Today I begin a six-part series sharing my thoughts on every team in major-league baseball.
I will provide comments on each division, one division a week for the next six weeks.
My comments will be strictly my opinion of the current and future situations of each club.
I begin this week with the National League East
NEW YORK METS
For the past several years I have joined many baseball analysts heaping praise and in some instances flat-out awe at the upside and potential of the Mets pitching staff. I include the words upside and potential because like many, I took a look at the young power arms on the Mets and labeled several of their pitchers “can’t miss” pitchers. Well, here we are a few years later and injuries have stripped those fabulous arms of much of their value.
When I first saw Matt Harvey in his major-league debut facing the Arizona Diamondbacks in Arizona he was virtually unhittable. On July 26, 2012 Harvey went 5.1 innings. He yielded three hits, no runs, walked three and struck out 11. It was a jaw-dropping experience for a 6-4 hulk of a man with an incredible arm.
Fast forward to early May 2018. After suffering injuries and operations to his shoulder and elbow for years, Harvey showed an inability to retire major-league hitters on a regular basis. He exhibited off-field issues that resulted in Harvey missing workouts, showing up late, partying to all hours in the morning and more. The Mets tolerance for Harvey had run out. On May 8, 2018 after being designated for assignment, the Mets traded Harvey to the Cincinnati Reds for catcher Devin Mesoraco, himself a player plagued by recent injuries. I can see him resurrecting a broken career with success in his new home with the Reds in the National League Central.
His first start with his new club was a success and his self-confidence likely soared.
Harvey was an All-Star in 2013. He got Cy Young votes in the same year. In 2015 Harvey won the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award. Now, he will have to fight his way back, but the lights won’t be as bright as they once were in New York.
Noah Syndergaard carried similar hyperbole as Harvey around in his traveling bag. Syndergaard has a magical arm that can throw a fastball at 100 miles per hour with little effort.
Due to his own injuries, Syndergaard started only seven games in 2017. He had everything from arm and shoulder woes to a lat strain. Syndergaard returned to the Mets at the end of last season to make one start in September (one inning) and one start in October (two innings). When Spring Training began in February this year, Syndergaard was throwing 100 miles per hour. Is he back? Is he the same Noah Syndergaard? So far, so good. He is usually going six innings a start and pitching very well. But…will he remains healthy?
Jacob deGrom, the third of the trio of potential pitching stars along with Harvey and Syndergaard hit the disabled list with a hyperextended right elbow. Is that a foreshadowing of things to come? deGrom, himself never the picture of consistent health will now have this elbow issue hanging over his and the Mets head. But since he’s due to return to the team after a stint on the DL, he may be working through the elbow issues.
Rafael Montero, once believed to be a possible rotation starter at best and solid bullpen piece at worst is gone for the season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow.
Montero has not pitched well recently, and perhaps that was the reason.
Steven Matz counted on to help out in the rotation has been dealing with back pain and back stiffness. He has pitched well, but the condition can flare at any moment, making Matz someone to handle carefully by the Mets.
But pitching woes aren’t the only injury concerns for the Mets. Their starting catching duo of Travis d’Arnaud (Tommy John surgery) and Kevin Plawecki (hairline fracture in his right hand) have caused the team to restructure their catching corps. The two catchers now on their 25-man roster are Jose Lobaton and the newly acquired Mesoraco.
From an offensive standpoint, the Mets are getting some production from Brandon Nimmo, a young outfielder who is making the most of newly found and more consistent playing time. Using a good eye at the plate, Nimmo is willing to accept a walk. He played in 69 2017 games, going to the plate 215 times. That really isn’t a large enough sample size to judge his merits and skills. In his 2016 rookie year, Nimmo went to the plate only 73 times and hit .274.
Nimmo is playing all three outfield positions, helping his team wherever needed.
The Mets signed Jay Bruce away from the Cleveland Indians this offseason. With the Mets, last year before being traded to Cleveland in his “walk year” Bruce extracted a fine contract from New York to play right field. However, he is getting his share of time at first base to make room for Nimmo in the outfield. Bruce could heat up in the summer months.
