AL East Predictions

1. New York Yankees

Strengths - Though the back injury to Aaron Hicks is concerning if he can recover this could be the best outfield in baseball. Aaron Judge and Hicks are solid two way players and a platoon of Bret Gardner and Giancarlo Stanton in left, with Stanton seeing the DH slot when not playing the field, could be the best in baseball. Last year the foursome combined for four homeruns over 100. The rival Red Sox may be better defensively but fall short offensively. If Hicks spends a significant time on the disabled list Gardner could move to center creating more playing time for the injury prone Stanton in the outfield and hurting the defense. The Yankees also did a good job of loading up their bullpen. Aroldis Chapman will be the primary closer but Zack Britton and Dellin Betances have had experience there. Adam Ottavino carved out six saves for the Rockies last year. The only concern is all four players are at the north side of 30.

Weakness - There could be a weakness at first. Greg Bird is having a nice spring but he has not proven himself at the major league level. Luke Voit had a special season last year but the Yankees have seen a lot of one and dones. The left side of the infield could be a hole defensively. Miguel Andujar could eventually move to first when Didi Gregorius returns to short, moving Tulowitski to third. It remains to be seen what Tulo has left and whether he can even stay healthy. Gleyber Torres could still see a lot of time at short with D.J. LeMahieu playing a lot at second. This team also seems prone to injury so depth is important.

Prospects to Make an Impact - The Yankees have a number of high level minor league pitchers ready to make a difference. Jonathan Loaisiga could be the first to get the call. He started four games for the Yankees last year. Michael King dominated in AAA (1.15 ERA) in six starts with a .147 opposition average. Albert Abreu, Chance Adams and Domingo Acevedo are other possibilities. All five could also contribute in the bullpen. Thairo Estrada could see utility time, especially if Troy shows he can not stay healthy. Thairo is a sold fielding shortstop with a questionable bat. He is still trying to recover from a bullet wound he received in Venezuela a couple years ago.

Expected Finish - This lineup should score a lot of runs if clicking on all cylinders. If they can get to the bullpen with the lead after six innings the game is over.

2. Boston Red Sox

Strengths - Hard to go against the defending World Series champions. Like the Yankees, the Red Sox outfield is premium good. Mookie Betts may be the best player in baseball outside of Mike Trout. Andrew Benintendi has a boatload of talent and Jackie Bradley is a superior defender. They may not provide the offense of the Yankees but the defense is top notch. J.D. Martinez is the best DH in the American League and one of the more dangerous. He can also play left field. The starting pitching has the potential to be good with Chris Sale and David Price providing a one/two punch and Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez making it a solid five.

Weakness - The bullpen lost their closer Craig Kimbrel and setup man Joe Kelly. It will be interesting how they sort out the roles. The blown saves will knock them out of first place. Behind the plate the Red Sox have little offense. Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez were once promising hitters when they were prospects in the minor leagues, but that has not transferred against big league pitching. Sandy Leon is the third catcher the Red Sox would like to trade.

Prospects to Make an Impact - The bullpen could use some help and Darwinzon Hernandez may be available by mid season. After that the farm system gets a little thin at the upper levels.

Expected Finish - With six teams tanking in the American League the Red Sox should still win 100 games and make the playoffs as a wild card team.

3. Tampa Bay Rays

Strengths - The Rays invented the opener because they lacked starting pitching. This could again be an issue in 2019. They do have Cy Young award winner Blake Snell who they just signed to an extension. He may be the best pitcher in baseball. They also have a lot of youth in Austin Meadows, Willy Adames and Tyler Glasnow which could lead to some upside.

Weakness - Where’s the pop? Mike Zunino and Tommy Pham may be the only players with the potential to hit 20 plus homeruns. Austin Meadows is unproven but has shown some power in the minor leagues. The lack of run support could put pressure on the pitchers to throw shutouts in every outing. They also go into the 2019 season without any proven closer. Sergio Romo and Alex Colome combined for 36 saves last year but they departed via free agency.

Prospects to Make an Impact - The Rays are a prospect machine, trading veterans early when their tread is gone. Brent Honeywell was supposed to be in the rotation last year but lost 2019 to Tommy John. He will start the season in the minors and could be up by mid-season. The Rays will want to watch his innings. Brandon Lowe and Nat Lowe can provide some instant highs on offense. Brandon could be used in a utility role and Nate will provide big time power at first base.

Expected Finish - They will fall short of a wildcard appearance and fall far behind the Yankees and Red Sox in third place.

4. Toronto Blue Jays

Strengths - This is a team that may not be at full throttle tanking but they have no expectation on making the playoffs. They signed a number of veterans to fill out positions and could trade them as the season winds down, bringing up prospects from the minor league so they can eye the future.

Weakness - The starting rotation has promise but Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez had ERAs bordering 5 last year. This is a rotation that could benefit from an opener. A lot of pitchers whose best years are in the past.

Prospects to Make an Impact - Vladimir Guerrero will be ready to post himself at third in May. He is the best prospect in baseball and should be in the Blue Jays opening day lineup. Danny Jansen is a catcher who can provide some offense. Last year he played 31 games in the major leagues so he should take over the starting role in 2019. With a porous rotation Sean-Reid Foley should see some time in the rotation by May. He made seven starts last year but was prone to the long ball.

Expected Finish - They went into this season knowing they had no chance to make the playoffs. They will finish far behind the Rays with double digit wins above the Orioles.

5. Baltimore Orioles

Strengths - When they were losing at least they bashed homeruns. That is in doubt now. If Chris Davis can resurrect his career he would attract some fans to the park. Hopefully those that do come to the games will see the hustle of youth.

Weakness - The Orioles used to win games with defense. That will not be on display this year. The starting rotation had a major league worst 5.48 ERA last year. That could go higher this year with the poor defense and the average to below average arms.

Prospects to Make an Impact - Rule V pick Richie Martin will play shortstop. His offense was a surprise last year but his defense also took a hit. Last year he made 16 errors in just 96 games at AA. It won’t take Austin Hayes long to get called back up to play right field. Last year foot injuries limited him to 66 games. Drew Jackson is a second Rule V pick who the Orioles appear to be keeping on the major league roster, He will fill a utility role around the infield. Hunter Harvey could make an appearance by mid-season but don’t be surprised if it is in the bullpen. Keegan Akin is a solid lefty who will be given an opportunity before the year is out. The Orioles have to show something for the Manny Machado trade so expect opportunities for Dean Kremer in the rotation and Zach Pop in the bullpen. Even Cuban outfielder Yusniel Diaz could find himself in right field by mid-season, moving Hays to left.

Expected Finish - They will battle the Marlins and Royals for the number one pick in 2020. They finished last year with the worst record, breaking a record for number of losses during a season. Two straight years with the number one pick is how one resurrects a franchise.

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