Get ready for the upcoming 2016 MLB season with our in-depth previews for all 30 teams, including scout's takes, predicted finishes and more.

By SI.com Staff
March 25, 2016

The start of the 2016 MLB season is almost here, as all 30 teams are gearing up for the 162 games ahead, including the chase for the playoffs and the World Series. But who will be this year's favorites to win it all, and who will come up short in the quest for a championship?

To get ready for another year of baseball, check out SI.com's individual season previews for all 30 clubs, featuring scouting reports, detailed analysis and more. In each preview, one of SI.com's baseball experts gives the case for and case against each team contending for a title, including the X-factor and number to know for 2016, as well as a scout's takes on the most overrated and underrated player on each roster. Each preview also includes the team's projected finish for the coming season, as we reveal our No. 1 team for 2016. And below, you'll find SI's full projected standings, playoff picks and World Series champion.

Want more exclusive and cutting-edge MLB content? Then pick up a copy of SI's baseball preview issue, now on newsstands; follow SI's MLB coverage on Twitter and Facebook; and subscribe to The Strike Zone podcast, SI.com's weekly discussion of all things baseball.

AL EAST

team w l gb
Blue Jays 93 69
Red Sox 92 70 1
Rays 84 78 9
Yankees 83 79 10
Orioles 69 93 24

AL CENTRAL

team w l gb
Royals 90 72
Indians 83 79 7
Tigers 80 82 10
White Sox 77 85 13
Twins 74 88 16

AL WEST

team w l gb
Astros 96 66
Rangers 88 74 8
Mariners 82 80 14
Angels 72 90 24
Athletics 63 99 33

NL EAST

team w l gb
Mets 95 67
Nationals 83 79 12
Marlins 78 84 17
Phillies 65 97 30
Braves 61 101 34

NL CENTRAL

team w l gb
Cubs 99 63
Cardinals 90 72 9
Pirates 87 75 12
Brewers 70 92 29
Reds 68 94 31

NL WEST

team w l gb
Dodgers 93 69
Giants 88 74 5
Diamondbacks 81 81 12
Padres 73 89 20
Rockies 73 89 20

POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS

American League

AL wild card: Rangers over Red Sox
AL Division Series: Astros over Rangers; Royals over Blue Jays
AL Championship Series: Astros over Royals

National League

NL wild card: Giants over Cardinals
NL Division Series: Cubs over Giants; Dodgers over Mets
NL Championship Series: Cubs over Dodgers

World Series

Astros over Cubs

This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams for the 2016 season, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 30: the Atlanta Braves.

2015 Record and Finish:
67–95 (.414), fourth place in National League East (28th overall)

2016 Projected Record and Finish:
61–101 (.376), fifth place in NL East

The Case For

Deep at the bottom of a rebuild, the Braves are a near lock to post a losing record for the third straight season, forcing them to re-define success for the coming year. One possible positive outcome for 2016—most paradoxically but perhaps also most obviously—would be posting the worst record in baseball, thereby securing the top pick in next year's draft. That would give Atlanta top-three picks in three straight years, as the team traded this off-season for 2015's No. 1 selection, Dansby Swanson, and holds the third pick in this year's draft. That would represent a tremendous influx of elite talent for a farm system raising the expectations for their eventual return to contention in the years to come.

The Braves don’t necessarily need to get the top pick, either. Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Twins centerfielder Byron Buxton were No. 2 picks; Orioles third baseman Manny Machado was a No. 3 selection; and there are those who believe that last year’s third pick, high school shortstop Brendan Rodgers, is a better prospect than Swanson (Baseball Prospectus has Rodgers seven spots ahead of Swanson on its Top 101 prospects list for 2016). Three straight top-three picks would fast track Atlanta back toward a meaningful and potentially lasting contention.

Taking a more conventional approach, the Braves could measure success by the progress made by the players they hope will be a part of that next winning team. On the farm, that means a successful jump to the high minors by Swanson. Sean Newcomb, the potential front-of-the-rotation lefty acquired in the Andrelton Simmons deal, needs to show improved command at Triple A. Slick-fielding shortstop prospect Ozzie Albies needs a good showing at the plate at high A ball, and top 2015 draft picks Austin Riley and Kolby Allard need strong full-season debuts.

At the major league level, righthander Aaron Blair, who came over from the Diamondbacks with Swanson, must make a solid big-league debut. Hector Olivera needs to make a smooth transition to leftfield and prove his ability to hit major league pitching. Arodys Vizcaino has to take over the closer job, likely in the wake of Jason Grilli being dealt at the non-waiver deadline. Julio Teheran must bounce back from a disappointing 2015 campaign. Ender Inciarte needs to improve against lefthanded pitching and establish himself as a quality everyday centerfielder. Freddie Freeman has to turn in a healthy and productive season. If all of those things happen, the Braves may win a few too many games to get that elite draft pick, but they won’t need the consolation prize nearly as much.

The Case Against

The worst thing that could happen to the Braves is that they have a surprisingly successful major league season due to some fluky, last-gasp performances from their veterans. Winning roughly 77 games could drop them out of the top ten in the draft, and their pick subsequently wouldn’t be protected, limiting their ability to make free-agent upgrades for their move to their new ballpark next season.

Winning games because some combination of shortstop Erick Aybar, righthander Bud Norris, catcher A.J. Pierzynski, Grilli, utility man Kelly Johnson, third baseman Gordon Beckham, reliever Jim Johnson, centerfielder Michael Bourn and utility infielder Emilio Bonifacio—all of whom will be free agents at the end of the year—had surprising seasons would be a total disaster for Atlanta. Fortunately for the Braves, that’s extremely unlikely to happen.

MORE MLB: NL breakout candidates | NL busts | NL rookies to watch

Willie J. Allen, Jr./AP
X-Factor: Hector Olivera, LF

Of the players projected to make the Braves’ Opening Day roster, Olivera is the biggest unknown. Signed to a six-year, $62.5 million contract by the Dodgers last May, the Cuban defector (who has five years and $32.5 million remaining on his contract) was acquired by the Braves last July in the three-team,13-player trade that sent lefty Alex Wood and infield prospect Jose Peraza to the Dodgers. Primarily a second baseman in Cuba, Olivera played third base exclusively in his first major league opportunity with the Braves last September but is being moved to leftfield full time this season.

Red flags abound. For starters, Olivera will turn 31 on April 5. Concerns over the state of his right (throwing) elbow prompted the Dodgers to include language in his contract adding a $1 million option for 2021 if he needs Tommy John surgery at any time prior to that season. He has no experience in the outfield, and his bat is unproven. Early scouting reports suggest that the move to left will be a rough one for Olivera and that, while he does have good hand-eye-coordination and the ability to make contact at the plate, he does not have a ton of power and is overly aggressive at the plate; he's unlikely to add to his value by drawing walks. Given that the Braves gave up four years of control over Wood and six over Peraza, they need Olivera to pan out for that trade not to look like a massive blunder, but his ceiling seems limited.

Number To Know: 20

This will be the 20th and final season for the Braves at Turner Field before they move into the new, suburban SunTrust Park next year. That’s significant for many reasons. They will become the first major league team to abandon a stadium built during what can roughly be described as the Bud Selig-era stadium explosion. It also marks the shortest tenure for a major league team in a steel-and-concrete, baseball-only stadium in which they were the initial tenants—not counting the many newer ballparks still in use, all of which are expected to remain in use past their twentieth seasons. After the Braves’ final game in Turner Field on Sunday, Oct. 2, Turner Field will be converted into a football stadium by Georgia State University, which bought the rights to the stadium and the surrounding land in December.

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Scout’s Takes

Most Overrated: Nick Markakis, RF

“Markakis was such a good player with Baltimore, but with his neck, his shoulder, he has really battled injuries. He can rake some doubles out there, but he doesn’t drive a ton of balls. He has no power left. He has lost some speed. He has lost some arm strength in rightfield. You’re not getting typical rightfield production. He can still hit a little bit, and he’s really good in the clubhouse, but his body is definitely trending down.”

Most Underrated: Freddie Freeman, 1B

“I think this guy can be an MVP candidate if he gets some guys around him in the lineup. He’s still only 26 years old, and you watch him and you see bat speed, you see power, you see leverage. This guy has some kind of thunder in that bat. If he can stay healthy, this guy’s got a chance to hit 30 home runs and hit close to .300. When he gets pitched so carefully, he really has to be selective at the plate and have some discipline, but if they start building around him [and] getting him some protection, he has a chance to be an impact bat.”

This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams for the 2016 season, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 29: the Oakland Athletics.

2015 Record and Finish:
68–94 (.420), fifth place in American League West (27th overall)

2016 Projected Record and Finish:
63–99 (.389), fifth place in AL West

The Case For

The A’s have been going through a tough breakup for the better part of two years, sitting on their recliner with a tub of ice cream in their laps and tears streaming down their faces. A heart-breaking 1–0 loss to the Royals in the 2014 AL wild-card game and a disastrous campaign last year have left a dismal mood in Oakland. But while there's not exactly plenty to look forward to this season for the A's, there is some promise on the horizon.

