The most-compelling aspect of this MLB season is not that the rule changes have entirely altered the pace of play; it’s not that we’re watching during an era where there is a phenom playing for the Angels that is historic by playing both sides of the ball or that there’s a 6’7 Yankee that is larger-than-life coming off of a season in which he clubbed 62 bombs for the most-valuable franchise. Those are just elements that we’re truly grateful for and should not be taken for granted.
No, it’s that like many of the other major sports, we’re watching an age of baseball where the talent around the league has never been more prepared to win, more exciting, or more widespread at such a young age around the league. The talent level and the personalities throughout the majors is currently at a golden age; the casual fans will tell you that baseball hasn’t been the same since the steroid era home run races, but every single night, there is at least one reason to invest and watch a team. There’s fewer service time manipulation, allowing prospects to be called up early, the investments and nutrition put into the youth allows for them to play at a high-level even earlier than ever before, and the freedom of expression throughout the league to show their personalities and flair is fantastic for the sport.
There has never been a more worthwhile sports package investment than MLB TV in terms of quantity, getting all 162 games and always having an athlete or reason to watch a team, winning record or not. The MLB The Show cover star, Jazz Chisholm, while one of the faces of baseball, played on a Marlins team that finished 69-93 last year. One of the most electrifying young stars is on a team that doesn’t often win games! Jazz is just one example of all 30 teams having at least one reason or individual worth watching due to the talent of the sport. Just to prove it, let’s take the bottom 5 of mlb.com’s preseason power rankings and give you one reason to watch each of these bottom-of-the-barrel rosters should they be on your television.
30th. Oakland Athletics- Esteury Ruiz (OF, 24 years old)
The Oakland A’s are not actively trying to win baseball games. After a tear down before 2022, they had arguably one top-tier player left, Sean Murphy, that they dealt for prospects to the Braves, leaving them with a combined payroll less than Justin Verlander alone. On top of that strategy to go with the Major League approach to get a potential move to Las Vegas approved, the worst stadium in the league with the worst attendance doubled the prices for season-ticket holders!
However, because of those teardowns, they’re now left with a plethora of unproven youth- the prize piece of that Murphy trade being Esteury Ruiz from the Brewers. The Dominican phenom is at the bottom of the order, but runs like a gazelle and is going to make the game on the basepaths fun for Oakland this year with his speed and the new rules and has the capability of tracking down balls and making web gems. If the A’s can at least get on base with the Moneyball cliche, he’ll make some noise with small ball.
29th. Washington Nationals- Mackenzie Gore (SP, 24 years old)
We’re a long way away from the 2019 Washington Nationals winning the World Series with Juan Soto, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, and Anthony Rendon. Other than giving Stephen Strasburg a legacy bag full of cash to ride off into the sunset, they’re just a string of prospects accumulated through those massive trades in their teardown. A large part of that haul is still in the minors, but the man to watch this year is Mackenzie Gore, the starter who was the gem in the Juan Soto deal. Gore went 4-4 last season with some impressive starts despite the injury struggles and being shut down for the remainder of the year, but was a consensus top prospect and the number 3 overall prospect entering the league. In his first 48 innings, he had a 1.50 ERA with 57 strikeouts. He could easily get back on track as a rookie of the year candidate if they take it slow with his rehab.
28th. Colorado Rockies- Kris Bryant (3B/OF, 31 years old)
“We think we can play .500 ball.” says the owner of the Colorado Rockies preseason.
Yes, the reason to watch the Rockies is former MVP Kris Bryant that was a part of that 2016 World Series-winning Chicago Cubs team. The franchise that refused to tank for prospects while they still could lost Arenado, Jon Gray, and Story for nothing, but chose to spend a ton on Kris Bryant for no reason at all but to have a name at their nice ballpark. We didn’t even see Kris Bryant hit a homer in Coors Field last year because of his first season being overrun with terrible injuries as he just played 42 games, but good for KB getting the bag, playing somewhere as beautiful as Colorado, and maybe he turns it around as a former MVP playing healthier in a hitter’s park. You’re not watching the Rockies with the hopes invested in a 20-year-old in your back pocket that could potentially turn the franchise around, you’re watching in hopes that one of the most machine-like players can look like his former self on his new team.
27th. Cincinnati Reds- Jonathan India (2B, 26 years old)
Ah, yes, another team that deserves better because of their ownership with absolutely abhorrent quotes! When the Reds fans were upset about their tanking and called for Castellini to sell the team, he quite literally said “Sell the team, well to who? Where are you gonna go?” Just a man of the people who wants the best for them, clearly!
The Reds still have one of the most chaotic ballparks where the offense is flying every game due to the home run percentage, highlighting some of their young studs acquired after their rebuild from their lone 2020 season where they made the postseason. Many will tell you the man to watch on this Reds team is pitcher Hunter Greene, the 23 year-old 2nd overall pick. Greene is a fire-breathing dragon who throws over 100 mph on essentially every single pitch, breaking the record for most in a single game and can reach 105 mph easily. It’s insane stuff that only Greene can do, it just hasn’t clicked yet as he’s got a 5-13 record and 4.51 ERA; when you throw hard, the ball gets hit hard, and that’s been the case at that hitter-friendly park for Greene.
The underrated face of the Reds and the man to watch is Jonathan India. He’s got a name that sounds like a comic book character, he’s got beautiful flowing locks that looks like he’s a pirate, hence the nickname “The Red Sparrow” and his walkup song being the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, and he plays with the energy of a WWE entertainer that just gets it with his team and the fan base. The 2021 NL Rookie of the Year had an off 2022 with injuries, but he’s batting leadoff with .389 and will be helped by the new baserunning advantages. Look out for him to play with speed, make webgems, and have some exhilarating quotes as he’s a lively personality.
26th. Pittsburgh Pirates- O’Neil Cruz (SS, 24 years old)
Ever wondered what it would be like to see an NBA unicorn play at his talent level in baseball instead of basketball? That’s exactly what O’Neil Cruz does with his absurd 6’7 210 pound frame. Imagine taking the brute strength of someone that is an elite athletic specimen that hasn’t ever played baseball before and now is put on a baseball field playing baseball. It’s like How Anthony Edwards in the NBA is just now learning about basketball but is really just an NFL running back.
Cruz is going to throw the ball from shortstop to first with the fire of a Josh Allen bullet across the middle. He’s going to hit the ball as hard and at a line-drive speed with the ease of when you pick up a tennis ball and want to hit it as far as you possibly can. He had the hardest-hit ball in the statcast era at 122.4 mph. It was just a single.
Cruz is just 24 and learning all of his talents like early Peter Parker discovering he’s now Spider-Man, and it’s entertaining to watch with the Pirates having one of the most beautiful ballparks in the majors and a passionate fan base despite, you guessed it, more incompetent ownership.*
*UPDATE: Unfortunately, after the publication of this article, Cruz suffered a fractured ankle on a botched slide heading home that will sideline him for around 10-12 weeks, a huge blow for a team that started to look like it had some momentum as the 2nd seed in the NL Central. With Cruz out, we can at least watch All-Star outfielder and current home run leader, Bryan Reynolds. Reynolds formally requested a trade from the Pirates this offseason, to which they merely said, “We heard it, and we’re ignoring it! Thank you, Bryan!” and now we get to watch that drama unfold!