If I am the New York Mets I try everything within my power to trade Yoenis Cespedes before he goes on the disabled list for an extended period of time with his recent quad injury or some other injury that robs him of playing time. When Cespedes plays, he can be dangerous. But there are two major “ifs” associated with his overall game. The first is his willingness to play on a team that will not contend for a Championship. I don’t think he will do whatever takes to be great on a baseball field for just some team mired deeply in the standings. I see Cespedes as a “front-runner” type player who goes through the motions when he isn’t totally motivated.
My second concern is his ability and/or desire to play through injury? Will he ask out of the lineup when he isn’t 100%?
Returning from September shoulder surgery himself, do we have any idea what type of player Michael Conforto will be this season? He hit 27 homers and drove in 68 runs in 2017 before he was injured. Now he’s back and he hasn’t shown the power he displayed early last year. Then again, he isn’t getting the type of playing time one might have guessed he would receive. Conforto splits time in center field with Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo.
I see little hope of the Mets clawing their way into contention in the National League East. Only Miami has a worse chance of gaining steam and improving in the standings as the season progresses.
I would urge the Mets to try to shore up their farm system by trading players like Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes if they can find takers for those contracts. And I must ask: Why in the world did they need the aging Adrian Gonzalez?
Several teams have passed the Mets for efficiency and quality in the National League East. They could linger in the bottom end of the standings for years unless and until they shore up their farm system and inject younger and more energetic players to their roster.
My Mets Farm System Rank: 28 out of 30
Top Prospects with potential major-league arrival dates (does not include players that have graduated to the big league club)
Peter Alonso-1B (2019)
Mark Vientos-3B (2021)
Thomas Szapucki-LHP (2021)
Mindful they were soon to move to SunTrust Park in the Cumberland area of Cobb County, Georgia, the Braves began building for the move to their new park ten miles northwest of Atlanta several years ago.
Now one of the true surprise teams in baseball, the Braves have been building their pitching roster for years. Recently, however, they have mixed in one of baseball’s most exciting young players to the mix. Ronald Acuna, Jr. is just 20 years-old. Not big by today’s baseball standards, Acuna packs solid power and strength in his 6-foot frame.
Braves fans were getting impatient when they didn’t see Acuna make his major-league debut until Wednesday April 25, 2018. Since that day, he has shown all of baseball that he is a true five-tool player around which a complete baseball team can be built.
Acuna is not the only shining star on this up-and-coming Braves roster. Consider that second baseman Ozzie Albies draws comparisons to the Astros Jose Altuve. While I feel the comparisons are far too premature, Albies has been turning heads with the power he packs in his diminutive 5-8 frame, just a bit taller than Altuve. Already in double-digits in home runs, Albies can drive in runs, steal bases and score runs in bunches in a well-balanced and very exciting Braves lineup.
A switch-hitter like Acuna, it doesn’t matter to Albies who is throwing on the mound. He can hit them all.
One huge surprise to this point has been the offensive production of outfielder Nick Markakis. The left-handed hitting Markakis has provided home run power while driving in runs from the middle of the lineup. He and first baseman Freddy Freeman compliment and add to the offensive firepower provided by Acuna and Albies. Hitting for power and for average, those four players set the stage for offensive fireworks game after game.
There really is a great deal to like about the Braves. Dansby Swanson, the young shortstop the team got in trade a couple seasons ago from the Arizona Diamondbacks is showing considerable improvement in his contact rate and offensive production. Now living up to his advanced positive billing more consistently, Swanson and Albies create a formidable duo up the middle of the infield.
Surprisingly, the Braves have signed former Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista to play third base. Signed to a minor league contract, the Blue Jays purchased that contract and promoted him to the major-league club where he will see regular playing time at the hot corner. It remains to be seen what, if anything, Bautista has to offer. We must remember that Alex Anthopolus, former Blue Jays general manager is now in that role in Atlanta. His familiarity and regard for Bautista was likely at the foundation of the deal.