Marcus Semien, 25, is slowly building himself up into a legitimate starting shortstop. Centerfielder Billy Burns has been a pleasant surprise, and righthander Jesse Hahn was about as consistent as 25-year-olds come before his elbow injury last season. Semien, in particular, could be poised to break out in 2016: His defense is much-improved, and he finished last year on a high-note at the plate, hitting .283/.352/.478 with seven homers from Aug. 1 through the end of the season.

Old friend Jed Lowrie is back after a rough season in Houston to rescue the A’s from their second base issues, replacing the jettisoned Brett Lawrie, and he will join newly-acquired outfielder Khris Davis toward the front of the order. Between Davis, rightfielder Josh Reddick and catcher Stephen Vogt, the meat of Oakland's lineup hit a combined 65 home runs last year. You can say this about Oakland—there’s the potential for ‘boom,’ but ‘bust’ isn’t likely in the cards. At the very least, the team's offense will be average.

Oakland's rotation is also fascinating, if nothing else. Lefthander Rich Hill (signed to a one-year, $6 million deal this winter) is the club’s new No. 3 starter after a magical 2015 with Boston that saw him post a 1.55 ERA in 29 innings. Hill hasn’t been bad in his short major-league stints over the past two years—injuries have been his downfall, not performance—and if he can re-create what he did in a short stint with the Red Sox, then the Athletics will get a lot of bang for their buck.

Even if Hill can't contribute that much, the A's should survive. Hahn will be back from injury, and you could ask for much worse out of your No. 4 than Kendall Graveman, who was roughly league average last season (99 ERA+ in 115 2/3 innings) but still has room to grow at 25. And the A's still have the right arm of Sonny Gray, who last year posted a 2.73 ERA, 147 ERA+ and 5.8 Wins Above Replacement, good for seventh among all pitchers in 2015.

The Case Against

There’s reasonable doubt that Hahn will shake his elbow injury and return to the starter that he was last summer. In order to try to stay healthy, he’s eliminated the slider from his arsenal and will opt to lean on his changeup more, but he could very well be limited this season and in years to come.

Betting on Hahn and Hill to solidify the second and third spots in the rotation is bold, and there’s not much behind them either. Oakland’s bullpen ERA of 4.63 was third-worst in the bigs last year, and while righthanders Ryan Madson and Liam Hendricks were solid additions this off-season, it's asking a lot for them to shrink that number substantially. The success of this unit will rest on the left shoulder of closer Sean Doolittle, whom the Athletics hope to get a full season out of after he missed most of last year with a slight rotator cuff tear.

If you must find a weak spot on Oakland's offense, it’s probably with the declining Billy Butler. He’s still under contract for two more years and $20 million and was borderline useless at the plate last year, hitting a meager .251/.323/.390 with just 15 home runs in 601 plate appearances. ‘Country Breakfast’ is getting cold.​

MORE MLB: AL breakout candidates | AL busts | AL rookies to watch

Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

X-Factor: Billy Burns, CF

The 26-year-old Burns, taken in the 32nd round of the 2011 draft by the Nationals and acquired by the A's for lefty reliever Jerry Blevins after the '13 season, was a revelation for Oakland last year. He hit .294/.334/.392 in 555 plate appearances, stole 26 bases and scored 70 runs. That, coupled with a solid glove in centerfield, made him worth 2.8 WAR last year, good for second among hitters on the team behind Reddick and Vogt (who tied for first).

Burns will look to take a giant leap this season, taking lessons from Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson on base stealing and further refining his offensive game. Considering the A’s are paying him next to nothing (he won't be arbitration eligible until 2018), he could turn into one of the best value outfielders in the game. If he can get on base frequently, the middle of the Athletics' order will have no issues driving him in. Burns will be instrumental to Oakland's success.​

Number To Know: 2.9

That’s all the Athletics have received in return (in WAR) for reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson, who was traded to the Blue Jays before last season. The combined efforts of Lawrie, Graveman and lefthander Sean Nolin paled in comparison to what Donaldson did in a career year for Toronto, posting 8.8 WAR. Two pieces of that deal are already gone: Lawrie was traded to the White Sox in December for two minor leaguers, and Nolin was released over the winter to make room for Davis (and subsequently signed with the Brewers). The fourth player sent to Oakland, shortstop Franklin Barreto, is still a while away from being pro-ready; the 20-year-old topped out at high A ball for the A's last year, albeit performing well (.302/.333/.500 in 364 plate appearances).

It’s safe to say this trade hasn’t worked out for the Athletics so far, and with half of the return already elsewhere, it's hard to see Oakland recouping much of the value it gave up. An ascension up the rotation from Graveman would help the Athletics live with the deal, but they shouldn't be holding their breath.​

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Scout’s Takes

Most Overrated: Billy Butler, DH

"He’s a $30 million one-trick pony, and if you run out of that one trick, you can't hide him."

Most Underrated: Sonny Gray, SP

"I think if he were on a championship-quality team, he could've perhaps been a Cy Young winner last year. I don't think the world knows how good Sonny Gray is."

This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams for the 2016 season, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 28: the Philadelphia Phillies.

2015 Record and Finish:
63–99 (.389), fifth place in National League East (30th overall)

2016 Projected Record and Finish:
65–97 (.401), fourth place in NL East

The Case For

After three straight seasons of diminishing returns, Philadelphia bottomed out in 2015, losing 99 games for the team’s worst finish in almost two decades. But heading into 2016, there’s plenty to suggest that the Phillies are heading in the right direction. The team has a new front office that is led by president Andy MacPhail, a longtime executive for multiple teams, and general manager Matt Klentak, an ex-Angels assistant GM, and it has placed a long overdue emphasis on analytics. The roster is young and full of promise, albeit short on players with a history of production at the major league level. Philadelphia also boasts the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, giving it another blue-chip prospect to add to a farm system that ranks among the game’s best, and another top-five selection likely awaits after this season.

The contending teams built (and subsequently neglected by) departed general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. are long gone, but a new, young nucleus is being put in place. Leading the charge is third baseman Maikel Franco, who burst onto the scene last year by posting a 127 OPS+ and 1.7 Wins Above Replacement in 80 games before a fractured left wrist in August put an early end to his season. Franco, 23, bashed 14 homers in just 335 plate appearances last season, and he’ll be the main power threat for a lineup that will have 24-year-old speedster Odubel Herrera up top and 29-year-old slugger Darin Ruf as a potential impact bat. The rotation, meanwhile, is led by 22-year-old Aaron Nola, who posted a 111 ERA+ and a strikeout rate of 7.9 per nine in 77 2/3 innings, and 23-year-old Vince Velasquez, who was acquired from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade and fanned 58 in 55 2/3 frames for Houston last year.

As exciting as those players are, the farm system boasts perhaps more promise. Shortstop J.P. Crawford, the team’s top prospect, should be starting in Philadelphia by midseason. Last season’s Cole Hamels trade with the Rangers landed Nick Williams, who could be the Phillies’ centerfielder of the future; righthander Jake Thompson, a potential mid-rotation starter; and catcher Jorge Alfaro, who has arguably the most power of anyone in Philadelphia’s system. There's also 2011 second-round pick Roman Quinn (a .791 OPS as a 22-year-old centerfielder in Double A last season) and ‘15 first-round selection Cornelius Randolph (a .425 on-base percentage as an 18-year-old in rookie ball). For the first time in years, the Phillies and their fans have every reason to be excited about the future.

The Case Against

The future may be bright, but the present isn’t very sunny in Philadelphia, as this year’s Phillies simply lack talent. Aside from Franco, Herrera and possibly Ruf, the lineup is bereft of above-average hitters, and the rotation is equally thin behind Nola. Prospects like Crawford, Williams, Thompson, starter Jerad Eickhoff and outfielder Aaron Altherr will eventually bring some upside to the lineup and rotation, but until then, the majority of Philadelphia’s roster is a collection of washed-up veterans and back-end options miscast as everyday starters. While Phillies fans wait for the kids, they’ll have to suffer through the final painful days of first baseman Ryan Howard and catcher Carlos Ruiz and lackluster innings and at-bats from fill-ins like reliever David Hernandez, starter Jeremy Hellickson and shortstop Freddy Galvis. A losing season is a lock and 90-plus losses are a guarantee, with 100 or more not out of the question.

To be fair, there should be no expectation of the 2016 Phillies contending or even coming close to it. The lineup is too weak, the rotation lacks depth, and with Giles now closing in Houston, the bullpen is also a question mark. On top of that, Amaro and Klentak have stripped the roster down to the nuts and bolts, leaving little if nothing that could be used to acquire additional prospects. The Phillies’ future will thrive or die on the strength of the young players and prospects already assembled; injuries or poor performance on their part will push back that contention timetable, perhaps for a very long time.

MORE MLB: NL breakout candidates | NL busts | NL rookies to watch

Chris O'Meara/AP

X-Factor: Mark Appel, SP

Of all the top prospects brought to Philadelphia in the last year, none is more compelling or mystifying than Appel, the No. 1 pick in 2013 who was acquired in the Giles trade. Plagued by inconsistent velocity and results, the 24-year-old righthander stumbled through three seasons in Houston, getting plastered across multiple levels (his minor-league ERA is an unsightly 5.12), and his inclusion in the deal felt more like an afterthought. Given his age and lack of results, the odds are against him being a contributor to the Phillies at any level.

