Time to start with the American League...here's the AL East 2012 Preview:
2012 Bro Council AL East Preview
The best division in baseball has to have an ugly stepchild...the Orioles are that team. Luckily for Orioles fans, that realization could be changing in the next few years. There is some talent on the roster, a few yong stars that are the bedrock of the organization. Years of mediocre on-field performance has allowed the team to acquire quite a few high level prospects, some of which are already playing at the major league level, or have been dealt for needed positional players.
Leading the way is the young catcher Matt Wieters, a top 5 pick in 2007, he has 30 homer potential this season. Around the infield is long-time second baseman Brian Roberts, along with veterans Mark Reynolds and JJ Hardy as well as young first baseman Chris Davis. Davis has been a great minor league player for the Rangers for years, but following years of disappointing Major League performances he was dealt last season to the Orioles. Adam Jones and Nick Markakis return to the outfield, both of which had solid 2011 years. The pitching is weak this year, with a lot of unproven players. The success of the team will ride on the pitching staff's performance.
Prospects to watch: SP Dylan Bundy and SS Manny Machado. Machado is drawing comparisons to Alex Rodriguez at the age of 19, and Bundy was one of the best high school players last year. These last two first round picks of the Orioles are their best prospects and provide great hope.
Boston Red Sox
Still reeling from their epic collapse, the Red Sox made a few significant changes to the organization this year, starting with new manager Bobby valentine. The roster remains largely the same, and for good reason: this is still a great team.
The Sox are loaded from 1 to 9 in their lineup, with multiple MVP candidates. 1B Adrian Gonzalez hit .338 with 117 RBI last year, DH/1B David Ortiz hit .309 with 29 homers. Former MVP Dustin Pedroia hit .307 and drove in 91 runs. The team also has MVP Runner-Up Jacoby Ellsbury, who had a spectacular season, hitting .321 with 32 homers, 105 RBI, 39 stolen bases, 46 doubles, and an OPS of .928. They also have Carl Crawford who is due for a big comeback this year, following a disappointing first season in Boston.
The rotation boasts Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz, all of which are solid every given start. While they had a terrible September, the Red Sox were running away with the best record in the Majors through August of last year, they won't disappoint this year.
Prospect to watch: C Ryan Lavarnway. Lavarnway is probably the future catcher of the Red Sox, and could get a spot this year following a season in the minors in which he hit .290 with 32 home runs.
New York Yankees
Big surprise, the Yankees spent some money this year, and they've got the biggest team salary. Despite having a fairly weak rotation in 2011 the team still won 97 games due to their ridiculous lineup filled with the best players at almost every position. 1B Mark Teixeira (39 homers, 111 RBI), 2B Robinson Cano (.302, 28 homers, 118 RBI), 3B Alex Rodriguez, and SS Derek Jeter are all stars. Jeter got hit #3000 last year, and ARod should get 3000, as well as homer #700 in 2013, as he is 225 hits and 71 homers away from those marks. OF Curtis Granderson (41 homers, 119 RBI) and OF Brett Gardner (49 steals) provide great speed in the outfield and help to anchor the lineup.
The rotation is much improved this year, with the addition of young fireballer Michael Pineda from the Mariners and veteran, Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda from the Dodgers. They join CC Sabathia, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes to make an above average rotation, which could make them better than last year.
Prospect to watch: SP Dellin Betances. Betances hails from NYC, and probably would've been in the rotation if not for the addition of Pineda. He can spend one more year in the minors and hone his skills before donning the pinstripes.
Tampa Bay Rays
In 2007 I worked for the Single A team of the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays. This team won the Single A Championship with 3 players that are currently on the Rays roster: Jeremy Hellickson, David Price and Desmond Jennings. The Rays High A team in Vero Beach also won the championship in 2007, their AA team in Montgomery won in 2007, their AAA team won in 2009. Every prospect that has come through has won a championship and had success, this will pay off soon with a championship for the Rays. They have a never-ending line of prospects, mostly pitchers that will help them continue to win. 1B Carlos Pena returns following a year in Chicago, and 3B Evan Longoria remains one of the top players in the league.
SP James Shields had an insane 11 complete games last year, SP Price has a devastating fastball and started 34 games. Hellickson won the Rookie of the Year while winning 13 games with a 2.95 ERA. Pitching rules in Tropicana Field, sadly no one will be there to see it as the Rays have the worst attendance year in and year out.
Prospects to watch: SP Matt Moore. Moore is by far the best pitching prospect in baseball. The lefty that throws 99 miles per hour, struck out over 200 in 150 innings last year in the minors. He'll start this year and be an ace for YEARS in the Majors.
Toronto Blue Jays
Speaking of ugly stepchildren, there's still a team in Canada that plays in the Majors! The Blue Jays are not in the same class as the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays, but they want to be. There's some talent here, but its mostly unproven. They have one true star in Jose Bautista (which still blows my mind). He hit .302 with 43 homers and 103 RBI last year, following a 2010 season in which he hit 54 homers and drove in 124 runs. 3B Brett Lawrie could be really good this year or the next, he's been excellent in the minors and a brief call up last year.
The Blue Jays also have 2B Kelly Johnson, noteworthy only because he happened to be the victim of one of the better pranks I've seen by a baseball team: "It's Raining Men" as at-bat music. The Jays were .500 last year and probably won't stray too much from that mark this year either.
Prospect to watch: C Travis d'Arnaud. d'Arnaud is the younger brother of Pirates infielder Chase d'Arnaud and one of the top catching prospects in the game. He'll be at AAA this year and be called up in September at the age of 23.
Next week is the AL Central. For those wondering I'll be doing a final standings prediction the last week before the season starts. I recently took a job with the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League. This is the team that Terrell Owens plays for, so if you have got a question you would like me to ask him, by all means please let me know! I'm going to try to do a Bro Council interview at some point...but I probably won't mention his "sponsorship" by GoDaddy!!