5 Players to Watch in the MLB Futures Game

The Futures game is set to be played this Sunday July 9th at Marlins Park in Miami. Last year’s game featured some big names including the now All-Star, Gary Sanchez. Here are some names to look for that could make an impact in the big leagues in the near future.

Yoan Moncada

Moncada has proven to be a threat on the base paths (Yahoo Sports)

Moncada made an appearance in last year’s game and left his mark winning the MVP of the game. He also made his way up to the big leagues with the Red Sox netting only four hits in 19 at bats. Over the off-season he was the cornerstone piece of the Chris Sale trade with the White Sox. He has been at the AAA level so far this season and is having a good stint with a .282/.380/.455 line. On top of that, MLB.com ranks him as the number one prospect in baseball.

Watch out for Moncada’s speed because he has the chance to be one of the next big threats on the base paths. He is not on Billy Hamilton level but he can be a threat anytime he reaches base. He also features a well-rounded bat that will grow with his experience as a pro. While his glove at second still has some work to be done, he has drawn comparisons to Robinson Cano.

Moncada is still a work in progress. However, he is ahead of schedule in terms of when he may be able to provide full-time service in Chicago. His second futures game may provide a lens to look through as to what he may be in the future.

Brendan Rodgers

Rodgers may add a big punch for the Rockies (The Daily Sentinel)

Taken 3rd overall by the Rockies in 2015, Rodgers has the opportunity to become the true heir to Troy Tulowitzki in the middle of the infield for the Rockies. MLB.com ranks him as the 10th best prospect in baseball.

While his range is something to work on, he possess a very strong arm that could make him serviceable in the majors. What makes him valuable though is his power for a middle infielder coupled with his ability to find gaps in the defense. In 48 games at A ball he recorded a .400/.419/.700 line which is eye popping. What stands out though is his lack of walks. Rodgers only recorded six walks in those 48 games, so it is important for him to develop some patience.

Look for Rodgers to make an appearance on the 40-man roster in September for Colorado. Being in the rocky mountains could really make the ball fly off his bat and show his potential. He may not be able to stay in the majors past September but it could give him some valuable experience as to what he needs to look for. Although he does not have the same glove Tulo did while he was in Colorado, he could add that same punch to the lineup.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr

The youngest star in the futures game is the son of the notorious Vladimir Guerrero. Although they are related, they are not quite the same ball players.  Guerrero Jr possesses a more bulky frame than his father. His age also suggests that he may get even bulkier. Because of this, he may have to move over to first base if his mobility slows.

Guerrero has a chance to be one of the better hitters in the league largely thanks to his eye. It is not so often that you see a young bat rack up more walks than strikeouts, but that is what you have in Guerrero. He also shows signs of being able to hit the long ball but that has yet to translate in A ball. It will be great to see what potential he has being the son of a future hall-of-famer as well as being so young.

Just like his father, he has a great ability to make contact. He also shows the maturity of a seasoned vet by spraying hits all around the field and not just swinging for the fences. It will be interesting to see if he is able to keep that maturity and sit back to wait for the right pitch, seeing that Guerrero will be on a big stage for the first time in his career. If so, we might be looking at one of the better all-around hitters of the future.

Eloy Jimenez

Jimenez has drawn comparisons to All-Star slugger Giancarlo Stanton (Baseball America)

Despite all of the young talent the Cubs have recently brought up to the big league club, they still have some studs in their farm system. MLB.com ranks Eloy Jimenez as the 8th overall prospect and the 3rd overall outfielder in the minors. He was also ranked as the number one international prospect when he signed with Chicago in 2013.

Jimenez had a very productive 2016 season. He finished with a line of .329/.369/.532. He has shown the potential to hit for extra bases while also struggling to take pitches. Jimenez also struck out 3.76 times for every walk which makes it evident that he still has some room to grow in the minors. However, he is still expected to make it to the big league club within the next couple of years.

It will be interesting to see how Jimenez fits into the Chicago organization with how crowded their roster is at the moment. There are a lot of young studs that Chicago will probably have to move around in order to make room for Jimenez, if they feel he is worth it.

