MLB 2019 Predictions: Who will Follow in Houston and Chicago’s Footsteps Post-Rebuild?

The time has finally come.  If you are reading this, the NFL season is over, both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have signed, and Spring Training has begun.  After a long off-season, baseball is finally back, and it is time for my MLB 2019 Predictions.  I will be predicting each team’s win-loss record, sharing my projected playoff bracket, and sharing some award predictions.  My projected World Series winner is a team that began rebuilding a couple years after the Astros and Cubs rebuilds and has now followed in their footsteps to contention.  Keep reading to find out who that team is and how they will achieve a World Series victory.

Part I: Projected Records

American League

AL East

  1. new-york-yankees New York Yankees (94-68) (2nd Seed in AL Playoffs)
  2. boston-red-sox Boston Red Sox (93-69) (4th Seed in AL Playoffs)
  3. Toronto_Blue_Jays Toronto Blue Jays (80-82)
  4. Tampa_Bay_Rays Tampa Bay Rays (75-87)
  5. Baltimore-Orioles-Logo Baltimore Orioles (67-95)

2018 was Boston’s year.  They built up the roster preparing for a World Series, and now the damage is done.  Expect a mild World Series hangover due to the departure of closer Craig Kimbrel and the loss of momentum.  If Kimbrel returns, they may be more equipped to repeat.  But right now, as much as I hate to admit it, the Yankees have the most talent in the division.  Their rotation depth issues are finally fixed, the bullpen could go down in record books, and the lineup is still flooded with big hitters, including the superstar duo of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge.  Expect New York to win the division this time around, but the Red Sox should still easily score a Wild Card spot.

Image result for stanton and judge

Toronto should be moving quickly in their rebuild thanks to a talented group of prospects including the leagues #1 prospect, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.  Now, they are an extra starting pitcher away from becoming a sub .500 team close to contention.  Remember, they are just a couple years removed from the start of a rebuild.  But this group of prospects will give them a respectable major league roster by the end of the season.  With Toronto on the rise, the Rays will take a step back.  The Rays never really replaced 1B C.J. Cron, OF Carlos Gomez, or reliever Sergio Romo.  If they want to keep using an opener, they’ll need to beef up the bullpen.  Otherwise, expect significant regression in 2019.  They were right on the verge of contention in 2018.  Had they beefed up the roster a little more, they might have had playoff chances this year.  But instead, they’ll sit towards the bottom of the AL East.  However, the Orioles will remain in the AL East basement after a 47 win season.  The Orioles finally began a full rebuild in 2018, but this may be a long, painful rebuild considering their 2018 final record.

AL Central

  1. cleveland-indians Cleveland Indians (89-73) (3rd Seed in AL Playoffs)
  2. chicago-white-sox Chicago White Sox (82-80)
  3. minnesota-twins Minnesota Twins (80-82)
  4. kansas-city-royals Kansas City Royals (68-94)
  5. detroit-tigers Detroit Tigers (66-96)

Despite an underwhelming off-season, the Indians should be able to stay atop the AL Central.  In most other divisions, the Indians would have to fight for a Wild Card spot, but in the AL Central, they should have an easier route to the playoffs, as none of the other teams in their division are ready for contention.  Despite coming up short in the Manny Machado sweepstakes, the White Sox made several improvements this off-season that can assist their young core in the next step towards contention.  If they add a starter or two and another infielder, they could be chasing the Indians for the division by 2020.  The Twins won’t see a significant improvement this year, but hopefully the return of SP Michael Pineda and better years from Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton will help them move up the standings slightly.

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That leaves the Royals and Tigers, two rebuilding teams, in the basement of the AL Central.  With Billy Hamilton on board and some of their younger players ready to start, the Royals may see slight improvement.  But it will take a couple years for the Tigers to do the same.

AL West

  1. houston-astros Houston Astros (96-66) (1st Seed in AL Playoffs)
  2. la-angels-of-anaheim Los Angeles Angels (86-76) (5th Seed in AL Playoffs)
  3. oakland-a's Oakland Athletics (80-82)
  4. texas-rangers Texas Rangers (73-89)
  5. seattle-mariners-logo Seattle Mariners (70-92)

Image result for michael brantley astros

Though the lineup will be better with the addition of LF Michael Brantley, the Astros’ rotation took a significant hit thanks to the free agent departures of Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton and an injury to Lance McCullers Jr.  If the rotation does well without Morton and Keuchel, the Astros could win another World Series.  No matter what, I think they’ll win the division, but if the rotation struggles I wouldn’t expect a deep playoff run.

