So, here I am, beginning my thoughts about the American League East clubs as I seem them as of this moment. If you wish to view my thoughts on the National League division by division, check the archives of BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD on this site.
I have written often that I believe every major-league baseball owner has the money and resources to compete for a Championship each and every season. It is the manner in which ownership chooses to spend that money that makes the division races competitive. It is my belief some owners enjoy owning a big-league franchise and all the perks that come with that limited elite membership. Other owners enjoy their role and status but wish to be competitive rather than passive.
To my way of thinking, the Baltimore Orioles are among those organizations that will do just enough to attract fans and try to compete. But will they go the extra mile to win? I have not seen recent evidence of that.
Team owner Peter G. Angelos was born in 1929 and has enjoyed a very successful life as a high-powered attorney, race horse owner, Baltimore city coucilman and owner of the Orioles. He will be 90 in July. His sons John P Angelos (Executive Vice President) and Louis Angelos (Ownership Representative) seem poised to ultimately assume the ownership role of the Orioles.
Manny Machado, one of the best overall players in the game is playing in his free-agent to be season at the age of 25. Like Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper, Machado will hit free agency at an age that can assure him a ten-year contract from some team, somewhere. Why isn’t that team the Baltimore Orioles? I have not heard or read one thing about the Orioles trying to retain Machado, an equally solid offensive and defensive star player. Why not? I believe the baseball world feels Machado is as good as gone from the only baseball organization he has known, the Baltimore Orioles. Yet, all the buzz I hear has Machado leaving, heading elsewhere for his next contract.
The good people of Baltimore deserve more than a team that strikes out more than most teams, hits home runs in bunches and has failed to fix a pitching staff that has been ailing in quality for years. True, the team thought they had answers to their pitching woes with Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, two starters touted as quality pitchers from their early development days. Both have had good times. Both have scuffled. Both are not enough to complete a pitching staff. Rather, the team has hung on to Chris Tillman who hasn’t been healthy for more than two years, and a string of other pitchers that are generally not up to competing in the high-powered American League East.
Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb, two of the Orioles other starters have seen much better days on the mound. They may have an occasional good outing, but I wouldn’t build my future on them.
This year, the offense has produced like a water pistol instead of a six-shooter. Guys like Trey Mancini and Chris Davis, counted upon for power, have been missing in action. Like the previous two mentioned, Jonnathan Schoop and Mark Trumbo have joined them in taking a season-long power siesta. Trumbo is beginning to awaken. The comprehensive nose-dive of the Orioles offense is incredible. They are not only shooting blanks regarding the long-ball, they are having a dickens of the time putting the bat on the ball. Batting averages of the Orioles starters are hovering close to the bottom of the barrel with literally no immediate means to crawl out. As I write this Schoop (.229), Mancini (.231), and Davis (.152) aren’t anywhere near hitting .250 for the season.
The bullpen took a hit with the lingering injury to closer Zach Britton (Achilles tendon surgery) as well as the injury to Darren O’Day with his hyperextended right elbow. Even if those two were healthy, the bullpen still lacks competitive pitchers. But it doesn’t really matter, as there really aren’t many games to hold or close anyway.
I would call the future “bleak” as well. If and when they lose Machado, a huge component of their offense will walk out the door. He’s a power-hitting, barrel of the bat hitter who is capable of carrying a team on his back for several games at a time.
I do see some hope in outfielder Austin Hays. Hays was given a chance to play last year and he did well as a strong hitting right fielder. This year, he is languishing in the minor leagues as the Orioles must believe they have much more firepower on the big-league roster that precludes them from adding Hays to the 25-man roster. He is injured now, but It boggles my mind that I saw Hays healthy in spring training and he hasn’t played at all for the parent team. He has played 43 games this season at Triple-A Bowie, but he wasn’t hitting before his injury.
Chance Sisco is promising as the catcher of the future. He is a good prospect who is getting a chance to play this year.