 

Jack Flaherty

Futures Game

Flaherty has the tools to be a reliable major league starter (Springfield News-Leader)

Flaherty was the 34th overall pick in the 2014 draft. MLB.com ranks him as the 96th overall prospect, which may be because of his less than stellar stuff. Flaherty does not light up the gun or blow hitters away. What he is though is effective. In 10 starts in AA ball he recorded seven wins and 62 strikeouts. He also only let in 10 runs which gave him a stellar ERA of 1.42.

Don’t expect Flaherty to dazzle you in the Futures game. Do expect him to keep hitters guessing and not let any situation get taken out of control.

Flaherty has been in the Cardinals organization for three years now. It may not be another couple of years until he makes it to St. Louis though. Despite his quality performance in AA Springfield this year, he has had a rough go of things in AAA. In 6 starts he has given up 14 earned runs. However, he has given up seven long balls. What this shows is that he is still adjusting to a new environment. He will make mistakes here and there but overall, he can still control a ball game. Hitters are still missing as they only have a .237 batting average against him in AAA. It will take time for him to mature, but once he gets there he could be a solid 3rd starter in the rotation for St. Louis.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Crying Tiers of Joy: 2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Shortstop are commonly known for their glove, but after the explosion of home runs in 2016, shortstops have emerged as a power position heading into 2017. 15 shortstops hit 20 or more homeruns last season, where only two did in 2015. The shortstop position has transitioned from one of the weakest to one of the deepest.

The top 25 shortstops have been grouped into four tiers, with the top and bottom player of each tier profiled below.

Honorable mentions include: Orlando Arcia (MIL), Ketel Marte (ARI), Jose Iglesias (DET), Andrelton Simmons (LAA), and Jose Reyes (NYM).

 

Tier 1

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Manny Machado’s consistency warrants a first round pick. (Courtesy of USA TODAY Sports)

  • Manny Machado (BAL)
  • Carlos Correa (HOU)
  • Corey Seager (LAD)
  • Trea Turner (WSH)
  • Francisco Lindor (CLE)
  • Xander Bogaerts (BOS)

 

Manny Machado, primarily a third basemen, played 44 games at shortstop in 2016, after an injury sidelined Baltimore Orioles starter, J.J. Hardy. Machado, a career .285 hitter, has tallied at least 35 home runs and 100 runs in his last two seasons.

The 24-year-old has yet to reach the 100 RBI plateau, although if continues to progress, he could easily see a .300/100/40/100 season in his near future.

Machado’s consistency and potential make him the first shortstop that should be taken in 2017.

Xander Bogaerts is one of the safest picks an owner can make in 2017. The 24-year-old will be entering his fourth season in the majors, where he is a career .286 hitter.

His .320 batting average in 2015, and .330 batting average in the first half of 2016, suggest that he can sustain a well above .300 average for a full season in 2017.

The 6-foot-3 180-pounder raised his home run total from seven in 2015, to 21 in 2016. Bogaerts power is sure to improve one day, although I believe he will focus solely on sustaining contact rates next season.

Whether the power numbers show or not in 2017, Bogaerts is well worth a top 25 pick.

 

Tier 2

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Trevor Story is healthy and ready to go for 2017. (Courtesy of Sporting News)

  • Trevor Story (COL)
  • Jonathan Villar (MIL)
  • Jean Segura (SEA)
  • Troy Tulowitzki (TOR)
  • Aledmys Diaz (STL)
  • Addison Russell (CHC)
  • Dansby Swanson (ATL)

 

Trevor Story had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all-time, and only played in 97 games due to a hand injury in 2016. After mashing 27 home runs with 76 RBI’s, Story managed to be one of the most productive players in the league during that stretch.

He will bat in the middle of an electric Colorado Rockies lineup, which may put up historically great numbers this season.

The only drawback on the 24-year-old is his atrocious 31.3% strike out rate, which may suggest that he sees a decline in batting average.