Rotation starters generally include Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz, Brandon McCarthy, and Sean Newcomb in the first four slots. Newcomb is the lone lefty of the bunch. The team recently promoted rookie right-hander Mike Soroka to fill out the fifth spot in the rotation. It really is too soon to evaluate the work of Soroka, but each of the other starters has given his team a chance to win with most appearances. To me, they are all worthy of commendation for the way they have started the season, but Teheran and Newcomb have both probably exceeded pre-season expectations.
The bullpen is another strength of this well-balanced team. A true team effort, the Braves can call upon their bullpen to not only hold games, but close out games in an efficient and effective manner. I am impressed with the back end of the bullpen trio of Arody Vizcaino, A J Minter and Dan Winkler. But the rest of the pen, including solid arms with Shane Carle, Sam Freeman, Peter Moylan and Jesse Biddle really give the team length from the pen.
Given all that has led to the fast start by the Braves, perhaps the emergence of power from Ozzie Albies might just be the best story of them all. Most analysts, including this one, thought Albies would be a credible second baseman with a nice bat. So far he has exceeded expectations.
The future? This team can get better. The promotions of Mike Soroka to the rotation and Luiz Gohara to the bullpen have solidified an already solid pitching staff. Consider that lefties Max Fried and Kolby Allard are among the highly rated left-handed prospects in the game. Austin Riley is a very competent, good hitting third base prospect. And there are more like them on their way up the food chain. That’s why I have ranked them the best farm system in baseball.
My Braves Farm System Rank: 1 out of 30
Top prospects with projected major-league arrival dates (does not include players that have graduated to the big league club)
Kyle Wright-RHP (2019)
Kolby Allard-LHP (2018)
Austin Riley-3B (2018)
Max Fried-LHP (2018)*
Ian Anderson-RHP (2020)
If the Mets have had pitching injuries recently, the Washington Nationals may be the team that can claim their own share of disabled list miseries. Adam Eaton, Brian Goodwin, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Grace, Koda Glover, Joe Ross, Joaquin Benoit, and Jhonathan Solano just to name 11 players that have been in and out of the Nationals lineup since the season began in late March.
When healthy, the Nationals can be very dangerous. When their core players miss significant time they become more vulnerable, not unlike any other club. The problem is the fact this edition of the Nationals must depend upon the hitting ability of Rendon, Turner and Murphy to carry the day. Adam Eaton hasn’t really been healthy since the team gave up a boatload of pitching to get him from the Chicago White Sox.
Everything Nationals really begins and ends with Bryce Harper. Now in his “walk year” Harper can leave at the end of the year as a free agent unless the Nationals and his agent, Scott Boras come to a meeting of the minds that results in a new contract. However, Harper is scuffling to being the season. Hitting far less than .250 at this writing, Harper has shown his famous home run power and he’s driven in bunches of runs, but his batting average isn’t yet what is to be expected. With the return of Rendon and Turner to the lineup, Harper could heat up in a hurry.
I do have to question Harper hitting in the leadoff spot. I get the fact that the new metrics like power hitters getting an extra at-bat every game. I don’t get that their likely won’t be as many men on base when his turn to hit comes around deep in games. That could cost Harper RBIs and runs scored over an entire season.
While the Nationals offense has great potential to be explosive when all their regular players take the field on any given night, it is their pitching that should strike fear in any opposing club. How about a rotation that features Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez as the first three out of the chute. Then Tanner Roark and Jeremy Hellickson slot in the 4 and 5 holes respectively. Frankly, I’m not a Hellickson fan and I think the club needs to hunt another starter.
But should they enter the playoffs, their Big Three may be able to provide enough ammunition to help the team finally progress to late rounds.
Importing Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from Oakland has really stabilized the back end of their once suspect bullpen. Last year with Dusty Baker at the helm, the bullpen lacked a true closer. Baker complained loudly about this lack of a shut down 9th inning guy. Baker is gone and Dave Martinez is now in charge. The bullpen includes former closer Brandon Kintzler, Shawn Kelley, Sammy Solis and others to bridge the game to Madson and Dolittle.
What we see from this edition of the Nationals is pretty much what we get. Their future is their present, as the farm system does not have firepower waiting in the wings to rescue the team from injury or poor performance. And if Harper leaves via free agency, their work will be made more difficult. It is Harper’s pending free agency that sounds an alarm bell to the Nationals front office. The window of opportunity can come slamming shut following this season.