Image result for mike trout and angels lineup

The Angels will also sneak into the playoffs in an extremely top-heavy American League. In my eyes, the American League will have three 90+ win teams: the Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox.  That leaves the door open for slightly above average teams like the Angels to make the playoffs.  Led by Mike Trout and the rest of the big-hitting lineup, they’ll snag a Wild Card spot.

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The Athletics will take a step back this year after a playoff appearance in 2018.  The rotation will be without Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton for a good portion of the season.  Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada cannot lead this rotation alone.  Plus, the only Jed Lowrie replacement the A’s were able to find was former Rangers utility man Jurickson Profar.  The losses of Jonathan Lucroy and Matt Joyce will also make an impact on the team.

Image result for gallo and mazara

That leaves the Rangers and Mariners.  The Rangers won’t improve much quite yet despite an experienced rotation and a core led by outfielders Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara.  They’ll need to undergo a full rebuild before significant improvement can occur.  The Mariners are starting that process, though they still boast a respectable MLB roster.  They could’ve probably contended this year if it weren’t for the start of a rebuild.  But instead, they gave up some of their most talented players in exchange for minimal top prospects.  The less talented roster will put the team into a situation similar to that of their division rivals, the Rangers.  Despite a respectable roster with experience, the team won’t be talented enough to produce above average seasons.

National League

NL East

  1. atlanta-braves Atlanta Braves (93-69) (2nd Seed in NL Playoffs)
  2. philadelphia.phillies  Philadelphia Phillies (92-70) (5th Seed in NL Playoffs)
  3. washington-nats Washington Nationals (84-78)
  4. new-york-mets New York Mets (83-79)
  5. Related image Miami Marlins (61-101)

Image result for freddie freeman

This will undoubtedly be the most competitive division in baseball.  I see a young, but emerging Braves team repeating as the division winner, led by a big year from Freddie Freeman, significant contribution from new 3B Josh Donaldson, and a bounce back for SP Julio Teheran.  In 2018, the Phillies were a star or two away from greatness.  This off-season, they added C J.T. Realmuto, OF Andrew McCutchen, SS Jean Segura, and most of all, OF Bryce Harper.  Led by Harper, the lineup will be loaded with talent, leading to a big year.

Image result for bryce harper phillies

The Nats and Mets will also contend.  The Nats made up for Harper’s departure by boosting the rotation with SPs Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez.  To add to it, they signed 2B Brian Dozier.  Even without Harper, they should still be in good hands with Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, and others.  After adding 2B Robinson Cano among other stars, the Mets should also stay in contention, at least for this year.

Image result for robinson cano mets

The only team that’ll be out of this hectic NL East race is the Miami Marlins.  The Marlins sold their entire outfield plus Dee Gordon and J.T. Realmuto in trades within the last two off-seasons.  Without Realmuto, they will remain one of the worst teams in the league.

NL Central

  1. Chicago_Cubs Chicago Cubs (94-68) (1st Seed in NL Playoffs)
  2. St_Louis_Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals (93-69) (4th Seed in NL Playoffs)
  3. Related image Milwaukee Brewers (86-76)
  4. cincinnati_reds_logo Cincinnati Reds (80-82)
  5. pittsburgh-pirates Pittsburgh Pirates (69-93)

Image result for yu darvish

I know people are concerned about the Cubs due to uncertainty about Yu Darvish’s health.  But regardless of Darvish’s health, I think the Cubs have one of the best rotations in the league.  Add in an underappreciated bullpen and a respectable lineup, and the roster begins to look underrated.  I do have confidence that Darvish will be alright though.

Image result for paul goldschmidt cardinals

The Cardinals should be Chicago’s biggest concern, as I expect the Cards to be knocking on Chicago’s door in the NL Central.  With Paul Goldschmidt on board, they will combine their young, exciting pitching staff with a star-studded lineup and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.  Meanwhile, despite adding C Yasmani Grandal, I expect the Brewers to take a step back.  I don’t trust 1B Jesus Aguilar or Jhoulys Chacin to repeat their strong 2018 seasons.  With the rotation depleted and the lineup looking a little less overpowered, Milwaukee will fall behind as the NL Central competition gets more intense.

