There are a lot of questions to be answered in 2021 after what was such a strange 2020 campaign for Major League Baseball. What we’re going to look at today are five players who have major questions regarding their futures. For this group, 2021 is the make it or break season.
Cavan, son of Hall of Famer Craig, was drafted out of Notre Dame by Toronto in 2016. He had a solid, but unspectacular career for the Irish and continued that in the Blue Jays’ system. In 2018, he started to be marketed alongside Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette as the wave of talent set to bring Toronto back to contention. Many have seen Cavan as the number three in that trio and it makes sense. Vlady Jr. has the type of offensive upside to be an elite three-hole hitter while Bichette has showcased how he’ll anchor the top of the lineup for years to come. Biggio cannot be forgotten about, though.
His stats when first called up garnered plenty of attention. The big thing everyone talked about was how much Cavan walked. In the 100 games he played in 2019, Biggio walked 16.5% of the time. Cavan walked as many times as Anthony Rizzo did (71) and he played in 46 more games. That type of patience at the plate for someone his age is unheard of. Plate discipline continued to be a foundational part of Biggio’s game in 2020 as he walked 15.5% of the time; his 41 walks were good enough for fifth in the league. Throw in that he’s gone 20-20 in stolen base attempts and has a WAR of 4.9 through 159 games and you’ve got yourself a very talented player.
Outside of Cavan’s walks, everything else about his offensive profile scares me. Some of the success Biggio has had up to this point doesn’t seem sustainable. He pulls the ball a ton, strikes out too much, and doesn’t impact the ball as much as you’d like. His strikeout rate did go down 5.6% from 2019 to 2020, which is encouraging, but that number needs to be lower. Cavan is extremely patient and it hurts him by having him strike out looking a good portion of the time. He needs to become more aggressive with two strikes and drop his K% below 20.
The one thing that really concerns me is how often he puts the ball in the air. Biggio’s fly ball rate is one of the higher ones you’ll see in the league and it comes with an average exit velocity. If he was in the top 25% of players in hard hit rate, I would feel fine about how often Cavan hits the ball in the air. But many of Biggio’s balls put in play end up dying in the outfield. Something has to give in terms of his offense. Either he needs to start hitting the ball harder to sustain his high fly ball rate or Cavan needs to start hitting the ball on a line more. This years seems the like the year he distinguishes himself.
Kingery was drafted out of the University of Arizona as someone who was a dynamic athlete. He could play all over the field and presented an interesting power/speed skill set that intrigued the Phillies. He made headlines before ever stepping foot on the field as he and Philly came to an unprecedented contract agreement. Before ever playing a single game for the Phillies, they gave him a 6 year, $24 million deal. No other team had operated like this before, but they felt confident in what Scott could do. That confidence has certainly taken a hit since Kingery made his debut.
To put it plainly, Kingery hasn’t been very good. He was a great player for Arizona and backed that up with solid numbers in the minors, but he’s slashed .233/.284/.393 since joining Philadelphia. The power hasn’t come like the team hoped and he’s struggled to make contact. His 27.8% strikeout rate for his career is far from what he or the Phillies would like it to be. One of the things I noticed is that he doesn’t use his speed like he should. Kingery is very fast, but hasn’t used it well when hitting. He hits the ball in the air a similar amount as the aforementioned Biggio, but with less power. If Scott were to hit the ball on the ground or on a line and use his speed rather than trying hit for power, he might have some success.
Scott can play all over the field and has the kind of speed people dream on. He has a chance to be a fantastic player if he can start to hit the way the team envisioned. He’ll be 27 in 2021, putting pressure on him to get on the right track. If this year isn’t the year Kingery turns it around, we may not see much of him in the Majors again.
Senzel was the second overall selection by the Reds in the 2016 draft out of Tennessee where he had an immaculate career. That incredible success followed him to the pros as he put up astounding stats for the Reds’ farm hands. His MLB career has not been as stellar as he is hitting .245/.305/.416. From my vantage point, his struggles haven’t been as much about his skill; it’s how often he is able to play.
Senzel has had a rough go of it since being drafted. He’s dealt with several injuries, including a bout with vertigo, that kept him from playing as many games as he could’ve. Despite the missed time or having to play hurt, Nick was one of the better minor leaguers from the time he was drafted. Senzel hasn’t been able to overcome the injuries since reaching the majors and it has been a big reason for him not playing as well. If/when Senzel is healthy, he can be an incredible player. The guy I compared him to coming out of college was longtime Met, David Wright. Nick has a chance to be a special hitter, but it seems the chance to do so is slipping away with each passing year. Senzel will be 26 in 2021 and it seems like the time is now if ever.