So why tab him as Philadelphia’s X-factor? Because if Appel can somehow rediscover the form and stuff that made him the best pitcher in college baseball from his time at Stanford, he could give the Phillies an unexpected boost in a rotation (or bullpen) lacking in impact arms. And at this point, no one is counting on anything from Appel, making him a perfect fit for a team seemingly built out of lottery tickets. If he busts, he’ll be a footnote in Philadelphia’s long climb out of its Amaro-created hole. But if he hits, he’ll be yet another young player ready to make the Phillies contenders once more.

Number To Know: $24.7 million

You can count the number of Phillies with guaranteed contracts for 2017 on one hand: Howard, Ruiz, lefty starter Matt Harrison and righty starter Charlie Morton. Together, that quartet will earn just under $25 million next year, and it’s likely that all four will be paid not to play in Philadelphia: Howard and Ruiz have team options that will not be picked up, Morton’s $9.5 million mutual option will likely be declined, and Harrison probably won’t be pitching for much longer due to a persistent and chronic back condition. The team’s new core, meanwhile, will be drawing below-market paychecks for quite some time, giving the Phillies almost limitless payroll room in free agency.

That won’t have much of an impact in the 2017 off-season market, when there will be few (if any) available franchise players on the right side of 30. But that lack of long-term commitments should come in handy for 2018, when superstars like Bryce Harper, Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey will be looking to cash in as best they can. If Philadelphia’s group of young talent can play up to potential, that combination of performance and available money could entice some big-market free agents, which would substantially accelerate the Phillies’ rebuild.

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Scout’s Takes

Most Overrated: Carlos Ruiz, C

“He’s really slowed down, and he’s probably going to end up backing up Cameron Rupp more than Rupp backs him up. You can see his age and all the games he caught during that run have taken their toll. His body is a lot more sluggish offensively and defensively.”

Most Underrated: Odubel Herrera, CF

“I don’t think people have figured him out offensively yet because he is a good hitter. He’s got good bat speed. His one weakness might be discipline, but it’s not always a weakness. There are times he gets himself out, but he’s starting to mature into a guy who isn’t doing that, which could be dangerous for a guy who has the weapons he has.”

This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams for the 2016 season, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 27: the Cincinnati Reds.

2015 Record and Finish:
64–98 (.395), fifth place in National League Central (29th overall)

2016 Projected Record and Finish:
68–94 (.420), fifth place in NL Central

The Case For

It's hard to be too optimistic about a team that lost 98 games and traded away its second-best position player, its ace and its closer and lost another key starter to free agency, but here goes. To start, the Reds still have first baseman Joey Votto, who finished third in the NL MVP voting and posted an even 1.000 OPS while leading the league in walks last season. He alone should be worth the price of admission at Great American Ballpark. And Cincinnati saw subtle, if notable, improvement from speedster Billy Hamilton, whose stolen base percentage jumped from 70.9% in 2014 to 87.7% last year, even though he only stole one more base (57, second-best in the Senior Circuit). Hamilton also led NL centerfielders in assists for the second straight year, giving him a potent combination of arm strength and range that could make him a Gold Glove candidate.

The pitching staff boasts a wealth of young, if unproven, arms (more on which below), but if even a couple of those guys turn into above-average starters, the Reds will have the foundation of a quality starting staff. Otherwise, the best sign of a successful season will be seeing how their efforts to rebuild the farm system progress; what kind of success they have in the draft (they hold the No. 2 pick); and, perhaps, whether or not they can play spoiler for the rivals in their loaded division. Last year, the NL Central sent three teams—the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates—to the playoffs. Cincinnati faces those teams, plus the equally woebegone Brewers, in its final 23 games of the season. If the Reds can't go to the postseason, perhaps they can ensure that one or more of their rivals don't get there either.

The Case Against

Last year the Reds ended the longest streak among the four major North American team sports by finishing in last place for the first time in 32 years. It won't take that long for them to finish there again. Off-season trades that sent All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier to the White Sox and All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees not only depleted the talent on the major league club but also didn't do as much as might have been expected to replenish the farm system. Of the seven players who came to Cincinnati in those deals, only one—infielder Jose Peraza, who had been with the Dodgers, the third team involved in the Frazier deal—was considered a top-10 prospect with his former ballclub.

Those deals came on the heels of a mid-summer trade that saw ace Johnny Cueto moved to Kansas City. The Reds almost shipped out another star over the winter, but second baseman Brandon Phillips reportedly used his rights as a 10-and-5 player to block a couple of trades, one that would have sent him to Washington and another that had him ticketed for Arizona. Cincinnati would be wise to try dealing Phillips again during the season, and to do the same with outfielder Jay Bruce. That would make an already bad team even worse, but those players aren't going to be a part of whatever future success there will be in Cincinnati.

The bullpen is also a mess in the wake of Chapman's departure. Righty J.J. Hoover is expected to take over Chapman's role as closer, but he possesses neither his predecessor's fearsome fastball nor his track record of success. Hoover has just five saves in his first four major league seasons, and he saw a decline in his strikeout-to-walk ratio and his strikeouts per nine that indicate he won't be able to rely, as Chapman did, on pure stuff to lock down games.

MORE MLB: NL breakout candidates | NL busts | NL rookies to watch

Michael Thomas/Getty Images

X-Factor: Homer Bailey

Hard as it is to believe, Bailey is still just 29 years old. A one-time top-10 draft pick by the Reds back in 2004, he didn't make 30 starts in a season at the major league level until four years ago. At his best, he was good enough to throw two no-hitters, rank seventh in the NL in strikeouts in 2013 and for the Reds to sign him to a six-year, $105 million contract before the '14 season. Since then, however, he's made only 25 starts, just two of which came last year before he was shut down and underwent Tommy John surgery.

Bailey should be back in the rotation before the All-Star break, by which time it's likely the Reds will be long buried in the standings, but his return will be more about seeing what the team can expect from him in the back half of that contract. If he's good, he could provide the rotation anchor Cincinnati so desperately needs; if he's very good, he might even become a possible trade option, if not in 2016 then perhaps sometime in the next year or so. Barring an unexpected turnaround in the Reds' fortunes, they would surely love to get out from under the $63 million he's owed in guaranteed money from 2017 to '19.

Number To Know: 64

That's how many consecutive starts were made by rookie pitchers for Cincinnati to end last season, a major league record. Overall, the Reds gave the ball to a first-year pitcher in 110 games, the second-highest number in major league history. With Mike Leake traded to the Giants at last year’s deadline and the aforementioned Bailey still recovering from Tommy John surgery, Cincinnati will again be forced to call upon those same pitchers to carry its rotation.

Anthony DeSclafani, a righthander who turns 26 in mid-April, had the best season of the bunch and should be in line for an improvement over his 9–13 record and 4.05 ERA. It's harder to know what to expect from Raisel Iglesias (3–7, 4.15 ERA) and Michael Lorenzen (4–9, 5.40). The most intriguing option might be Brandon Finnegan, who made a name for himself as a key bullpen option for the Royals during their run to the 2014 World Series just a few months after he'd pitched in the College World Series for TCU. Traded to Cincinnati in the Cueto deal last July, Finnegan got the first four starts of his major league career, and though he still fared far better coming out of the bullpen (2.67 ERA, .597 OPS against) than as a starter (4.71, .847), he has a versatile enough offering of pitches (particularly a developing changeup) that the team sees him as an option. The Reds will certainly have the luxury of being patient with all of their young arms, and they can afford to figure out exactly which roles work best for which players as they begin building for their next run at contention.

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Scout’s Takes

Most Overrated: Joey Votto, 1B

"I hate to throw Joey Votto under the bus, he just is what he is, but I wish he would drive in more runs—or lead them off. There’s your on base guy."

Most Underrated: Michael Lorenzen, SP

"He’s got a great arm and he’s a great athlete. I think he’s going to be a good starting pitcher."

This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams for the 2016 season, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 26: the Baltimore Orioles.

2015 Record and Finish:
81–81 (.500), third place in American League East (16th overall)

2016 Projected Record and Finish:
69–93 (.426), fifth place in AL East

The Case For

On the heels of a modest season that many feared would be the last in Baltimore for first baseman Chris Davis and catcher Matt Wieters, the Orioles managed to retain both this winter thanks to Davis signing a contract with a significant amount of deferred money and Wieters joining the first wave of players to accept a qualifying offer. Davis, who rebounded to 47 homers last year after restoring his therapeutic use exemption for an ADHD drug, should continue to lead a power parade that includes third baseman Manny Machado (35 homers), centerfielder Adam Jones (27 homers) and second baseman Jonathan Schoop (15 homers in 86 games) as well as newcomers Mark Trumbo (22 homers despite a partial-season exile in Seattle) and Pedro Alvarez (27 homers with Pittsburgh). At worst, only one of that aforementioned pair of new Birds will have to play the field at any given time, minimizing the damage they can cause.

Of that group, the biggest promise belongs to Machado, who is coming off a season unencumbered by knee woes and put up across-the-board career bests: .286/.359/.502 with a 131 OPS+, 20 steals to go with those homers, and 7.1 Wins Above Replacement (baseball-reference.com version). He doesn't turn 23 until July 6, so it's entirely possible that the best is yet to come from him.