A disappointment in previous postseason play, the Nationals seem to lack that certain “something” to get them over the hump in October. Be it injuries, lack of production in general, or a case of the “yips” under the brightest postseason lights, the Nationals have laid enough eggs in the fall to create a good sized omelet. And it clearly could happen again.
It is possible a player like Victor Robles can come to the major-league point at some point and make an impact. He did get a sniff at the parent club last year, but it wasn’t a sustained opportunity that would classify as a sustained debut. Other than Robles, I’m not sure there is much waiting in the wings to help the Nationals reach their ultimate goal of a Championship. They will have to accomplish that with the more than a formidable group of players currently on the roster or sitting out with injuries.
My Nationals Farm System Rank: 15 out of 30
Top Prospects with potential major-league arrival dates (Does not include players that have graduated to the major-league club)
Victor Robles-OF (2018)
Juan Soto-OF (2020)
Erick Fedde-RHP (2018)
Carter Kieboom-SS (2020)
Seth Romero-LHP (2020)
Without question, this is one of the biggest surprise teams of the year. However, in full disclosure, I remind my readers that this team was one of my favorites coming into the season for improvement and sustained excitement. They have delivered. They have probably exceeded what has been expected, but they aren’t going to be easily denied their time in the limelight. If this isn’t their banner year, that year will be coming soon. The team has balance. The team has a few solid veterans sprinkled among some of baseball’s best young players.
It is virtually impossible to keep Carlos Santana below the mendoza line in hitting for long.
He’s just too good a contact hitter to remain at the bottom of major-league batting average lists. But like the Phillies in general, Santana is heating up.
Santana may bring much needed guidance and leadership to a team that includes a here-to-fore almost lost in space Maikel Franco. Third baseman Franco hasn’t set the world on fire yet this season, but there are some signs his home run power could blossom. In a hitter-friendly home park, Franco should be a team leader in driving in runs.
Rookies have made an impact on the 25-man roster. Rhys Hoskins made his big league debut last year and left quite an impression with outstanding home run power. There is a considerably greater amount of that power tucked in his bat for years to come. And versatile infielder Scott Kingery can hit and play solid defense regardless of his position.
Outfielder Odubel Herrera is often portrayed as a lackadaisical and uninterested player. Some have said his head is in the clouds because he doesn’t always make the sharpest plays in the outfield. But I am here to tell you the man can flat out hit. Gaining confidence as a hitter with each passing game, Herrera is a catalyst for runs on this Phillies club. He and fellow outfielder Aaron Altherr are very underrated players on the Phillies team. Rarely do we hear discussions of how good both Herrera and Altherr are as solid baseball players with bats that are meaningful.
The catching duo in Philadelphia is fascinating. Jorge Alfaro is a very powerful right-handed hitter with poor contact rates. He has always been powerful, but immaturity has caused concern in his past as far back as his early Rangers days. His backup catcher, Andrew Knapp may indeed become the primary catcher in Philadelphia. A switch-hitter, Knapp has some pop in his bat and is seen as a good hitter. That hasn’t happened so far.
Second baseman Cesar Hernandez is another hidden gem that doesn’t get much love outside Philadelphia. He can hit at the top or bottom of the order because his contact rate is solid and he has speed enough to steal bases if called upon. With Scott Kingery waiting around to be the permanent second baseman, it doesn’t seem that Hernandez will yield the job without a fight. Clearly, Hernandez could become a terrific trade chip if the Phillies want to install Kingery and shore up another position on the club by trading Hernandez.
Promising is the key word for the Phillies pitching. The signing of veteran Jake Arrieta provided an excellent role model for young starting pitchers like Aaron Nola, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez, Ben Lively and Jerad Eickhoff. The rotation starters may not have years of experience, but their upside cannot be denied. Nola is very close to being a star pitcher, if he isn’t there already in the minds of many. While the starting pitching may be too inconsistent to bring home a division championship, the group of young starters promises to get better and tougher to beat in the future.