My ranking of the Orioles Farm System: 26 out of 30
Key prospects not playing for the parent Orioles and when we can expect to see them:
NEW YORK YANKEES
Yes, in a doubleheader Sunday June 4, Aaron Judge struck out eight times. He whiffed five times in the nightcap against the Tigers. The criticism was extensive. Was it fair? That’s in the eye of the critic. With my eyes, I’m not as critical. Why? That’s life in today’s game. Hit a homer or strike out. Not uncommon, to be sure. We should look at a bigger picture-the entire panorama, if you will. Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have hit 31 home runs combined as I write this in this season so far. Judge has 17 of them. Gary Sanchez has added 12 and Didi Gregorius 11. This is a team wrecking crew. This isn’t just Maris and Mantle in the form of Judge and Stanton. This is a Yankees team that scares the opposition. Look at Judge’s 45 walks as of June 8 and tell me he isn’t feared. He is. So is Stanton. So are Sanchez and Didi and Hicks and Andujar and Torres, and Austin and Gardner and Romine and on and on. The Yankees and the Astros have offenses that can nullify the best pitchers in the game. But it really is true, Judge and Stanton strike out a bunch. 84 for Judge and 78 for Stanton as this weekend begins.
Do we expect Mantle and Maris from Judge and Stanton? Yes, we do. Will we get Mantle and Maris from Judge and Stanton? Your guess is as good as mine. But-we have to remember that in this season we haven’t even started summer yet, when bats traditionally heat up. It may take a fire extinguisher to contain the heat provided by the Yankees in the rest of June, July, August and September. Things are just beginning in the Bronx. And if Greg Bird stays healthy, he can add home runs to the pile as well.
Do the Yankees have enough pitching to fend off the Astros? I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. The Yankees don’t go as deeply in their rotation as do the Astros. I worry after Luis Severino. I have concerns about the staying power of Masahiro Tanaka who is still listed at only 29 but—-that elbow may well be 50 for all the wear and tear it has pitched with. Beyond Tanaka I roll the dice. Sonny Gray? Meh, but improving. C. C. Sabathia? Spent? Not yet, but close. Domingo German? Promising, but. If I’m a Yankees fan I root for the return of Jordan Montgomery from his left elbow strain. They need him. However, the team and I will have to wait more than a year, as Montgomery is having Tommy John surgery. Montgomery is not an option any longer in 2018.
So, if there is a stone in their shoe, it has to be lack of starting pitching depth. But that, too, will change.
I expect the Yankees to go fetch a pitcher or pitchers at the trade deadline. They have players like Clint Frazier, the underrated Brandon Drury, Ronald Torreyes, Tyler Wade, Neil Walker, and Billy McKinney to trade. And that’s just scratching the surface. A hitter or two for a starter? No big deal. They can make it happen. They can make it happen tomorrow if they find the pitcher they want. And I’m not even suggesting they trade players like outfielder Estevan Florial or right-hand pitcher Chance Adams. I haven’t even included lefty Justus Sheffield or righty Domingo Acevedo, two of the finest minor-league prospect pitchers in baseball. And any of those prospect pitchers may be the answer to their pitching need for the remainder of the year. They have what Yogi Berra used to call “deep depth”.
The Yankees are loaded. But the Yankees team we see in mid-June is not the Yankees team we will see in late July. That Yankees team will take direct aim at the Houston Astros with improved starting pitching and an awesome, hot weather offense.
Few teams can send a game to the bullpen in the 6th inning with as much confidence as the Yankees. The game may well be over in the 7th inning if the Yankees have the lead. David Robertson and Dellin Betances, even in an off year, are very reliable getting to closer Aroldis Chapman. But the guys who work earlier innings are solid and high quality pitchers capable of shortening the game in favor of the Yankees.
The future? I mentioned a ton of their higher than high quality prospects before. But if any Yankee player needs replacing for injury or poor performance, one, two or three bench and/or propsect players wait in the wings. Trade for Brandon Drury to fill a void at third base? Well, Miguel Andujar is so good Drury had to be sent to Triple-A. And believe me, Drury is a major-league quality player. And the Yankees are well aware of that. They just have so much depth there isn’t any room for him. And that’s really sad. Gleyber Torres is proving my ranking of him last year was not a fluke. This is a terrific group of young Yankee players.
My ranking of the Yankees Farm System: 2 of 30 (and gaining on the Braves IMO)
Key Yankees prospects not playing for the current parent team and when they may arrive on the major-league roster.
Chance Adams-RHP- 2018
BOSTON RED SOX
I guess if there is any threat to the Astros or Yankees for the American League pennant it would have to be the Boston Red Sox. The team is poised to explode in the second half of the season.
