Tuesday, March 26, 2019

American League Preview

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Team Strengths: Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner all return in an elite outfield group, with Jacoby Ellsbury and onetime top prospect Clint Frazier also available if they can prove they’re past their injuries. The rotation received a boost with the trade for James Paxton and re-signing of J.A. Happ, and an elite bullpen became even better after Zack Britton re-signed and Adam Ottavino came aboard.

Team Weaknesses: At first base, Greg Bird continues to struggle to stay healthy and Luke Voit needs to prove last season wasn’t a fluke. At third base, Miguel Andujar needs to improve his defense. Even so, the Yankees’ weaknesses are stronger than nearly any other team’s.

What They Did About It: The Yankees improved their overall infield depth with the signings of Troy Tulowitzki and DJ LeMahieu. In addition to helping the middle infield until Didi Gregorius returns, Tulowitzki and LeMahieu are capable of playing third base as well, allowing Andujar to shift to first base if Voit and Bird struggle.

Final Outlook: The Yankees took a 100-win team and made it stronger and deeper. The franchise’s first World Series appearance since 2009 is in play.


Team Strengths: The homegrown outfield of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. remains arguably baseball’s best, while mashing designated hitter J.D. Martinez and every member of October’s starting rotation return as well.

Team Weaknesses: The Red Sox’s bullpen needed help from the starters to get through the postseason, and now setup man Joe Kelly and closer Craig Kimbrel departed as free agents. Homegrown relief successes Ryan Pressly, Alex Wilson and Jose Alvarez were all traded away early in their careers, limiting their in-house options.

What They Did About It: The Red Sox relied exclusively on minor signings to try improve their relief corps. Ryan Weber, Erasmo Ramirez and Carson Smith signed minor league deals, and Colten Brewer was acquired in a trade with the Padres. Jenrry Mejia, who was reinstated from his lifetime ban last summer and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2015, was to signed a minor league deal as well.

Final Outlook: The Red Sox’s bullpen has a lot of questions marks, but with mostly every major contributor to the lineup and starting rotation back, the defending champions should return to the postseason.


Team Strengths: While the "opener” earned headlines, the Rays' outfield was actually their strongest position group. Tampa Bay had the sixth-best outfield in MLB, as measured by Baseball-Reference’s runs above-average, with Tommy Pham and a healthy Kevin Kiermaier making much of the impact. While Mallex Smith is gone, Austin Meadows should step in and drastically improve right field, the one weak link in the Rays’ outfield a year ago.

Team Weaknesses: The Rays finished 27th in the majors in home runs, then let leading home run hitter C.J. Cron go and traded second-leading returning home run hitter Jake Bauers. Developing power has long been a problem for the Rays' organization. Their last homegrown player to hit more than 20 home runs in a season was Evan Longoria, who was drafted in 2006.

What They Did About It: The Rays will rely full seasons from on Pham, Meadows and Willy Adames to supply power, while offseason acquisition Mike Zunino is coming off back-to-back 20-home run seasons and Avisail Garcia hit 19 a year ago. Rising prospect Nate Lowe has a clear path to either the first base or DH jobs, currently occupied by Yandy Diaz and Ji-Man Choi, and possesses the thump to give the Rays their first homegrown 20-home run hitter since Longoria.

Final Outlook: The Rays again have the pitching depth to replicate their success with the "opener.” Even so, Pham, Meadows and the rest need to live up to their offensive potential for 90 wins to happen again.


Team Strengths: Toronto finished fifth in the majors in home runs last season. While much of that power came with low averages and middling on-base percentages, those should improve with by Danny Jansen taking over at catcher, the looming ascension of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and subtracting Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte.

Team Weaknesses: The Blue Jays had the fourth-worst ERA in baseball last year (4.85). The primary culprit was the starting rotation, which posted a 5.14 ERA as Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez struggled with injuries, J.A. Happ was traded and Marco Estrada declined. While the Blue Jays developed pitching well in the early part of the decade, the well has dried up. The Blue Jays selected a pitcher with their first-round pick in four straight drafts from 2013-16. None of the four are in the majors or rank among Toronto’s top 10 prospects.

