4 BB/9, 12.6 K/9
    • 2nd half: 28.0 IP, 2.57 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.9 BB/9, 8.4 K/9

    That was followed by a rough postseason in which he posted a 9.00 ERA while allowing at least one run in four of his 10 appearances.

    With Joe Smith and Hector Rondon added during the offseason and Brad Peacock joining the bullpen full-time, Devenski could be pushed into a lower-leverage role with a slow start.

           

    Los Angeles Angels: RHP/DH Shohei Ohtani

    No one knows exactly what to expect from Ohtani as he begins the grand experiment of being a two-way player for the Angels.

    He has the tools to succeed in both roles.

    However, he also has more attention heaped on him than perhaps any other player heading into the 2018 season, leaving him with more bust potential than anyone else on this list.

         

    Oakland Athletics: IF Franklin Barreto

    The expectation last season was that Barreto would eventually unseat incumbent Jed Lowrie and take over as the everyday second baseman.

    A red-hot start in the minors earned him an early promotion, but he hit just .197/.250/.352 over 76 plate appearances in two separate call-ups.

    The 21-year-old still has a chance to be a significant long-term piece, and expectations are high once again entering the 2018 season. Another season of failing to seize a starting role could get the bust talk started, though.

          

    Seattle Mariners: LF Ben Gamel

    A pleasant surprise during the first half of the season, Gamel hit .323/.379/.449 before the All-Star break, thanks in large part to a .422 BABIP.

    His luck leveled off in the second half and so did his production, as he batted just .227/.262/.376 over his final 267 plate appearances.

    Expecting him to be anything more than a passable fourth outfielder might be asking too much.

           

    Texas Rangers: SP Mike Minor

    September 20, 2014.

    That's the last time Minor started a game at the major league level.

    After missing all of the 2015 and 2016 seasons, he returned to action as a reliever for the Royals last season, posting a 2.55 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 10.2 K/9 in 65 appearances.

    That earned him a three-year, $28 million deal from the Rangers, who intend to use him as part of a six-man rotation. Extra rest will give him a better chance to succeed, but how he'll hold up starting is still a big question mark.

NL East

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    Jose Urena
    Jose UrenaPablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

    Atlanta Braves: SS Dansby Swanson

    A leading candidate for NL Rookie of the Year honors entering last season, Swanson instead hit an underwhelming .232/.312/.324 with just 31 extra-base hits in 551 plate appearances.

    Most feel these are just growing pains for a player who went from the No. 1 overall pick in 2015 to a starting shortstop in the majors by the second half of the 2016 season.

    He'll need to show some marked improvement in 2018, though, or the doubters will start to get a bit louder.

          

    Miami Marlins: SP Jose Urena

    The good: Urena ranked among the NL leaders in ERA (3.82, 13th) and batting average against (.238, 12th) in a surprise breakout season for the Marlins.

    The bad: The 26-year-old also had the fifth-lowest BABIP (.249) among qualified starters, and his 5.20 FIP gave him the biggest gap between ERA and FIP in that same group.

    That all adds up to the biggest regression candidate in either league among pitchers.

          

    New York Mets: 1B Dominic Smith

    The idea behind bringing in veteran Adrian Gonzalez as the Opening Day first basemen is to give Dominic Smith a bit more time in the minors after a rocky MLB debut last season.

    That said, if he hasn't overtaken the veteran by midseason, a player who once looked like he'd be a significant part of the club's long-term plans will be inching awfully close to earning the bust label and falling by the wayside.

         

    Philadelphia Phillies: OF Nick Williams

    Williams posted a 113 OPS+ with 14 doubles, 12 home runs and 55 RBI in 343 plate appearances as a rookie for the Phillies last season.

    That's enough to make him an obvious long-term building block, right?

    Maybe not.

    While the power production is nice, he has poor plate discipline (5.8 percent) and is a horrendous defensive outfielder (-13 DRS, -9.6 UZR/150).

    Don't be surprised if a healthy Aaron Altherr steals his job.

         

    Washington Nationals: SP Gio Gonzalez

    This one is all relative to expectations.

    If you're expecting Gonzalez to be the solid, middle-of-the-rotation starter he's been throughout his career, there's a good chance he won't be a bust.

    If you're expecting the same pitcher who ranked among the NL leaders in ERA (2.96, fifth), WHIP (1.18, seventh) and BAA (.216, fifth), you might be headed for disappointment.

    A 3.93 FIP and .258 BABIP are both strong indicators that 2017 was an anomaly, not a turning point.

NL Central

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    Tommy Pham
    Tommy PhamOrlando Ramirez/Associated Press

    Chicago Cubs: RP Brandon Morrow

    The Cubs did well in adding proven closer Steve Cishek to the mix during free agency, but all signs point to Brandon Morrow getting the first chance to close games in 2018.

    The 33-year-old was phenomenal last season for the Dodgers, posting a 2.06 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 in 45 games while showing electric stuff.

    However, he has just 18 career saves to his credit and a lengthy injury history that limited him to 136.2 innings from 2013 to 2016. Morrow is a high-risk, high-reward signing, especially at his two-year, $21 million price tag.

