Health, breakouts and comebacks needed to fulfill a club's potential
By Richard Justice
This one is for you, General Managers. Yeah, you. We know how hard you've worked. Despite it all, we know you're nervous.
There are things you can't know. Isn't that the terrible part of this stuff? There are parts of every roster that amount to a leap of faith.
If someone had the power to grant one wish, what would you wish for? Let's give it a try.
Here's a look at one thing each team needs to happen if it is to fulfill its potential in 2015.
Angels: C.J. Wilson makes 33 starts
If Wilson records 33 starts and pitches 200 innings, the Angels might just win the American League West. Sure, I know conventional wisdom calls for Craig Gentry and Daniel Nava to create a productive platoon in left. Nothing wrong with that one. That might do it, too. But if Wilson has a good season, he gives the Angels arguably the best rotation in the division and could give general manager Billy Eppler the flexibility to deal for another bat.
Astros: Jon Singleton breaks out
The first baseman has a .171 batting average after parts of two seasons in the Major Leagues (357 at-bats). The Astros once again put him atop their depth chart at first, and they are hoping he grabs the job and runs with it in Spring Training. In 2015, Astros first basemen, including Singleton, ranked 22nd in OPS (.739). Singleton might be the difference between a decent offense and one of the best in the AL.
Athletics: Coco Crisp stays healthy
Crisp has the ability to transform Oakland's offense from a sputtering one to a very solid one. The A's could ask for other wishes, especially getting through a season without having a pitching staff decimated by injuries, but there's pitching depth, both in the rotation and the bullpen. The offense is thin. The A's need Crisp to be healthy and to be that disruptive force he has been for a large chunk of his 14-year career.
Blue Jays: Drew Storen closes
This team is so solid that there are few questions, but the most significant one concerns Storen taking over the closer role. This may not be critical since there are a string of quality arms in front of him, including Aaron Sanchez and Roberto Osuna. Storen could be the difference between a good bullpen and a great one.
Braves: Dansby Swanson emerges
If the shortstop acquired in the Shelby Miller trade shows what the Braves think he's going to show them in his first full professional season, Atlanta's reconstruction will take a huge step forward. The Braves are going to turn a corner more quickly than almost anyone thinks, and Swanson -- a local kid selected as the No. 1 pick in the 2015 Draft -- could be the cornerstone guy.
Brewers: Orlando Arcia offers a glimpse
MLBPipeline's No. 6 prospect is the future and one of the largest keys to the turnaround. If things work out a certain way, the shortstop will make his Major League debut sometime in 2016. At that point, Brewers fans will be able to see light at the end of the tunnel.
Cardinals: Big season for Big City
If first baseman Matt Adams stays on the field (just 60 games in 2015) and becomes the player he has long been projected to be, the Cardinals will take a huge step forward during a sixth straight postseason appearance. There will be younger players all over the field, making this the kind of season that could resemble a roller coaster. If Adams comes through, the Cards might write an ending sweeter than people think.
Cubs: John Lackey keeps on keeping on
We considered taking a pass. The Cubs are that perfect painting that does not need one more brush stroke. This being a free pass, though, here's to Lackey having another healthy and productive season. He might just make the Cubs the best team in the land.
D-backs: Archie Bradley fulfills his promise
Bradley is getting a shot again. He has been one of the most coveted prospects for so long that it seems he has been around forever. He's still only 23 and talented enough to join Zack Greinke, Miller and Patrick Corbin as a dominant rotation. It could make this a great baseball summer in Arizona.
Dodgers: Good health for Brett Anderson
Anderson has No. 1 stuff, has had it most of his career. His only issue has been staying on the field. If he puts together another season like he had in 2015 (180 1/3 innings, 3.69 ERA), the Dodgers have a great chance to win the National League West for a fourth straight year.
Giants: Matt Cain is great again
The Giants without Cain at his best will contend for a playoff berth and hang with the Dodgers and D-backs the entire season. The Giants with Cain pitching at a high level could have another magical October.
Indians: Francisco Lindor takes the next step
The young shortstop, who finished runner-up for the AL Rookie of the Year Award, did a real good imitation of the best player on the planet after making his Major League debut on June 14. If he has a strong follow-up season, he will go a long way toward transforming an entire franchise.
Mariners: 25 homers and 40 doubles for Robinson Cano
Cano was signed to deliver postseason appearances. He's coming off one of his most disappointing seasons (.287 BA, 21 HR, 79 RBIs). New general manager Jerry Dipoto has overhauled the club around him, but Seattle's chances are tied to Cano being a dominant hitter in the middle of the lineup.
Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton plays in 150-plus games
Stanton has averaged 114 games over the past four seasons. In 2015, he blasted 27 home runs before his season ended after just 74 games. If Stanton can stay on the field for 150-plus contests, he will give Bryce Harper and Mike Trout a run in the "Best Player in Baseball" debate. He might also keep the Marlins playing meaningful games into September.
Mets: Yoenis Cespedes shows 2015 wasn't a fluke
Cespedes transformed the Mets after being acquired on July 31. If he continues to produce at that level -- .942 OPS in 57 games -- the Mets might just win the NL East for a second straight season. They're a team with very few questions.
Nationals: Jonathan Papelbon keeps quiet and performs
If Papelbon has a quiet, productive season, he improves a team that is complete in just about every other way. This could be the year the Nats finally fulfill all that hype.
Orioles: Dylan Bundy grabs an opportunity
The 23-year-old right-hander was once considered the best pitching prospect before Tommy John surgery stunted his ascent. Bundy will likely make his first Major League start sometime in 2016. The O's need him to fill out a rotation that's thin. Baltimore is probably good enough to make a playoff run in every other area. Bundy's time is now.
Padres: Melvin Upton Jr. continues his comeback
Upton showed signs of bouncing back from those two terrible seasons with the Braves by hitting .278 with three homers and 12 RBIs in the second half of 2015. If he continues to progress, he'll either give general manager A.J. Preller a valuable trade chip or give the Padres a nice weapon.
Phillies: Mark Appel shows he's the real deal
The Astros thought Appel would be a cornerstone piece when they made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 Draft. Then they included him in a trade for closer Ken Giles. If Appel emerges this season behind all that talent, the Phils will have a significant part of their reconstruction in place.
Pirates: Jameson Taillon finally arrives
The No. 2 overall pick of the 2010 Draft is healthy after recovering from two surgeries. Taillon has No. 1 starter stuff and could boost the Bucs into an October-worthy rotation.
Rangers: Yu Darvish comes back as good as ever
Darvish is on track to be back on the mound in the first half of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last spring. He could join Cole Hamels and Derek Holland to give the Rangers a front three as good as any in baseball.
Rays: Desmond Jennings stays healthy
Jennings was once seen as a franchise-type player in center, but he has played in just 151 games over the past two years. He's healthy again, and a team starved for offense badly needs his production. The Rays have pitching depth, but a thin margin in terms of offense.
Red Sox: 30 starts from Clay Buchholz
When Buchholz has been healthy, he has had stretches when he has looked like a true ace. He has made 20-plus starts only three times and has never made 30. He might just be the key for a Red Sox team that has added David Price and looks solid in every other area.
Reds: Billy Hamilton finally flies to stardom
The Reds are in a full rebuild. Hamilton is supposed to be part of both the present and the future in center field. If he finally turns a corner on offense (.242 career BA), he could be one of the most entertaining and productive players in baseball.
Rockies: Jon Gray flashes potential greatness
The Rockies have to develop their own pitching, and the next guy in line is Gray, the third overall pick in 2013. He could speed up the franchise's return to contention in a big way.
Royals: Yordano Ventura takes the next step
Ventura started last Opening Day for Kansas City and had moments of great highs and frustrating lows. He has made 61 starts despite being 24 years old. The Royals hope this is the season that Ventura emerges as both a mature and consistent performer.
Tigers: Justin Verlander maintains that second-half momentum
Verlander may never be the dominant No. 1 he once was, but he had stretches last season when he looked as good as ever and posted a 2.80 ERA after the All-Star break. He's probably the key to the Tigers taking the AL Central back from the Royals.
Twins: Byron Buxton takes the league by storm
The center fielder and No. 2 overall prospect is a franchise-changing talent. This is Buxton's time. He's gifted in the field, on the bases and at the plate. This is the season the Twins need him to be That Guy.
White Sox: Avisail Garcia turns talent into performance
This outfielder has teased both the Tigers and White Sox with his gifts. Garcia is 24 years old with 1,016 Major League at-bats. He'll get every chance to help the White Sox turn a corner.
Yankees: CC Sabathia throws 200 innings
The lefty is three years removed from his last 200-inning season and will turn 36 this summer. If Sabathia's got another big year in him, he could elevate the Yanks' rotation into one capable of winning the AL East.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.