Image result for joey votto yasiel puig reds

Meanwhile, the Reds will begin to take steps toward contention, led by new OF star Yasiel Puig and long time Reds 1B Joey Votto.  They added a lot of experience to the rotation as well, so that should help.  That leaves the Pirates in the division’s basement as they begin a rebuild.  Their rotation should look pretty good this year, and when Gregory Polanco gets healthy, the outfield will thrive as well.  However, I don’t fully trust Trevor Williams yet, and in such a tough division, I can’t see this rebuilding team finish very well.

NL West

  1. colorado-rockies Colorado Rockies (89-73) (3rd Seed in NL Playoffs)
  2. los-angeles-dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers (85-77)
  3. sanfran-giants San Francisco Giants (84-78)
  4. san diego-padres San Diego Padres (71-91)
  5. arizona-dbacks Arizona Diamondbacks (68-94)

Image result for kershaw and buehler

I think this might be the year when the Dodgers are finally dethroned.  Despite a strong rotation led by Clayton Kershaw and the young Walker Buehler, the bullpen lacks depth beyond Kenley Jansen.  In addition, they traded Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp for next to nothing.  It does open up space in the outfield but the team will take a step back as a result.   The infield already lacked depth with Brian Dozier leaving.  Failing to sign Bryce Harper after the Puig/Kemp trade just made the depth problems worse.

This will allow the Rockies to win the division.  Their rotation isn’t amazing, but they’ll be able to manage thanks to hitter friendly Coors Field and a strong bullpen to back the rotation up.  It’s the star-studded lineup that will lead them to a division victory.  The Giants are also closer to contention than you might think.  They quietly boosted the rotation this off-season.  This will add to their strong bullpen and allow them to achieve a winning record despite a subpar lineup and questionable outfield situation.

Image result for manny machado

Even though they signed Manny Machado, the Padres won’t contend unless they significantly upgrade the rotation.  Plus, they should have better luck contending once Fernando Tatis Jr. is in San Diego for a full season.  They will finish ahead of the D-Backs, who will take a significant step back without Goldschmidt.  That leaves SP Zack Greinke as the best player left, and there were trade rumors surrounding Greinke as well.

Part II: Playoff Bracket

Screenshot 2019-03-02 at 10.14.45 PM

When the Cubs won the World Series back in 2016, they set a precedent in the MLB.  Their 5-year rebuild led to a World Series victory, and this has become a formula for World Series titles.  The Astros, who were already following this formula, won the next year in 2017.  Now, I think the Braves will be the next to do this.  Their rebuild didn’t feel as long, because prospects like Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. developed quickly.  But there are still more top prospects on the way, and thanks to this first wave of young talent, the Braves will be able to contend before their rebuild is finished.  I think they may even be World Series ready.

The Bryce Harper-led Phillies, Atlanta’s division rival, will challenge them for the National League.  Led by their HR-hitting duo of Stanton and Judge and upgraded rotation, the Yankees will come close as well.  But I think the Braves are capable of outperforming these teams.

The Cubs and Astros should still be competitive in these playoffs and stay competitive down the stretch.  But I think they will have their playoff runs cut short by a Red Sox team looking to repeat and a Phillies team looking for validation that Bryce Harper was worth the money.

Part III: Awards

Below are my projected finalists for the AL and NL MVPs, Cy Youngs, and Rookies of the Year.

AL MVP

1. Jose Ramirez CLE – Ramirez has emerged as one of the league’s premier power hitters. Expect him to come through at the plate on a more consistent basis and contend for the AL MVP award.

2. J.D. Martinez BOS – At the age of 31, I cannot see Martinez quite repeating what he did in 2018. But he will put up another consistent, 40-homer year despite just falling short of the MVP after playing over half of his games at DH.

3. Jose Altuve HOU – Altuve will return to MVP form after a 2018 that was subpar for his standards. His season will be highlighted by a hint of power mixed in with his speed and ability to get on base frequently.

HM: Giancarlo Stanton NYY

NL MVP

1. Nolan Arenado COL – His 8-year extension will be motivation to live up to expectations in Colorado. Expect an dominant offensive year to go along with his elite defensive skills.

2. Freddie Freeman ATL – Freeman will help lead a young Braves team to the first World Series of what could make for the MLB’s next dynasty. After emerging as the top first baseman in the league last year, he will contend for the MVP as his offensive stats continue to increase.

3. Christian Yelich MIL – After winning NL MVP in 2018, Yelich will run with the momentum and top off the prime of his career with another dominant season.

HM: Starling Marte PIT

AL ROTY

1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. TOR – This top prospect has the genetics and he’s been all out dominant in the minors. Expect him to make it up to Toronto early, earn the starting job at third and do the same in the majors, contending for Rookie of the Year.