Regression of average or not, Story is well worth a top 35 pick, as his power upside is tremendous.

Dansby Swanson is currently being drafted as the 170th overall player, and 17th shortstop off the board, although I have him ranked as the 13th. The upside with Swanson is incredible, as he has the potential to bat .300 while batting second for the Atlanta Braves. This gives him the potential to score 100 runs in his rookie campaign.

The big power numbers have not shown yet, although he had sneaky power in college, hitting 15 home runs in 71 games. He also hit eight home runs in 84 games at the AA-level, which shows that he has the potential to hit 15 or so this season, giving him a chance to be a top 10 shortstop.

I’m reaching on Swanson’s potential in all drafts in 2017.

 

Tier 3

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Can Didi Gregorius continue to improve upon his breakout 2016 campaign?(Courtesy of Getty Images)

  • Didi Gregorius (NYY)
  • Brandon Crawford (SF)
  • Brad Miller (TB)
  • Javier Baez (CHC)
  • Eduardo Nunez (SF)

 

Didi Gregorius, most notably the player that replaced Derek Jeter, quietly had a breakout seasons in 2016. Gregorius has continuously improved his batting average, going from .257 in 2014, to .276 in 2016. He has also seen a huge jump in power numbers, as he hit 20 home runs, which is 11 better than his former career high of 9.

The 27-year-old still has room for improvement, although his power numbers may fall, as the majority of his homers limp out of the Yankees short porch in right field.

Gregorius is a safe late round selection, but may have limited upside.

Eduardo Nunez spent his 2016 split between the Minnesota Twins and San Francisco Giants. The All-Star batted .321 with 12 home runs and 22 stolen bases in the first half of 2016. This shows how good Nunez can be when he is playing every day at his best.

The reason for Nunez’s low ranking is because of his lack of consistency and poor production with the Giants. Hitting home runs as a righty in San Francisco can be quite challenging, which makes me think his home run totals will drop severally.

Nunez has a solid average and will continue to steal some bases, which makes him a good mid to late round pick in all formats.

 

Tier 4

2017 Fantasy Baseball Shortstop Rankings

Jose Peraza will finally have an open spot in the Cincinnati Reds lineup. (Courtesy of MLBdailydish.com)

  • Jose Peraza (CIN)
  • Elvis Andrus (TEX)
  • Danny Espinosa (LAA)
  • Asdrubal Cabrera (NYM)
  • Marcus Semien (OAK)
  • Matt Duffy (TB)
  • Tim Anderson (CWS)

 

Jose Peraza has been compared to Jose Altuve, in not only their size, but also their skill set. Both have elite speed and get on base at a well above average clip. Peraza will finally have an everyday role with the Cincinnati Reds as they have parted ways with their franchise second basemen, Brandon Phillips, in a trade with the Atlanta Braves.

Peraza has stolen 281 bases in 611 professional games, which is about a half a steal per game. This alone gives Peraza elite stolen base value, as he has the chance to steal over 60 bases. This paired with the fact that he is a career .312 hitter gives him great potential to be a breakout star in 2017.

Tim Anderson commonly flies under the radar, as he will bat at the bottom of an inconsistent Chicago White Sox lineup. 2017 will be Anderson’s first full MLB season, which could mean a breakout is in the making for the 23-year-old.

We cannot forget that he stole 49 bases in 125 games in 2015. While he bats at the end of the order, which limits his run and RBI potential, he should be given plenty of opportunities to swipe bags.

The former first-round pick in 2013 is a career .283 hitter, which is a solid floor for a starting fantasy short stop. Anderson’s ADP of 191 makes him well worth a late pick as a middle infielder or starter in deeper leagues.

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AL East Shenanigans: Just How Close is the Race?

By the time September rolls around, there is generally a couple of teams who have secured playoff spots and can look to rest key players sporadically during the remainder of the season. As of September 9th, Texas had a nine game lead over the 2nd place team in the AL West, the Houston Astros. Cleveland has been cruising lately, going 8-2 in their last 10 games to secure a six game lead in the AL Central. The AL East, on the otherhand, is where it get reals interesting.