The addition of J.D. Martinez (currently hurt) has put the final piece in place for the Red Sox to remain competitive for years to come. The power and presence of Martinez just makes the Red Sox so much better than their 2017 edition when they missed David Ortiz so much. In his best years, Big Papi provided the big go-ahead hit or home run to impact a positive outcome for countless Red Sox games. The team lacked that thunderous bat last year. This year, however, Martinez has transplanted his lumber from Arizona to Boston, providing the Red Sox the ingredient they greatly needed to clear the bases and lengthen their lineup.
When healthy, Mookie Betts can be an impact player capable of putting up All-Star numbers. He has battled a strained abdominal muscle that landed him on the disabled list. He has to get healthy for the Red Sox to continue to be a dominant American League force. But he’s a terrific multi-tooled athlete with even more in his tank.
When Dustin Pedroia returned from his lengthy knee injury, the team decided to designate Hanley Ramirez for assignment. Ramirez has since been released. His new team will be able to sign him for the major-league minimum, with the Red Sox eating the remainder of his salary. By the time you read this, Ramirez may have found his new home. Certainly there was something going on behind the scenes to cause Ramirez to be designated But it happened, and the Red Sox seem to be moving along fine wihtout him. Pedroia’s knee has begun to bark once again, and he has again landed on the DL.
We don’t hear much buzz about third baseman Rafael Devers. He is good enough to prompt the Red Sox to trade Travis Shaw to the Brewers to make room for Devers. Still only 21, Devers has one of those lethal bats that can carry a team from the left side of the plate.
Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts comprise one of the finest overall outfields in the game. They can hit, hit for power and play tremendous defense. Bradley Jr. is the weakest hitter of the three, but he can get on a roll and cause some opponents considerable heartburn at times. Eduardo Nunez is a very good hitting player capable of stealing bases and playing most infield positions. And we have learned now that first baseman Mitch Moreland is far more than an afterthought.
Few teams carry three catchers. The Red Sox have Christian Vasquez, Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart ready, willing and able to mix and match depending upon the opposition. Swihart is versatile enough to play the outfield or first base as well. He and super utility player Brock Holt are important components of a deep roster.
The Red Sox are a team using four left-handed pitchers in their starting rotation. I personally feel that’s a mistake with the hitter-friendly left field Green Monster as a waiting target for right-handed hitters, but Chris Sale, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz (if he’s ever healthy) are all capable starters. Clearly, Sale and Price can be considered top American League starters. Rick Porcello is having a fine year, as he usually does in even numbered seasons.
Any team with Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes available to finish off games should stay in the pennant race all year. They are a quality trio of back-end-of the game relievers.
My ranking of the Red Sox Farm System: 25 out of 30
Top Red Sox players poised to make the big leagues, and the year they should graduate:
Jay Groome-LHP-2022 (set back a year due to injury)
TAMPA BAY RAYS
I remember when Chairman of the Board Jerry Reinsdorf was thinking seriously about taking his Chicago White Sox to Tampa Bay. Instead, the White Sox remained on the south side of Chicago in a new Comiskey Park. An expansion team assumed the south Florida location in St. Petersburg. In essence, the location was difficult from day one. Not many people want to travel across the bridge from Tampa to St. Petersburg during rush hour to watch a ball game. Even though the drive is beautiful, It really is asking a great deal of fans to navigate their way to the park. Once they arrive, the environment is really very sparse, sterile and uninviting, to be kind.
With an unfriendly lease looming over their head, the Rays have not invested heavily in their on-field personnel. I think ownership’s heart is in the right place, but the pocketbook remains closed due to poor attendance. Even though MLB owners have countless other sources of revenue, Tampa Bay has never played in the fast lane.
There is optimism that the team can move into the Ybor City area off I-4 allegedly closer to a larger fan base. I’m not sure there is a thirst for baseball in that area, either. We’ll see. For now, however, the Rays are running in place and not moving forward. But the farm system offers hope.
At one point in time, the Rays pitching depth was the envy of many clubs. The team always seemed to have more quality pitchers than spots available on their roster. The media constantly made up trades that included Rays pitchers. Now, in 2018 the Tampa Bay Rays are in the midst of what could be a pitching crisis. Jake Odorizzi and Alex Cobb are gone. It is up to the new group of starters as well as the prospect pitchers to put the Rays back on the map.
