With Opening Day around the corner, theScore's MLB editors Michael Bradburn, Bryan Mcwilliam, Simon Sharkey-Gotlieb, and Brandon Wile answer some of the biggest questions about the American League East.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays. He may not start in the big leagues right away, but the 20-year-old phenom has already set the baseball world ablaze without playing a major-league game. It's tempting to use hyperbole with prospects. But with Vlad, it's almost impossible to do so. He's the best minor-league hitter of all time, having posted a .381/.437/.636 slash line across four different levels last year. He embarrassed Double-A opponents with a .402 batting average and 1.120 OPS over 61 games.
Guerrero is projected to be the eighth-best position player by Steamer600 - FanGraphs' projection system that corrects for playing time by supposing every player makes 600 plate appearances - ahead of Aaron Judge, Nolan Arenado, and Bryce Harper. The young slugger is also projected to win the AL batting title, and Steamer is typically conservative in its estimates. With Shohei Ohtani not pitching this season, no player in all of MLB is more exciting than Vlad. - Bradburn
Mookie Betts, Red Sox. Though the division's overflowing talent pool makes it tough to choose the AL East's most exciting player, last season's AL MVP is a logical pick.
The chain-wearing 26-year-old snarled his way to the award by scoring 129 runs, hitting 47 doubles, smacking 32 homers, stealing 30 bases, and leading all of baseball in both average and slugging percentage. Betts also played Gold Glove-caliber defense, tying with the Brewers' Lorenzo Cain for the most defensive runs saved by an outfielder (20), according to FanGraphs.
His 10.4 WAR was tops in MLB and the most by a player in a single season since Buster Posey in 2012. Betts also did all of his damage from the lead-off spot for the World Series champion Red Sox, making the beginning of any game he plays must-watch television. - Mcwilliam
Aaron Judge, Yankees. It's pretty remarkable how good Judge has been over the last two seasons considering how concerning his swing was in 2016. The hulking slugger is a legitimate superstar and one of the most exciting at-bats in the majors. Judge has hit a whopping 79 home runs over the last two seasons, good for fifth-most in the majors over that time despite missing 57 games.
What makes Judge so special, though, is that he's not just an all-or-nothing player. He trails only Mike Trout and Joey Votto in OBP over the last two seasons and is a two-time Gold Glove finalist. But we all watch Judge for the enormous home runs, and he certainly delivers. The two-time All-Star smashed the longest home run of 2017 with a 495-foot bomb at Camden Yards and boasted the fourth-highest average exit velocity (95 mph) of any hitter last season. - Wile
Will the Red Sox bullpen cost them a division title? Despite the losses of both Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel this winter, the front office opted against bringing in any high-profile free-agent relievers. Instead, the Red Sox will roll the dice with what they have in-house.
Boston's bullpen ranked eighth in the majors in ERA last season even as Kimbrel posted a 4.57 ERA in the second half, so maybe the arms it still has aren't receiving enough credit. But it does seem like a risk to hope either Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier - two pitchers with two career saves between them (both by Barnes) - can anchor the back end of a team with aspirations of repeating.
The Red Sox offense and rotation remain elite and will mask a lot of imperfections in the bullpen, but with the Yankees only getting stronger, the margin for error will be slim. - Wile
Can the Yankees overcome injuries? Opening Day isn't even upon us, and New York already has several key pieces of its roster shelved. Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, and Aaron Hicks are all slated to start the season on the injured list. Jacoby Ellsbury, Didi Gregorius, and Jordan Montgomery won't be ready either, hampering the Yankees' ability to keep pace early and prevent the Red Sox from claiming their fourth straight division title.
Meanwhile, Masahiro Tanaka has eclipsed the 180-inning plateau once in his MLB career and James Paxton set a new career high last year at 160 1/3 frames. The Yankees have depth, but relying on it this early in the season was definitely not the plan. - Bradburn
Are the Rays a one-hit wonder? It sure is easy to count out the Rays when they play in a division with two 100-game winners. But if you look closely inside the echoing chasm of a ballpark that is Tropicana Field, you'll find a pesky group of Rays who - unlike most everyone else - don't see last year's 90-win campaign as a fluke.
Tampa Bay certainly has the roster to pull off a shocker in 2019. Despite openers getting most of the attention, the Rays still have reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell atop their rotation, plus solid offseason addition Charlie Morton and youngster Tyler Glasnow. Then there's the lineup, balanced from both sides of the plate and featuring the likes of Tommy Pham, a healthy Kevin Kiermaier, and up-and-coming outfielder Austin Meadows, among others. Nobody's arguing this is the best team in the division, but on paper, it's a very good club with a game-changing ace on the mound every five days; you can't ask for more in their position.
This division could very well turn into a three-team race. And if ever there was a team to bet on crashing the party, it's certainly the Rays, who've done it many times before. But they'll have to flip last year's sub-.500 records against both the Yankees and Red Sox just to have a shot at it. That's much easier said than done. - Sharkey-Gotlieb
Yankees. The Yankees are loaded in every area. They're so deep that 2016 NL batting champ DJ LeMahieu isn't projected to be a starter. They're so good that Severino, Sabathia, and Montgomery are hurt and they'll still roll out Paxton, Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and Gio Gonzalez as starters. Oh, and how about that bullpen? Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, and Chad Green could all effectively close games for another club.
The Red Sox are no joke, but Boston's bullpen is troubling after losing Kimbrel. Tampa is talented, but not good enough to win more than the 96 games the Yankees are projected to reach in 2019. - Mcwilliam
Red Sox. Sure, the Yankees are loaded with a monster offense and a lights-out bullpen. But that was also the case last season when the Red Sox steamrolled their rivals, winning the division by eight games and embarrassing New York in the postseason. Boston returns its entire rotation and starting lineup from a season ago and is anticipating a breakout season from Rafael Devers.
There's a legitimate chance the Red Sox and Yankees are once again the top two teams in the majors, but it's on New York to prove it's finally ready to take the division back from a Red Sox team that was the best in franchise history in 2019. - Wile
Rays. The Yankees and Red Sox currently boast a combined 97.6 percent chance of winning the division, according to FanGraphs, so calling the Rays a longshot is an understatement. That said, there is still a chance. Despite their notable depth, the Yankees are already dealing with serious injuries before the season's even started. The Red Sox had the shortest offseason of any team and enter 2019 with a bullpen projected to be 25th in baseball. Can the starters shoulder the workload that will be asked of them?
Meanwhile, the Rays have made improvements over the past few months and are coming off a 90-win campaign - one victory worse than the AL Central-winning Cleveland Indians. Morton will strengthen a rotation that relied on the opener out of necessity last year, allowing the Rays to use their prized strategy in the most optimal situations. The lineup is pretty fearsome as well, particularly if Pham, Meadows, Willy Adames, Brandon Lowe, Yandy Diaz, and Ji-Man Choi realize their potential. - Bradburn