The future of the Frontier League – An interview with Manager Phil Warren.


The Frontier League was forced to suspend the 2020 season on June 24th.  The longest running independent baseball league in the United States was looking at a banner year.  The recent expansion with the Can-Am League in the offseason was not only going to add five new teams to the league but was also going to expand the league into another country.  The expansion was going to lead to a new level of exposure for the league that is known more as a midwestern league.  The Gateway Grizzlies were going to celebrate their 20th season as a part of the Frontier League.  Their manager Phil Warren was going to enter his 14th season with the organization.  He was excited to get a chance to see arguably the most talented collection of coaches and players come together during the tenure of the season.  He won’t get that chance.  I got a chance to talk with him about that and what he thinks about the future of baseball. 

With the addition of an unlikely ally the upcoming season was going to have a new look and a new voice helping to guide the Grizzlies. Cross town rivals the River City Rascals closed operations after winning the Frontier League Championship in 2019.  Long time Rascal’s skipper Steve Brook signed on to work alongside Warren bringing along a load of talent from the championship squad. 

“We anticipated several “hard” releases that would have to be made before opening day, which means we had done a great job this off-season.” -Grizzlies Manager, Phil Warren

Warren will be looking at the first season since he was in 8th grade that baseball wasn’t his main priority.  While he is excited for the chance to fish as much as he would like and go on vacation with his family the question of “what if” is going to be on his mind and the minds of the fanbase.  

“We now have turned our attention to building on the assembled 2020 roster to ensure that 2021 has the same outlook.  The work never stops if you want to ensure a successful future.” 

While the coaching staff will work to replenish the roster, there will be plenty of options available in the open market.  With professional teams continuing to cut costs at different minor league levels the access of talent will be available.  Warren spoke about the continued issues between Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association.

“In terms of the future between the players and the owners, this isn’t anything new. Money will always be the driving force.  I think we are simply getting a taste of what’s to come by 2022,  they are able to hide the real issues under the smoke screen of COVID-19.  Ultimately the fans are the ones that will suffer.”

Unlike the MLB season the Frontier League season was not able to make the finances work heading into 2020.  The loss of nearly three months of income along with the limitations of event hosting forced the hand of the ownership groups across the league. Most teams have found ways to supplement their facilities with high school, littel league and other events that can bring in some income but the loss of the season could lead to a lot of different issues down the line for every organization. 

The Frontier League will plan to be back in 2021. The question will be what players and staff will return for most of these organizations.  With a large portion of the staff being forced to be furloughed alot of these talented employees and players could find themselves working in either a different organization or changing their careers completely.  The future is uncertain for the entire league but the Gateway Grizzlies and Phil Warren still see a future in the smallest town in the United States with a professional baseball team in Sauget, Illinois. 

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Who should replace Markakis in Atlanta?

The Braves have been hit pretty hard by COVID-19.  First it was offseason addition Felix Hernandez opting out and now veteran outfielder Nick Markakis has decided to do the same.  Atlanta plans to not only contend in the NL East but they actually see themselves as real candidates to win the NL pennant.  They have to find a replacement for Markakis.  The in-house options are solid but who should be the man to take over right field?

Austin Riley-

Riley’s power is legit.  He is going to have to find consistency on the major league level.  Bursting onto the scene in 2019, it looked like the Braves had a future star at 3rd base or outfielder ready to take over for the departing Josh Donaldson. Opposing pitchers were having a problem leaving the ball over the middle of the plate to the power hitting prospect.  

Eventually Riley ran into some trouble as pitchers began to figure him out.  During his last 123 plate appearances of the season the slash line is not positive, .150/.202/.293. Riley became susceptible to the slider which forced him to try and change his swing to adjust.  His hand trigger became slower which is allowing pitchers to take advantage with high hard fastballs.  

Austin Riley is still young and his problems can be fixed.  If Riley is able to adjust he can fit in nicely in right field and Johan Camargo can take over full time at the hot corner. 

Ender Inciarte-

Inciarte’s injuries saw him lose his spot in the starting lineup. Even before the injuries the writing was on the wall for Ender losing his job.  The 2017 All-Star saw a decline in his OBP in 2018, falling to just .325. 

Ender will have his chance to reclaim his spot in the starting lineup due to his defense. He is a 3-time gold glove award winner will bring his glove but the offense has to show in the lead up to the season.  If Inciarte is able to reclaim his form from 2017 he will be a great place holder for some developing stars that will come on this list.  

