What players can move the needle for their respective teams in the 2020 Major League Baseball season? Here are X factors for every team in the National League West.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Julio Urias
Clayton Kershaw hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since 2015; David Price is a guessing game; Ross Stripling is a steady force but never seems to have a set-in-stone role. Case in point: it’s an enigma what manager Dave Roberts is getting from those not named Walker Buehler in his starting rotation. Urias could be a game changer for L.A.
Whether it be injury, inconsistency, or a suspension, Urias has been unable to get into a groove at the big-league level. He also hasn’t pitched a full season at said level. Fortunately for the Dodgers’ sake, he’s still 23. Urias gets considerable movement on his off-speed pitches and has exhibited glimpses of brilliance. The southpaw seems to be a likely fixture in the team’s 2020 rotation.
The Dodgers losing Hyun-Jin Ryu to free agency has been undermined. Yes, he has dealt with recurring injuries, but, when healthy, he was arguably their best starter, and last season he was a finalist for the NL Cy Young Award. Without someone stepping up in their rotation, the Dodgers are no better than last season — even with their perplexing lineup card. Urias is a prime candidate to answer the call.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Robbie Ray
It seemed inevitable that the D-Backs would, at some point, trade Ray, as they’ve endured a great deal of roster turnover over the last two years — headlined by an influx of youth. Yet, Ray remains in the desert, and he could be a key figure in Arizona’s 2020 playoff aspirations.
Ray has been shaky over the last two years, compared to his electric 2017-self, which put forth a 2.89 ERA and 218 strikeouts. He surrendered a career-high 30 home runs last season, surrendered baserunners at a high rate, and struggled mightily down the stretch.
At the same time, many tendencies remain the same with Ray; he’s still a power pitcher (he logged a career-high 235 strikeouts last season) who relies on his four seamer and slider. If Ray rekindles his old ways and/or puts together a consistent season, he can form a stout one-two pitching punch with Madison Bumgarner — further weaponing an already deep pitching staff.
San Francisco Giants: Logan Webb
The analytical revolution is in full swing in the Bay Area, and no one has a clue where this ship is going. Well, for starters, the Giants need players to build around from all aspects of the game. Right-hander Logan Webb has the chance to prove himself capable of being such a player.
Webb, 23, made eight starts with the Giants last season and didn’t do anything to dazzle anyone — which is difficult to do in eight starts, anyway. Simultaneously, he was ranked the team’s number-five prospect last season by MLB Pipeline. A projected starter in 2020, Webb will have the chance to stick at the big-league level.
New manager Gabe Kapler has a rotation of veterans who have encountered numerous injuries and been inconsistent in recent memory such as Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Kevin Gausman, and Drew Smyly; there’s little room for growth with this group. Maybe Webb can garner more command of his offerings, get into a groove, and pitch into the esteem he’s held in, complementing a veteran rotation with a reliable, youthful arm?
Colorado Rockies: Kyle Freeland
One year ago Freeland was viewed as a budding ace. Then he struggled mightily in 2019 to the extent that he was sent down to Triple A and finished the season with a 6.73 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, and 25 home runs surrendered while opponents hit .296 against his offerings across just 22 MLB starts. Can the Rockies get back the starter that finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2018?
Freeland is a pitcher of deception. His forte is catching hitters off-balanced, inducing lazy groundballs and fly balls. Unfortunately for his sake, that soft contact became mammoth blasts in 2019. The left-hander is too talented to be a flash in the pan. He’s adept at attacking hitters with an array of offerings and has found success pitching in Coors Field.
Jon Gray was a steady force last season; German Marquez is coming off a rough season but nothing mechanically changed. Outside of Gray and the crafty right-hander, manager Bud Black‘s rotation is a worrisome subject and even the aforementioned hurlers are no sure things. They need someone to show signs of life, and Freeland is a year removed from a monster season.
San Diego Padres: Joey Lucchesi
The baseball world is enamored with the Padres offense, and understandably so. However, if they’re ever going to play themselves into playoff contention, they need a young starter to turn the corner; Joey Lucchesi could do as such.
Lucchesi has held his own in his two years starting at the big-league level, but he hasn’t wowed anybody. He has provided little length and put a lot of runners on base. On the other hand, he has shown an ability to not give into hitters and log strikeouts at a high rate. Can he get ahead in counts more often, subsequently pitching deeper into games?
Chris Paddack is a stud, and Zach Davies is a respectable force, but the two right-handers aren’t enough for the Padres to get to the playoffs, and their roster is mostly set. First-year manager Jayce Tingler’s ballclub needs someone to step up in the back end of their rotation. If Lucchesi takes the next step it’ll enhance the Padres’ chances of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2006.