What sets the AL East apart from the rest of the American League is that the division has four teams that are within four games of each other. Not only does the division hold a playoff spot for the division leader, but also has both of the wild card spots in the AL, and a fourth team just two games back for a wild card spot. The beauty of September baseball, as well, is that the majority of games that will be played by the teams will be against their division opponents. So not only is it a tight race for the division lead, but the race is nowhere near the finish line as the standings will be in constant flux.

The Boston Red Sox are the current division leaders in the AL East with a one game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays. Buoyed by the fanfare of David “Big Papi” Ortiz’s retirement tour and an MVP-worthy season from youngster Mookie Betts, the Red Sox are looking every bit like a playoff team. The pitching has come around since the beginning of the season, with David Price, Rick Porcello and deadline acquisition Drew Pomeranz (The Killer P’s?) resembling a strong rotation come playoff time.

Rick Porcello has impressed this season, throwing himself into the Cy Young conversation. Photo courtesy of Dan Hamilton of the USA Today

Rick Porcello has impressed this season, throwing himself into the Cy Young conversation. Can he keep up his dominance down the stretch and propel the Sox into the playoffs? Photo courtesy of Dan Hamilton of the USA Today

Porcello especially has impressed, reducing his BB/9 to a career low 1.35 while maintaining a K/9 near 7.5. Porcello’s off-speed pitches have come around this season, which has led to hitters not receiving as many easy pitches to hit and thus leading to more outs generated for Porcello and the Sox. Fangraphs says this season, opponents are only hitting .171 against his change and .212 against his slider, compared to .292 and .342 respectively last season. The weakness of the Red Sox is the bullpen, especially bridging the gap from starter to Kimbrel in the 9th. The Red Sox addressed the issue at the deadline, adding Ziegler from Arizona, but Ziegler has produced mixed results since the move. Look for the bullpen being the reason why the Red Sox will either keep producing efficiently, or start to move down the standings as the month rolls by.

The Toronto Blue Jays currently sit in second by a game and lead the wild card race. I profiled the team briefly in my article on the AL Division Race a week ago, so I will just give a quick rundown. Basically, Toronto has the best offense on paper, headlined by potential AL MVP Josh Donaldson and bat flipping champion Jose Bautista. A supporting cast of hitters including Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, and Edwin Encarnacion rounds out the most potent lineup in the American League, if not all of baseball (I’d argue the lineup is more potent than the Cubs).

Jose Bautista has powered the Jays to the playoffs before...can he do it again? Photo courtesy of Getty Sports

Jose Bautista has powered the Jays to the playoffs before…can he do it again? Photo courtesy of Getty Sports

 

What could be the Blue Jays downfall, and my reason of hesitancy, is that pitching matters, and the Blue Jays do not have the stud pitching seen in other potential playoff team’s rotations. Just this past weekend, the Jays’ starters gave up a combined 11 earned runs in 13.2 innings (in 3 games) against the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that is twenty-one games below .500. That is not pitching a fan wants to see leading into the playoffs.

The Baltimore Orioles are the often forgotten studs in the AL East. The Orioles currently reside only two games back in the AL East standings and are perched in the second wild card spot with a one game lead over the Detroit Tigers. The Orioles also feature a potent lineup starring Manny Machado, Chris “Crush” Davis, and Adam Jones. Yet, those are not the only ones doing the heavy lifting, as the rest of the lineup has been hitting dingers all season as well. Mark Trumbo, most notably, has been a key fixture in the middle of the Orioles lineup, despite being traded for in the offseason for a backup catcher.

Mark Trumbo has been very productive for the Orioles, especially since he was traded a backup catcher. Photo courtesy of Butch Dill of the USA Today

Mark Trumbo has been very productive for the Orioles, especially since he was traded a backup catcher. Will his power be enough to get the Orioles playoff-bound? Photo courtesy of Butch Dill of the USA Today

This season, Trumbo has put up 41 homeruns while maintaining an adequate .255 batting average for the season. Another notable hitter is the underrated second basemen Jonathan Schoop, who despite only having 18 walks this year, has put up a .282 batting average and 21 homeruns for the club.

