With Opening Day a mere five weeks away, it’s time to take a look at how things could shape up in the American League East for the 2017 season. And what better way to “predict” the standings in the division than to go position by position to figure out which team is the best of the best?
Now, we all know that predictions are just that; predictions. Look no further than PECOTA and FanGraphs to see what they really amount to. The Orioles, for example, have been picked to finish last by most outlets every year since 2012, all while winning more games than any other American League club over that same time span. In other words, take all of this with a grain of salt.
So let’s get started, baseball fans. Up first are the catchers in the American League East.
1. Russell Martin – Toronto Blue Jays
2016: .231/.335/.398, 20 HR, 74 RBI
The backstop for the Toronto Blue Jays, Russell Martin would seem to be an unassuming player to the casual baseball fan. He has batted below .250 in 6 of his last 7 seasons, and threw out just 15% of would-be base-stealers in 2016. But for those of us who have been paying attention, Martin has put together a very solid career. In addition to his hardware–4 All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove, and a Silver Slugger–Martin has been in the playoffs in 9 of his 11 seasons. He helped lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to the playoffs in each of his two seasons there after a 21-year drought for the franchise, and he has done the exact same thing in Toronto thus far. There is something to be said for a winning-pedigree, and in that category, Russell Martin is unmatched.
2. Gary Sanchez – New York Yankees
2016- .299/.376/.657, 20 HR, 42 RBI
A lot of people may look at this list, see that Gary Sanchez isn’t at the top of it, and write the rest of this list off. Others might look at it and think that Sanchez is ranked too highly considering his lack of experience. I find myself seeing shades of grey. On the one hand, Sanchez needed just 53 games in 2016 to finish second in AL Rookie of the Year voting, mashing 20 home runs while batting .299 in the process. Sanchez also showed off a rocket arm, throwing out 41% of would-be base-stealers. Oh, and his 3.02 WAR was 4th highest among all MLB catchers. On the other hand, there’s the six passed balls in just 36 games behind the plate to go along with that inexperience that makes me not quite ready to name Sanchez the best of the East. Bottom line, you can’t ignore the mind-boggling offensive production as Gary Sanchez was one of the main reasons the Yankees stayed in the race into September. The sky is the limit for this kid.
3. Welington Castillo – Baltimore Orioles
2016- .264/.322/.324, 14 HR, 68 RBI
Welington Castillo has some big shoes to fill in Baltimore as he attempts to replace 4-time All-Star Matt Wieters in the Orioles lineup. Offensively, the HR and RBI numbers should be similar to that of Wieters. In fact, their career slash lines are eerily similar. Defensively, Castillo has a strong arm, throwing out 38% of would-be base-stealers in 2016. However, Castillo led the National League in passed balls last season with 10. The Orioles are hoping his offseason work with the Molina brothers will help diminish those costly errors and bridge the gap to their top prospect, Chance Sisco.
4. Sandy Leon – Boston Red Sox
2016- .310/.369/.476, 7 HR, 35 RBI
Sandy Leon had a nice little season for himself last year. Leon’s .310 BA was the highest among all catchers with at least 200 AB’s in 2016. Though most professional sports leagues are very much about “what have you done for me recently,” Leon must prove that 2016 was not a fluke, as he carried a -0.1 career WAR into that season. Having said that, the Red Sox are more than confident that Leon can carry the weight while catching arguably the AL’s best starting rotation.
5. Luke Maile – Tampa Bay Rays
2016- .227/.252/.361, 3 HR, 15 RBI
If Wilson Ramos were healthy, the Rays would almost certainly be featured higher on this list. But the fact is, Ramos is injured and will not catch in 2017, an ACL tear relegating him to a DH role at best, barring any setbacks. So in steps Luke Maile, by default more than anything else. There’s not much to say as Maile has just 57 career games under his belt, but the Rays are hoping the he can combine with Curt Casali to fill the void this season while Ramos recovers from knee surgery. It is also possible that the Rays starting catcher is not on the roster right now, but not likely.
1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia– Toronto Blue Jays
2016-.171/.284/.346, 12 HR, 38 RBI
2. Austin Romine– New York Yankees
2016- .242/.269/.382, 4 HR, 26 RBI
3. Curt Casali – Tampa Bay Rays
2016- .186/.273/.336, 8 HR, 25 RBI
4. Caleb Joseph– Baltimore Orioles
2016- .174/.216/.197, 0 HR, 0 RBI
5. Christian Vazquez– Boston Red Sox
2016- .227/.277/.308, 1 HR, 12 RBI
That does it for the catchers in the AL East. As always, this list is up for debate, and is just one man’s opinion, nothing more. Up next, we take a look at the first basemen within the division.