The welcoming embrace of spring feels like it is just beyond the horizon. Soon enough, months of trades and signings will see new-look squads take the diamond for another beautiful season of baseball. There have been some heavyweight teams making headlines all offseason, but that doesn’t mean others aren’t putting together fascinating offseasons. Here are three teams to watch in 2024.
Three Under-the-Radar MLB Teams to Watch in 2024
The Royals have been mired in a rebuild for what seems like a prolonged period of time. Despite some highly regarded pitching prospects, the team never put together a competitive roster. The Royals won 56 games last year, a truly disappointing season even after winning just 65 in 2022. Will the Royals finally take a stride forward in this competitive cycle?
The most attractive aspect of this roster is the young core, a factor that was reason for optimism last year, too. Headlining this group, of course, is Bobby Witt Jr. The budding superstar finished seventh in American League MVP voting with a .276/.319/.495 slash line and 30 home runs. That’s the caliber of player a franchise can build around.
Vinnie Pasquantino was another name gaining in reputation, but his season was cut short by injury. Maikel Garcia had a .272 average, but only four home runs. MJ Melendez had an unimpressive final stat line but hit .272 with a .864 OPS from August onward. It’s always a risky business to predict an entire team of unproven players will improve, but there is an opportunity here to find key players at a variety of positions.
Pitching will be the core variable, though. Brady Singer has shown flashes of his potential as the most successful player from the Royals’ group of touted pitching prospects from a few years ago. That needs to turn into more consistent performance as he has posted an expected ERA over 4.50 in two of his three full seasons. His continued refinement will play an important role in this rotation’s success. One of the changes he made this past season was relying on his slider more than ever while cutting down on his sinker usage.
The rotation will see a boost from a full season of Cole Ragans after his unexpected breakout. The front office made the decision to reinforce the pitching staff in free agency with veterans Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo. These signings aren’t going to dominate national headlines throughout the season, but those are two solid, impact pitchers that the Royals needed. Both are coming off impressive seasons with Lugo pitching a 3.57 ERA with a career-high in innings pitched.
In a similar fashion, the Reds have interesting young players but needed help with pitching. In their wild playoff chase, the Reds’ pitching went up in a conflagration of injury, underperformance, and fatigue. Andrew Abbott‘s promising rookie campaign faltered with a 6.09 ERA over his final ten starts. Graham Ashcraft saw decent results as the season progressed, but his 5.00 expected ERA and low strikeout rates were troubling. Hunter Greene has electric talent but needs to limit hard contact to become an elite starter.
Despite any shortcomings, each of these young pitchers could stand to have a breakout season in 2024. Others like Nick Lodolo, Brandon Williamson, and Connor Phillips offer promise. Lodolo was stripped of the opportunity to build on his rookie season after pitching just 34 1/3 innings in 2023 due to injury.
The Reds made multiple moves to provide depth to both their rotation and bullpen. The highest profile of these signings were Nick Martinez and Frankie Montas. Martinez’s past two seasons have been his most successful, while notably posting the best walk rates and lowest average exit velocity of his career. This could be one of the biggest factors in his success with an athletic defense behind him.
Montas is a high-risk, high-reward signing on a one-year prove-it deal. His results have been inconsistent, but the Reds are taking a chance that Montas can find some of his form from 2021. He pitched a career-high 187 innings with an impressive 19.3% strikeout minus walk rate (K-BB%). After slotting in Martinez and Montas, the Reds have the depth and upside to build a formidable rotation.
The position player group is as tantalizing as any young core in the majors. This has been the most discussed aspect of Cincinnati’s roster, and for good reason. Will Elly De La Cruz tap into his potential if he can improve his plate approach? Will players like Matt McLain and Spencer Steer find further success after standout rookie campaigns? The Reds added Jeimer Candelario in a surprise move. While that adds depth to the roster, will players like Noelvi Marte find reliable playing time?
Maybe it’s just morbid curiosity, but this franchise still has some gripping appeal, despite missing on so many big stars in free agency in recent years. Even after missing out on Shohei Ohtani, the Giants might return to the playoffs with several other marquee moves. Combine that with several youngsters hitting their stride, and the Giants could only deepen the chaos of a National League West with so many playoff hopefuls.
Jung Hoo Lee is one of the most interesting players to follow across any team this season. After a prolific career in the Korean Baseball Organization, he will look to carry his contact-heavy profile over to Major League Baseball. The Giants have needed more athletic players over the past few seasons and this will be Lee’s chance to provide a stable contributor in centerfield.
The Giants added former Cy Young winner Robbie Ray in a trade, although he won’t be available until midseason. There are still options on the market for the Giants to improve this roster in meaningful ways. Kyle Harrison is a highly regarded pitching prospect who should see a healthy improvement in his production after his short debut in the majors.
There should be something to build on with this group of position players, too. Nine different players aged 26 or younger had at least 60 plate appearances. None of them, however, were above-average at the plate. There is a bit of a logjam in the outfield, but players like Blake Sabol, Luis Matos, and Wade Meckler should fill meaningful roles throughout the season. Infielders like Casey Schmitt and Brett Wisely struggled to find any offensive production to write down as a lock for the roster but would be massive wins for the Giants if they reach a new level in their development.
The baseball season will offer its myriad twists and turns, but it’s a useful exercise to examine some of these franchises as they hope to drive forward a new era of success. How many of these teams will live up to expectations? It will be a bumpy ride, but these teams might just surprise us this season.
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