Adam Duvall-

Maybe the most established major league player on this list is Adam Duvall.  The long time Red has had spurts of brilliance in 2016 and 2017, hitting 30+ homers over those two seasons.  The power Duvall brings comes at a cost as his career OBP is a pedestrian .292.  In 41 games last year he showed the Braves what he can bring to the table slugging .567.  

The Braves are a team built around a core of power bats already, Duvall seems to fit better in the power off the bench role.  While he could win the job, it may be hard to keep the job. 

Cristian Pache- 

The top outfield prospect in Atlanta will most likely have a legit shot at making the opening day roster.  A potential five tool prospect was a late bloomer in terms of power but saw his slugging percentage rise to .462 in 2019 reaching as high as triple-A.  

Pache looks the part standing at 6’2” and runs like a gazelle.  He has not developed into a legit base stealer but his first to third speed is exceptional.  His speed transitioned well into the defensive.  Pache has center field skills that will work in the right.  With Pache and Ronald Acuna a gap shot in right center field may disappear.  The Braves would be gambling on exposing Pache before necessary but he should have an impact on this season before it’s over.  

Drew Waters-

Waters had a great 2019 season.  Jumping up to compete with Cristian Pache as the #1 outfield prospect in the Braves system, Waters turned some heads last season.  The Georgia native led all Braves minor leaguers in hits, doubles and triples.  If Waters can find a way to cut down the strikeouts, his hard contact rate is hard to ignore.

Waters had a solid .360 OBP split between triple-A and double-A.  He could be a future top of the lineup standout for the Braves but he will have to show an ability to knock down the strikeouts leading up to the first games or he will be relegated to a bench role or not making the team at all. 

Who should it be?

Atlanta will allow everyone to have a chance to win the position. In my opinion if Cristian Pache shows an ability to hit he should be the man to be given the chance.  Adam Duvall’s skills seem perfect for the power bat off the bench and Ender Inciarte has had problems staying healthy.  

While I like Pache, it will most likely be Inciarte getting the first chance.

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90’s MLB All-Stars that had terrible seasons.

Being an all-star is a great honor that not many players get a chance to do.  It seems like in the 90’s your resume did not have to be as solid to make the squad.   I wanted to highlight players that were able to make the team but their actual seasons were subpar to say the least. 

1990- Ozzie Guillen, SS, Chicago White Sox

Ozzie Guillen won the gold glove in 1990.  His defense was great but how does a player with a  -18 value offensively (Fangraphs) make an all-star team.  The numbers don’t lie.  Ozzie Guillen was horrible with the bat during the season.  Guillen featured a .312 OBP, .062 ISO and a 78 WRC+.  These numbers fit more for a late inning defensive replacement rather than an all-star.  

Clearly this was a defensive selection during a time where the shortstop pool was not overly talented.  Imagine seeing a player with an OPS under .700 making an all-star team in today’s game.  Would never happen.  

1991- Juan Samuel, Utility, Los Angeles Dodgers

Juan Samuel had a long career in the majors.  He had a lot of solid seasons that lead to a total of three all star game appearances.  Samuel was a strikeout machine throughout his career and 1991 was no outlier.  Samuel struck out 133 times while providing little power, finishing with 12 homers and an OBP of just .328. Samuel was a good utility player in his career but to be an all-star is well…ugh.

1992- Roberto Kelly, OF, New York Yankees

Roberto Kelly played for eight different teams during his 14 years in major league baseball.  His best two seasons were 1990 and 1993, sandwiched in between was 1992 when he made his first all star game.  Kelly had a decent season but finished with just a 1.4 WAR and an OPS of .706.   Kelly didn’t bring much to the table on the defensive end either as he finished with a -10 defensive runs saved. 

1993- Scott Copper, 1B/3B,  Boston Red Sox

Scott Cooper had a short career in the MLB career. He was able to make it to two all-star games in his career and neither of which resulted in a stellar season.  Cooper had the task of taking over for future hall of famer Wade Boggs.  He had a solid season in 1993 with an OBP of .355.  He however didn’t do much else well.  Hitting nine homers and slugging just .397.  His OPS of .752 is solid but is very average for a corner infielder on an all-star team.  Cooper was good but he was not an all-star. 

1994- Scott Cooper, 1B,  Boston Red Sox

His 1993 season is basically the same. 

1995- Steve Ontiveros, P, Oakland Athletics

Steve Ontiveros was coming off of a career season in 1994.  He led the league in WHIP and ERA, pitching in 27 games, starting 13.  In 1995 Ontiveros was going to be a cornerstone of the Athletics pitching staff.  It didn’t really work out that way.  Becoming a full time starter Ontiveros pitched in 22 games giving up a WHIP of 1.4 and an ERA of nearly 4.50.  This was the time where most teams had to have a representative, but the A’s had Mark McGwire representing them.  Ontiveros actually got to pitch in the game and took the loss…Duh.

