Every team in the majors has that one player that can essentially make or break their season, depending on how they perform. The most important player for every team isn’t necessarily going to be their best player. But instead, it is the player who can give them those few extra wins to help them make the playoffs and/or go on a deep run. Or, if this player performs poorly, the team is likely to not go as far. For teams that are far from making the playoffs this season, their most important player will be someone they need to see perform well to have hope for their future. Baseball is a team sport but without that one key piece, the team’s performance will be hindered.
Baltimore Orioles – Ryan Mountcastle
The former first-round pick made his debut last season and was impressive. He slashed .333/.386/.492 with five homers and 23 RBI over 35 games. These numbers were good enough to earn the 24-year-old an eighth-place finish for the Rookie of the Year, while he still maintained his rookie eligibility for this season. Mountcastle looks to be a big piece to the main Orioles’ core for the future. Baltimore will have hope for their future with a solid full season from him.
Boston Red Sox – Bobby Dalbec
The 2016 fourth-rounder played in 23 games in 2020 while his rookie eligibility is still intact. He recorded eight homers in 80 at-bats last season and enters this season as the starting first baseman. Dalbec smashed seven bombs in 45 at-bats this spring and the Red Sox are confident in him for 2021 and beyond. Boston won’t be going anywhere this season but seeing how the 25-year-old performs in a full season will be important.
New York Yankees – Gary Sanchez
For the Yankees to not just win the AL East but go on a deep postseason run, their starting catcher has to perform. It was a struggle for Sanchez last year, but looking deeper at the numbers he should bounceback. Despite hitting below .200 with a .618 OPS, he hit the ball hard with a 50 percent hard-hit rate and barreled up at a 17.4 percent clip. His subpar batting average looked to be the result of some bad luck as he had a .159 BABIP. If El Gary performs on both offense and defense, the Yankees will be in a good position. He could easily mash at 30+ taters.
Tampa Bay Rays – Tyler Glasnow
After trading away Blake Snell and declining Charlie Morton‘s option, the Rays’ new ace is now Glasnow. His 2019 season looked like that of an ace – 1.78 ERA/2.26 FIP in 60.2 innings – but his 2020 campaign was a bit shaky. Although, his strikeout and whiff rates did take a significant jump. The former Pirate had a K rate in the 97th percentile, jumping up from 33 percent in 2019 to 38.2 percent in 2020. If the Rays are to return to the postseason, Glasnow will have to pitch like an ace to make up for the departures.
Toronto Blue Jays – Nate Pearson
The 10th overall prospect in the league will start the season on the injured list with a groin strain. Pearson threw just 18 major league innings last season with a stint on the IL. Toronto will likely have an innings limit on him anyway as they try to manage his workload. So the injury may actually help that, and when he makes his return he should be a big piece to the Blue Jays rotation.
Chicago White Sox – Michael Kopech
The White Sox have been working their number two overall prospect to pitch in relief since he has not pitched since 2018. Kopech made six appearances out of the bullpen in the spring and Chicago feels that he can work two or three innings at times. Pitching him in relief will help keep the right-hander fresh and he could be worked up to a starting role for the stretch run.
Cleveland Indians – Andrés Giménez
The main piece to the Francisco Lindor trade, Giménez is going to have to prove he was worth trading a franchise talent for. The 22-year-old has shown loads of promise in spring training and will be Lindor’s replacement going into the season. After playing 49 games for the Mets last season, he slashed .260/.302/.460 with two homers, two triples, nine RBI, and one stolen base in the spring.
Detroit Tigers – Casey Mize
The former first overall pick in 2018 made his debut in 2020 and made seven starts. He struggled with a 6.99 ERA/6.47 FIP but did strikeout 26 while walking 13. Mize will open the season in the Detroit rotation alongside Matthew Boyd, Julio Teheran, Tarik Skubal, and Jose Urena. The Tigers are in the midst of a very long rebuild, but seeing what they have with Mize will be key to watch. The right-hander pitched as high as Double-A Erie where he pitched a no-hitter in 2019.
Kansas City Royals – Brady Singer
The former first-round pick out of Florida finished eighth in Rookie of the Year voting last year after recording a 61-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 64 1/3 innings over 12 starts. Singer was also solid in spring training, as he finished with a 2.65 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 20-5 strikeout-to-walk in 17 innings. The Royals will be a scrappy and sneaky team this season and Singer will be at the forefront as one of their top young starters.
Minnesota Twins – Michael Pineda
The Twins lineup has been one of the best in the league the last few years. But what they have lacked is a consistent pitching staff. One key piece to turning their luck around is Pineda. The righty has yet to pitch a full season in Minnesota due to injuries and suspension. He was huge down the stretch in 2019 before being suspended in September. If he can stay healthy and off the drugs, he could break out in a big way this season. The Twins look to win the AL Central again, but the White Sox will be right on their tail.
Houston Astros – Jose Altuve
The second baseman had a down year in 2020 as he dealt with the fallout of the Astros cheating scandal. With Houston losing George Springer to the Blue Jays in free agency, Altuve will have to step up. A better season at the plate and in the field will do loads to help this team.
Los Angeles Angels – Shohei Ohtani
After another injury last year, Ohtani’s two-way production was put into question. The Angels even wondered if they should put him as a full-time position player. But the Japanese-born pitcher and DH has had an impressive spring on both sides of the ball. If he keeps it up, the Angels will be in good shape.
Oakland Athletics – Jesús Luzardo
Oakland will need solid pitching from all their pitching pieces this season. Luzardo was pretty solid last year, putting up a 1.271 WHIP and a 59-17 strikeout ratio. If he can be an ace for the A’s they can make some noise
Seattle Mariners – Jarred Kelenic
Texas Rangers – Nick Solak
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