Baseball is back, and that also means the return of watching the always entertaining, slugfest AL East division. Each team has several players worth watching, but here is one per team that has an especially interesting storyline to follow along with.
Baltimore Orioles: Trey Mancini
One of the more inspiring and powerful recent storylines in sports comes from Baltimore and surrounds the situation of Orioles outfielder Trey Mancini. The slugger missed the 2020 season after a battle with stage III colon cancer, but came out victorious and is set to make his return this year.
Let’s not forget the hitter Mancini is when at full strength. In 2019, he simply raked in his 679 plate appearances. Disregarding his rookie campaign in which he only played in five games, Mancini set career highs in home runs, OBP, WRC+, wOBA and was arguably at his best defensively.
If he can slowly return to this peak form in 2021, he’ll give Baltimore much-needed hope going forward and will further serve as an incredible inspiration to people across the baseball community that you can be greater than your biggest setbacks. Either way, watching Mancini return is going to be special.
Boston Red Sox: J.D. Martinez
A lot of people are seemingly ready to give up on J.D. Martinez, but there isn’t a good reason to think he’s simply a lost cause now.
Sure, he struggled in 2020 (he played in 54 games and only amassed a 77 WRC+), but it’s hard to give full credit to regression that occurred in a shortened season surrounded by many negative factors. His .259 BABIP also suggests that he may have had some bad luck on some of the balls he put in play.
But when talking about power, it would be silly to quickly dismiss the idea that he could still launch rockets over the green monster regularly, because he absolutely can. Don’t expect him to return to peak 2018 form, but also don’t be shocked to see him bounce back into a top hitter in the Red Sox lineup either.
New York Yankees: Giancarlo Stanton
Plenty of people could consider Giancarlo Stanton’s tenure in New York as a disappointment so far. While the concern is valid, it’s not the time to simply forget about him either. Staton has only played in 41 games since the start of the 2019 season, and while that is concerning, it shows there is still a lot left to be seen.
Everyone knows how powerful he is. He won National League MVP in 2017 and crushed an insane 59 home runs. If you think that’s too far back, then just look at the most recent postseason from just six months ago, where Stanton went deep six times in only seven games, and they weren’t wall scrapers either. Throw in his cannon of an arm in the outfield (if he ever even plays the field again), and you’ve got a beast who’s ready for a revenge tour.
While it would be ambitious to expect him to return to peak Marlins form, don’t be shocked if he comes out with a vengeance and has his best season yet donning the pinstripes.
Tampa Bay Rays: Wander Franco
The number one prospect in baseball is set to see some time in the majors in 2021, and he has the ability to tear it up right off the bat.
Wander Franco has shown in minor league action that he is an incredibly advanced hitter for someone who just turned 20, and it’s looking like the trend is set to carry into his major league career. Despite only playing A+ ball in 2019, he slashed .339/.408/.464 and is practically an on-base machine. At shortstop, he’s a solid defender with a quality arm and has plenty of room to grow as an elite defender at the position.
All in all, whenever Franco gets the call to make his major league debut, people are going to be watching. There is a chance the league has a future superstar in this kid, and there will be plenty of eyes to see if he could make an immediate impact for a team that could use a boost in 2021.
Toronto Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
All eyes are set on George Springer this year for the Blue Jays. While it makes sense that he owns the city spotlight right now, let’s not forget about the once top prospect who drew much attention to the team a couple of years ago.
The offseason story was Vladimir Guerrero Jr. shedding a remarkable 42 lbs and showing up to camp in the best shape of his career, and so far it’s paid off dividends in the spring. While many consider his first two seasons as a bit of a disappointment, he only recently turned 22 and still has many years ahead of him to mature into a stellar hitter.
If Guerrero Jr. can carry an adjusted swing into the season that lets him hit the ball in the air (because he hits them very hard), the sky's the limit for him. A breakout campaign from the Dominican young gun could be the difference between settling for a wild card spot and winning the division.