After losing 93 games two years ago, the Baltimore Orioles shocked the baseball world by winning 93 last 2012 before eventually losing to the Yankees in the ALDS. The Oakland A’s improved upon their record in 2012 by 20 games while winning the AL West last season too. Quick turnarounds are hardly an uncommon occurrence in Major League Baseball.
Here’s a look at some of the club’s that could see the biggest jumps within the next two years.
1. Seattle Mariners
After several years of rebuilding, a handful of the Mariners’ top prospects have already started their exodus from the minors to the big league ball club. Along with rookies Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino, Seattle has underrated third baseman Kyle Seager (.282/.352/.469 and 19 homeruns) and a resurgent Justin Smoak (.269/.363/.443) to give the organization one of the more promising young infields in the game.
On the pitching side, the Mariners have one of the best hurlers on the planet – Felix Hernandez, who’s still only 27-years-old – as well as one of the game’s top pitching prospects in Taijuan Walker, potentially giving the organization the best 1-2 punch in the game. Hisashi Iwakuma is under team control (potentially) through 2015.
Behind Walker, the club has lefty James Paxton, whose control has taken a noticeable step forward in Class AAA this season and could be ready to step into the big league rotation mid-2014. Right-hander Brandon Maurer has struggled during his rookie season, but is just 22 and has averaged more than a punch out per inning with solid-average control in the minor leagues.
2. Chicago Cubs
Team President Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have done wonders with the Cubs’ farm system, be it by adding young talent through the draft, international free agents, or shrewd trades.
The club has lineup cornerstone Anthony Rizzo already in place and under team control for several years, as well as another in the enigmatic Starlin Castro. Right-hander Jeff Samardzija has developed into a solid #2/#3-type. Edwin Jackson is another good mid-rotation starter. And Travis Wood is a nice backend option.
Most of the club’s top talent, however, is still a year or two away. Shortstop Javier Baez, 20, is hitting .280/.344/.565 with 31 homeruns between high Class A and AA. Recently acquired third baseman Mike Olt has struggled this season, but still profiles as a league average everyday player with on-base skills, good defense and above-average power. Behind that pair, Chicago has Daniel Vogelbach, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora all developing in the lower levels.
What makes Chicago so dangerous is that it has 60% of a good rotation in place and plenty of payroll room to add when the farm system starts burping up the big prospects mid-2014.
3. New York Mets
As I’ve previously highlighted, the Mets are a serious candidate for a quick turnaround. The organization has Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler already in place. Noah Syndergaard is quickly following suit. Rafael Montero could slide into the rotation today and become a solid backend option. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud recently made his big league debut, as did infielder Wilmer Flores. Throw in veterans David Wright, Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis (maybe?), and Lucas Duda and the Mets could be contenders before the end of 2015.
4. Miami Marlins
The oft-criticized franchise has potentially the best young outfield in the game, with Christian Yelich manning left field, Jake Marisnick in center, and Giancarlo Stanton in right. The rotation is sporting the best young pitcher in the game – Jose Fernandez – as well as Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi. Add complementary players like Logan Morrison, Angel Hechavarria, and Justin Ruggiano and additional prospects like Marcell Ozuna, Andrew Heaney, and Adam Conley near big league ready.
5. Minnesota Twins
Minnesota arguably has the top two prospects in the entire game, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, as well as Oswaldo Arcia (.257/.313/.438) already with the big league club. After flopping for the majority of the big league year, it’s still too early to give up on center fielder Aaron Hicks, and the same can be said for right-hander Kyle Gibson. Pitchers Alex Meyer and Trevor May are throwing well in Class AA. Plus, Justin Morneau’s lofty contract comes off the books this offseason too.