It's going to be a fairly competitive stretch run—with the exception of the American League West, all divisions are seemingly up for grabs. Still, though, like every mid-August of a baseball season, certain teams are already cooked. Today we're going to look at the future potential of three such squads: the Cubs, Indians, and Blue Jays.
For the Cubs, only one major contract comes off the books this winter—so the rebuild could take a few years.
The Indians used to be the model for building mid-market teams; that's less the case these days, but their system is very deep.
The Jays suffer the fate of playing in the AL East—and to compound that problem, their organization is not currently rich in talent.
The bad news here is that the team is still more than a year away from being able to begin a true rebuilding process; the only big contract coming off the books this winter is Derrek Lee.
While shortstop Starlin Castro and righty Andrew Cashner have given the club a minor glimpse of the future, the problem is runs scored (the Cubs are currently 12th in the NL ). Josh Vitters hasn't lived up to expectations, so Brett Jackson is the only guy in the system who can seemingly contribute offensively in the next couple of years.
There's better news on the pitching level—but much of that goes to the Cubs' hopefully making the decision to return Cashner to the rotation. After selecting him with their first pick in 2008 as the top college closer in the county, the Cubs made the risky decision to convert him to a starter, but they handled the transformation in a way that should be a template for every team considering the same. To toss all of that work aside for a 60-70 inning reliever would be a sad waste of fantastic execution.
Another potential answer could be—believe it or not—Jeff Samardzija. His bonus was a little ridiculous and his career major-league ERA is 5.89, but at Triple-A Iowa, he's added an 87-90 mph cutter that finally gives him a second pitch. This should help him be more successful the next time he's pitching at Wrigley Field. Also at Triple-A, righty Jay Jackson should be able to contribute in a starting or relief role, but the inability to score runs could plague this team for years to come.
In the mid-1990s under John Hart, the Indians were a model for how to successfully build mid-market teams. It hasn't been the case of late, though. This year will be the ninth time in the past decade that Cleveland has missed the playoffs.
There's good news, though. Their farm system is very deep; at every position there are a few guys you could classify as "intriguing," even if there's not another true stud like Carlos Santana.
The biggest problems in the big-league lineup revolve around the infield, and the club has answers on the way. Converted to second base in the offseason, 2009 second-round pick Jason Kipnis has been nothing short of a revelation this year, batting .315/.398/.506 in his first full season at Double-A. At the hot corner, 2008 first-rounder Lonnie Chisenhall looks more and more like the answer. After a slow start, Chisenhall has found his power stroke of late, hitting six home runs in 87 at-bats since the All-Star break while slugging .540. Both he and Kipnis could be ready by 2011; when they make the Indians' big-league lineup, they should be above-average everyday players at their positions.
The club's two most recent first-rounders, left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz (2010) and right-hander Alex White (2009), both look like future rotation stalwarts. The most pleasant surprise in the system has been another pitcher, 2009 third-round pick Joe Gardner. The UC Santa Barbara product doesn't light up a radar gun, but his sinker is among the best in the minors, as across two A-levels he's allowed just 82 hits in 120 innings while striking out 123.
The Blue Jays
While the Blue Jays are on the verge of their fourth winning season in the past six years, they haven't reached the postseason since their last World Series championship in 1993. That's partially (if not mostly) because of playing in the AL East; however, that fact isn't likely to change soon, so the Jays need to develop talent to give them a fighting chance.
Unfortunately, any such progress in that area is going to take some time. While J.P. Arencibia had a stunning big-league debut and should become a star-level offensive catcher in short order, most of the team's top position prospects are in A-ball or below and should offer little help in the near future.
In the eyes of most scouts, with Arencibia up, the only Blue Jays hitter at Double- or Triple-A who projects as an everyday player is 21-year-old Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who is already big-league ready (and more) on a defensive level and is making big strides with the bat; his line at Double-A New Hampshire is now .297/.333/.392.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .