The Wild, Wild N.L. West
It goes without saying, the N.L. West has been nothing short of strange, this 2017 season.
The Giants are in last place. The Rockies and Diamondbacks are hanging on to the two wild card spots in the National League. The Dodgers, who won a billion games throughout the year, just dipped down into a severe slump in which they lost 11 games in a row and dropped 15 of 16 games. Despite their losing streak, they still have a healthy lead atop the N.L. West. The Padres, on the other hand, are about where we expected them coming into this year; although I predicted they would lose 100 games and end up in last place.
As we consider the future of the Padres and the National League West, I thought it would be interesting to see how our foes will look in a few years from now.
There will be a lot of speculation because it is impossible to predict these teams future moves. We will skim the surface of the product the Rockies, Diamondbacks, Giants and Dodgers expect to put out on the field in 2020. Given the difficulty of predicting the success of these teams three years down the road, I am going to focus on three players from each team and how they will contribute, or hinder, the team’s performance.
We are going to zero in on a pitcher, a position player, and a prospect and take their contributions into account to forecast each team of the N.L. West.
The Los Angeles Dodgers
It is best to start out with the team that has dominated this division over the last few years. With new coach Dave Roberts, and several young players who have proven themselves thus far, I believe that the Dodgers will remain a substantial threat in the 2020 season. There are a couple of players who will have an important say in how their season will go. Most important being Clayton Kershaw. If he can still be the dominant force he is right now in 2020, the Dodgers are going to win a lot of games. He is the face of this franchise and can come in every fifth day and win you a ballgame. I think this is sometimes overlooked. Teams will often have a few ‘decent’ starting pitchers, but they lack that guy who is going to give you 7+ innings of shutout baseball nearly every time he takes the mound. Most teams do not have ‘that’ kind of guy which makes Kershaws presence so crucial for the success of the Dodgers. Kershaw will be 32 at the start of the 2020 season. My assumption? He will still be dominant.
Another key player that established himself as a major threat at the plate is Cody Bellinger. This kid is only 22 years old and already has 39 home runs under his belt. As Mudcat would say, “That’s some kinda nice”. Do I think he is the real deal and will maintain this pace for the remainder of his career? No. Pitchers will learn to pitch to him and he will have his struggles. However, if he can give the Dodgers 25 home runs a year, I think this kid and the Dodgers organization are going to be very happy.
The one player in their organization that everyone should keep an eye on is young pitcher Walker Buehler. While already suffering from elbow problems, and eventually having Tommy John surgery, Buehler has the stuff to be a top of the line starter. Even after his surgery, his velocity ranged from 90-96 and was even clocked at 99 in Instructional League. This sort of resilience is impressive; however, he also flashes noteworthy secondary pitches that can garner lots of swings and misses. The obvious concern for Buehler is his health and whether he has the durability to be a front of the rotation starter. As of right now, the Dodgers do not have many issues with their starting rotation so there is no rush for him. Thus, the Dodgers have kept him on tight pitch counts to ensure he remains healthy on his path to the big leagues. The Dodgers clearly see a bright future ahead for this kid.
Notable Mention: Yadier Alvarez. To sum him up really quick, he is a lanky 6’3’’ right handed pitcher out of Cuba. He sits at 94-97 and can get it up into triple digits. He has struggled a little bit this year, but he has time to develop his repertoire. He may not pan out for the Dodgers, but he is certainly someone to keep on your radar.
The Rockies are an intriguing team to watch over the next few years and I think they are on the verge of something special. They probably will not make it very far in the postseason in 2017 (if they do get there) however, this team has some players that really intrigue me. On the contrary, one player they need to part ways with is Carlos Gonzalez. While his swing is something of beauty, he has struggled this year and I do not think he is worth an extension given his age. Not to mention he is an injury liability which will only increase as he ages. By separating from Cargo, the Rockies will have more flexibility financially to acquire his replacement or a couple of arms. Pitching is still what the Rockies desperately need to take their organization to the next level. Playing at Coors does not bode well for them in terms of bringing in free agents, but as the saying goes, “money talks”. Let’s dive into their three key players for the 2020 outlook.
First and foremost, Nolan Arenado. He is undoubtedly the face of the franchise and will continue to hold that title for years to come. He is dominant at the dish and an absolute playmaker in the field. As he grooms into a veteran it will be imperative for him to act as the leader of this team if they want to make a run in the postseason. Let’s not forget that he is only 26 years old. By 2020 he will be 29 and hopefully (if you are a Rockies fan) still in his prime years. If Arenado can maintain what he has put together over the last couple years, Rockies fans are going to have a lot of fun.
As I mentioned previously, pitching at Coors is not ideal. This is not to say a pitcher cannot have a successful year as a Colorado Rockie. Take Ubaldo Jimenez in 2010 as an example. He had a sub three ERA and nearly won 20 games. The Rockies have a special player at the top of their rotation in Jon Gray. While his numbers do not reflect “special”, you always must look consider the bigger picture. For one, the overstated fact that he plays at Coors is automatically going to inflate his ERA. Furthermore, he is only 25 years old and might get some postseason experience that will go a long way in his maturation process as a player. Finally, his slider and fastball combination are gnarly. His fastball sits in the 96 range while his slider nearly touches 90. That is some serious filth that I would not want to face twice in a seven-game series. Even more chilling is the fact that he only threw his fastball 56% of the time in 2016, 6% lower than league average. Therefore, he loves to utilize his secondary pitches and make batters whiff which is key if you want to be successful at Coors. He has the stuff to be a top-tier pitcher in the league, but we will see if he lives up to the hype in years to come.
While Mark Reynolds has benefited from playing in hitter-friendly Coors Field (29 HR this year), the Rockies are going to need a first baseman of the future. Nobody will fill the void that Todd Helton left, however, they have a young utility player by the name of Ryan McMahon who could fit there nicely. McMahon is an original third baseman but it is pretty clear that the Rockies have that position covered. Therefore, they have him splitting time between third and first (and even a little second base) and his bat has started to come along nicely this year. He hit .374 in 70 games against Triple-A pitching which bodes well for his future in the Rockies’ organization. It will be interesting to see if the Rockies try to groom him into a first baseman full-time over the next year or not. As of right now, he is their highest rated prospect who can play the position so it would be in their best interest to get him comfortable at that spot. He is expected to be MLB ‘ready’ by this coming year so don’t be surprised if you see the Rockies plugging him at first base come next April.
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