2. Kyle Tucker HOU – Tucker may not have a starting job – yet. But he showed flashes of potential in 2018 and could get some time in the outfield or at DH in 2019.

3. Eloy Jiménez CWS – Another top prospect who needs just a few weeks in AAA before a major league call up. After that, expect him to earn a time share in the outfield and eventually (after a strong start) a starting job.

HM: Forrest Whitley HOU

NL ROTY

1. Peter Alonso NYM – If Alonso has a strong Spring Training, look for him to compete for the first base job as Todd Frazier, Jed Lowrie, Amed Rosario, and Robinson Cano split time between second, shortstop, and third. Cano could try playing first, but having Alonso there from Opening Day could be beneficial. I see him breaking out in his rookie year and winning NL Rookie of the Year.

2. Fernando Tatis Jr. SD – Tatis Jr. isn’t MLB ready yet, but I think he’ll make an immediate impact if they bring him up when the time is right. I could see a Hosmer-Kinsler-Tatis-Machado infield working out well. Luis Urias will have to wait until 2020 for another starting job.

3. Mitch Keller PIT – The Pirates’ first four starters have their jobs locked down. But if Keller gets off to a strong start in the minors, look for him to challenge Jordan Lyles for the #5 slot in the rotation and contend for NL Rookie of the Year.

HM: Victor Robles WSH

AL Cy Young

1. Corey Kluber CLE – Kluber heads into 2019 with something to prove. He needs to convince the Indians that he’s worth the money to keep around. The Indians don’t have much money to spend, so Kluber will need to put up a Cy Young-caliber year in order to do this.

2. Chris Sale BOS – If Sale can get healthy and stay healthy, he’ll be the best pitcher in this league. But he always ends up collapsing at the end of the year, so I have slightly more confidence in Kluber. However, maybe Alex Cora can figure out a way to allow him to stay healthy all year. If Cora can figure this out, Sale’s definitely worth re-signing.

3. Tyler Skaggs LAA – A healthy Skaggs showed potential last season, especially early on. With no clear ace atop the Angels rotation for 2019 and Shohei Ohtani restricted to just hitting, expect Skaggs to step it up and emerge as LA’s new ace, something they have longed for since Garrett Richards began to decline after LA’s 2014 playoff appearance.

HM: Justin Verlander HOU

NL Cy Young

1. Max Scherzer WSH – Expect Scherzer to emerge as the top pitcher in the league this year when Jacob deGrom takes a slight step back in his age 30 season. Scherzer has not let his age define him, and if anything, he has only gotten better with age. I don’t see a decline happening anytime soon for Mad Max, and he has another Cy Young year or two still ahead of him.

2. Clayton Kershaw LAD – Kershaw has dealt with lingering injuries, but when he’s on the mound and healthy, he has looked like the same Kershaw we’re used to seeing. Despite injuries, he has posted an ERA under 3.00 in each of the last 10 seasons. As usual, I expect Kershaw to contend for the Cy Young, especially if he remains healthy.

3. Julio Teheran ATL – Teheran hasn’t looked like the ace we thought he would be since 2014. But he is still just 28, and as long as it happens in the next year or two, I could definitely see him return to ace form and lead a young Braves rotation.

HM: Stephen Strasburg WSH

That’s all for this year’s MLB predictions.  Stay tuned for more Red Sox and baseball coverage soon.