Meanwhile, the team also retained reliever Darren O'Day, who has paired with closer Zach Britton to become the game's most valuable one-two bullpen punch over the past two seasons. Manager Buck Showalter's use of that duo and his facility with handling the rest of his bullpen should help mitigate some of the question marks in the Orioles' rotation.

The Case Against

Even in a division that's decidedly short on top-shelf starting pitching, the Orioles' rotation scares nobody. Their only starter to qualify for the ERA title and turn in a mark below 4.00, lefty Wei-Yin Chen, skipped town and is now a Marlin. The team's fussing with former top prospect Kevin Gausman and the decline of Chris Tillman have raised questions about the way Baltimore develops pitching from within. Both Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo probably have their best days behind them, and Miguel Gonzalez's terrible peripherals have finally caught up to him.

On the offensive side, for all the power that the team boasts, getting on base could be a real problem. Trumbo and four returning starters (including catcher Caleb Joseph, who may well catch more games than Wieters) are coming off seasons with on-base percentages of .310 or lower, and there's no guarantee they get more than that from their collection of question marks in leftfield (Korean import Hyun-soo Kim, Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard and veteran holdover Nolan Reimold).

MORE MLB: AL breakout candidates | AL busts | AL rookies to watch

Patrick Semansky/AP

X-Factor: Chris Tillman, SP

Over the past half-decade or so, the Orioles' track record in converting their blue-chip pitching prospects into viable major leaguers leaves something to be desired. Jake Arrieta needed a trade to Chicago to unlock his potential; Britton and lefty Brian Matusz had to move to the bullpen; and Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey have been derailed by injuries.

Tillman was the exception to the rule for 2 1/2 seasons, pitching to a 3.42 ERA (118 ERA+) from mid-2012 though '14, earning All-Star honors in '13 and topping 200 innings twice despite a gaudy home run rate of 1.2 per nine. Alas, his shaky peripherals—which produced a 4.22 FIP over the span in question—caught up to him in 2015, less in the form of his home-run rate than in his converging strikeout and walk ratios. Where he had whiffed 7.1 per nine and walked 2.8 in those 2 1/2 seasons, he slipped to 6.2 strikeouts and 3.3 walks per nine in 2015. He finished with a 4.99 ERA, second-highest among qualified AL starters, and a 4.45 FIP. One reason for his collapse may have been mechanical. As Baseball Prospectus 2016 noted, "Tillman has had one of baseball's tallest release points for the past few years, reaching almost seven feet of vertical distance, but in 2015, the arm slot dropped to a release four inches lower."

Tillman did have some encouraging stretches last season, including a nine-start span from June 28 to Aug. 22 during which he pitched to a 2.35 ERA with a 3.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio, double that of his overall one. During that time, he added a sinker and improved his changeup, but the success proved fleeting. If the Orioles are to contend, he'll have to find a way to rebound to his 2012–14 form, particularly given a rotation that offers no sure things.​

Number To Know: 8.8

That's Schoop's strikeout-to-walk ratio; he whiffed 79 times in 321 plate appearances and drew just nine free passes for the majors' highest ratio. As bad as that is, it does represent a slight improvement over his 2014 ratio of 9.4 (122 strikeouts and 13 walks in 481 PA). Not many players can get away with that kind of imbalance, but at least for the moment, the 24-year-old Schoop still offers plenty of promise thanks to his combination of power (32 homers in 817 PA at the big league level) and defensive ability (+10 Defensive Runs Saved at second base in 2014, though down to -3 last year), which has drawn positive notice from scouts.

Schoop swings at everything short of hot dog wrappers wafting in the summer breeze. At the 300 PA cutoff, he swung at the AL's highest percentage of pitches in the zone (83.5%) and the fifth-highest percentage of pitches outside the zone (44.6%). Teammate Jones outranked him in that latter category, and the two players had very similar slash lines (.279/.306/.482 for Schoop, .269/.308/.474 for Jones). That's not ideal, but it does offer something of a template for where Schoop is heading, as power and solid defense from an up-the-middle position player is always welcome. Still, he does need to cut down his whiff rate, particularly against offspeed stuff; via Brooks Baseball, he swung and missed at least 39% of the time against sliders, curves and changeups.​

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Scout’s Takes

Most Overrated: Matt Wieters, C

“If people think he's a star player, well, he's not. It'll be almost impossible for him to get that big contract. His arm is coming back from the Tommy John surgery, but it's not back yet, and he's never been a real great offensive player. He's going to have to work to take the full-time job back, because Caleb Joseph is coming on like crazy.”

Most Underrated: Jonathan Schoop, 2B

“Schoop is a plus defender, almost Gold Glove-caliber—one of the better second basemen in all of baseball. He still chases breaking balls out of the zone and has to learn the strike zone better, but he's got power and offensive skills that very few second basemen have.”

This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams for the 2016 season, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 25: the Milwaukee Brewers.

2015 Record and Finish:
68–94 (.420), fourth place in National League Central (25th overall)

2016 Projected Record and Finish:
70–92 (.432), fourth place in NL Central

The Case For

You have to squint. Maybe leftfielder Ryan Braun, at 32 and with five years and $105 million left on his contract, will return to MVP form after a few seasons compromised by a PED suspension and injuries to his thumb and his back. Maybe his dinged-up running mate, catcher Jonathan Lucroy, will be healthy, too. Maybe first baseman Chris Carter, signed as a free agent after being non-tendered by the Astros, will hit 37 home runs again, as he did two years ago.

Maybe toolsy 6’5” outfielder Domingo Santana, another former Astro—there’s a theme for new general manager David Stearns, formerly Jeff Luhnow’s assistant in Houston—will break out at 23. Maybe centerfield prospect Brett Phillips (another key piece in last July’s trade that sent Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to Houston) will arrive ahead of schedule to save the club from the prospect of regular at-bats for Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Maybe defensively gifted, 21-year-old shortstop Orlando Arcia—sixth on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list, after batting .307 in Double A—will also force his way into the majors early.

Maybe Matt Garza will surpass 200 innings for the first time since 2010. Maybe hard-throwing, 26-year-old starters Jimmy Nelson and Wily Peralta will suddenly develop into a credible one-two punch for a rotation that ranked 28th in ERA last year, at 4.79. Maybe.

The Case Against

Here is a list of players whom the Brewers have traded since the last day of August in 2014, when they were 73–63 and tied atop the NL Central: reliever Jonathan Broxton, outfielder Khris Davis, Gomez, Fiers, first baseman Adam Lind, outfielder Gerardo Parra, third baseman Aramis Ramirez, closer Francisco Rodriguez and shortstop Jean Segura. You can’t blame them, as a 9–17 September left Milwaukee six games out of even a wild-card spot two years ago, before last season’s disaster.

It was time to rebuild, and the Brewers have the right man to do it in the 31-year-old Stearns, a central strategist in Houston’s successful effort. Now, though, the team is right in the middle of the teardown, and its immediate fortunes won’t be helped by the fact that the Brewers, like the equally beleaguered Reds, play in a division with three of the majors’ best clubs—the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates. “That’s crazy in one division, especially when you’re playing them over and over,” says one rival scout. “Poor Reds and Brewers, these three teams!”​

MORE MLB: NL breakout candidates | NL busts | NL rookies to watch

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

X-Factor: Jonathan Lucroy, C

Lucroy wasn’t just the best catcher in baseball in 2014; he was one of the best players in baseball. His 6.2 Wins Above Replacement (FanGraphs version) ranked him eighth among regulars, sandwiched between the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton and the Indians' Michael Brantley, and he finished fourth in the NL MVP balloting. He paired elite hitting (a .301 average, 13 homers, a league-high 53 doubles) with similar receiving skills behind the plate; he was such a good pitch framer that he could turn a finger-painting hurler into Rembrandt. Last year, though, Lucroy missed a month and a half with to a broken toe suffered in mid-April and then a couple more weeks in September due to a concussion. He finished with a .264 average, seven homers and a .717 OPS, a drop of 120 points from 2014.

Catching is a grueling gig, and the 29-year-old Lucroy hasn’t done it in a major league game since last Sept. 8, when he took that fateful foul tip to the mask. But the Brewers need him to return to form and his natural position to have any shot to compete. Realistically, though, they’ll need him to do so in a sustained way in order to reestablish his trade value—which could be extremely high, as he’s due less than $10 million in salary over the next two years and because several contenders (including the Astros, Nationals and Rangers) have clear holes at catcher. A healthy, productive and catching Lucroy is the type of trade chip that could significantly shorten any rebuilding plan. A Lucroy who is limited to playing first base would have much less value, both to the Brewers and to suitors.