The Rays began the year thinking they would use a non-traditional six-man pitching staff. They wanted to protect young arms while giving each of their top rotation starters the opportunity to pitch. Injuries dampened that scheme. Jose De Leon, Yonny Chirinos, Jake Faria, and now Anthony Banda and Chris Archer have all suffered injuries that cost playing time. Nathan Eovaldi recently returned to the rotation after missing significant time with injury.
Perhaps the most critical problem was the elbow injury suffered by top prospect Brent Honeywell. He is now out after having Tommy John surgery, and it will be at least a year until he returns. Honeywell and his screwball were slated to be a major component of the Rays future mound staff. Yes, the Rays are in need of starting pitching.
When at one point Alex Colome was the closer, he has been shipped to the Seattle Mariners along with outfielder Denard Span for right-handed pitchers Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero. But mediocracy abounds in the Rays bullpen after the departure of Colome. Veteran Sergio Romo may get the closing call if he hasn’t recently started a game and gone one inning to set up a pitching committee to handle an entire game on the mound.
The Rays were the first of this new gimmick in baseball. Start a reliever, let him face a few batters and then bring in more relievers to complete the game. We’ll see other teams do it when they feel short of true starting pitchers.
C.J. Cron is getting a chance to play with the Rays. Long a bench player with the Los Angeles Angels, a trade to Tampa Bay has given Cron the chance to show he has the power to play regularly at the first base position. He has been a nice player so far for the Rays and he can easily turn in a better than 30 home-run season for Tampa Bay. He’s a guy to watch-if they don’t trade him.
Matt Duffy is a fine player to watch as he tries to come back from injury after missed seasons with the Rays following a trade from the San Francisco Giants. A solid player, Duffy can contribute with some pop in his bat from the third base position.
Kevin Kiermaier is an outstanding defensive outfielder with good offensive production when he’s healthy. Kiermaier may be a solid building block for the future of the Rays.
The team is determined to give Mallex Smith a chance to prove himself as a quality outfielder capable of hitting big-league pitching. He has the speed to steal bases, but he has to show he can get on base to be effective. He can’t afford to become a speed demon with no place to run. So far, he’s had some ups and downs as a regular player, but he should get much better in time.
Carlos Gomez has been around a while and he has played for a few major-league teams. He now has a chance to show he belongs in the starting Rays lineup.
At one point I felt Brad Miller would be a helpful addition to the Rays. He’s been hurt, gotten better and has offered only mediocre results. He is indicative of a player with a reputation that may eventually find his spark.
Christian Arroyo came to the Rays from the Giants. He’s a pure hitter who should be able to hit for average when he finally gets his chance. A former No. 1 pick by the Giants, Arroyo remains in the minor leagues.
Not a great defender, rookie Jake Bauers will have to hit himself into the roster full time. Bauers has some power and probably should be playing full-time for the Rays sooner than later.
My ranking of the Rays Farm System: 10 of 30
Top Rays prospects not currently on the 25-man roster and expected MLB arrival date:
Brent Honeywell-LHP-2019 (recovering from Tommy John surgery)
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
This is another franchise that really hasn’t kept up with the Yankees and Red Sox regarding the retention of their own players or attracting free agents to their club. They did, however, trade for Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson in deals that cost them pitching prospects. That cost them some money and some prospects. But those trades are now in the rear-view mirror and Jays fans would be accurate in asking, “What have you done for me lately?”
The current 25-man roster is aging, but with some help on the way in the form of two of the finest prospects in baseball. Clearly, prospect third baseman Vlad Guerrero Jr. (now injured) is an impact bat in development. To me he is a generational talent that will help turn the Blue Jays into an annual competitive club that may be able to compete for a divisional title.
Bo Bichette isn’t anywhere close to the talent of Guerrero Jr., but he has some excellent skills to bring to the shortstop position of the Blue Jays. So, basically, I am more excited about the Blue Jays future than their present.
Donaldson anchors the current team, but his injuries and the fact he is a pending free-agent have to be concerns. If healthy, Donaldson could fetch much needed help at the trade deadline. However, if healthy, I doubt Donaldson will elect to stay with Totonto or Toronto will elect to pay him with a star quality contract.
