Baseball has turned into a sport of three true outcomes – strikeout, walk or home run. It can be tough to really get interested in the game at the professional level, even watching the best teams.
Trying to manufacture interest in the bad teams is nearly impossible, especially with those teams consistently giving fans reasons to turn off the television. Yes, I’m looking at you Seattle and Baltimore.
In case you also have trouble caring about the bottom of the barrel teams in the league, maybe try caring about a player first. Here’s my top-five list of exciting players on bad teams.
SS Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
Colorado entered the offseason with two dynamic superstars patrolling their left side of the infield but are now left with just one – Trevor Story. He’s the best shortstop in the game and a top-10 player overall in baseball, in my opinion.
He is the most consistent power threat at the position, and he hits absolute missiles into the Denver atmosphere. He hit 24-or-more homers in each season of his career prior to this past season. He would have cleared that mark in 2020 had there been a full season as his 11 homers projected out to 29.7. All the predictive models on FanGraphs project him for 30-plus homers and between 24 to 28 steals next season.
His speed is an under-appreciated aspect of his overall game as well, especially in a game that has largely been losing speed. Every year from 1982 to 1993, MLB cleared 3,000 steals in total. In every year since, it has cleared that benchmark just seven times – most recently in 2011 and 2012.
Story swiped 27 bags in 2018, the most of his career, before putting up 23 in 2019. He led the National League in steals last year, with 15, which put him on pace for a career-high 36 steals.
The righty slugger has entered his prime years and is entering a contract year – a recipe for a top-flight season. I am incredibly excited to see him work and he’s essentially the only reason to turn on a Rockies game, sans Daniel Bard.
RHP Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks
Like many, I had never heard of Zac Gallen until the Miami Marlins traded him to the Arizona Diamondbacks at the deadline in 2019 for Jazz Chisholm. Gallen had been in the Marlins system for a season-and-a-half after getting dealt from the St. Louis Cardinals in the Marcell Ozuna deal. After further reflection, he was the best prospect in that deal.
While we have yet to see Chisholm, the Gallen deal has worked out swimmingly for the otherwise boring Diamondbacks. He has pitched to a 2.80 ERA in 115.2 innings and 135 strikeouts for Arizona over parts of two seasons.
He cut his walk rate by nearly a full walk per nine innings between 2019 and 2020, while striking out a touch over 10 batters per nine innings. The righty finished No. 9 in NL Cy Young voting last season after posting a 2.7 pitcher bWAR. That mark was good for tied for fifth in the NL with No. 1 and No. 2 Cy Young finishers Trevor Bauer and Yu Darvish, respectively.
The UNC product threw the highest percentage of pitches on the edges of the strike zone in the majors last season, according to David Adler of MLB.com. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but with a 70th percentile fastball spin rate and elite command, it’s hard to touch. He brings some more of the pitching ability to the game; he’s not just chucking 98 to 100 mph to get outs.
3B Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox
I genuinely think that Rafael Devers will find himself hoisting an MVP trophy in his career – he has that type of hitting ability at just 24 years old. He showed us in 2019 that he deserves to be in the conversation, with a six-win season and a 12th place finish in the AL MVP voting.
The biggest hill for him to climb is his approach. He has been stuck at around a 5 percent walk rate his entire big league career due to some wild swinging.
In 2019 he cut his strikeout percentage by over 7 percent from the previous season and improved nearly every statistic along with it. It was his only positive defensive WAR season as well, according to FanGraphs. With defensive confidence and better pitch selection comes success at the plate for the lefty.
Boston is not a good baseball team. I don’t care what the pundits say about Chaim Bloom’s winter – they are not a .500 team in my eyes. I understand they made some good additions this offseason, but none of them are players that impact the field enough to get this team to the next tier. I think they are better than the 4th worst team in the game, but I can’t see them topping 74 wins this upcoming season.
Devers is the most exciting player on the roster with his head slamming antics and bat-to-ball skills.
RHP Felix Hernandez, Baltimore Orioles
This pick is purely from nine- and 10-year-old Mike who watched the King dazzle hitters with the slurve and fastball combo of dreams. He’s not good, let’s get that out of the way. One look at his Baseball Savant page and that’s abundantly clear.
My argument here is that this is his last chance to prove he can be. He deserves to get every chance after showing a whole generation of young baseball players that you can be an effective pitcher without winning 20 games every season.
The King is on a minor league deal with one of the worst teams in the game and he has a real shot to make their rotation. He’s just 34 years old, but he has a lot of mileage on that right arm. He has pitched over 2700 innings in his big league career, all for the Seattle Mariners.
He’s an all-time talent that lost his fastball and his numbers with it. Hopefully, he can learn to pitch with the arsenal he’s got now. I want him to succeed so, so badly. It also helps that he’s on the least marketable team in the game. It gives him ample opportunity to be the most exciting thing Baltimore fans have had since prime-Chris Davis.
OF Jarred Kelenic, Seattle Mariners
This is a name that has hit the headlines lately, with former Mariners CEO Kevin Mather openly talking about manipulating players’ service time. It came out that Kelenic declined a long-term pre-arbitration extension with the team and it likely led to the delay of his major league debut.
Kelenic is potentially the games next great young star. He has all the talent and potential in the world and will soon share an outfield with other young studs Julio Rodriguez and Kyle Lewis – who I almost picked for this spot, but I decided against it because of his high-strikeout numbers. Seattle is going to be a problem, so long as they stop alienating their best players. That’s a big if, it seems.
Kelenic will likely make his debut this season and get the chance to show off his plus hit and power tools. I, for one, will be watching any Kelenic game I can get my hands on that starts before 10 p.m.