Number To Know: 20

That’s how many spots the Brewers have risen on Baseball America’s organization talent rankings list over the past two seasons, going from 29th to ninth. Only the Braves have made a bigger jump, from 26th to third, and they’ve been strip-mined to a degree that Milwaukee hasn't quite. Aside from the aforementioned Arcia and Phillips, the Brewers have four other prospects who have made at least one of the big three top-100 prospects lists: catcher Jacob Nottingham, outfielder Trent Clark and starters Jorge Lopez and Josh Hader. Unless something truly unexpected develops in Milwaukee, 2016 will really be about '17 and beyond.​

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Scout’s Takes

Most Overrated: Scooter Gennett, 2B

“He’s the only regular left from their competitive days aside from Braun and Lucroy, but he’s a little inconsistent with his offense. Not a real fluid defender at second. Doesn’t do the pivot well. For me, not a solid, everyday player. You’re always going to be looking for something a little better. I know he plays the game hard, but he’s stiff and he struggles against lefthanded pitching.”​

Most Underrated: Will Smith, RP

“When he’s going good and not overused, Smith is one of the better lefthanded relievers in the game. I just think he’s a valuable setup guy that has quality stuff: a plus fastball, a hard breaking ball, a breaking slider with sharp bite and depth. He could pitch on anybody’s staff in baseball, even in the Royals’ bullpen. He's one of Milwaukee’s best assets.”

This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams for the 2016 season, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 24: the Los Angeles Angels.

2015 Record and Finish:
85–77 (.525), third place in American League West (11th overall)

2016 Projected Record and Finish:
72–90 (.444), fourth place in AL West

The Case For

Any team that has Mike Trout is bound to stumble upon some degree of success, but the presence of one phenom on a roster is never enough to carry an entire team (see: the 2015 Nationals). The four-time All Star has put in MVP-caliber work every year since his first full season with the Angels in 2012—including his lone win in '14—but postseason success in that period has been sparse to nonexistent. In 2014, Los Angeles finished with baseball's best record but was swept out of the ALDS by the Royals—its only trip to October so far with Trout. Last year, the Angels finished with the best record of teams that didn’t make the playoffs, and a wild-card berth dangled just out of their grasp until the season’s final days. Trout, catcher Carlos Perez and then-third baseman David Freese all did their part by hitting over .300 in the season’s final month, but the rest of the starting lineup hit a collective .233, and the Halos missed the second wild-card spot by just one game. The theme of Trout receiving little backup at the plate was present throughout the Angels' entire season, and that will be the crux of whether Los Angeles can max out its present potential in 2016.

Despite Trout’s best efforts, the team’s season slash line of .246/.307/.396 sat at the bottom of the AL, and Los Angeles' 4.1 runs per game ranked 20th. The Angels will need more consistent production from prolific but aging first baseman Albert Pujols, who hit .244/.307/.480 in 2015 but reminded us he isn’t an old man quite yet by clubbing 40 home runs in his climb up the all-time leader board. In the best case scenario for the Angels, new additions Andrelton Simmons and Yunel Escobar turn in career years at the plate; Pujols defies age and injury once again; Kole Calhoun, Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry do an above-average job at flanking Trout in the outfield; and the rotation behind righty ace Garrett Richards keeps the Angels in games. But without making many improvements in the areas they were lacking—catcher, second base, leftfield, designated hitter—it will be tough to contend in the AL West against the offense-heavy Rangers, the rebuilt Astros and the overhauled Mariners.

The Case Against

The prognosis looks grim for Los Angeles. Missing a playoff berth by so little was disheartening, but the Angels may not even come that close this year. Acquiring a second baseman, corner outfielder and starting pitcher could have turned this team into a powerhouse, but instead, the Halos will be entreating the baseball gods with prayers for uncharacteristically productive seasons from every player on their roster just to give them hope for a wild-card spot.

At second base, the Angels will stick with Johnny Giavotella despite his middling offense (96 OPS+) and awful defense (-12 Defensive Runs Saved) last year. In left, the duo of Nava (.194/.315/.245 in 166 plate appearances for the Red Sox and Rays) and Gentry (six hits in 26 forgettable games for the A's) will form arguably the least productive platoon in the majors. Barring a miracle or a midseason change, those positions will be persistent black holes for the Angels' offense—and that doesn't include the equally problematic options at designated hitter (C.J. Cron, 106 OPS+), catcher (Perez, 82 OPS+) and shortstop (Simmons, 86 OPS+). As it stands, Trout, Calhoun and Pujols are the only above-average regulars in Los Angeles' lineup; they will have to carry an incredibly heavy load.

Things aren't much better on the mound. The Angels' pitching hung near average in 2015 with a 3.94 ERA, and no significant acquisitions were made to improve the ailing starting rotation, most of which will be found in the training room rather than on the mound come Opening Day. Their starters (3.98 ERA) did a good job of limiting hits (.247 opponent's batting average) but gave away the second-most free passes in the AL (303 walks). The bullpen was average (3.86 ERA), though it benefited from a nearly full season from closer Huston Street, who was shut down in September with a groin injury, missing the final nine games of the season. Street has a long and unpleasant history of injuries, and the Angels' bullpen behind him would struggle to pick up the slack if he goes down for any significant length.

MORE MLB: AL breakout candidates | AL busts | AL rookies to watch

Mark J. Terrill/AP

X-Factor: Andrew Heaney, SP

With C.J. Wilson and Tyler Skaggs already set to begin the season on the disabled list (Wilson is out indefinitely with a shoulder problem and Skaggs is recovering from Tommy John surgery) and Jered Weaver potentially not far behind as he deals with degenerative changes in his vertebrae, the stage has been set for Heaney, a 24-year-old lefthander, to emerge as a leader in the rotation. Heaney owns a 4.00 ERA over two career seasons but showed promise in the 18 starts he made for the Angels last year. He finished with a 6–4 record and a 3.49 ERA, and his 1.7 WAR was just a tenth of a point behind those of Richards and All-Star Hector Santiago in the rotation. He will likely follow those two in the order again, and the Angels will rely heavily on him to pitch up to his prospect potential while the rest of their pitching staff mends.

Number To Know: 5.5

That's how many miles per hour Weaver has lost off his fastball since his rookie season. His diminishing velocity was a concern going into last season, and it remains a problem entering this season. Weaver's ERA has gone up every year since he finished second in Cy Young voting in 2011, and his average fastball velocity has correspondingly decreased; he finished last year with his fastball clocking in at 84.9 mph and his ERA at 4.64. According to FanGraphs, only five other non-knuckleball pitchers who have thrown more than 150 innings per season over the past 14 years have had a slower average fastball velocity than Weaver did in 2015. As he sluggishly brings up the rear in the starting pitching parade, he will need to find new ways to outsmart hitters, as blowing balls by them seems to no longer be an option.​

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Scout’s Takes

Most Overrated: Craig Gentry, OF

"You've got a fifth outfielder you're considering to be an everyday player. At that position you're expecting power numbers. He has not performed at that level."

Most Underrated: Kole Calhoun, RF

"He just keeps getting better. Playing with the best player on the planet, I think people miss how much damage he’s doing there next to Trout."

This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams for the 2016 season, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 23: the Colorado Rockies.

2015 Record and Finish:
68–94 (.420), fifth place in National League West (27th overall)

2016 Projected Record and Finish:
73–89 (.451), fourth place in NL West

The Case For

On the heels of a 94-loss season, the Rockies didn't make any high-impact moves, and they're no threat to win the NL West. Still, that's not to say that they'll be completely unwatchable or incapable of producing some level of success this year. For one thing, they've got one of the game's elite defenders in Nolan Arenado, a spectacular third baseman who has won three Gold Gloves in three years and led the league in both homers (42) and RBIs (130) in 2015 as well. For the moment at least, they've got a healthy Carlos Gonzalez coming off career highs in games played (153) and homers (40), though with two years remaining on his contract, the team would be well-served by marketing him for a trade this summer.

Perhaps the most interesting facet of the roster is the quartet of young pitchers—Jonathan Gray, Eddie Butler, Jordan Lyles and Tyler Matzek—who are all in their age-25 seasons or younger. Sure, they've taken their lumps in the big league thus far; all but Matzek have career ERAs above 5.00, and Matzek has the additional challenge of dealing with an anxiety issue that remains unresolved. All four are former first-round (or supplemental first-round) picks who since being drafted have each spent multiple seasons on top prospect lists, cracking the top 50 at some point before getting their rude introduction to the majors. They won't all pan out to the same extent, and keeping them healthy has been a challenge thus far, but if the team hits on a couple of those pitchers, respectability may not be far away.

The Case Against

Last year was the Rockies' fifth straight below .500 and third out of the last four with at least 94 losses. Over that span, only the Astros have had a worse record, and they're coming off a 2015 playoff appearance, with a full season from AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa on tap. Colorado has a strong farm system, but the team doesn't have that kind of organizational savior on the way. The Rockies also didn't add anyone this winter who will make them particularly more compelling to watch, unless subbing in Gerardo Parra for Corey Dickerson, Jake McGee for Rex Brothers, or Jason Motte for John Axford moves the needle for you (if it does, seek help). It may be that general manager Jeff Bridich has a plan for how to build a winner at high altitude, but so far, the best that can be said for his tenure is that it's still early, as he took over in October 2014.