Despite all the power in the Orioles lineup, the problem comes down to the rotation once again, as the Orioles rotation is filled with veteran journeymen and super young pitchers. Keep an eye on Kevin Gausman though, who despite his record, has pitched well lately, not giving up a run in his last three starts. The rotation will be the question mark for the Orioles as the postseason looms ever closer.

The final team still battling for the AL East is the New York Yankees. The Yankees are interesting because the Yankees were sellers at the MLB Trade Deadline, moving Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, and Carlos Beltran for a plethora of high upside prospects. Yet, a month after the deadline, the Yankees are only sitting four games back in the division and two back from the Orioles for the final wild card spot. The Yankees have been by their promoted youngsters, especially the polarizing Gary Sanchez.

Gary Sanchez has been raking for the Yankees. Can he keep up the hot hitting down the stretch? Photo courtesy of Brad Penner of the USA Today

Gary Sanchez has been raking for the Yankees. Can he keep up the hot hitting down the stretch? Photo courtesy of Brad Penner of the USA Today

Sanchez was promoted right after the deadline and has played in thirty-one games since, sporting a .336 batting average and knocking out 11 homers. Tanaka has been pitching like the ace that was expected out of his contract and the team has also received decent pitching from Michael Pineda and C.C. Sabathia over the course of the season.

The thing to watch with the Yankees will be whether the hot hitting will continue. The team is currently riding a five game winning streak (as of 9/9), but if the team strings together a couple of losses, it will be interesting to see if the veterans will be able to steer the rookies back on track or the team will fade off.

The battle has been raging all season long for the division, and yet, despite five months of baseball, there is no clear indication who will lead the division at the end of the season. Question marks surround each team as the margins are constantly fluctuating throughout the month. The Red Sox appear to be the most complete team on paper, but a shaky bullpen can turn a few wins into losses and hurt a team’s place in the standings. The Jays and Orioles face question marks surrounding their rotations, despite the electric lineups each team fields. The Yankees have been buoyed by their youngster hitters, but it will be interesting to see what happens when the team starts stringing together a couple of losses back to back instead of riding the hot streak forever. The 2016 AL East is the reason why baseball is exciting in September and will be a fun story to follow for the rest of the month.

 

Stats courtesy of fangraphs and standings according to MLB.com

Shoutout to u/twistedlogicx for pointing this out on r/baseball

American League East Opening Week Recap

Apr 8, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis (19) high fives third base coach Bobby Dickerson (11) after hitting a home run in the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The O’s are on fire to start the season. (Photo: USA Today Sports)


 

You may not know it by the weather, but baseball is back. Usually the return of baseball brings warm weather and a foreshadowing of summer, but this year makes me want to climb back into my winter lair of a wood burning stove and multiple blankets.

As spring gives way to summer, and baseball gets into full swing, I’ll be documenting life inside the American League East. If you’re late to the MLB preview party, you could at least take a gander at my American League East article.

If you read the aforementioned article, I predicted the Baltimore Orioles to go 162-0. So far, so good (I’m a liar, I didn’t even predict Baltimore to win the division.). The Orioles beat Tampa Bay to improve to 5-0 today, and they are the winners of the first week of baseball.

It’s too bad there’s 162 games in the MLB season, because now Baltimore has to keep playing well for a long time. I predict Baltimore loses at least one game during the season, and I hope you appreciate my #HotTake for the day.

I thought Toronto was going to be very good this season. I’m not trying to overreact, but the Blue Jays’ pitching staff better wake up and smell the freedom. Just because they aren’t part of the United States doesn’t mean they have to distribute runs equally just like their Canadian government would approve of. Prior to shutting out Boston today, the Jays had given up 21 runs in their past three games, which is the opposite of good.

