Friday, March 12, 2010

MLB Preview #4
American League East

New York Yankees

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Nick Johnson DH
Jorge Posada C
Robinson Cano 2B
Nick Swisher RF
Randy Winn/Brett Gardner LF

CC Sabathia
AJ Burnett
Javier Vazquez
Andy Pettitte
Phil Hughes

This is what luxury can afford you: a team that can outhit the disadvantages of batting Nick Johnson too high in the lineup and Nick Swisher too low, or putting Curtis Granderson in center instead of Brett Gardner, or playing Randy Winn over Gardner, or any other perceived slights this starting lineup has.

As has been the issue for several years now, the Yankees do not have much depth among their position players. This could be a major issue considering the injury history of Nick Johnson and the age of Jeter, Rodriguez, Posada, and Winn. Francisco Cervelli is back as the second-string catcher, but he's only keeping the position warm for Jesus Montero... assuming the later can stick behind the plate, which would come as a surprise to many scouts. Also expected to win bench roles are infielder Ramiro Pena and outfielder Greg Golson.

A great rotation only got better with the addition of Javier Vazquez, whose sabermetric stats made him a Cy Young contender in 2009. Of course, Vazquez struggled in his first stint in the Bronx, so only time will tell how he fares in his second.

A return to the bullpen for Joba Chamberlain should help shore up a somewhat shaky relief corps and help bridge the gap to the ageless Mariano Rivera.

Boston Red Sox

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Jacoby Ellsbury LF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Victor Martinez C
Kevin Youkilis 1B
David Ortiz DH
Adrian Beltre 3B
JD Drew RF
Mike Cameron CF
Marco Scutaro SS

Josh Beckett
Jon Lester
John Lackey
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Clay Buchholz
Tim Wakefield

Now this is a batting order. Sure, Beltre, Drew, and Cameron will probably draw ire in New England for a perceived lack of production. But sane fans will recognize their value, especially coming out of the bottom of the lineup. Yes, Marco Scutaro will regress, but he will still be a useful hitter. Conversely, don't be surprised if David Ortiz regresses in a positive direction.

Mike Lowell, Jed Lowrie, and Bill Hall will fight for spots as backup infielders, while Jason Varitek will once again don the tools of ignorance. (Hey, someone has to catch Tim Wakefield). In the outfield, former Marlins starter Jeremy Hermida will look to take a backup role. Hermida could see increased playing time if Cameron gets hurt, when Drew gets hurt, or if Ellsbury gets traded.

The Red Sox have been exceptionally deep at starting pitching recently, and this year is no different. Like their division rivals, Boston also managed to shore up the middle of their rotation with another team's ace. For the Sox, it's former workhorse John Lackey.

Jonathan Papelbon may no longer be unhittable, but he's still one of the best closers in the game. Boston's pitching depth also extends to the bullpen, which again features Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Ramon Ramirez, and Daniel Bard.

Tampa Bay Rays

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

BJ Upton CF
Carl Crawford LF
Evan Longoria 3B
Carlos Pena 1B
Pat Burrell DH
Ben Zobrist 2B
Matt Joyce RF
Dioner Navarro C
Jason Bartlett SS

Jamie Shields
Matt Garza
Jeff Niemman
David Price
Wade Davis

As most Tampa Bay fans will tell you, this is a team would definitely win any of the other five divisions in baseball. Still, it's nothing to be ashamed of. BJ Upton and Pat Burrell are due for bounceback years, and that will certainly help offset any regression Ben Zobrist (and Carlos Pena) have. Matt Joyce should finally start to show that the Rays got the better end of the Edwin Jackson trade from two years ago.

Tampa Bay's big offseason acquisition was Kelly Shoppach. Shoppach, a streaky hitter in his own right, will backup the equally streaky Dioner Navarro. Basically, they're each other's insurance. Willy Aybar will serve as the utility infielder, while Gabe Kapler will return to that same role in the outfield. Meanwhile, shortstop Reid Brignac and center fielder Desmond Jennings are each only a trade away from being able to showcase their tools in the majors.