MORE MLB: NL breakout candidates | NL busts | NL rookies to watch

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

X-Factor: Chad Bettis, SP

Between the aforementioned young pitchers and grizzled 35-year-old staff ace Jorge De La Rosa is Bettis, a soon-to-be-27-year-old righty coming off a breakout 2015 season. A second-round pick out of Texas Tech back in 2010, he grazed prospect lists in '12 before missing all of that season due to a rotator cuff injury, and his exposure to the big leagues in '13–14—a total of 69 1/3 innings, with a 6.88 ERA and 5.14 FIP—was not positive.

But after beginning his 2015 season at Triple A Albuquerque, Bettis pitched well enough to be promoted to the majors in mid-May. Aside from a 10-run drubbing by the Angels on July 7 and a five-week stint on the disabled list due to elbow inflammation, he was a pleasant surprise, pitching to a 4.23 ERA (110 ERA+) and 3.85 FIP in 115 innings. Among the nine pitchers who made at least nine starts for the team, both his 0.7 homers per nine and his 7.7 strikeouts per nine ranked second. As Baseball Prospectus 2016 noted, "Bettis did a better job consistently burying his slider low and away to righthanders, giving him two secondary pitches (the changeup is the other) that drew whiffs 20% of the time and produced two grounders for every three balls put in play."

Extending that encouraging 20-start performance across a full season is no small challenge, particularly given that Bettis's elbow troubles probably had something to do with ramping up his workload (he threw just 80 innings in 2014). If he can pull it off, however, he'll lessen the pressure on the younger pitchers, a group that also includes Tyler Chatwood, who despite having just turned 26 is coming off his second Tommy John surgery.

Number To Know: TBD

As in "To Be Determined," the length of Jose Reyes's suspension under the game's new domestic violence policy. The 32-year-old shortstop, who was acquired from the Blue Jays in the Troy Tulowitzki blockbuster in late July, was arrested in Hawaii last Halloween on charges of domestic abuse; his wife reportedly suffered injuries to her neck, face and leg. Reyes pled not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial on April 4. Commissioner Rob Manfred, who has not yet imposed a suspension in this case, placed him on paid administrative leave as of Feb. 23 and will make his decision as to further discipline upon the completion of the case. Given Aroldis Chapman's 30-game suspension for an incident in which no charges were actually filed, it's reasonable to assume that unless the facts of the case differ considerably from what has been reported thus far, Reyes will receive a longer ban.

As to what the Rockies do without Reyes, 23-year-old prospect Trevor Story, who hit .279/.350/.514 with 20 homers split between Double and Triple A, is viewed by some as needing more seasoning before he can claim a major league job. While there's no real reason to start his service clock before he's ready, he’s made a strong impression thus far this spring, and the odds of him making the team have increased even further with the news of Daniel Descalso’s fractured left hand.

The 29-year-old Descalso and 24-year-old Cristhian Adames are the top alternatives to Story. Descalso has five-plus major league seasons under his belt and has shown that he's a terrible hitter (.238/.309/.339 overall, including .205/.283/.324 for a 55 OPS+ in 209 plate appearances last year) for whom shortstop is a stretch (-19 Defensive Runs Saved in 999 1/3 innings there, around two-thirds of a season). Adames has just 33 games and 73 plate appearances in the majors; he hit .311/.362/.438 with 11 homers at Albuquerque last year, but beyond those altitude-inflated stats, his profile is that of a defense-first utility man who's probably a better bet for shortstop. He's out of options, which could work in his favor to start the year as well, assuming Reyes isn't available.

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Scout’s Takes

Most Overrated: Gerardo Parra, OF

"The trade for him was confusing. It doesn’t solve the all-lefthanded outfield problem, and at this stage of his career, he’s really more of a good platoon guy. And the guy they gave up [Dickerson] had a higher ceiling offensively. It just didn’t make sense with any type of long-term plan.​"

Most Underrated: Chad Bettis, SP

​"He’s really settling in for two reasons: He finally has a defined role after bouncing back and forth as a reliever and a starter, and the club helped fix his delivery this time last year. I think he’s going to be the guy they wanted when they drafted him.​"

This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams for the 2016 season, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 22: the San Diego Padres.

2015 Record and Finish:
74–88 (.457), fourth place in National League West (23rd overall)

2016 Projected Record and Finish:
73–89 (.451), fourth place in NL West

The Case For

Change can sometimes be a good thing. Certainly that wasn’t the case for last year’s Padres, even with many calling general manager A.J. Preller the champion of the off-season after he made numerous high-profile moves that ultimately didn’t end with winning results. But after underperforming last season, San Diego could finish higher in the standings than many predict if the team can find a groove and get career years from several players.

The real question is whether that can happen with the roster the Padres currently have. There are a few potential difference makers on the team. Rightfielder Matt Kemp, who rebounded from a slow start with a fantastic second half (.868 OPS after the All-Star break), could be vital for the Padres if he can provide a consistent performance throughout the year. San Diego also dealt with an injured Wil Myers last season and the lack of a regular shortstop; Myers is back and healthy to man first base, and Alexei Ramirez will take over as the everyday starter at short after getting released by the White Sox.

In the rotation, the Padres still have righthander Tyson Ross, who led the starting five with a 112 ERA+ and boasts a fantastic 9.7 strikeout-per-nine ratio. One key here will be righthander Andrew Cashner, who is coming off a tough 2015 in which he went 6–16 with a 4.34 ERA, 84 ERA+ and -0.9 Wins Above Replacement. If Cashner can turn around his performance and return to his 2013–14 form (2.87 ERA, 119 ERA+ in 298 1/3 innings), the Padres' pitching rotation will certainly be stronger.​

The Case Against

As they did last year, the Padres will enter the season with a roster that looks markedly different from the previous year's edition, but whereas 2015 was about trying to build a contender on the fly, '16 will be simply about rebuilding. Gone is leftfielder Justin Upton, who led the team in home runs with 26 and is now with the Tigers. Also departed: righthander Ian Kennedy, first baseman Yonder Alonso and second baseman Jedd Gyorko. The latter three won't be missed much, but San Diego failed to replace Upton's power this winter, leaving a sizable hole in the middle of what is already a thin lineup.

The pitching rotation for the Padres could also be problematic. Although James Shields and Ross are reliable, the bottom half of the rotation is still in the works. At this point, it looks like righthanders Brandon Maurer and Colin Rea and lefty Robbie Erlin could be filling those spots. Maurer, who served as the Padres' setup man last season, is 4–12 with a 6.62 ERA in his career as a starter. He also last pitched on Aug. 9 and was shut down for the season after dealing with shoulder inflammation. Rea made his major league debut in 2015 and tallied six solid starts, going 2–2 and striking out 26 in 32 2/3 innings, but he's never thrown more than 139 innings in a season. All three pitchers will likely face some growing pains in their starting roles, and San Diego lacks veteran options should they falter.

If the Padres do find themselves in close games, the bullpen situation could be brutal. San Diego traded away closer Craig Kimbrel, who recorded 39 saves last season, and setup reliever Joaquin Benoit. Even with Kimbrel and Benoit, San Diego’s bullpen struggled last season, accumulating a 4.02 ERA, which ranked 13th in the NL. It's hard to imagine that number improving without those two.

MORE MLB: NL breakout candidates | NL busts | NL rookies to watch

David Zalubowski/AP

X-Factor: Wil Myers, 1B

Dealing with a wrist injury throughout the season, Myers was unable to contribute the way the Padres had hoped after the team acquired him from the Rays for top prospect Trea Turner. Myers played in just 60 games for San Diego last season, spending prolonged stints on the disabled list. Myers did contribute when healthy, hitting .253/.336/.427 for a 114 OPS+ in 253 plate appearances, but those stats were still a far cry from his Rookie of the Year-winning form in 2014.

With the addition of former Cardinals centerfielder Jon Jay, Myers will move out of the outfield and over to first base, and with Upton gone, he'll be counted on as a potential run producer in the middle of the Padres' lineup. Now 25 years old and entering his fourth season, Myers’s experience and growth as a player will be crucial for San Diego. If he is able to stay healthy, he could provide the kind of impact the Padres need to return to contention.

Number To Know: 44

In his first year behind the plate for San Diego, catcher Derek Norris led the majors in runners thrown out trying to steal with 44, nabbing an impressive 34% of would-be base stealers. That's the most runners thrown out by a catcher in a single season since Gerald Laird caught 40 when he was with the Tigers in 2009. Norris also set a career-high in starts at catcher with 116 last season, and he graded out positively in Baseball Prospectus' catcher defense metrics. With a lot of questions facing the Padres this season, one certainty is that San Diego will have stability behind the plate.​

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Scout’s Takes

Most Overrated: Andrew Cashner, SP

"The guy that’s the puzzle is Andrew Cashner. For throwing as hard as he does, he just can’t get through five innings. I saw a game where he had 96 pitches in 3 1/3 innings. His fastball moves, it’s 95–96 [mph], [but] when things go wrong, he doesn’t handle it well. He should be better."

Most Underrated: Wil Myers, 1B

"Wil Myers has been hurt, but he has real power. We loved him in high school. He can run. And he said he likes first base."

This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams for the 2016 season, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 21: the Minnesota Twins.