What They Did About It: The Jays brought in declining veterans Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard to round out the rotation. There is depth beyond the starting five with Sean Reid-Foley and prospect acquisition Trent Thornton, but neither projects to be impactful.

Final Outlook: The Blue Jays should have a solid offense, especially once Guerrero Jr. comes up, but the lack of arms means third place is likely their best-case scenario.


Team Strengths: The O’s bullpen has respectable arms in Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, Richard Bleier and Paul Fry. Prospects Zach Pop and Cody Carroll, acquired in the Manny Machado and Zack Britton trades, respectively, have shown promise in relief as well.

Team Weaknesses: Orioles' starters had the worst ERA in the majors last year (5.48), and their offense wasn’t much better, finishing 27th in runs scored. There are some position players in the upper minors who can help, with top prospects Yusniel Diaz, Ryan Mountcastle and Austin Hays all having conquered Double-A, but the starting rotation will receive little from the farm.

What They Did About It: The Orioles didn’t sign a single free agent to a major league deal this offseason, instead opting to let their young players see more time. Chance Sisco, Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins will have the chance to prove they should be a part of the Orioles’ future, while Diaz, Hays and Mountcastle should get their shots at some point.

Final Outlook: The Orioles are in year one of a long rebuild. Avoiding 100 losses and seeing their young players take steps forward would represent a successful season.



Team Strengths: Cleveland built the American League’s best rotation by acquiring Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger as prospects, and now there are homegrown arms to supplement them. Shane Bieber has ably stepped in with Danny Salazar addled by injuries, and No. 1 prospect Triston McKenzie may debut in 2019.

Team Weaknesses: Tyler Naquin and Bradley Zimmer have not developed as hoped, leaving the Indians perilously short in the outfield. The group is now even lighter after Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall departed in free agency. A bullpen that had the majors’ fifth-worst ERA was also depleted by Andrew Miller and Cody Allen leaving.

What They Did About It: The Indians replaced Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso at designated hitter and first base, respectively, with Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers, but that didn’t address the team’s primary shortcomings. Jordan Luplow and Daniel Johnson were their only outfield additions, and Nick Wittgren was their lone bullpen addition not on a minor league deal.

Final Outlook: The Indians are more vulnerable than they’ve been in years, especially if Francisco Lindor’s calf injury lingers. Still, the overall weakness of the AL Central still makes them the favorite for a fourth straight division title.


Team Strengths: Even with the struggles of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, the Twins finished 13th in the majors in runs scored last year. Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Jake Cave led an underrated outfield, while Jorge Polanco continued to grow into a solid-hitting shortstop. The Twins added Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop in free agency, fixing a righthanded power shortage, as well as versatile utilityman Marwin Gonzalez.

Team Weaknesses: The Twins drafted and signed 21 pitchers in the top three rounds from 2008-15 and have just two starters to show for it. While Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson are staples in the rotation, the struggles to develop further depth has left the Twins short of arms and contributed to a 4.50 ERA last season, 22nd in the majors.

What They Did About It: The Twins stayed in-house to address their pitching shortage. Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves and Kohl Stewart all made the debuts last year and have a chance to play larger roles this season. Michael Pineda, who signed last year as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, will make his Twins debut this year as well.

Final Outlook: Added power and greater pitching depth have the Twins in better position to compete than a year ago. Whether Sano and Buxton can find their 2017 form will go a long way toward determining if they challenge the Indians.


Team Strengths: The White Sox have an above-average bullpen for the first time in years, aided by the acquisition of Alex Colome and free agent signing of Kelvin Herrera. Combined with holdovers Juan Minaya, Jace Fry and Aaron Bummer, the White Sox stand to see major improvement from their relief corps.

Team Weaknesses: White Sox starters posted a 5.07 ERA last year (26th in MLB) and the offense scored 656 runs (24th), a dual presence at the bottom of baseball that resulted in the franchise’s first 100-loss season since 1970. Key players acquired in trades, namely Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito, haven’t performed, while a run of subpar drafts this decade continues to haunt the club.

