Each team's player to watch down the stretch

The 2020 season is suddenly down to a 3 1/2-week super sprint, and now that the dust has settled from the Trade Deadline, it’s go-time for MLB’s 30 clubs.

Whether a team is one of the many still in the hunt for a postseason spot or is starting to turn its gaze toward 2021, these last weeks have big implications. MLB.com’s beat writers identified one player to keep an eye on for each and every club down the stretch.

American League East

Blue Jays: Bo Bichette, SS

Bichette is the player to watch any time he’s on the field, but his return from a right knee sprain will be even more valuable after the Blue Jays added versatile infielder Jonathan Villar at the Trade Deadline. Once Bichette returns, Villar can play multiple positions, which will allow the Blue Jays to consider more options at third base, which could even include Cavan Biggio. Regardless of how it shakes out positionally, that will make the lineup deeper and the defense better. It doesn’t hurt to bring the lineup’s best hitter back into the fray either, of course, as Bichette was hitting .361 with a 1.063 OPS prior to hitting the injured list in August. As Bichette starts to ramp up the intensity of his rehab work, the timeline for his return should be clear soon. — Keegan Matheson

Orioles: Ryan Mountcastle, LF

If there was any concern about Mountcastle hitting at the big league level, it’s already been assuaged. Held down at the Orioles’ alternate training site until Aug. 21 to work on his defense, Mountcastle is already impressing with how comfortable he looks in left field, according to Orioles manager Brandon Hyde and others. He’s also raking, hitting .341 with a .937 OPS through his first 11 games, and has been Baltimore’s best player by fWAR since being promoted. Now there are no hurdles left to clear for Mountcastle, their No. 5 prospect, to get regular MLB at-bats. The Orioles are going to showcase several of their better prospects down the stretch, and Mountcastle is the most polished offensive player of the bunch. — Joe Trezza

Rays: Charlie Morton, SP

After missing three weeks with right shoulder inflammation, Morton made his return to the mound on Wednesday, tossing two-plus innings against the Yankees. Getting Morton back in the rotation is big for the Rays, but now they’ll have to make sure to have him trending up in time for the postseason. Morton struggled early on this season, but if the Rays hope to make a run at the World Series, they’ll need Morton pitching well, along with Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell. — Juan Toribio

Red Sox: Bobby Dalbec, 1B

Due to their non-contender status, the Red Sox traded Mitch Moreland to the Padres and this opened up first base for power-hitting prospect Dalbec, who is ranked No. 3 in Boston’s farm system by MLB Pipeline. Dalbec made a strong first impression with a homer in the second at-bat of his debut. The last few weeks should be an invaluable time for Dalbec to prove he’s ready to play every day next season. — Ian Browne

Yankees: Luke Voit, 1B

With Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres all on the injured list, Luke Voit has powered the Yanks’ offense, swinging the bat like an MVP candidate. His muscle restored following offseason core surgery, Voit is one of just six Yankees to hit 13 or more homers within the team’s first 34 games, entering play on Thursday tied for the big league lead in home runs. The Yanks are getting healthier, with DJ LeMahieu restored to the top of the batting order this week, but they’ll rely on Voit to keep producing in what has been a special start to his season. — Bryan Hoch

AL Central

Indians: Francisco Lindor, SS

Lindor has been the pulse of the Indians’ lineup, so it’s not overly surprising that the team’s offense has only shown signs of life on a handful of occasions as the All-Star shortstop has gotten off to an unusually slow start. The Tribe has leaned heavily on its starting pitching to keep it in the thick of the AL Central race. Providing that pitching staff that entered Wednesday with the second-best team ERA (2.81, trailing just the Dodgers) with some run support will be the only answer for Cleveland to create any separation within its division. Franmil Reyes has been the only hitter in the Indians’ lineup to consistently see results at the plate over the past month, and the Tribe needs its stars in José Ramírez, Carlos Santana and Lindor to follow suit. And with his infectious energy and role as a leader of this squad, Lindor getting hot will only help this lineup over the final three weeks of the regular season. — Mandy Bell

Royals: Adalberto Mondesi, SS

Entering Wednesday’s game against Cleveland, Mondesi was slashing .186/.211/.240 with no home runs and two RBIs. His horrific slump has included eight hits in his last 68 at-bats with no extra-base hits, one RBI and 24 strikeouts. Simply put, it has been painful for observers to watch such a dynamic player who had 20 doubles, 10 triples (tied for MLB best), nine homers and 43 stolen bases in 102 games last season. Mondesi is supposed to be a key part of the Royals’ nucleus, and how he finishes 2020 could have a big impact on how the organization views that position — their No. 1 prospect, shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., is still a year or two away, presumably. Manager Mike Matheny has stood by Mondesi, though Matheny finally sat Mondesi for the first time this season Tuesday.