2015 Record and Finish:
83–79 (.512), second place in American League Central (14th overall)

2016 Projected Record and Finish:
74–88 (.457), fifth place in AL Central

The Case For

In their first year under manager Paul Molitor, the Twins snapped a streak of four straight seasons with at least 92 losses and remained in the AL wild card hunt until the second-to-last day of the season. This time around, they'll go wire-to-wire with both righthander Ervin Santana, who missed the first 80 games of last season due to a PED suspension, and new rightfielder Miguel Sano, who bopped 18 homers in 80 games as a rookie. They might also get a full season of Byron Buxton, the consensus No. 2 prospect in the game and the likely Opening Day centerfielder given the trade of Aaron Hicks, with holdover Eddie Rosario (who's entering his age-24 season) and newcomer John Ryan Murphy (entering his age-25 season) augmenting the youth movement. Meanwhile, veteran Joe Mauer—whose production has sagged in two seasons since moving to first base—is using sunglasses to help combat vision problems that have lingered since the 2013 concussion that ended his catching career.

As for the pitching, the rotation can look forward to the arrival of righty Jose Berrios (one of the game's top prospects) at some point in the season, though he’ll start the year in the minors and will have to force his way to the Twin Cities given the depth of the rotation. Barring injuries, that starting five will consist of Santana, righties Phil Hughes, Kyle Gibson and Tyler Duffey and either southpaw Tommy Milone or veteran righty Ricky Nolasco. In the bullpen, Glen Perkins should be able to resume closer duties after a bulging disc in his neck contributed to an 8.22 ERA in 7 2/3 innings in September, with power arms Kevin Jepsen and Trevor May in support.

The Case Against

Last year's Twins were a lousy offensive team, ranking dead last in the league in on-base percentage (.305) and in the bottom four in both batting average and slugging percentage (.247 and .399, respectively). Sano (146 OPS+) was the only player substantially above league average, with six regulars or part-timers in the 95–104 range, all but one of whom (Hicks) is returning. Buxton has tremendous upside, but he struggled mightily (.209/.250/.326 in 138 plate appearances) in his first exposure to major league pitching, and Rosario's 7.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .289 OBP were both appalling. At least to start the season, it appears that Murphy will take a back seat to Kurt Suzuki, who's not only a poor hitter but also one of the game's worst pitch framers.

As ever, the Twins will struggle to miss bats. The team ranked last in the league in strikeouts, with back-rotation candidates Duffey and Nolasco the only ones to whiff even 7.0 per nine; Perkins, Jepsen and May were the only relievers who topped 8.0 per nine. Fewer missed bats mean more balls in play, and that isn't necessarily a plus for a team that was tied for the league's fourth-worst defensive efficiency mark (.687) and tied for third worst in Defensive Runs Saved (-21). The potential improvement offered by a full-time Buxton could be offset at least somewhat by the learning curve that Sano must scale in rightfield, though to be fair, Torii Hunter was rather brutal there (-8 DRS) in his final season before retirement.

MORE MLB: AL breakout candidates | AL busts | AL rookies to watch

Ron Schwane/AP

X-Factor: Phil Hughes, SP

Hughes was a revelation in his first year in Minnesota, setting career bests with a 3.52 ERA in 209 2/3 innings and leading the league in both home run rate (0.7 per nine) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (11.6, a record). The Twins were so happy with his performance that they converted the final two years of his initial three-year, $24 million deal into a new five-year, $58 million deal. While his salary was still a comparatively modest $9.2 million in 2015, he wasn't exactly a bargain.

Between tinkering with his repertoire and arm slot, losing five weeks in August and September due to a back injury and shedding around two mph in velocity, Hughes was a different pitcher. In just 155 1/3 innings, he led the league in homers allowed (29, a rate of 1.7 per nine), and his strikeout rate plummeted from 8.0 per nine to 5.4. His ERA rose by nearly a run to 4.40, and his FIP rose by more than two runs, from 2.65 to 4.70; meanwhile, his Wins Above Replacement sank from 4.3 to 1.8. Had he replicated that 2014 season, the Twins would have been within a whisker of the second wild-card spot, as the Astros finished just three wins ahead.

Which Hughes will the Twins get? The question is all too familiar to Yankees fans, for sure. Like Josh Beckett and Bruce Bochy's Giants, Hughes has fallen into a pattern of being good in even-numbered years (averaging 192 innings, a 3.94 ERA and 2.7 WAR in 2010, '12 and '14) and lousy in odd ones (averaging 125 innings, a 4.98 ERA and 0.4 WAR in '11, '13 and '15). To his credit, he showed up to camp having lost a reported 15–18 pounds, but it's too early to tell whether he can reclaim the mantle of staff ace. Obviously, the Twins' chances of contending are much better if he does.

Number To Know: 2.76

That's Mauer's rate of ground balls to fly balls in 2015, a career high and well above his career mark of 1.99. Unfortunately, that's not a good thing at all, because Mauer's inability to get the ball off the ground translated into a career-worst .265/.338/.380 line and a 96 OPS+, the first time in his 12 seasons that he'd been below league average. On the 275 ground balls that Mauer put into play, he hit just .207 and slugged .215, lacking enough mustard even to meet his career marks of .248 and .258, respectively. On the 206 line drives and fly balls he produced, however, he hit .483 and slugged .811—numbers right in line with his career marks (.487 and .813, respectively).

As noted above, Mauer finally conceded that the foul tip-induced concussions that drove him out from behind the plate were causing blurred vision and difficulty tracking pitches, saying, "There are times I’ve gone up to the plate and I just couldn’t pick up the ball." If the sunglasses he's using can help him track pitches better, he can back off his attempts to pull the ball more often, which didn't bear much fruit. Where the average AL lefty hit .330 and slugged .610 when pulling the ball, Mauer hit .298 and slugged just .412. On the other hand, where the average AL lefty hit .322 and slugged .478 when going to the opposite field, even this less-than-mint Mauer hit .420 and slugged .636. He just needs to do it more often.​

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Scout’s Takes

Most Overrated: Trevor Plouffe, 3B

"He's an okay third baseman, but they think he's a power bat. He hit 22 home runs last year, but he didn't hit all that much [for average]. They're counting on him to be a big-time player, but I don't think he is, personally."​

Most Underrated: Brian Dozier, 2B

"Dozier is a great, underrated player, an All-Star second baseman because his offense is so good, and he works so hard on defense."​

This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams for the 2016 season, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 20: the Chicago White Sox.

2015 Record and Finish:
76–86 (.469), fourth place in American League Central (21st overall)

2016 Projected Record and Finish:
77–85 (.475), fourth place in AL Central

The Case For

The White Sox have been aggressive the last two off-seasons, clearly laboring under the illusion that they were just a few key players away from a return to contention. I haven’t shared that optimism, but I understand its source. They do indeed possess a trio of elite players in key roles—Chris Sale as The Ace, Jose Abreu as The Bat, David Robertson as The Closer—and have some valuable complementary pieces in centerfielder Adam Eaton and No. 2 starter Jose Quintana. I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about Chicago’s addition of righthander Jeff Samardzija (since departed as a free agent), outfielder Melky Cabrera and Robertson (whom I saw as lipstick on a pig) last winter. But this off-season’s new additions—third baseman Todd Frazier and second baseman Brett Lawrie—represent more essential and significant upgrades (as detailed below).

With those two in place, you can follow the train of logic that might lead the White Sox to believe they can contend this season. If Cabrera, who hit .309/.351/.458 (125 OPS+) from 2011 to '14, can bounce back from his lousy South Side debut, that should boost the offense. Avisail Garcia taking that long-awaited big step forward in his age-25 season would help even more. Chicago's new catching tandem of Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro must make up with its bats what it will take away with its gloves. Adam LaRoche’s surprise retirement, meanwhile, could prove to be a blessing in disguise if it allows the White Sox to upgrade their outfield defense by using Austin Jackson with regularity in the corners.

In the rotation and bullpen, more optimism is required. Carlos Rodon must fix his control problems and pitch like the front-of-the rotation horse his draft position in 2014 (No. 3 overall) suggests he should be. Chicago also needs to hope that Erik Johnson really did fix his mechanics; that John Danks or Mat Latos can turn back the clock; that righty setup man Nate Jones can stay healthy; and that the rest of the bullpen can pitch more like they did in 2014 than in '15.

If all of that happens, everyone stays healthy, and the other teams in the division match the White Sox’s stunning good fortune with an equal measure of misfortune, then yes, Chicago could be a surprise playoff team this year. But what are the chances of so much going right for one team in a single season?​

The Case Against

If none of those “ifs” is answered affirmatively and at least one key player (Sale, Abreu, or Frazier) suffers a major injury, the White Sox will likely remain stuck at the bottom of the division.​

MORE MLB: AL breakout candidates | AL busts | AL rookies to watch

Ross D. Franklin/AP

X-Factor: The catchers

The White Sox overhauled their catching situation this off-season, non-tendering Tyler Flowers, allowing Geovany Soto to depart as a free agent and signing Navarro and Avila to take their places. The hope is that they will get more production at the plate from their new tandem, but I think they should have paid more attention to the performances they were likely to get behind the dish. Flowers was the best pitch framer in the AL last year according to Baseball Prospectus’ numbers, saving 16.7 runs with his framing alone—a contribution worth nearly two full wins—and Soto was close to average at -0.6 framing runs. Navarro and Avila, however, were a combined 12.1 framing runs below average in 1,463 fewer chances than Flowers had on his own. That’s more than a three-win swing in the wrong direction, and that doesn’t factor in the injury risk associated with Avila, who has a history of concussions (including three in the 2013 and ’14 seasons combined) and arguably shouldn’t be catching any more for his own good.