1996- Roger Pavlik, P, Texas Rangers

Wins can be overrated, according to Brian Kenny they shouldn’t even count.  In the case of Roger Pavlik he ended the 1996 season with 16 wins. That sounds great but every other stat was pretty embarrassing.  Pavlik had a 5.16 ERA, a 1.50 WHIP and FIP of 5.00.  Pavlik was an innings eater with 7 complete games but when he was bad, he was very bad.  Pavlik’s ability to eat innings was the lone positive of a season that should have been forgotten.  He will always have that all-star game in the record books but it is hard to believe. 

1997- Royce Clayton, SS, St. Louis Cardinals

Royce Clayton had the task of replacing hall of famer Ozzie Smith.  Clayton had his positives, he was a solid defensive player that was able to steal 30 bases in back to back seasons.  The problem was Clayton really didn’t get on base enough to utilize his speed.  In 1997 Clayton featured an on-base percentage of just .306. Clayton didn’t walk much and he only hit .206.  This was right before the boom of talented shortstops took over the league.  Clayton may not even start in today’s game.  It’s laughable to think he would be an all-star.

1998- Edgar Renteria, SS, Florida Marlins

Having a historical moment can make your career.  In 1997 Edgar Renteria was a part of one of the greatest moments in baseball history, getting the game winning hit in game seven.  His historic moment seemed to grab him some legitimacy heading into the 1998 season.  Renteria stole 41 bases which was the lone highlight of his statistical season.  Edgar’s season finished with a .9 WAR and a WRC+ of 90.  His loan highlighted statistics, stolen bases, had an asterisk next to eat as he was actually caught stealing a staggering 22 times. 

Edgar Renteria had a few very good seasons but being an all-star in 1998 seems like a big reach.  

1999- Ron Coomer, INF, Minnesota Twins

Ron Coomer was a bright spot in a pretty bad stretch for the Minnesota Twins.  Coomer was a middle of the order bat that brought more of a look of a power hitter than a real threat.  Coomer hit a career high 16 homers in 1999 but that really was the highlight of his season.  His .306 OBP along with an OPS+ of just 86.  Not much of an impact for a guy that was supposed to be able to help carry the order. Coomer making the all-star game was clearly just a guy that was put in there because every team needed to have a representative.

DH for every NL team.

NL Central:

Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals

The argument can be made for a couple of different players on the Cardinals roster.  Tyler O’Neil seems to make a lot of sense as he has had a few problems in the field that were well documented.  But I think that Matt Carpenter makes a lot of sense being a DH.  Bro’Neil needs to be active in the game to keep his focus, he has shown he is not great coming off of the bench as a pinch hitter, while Carpenter is a type of player that can focus on film while the team is in the field.  Tommy Edman has shown he can play a great hot corner.  

Nicholas Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds

Castellanos is not a great defender anywhere on the field.  He was a terrible third baseman and a subpar corner outfielder.  Great American Small Park should hide some defensive inefficiencies but he is still not a great option in the field.  With the addition of 6-time gold glove winner in the Pacific League Shogo Akiyama controlling center along with youngster Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker and Aristedes Aquino the Reds have more than a couple great options in the outfield. 

Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs

Kyle Schwarber is the type of player that the DH is built for.  A great power bat that has never had an exact spot in the field to play.  With Albert Almora, Jason Heyward, Ian Happ and the addition of Steven Souza the Cubbies have enough options to handle the outfield and allow Schwarber to just mash. 

Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

The addition of Avisail Garcia brought up a lot of questions about what was next for former MVP Ryan Braun.  The Brewers had talked about moving Braun over to first base but another addition Justin Smoak makes that an unlikely option.  Braun still brings impact to the lineup and can be protected from injury by just having a few at-bats per game. 

Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates

Josh Bell became one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball, surprisingly Bell has ranked as one of the worst defensive players in all of baseball.  His -31 DRS (fangraphs) was the worst in the league by a first baseman.  With Jose Osuna on the bench the Pirates can have a better defensive first baseman that can actually bring more power to the lineup. 

NL East:

Howie Kendrick, Washington Nationals

Washinton has a litany of veteran players in the infield and they are set on giving prospect Carter Kieboom the job replacing Anthony Rendon.  Kendrick has shown his ability to hit and he has to find a way in the lineup.   DH seems like it was made for Kendrick. 

Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta Braves

The former gold glove winner has seen a consistent decline in his defensive ability due to injuries and just extremely questionable decisions.  The Braves needed to replace the Josh Donaldson pop in the lineup and keeping Ozuna healthy could be as easy as keeping him out of left field.  Austin Riley, Ender Inciarte and Nick Markakis can round out an outfield centered around mega-star Ronald Acuna Jr. 

Jesus Aguilar, Miami Marlins

It seems like Jesus Aguilar’s breakout season of 2018 was actually a lifetime ago.  Aguilar couldn’t replicate his success during the 2019 season but he still brings the power that belongs in a lineup.  The Marlins picked up Aguilar in the offseason, he immediately becomes a threat in the Miami offense.  The Marlins actually have a solid option at first base in Garrett Cooper.  Cooper can handle the defense of first base while Aguilar slots in at the DH spot. 

Neil Walker, Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies loaded up with veterans in the offseason. Neil Walker will enter the season in a utility bench spot but would make a lot of sense as the DH.  Walker brings a OBP of .344 which would put him right at the top of the Phillies lineup.  The return of Andrew McCutchen will help with a serious problem Philadelphia has.  They were one of the worst teams in the league at getting on base.  Putting Walker in the lineup provides the RBI chances for the big bats as well as a switch hitter for late inning matchup problems.  

Dominic Smith, New York Mets

Long time prospect Dominic Smith found himself overtaken as the future first baseman of the Mets by Pete Alonso.  Smith is still an impact bat that just needed consistent plate appearances.  Smith transitioned to the outfield where he did not excel defensively.  With a healthy Michael Conforto along with Brandon Nimmo, JD Davis and Jake Marisnick the outfield is too stacked for Smith to find a spot.  Smith can hit and he should be given a chance as a full time DH. 

NL West:

Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks

Injuries have completely derailed the production of Jake Lamb.  With no set spot in the field because of Eduardo Escobar and Christian Walker, DH should be a great spot for Jake Lamb. 

Sam Hilliard, Colorado Rockies

Colorado has to find a way to get consistent at bats for prospect Sam Hilliard.  Charlie Blackmon, David Dahl and Ramail Tapia currently man the massive outfield in Colorado. Putting Hilliard in the DH role gives him a chance to in the majors with consistent at-bats.  The Rockies had a lot of options with Daniel Murphy, Ian Desmond and Garret Hampson, but Hilliard needs to find a spot in the lineup. 

Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are going to play the matchup game as they always do, so naming one guy as the potential DH is trivial but I would go with Joc Pederson.  Pederson has shown his ability to play the corners as well as first base.  With the addition of Mookie Betts, the Dodgers now have two solid defenders in the outfield. Betts, Bellinger and former gold glove winner AJ Pollock would give the Dodgers their best defensive outfield.  Max Muncy is a better defender at first base so Pederson in the DH role makes the most sense. 

Josh Naylor, San Diego Padres

Josh Naylor mashed in triple-A slugging .573.  He has legit power that can be put right into the middle of the Padre lineup.  Naylor will have to find his way onto the roster.  Franchy Cordero, Will Myers and Juan Lagares are all candidates to take outfield spots from Naylor entering the season.  Despite the competition Naylor brings the most potential power and that is a need in San Diego to protect Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer.

Hunter Pence, San Francisco Giants

Hunter Pence had a resurgence in 2019 with the Texas Rangers.  Injuries cut his season short, ending what was going to be a great comeback season.  He had a WRC+ of 128 along with a .910 OPS he became a great story about a career renaissance. 

The Giants have a set outfield with Mike Yastrzemski, Alex Dickerson and Billy Hamilton.  Pence would be able to get consistent at-bats as the DH and not have to man the large and interesting San Francisco outfield.  

Bounce Back Players

Mike Foltynewciz, Pitcher, Atlanta Braves

Folty had a terrible start to his 2019 season. His first half of the season was a complete dumpster fire that was impossible to put out.  Foltynewciz was coming off of an All-Star appearance in 2018 where he had a 4.0 WAR. He was supposed to be the ace of a potential playoff team but that’s not how it went for him.  

Foltynewicz had a real problem with the long ball.  His HR/FB rate increased by 7% in 2019, giving up 16 homers in the first half of the season. He was sent to the minors in order to figure out what was causing the regression.  The send down was exactly what was needed for the potential ace. The second half of the season showed the pitcher that the Braves thought they would have in 2019. The second half of the season.