Speaking of Boston, they’re doing okay. At 3-2, Boston hasn’t gotten much playing time due to half of their scheduled games in Cleveland being cancelled due to the cold.

You know where it’s not cold? Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay is warm, like, always. I predicted them to be painfully average this season, and they are pretty average so far. They’re 2-3, and they currently are at a -6 run differential this season. I root for that to be +/- 10 once the season ends.

The New York Yankees are 3-2, and have dealt with some games being postponed as well. They went 2-1 against Houston, which is good. Originally scheduled to play on Sunday Night Baseball, the game has been cancelled.

There’s your primer, now let’s get a little more affectionate with the American League East. We’ll start with the top of the division, and go downward.

Baltimore Orioles, 5-0

Baltimore has enjoyed their opening week, as they’ve faced two projected bottom feeders in Tampa Bay and Minnesota. Baltimore allowed two runs against the Twins in each of their three games, and they’ve given up just four runs total in their two games against Tampa. Their date on Saturday against Tampa was postponed.

The services of Joey Rickard and Mark Trumbo are valued highly right now in Baltimore. They’ve combined for 7 hits each, and Rickard has launched one home run and a double so far this season.

Chris Tillman has proved to be more than just a scrub ace so far this season. In two starts, he’s 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA. Tillman threw just two innings in his first start, thanks to multiple rain delays throughout the game. Tillman followed with a five inning outing in which he allowed just one run, notching his first win of the season.

Not to be outdone, Ubaldo Jimenez’s first outing was a seving-inning win. He’s also sporting a 1.29 ERA.

It’s only been five games, but so far Baltimore’s pitching and timely hitting has propelled the O’s to a 5-0 record. This will only put them a few games ahead of the rest if a losing streak comes.

Boston Red Sox, 3-2

Boston’s first scheduled game of the year was cancelled due to cold and rain, but their bats have been hot to start the season. Boston is fourth in the AL with a .276 team batting average, and fourth in the AL with six home runs.

Mookie Betts (50) must product from the plate this season. (Photo: zimbio.com)

Mookie Betts (50) must produce from the plate this season. (Photo: zimbio.com)

Mookie Betts is yet to catch fire like some of the other Boston hitters. He’s hitting just .130 with eight strikeouts compared to three hits this season. Betts must pick it up, as he and Xander Bogaerts (.227 average) were supposed to be the 1-2 punch of youth in Boston’s lineup.

If you’re looking for a stud to add on your fantasy baseball team, consider Brock Holt. Holt plays both infield and outfield, and is owned in a little over half of fantasy baseball leagues across all formats. He’s hitting .412 with two home runs and eight runs batted in, but is dealing with a minor foot injury.

Boston should be right in the thick of the playoff race come September, and just a week of baseball isn’t enough to tell how good any teams will be. Nevertheless, it’s a quality start for Boston this week.

New York Yankees (3-2)

Today’s rubber game against the Tigers was cancelled, so New York will get two days off before heading to Toronto for a three-game set against the Blue Jays.

New York’s hitting has been even better than Boston’s, as they are second in team batting average and third in home runs in the AL. A large portion of that production came in game three of four against Houston, as they scored 16 runs in their 16-5 win.

There hasn’t been a dominant game in terms of starting pitching so far for the Yankees. The longest outing by a starting pitcher was six innings by C.C. Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka has allowed the least amount of earned runs at two.

New York should be happy with a 3-2 start, as I don’t see them as being contenders in the AL East this season. With a very old team, the Yanks will have to steer clear of injuries in order to have any shot of the playoffs.

Toronto Blue Jays, 3-4

The Blue Jays are off to a slow start, as both the bats and arms aren’t doing as well as I projected. Josh Donaldson is the only hitter with an average of at least .300 at .310, and the Jays’ pitching staff is waiting on a solid outing from R.A. Dickey and Marcus Stroman.

Josh Donaldson is up to four dingers, but Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Troy Tulowitzki are all struggling at the dish in some capacity this season.