          

    Cincinnati Reds: 2B Scooter Gennett

    No one expected Gennett to post a 124 OPS+ and slug 27 home runs last season.

    Does anyone expect him to do it again?

    Unlike some players who saw dramatic upticks in their home run total, Gennett has essentially the same flyball rate (34.5 to 37.6 percent) from the previous season. It was a huge spike in HR/FB ratio (10.5 to 20.8 percent) that deserves credit for his power surge.

    He'll still benefit from playing half his games in hitter-friendly Cincinnati, but his 2017 season just seemed like the perfect storm.

          

    Milwaukee Brewers: SP Zach Davies

    This one is for you old-school stat lovers.

    Davies went 17-9 last season to finish second in the NL in wins and he'll open the season as the No. 2 starter for a Brewers team with legitimate playoff aspirations.

    However, he actually saw many of his peripheral numbers move in the wrong direction. His WHIP (1.25 to 1.35), FIP (3.89 to 4.22), walk rate (2.1 to 2.6 BB/9) and strikeout rate (7.4 to 5.8 K/9) were all worse in 2017 compared to the previous year.

    Solid back-end starter? Sure.

    No. 2 starter on a contender? Not so much.

         

    Pittsburgh Pirates: OF Austin Meadows

    It's time for Austin Meadows to deliver on his top-prospect pedigree.

    The 22-year-old looked like a star in the making in 2015 when he reached Double-A at the age of 20, and he's remained ranked among the top outfield prospects in the game.

    However, the on-field production hasn't quite matched the hype:

    • 2016: 352 PA, .266/.333/.536, 48 XBH
    • 2017: 350 PA, .261/.323/.384, 28 XBH

    With Andrew McCutchen traded, he'll have every opportunity to grab a starting job in the Pittsburgh outfield.

          

    St. Louis Cardinals: CF Tommy Pham

    Pham was the best player on the Cardinals last season, posting a 6.4 WAR and hitting .306/.411/.520 with 22 doubles, 23 home runs and 25 stolen bases to finish 11th in NL MVP voting.

    Is that level of production sustainable for a 29-year-old coming off a career year?

    A .368 BABIP that ranked fourth among qualified hitters and a 26.7 percent HR/FB rate that ranked sixth and belies his physical tools says no.

NL West

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    Chris Taylor
    Chris TaylorJae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Arizona Diamondbacks: LF Yasmany Tomas

    For all his shortcomings defensively, Tomas was a useful run-producer for the Diamondbacks in 2016, posting a 108 OPS+ with 30 doubles, 31 home runs and 83 RBI.

    A groin injury limited him to just 47 games last season, and now it's unclear how he fits into the team's plans.

    For now, he's penciled in as the starting left fielder, but his playing time could easily be usurped by someone like Brandon Drury if he gets off to a slow start. That would leave him as an expensive pinch-hitter with a $13.5 million salary in 2018.

           

    Colorado Rockies: SP Kyle Freeland

    Freeland led all rookie pitchers with a 3.3 WAR last season, going 11-11 with a 4.10 ERA (122 ERA+) in 156 innings of work.

    However, a lack of swing-and-miss stuff (6.2 K/9) and a propensity to allow baserunners (1.49 WHIP) makes him a risky option in the hitter's paradise that is Coors Field.

    With Jon Gray, Chad Bettis and Tyler Anderson locked into rotation spots and guys like German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela and Jeff Hoffman also vying for a spot, it's not out of the question to think Freeland winds up in the bullpen or in Triple-A.

         

    Los Angeles Dodgers: 2B/CF Chris Taylor

    This won't be a popular pick.

    After starting the season in the minors, Taylor quickly emerged as a dynamic catalyst atop the Dodgers lineup, hitting .288/.354/.496 with 34 doubles, 21 home runs and 17 stolen bases for a 4.8 WAR.

    His power/speed tools are legit and his defensive versatility adds to his value.

    However, a .361 BABIP is going to be tough to replicate and he has a less-than-ideal amount of swing-and-miss (25.0 percent K rate) to his game for a leadoff hitter. Expectations will be high after a big postseason, and he might not be able to live up to them.

         

    San Diego Padres: RF Hunter Renfroe

    A top prospect on the strength of his power potential, Renfroe slugged 26 home runs as a rookie last season.

    However, he hit just .231/.284/.467 in the process while striking out at a 29.2 percent clip.

    The Padres can afford to be patient, but he'll need to show improvement in year two if he hopes to cement his place as the long-term answer in right field.

          

    San Francisco Giants: CF Austin Jackson

    This one all comes down to how the Giants decide to utilize him.

    The 31-year-old made good on a minor league deal with the Indians last season, hitting .318/.387/.482 with 29 extra-base hits in 318 plate appearances.

    However, it was clear that limiting his exposure to right-handed pitching was the right strategy, as he crushed lefties to the tune of a 1.013 OPS over 141 plate appearances.

    If the Giants try to squeeze 500 plate appearances out of the veteran, they'll be disappointed with the results.

          

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.