With Spring Training a few weeks old, I thought it would be useful to check in on the other 4 AL East teams and see which story lines have dominated their camps thus far.
Boston Red Sox
Prospects Opening Eyes: A number of prospects who play the middle infield have been quite impressive, with 2B Oscar Tejada, SS Jose Iglesias, and UTI Yamaico Navarro all getting off to strong starts at the plate. Iglesias has apparently been dropping jaws with his defense as well, which is supposedly otherworldly and has been drawing raves from players and writers alike.
Struggling Regular: Daisuke Matsuzaka has been battered to the tune of a 11.42 ERA, which by itself would not be that big a deal at this point of the spring. But his velocity is reportedly at 87-90 MPH on his fastball, and it seems that there is at least some concern about the health of his arm. With his performance already one of the few question marks on a stacked team, an injury to Dice-K could erode at least some of the advantage the Sox have over the Rays and Yankees.
Encouraging Regular: Jacoby Ellsbury looks healthy following an injury-riddled 2010 season and is performing well in all facets. Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, and JD Drew should make for an excellent defensive outfield, and an effective Ellsbury could give the Red Sox an incredibly exciting top of the order along with Crawford.
Intriguing Position Battle: It seems that shortstop is Marco Scutaro‘s job to lose, but I could certainly see Jed Lowrie stealing that spot in the early portion of the season. However, neither has performed well at the start of the spring, leaving the status quo in place for now.
Tampa Bay Rays
Prospects Opening Eyes: While guys like OF Cris Carter and SS Tim Beckham have been strong in limited duty, the sotry of Rays camp thus far has been 26-year old catcher Robinson Chirinos, who came over from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade. Chirinos is hitting .389/.476/.944, and has a chance to make the Rays roster as the third catcher behind John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach. If he continues to hit, I would not be surprised to see Shoppach dealt at some point for bullpen help to clear the spot for Chirinos.
Struggling Regular: Johnny Damon has started off slowly for Tampa, but that is not particularly surprising for a player his age. One guy who I would be concerned about is James Shields, who the Rays are counting on to bounce back after a poor 2010. Although he has not gotten killed thus far, he has allowed 2 home runs in 7.1, continuing to struggle with the long ball after allowing a league-leading 34 dingers in 2010.
Encouraging Regular: Jeff Niemann and B.J. Upton have both looked good thus far, but the two players who have caught my eye with their strong play are Casey Kotchman and Manny Ramirez. A productive Manny can go a long way to helping replace the offense lost due to Carl Crawford‘s defection, and Kotchman has a chance to garner a lot of playing time at first base.
Intriguing Position Battle: It is not a battle per se, but I am really curious to see how the Rays configure the back of their bullpen. Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta figure to play major roles at the end of games, and J.P. Howell should soak up some important innings when healthy. It is also conceivable that rookie Jake McGee makes the team as a fireman and eventually graduates into the closer role.
Prospects Opening Eyes: Much like Manny Banuelos with the Yankees, lefty Zach Britton has been incredibly impressive for the Orioles thus far. Unlike Banuelos, Britton saw plenty of AAA action last season and could be in the majors fairly soon. With the stick, first base prospect Joseph Mahoney has looked good in limited duty, as has Jake Fox, who is no longer a prospect but might be able to help the O’s off the bench at the corners.
Struggling Regular: Matt Wieters continues to struggle at the plate, and Orioles fans are beginning to suspect that he may never reach the heights expected of him when he came up from the minor leagues. He still has plenty of time to establish himself as an offensive force, but nothing he has done to this point suggests an imminent breakout. Mark Reynolds has struck out in 1/3 of his spring at-bats, and has not hit for any power to offset those K’s.
Encouraging Regular: Nolan Reimold and Adam Jones are both killing the ball, with Reimold in particular looking to reestablish himself after a terribly disappointing 2010. The O’s brought in a number of veterans who have pushed Reimold to the bench, but the inevitable injuries to those aged players might give him an opportunity to get his career back on track.
Intriguing Position Battle: The Orioles figure to have 3 locks in their rotation, with Brian Matusz, Jeremy Guthrie, and Justin Duchscherer are likely to get spots assuming they stay healthy. That leaves two spots open, with guys like Brian Bergesen, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman fighting for the right to remain in the major league rotation. I see Bergesen and Arrieta winning the competition in Spring Training, but do not be surprised if one of those guys are replaced by Zach Britton by midseason.
Toronto Blue Jays
Prospects Opening Eyes: Second baseman Brett Lawrie, acquired from the Brewers for Shaun Marcum, is showing flashes of the ability that makes him the Jays’ best hitting prospect. He is hitting .381/.409/.714 with two home runs, and the only real blemish on his record is 5 strikeouts in 21 at-bats. If he sticks at 2nd he should be a huge asset for the Jays, and his bat is good enough that he would have value in the outfield as well.
Struggling Regular: Edwin Encarnacion is the likely starting third baseman, but he has been atrocious thus far at the plate. He has struck out 6 times in 24 at-bats while notching just 3 hits, and the Jays have few options to replace him at this point. Another worrying sign is J.P. Arencebia’s atrocious start to camp (23 AB’s, 2H, 5BB, 8K), as many expected him to seize the starting catcher’s job that may now go to Jose Molina.
Encouraging Regular: Yunel Escobar and Rajai Davis are both coming off disappointing seasons that saw them discarded by their previous clubs, but both have the potential to be important pieces for the 2011 Blue Jays. Davis has 5 XBH in 24 at-bats, and Yunel is hitting .476 without any strikeouts thus far. They figure to be the first two hitters in the Jays’ lineup, and effective seasons from them would go a long way to helping the Jays build on last season’s surprising success.
Intriguing Position Battle: I mentioned the starting catcher’s job above, so let’s take a look at the battle for the closer spot. There are 4 candidates for manager John Farrell to choose from, with Frank Francisco being the favorite and Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, and Jason Frasor being the other contenders. I am not a big believer in Dotel and think Rauch is more of a middle reliever, but I could see Frasor challenging for the position at some point during 2011.
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