Jose Bautista must help the Blue Jays in order to notch another division crown. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Jose Bautista must help the Blue Jays in order to notch another division crown. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Toronto blanked Boston today, 3-0, thanks to a stellar performance from Marco Estrada. Estrada threw seving innings of scoreless baseball to lead Toronto to the win.

It’s still very early, so I’m not too concerned about Toronto. However, inconsistencies in the pitching staff could become startling if they don’t find a grasp within the next two weeks or so.

Tampa Bay Rays, 2-4

A 5-3 loss sent the Rays to 2-4 today against the Orioles. Tampa sits in the bottom half of the AL in batting average, runs, and walks so far this season. They’re also in the bottom half of the AL in ERA, walks allowed, and opposing batting average.

I’m hoping Tampa Bay improves, but only a little. I really want my prediction for them to be overwhelmingly average to be correct. So far, Tampa is slightly below average, so they’ll have to pick it up a little.

The Rays’ leading hitter is Steven Souza Jr., who sports a .381 batting average. However, Logan Morrison and Brad Miller have combined for just two hits in 25 at bats this season.

Lead starting pitcher Chris Archer is 0-2 so far with a 7.20 ERA. He must pitch better in order to set the tone for the Rays this season.

Tampa probably doesn’t have much to play for this season, and they haven’t proved me wrong so far. Again, it’s only been a week, but Tampa is already looking like a bottom feeder in the AL.

2016 American League East Preview

Jose Bautista hit a clutch three-run home run in Game 5.

Toronto earned the AL East crown last season thanks in part to Jose Bautista. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

The AL East could be the most talented divisions from top to bottom in the entire MLB. Every single team in this division can not only compete, but compete for a playoff berth at the end of the season. Sure, the NL Central is the most loaded at the front end, but the Brewers and Reds bring them down. I find it hard to believe that any team will win less than 80 games in the AL East.

Toronto is the clear favorite to win the division, as their offense can mash home runs, their pitching is serviceable, and their defense can make ends meet. From there, the division is piled with questions.

Boston and New York need to use their youth as a springboard to a new generation of winning, while the Rays and Orioles both have potential to be good, but have holes in different areas of their respective teams.

This division may end up being the tightest division in the MLB, just like it was last season. The AL East’s first and last place teams finished just 15 games apart, five games better than the next closest division.

My guesses for how this season will shape up are simply just a shot in the dark, as there are so many ways this division could end up unfolding.

1st Place: Toronto Blue Jays (96-66)

The Blue Jays are in great shape to take the AL East crown for the second season in a row. Toronto has managed to retain every starter in the field from a season ago, but they have lost David Price to Boston.

The team will hit plenty of home runs and score plenty of runs, but they’ll need to make sure they can pitch their way deeper into the playoffs than last season. When it comes down to a team with great pitching versus a team with great hitting, history sides with the pitching team. Losing David Price is a big time loss, and Toronto can’t showcase their starting pitching rotation like other teams in the MLB can.

Marcus Stroman is by no means an elite ace, but he’s on the rise in his career and should put up 15 wins. The back end of the rotation will prove to be their weakness, but Toronto should breeze through the regular season provided they lean on the bats.

Player to Watch: Troy Tulowitzki

Can Troy Tulowitzki stay healthy in consecutive seasons? (Photo: thestar.com)

Injuries have put a hamper on what could be a potential Hall of Fame career for Troy Tulowitzki. The shortstop came to Toronto via a trade which sent him away from Colorado. Tulo hasn’t hasn’t had back-to-back seasons with at least 100 games played since the 2010 and 2011 seasons. The shortstop played in 128 games last season, which could mean he’s trending towards less games this season.

Tulowitzki also hit just .239 with Toronto, a huge dip in production from his .300 average with Colorado in 2015. If Tulo can return to play anything like his plus .300 years with Colorado, it’d be a huge boost to the Blue Jays’ chances of winning it all this season.

2nd Place: Boston Red Sox (89-73)

Boston will earn their keep this season through starting pitching. David Price, Clay Buchholz, and Rick Porcello lead a staff with potential to be the best rotation in the division. Boston also acquired Craig Kimbrel to be their new closer this season, paving way to a solid pitching staff as a whole.