“I’m not going to flinch,” Matheny said. “He’s my guy.” — Jeffrey Flanagan

Tigers: Casey Mize, SP

Flip a coin between Mize and fellow highly touted pitching prospect Tarik Skubal, both of whom are now in Detroit’s rotation for the stretch run of a playoff chase. But Mize’s splitter is the kind of unique wipeout pitch that makes All-Star hitters look silly, as Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo can attest. The rest of his pitches are a work in progress, but he’s learning how to fix mechanical issues on the fly. Much like Justin Verlander as a rookie, Mize’s starts are becoming must-see events to potentially witness something special that night. — Jason Beck

Twins: Josh Donaldson, 3B

The former MVP third baseman finally returned to the lineup on Wednesday following a month on the injured list with a right calf strain, and it didn’t come a moment too soon for Minnesota’s scuffling offense as the Twins jostle with Cleveland and the White Sox atop a crowded American League Central. Donaldson hit a paltry .182/.296/.318 before the injury, but he felt he was getting his timing back at the plate just before he hit the shelf. Any resemblance by Donaldson to his former self would go a long way in giving Minnesota a needed jolt, especially against left-handed pitching. — Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: Dane Dunning, RHP

Luis Robert would be the easy answer to this question, because the rookie center fielder has become appointment television and a true game-changer. But Dunning has the chance to have just as great of an impact on the White Sox winning the division and advancing within the postseason. The White Sox have Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel at the top of their rotation, and without any pitching moves made before the Trade Deadline, they need a young hurler or two to step up in those next two rotation spots. Dunning threw five hitless innings in his last start vs. the Royals and has the talent and poise to be one of those guys to help stabilize the entire rotation. — Scott Merkin

AL West

Angels: Jo Adell, RF

Adell has struggled so far in his first stint in the Majors, but he is starting to look more comfortable at the plate, including a two-homer game against the Mariners on Saturday. Adell will get plenty of chances to turn it around in September as he’s entrenched as the everyday right fielder, especially after Brian Goodwin was traded to the Reds. Adell has been a slow starter at every professional level he’s reached, so the top prospect could be on the verge of a breakout. — Rhett Bollinger

Astros: Jose Altuve, 2B

Altuve has struggled this season at the plate like never before following a second half in ’19 in which he led the AL in total bases and hits. He’s striking out more and chasing more pitches out of the zone. A career .290/.345/.527 hitter with 13 homers in 50 career playoff games, Altuve’s bat will have to come around in time for October if the Astros are to going to make another deep playoff run. — Brian McTaggart

Athletics: Mike Minor, SP

The A’s have had trouble getting their starters to pitch deep into games on a consistent basis. With a daunting schedule that will see four doubleheaders over the final 20 days of the regular season, Minor, whom the A’s acquired from the Rangers at the Trade Deadline, could provide a boost to the pitching staff. Not only will he start games, but A’s manager Bob Melvin indicated the veteran left-hander will also be available to pitch out of the bullpen, perhaps utilized in a hybrid role. The numbers did not look great for Minor in Texas this season, but the A’s have identified strengths in his stuff that they believe can bring the lefty closer to his 2019 All-Star form. — Martin Gallegos

Mariners: Ty France, 3B/DH

This year is about identifying which young players can be cornerstones of the rebuilding process going forward, and center fielder Kyle Lewis, first baseman Evan White and starting pitchers Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn are among the rookies who have cemented their places in that picture. France is one of four players acquired from the Padres in the Austin Nola trade on Sunday, and these final weeks will be the first chance to see how the 26-year-old might fit in that future. France’s biggest plus is his right-handed bat, and he’ll get a chance to show that at designated hitter now that Daniel Vogelbach is gone. But he’ll also get some time at first and third base, and he could be groomed as the eventual replacement for Kyle Seager at third, given that Seager is the only remaining veteran holdover in general manager Jerry Dipoto’s makeover. — Greg Johns

Rangers: Eli White, OF

The Rangers have a roster filled with young players who are worth watching, with more possibly on the way from the alternate training site. White is a player of mystery because he is not ranked among the Rangers’ Top 30 Prospects, but he is in the big leagues and will get playing time in the outfield. White was an infielder for much of his career with the Athletics, then was traded to the Rangers two winters ago and started getting more time in the outfield. He has taken to center field faster than expected to the point where the Rangers believe he can be an elite defender. He was ahead of Leody Taveras on the depth chart until he suffered a strained oblique muscle in Summer Camp. There is still a question of White being able to hit at the big-league level, but the Rangers see a talented athlete with a chance to be an impact player. — T.R. Sullivan