IPERATBFH2B3BRERHRBBIBBHBPSOAVGOBPSLGwOBA
1st Half59.16.372606494474216202250.275.336.554
2nd Half57.22.652314510018177170055.211.270.357.269

The Braves added a few veteran starters in Felix Hernandez and Cole Hamels.  The two veterans will help stabilize the rotation and give leadership to a young rotation.  Foltynewciz will now have two players to turn to if things begin to go wrong. Look for a bounce back season from the fireballer. 

Jose Ramirez, 3B, Cleveland Indians

The bar was set very high for Jose Ramirez.  Two straight seasons finishing third in the MVP voting. Ramirez was an offensive beast in 2017 and 2018 finishing both seasons with a WRC+ of 146. Ramirez was putting himself in elite categories of offensive players in all of baseball. Then a slump of epic proportion took place actually beginning for him in late August of 2018 continuing into June 0f 2019.

Ramirez was having problems hitting fastballs. 

Before August 18, 2018- BA .336

After August 18, 2018- BA. 190

Ramirez began facing more shifts.

Before August 18, 2020- Shift percentage 18%

After August 18, 2020- Shift percentage 60%

Ramirez BABIP plummeted.

Before August 18, 2018- .301

After August 18 208- .209

The slump to start the 2019 season put Ramirez in a hole that was tough to pull out of.  He began to make adjustments that turned his season around. His slash line in the second half showed the player that was a preseason MVP candidate .327/.365/.729.  The return of power for Ramirez was a huge factor in the turn around of his season. His .412 ISO and a .302 BABIP propelled him back to offensive relevancy. Heading into the 2020 season Ramirez has a chance to reestablish himself as a premier hitter in the league.  

Justin Upton, OF, Los Angeles Angels

A knee injury plagued Upton’s 2019 season, only playing in only 63 games.  Upton will have a chance to bounce back in 2020 if fully healthy. The Angels have loaded up talent around Upton with the addition of Anthony Rendon.  Upton will be battin being Mike Trout and Rendon giving him ample opportunity to drive in runs, something that he has done throughout his career. When fully healthy Upton has the ability to be a premium level producer.  His 2018 campaign was below his usual level of production but he still produced a wRC+ of 123 and hit thirty homers.  

A fully healthy Justin Upton will be a force in the middle of a potentially explosive offense in Los Angeles. 

Marcell Ozuna, OF, Atlanta Braves

Marcell was supposed to have a huge payday this offseason.  Unfortunately he was a by product of the new analytical world.  Ozuna’s ISO (.231) and OPS (.800) are both above league average but doesn’t warrant the nine digit contract he was looking for. The Braves took a chance on Ozuna signing him to a one-year “prove it” deal that has become popular among major league teams.  Ozuna’s 2019 team was not horrible but he has elite skills that will thrive in the steamy summers in Atlanta.  

Ozuna had a portion of bad luck in 2019 with a BABIP of just .257, the lowest of his career.  Despite the low batting average he actually had the best hard hit percentage of his career at 48.4%.  Ozuna has real power that will thrive in a more hitter friendly park in Atlanta. With the MLB season being delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic Ozuna will have a chance to heal up heading into the season and should be able to show the potential we all saw when he was traded to St. Louis in 2017. 

Honorable Mention: 

Cory Knebel, Pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers

Yu Darvish, Pitcher, Chicago Cubs

Ian Happ, Utility, Chicago Cubs

Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

Alex Wood, Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

Ranking Cardinals one hit wonders

Players can make an impact on a team even if it’s over a short period.  They can have such an impact that fans remember them to this day. I wanted to focus on a few players that had one great season with St. Louis and then either faded into obscruity or moved on to other organizations.  I wanted to focus on players from my time frame so you won’t see any part timers from the 70’s or 80’s. This list is focused on the 90’s to today. If I missed any please let me know.

5.Bo Hart, 2003

Bo Hart has a major league baseball record. Through his first 15 games in 2003 Hart had 28 hits, breaking Irv Waldons record set in 1901.  Hart was an instant sensation for a fanbase that loves the underdog. Hart was a 26 year old, 33rd round pick that should have never gotten the chance to play.  He wasn’t even hitting well in the minors with a slash line of .249/.338/.351. An injury to Miguel Cairo left the Cardinals with no other options but to call Hart up and give him a chance.  His great start captured the attention of the fans and the local media. Hart didn’t do much after his torrid start to his career, falling back down to earth the rest of 2003. After being a fan favorite during the 2003 season Hart was unable to make another impact playing only 11 games in 2004.  

Bo was only a part of Cardinals History for a short period but to fans of that time his name will always bring back great memories. 

4.Craig Paquette, 2001

Most of us will not remember Craig Paquette.  He actually spent three seasons with the Cardinals but his 2001 season was the best of his career .282/.326/.465 in 134 games.  Paquette was picked up from the New York Mets for veteran Shawon Dunston in 1999. Having previously played for manager Tony LaRussa there was a familiarity with Paquette.  Paquette’s one season of legitimacy in 2001 netted him a nice contract from the Detroit Tigers worth about five million dollars. While Paquette technically is cheated on this list as he did play multiple seasons in a Cardinal uniform it was really only the one year in 2001 that he made any sort of impact. Also he coordinates with a guy that just missed my list Shawon Dunston.  

3.Mark Grudzielanek, 2005

The Cardinals signed Mark Grudzielanek in 2005 to fill in for Tony Womak who had departed for free agency. Grudzielanek quietly put together a great season for the defending national league champs.  The former All-Star put together his second best WAR season in his career (2.8). His second half helped propel the 100 win Cardinals into the playoffs. His 110 WRC+ was forty points higher than the first half of the season.  He was also a home favorite hitting .322 at Busch Stadium.  

The 2005 Cardinals are a forgotten team after losing to division rival Houston in an excting six game series.  Grudzielanek was a stable piece in the middle of the field. After his departure St. Louis would have trouble filling the position until 2014 when Kolten Wong became a full time starter.  

2.Jason Heyward, 2015

Jason Heyward was a rising star in the league.   Heyward entered the majors in 2010 at just 20 years old making an immediate impact for the Atlanta Braves. He finished second in the league for the rookie of the year award, earning his first and only all-star appearance.  The Braves moved Heyward in the 2014 offseason, sending him to St. Louis for pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins. 

Heyward had arguably the second most productive season of his career after a slow start he ended up with a OPS of .797 while adding his second gold glove. Heyward’s 5.6 WAR was the highest of his career.  He became a big part down the stretch for a Cardinals team that was clinging to a playoff spot. Heyward had an outstanding 141 WRC+ in the second half of the season. Without him the Cardinals would not have made the postseason let alone competed against the revitalized Chicago Cubs.  

Heyward will most be remembered for not resigning in the offseason but to ignore his play while in a Cardinal uniform is downright stupid.  

1.Kent Bottenfield, 1999

Chubby Kent Bottenfield makes my list even though he technically played two seasons with the Cardinals.  Bottenfield spent the 1998 season mainly out of the bullpen pitching in 44 games, starting 17. He established himself down the stretch in 98’ enough for Manager Tony LaRussa to give him a shot at the rotation heading into the 1999 season.  Bottenfield excelled in the rotation having a career year with 18 wins and a 3.97 ERA, leading to his first and only All-Star appearance. Surprising numbers from a relative unknown that was only averaging 5.4 K/9. 

The Cardinals cashed in on Bottenfield big season moving him to the Anaheim Angels in 2000 for an outfielder that would have a bit longer and more storied Cardinals career.  A man by the name of Jim Edmonds.  

Honorable Mention: Bud Smith (2001), Octavio Dotel (2011)

Three teams that will surprise you in 2020

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks continually surprise the baseball community.  Trading their star Paul Goldschmidt last season seemed to be a sign of a rebuild.  Arizona however put together a competitive season as a new star began to develop, Ketel Marte.  Marte made his first All-Star game leading the Diamondbacks in most offensive categories, doing this while playing multiple positions.  Finding a player to build around on the field meant that Arizona was ready to begin a push into legit relevance in the national league. 

Adding Starling Marte to the lineup brings a  former all-star still in the prime of his career.  Starling saw a career best .200 ISO to go along with the lowest K% of his career.  Marte can bat anywhere in the lineup while playing an above average center field. The pickup of Starling allows Ketel to move to a single position at second base. The Diamondbacks also added veteran Kole Calhoun with career highs in HR, RBI, ISO, Slug %, and BB %. Both should have a big impact on the lineup adding depth to an already promising roster. 

Oh..they also added Madison Bumgarner.  He is still pretty good. The Dodgers are the clear favorite in the NL West but the Diamondbacks have the pieces to be in the mix for the wild card.  The Padres are the team getting the headlines but it is Arizona that brings the biggest threat in the division to the mighty Dodgers.

