AL East Position Comparisons: Part IIPosted on April 02, 2014 by Paul Folkemer
Let's jump right in to Part II of our American League East position-by-position comparisons. In Part I, I covered the infields. Now I'll examine the outfields, designated hitters and bench.
1. Brett Gardner, Yankees
2. Daniel Nava/Jonny Gomes, Red Sox
3. David Lough/Nelson Cruz, Orioles
4. David DeJesus, Rays
5. Melky Cabrera, Blue Jays
Gardner is the straw that stirs the drink for the Yankees' lineup, a speedy leadoff hitter with good on-base skills who provides quality defense to boot. At age 29, he's not likely to slow down this year. The Red Sox platooned Nava and Gomes to great effect last year, as Nava mashed right-handed pitching (.894 OPS) while Gomes pounded lefties (.795). The O's might have a left field platoon of their own in 2014, with Lough starting against righties and Cruz against southpaws, but I'm docking points for Cruz's subpar defense. DeJesus is a solid player, but is on the downswing of his career at age 34, while Cabrera's first year after his PED suspension was a miserable one in 2013.
1. Adam Jones, Orioles
2. Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees
3. Colby Rasmus, Blue Jays
4. Desmond Jennings, Rays
5. Grady Sizemore, Red Sox
Choosing between Jones and Ellsbury as the division's top center fielder is no easy task. Ellsbury is the more talented all-around player, and he'd be my top pick if you could guarantee me he'd stay healthy all season. But he hasn't done so since 2011, so I'll give the advantage to the more durable Jones. Rasmus and Jennings are on the next tier; Rasmus had a mini-breakout season in 2013 and could still reach the potential he once had as a Cardinals prospect. Meanwhile, Sizemore could be a great comeback story for the Sox, returning to the bigs for the first time since 2011 after injuries nearly destroyed his career. But I'm not optimistic about his chances of staying injury-free for any significant time, given his history.
1. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
2. Carlos Beltran, Yankees
3. Wil Myers, Rays
4. Shane Victorino, Red Sox
5. Nick Markakis, Orioles
The only easy pick among these five -- unfortunately for Orioles fans -- is Markakis as the lowest-ranked right fielder in the division. He's coming off a season during which he limped to a .685 OPS and hit for almost no power, and he'll need to reestablish himself in 2014. You could make a case for any of the remaining four as the division's best right fielder, but I'll go with the powerful Bautista, who has bashed 152 home runs since 2010 despite missing chunks of the last two seasons with injuries. Beltran, one of the many big-name free agents the Yankees signed this offseason, can still hit with the best of them, but is a candidate for regression at age 36. Myers, the defending AL Rookie of the Year, needs to tighten up his defense and prove he can avoid a sophomore slump. Victorino had a resurgent 2013 season with the Red Sox, but will get off to a late start in 2014 after landing on the disabled list with a hamstring strain.
1. David Ortiz, Red Sox
2. Nelson Cruz, Orioles
3. Alfonso Soriano, Yankees
4. Adam Lind, Blue Jays
5. Matt Joyce, Rays
There's not much mystery about the No. 1 DH in the division (and the league); Ortiz continues to defy Father Time by putting up incredible numbers, year after year. After him comes a series of flawed players. Cruz could face a harsh spotlight following his 50-game PED suspension in 2013, but at 33, he's a slightly better bet to produce than the 38-year-old Soriano (and lefty-mashers Steve Pearce or Delmon Young could spell him against southpaws). Lind had an .854 OPS in 2013, but before that, he'd slumbered through three straight years of a .734 OPS or lower. I'm not totally sold on his revival. Joyce's bat has tailed off the last two seasons, lagging below the other divisional DHs (though he'll probably platoon with a righty).
2. Red Sox
4. Blue Jays
The Rays are one of the best teams in MLB when it comes to getting use out of their bench, carrying a bunch of versatile players who can play multiple positions and platoon. The Red Sox have a strong bench as well and can provide fearsome late-inning pinch-hitting options. The Orioles don't use their bench often, but they have some useful reserve players, most of whom are named Steve. The Blue Jays' season-opening bench includes two backup catchers for some reason, while the Yankees' is even more questionable, consisting of two infielders (Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte) who have no prior big league experience.
Coming up next time in the grand finale, I'll compare the pitching staffs and managers and predict the final standings for the AL East and other divisions.
Neither Steve Clevenger nor Steve Lombardozzi played during the Orioles' opener March 31, though both ran down the orange carpet to loud ovations.