National League East

Braves: Ian Anderson, RHP

A week into his career, Anderson already stands with Max Fried as the only current members of Atlanta’s rotation to complete at least five innings in more than one start this year. The 22-year-old right-hander has produced strong six-inning efforts against the Yankees and Red Sox since debuting on Aug. 26. His ability to extend this success throughout September would help stabilize a fractured rotation that currently counts Cole Hamels and Mike Foltynewicz as only potential late-season additions. — Mark Bowman

Marlins: Sixto Sanchez, RHP

Trading for Starling Marte added a middle-of-the-order threat to the Marlins’ lineup, but the deal came at a cost. For Marte, Miami dealt left-hander Caleb Smith and prospect Humberto Mejía to Arizona. The Marlins are banking on their rotation to lead them to the playoffs, and top prospect Sánchez will be taking on a huge role. Sánchez has looked the part of a future ace in his first couple of starts. The 22-year-old has shown a 100 mph fastball, along with a nasty changeup. His mound presence is intense, and he’s provided energy to the rotation. How Sánchez handles the heat of a pennant race promises to be entertaining. Sánchez may be to the 2020 Marlins what then 23-year-old Josh Beckett was to the franchise’s 2003 World Series championship team. — Joe Frisaro

Mets: Pete Alonso, 1B

Alonso struggled throughout Spring Training. He struggled in Summer Camp and he struggled throughout the first month of the season. When right, Alonso is the most dangerous member of the Mets’ starting lineup, with strong strike zone knowledge and as much power — he hit a Major League rookie-record 53 home runs last season — as anyone in the league. But he has chased pitches out of the zone far too often this season, leading to a loss of both power and average. If the Mets are to make a late run up the NL standings, they will need Alonso to return to being one of the game’s premier sluggers. — Anthony DiComo

Nationals: Trea Turner, SS

Turner is coming off a staggering 16-game hitting streak in August. During that stretch, he topped all players with a .507 batting average. Turner’s effectiveness as the Nationals’ lead-off hitter helps set the table for the slugging Juan Soto in the second spot of the batting order. The gritty shortstop, who played most of last season — including a World Series run — with a broken finger, is worth watching as the Nats attempt a turnaround playoff push. — Jessica Camerato

Phillies: Zach Eflin, RHP

If the Phillies make the postseason for the first time since 2011, they will need to decide who their No. 3 starter is behind right-handers Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. Jake Arrieta has the pedigree, but Eflin can make his case with a strong September. He is 2-1 with a 4.10 ERA in five starts this season. The ERA does not pop, but some of Eflin’s metrics are off the charts. He ranks in the 90th percentile or better in strikeout rate, xERA and xwOBA, according to Statcast. Eflin remains a sinker-slider pitcher, but his curveball has turned into an unexpected weapon. Opponents have a .079 xBA and .080 xwOBA against his breaking ball this season. — Todd Zolecki

NL Central

Brewers: Christian Yelich, LF

If anyone can carry the Brewers’ disappointing offense down the stretch, it’s Yelich, who is on a long list of Milwaukee hitters performing way under career norms. But after a downright startling start — he began the season 3-for-34 with 16 strikeouts — Yelich has gradually been looking more like himself in recent weeks. Beginning with a wacky inside-the-park home run at the White Sox on Aug. 6, he slashed a respectable .253/.381/.598 over his next 25 games, and in spite of a batting average still hovering around .200 for the season, he ranks in Statcast’s 96th percentile for exit velocity, the 95th percentile for hard-hit percentage, and among the top quarter in baseball in expected slugging percentage and expected weighted on-base average. He’s still the Brewers’ most dangerous hitter. — Adam McCalvy

Cardinals: Matt Carpenter, 3B

Carpenter entered Wednesday night hitting .182/.344/.260. His average exit velocity per Statcast (88.9 mph) is similar to last season, when he had a career-low year in almost every batting category. As the Cardinals offense comes together — with Kolten Wong at the top and Paul Goldschmidt, Brad Miller and Paul DeJong in the middle — the club needs Carpenter to be a part of it. The Cardinals were encouraged by what they saw in Spring Training and Summer Camp, but the third baseman needs that to translate into production. His adjustments and turnaround will be key to a team racing toward the postseason and hoping to defend their NL Central title. — Anne Rogers