Even though his walk rate is a bit high and he does yield his share of hits, closer Hector Neris provides fairly steady work out of the bullpen. He has stabilized the pen and has continued his success from last year. It seems he has earned the trust of first-year manager Gabe Kapler.
The remainder of the pen seems more volatile to me. The statistics for Luis Garcia, Adam Morgan, Edubray Ramos, and Yacksel Rios are all good. These aren’t household names. These aren’t guys with long major-league track records that may be able to carry them to postseason success. Rather, these are guys that may be able to exceed expectations and take the club further than early season projections had indicated.
There is little doubt the Phillies prospect roster is loaded with potential major-league quality players. How many teams can boast graduations to the big leagues by players the quality of Scott Kingery, Rhys Hoskins and currently injured shortstop J.P. Crawford in one year? Not many. But that’s what the Phillies have done. And they have more quality prospects chomping at the bit to get their chance to play in Philadelphia.
The Phillies home park, Citizens Bank Park provides a blessing and a curse. The blessing rests with the hitter and homer-friendly environment of the park. The curse is that the pitchers have to be careful not to hang pitches up in the zone. It can be a tough place to pitch and a great place to hit.
The prospect class is outstanding, and the team may be able to pepper in young players to the 25-man roster in the coming years. For now, however, their current crop of recent graduates will take several key positions in the field and on the mound.
My Phillies Farm System Rank: 3 out of 30
Top Prospect with major-league arrival dates. (Does not include players that have graduated to the major-league club)
Sixto Sanchez-RHP (2020)
Arquimedes Gamboa-SS (2021)
Adonis Medina-RHP (2020)
Adam Haseley-OF- (2020)
Jhailyn Ortiz-OF (2021)
In past editions of BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD I discussed at length my disdain for the new ownership of the Miami Marlins. There isn’t a single factor that has taken place since the beginning of the season that has made me change my mind one iota. Regrettably the great fans of the Miami area are once again being cheated of major-league quality baseball. In their desire to trim payroll and increase their bank accounts, the new owners of the club have stripped the roster of such stars as Giancarlo Stanton, Marcel Ozuna and Christian Yelich, all probably approaching the prime (and most expensive) parts of their careers. It is shameful that new ownership has left the franchise with a second-rate baseball team, a fate the citizens of the Miami area did not bring on themselves.
Left behind in the rubble are very solid players like catcher J. T. Realmuto, an outstanding hitter and defender and Justin Bour, a powerful and popular first baseman capable of hitting the ball out of any park. But how many good pitches to hit will those two see? Not many. Cameron Maybin stole 29 bases playing for the Angels and Astros in the American League last year. He was thrown out only five times. So far this season, Maybin has stolen one base in four attempts for the Marlins. Is his engine out of gas?
Starlin Castro came to the Marlins in the Stanton trade. He is a credible second baseman, but chances are he, too, could be moved by the trade deadline in July. After all, he may be getting too expensive himself. Castro can hit. If the Marlins keep him, they will have a nice middle-infielder with a good hitting tool.
In my opinion, out of necessity, young players like Lewis Brinson are being thrust to the big league club prior to the completion of their development program. Brinson came over to the Marlins in the trade that sent Yelich to Milwaukee. While we have already seen the power in his bat, Brinson is scuffling to hit for average in his new environment. Frankly, a first-half at Triple-A may have helped Brinson get ready for prime time.
Brian Anderson is a young man with a nice future as a third baseman. For now, the Marlins have him playing in the outfield while the aging Martin Prado handles third base. Recently returned to the Marlins lineup after being out with injury, Prado is far from the quality hitter he was when he was with the Atlanta Braves, even before he was traded to Arizona. Prado is not a “keeper” for the Marlins and may be gone by July 31 as the team continues to clean house. That at least would move Anderson back to his regular third base position.
Shortstop Miguel Rojas is not a youngster at age 29. Unless they shore up the position Rojas will be keeping the position warm for eventual shortstop candidate Yadiel Rivera, who can also play second base. Rivera is 26 himself. It’s even possible that infield prospect Isan Diaz may find his way to the parent club sooner than later. A bit inconsistent for me, Diaz has high marks from several scouts and evaluators.