Texas Rangers

The Rangers had glaring weaknesses in the rotation last year.  Behind mainstays Lance Lynn and Mike Minor was a cast of unknowns and underachievers. Koby Allard, Ariel Jurado and Adrian Sampson highlighted a cast of starters that were never going to be competitive in the top heavy AL West.  Texas made the moves necessary in the offseason to fix their biggest problem. Adding Kyle Gibson, Jordan Lyles and Corey Kluber gives Texas a formidable and experienced starting rotation that is built for the regular season.  

Replacements 2019 Rangers

Kyle Gibson: 3.80 xFIP, 4.25 SIERA Koby Allard: 5.08 xFIP, 5.37 SIERA

Jordan Lyles: 4.61 xFIP, 4.53 SIERA Ariel Jurado: 5.00 xFIP, 5.10 SIERA

Corey Kluber: (2018) 3.08 xFIP, 3.28 SIERA Adrian Sampson: 5.33 xFIP, 4.84 SIERA

Nomar Mazara was moved to the Chicago White Sox opening up an everyday position for former super prospect Willie Calhoun.  The Rangers also added some veteran bats that should fit in perfectly along with the developed star Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Gallo, and Danny Santana.  Todd Frazier will fill in a hole at third base and Robinson Chirinos will give them an offensive weapon alongside the defense of Jeff Mathis.  

The Texas Rangers will have stiff competition in the AL West.  Oakland has not regressed and Houston is still Houston. The Astros though have enough distractions to take them down a notch while the A’s have some issues with their starting rotation.  Texas has the chance to take the next step this season and most will just look past them. 

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies underperformed in 2019 finishing 4th in the division after signing the premier free agent of the offseason Bryce Harper. Harper was not the biggest problem in 2019, the Phillies had to deal with injuries of Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson.  In 2020 Robertson will not be joining the team but with the delay of the start of the season it is reasonable to see McCutchen come back sooner than originally thought.  

The Phillies made moves to improve the infield moving on from longtime roster mainstays Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco.  With those two walking out the door in comes Didi Gregorious to upgrade the defense up the middle. The pick up of Didi moves Jean Segura over to third base opening up 2nd base for Scott Kingery who finally began to show the skills that made him a top prospect.  Philadelphia has a great core to their lineup with Harper, Hoskins, and Realmuto. The offense has to focus on getting on base in 2020 to set up for the vaunted middle of the order. The addition of Gregorious provides more power but it’s Jean Segura and Adam Haseley that will compete for the top of the order.  They have to improve their OBP. Haseley in triple A had an OBP of .360 which would be a twenty point improvement from his time in the majors last year. If Philly is able to get Andrew McCuthen back to start the season this team’s offense will be a force in the NL East that saw the Braves lose Josh Donaldson and the Nationals lose Anthony Rendon.  

Philadelphia added Zack Wheeler to go alongside ace Aaron Nola. Wheeler is an underrated starter in 2019 is exactly what the Phillies needed as they have seen a regression from Jake Arrieta.  Wheeler will allow Arrieta to slot into the third starter and move Zac Eflin into the fourth spot. The Phillies are being overlooked in most preseason outlooks. Many are focusing on the improved New York Mets and the obvious world champs Washington Nationals. Harper and company could surprise many around the league.

2020 MLB Breakout Candidates

Dinelson Lamet, P,  San Diego Padres

Dinelson Lamet quietly had a dominant second half of the 2019 season.  Lamet averaged 12.9 K/9 ranking third just behind Gerrit Cole and Chris Sale.  From July 18 – Sept 18 Lamet lowered his ERA by nearly three runs while opponents hit just .224 against him. Lamet brings a 96mph fastball to go along with a devastating slider that held hitters to a .129 batting average last year. Surprisingly Lamet’s biggest concern was his troubles in his home park, hitter friendly Petco Park was not kind to him.  Giving up a 5.25 ERA and a surprising .432 slugging percentage.  

At just 24 years old the Padres have a potential ace to continue to progress along with fellow flame thrower Chris Paddick.  Lamet’s biggest issue is his control averaging 3.71 walk per nine last season, actually improving from his career mark of 4.04.  Lamet brings ace caliber stuff to a team that should be much improved in 2019 with the full time production of Fernando Tatis Jr.  Lamet will be a steal for fantasy owners as well as the Padres. Big things are coming for him in 2020. 

Jesus Luzardo, P, Oakland Athletics

Luzardo would have cracked the Athletics rotation out of spring in 2019 if an injury hadn’t derailed his season.  The 22-year old Luzardo eventually had his chance during the tail end of last season and immediately made an impact with 16 strikeouts in 12 innings and showing the ridiculous stuff that have baseball scouts drooling.

