Baseball is finally coming back and with the season being shortened to 60 games, don't be surprised to see players, both young and experienced, show up big time for their teams down the stretch. Here are the MVP's and prospects to watch for in the AL East this season.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox roster is quite different from the team that missed out on the postseason last year. After trading away their perennial MVP candidate, Mookie Betts, to the Dodgers and being quiet in free agency, the Red Sox seem to be in a tough spot in one of the league's most competitive divisions. The Yankees and Rays are set to be the two squads that will battle it out for a division championship while the Red Sox are looking to be a middle-to-end of the pack team.
After adding Kevin Pillar, Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Pérez, Collin McHugh and Alex Verdugo, the Red Sox seem to be heading for a disappointing season. There are a some bright spots however, with a few exciting players such as Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts under contract for the 60-game season.
MVP: Xander Bogaerts (SS)
Bogaerts’ breakout campaign last season was overshadowed by the dominance of Rafael Devers, Mookie Betts contract/trade rumors and the abysmal performance from the team's pitching staff.
Bogaerts finished the 2019-2020 season batting .309 with 33 home runs and 117 RBI’s. He also established himself as a strong defender with only 13 errors in 1368 innings.
Expect another strong season from Bogaerts regardless of where Boston falls in the standings.
Prospect: Bobby Dalbec (3B/1B)
The Red Sox gave Dalbec a big over-slot bonus ($650,000) for a fourth rounder coming out of the University of Arizona because they fell in love with his home run power. After four seasons of minor league ball, Dalbec has averaged 33 home runs per 162 games since signing with the Red Sox.
Boston has started to invest heavily in corner infielders with high power grades over the last few seasons. Dalbec was drafted in 2016, the Red Sox NO. 2 prospect Triston Casas was taken in the first round in 2018 and just a few weeks ago the Red Sox snagged the high school phenom Blaze Jordan in the second round.
Dalbec is not the team's highest ranked prospect, but he is definitely a player to watch if the Sox run into injury issues down the line.
New York Yankees
The Yankees are currently the odds-on favourite to win the AL East and also project to be serious World Series contenders. After landing the crown jewel of the 2020 free agency period in Gerrit Cole, the Yanks have added yet another star to an already stacked roster that features a powerful core of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
The Yankees also benefited last season from DJ LeMahieu, Mike Tauchman, Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela who all figured to be role players but turned in great seasons for a team that was riddled with injuries from Opening Day until the end of the season. Luis Severino, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are said to all be back at 100 percent. Watch out for these guys.
MVP: Gerrit Cole (RHP)
Cole was the big fish that every team in their right mind wanted heading into the offseason. After a 20-5 season, Cole finished second in AL Cy Young Voting behind his teammate Justin Verlander. Both pitchers had outstanding seasons for the Astros who were bested by the Washington Nationals in the World Series.
Cole is one of the best pitchers in the game and he is not even 30-years-old yet. He has impeccable stuff and will win the Yankees plenty of games for a long time, that's why they paid him $324 million to be their ace.
Prospect: Clarke Schmidt (RHP)
Schmidt is currently the Yankee’s NO. 2 prospect and was taken with the 16th pick in 2017. Schmidt dominated the SEC in college but elected for Tommy John surgery a month before the draft, so his stock took a hit. He has since recovered and impressed in just under 20 innings of work in AA ball last season.
Schmidt will be a player to watch for a call up if any of the Yankees starters go down with an injury. Most will say Jasson Dominguez should be the prospect to watch, but he is still around three years away from the MLB. The kid has been compared to Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout, lets see how those comparisons turn out.
Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa quickly became a dark-horse team last season despite having a low opening day payroll and a very young roster. Tampa has one of the most promising teams in the leagues along with a farm system that will make them championship contenders for years to come.
Even with a roster full of young players, the Rays clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2013 after beating the A’s in the wild card game.
If it wasn't for the Yankees, the Rays would be the favourite this upcoming season in the AL East but instead, the Rays and Yankees will battle it out throughout the shortened season.
Other than acquiring Hunter Renfroe and prospect Xavier Edwards, the Rays had a very quiet offseason and will return with many familiar faces come time for this season.