Another issue that I think lingers around Senzel is the way the Reds have handled him. He was drafted as a third baseman, but Eugenio Suarez has the hot corner locked down. It seemed like they might give him a look at short, a position he played in high school, or put him at second. Instead, he ended up being their center fielder. It’s a true testament to how athletic Nick is for him to be a league average defender in the outfield despite never playing there before. Senzel belongs on the infield, though, and I would’ve liked to have seen him at second. The Reds also played around with him in terms of his service time. Nick should’ve been in the majors to start 2019, maybe even before, but the team waited till mid-May to ensure an extra year of team control. Senzel wasn’t happy about the blatant manipulation the team decided to employ and he was vocal about it. If 2021 looks like the previous two years, I hope he gets moved. Senzel has too much talent for him to be discarded from the league but Cincinnati might not be the best place for him; he might just need a fresh start.
Swanson went first to Arizona back in the 2015 draft after posting down right dominate numbers at Vandy. The Commodores have a long track record of producing major league talent and Dansby is a major part of that. He was dealt from the D-Backs to Atlanta in 2016 and it seemed like the perfect fit. Swanson grew up right around Atlanta and the Braves needed to find cornerstone pieces for their rebuild. Dansby has been good, but it would be hard for me to say he’s been the guy the Braves thought they were getting.
After having success when first called up, Dansby had three straight seasons (2017-19) where he was a well below average hitter. It seems like he’s always tinkering with his stance and swing at the plate and it has hurt him. It’s good to be always thinking about how to be better, but I don’t think his swing was the issue. He turned things around in a big way in 2020 as he was able to hit for a 110 OPS+. Swanson made much better contact in the truncated season compared to years past. His average exit velocity went up, resulting in a higher slugging percentage and more hits. Even with everything coming together for Dansby, his future in Atlanta can’t be seen as a known.
The free agency class set to hit the market after the 2021 season is loaded with five of the better shortstops in the league. Lindor, Seager, Baez, Correa, and Story are all set to be free agents after this upcoming season and I firmly believe the Braves need to take a chance on one of them. Atlanta is in a prime position right now with the young talent they have on their roster. Guys like Albies and Acuna are on team friendly deals that provide the team with plenty of money to spend on other positions. Getting one of these stars could help catapult the Braves into being an even better team. Dansby needs to be even better than what he was last season, for a full season might I add, if he wants to remain a part of what the Braves have built. Otherwise, they could use him as a trade asset to bring in more MLB talent.
Taillon was drafted by the Pirates in the 2010 draft second overall. He was looked at as a big, strong right-hander with the upside to turn into a front of the rotation stud. That hasn’t exactly been the case to this point, but he’s someone that still has a very high upside at 29.
Injuries have decimated this young man’s career. He’s had two Tommy John surgeries. The first kept him out for all of 2014 and the other wiped out his 2020 campaign, he suffered a hernia in 2015 that kept him out of action, and he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2017. Taillon has only been able to pitch 150 inning or more in one season since being drafted (2019). He’s lost three years to ailments. For as bright a future he had, it hasn’t happened through no fault of his own. But it is a fresh start with a new team and, from what has been said, he is completely healthy entering 2021.
Taillon has been a solid pitcher when he’s gotten the chance to do so. He has an arsenal that many Yankee fans will liken to Severino’s, meaning he can dominate on any day. Jameson’s fastball is a lively one, sitting 92-95 while reaching 98 at times. He couples that with a wicked slider, sharp curveball, and heavy sinker to give him a great pitch mix. Taillon mostly works off the fastball or sinker and then gets people out with the junk. It’s a strategy that’s worked well as he has a career ERA+ of 112. He limits walks and home runs while getting a lot of weak contact. When healthy, the guy is good.
I’m interested to see what Taillon can do now that he is no longer with the Pirates. They don’t have the strongest track record in terms of getting the best out of their pitchers. For example, Gerrit Cole had an ERA of 3.50 with Pittsburgh. Since leaving the Steel City, he has an ERA well under three. The guy made one All-Star team and never finished higher than fourth in Cy Young voting in his five seasons as a Pirate. Since then, two ASGs and he’s been top-five in the Cy Young race every year. Another example is Charlie Morton. He pitched 801 innings of four-run baseball for Pittsburgh. What happened when he left? Three years with an ERA slightly over 3 and two All-Star nods. Chris Archer went from Tampa Bay to the Pirates and his career went down the drain. Call me crazy, but the Pirates’s coaching staff might not be doing their jobs very well.
If Cole or Morton are any indication of what Jameson might do in pinstripes, then the Yankees get even better. Is Taillon truly the front-line starter people thought he could be or is he a solid, yet unspectacular arm? 2021 holds the answer.