Beasts From the East: With Spring Training underway and baseball back in full swing, I thought I’d do a top to bottom predictions and projections piece on the AL East Division. Here’s a look at what the 2013 season has in store:
American League East Division Standings (by seasons end):
1. Toronto Blue Jays 92-70
2. New York Yankees 89-73
3. Boston Red Sox 85-77
4. Tampa Bay Rays 83-79
5. Baltimore Orioles 80-82
Team by Team Rundown: Post-Season Chances, Award Winners, and Prospects to Watch:
Toronto Blue Jays
Post-Season Chances: I have the Blue Jays winning the American League East by a small margin over the New York Yankees to capture their first AL East crown since 1993. The Blue Jays were big spenders this off-season and inked the likes of SS Jose Reyes, SP R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle, plus 2B Emilio Bonafacio.
When you add those names just listed above to a team with guys like OF Jose Bautista, OF Melky Cabrera, OF Colby Rasmus, 1B Edwin Encarnacion, as well as SP Brandon Marrow and Ricky Romero, this team is scary good…on paper.
The Blue Jays have what appears to be a well balanced team with a solid rotation/bullpen. Also, the Blue Jays have roster depth with guys like INF Mark DeRosa and Maicer Izturis as well as DH/1B Adam Lind and OF Rajai Davis. I feel as though all of these factors will lead Toronto to an AL East title and a potential deep post-season run.
Award Winners: Despite the Blue Jays potentially having one of their most successful seasons since the early 90’s this year, I don’t foresee any MLB hardware being handed out at the end of the year in Toronto.
Prospects to Watch: According to CBSSports,com SP Sean Nolin and Aaron Sanchez will be a pair of arms to keep an eye on this season. Nolin could potentially help bolster the back end of the rotation to give guys like Morrow, Romero, and even Buehrle a break.
The 23-year-old Nolin posted a 2.04 ERA with 108 strikeouts surrendering only 27 walks in 101 innings pitched in the minors last year. Sanchez, 20-years-old, also shined last year in his professional ball debut posting a 2.47 ERA with 97 strikeouts in 90 innings of work, allowing 64 hits all season with 51 walks. Both are players to keep track of in Toronto.
New York Yankees
Post-Season Chances: While the New York Yankees were quiet spenders in this year’s offseason, they managed to make the right moves to address their team needs. The Bronx Bombers picked up former Red-Sox free agent OF Kevin Youkilis and DH Travis Hafner (former heavy hitter for the Cleveland Indians).
This year’s Yankees team will not have Alex Rodriguez (barring a medical miracle) but that doesn’t mean the Yankees won’t find their way to the playoffs. Minus A-Rod this is the same team that won 95 games and the AL East crown last season.
Plus Youkilis should fill in for A-Rod just fine at 3B. Not to mention Hafner could return to his heavy hitting ways at the shorter fenced Yankee Stadium and add even more pop to an already potent lineup. Moreover, the Yankees will find a way into the post-season once more. Most likely by way of securing a Wild Card spot.
Award Winners: The 2013 MVP award goes to… NYY 2B Robinson Cano. That’s correct, I have Cano as my pick for this year’s MVP. While the other logical picks of rookie sensation Mike Trout or Triple Crown King Miguel Cabrera might be more suitable choices, I think Cano can steal the show.
The reason being: Cano is in the last year of his contract and will have a big payday coming at seasons end. So, what better way to make that payday extra sweet than by not only being the best power hitting 2B in the free agency, but to also have a career year and win MVP?
Cano finished 4th in last year’s MVP voting with a 313. average, 33 HR and 94 RBI and should be primed to try and win this year’s coveted award.
Prospects to Watch: According to minorleagueball.com C Gary Sanchez and OF Mason Williams are two future pinstripe prospects worth your while.
The 20-year-old Sanchez split time last year between Low-A and High-A ball in Charleston and Tampa hitting for a combined .289 average 18 HR and 85 RBI in 116 games. Williams, 21-years-old, also split time in Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa with a combined .298 average, 11 HR and 35 RBI. If numbers like those continue to rise these two could see early call ups to the big show.
Boston Red Sox
Post-Season Chances: Everything in my “sports gut” tells me the Sox have a shot at sneaking into the post-season via the last Wild Card spot. However, fanship aside, with Boston realistically only winning roughly 85 games this season by my count, that leaves them on the outside looking in come October.
Award Winners: Unless the MLB creates a new award for “Comeback Team of the Year” I don’t see any award winners on this year’s roster.
Prospects to Watch: SS Xander Bogaerts and OF Jackie Bradley Jr. are without question the top two prospects to keep tabs on this year. Bogaerts and Bradley Jr are already impressing the Sox in Spring Training. Bogaerts went 1 for 4 and Bradley Jr. went 1 for 3 with an RBI.
Bogaerts hit for a .307 average with 37 doubles, 20 HR 80 RBI and 71 runs between Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland, while Bradley Jr. batted .315 with 42 doubles, nine HR, 63 RBI, and 90 runs also playing with Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland. Both are on a fast track to Fenway and should be exciting to follow throughout Spring Training.
Side note on Bogaerts: He played 3B for the Sox in their recent 11-1 drubbing of Boston College to prepare for his role on Team Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. The WBC is set to begin on March 2nd. While Bogaerts focus for the Red Sox will be to play SS, he will likely be moved over to 3B for the WBC, as Jurickson Profar (Texas Rangers and the MLB’ number one prospect) will hold down SS for Team Netherlands.