What They Did About It: The White Sox traded for Ivan Nova to help the pitching staff and Yonder Alonso to help the offense, and they also signed Jon Jay. The real help will come from the farm system when outfielder Eloy Jimenez and possibly righthander Dylan Cease arrive from the minors.

Final Outlook: The White Sox’s signings and looming farm system graduations give them a chance to take a step forward, but their margin for error is thin to avoid another 90-loss season.


Team Strengths: The Tigers boast the most starting pitching depth in the division outside of the Indians. Matt Boyd and Jordan Zimmermann hovered around league average last year, and Michael Fulmer is one of the American League’s best when healthy. Tyson Ross is coming off a bounceback year when he showed he can still be a fine starter. The No. 5 spot is unsettled, but having four average or better starters sets Detroit apart.

Team Weaknesses: Underrated standout Nicholas Castellanos was Detroit’s only above-average hitter a year ago, although Niko Goodrum and Christin Stewart showed promise late in the season. With that lack of offensive talent, the Tigers scored the fifth-fewest runs in MLB and had the fourth-lowest OPS.

What They Did About It: The Tigers have embraced a rebuild, so few moves were made. Miguel Cabrera was in the midst of a bounceback season last year before a ruptured biceps tendon ended his season, so his return could buoy the offense somewhat. Still, even if that happens and Stewart and Goodrum show they are for real, there will be a lot of holes in the Tigers lineup.

Final Outlook: The Tigers starting pitching makes a step forward possible after consecutive 64-98 seasons, but another top-10 draft pick appears likely in 2020.


Team Strengths: Whit Merrifield is one of baseball’s best second basemen and Adalberto Mondesi began to flash his potential at shortstop last season, giving the Royals two cornerstones to build around up the middle. Jorge Soler and Ryan O’Hearn provide promising power.

Team Weaknesses: After trading many of their top young pitching prospects in pursuit of a World Series (Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, Sean Manaea, Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed), the Royals are understandably short of arms. They had the second-worst ERA in baseball last year, with both the rotation (4.89) and bullpen (5.04) responsible.

What They Did About It: Rather than address their pitching staff, the Royals acquired light-hitting, versatile types like Billy Hamilton and Chris Owings. Their pitching additions consisted of Homer Bailey and Michael Ynoa on minor league deals and Brad Boxberger and Kyle Zimmer on one-year major league deals.

Final Outlook: The Royals needed to rally to avoid 110 losses last year and are in a similar position this year. With the shape of their pitching staff, a second-straight top-five draft pick likely awaits in 2020.



Team Strengths: The Astros are second to none when it comes to homegrown position players, with Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman and George Springer leading an offense that finished sixth in the majors in runs last year. They added Michael Brantley in free agency and have more bats on the way in prospects Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez.

Team Weaknesses: The Astros’ track record of developing homegrown pitching is shaky, and they won’t receive a boost from successes Dallas Keuchel (free agency) or Lance McCullers Jr. (Tommy John surgery) this year. They’ve been able to paper over that shortcoming with trades (Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole), but the back of Houston’s rotation will be thin if none of prospects Josh James, Framber Valdez, Forrest Whitley, Corbin Martin or J.B. Bukauskas can reverse the club’s track record of developing starters.

What They Did About It: The Astros signed Wade Miley to give their rotation some more depth. Still, one of the aforementioned prospects is going to have to step up if the Astros are to lead the majors in ERA, as they did last year.

Final Outlook: The Astros’ offensive firepower and top of the rotation should be enough to secure a third straight division title. How much their young pitchers chip in will determine how far they go in the postseason.


Team Strengths: With Mike Trout as the backbone flanked by Kole Calhoun and Justin Upton, the Angels had the fourth-best outfield in MLB last year as measured by Baseball-Reference’s runs above average. That unit has a chance to get even more of a boost with the potential callup of top prospect Jo Adell, the next in line of great Angels homegrown outfielders that began with Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds, Garrett Anderson and Darin Erstad in the 1990s.