Frankly, while I think the offense is less than the fans deserve, the pitching staff is interesting, if not totally effective yet. There are some solid arms in the rotation, but they are inconsistent and trying to find their way. Caleb Smith has had good and bad outings. It is difficult to know what to expect from start to start. He was traded to Miami from the New York Yankees last season along with first baseman Garrett Cooper in a deal for young pitcher Mike King and international bonus money. The bonus money was a key component of the trade.
Jose Urena has been better in the past than the present. He is really scuffling this season after showing signs of being a capable starter last year.
Lefty Jarlin Garcia caused quite a buzz for a start or two and he has looked like a keeper for the team. He has to be able to get a better grasp on command of all his pitches and reduce his walk rates to maximize his value.
32-year-old Wei-Yin Chen and Dan Straily have both returned to the rotation after injuries. Of the two, I believe the 29-year-old Straily is the better starter, which means he may well be on the trade block sooner than later.
The Marlins future is far brighter than the present. I am extremely bullish on Monte Harrison, my top-rated Marlins prospect, and their top-rated prospect on most prospect sheets. A strong, strong athlete with power to spare, Harrison came over from the Brewers along with Brinson as the two marquee pieces in the deal of Christian Yelich. I truly believe that when it’s all said and done, Harrison can be at the very least the equal to Brinson in production and power. And there are times I see Harrison when I believe he will be a better all-around player than Brinson.
I really wonder though if Brinson and Harrison will add up to Yelich and Ozuna.
The Marlins are also loaded with credible pitching prospects, too numerous to mention here. Suffice to say, Miami has a bright future if the prospects live up to expectations. However, we must not forget that prospects are just that-prospects.
At the present time, it seems the front office of the Marlins is doing everything it can to rid the payroll of players that may add expense to a position that could be covered by less expensive youth. For that, the people of Miami should be very upset.
My Marlins Farm System Rank: 19 out of 30
Top Prospects With Major League Arrival Dates (Does not include players that have promoted to the major-league club)
Monte Harrison-OF (2019)
Sandy Alcantara-RHP (2019)
Jorge Guzman-RHP (2019)
Magneuris Sierra-OF (2018)
Braxton Garrett-LHP (2021)
In many ways, the recent Yankees winning streak reminded me of what the Indians accomplished last summer. The Yankees streak wasn’t as long, but winning game after game just proves to the club how much joy and fun there is in winning. It provides the thirst for more.
Miguel Sano still isn’t 100% as he battles the same type of hamstring issues he has had in the past. Take a look at his huge legs and you’ll see that it is very possible Sano will be dealing with hamstring issues for quite a while in his career.
The Diamondbacks are free to move out of Chase Field in 2022-five years prior to their lease expiring. That happened as a result of a lawsuit that was settled with Maricopa County, Arizona. The team states the County has not been willing to pay for necessary maintenance as required by their lease. The Diamondbacks sued the County. The settlement allows the Dbacks to seek a new home five years early. Chances are good the team will settle on the same Salt River Indian Reservation that hosts their wildly successful Spring Training home. Along with the Colorado Rockies, the Diamondbacks have tremendous spring facilities off a main interstate freeway in the Valley of the Sun. Look for the new park to be on the reservation.
Why there? First-I don’t think the team would have sued the County and asked to leave unless they had a specific location, deal and exit strategy in mind (the reservation). Second, I believe the tribe will be very financially supportive in building the facility and charging the Dbacks rent, a factor that is crucial to the Dbacks.
If they settle on the reservation, maybe the Diamondbacks and the team from Cleveland should trade names.
Gerrit Cole is the best pitcher I have seen so far this season. Better than Kluber, or Kershaw. The closest in my mind would be Max Scherzer. I saw Gerrit Cole swallow up the Diamondbacks.
Bryce Harper is hitting homers, but he isn’t hitting for average. Paul Goldschmidt isn’t hitting homers and he isn’t hitting for average. How soon will they both heat up?
Andrelton Simmons is incredibly underrated as an offensive player. He gets raves for his defense, as well he should. But he is one tough out at the plate.
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