Teoscar Hernandez is an intersting power source as an outfielder. He didn’t make the club out of spring training, but he is playing now as a right-handed hitter. It appears to me Hernandez is a keeper for Toronto, and a player that can help in their outfield.
The Blue Jays currently play 37-year-old Curtis Granderson in left field. He really is well past his prime, but he’s great to have on the roster. He can still play defense, he can still hit, and he’s terrific in the clubhouse.
Randal Grichuk is a disappointment, as he was in St. Louis and for the Angels before that. Now at age 26, Grichuk should be in his prime. He just hasn’t produced as expected wherever he has played. The power is there, but unleashing it is an issue. When they obtained Grichuck the Blue Jays had been counting on him as a power source. So far, his electricity isn’t working.
Designated hitter Kendrys Morales is 35. Catcher Russell Martin is 35. Steve Pearce is 35. Donaldson is 32. Troy Tulowitzki is 33. Justin Smoak is 31. You get the picture. This roster needs an injection of youth. Now.
Pitching is interesting. J.A. Happ is usually inconsistent, but when he’s good, he’s good. Now 35, the lefty can stick around for a while to help anchor the staff. Aaron Sanchez has his good outings, but he’s inconsistent as well. And with Marco Stroman hurt and Marco Estrada mediocre at best, the starting staff has been a disappointment once again. The Blue Jays must address their pitching if they wish to contend in the future.
Closer Roberto Osuna is currently on “Administrative Leave” with no return date announced. Ryan Tapera and Tyler Clippard are handling the back-end of the bullpen.
Blue Jays farm system rank: 7 out of 30
Top Blue Jays prospects not on the 25-man roster and their anticipated MLB arrival dates
Vladamir Guerrero Jr.-3B-2019 (My No.1 overal prospect in baseball)
I read somewhere that the Commissioner is talking about expansion for MLB. Expansion? I find it difficult to believe there will be enough pitchers for expansion. There aren’t enough pitchers to fill out rotations now, let alone if MLB expands by two teams.
The Detroit Tigers are playing with tremendous enthusiasm. Part of that is due to the manner in which manager Ron Gardenhire handles his club. He is the right guy for a franchise in transition and a franchise devoted to using young players and letting them gain experience.
Give a guy a chance and who knows how good he can be? Case in point? Niko Goodrum. He never really had a chance with Minnesota, the team that drafted him in the 2nd round in the 2010 draft. The Tigers picked him up on waivers in November 2017 and he’s playing great. Goodrum reminds me of Marwin Gonzalez of the Astros. He can play anywhere on the diamond and he can run.
I’m really surprised that Phillies first baseman Carlos Santana is still scuffling as May has turned to June. He’s usually found his stroke by this time. Perhaps changing from the American to the National League has had an impact. But I still think he’ll heat up.
I love the way Craig Counsel manages the Brewers. I love the way he uses his pitching staff in situations rather than in particular roles. He fits a pitcher to a need and even though he goes to the pen frequently, none of his relievers are taxed with too many innings. I also like the way every player on his 25-man roster gets key playing time.
The Texas Rangers are a mess. Why haven’t they fixed their very mediocre starting pitching? What are they waiting for?
Freddie Freeman just doesn’t get enough buzz. He’s hitting almost .350 with 11 home runs as he provides stability and leadership to the Atlanta Braves.
Jose Ramirez wants to participate in the Home Run Derby during All-Star Week. I wish he wouldn’t. I’ve seen damage done to the swing of Home Run Derby participants for the second half of the season. However, few people can find their swing as quickly as Ramirez should the Derby mess him up.
I would have never projected Mitch Moreland to have the type of year he is showing so far. During spring training and at the beginning of the year, Moreland was an after-thought. The first base position belonged to Hanley Ramirez. J. D. Martinez was the designated hitter. Moreland was destined to sit on the bench and watch everyone’s beards grow. Fast forward to now. Ramirez has been designated for assignment and relased. Moreland is playing and hitting really, really well. That’s baseball.
Continuing with what a difference a few months makes, consider that Neil Ramirez wasn’t even with the Indians at the start of the season. Now he’s a major component of a very weak bullpen that needs help. He’s the new set-up man while Andrew Miller recuperates from his knee injury. And who ever thought Oliver Perez would still be a relevant reliever? Not me. But there he is in an Indians uniform and getting high leverege innings.
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