The Rays have relied on a dearth of starting pitchers to restock other positions via trades. One can only wonder if that surplus is close to running out, though. Fortunately, Tampa Bay has seemed to settle on a rotation it can trust in Shields, Garza, Niemman, Price, and Davis.

Rafael Soriano has been added as the Rays closer, which helps the former closers-by-committee settle into more traditional bullpen roles. Randy Choate, Grant Balfour, and Lance Cormier will be joined by former starter and Barberton native Andy Sonnanstine in relief.

Baltimore Orioles

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Brian Roberts2B
Adam Jones CF
Nick Markakis RF
Miguel Tejada 3B
Matt Wieters C
Luke Scott DH
Garrett Atkins 1B
Nolan Reimold LF
Cesar Izturis SS

Kevin Millwood
Jeremy Guthrie
Brian Matusz
Chris Tillman
Brad Bergesen
David Hernandez
Jason Berken

The Orioles hitters can go either way this year. It can be a great year if Brian Roberts returns from his injury. If Adam Jones and Nick Markakis continue their rise to startdom. If Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins can his like they did a few years ago. If Matt Wieters has already reached a level that matches his hype. But if even a few of those "ifs" falter, it could be another long summer in Baltimore.

On the bench, Robert Andino and the ageless Ty Wigginton will serve as backup infielders. Unless, of course, Indians castoff Michael Aubrey somehow beats out Wigginton (or even Atkins) this spring. In the outfield, Felix Pie is slated to back up all three positions. Of course, Wigginton and Luke Scott can still play out there as well.

Since trading Erik Bedard, this team has sorely lacked an ace. Kevin Millwood may not be an ace in the true sense, bu t he is a veteran presence and an innings-eater that will help this young staff, especially top prospects Matusz and Tillman.

After years of producing closers in the right field warehouse, the Orioles went out and bought an already-made model. Mike Gonzalez comes over from the Braves and will be helped by Cla Meredith and Koji Uehara.

Toronto Blue Jays

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Aaron Hill 2B
Alex Gonzalez SS
Adam Lind LF/DH
Vernon Wells CF
Lyle Overbay 1B
Travis Snider RF/LF
Edwin Encarnacion 3B
Randy Ruiz DH/Jose Bautista RF
John Buck C

Ricky Romero
Shaun Marcum
Brandon Morrow
Brett Cecil
Marc Rzepczynski
David Purcey
Dustin McGowan

Rebuilding the Blue Jays is a long, slow process, which makes the acquisitions of players like Alex Gonzalez, Edwin Encarnacion, and John Buck all the more confusing. The good news, if any, is that Travis Snider and Adam Lind should finally get as many at bats as possible.

The addition of Gonzalez means that once again John McDonald will be limited to a super utility role. Outfield playing time will be split among the names listed above, while Jose Molina will try to stick as the team's backup catcher. It will be interesting to see how soon Brett Wallace makes an appearance at the Rogers Centre. But what is more interesting is that the Blue Jays acquired Wallace in the first place. Sure he can hit, but he is a first base/DH type in an organization already overloaded at the position. On top of that, the Jays appear to be thin in the outfield, yet they traded Michael Taylor (acquired in the Halladay trade) to get Wallace.

Of course, the glaring loss of Roy Halladay hurts this rotation. But, this team is returning much of the same staff that was lights out in 2008, so perhaps not all hope is lost. Plus, they did acquire Kyle Drabek (after the Phillies reportedly wouldn't give him up for Cliff Lee) and Brandon Morrow.

In another interesting move, the Blue Jays went out and signed veteran closer Kevin Gregg. Gregg will be supported by the usual suspects in Toronto - Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, Brian Tallet, Shawn Camp, and Jeremy Accardo.