Team Weaknesses: The Angels were long one of the top organizations at drafting and developing pitchers, but they traded away most of their recent draft hits (Patrick Corbin, Sean Newcomb, Mike Clevinger) as prospects. With their remaining starters perpetually injured and their depth lacking due to such trades, the Angels finished 19th in ERA (4.15) last season.

What They Did About It: The Angels signed Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill to bolster the back of their rotation, but more importantly the homegrown pitching pipeline is flowing again. Jaime Barria debuted last year and led the Angels in wins (10) and ERA (3.41) as a rookie, and Griffin Canning and Jose Suarez are poised to rise to Anaheim this year.

Final Outlook: With more depth than any time in recent memory, the Angels are in position to snap their skid of three consecutive losing seasons in Brad Ausmus’ first year as manager.


Team Strengths: The A’s have a long history of homegrown power hitters, from Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire to Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada to Matt Chapman and Matt Olson today. With Chapman, Olson and astute trade acquisitions Khris Davis and Stephen Piscotty all back, the A’s return most of the lineup that finished third in home runs and fourth in runs scored last year. A relief corps that finished third in bullpen ERA is largely back as well.

Team Weaknesses: Injuries eviscerated the A’s starting rotation last year to the point that 13 pitchers made at least five starts. They finished 17th in starter’s ERA (4.17) and will be without top starter Sean Manaea (shoulder) and midseason saviors Trevor Cahill and Edwin Jackson (free agency).

What They Did About It: The A’s re-signed Mike Fiers and Brett Anderson and brought in Marco Estrada in free agency to bolster the staff. Beyond them, the team will rely on pitchers it acquired as prospects—Daniel Mengden, Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt, Paul Blackburn— to step up. Top prospect Jesus Luzardo is waiting in the wings if they falter.

Final Outlook: The strength of Oakland’s offense and bullpen should keep the A’s competitive, but a lot is going to have to break right with their young starters to approach 97 wins again.


Team Strengths: The Mariners boast a formidable outfield with Mitch Haniger in right, speedy trade acquisition Mallex Smith in center and Domingo Santana, who had 30 home runs and an .875 OPS the last time he played every day, in left. The group should be an improvement over last year’s unit, which ranked a respectable 11th in MLB as measured by Baseball-Reference’s runs above average.

Team Weaknesses: After Jerry Dipoto traded 55 prospects in his first three years as general manager, depth has long been non-existent for both the pitching staff and the infield. Ryon Healy at first base and Kyle Seager at third base ranked in the bottom two at their positions in OPS last season, while Dee Gordon, Felix Hernandez and Mike Leake have all declined into their 30s.

What They Did About It: With no depth to call upon, Dipoto reversed course and embarked on a rebuild, trading James Paxton, Edwin Diaz and Jean Segura primarily for prospects. Pitchers Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson and Justin Dunn and infielders J.P. Crawford and Shed Long may play in the majors this year, and the signing of Japanese lefty Yusei Kikuchi further bolsters the rotation.

Final outlook: The Mariners are in year one of a rebuild and won’t approach last year’s 89-73 record. If Sheffield, Crawford and the other young acquisitions prove ready sooner rather than later, they may have enough to avoid 90 losses.


Team Strengths: The Rangers have a strong core of international talent, which helped them finish 14th in the majors in runs scored last year. Rougned Odor, Nomar Mazara and Elvis Andrus have struggled with consistency, but they’ve shown standout ability at their best.

Team Weaknesses: The Rangers drafted and signed 22 pitchers in the top five rounds from 2009-15. None has produced more than 1.0 career WAR. That longstanding failure to draft and develop arms has left the Rangers repeatedly short of pitching, and the result is a team that finished 28th in ERA last season.

What They Did About It: The Rangers signed a declining Lance Lynn and rounded out their rotation with two Tommy John recipients who haven’t pitched in over a year (Edinson Volquez, Drew Smyly) and Shelby Miller, who has a 6.35 ERA the last three seasons wrapped around Tommy John surgery.

Final outlook: With a middle-of-the-pack offense, a bottom-tier pitching staff and little help on the way, new manager Chris Woodward will be challenged to avoid the franchise’s second-straight 90-plus loss season.

(Baseball America)

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