As for their hitting: Over the last two years, Navarro and Avila combined to hit .240/.323/.365, and Flowers, who is a year older than Avila but two years younger than Navarro, hit .240/.296/.378. It’s difficult to see how making an unnecessary change in personnel behind the plate won’t undermine the team’s attempts to improve elsewhere, not least of all when it comes to Rodon’s attempts to find the strike zone more often.​

Number To Know: .222/.276/.326

That’s the combined line for Chicago’s second and third basemen in 2015. Over 162 games, every player the White Sox ran out at those two positions combined for 371 total bases last year. Meanwhile, in 157 games last year, Frazier collected 308 total bases on his own. He and Lawrie combined to hit .257/.304/.455 last year, and a simple average of their career lines produces a .260/.319/.442 line. On their own, those Frazier/Lawrie lines may not look terrible impressive, but compared to what the White Sox got at second and third base last year, they represent a massive upgrade at two spots in the lineup.​

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Scout’s Takes

Most Overrated: Carlos Rodon, SP

"This guy made some nice strides last year and has some big upside. But let's calm down anointing him as a future No. 1. Let's see him do it first. He had so much fanfare around him in college, was going to be the top overall pick out of college, but he struggled his junior year for one reason or another. In college, we were concerned there was a problem with his back—he’s not an overly athletic guy, his delivery is not strong and loose, and I still have concerns that he just can't have great command with it. No doubt, his pure stuff is so good that he can get away with it at times—but not at this level. He needs to make more adjustments to reach that upper echelon people think he'll get to. I have my doubts."

Most Underrated: Jose Quintana, SP

"This guy is Mr. Underrated. And he is Exhibit A why wins don’t tell the whole story—he hasn’t won more than 10 games but has three straight 200-inning seasons with an ERA that’s around 3.40. I’ll take that any day. He gets lost in the shuffle behind Chris Sale and now Rodon, too. His fastball doesn't exactly capture your imagination. And he's not going to be on billboards in your city. But he is a No. 2 on most teams. He's done this at one of the more hitter-friendly ballparks in the majors. He's signed to one of the better contracts out there, too."

This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams for the 2016 season, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 19: the Miami Marlins.

2015 Record and Finish:
71–91 (.438), third place in National League East (24th overall)

2016 Projected Record and Finish:
78–84 (.481), third place in NL East

The Case For

Starting last year with a 12–12 record, the Marlins managed to hang at the top of the NL East standings for the first month of the season as spectators were left wondering how the Fish were besting the division favorites. But by mid-May, Miami's glimmer of hope was gone, as the Marlins resumed losing and assumed their familiar position near the bottom of the pile. Their streak of consecutive years with a losing record reached six in 2015, but '16 could be the year they break from tradition.

Full seasons from Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez will give the team pillars around which to build. Fernandez enjoyed a successful return to the mound from 2014 Tommy John surgery, posting a 2.92 ERA over 11 starts in the back half of the season. But as one star returned, another departed: Stanton’s season ended just before Fernandez’s began due to a broken hand. Before that, however, the burly rightfielder clobbered 27 home runs and kept the Marlins’ offense among the top half of teams for the first three months of the season. Positive production from both Stanton and Fernandez this season will be vital to the Marlins’ chances at winning.

Miami stayed busy in the off-season, bringing in pitchers Wei-Yin Chen and Edwin Jackson to absorb the loss of Henderson Alvarez, who was by far the team’s most valuable pitcher in 2014 before a shoulder injury derailed his '15 season. But even more important than any on-field acquisitions were the changes to the coaching staff. Former Dodgers manager Don Mattingly brings five years of managerial experience and a 446–363 career record to Miami, and former slugger Barry Bonds was hired to revitalize the Marlins’ bats as a hitting coach alongside veteran journeyman Frank Menechino. Expect Bonds and Menechino to encourage increased patience at the plate (in 2001, Bonds and Menechino swung at the lowest percentage of pitches of all major leaguers and still reached base at a combined .447 rate). The Marlins were among the top 10 teams most inclined to swing at the first pitch last season but had just a .299 on-base percentage when they swung compared with a .314 OBP when they watched the first pitch go by. Bonds’s influence could coax greatness out of the Marlins’ young lineup (their average age of 27.5 ranks tenth-youngest of teams), with players already expressing their excitement at the opportunity to learn from him.

Though the division is presumably the Nationals' or the Mets' to take, a winning record is an incredibly achievable goal for Miami. The off-season changes could go a long way toward separating the Marlins from the middling Braves and Phillies at the bottom of the division and showing they can contend with the top teams in the East.

The Case Against

Each year the Marlins seem to improve, and yet each year they somehow find a way to disappoint. Miami finished last season with a .260/.310/.384 slash line, with its team batting average ranking in the top 10 but the lineup's on-base and slugging percentages lagging in the bottom third. Getting hits doesn’t matter if those players never score, and the Marlins averaged just 3.8 runs per game, second worst in baseball just ahead of the Braves. They didn’t sign any big bats to help boost those numbers, and expecting big jumps in their stats after just a few months of hitting lessons from Bonds seems unrealistic. That offense could sag even further with regression from last year’s batting champion, Dee Gordon. A career .272 hitter before logging last season’s NL-best .333 average, Gordon is likely to trend back toward his career norm.

On the pitching side, the Marlins' ERA sat at 4.02, with the starters contributing a 4.25 mark and the relievers finishing at 3.66. The starting ERA should drop this year thanks to the presence of Fernandez and Chen, but we still don’t know what to expect from Fernandez’s arm in his first full season since Tommy John. The bullpen, meanwhile, seemed to be in decent shape until the Marlins announced earlier this month that flame-throwing reliever Carter Capps, who posted a 1.16 ERA over 30 games last season, would be lost for the year after suffering a torn elbow ligament of his own.

There are still several question marks hovering over this Marlins team, and while no one would be surprised or disappointed with a third-place finish, it will be the number of games separating them from the top and bottom of the division that shows whether they are evolving into true contenders. Last season, the Marlins finished much closer to the 63–99 Phillies (eight games ahead) than they did to the division champion Mets (19 games behind). If they can keep pace with the Mets and the Nationals this year, it could foretell an upset in the dynamic of the division in the seasons to come.

MORE MLB: NL breakout candidates | NL busts | NL rookies to watch

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

X-Factor: Giancarlo Stanton, RF

Whether Stanton can remain healthy this season will make all the difference for the Marlins. In 2014—his closest to a full season since '11—he played in 145 games, led the league in home runs, finished second in the NL MVP voting and was worth 6.5 Wins Above Replacement. The electricity Stanton provides to the Marlins when he is healthy enough to remain in the lineup is undeniable, but the Marlins’ $300 million man has averaged just 114 games over his past four seasons. He strained a hamstring in 2013, took a fastball to the face in '14 and broke his hand last year, and also underwent bone chip removal surgery in his knee in '12; lingering knee pain has slowed his start this spring.

If Stanton's trend of bad injury luck reverses, Miami fans could be in for a treat. Stanton hit a home run every tenth at-bat in 2015, finishing with 27 homers in 74 games. Extrapolated over an entire season, Stanton could have reached 60 home runs last season, easily surpassing NL MVP Bryce Harper and Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, who finished at the top of the NL with 42. Bemoan small sample sizes all you want, but we’ve already seen the damage Stanton can do to a baseball when he is healthy. The key will be keeping him that way.​

Number To Know: 4.1

That was Fernandez's WAR (FanGraphs version) in 2013, his only full season in the majors. Miami's rotation as a whole put up 8.6 WAR that season; in other words, Fernandez singlehandedly accounted for almost half of the starting five's value to the team. Last year, the Marlins' rotation posted a WAR of 6.8. Double that, and Miami would likely find itself among the playoff teams. At 23 years old, Fernandez’s full potential is still unknown, but his value to the team cannot be denied.​

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Scout’s Takes

Most Overrated: Justin Bour, 1B

"This guy came out of nowhere last year, crushing 23 home runs, and doing some damage in that graveyard in Miami is impressive. He’s a mammoth and can swing the pole, [and] if you make a mistake to him, he's going to crush it. But now we’ll see if he can make adjustments—I’m saying he won’t. The guy hit all his home runs against righties last year—I think this guy is pretty hopeless against lefties. He'll hit a bomb and everyone will go crazy, but then he'll have 20 at-bats where he looks pretty lost. He's a poor man's Matt Stairs."

Most Underrated: Adeiny Hechavarria, SS

"Say what you want about defensive metrics—and I’ll say they’re full of s---—Hechavarria is a guy who can play on the defensive side. I don't think this guy gets enough love for his glove: He's one of the better fielders out there. He’s maturing as a hitter, too, cutting down on his strikeouts. This guy gets lost in the shuffle with all the flash on this team, but he does a little of everything well, and as he's hitting his prime—he's still just 26. I think there's some nice upside here.​"