Cubs: Kris Bryant, 3B/OF

Bryant’s first half was marred by a slow start in the batter’s box and a handful of injury setbacks. There was a minor back issue at the end of Summer Camp, left elbow trouble early in the season and then a left wrist and finger issue (stemming from a diving catch attempt on Aug. 12) that sent the 2016 NL Most Valuable Player to the injured list. At the time, Bryant was batting .177 with a .594 OPS as the Cubs’ leadoff man. Fortunately for the Cubs, Ian Happ has enjoyed a breakout campaign and stepped into the leadoff role with great results. Bryant is back (he collected two hits in his return on Tuesday in Pittsburgh) and could be critical for helping boost the offense as the Cubs aim for a division title and a deep October run. — Jordan Bastian

Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B

Did you see his Major League debut? Even in a loss, Hayes had the kind of night that players dream about and fans can dream on. The Pirates’ No. 2 prospect made an immediate impact at the plate, with a double and a homer, and on the bases, as he safely slid home on a perfectly executed contact play. He barely got to show the skills that led some evaluators to predict he’ll immediately be one of the Majors’ best defensive third basemen. The Pirates need to see strong finishes from young players like Bryan Reynolds, Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker along with good health from former top prospect Mitch Keller. But the 23-year-old Hayes is going to get every chance to lock down third base for the present and, Pittsburgh hopes, a more promising future. — Adam Berry

Reds: Joey Votto, 1B

Can the team’s longest tenured player turn around a poor season? Votto was given a three-game benching last week — the first of his career — after he went into an 0-for-18 funk. Following the time off, Votto responded by going 9-for-20 with three home runs in the first six games upon his return — including a walk-off single against the Cardinals on Wednesday night. He will turn 37 on Sept. 10, and the Reds are trying to keep their postseason hopes alive. The hope is that Votto, who was moved to the leadoff spot late last month, can revive himself and get on base like he used to do regularly. That would set up damage doers like Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker, and perhaps get Cincinnati back into the postseason picture. — Mark Sheldon

NL West

D-backs: Daulton Varsho, C/OF

Varsho is one of the D-backs’ best prospects and with their struggles this year and decision to pivot with an eye on 2021, he figures to get plenty of playing time. While Carson Kelly may get more starts than Varsho behind the plate, Varsho will still see time there as well as in center field. The team would like to find a place for him in the lineup going forward and because he is so athletic, he picked up playing center quickly last season and in his first big league start there Tuesday night against the Dodgers, he made a nice leaping catch at the wall. Getting him experience and helping him develop will be keys for the D-backs during the final month. — Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: Gavin Lux, 2B

He’s been tentative at the plate and shaky in the field, looking nothing like the No. 2 prospect in the game according to MLB Pipeline. He was recently recalled after a late arrival to Summer Camp, but this time it’s more of an acid test to see if he’s ready yet for a postseason role than the reward it was a year ago, when he was given a starting job after a phenomenal Minor League season. — Ken Gurnick

Giants: Joey Bart, C

Bart has endured some growing pains since making his highly anticipated debut on August 20, but the Giants are committed to giving him the opportunity to continue his development at the Major Level level. The 23-year-old catcher will be tasked with handling the club’s pitching staff in the midst of a playoff push, but the Giants are confident he’ll be able to learn on the fly and make the necessary adjustments to overcome his early struggles at the plate. San Francisco catchers ranked 25th in the Majors with a .525 OPS entering Wednesday, so if Bart can tap into his offensive potential, the Giants will have another dangerous right-handed bat to deepen their already potent lineup. — Maria Guardado

Padres: Chris Paddack, RHP

Newly acquired Mike Clevinger is the Padres’ presumed Game 1 starter in the postseason. Dinelson Lamet is authoring a breakout season as well. Garrett Richards and Zach Davies are solid back-end pieces. But there’s one thing that could take the Padres’ rotation from good to great this month: a bounce-back from Paddack. Through eight roller-coaster starts, Paddack owns a 4.43 ERA. But he worked six innings at Coors Field without allowing an earned run on Sunday. If the Padres get that version of Paddack down the stretch, they might enter their first playoff series in 14 years with Clevinger, Lamet and Paddack lined up — a daunting task for their first-round opponent. — AJ Cassavell

Rockies: Ryan McMahon, 2B

As a first-time regular last year, McMahon, 25, produced occasional power and made strides to the point that the Rockies were counting on a breakout. He began this season with a high number of strikeouts, interspersed with some impressive homers. In a normal year, over time he could straighten all that out. But in this one, especially with the Rockies tumbling and looking to lengthen their lineup, he could lose playing time to Garrett Hampson down the stretch. McMahon is one of several Rockies who need to find success, not only to help the team’s hopes this year but secure their place going forward. — Thomas Harding