Luzardo is projected to be the 4th starter for the A’s which means he will daily be matched up with pitchers that don’t even scratch the surface of his ability.  Luzardo has the stuff to become an ace as long as he stays healthy.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr, INF, Toronto Blue Jays

Gurriel has serious holes in his game. His 25% strikeout rate and his subpar defense are both things that need to be improved on.  Despite his issues Gurriel still brings a lot of power to the table, 20 homers in just 84 games last year show’s what he has the possibility to do in a full season.  Gurriel’s .264 ISO and .541 SLG allow him to be in the middle of any lineup. The Blue Jays have a young core of hitters Vlad Guerrero Jr, Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette are the headliners of the organization while Gurriel is still just 24 year old and will be a mainstay in the lineup for years to come. 

Austin Hays, OF, Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles have become the 76ers of baseball.  Since losing the 2016 wild card game Baltimore went into the cellar of the AL East and the entire league.  The Orioles moved all players with any major league success in order to rebuild the organization from the bottom. Austin Hays ranked as high as the 21 in the MLB Pipeline prospect rankings.  Hays got a surprisingly September call up in 2019 and he immediately paid off. 309/.373/.574 in 21 games during the month forced the organization to move quickly inserting Hays as the prospect to watch heading into 2020.  

Hays will have the chance to start the year in th majors during the upcoming season.  His defense in center along with his potential should make him a pre-season candidate for AL Rookie of the Year.

David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies

David Dahl has been a preseason favorite of mine for a number of years.  2020 seems like the time for Dahl to take the next step. Injuries have continually derailed Dahl’s potential.  From 2016-2019 Dahl played only 63, 77 and 100 games, missing the entire season in 2017. Dahl’s splits favor Coors field as do many of the players that wear the Rockie uniform, he still brings together a great mix of power and speed. What sets Dahl apart from others is his ability to produce versus both lefties and righties.  His slugging percentage and batting average are similar no matter who he is facing.  

A healthy David Dahl will be placed right in the middle of the Rockies lineup either right behind Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story or right before them.  It really doesn’t matter what part of the lineup Dahl ends up, if he is able to stay healthy he will be in for a season that should make him a household name by the end of the season.

Honorable Mention:

Willie Calhoun, Texas Rangers (Get well soon)

Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays

A look at Yelich

The reports are that Christian Yelich has signed a 9-year extension with the Milwaukee Brewers worth around $215 million.  This contract is a slam dunk, homerun, touchdown and every other possible success pun you can possibly think of. The 2018 MVP is now the face of Brewers baseball for the foreseeable future and Milwaukee got him at a discount in today’s market. 

Let’s look at what got us to this point.  The Brewers had to make a move to compete with the 2018 off-season that saw the St. Louis Cardinals add Marcel Ozuna and a Cubs team that had been in control of the central division for two years.  Milwaukee gave up a handful of prospects highlighted by Lewis Brinson (#13 overall at the time). The group also included Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz and Jordan Yamamoto. Brinson has been below average, Yamamoto is nothing special and Isan Diaz is still TBD.  The Brewers gave up a core of mediocre prospects to get a guy that could be the best player in baseball behind Mike Trout for the next ten years. 

We look back at the three headed monster that was once the Florida Marlins outfield and we all knew that there was a historically great player there, we just didn’t pick the right one.  No one was listening when Team USA manager Jim Leyland was telling everyone that on this team of great players Christian Yelich was going to be the future batting champion. We laughed when he was put into the leadoff spot.  It was a look into the future, Yelich was quietly proclaimed the next big thing. The world just seemed to ignore it.  

Yelich is the player of the analytics era combined with the classic tools.  Yelich has a 14.7 offensive WAR over the last two seasons. He has led the league in OPS the last two seasons.  He was the fourth best base runner in the league last season. He has the classic power numbers and stolen base numbers.  Yelich is 28 years old, this contract will take him into the decline of his career. Milwaukee is a small market team that made this move because they have seen how quickly things can change in Major League Baseball.  Prince Fielder left them for free agency, Ryan Braun stopped juicing and went into immediate decline. Players like Yelich are not found every day. In the case of the Brewers they made a smart move and got the diamond in the rough known as Miami.  Despite still having three years of control over Yelich making this move allows the Brewers to build for the future around him and their young second baseman Keston Hiura.  

Milwaukee may not like this contract in six years.  Contracts like Joey Votto, Miggy Cabrera and Albert Pujols are examples of guys cashing in during the prime of their careers.  Yelich deserved this money. The Brewers fans deserve to have this guy be the face of their franchise. It is a good move for the organization right now.