MVP: Blake Snell (LHP)
After a breakout season in 2018 where he won the AL Cy Young Award, Snell took a step back in 2019 finishing with a 6-8 record. He fought off multiple injuries and saw his ERA jump from 1.29 in 2018 to 4.29 in 23 games.
Snell was expected to be the Rays ace, but was outshined by Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow who dominated in their first seasons for Tampa. Expect Snell to come back firing this season now that salaries have been agreed upon between the MLB owners and the MLBPA.
Prospect: Vidal Brujan (2B/SS)
Brujan is the NO. 3 prospect in the Rays system and also the Rays third player in the top 50 prospects in all of baseball. Wander Franco and Brendan McKay rank higher than him at NO. 1 and NO. 15, but Brujan may be the first to reach the Majors.
Franco is arguably the best prospect in the sport as of now, but his ETA suggests he may be in the minors for another season or two. Brujan is a high rated hitter, runner and above average defender.
The Rays have many strong middle infielders in Brandon Lowe, Joey Wendle, Willy Adames, and Daniel Robertson so don’t be surprised if Brujan doesn't make the jump to the big leagues this season.
Toronto Blue Jays
Both the Blue Jays and Orioles have been the joke of the AL East for quite some time. Both teams have had problems winning games and it's been a while since a team other than the Red Sox, Yankees or Rays have taken playoff spots over the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays had two of the best prospects in baseball heading into the 2019 season. Fans were ready to explode hoping to see Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette suit up for the big league squad. By the end of July, both players had arrived in Toronto. Guerrero Jr. ended up playing 123 games and Bichette played in 46. However, these two and Nate Pearson are it in terms of names that stood out in Toronto's farm system.
MVP: Bo Bichette (SS)
In only 46 games, Bichette impressed everyone who watched. 29 of his 61 hits have gone for extra bases and he finished the 2019 campaign hitting .311. Vlad Jr. is the star of the Blue Jays but Bichette will definitely improve upon a strong debut and put his name in the conversation as one of the best shortstops in the AL East.
Prospect to Watch: Nate Pearson (RHP)
Pearson is one of the best pitching prospects in the game right now. He is ranked NO. 8 behind Mackenzie Gore (SD) and Casey Mize (DET) who are also set to make their MLB debuts some time this season.
On the 20-80 grading scale used for pitchers, Pearson’s fastball is an 80, the highest grade one can get. He has been clocked in between 98-101 MPH on his fastball but hit 104 during a bullpen session just before the draft in 2017. Pearson also features an effective slider, curveball and changeup that will keep hitters guessing. Pearson will headline the Blue Jays rotation very soon.
In the last two seasons, the Orioles have won 101 of 324 games. That comes out to a winning percentage of .318 which is the worst in the league in that span. There are only a handful of teams in the MLB that consistently do awful and the Orioles are one of those teams. Only 3 teams have won under 120 games in the last two seasons; Detroit (111), Kansas City (117) and Baltimore (101).
Their roster lacks a superstar or a star of any kind. Trey Mancini was arguably their best player and he sadly may never return to the team after being diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer.
The Orioles will be the worst team in the AL East for years to come, not even a generational talent in Adley Rutschman can save them.
MVP: John Means (LHP)
Means was the sole bright spot on the Orioles rotation last year, finishing as a runner up in the AL Rookie of the Year race and also getting voted into the All-Star Game. Means finished the season with more wins than loses which was a small victory for a team that lost twice the amount of games that they won.
Unfortunately for Means, he is no spring chicken. At 27 years old, Means only has 158 innings of MLB experience.
Prospect to Watch: Adley Rutschman (C)
Rutschman is a very exciting prospect. He was taken by the Orioles with the first-overall pick in last year's entry draft. Rutschman hit over .400 his junior year at Oregon State but has not yet been able to impress in the minors. Between rookie ball, short season and single-A Rutschman has batted .254 with only four home runs.
Rutschman has All-Star potential and still has plenty of time to grow. Rutschman is also listed as the NO. 4 prospect in all of baseball heading into the 2020-2021 season.