Which teams might rise up and surprise the baseball world in 2010?

Baltimore – The Orioles are slowly putting together a young, solid team that could make waves throughout this decade. They’ve done a good job of acquiring and working through the draft to bring up talented players like Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold. Their catcher of today and the future Wieters could be ready for a monster season to move him into the elite catcher category. Markakis is one of the most consistent hitters in the game, and Jones should continue to improve his numbers. Add in solid veteran Brian Roberts to the top of the lineup and Miguel Tejada, who continues to rake even at his age, and Baltimore’s lineup has a chance to be very good.

The pitching staff might not be as bad as you would think. They signed veteran pitcher Kevin Millwood in the offseason after he had a bounce back season in 2009 with Texas (13-10, 3.67), and he will anchor the staff. However, the rest of the rotation is young and how they will perform depends a lot of how quickly prospect Brian Matusz develops this year after making his ML debut in ’09 in eight games.

The bad news for Baltimore and its chances to succeed is the division. Winning in the AL East with the Yankees, Red Sox and now Rays is incredibly difficult, so the Orioles may be a couple of years away from competing with the big boys this year. I think this team can get to 80 wins and possibly put together a winning season if everything goes right. That would still be a huge turnaround of almost 20 more wins from the Orioles 64-98 finish last year.

San Francisco – The old adage could fit perfect in the Bay area this year—good pitching can shutdown good hitting. The Giants definitely have the pitching led by the back-to-back National League Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum. No. 2 pitcher Matt Cain is turning into a stud as well with a 2.89 ERA in 2009. Then you have a guy who tossed a no-hitter last year in Jonathan Sanchez, a guy who won a Cy Young back in the day in Barry Zito and a possible star in Madison Bumgarner, who should make his ML debut this season. Zito isn’t the same pitcher he was in Oakland, but he bounced back from a horrible 2008 and provides depth in the middle of the Giants rotation where the pressure is less on him.

The Giants problem is hitting. With all the tinkering they’ve done over the past years in the draft and free agency, their lineup really only has one dangerous hitter, Pablo Sandoval. Where the rest of the power is going to come from, I have no idea. Mark DeRosa is a nice player who can play about six positions, but can Freddy Sanchez, Aubrey Huff and Edgar Renteria stay healthy? If the Giants manage to hit at all this year, it’s a good possibility their pitching could lead them to a division title over the Dodgers and Rockies.

Cincinnati – The Reds have been acquiring talent over the past couple of years, which was obvious when they signed Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman to a six-year deal this past offseason. Chapman will start the season in the minors, but come be up soon to have an impact with the big club. Cincinnati has a couple of young bats that are poised for major breakout seasons. Jay Bruce has flashed the power potential with 21 and 22 homers in his second ML years, but if he can increase those numbers, stay patient at the plate and rise his average to above .250, he could be in for a big year. Joey Votto is another power bat that has the tools, but needs to stay on the field to become an elite hitter.

One of the reasons why I like the Reds as a possible surprise team this year is the fact that the middle of the pack in the NL Central looks to be wide open. The Cubs, Brewers, Astros haven’t really shown anything last year or this offseason that would conclude they are going to give the Cardinals problems as a contender. The time could be right for the Reds to make a move in this division. If they are going to do it, the pitching staff of Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey have to do their part and hold down the fort until Edinson Volquez returns from injury mid-season.

Cleveland – Are the Indians a stretch as a surprise team? Well, not when Baseball Prospectus projects the top three teams in the AL Central to be within two games of each other. Yes the Tribe started bleeding veterans and payroll last season and people are already writing them off. But when expectations are low, that’s usually a good time for a team to catch fire and make waves throughout the league. Let me make it clear that this team will hit in 2010. I expect breakout seasons from Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, plus a big bounce back year for Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner. Asdrubal Cabrera looks like a solid baseball player at shortstop and Jhonny Peralta is just one year removed from a 23-home run season.

Pitching is a different story for Cleveland. The patchwork rotation put together includes names like Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco and Aaron Laffey. It doesn’t look good, couple of young guys that will need to step up for this time to make a move. Masterson was a highly regarded prospect in Boston, if anyone does break out I could see it being him. Does Carmona ever figure out what went wrong the past two years? There’s definitely a lot of questions with this pitching staff (Kerry Wood is already injured too), but if the Indians can somehow find any pitching this season, they could surprise in what should be a compacted Central division.

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