Tampa Bay Rays
Post-Season Chances: Granted, the Rays did manage to win 90 games last season, and were only edged out by the Baltimore Orioles by 3 games to miss the post-season. However, with a weaker bullpen this year, and a lack of roster depth, I don’t have the Rays making it to the post-season this year.
The Rays have key cogs like SP David Price (2012 AL Cy Young Award Winner) and 3B Evan Longoria, as well as role players like SS Yunel Escobar, OF/INF Ben Zobrist, and SP Matt Moore. All of whom will easily help this ball club win close to 85 games, but unless their bullpen improves and they add another solid bat to the lineup, this team will struggle in 2013.
Award Winners: With David Price winning last year’s AL Cy Young Award, he should be poised to attempt the first AL pitcher to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards since Pedro Martinez in 1999 and 2000.
Price, however, will not win the 2013 Cy Young Award, as I see his numbers dropping a tad this season. He will finish 3rd in the voting behind Justin Verlander and my 2013 Cy Young Award winner: Jered Weaver.
Prospects to Watch: According to baseballprospectus..com OF Wil Myers and P Chris Archer are at the top of the crop . Archer started in 4 major league games last year for the Rays, pitching in 6 total. Archer produced a 1-3 record with 36 stirkeouts and a 4.60 ERA. Archer faired better in 2012 in Triple-A where he had 139 strikeouts with a 3.66 ERA and finished with a 7-9 record.
As for Myers, he exploded last year in the minors putting up big numbers in both Double-A and Triple-A. Myers combined for a .314 batting average with 37 HR and 109 RBI. Myers performance last year landed him in this year’s top 10 MLB prospects list. Both could see playing time at Tropicana in the near future.
Post-Season Chances: The Baltimore Orioles surprised the MLB last year as they made the playoffs for the first time since 1997. They managed to win 93 games and beat the Texas Rangers in last year’s AL Wild Card Playoff Elimination game. So, logically Baltimore should have similar success in 2013 right? WRONG, the Baltimore Orioles will not only miss the playoffs this season, but will finish in dead last in the AL East and here’s why:
2012 Batting Totals for Baltimore:
Finished 20th in the majors for batting average with a .247
Finished 23rd in the majors for on base percentage with .311
Finished 15th in the majors for runs scored with 712
Finished 11th in the majors in slugging percentage with .417
2012 Pitching Totals for Baltimore:
Finished 14th in the majors for team ERA with a 3.90
Finished 21st in the majors for quality starts with 78
Finished 16th in the majors in WHIP with 1.29
Finished 16th in the majors in BAA with . 252
Those middle of the pack numbers simply won’t cut it in this year’s AL East if the Orioles want to make another run at the post-season.
History Often Repeats Itself: Here’s a few more statistical nuggets to make my case a bit stronger:
Since that 1997 playoff season (in which the O’s won 98 games to clinch the division) Baltimore has only broken the .500 mark once (in 2012) and has finished dead last four times, fourth place nine times, third place once, with the highest finish since 97′ coming last year ending the 2012 season in 2nd place.
One more fun fact I should mention…Where did the Orioles finish the season after they clinched the AL East in 97′? The Answer: fourth place with a 79-83 record. The only reason they didn’t finish in dead last in 1998 is because the then “brand new to baseball” expansion team Tampa Bay Devil Rays who finished in last going 63-99 ( 98′ was Tampa Bay’s first season in franchise history).
Lastly, one of the keys to Baltimore’s success and overall record last year was closer Jim Johnson, who finished 2012 with 51 saves. Those 51 saves helped account for more than half of the Orioles wins in 2012 (93 wins divided by two equals 46.5, and since a save equals a win Johnson’s 51 saves translates into helping the O’s win more than half of their games in 12′). Unless Johnson can put up another 50 spot, Baltimore will have a setback season in 2013.
Award Winners: Given that I have the O’s finishing in last place this year, I also have them collecting no awards in 2013.
Prospects to Watch: According to baseballprospectnation.com SP Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are a pair of arms you should watch closely as they are the top two prospects on Baltimore’s charts .
In fact, Bundy is ranked as the top pitching prospect in the majors. Bundy went 9-3 in the minors last year with an ERA of 2.08, 119 strikeouts, and a 0.92 WHIP. Bundy also pitched in two games for the O’s in 2012, for a total of 1.2 innings of work allowing 1 hit and 1 walk with a 1.20 WHIP. Gausman pitched in just 5 games last year in the minors but managed to total a 3.60 ERA allowing 11 hits, 1 walk, with 13 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.80.
While Gausman will certainly need more time in the minors, Bundy will most likely see action sooner than later with Baltimore, as he has proved last year he is ready to make strides in the majors. Bundy may be the young solution this year’s shaky Baltimore rotation will need, should things fall apart the way I’m predicting. Regardless, Bundy’s future in Baltimore, for now, is very bright.
Final Thoughts: The AL East Division will no doubt boast as one of the most competitive and toughest divisions in the MLB this season (as it has proven to be in seasons past). This division can legitimately have four of the five teams finish with above .500 records (the way it did in 2010 and 2011). So, let’s hear it…how do you see the AL East shaking down this year? Leave a comment below.