Boston’s offense is nothing to scoff at, as they’ll enjoy watching Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts bloom, while looking to get steady production from veterans David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia as well.

Player to Watch: Rick Porcello

After going a combined 28-21 in 2013 and 2014, Porcello went 9-15 in his first season away from the Detroit Tigers. Porcello had his best season statistically in those two seasons, and the steep drop in production is worrisome. Whether or not Porcello can find out how to be successful this season won’t be known for a while, but the Red Sox need him to turn it around and be a reliable third man in the rotation.

3rd Place: Baltimore Orioles (85-77)

Here’s where things get fuzzy in the AL East. On paper, the Orioles look like a contender for a wild card spot this fall. Baltimore’s first four hitters are loaded, and the back end of the bullpen should be good.

Baltimore’s starting pitching leaves more to be desired. Led by Chris Tillman who went 11-11 last season, the Orioles have no established ace. The last two pitchers in the rotation figure to be rookies, so their could be some growing pains this season in Baltimore.

I still like Baltimore to win a lot of games thanks to their solid lineup. They are filled with players who could hit 25 home runs, but are also susceptible to striking out.

Player to Watch: Pedro Alvarez

Pittsburgh Pirates fans are probably rejoicing at the departure of Pedro Alvarez. A strikeout machine and error fanatic, Pedro Alvarez should feel lucky to even be on an Opening Day starting lineup. He’ll no longer have to figure out how to close his glove when a ball enters it, so he’ll have plenty of time to swing a wooden stick at a ball. Sometimes dumbing it down works for people, and I feel like it’d help for Alvarez. If he can hit 20 home runs and hit for .250, it be a great season for Alvarez.

4th Place: Tampa Bay Rays (82-82)

The Rays will welcome four new starters to Tropicana Field, none of whom are big time acquisitions. Chris Archer is an up-and-coming starting pitcher who will lead the Rays, and there are a few names behind him who could make some noise in the AL East.

The team is filled with middling starters, which is why it’s pretty easy to see them finishing as average as average gets. Evan Longoria seems to be out of his prime, and there are a lot of holes throughout this team. Even still, I like Tampa’s serviceable lineup, and potentially good pitching staff with Drew Smyly and Co.

Chris Archer simply needs run support to be considered one of the best pitchers in the AL East. (Photo: Sporting News)

Player to Watch: Chris Archer

The most helpless job in the world is being a starting pitcher in the AL. Even if you throw a seven inning, three hit, one run outing, you could still end up with a loss if your offense sucks. That’s what happened plenty of times to Archer. Archer suffered a loss or no-decision in ten games last season in which he gave up two runs or less, including four games in which he gave up zero earned runs. Provided Archer can get more run support this season, look for Archer to improve upon his 3.23 ERA and win 15 games.

5th Place: New York Yankees (79-83)

I’m all for teams with starting pitching, and the Yankees could have that. If every starter can pitch to around 80% of their potential, it should be a good season on the mound for them. New York has no shortage of overpaid, old, former superstars, so they must squeeze everything they can out of the veterans in order to have a solid season.

The Yankees bullpen is their calling card, as they’ll boast one of the best one-two punches in baseball with Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. The only players in the New York batting order that are under age 32 are Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro. The two middle infielders have been unsuccessful in living up to their hype in the MLB.

With a career ERA of 2.17, Aroldis Chapman looks to continue his dominance with a new team. (Photo: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Player to Watch: Aroldis Chapman
After an offseason trade that sent Chapman from Cincinnati to the Big Apple, the Cuban Missile must prove he can succeed even with a change of scenery. No one likes to face Chapman’s combination of 105 MPH fastballs and 92 MPH sliders and changeups. Chapman has proven to be wild at times, but has also made countless hitters look like your grandma. Chapman is suspended for the first 30 games of the season, but after that, I look forward to seeing how Chapman does in New York.