Scouting Report: Atlanta Braves

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The Braves are still clearly in rebuilding stages, but have a very strong farm system and topped it off with a few veterans.  Their roster looks to be a good mixture of older guys and top prospects ready to take over the majors.  The choice of veterans might be a problem though, some because they only have a few years left before retirement, some just don’t have it anymore, some never have had much and some just aren’t the right fit.  Here’s a breakdown of how the Braves tackled the off season.
Off-Season Review
The Braves clearly weren’t going after any big name free agents, but they needed to fill up the patchy spots in their young team, and unfortunately, some of that had to be done by signing veteran free agents.  They did as much as they could via trade, but got desperate at times.
They started by quickly resigning their catcher, A.J. Pierzynski.  This was mandatory as they didn’t have many other options.  Then they hit the trade market.
They started by swapping shortstops with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Basically, they traded Andrelton Simmons to the Angels for Erick Aybar.  But the full move is a lot more complicated.  They additionally traded a prospect of theirs, Jose Briceno, and got Aybar tied to prospects Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis plus cash.
Just one week later, they sold centerfielder Cameron Maybin to the Tigers for relievers Ian Krol and Gabe Speier.  They signed some more free agents as the non-tender deadline approached.
Starter Bud Norris, reliever Jim Johnson, and after the deadline, David Holmberg, Gordon Beckham and Emilio Bonifacio were signed.  A couple days later, they got Jose Ramirez from Seattle for a PTBNL and cash.  The next week they got D-Backs No. 1 prospect Dansby Swanson with outfielder Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair for Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier.
The next day they traded Christian Bethancourt to the Padres for Casey Kelly and a prospect.  On December 16, they signed Tyler Flowers to replace Bethancourt as backup catcher.  On January 7th they brought in Alexi Ogando, Kyle Kendrick, Ryan Kelly, Alex Torres, Jhoulys Chacin and Ozzie Albies to minor league deals and spring training invites.  The next day they signed infielder Kelly Johnson to a major league deal.
Carlos Torres and Jeff Francouer also got later minors deals and invitations towards the end of the off season.
The Braves spent the late off season on a bunch of free agent veterans, most on minors deals, but the trades they made early in the off season will really pay off.
Spring Training Storylines
How will the new rotation be?
The new rotation won’t be great, but if things go right, it can go uphill from last year.  Mike Foltynewicz and Matt Wisler need to have good seasons and start emerging into the higher rotation positions they have been put into.  Bud Norris and Kyle Kendrick need to have a big bounce back year, unless David Holmberg or Williams Perez can handle a rotation spot.  The rotation doing well really depends on the older players looking like they did back when they were younger.
Will the veterans pay off?
Depends on the veteran.  Really, this is just going to have to be a prediction.  I think Alexi Ogando and Carlos Torres have a lot of potential to take good major league relief roles this season.  I personally believe in Emilio Bonifacio fitting in nicely.  I think Bud Norris can kick some serious butt again.  For vets they already had at the trade deadline, I think Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher are underrated and could be in starting positions.
The Braves have some veterans with a lot of potential, but some like Gordon Beckham, Kyle Kendrick and Alex Torres have never had anything that impressed me and need to prove to me that they can fit well into their positions. Otherwise, I have them spending some time in the minors.  But they have a good chunk of vets that could boost the team.
The only issue is, when the prospects are ready to hit the majors, will they be better?  We won’t know unless they sit quality vets, which could be an issue.  We could never know.
When can we expect the prospects in the majors?
Guys like Dansby Swanson and Sean Newcomb could make their debuts by June, especially if the veterans don’t pay off.  But in the positions where the Braves have good and developed, but young players, the prospects in those spots might get some more insurance and may not appear till September.
Who are some key non-roster invitees?
Personally, I think this is a similar question to the last one.  My list includes relievers Alexi Ogando and Carlos Torres along with some other pitchers young and old, catcher Ryan Lavarnway, who has seen Braves major league time, young infield prospects Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, and outfielder Jeff Francouer.  There are many more, but these guys highlight my list.
Which trades did they win and which one will pay off most?
Some trades they won, others they didn’t.  They clearly won the one with the D-Backs where they acquired Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte, despite giving up Shelby Miller.
The one with the Tigers was questionable, Gabe Speier was later traded again, so it was basically Maybin for Krol, which the Tigers clearly win.
The Jose Ramirez trade wasn’t necessary, even though they barely gave up anything, and the shortstop swap was a win because of the additional acquisition of Sean Newcomb.  The Christian Bethancourt trade was a win, cause Bethancourt didn’t develop as expected and they got some pitching insurance in their farm system.
The best trade for the Braves was the D-Backs one, it helps both their farm system and their major league roster.
So, I think that’s about all for what to watch for in spring training now for my roster and record projection.

Atlanta Braves Projected Roster

Rotation                            Bullpen
Julio Teheran                   Jason Grilli (CL)
Bud Norris                       Williams Perez
Mike Foltynewicz          Jim Johnson
Matt Wisler                     Ian Krol
Kyle Kendrick                 Jhoulys Chacin
                                           Alexi Ogando
                                           Carlos Torres
Lineup                                   Bench
C: A.J. Pierzynski               Tyler Flowers
1B: Freddie Freeman         Jace Peterson
2B: Gordon Beckham       Ender Inciarte
SS: Erick Aybar                   Emilio Bonifacio
3B: Kelly Johnson               Jeff Francouer
LF: Nick Swisher
CF: Michael Bourn
RF: Nick Markakis
Projected Record: 66-96
So that’s all for today.  Catch my Orioles scouting report later today!