Last week, we looked at key questions for National League teams going into Spring Training. Now, with Spring Training under way and games less than a week away, we will look at the key questions facing American League teams as they work their way towards Opening Day.
Toronto Blue Jays – Can Jose Bautista stay healthy?
When Bautista is healthy, he is one of the most productive players in the game. In 2010 and 2011, he had a cumulative fWAR of 14.2. But wrist and hip injuries have held Bautista off the field as he has only appeared in 210 games in the last two seasons. Can Bautista get back to being a major run producer in the middle of the Blue Jays lineup?
Baltimore Orioles – Can Ubaldo Jimenez be the top of rotation arm the Orioles need?
Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, and Wei-Yin Chen are solid pitchers but none of them are aces. Starters who can give their team 200+ innings in a season are extremely valuable. Tillman is the only Orioles starter from last year who surpassed the 200-inning mark. The Orioles just signed Suk-min Yoon, who could possibly provide depth to the rotation. Dylan Bundy will not be ready to make an impact until July at the earliest. This is why it was so vital for the Orioles to invest in an arm like Jimenez, a guy who has the ability and stuff to be a front of the rotation arm. Jimenez does come with a decent amount of risk, as his mechanics have led to some inconsistency that caused him to bottom out until he found some success in the second half last year with the Indians. If Jimenez can carry over his second half into this year, the Orioles will have found their guy to lead their rotation and compete for the AL East.
New York Yankees – Can Robertson take over as the closer?
The Yankees were blessed with 17 years of Mariano Rivera closing out games. Robertson has been one of the best relievers in baseball setting up games for Rivera over the last 3 seasons. Everyone knows that pitching in the 9th inning can be a completely different story, but Robertson had a 10.45 strikeout rate and 2.44 walk rate last season. Both of those statistics bode well for Robertson as he takes over for the greatest closer to ever live. There will never be another Rivera but can Robertson take his success in the set-up role and apply it in the 9th?
Tampa Bay Rays – Will the Rays try and move David Price?
The 2012 American League CY winner is the ace of the Ray’s staff. But Price will be a free agent after the 2015 season and his best trade value would be now. It seems unlikely that the Rays will be willing to pay Price top market value but will the Rays risk the 2014 season for their future? It’s hard to imagine what the Rays rotation will look without Price but I do not believe the Rays can compete in the A.L. East without Price (though don’t count out Joe Maddon, who has done some amazing things over his years with the Rays).
Boston Red Sox – Can Jackie Bradley Jr. replace Jacoby Ellsbury?
Ellsbury was dynamic at the top of the Sox order as he was 13th in the majors in fWAR (5.8),14th in Runs Scored (92), and 1st in stolen bases (52). Ellsbury decided to join the rival Yankees for a massive contract and the Red Sox will turn to their farm system for production. It may have been a surprise to some that Jackie Bradley Jr. made the Opening day roster and started in left field on Opening day last year. Bradley Jr. struggled to consistently hit and get on base. The Red Sox are very high on this kid but they need him to step up and fill a void in Center Field.
Chicago White Sox – Can Jose Abreu provide power immediately?
The Cuban star was given a 6-year contract worth 68 million dollars. The White Sox had one of the worst team slugging percentages (.378) in the Majors. The 27 year-old appears to have the physical tools to be a solid big leaguer, but how long will it take Abreu to get acclimated to big league pitching? Can Abreu provide the power the White Sox desperately need to produce runs?
Cleveland Indians – Do the Indians have enough starting pitching?
The Indians decided to let Scott Kazmir go and sign with the Athletics, and did not resign Ubaldo Jimenez. They combined for 29 of the Indians 73 quality starts and pitched brilliantly down the stretch in September. The Indians saw Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister take steps forward as they both sported earned run averages under 3.85. Danny Salazar burst onto the scene late in the season and ended up starting the 1 game playoff against the Tampa Bay Rays. Can Salazar pitch a full season in the big leagues and provide the Indians with a much-needed front of the rotation starter?
Detroit Tigers – Is Nick Castellanos ready to be an everyday player?
The Tigers do not have many question marks. One question will be is Nick Castellanos ready to be an everyday player? He has shown the ability to hit and defend well in the minors but can that transition over? Miguel Cabrera was the worst defensive third baseman in baseball according to UZR (-16.8). The Tigers should be much improved defensively with Miguel Cabrera going back to first base if Castellanos can prove he is ready for the show.
Kansas City Royals – Can Mike Moustakas break through?
In 2013, the Kansas City Royals were asking the same question about Eric Hosmer. Hosmer went from hitting .232 in 2012 to hitting .303 in 2013. Moustakas is a career .244 hitter and has not provided consistent power. Moustakas is entering his fourth season in the big leagues and is running out of time to be given another season to figure things out. Eric Hosmer took a big step forward last season and the Royals need Moustakas to do the same if they want to end their streak of not making the postseason.
Minnesota Twins – Where will the Twins offense come from?
When you look at the Twins lineup, you will not see many household names. As team in 2013, they finished 25th in runs scored, 25th in batting average, and 23rd in slugging percentage. Joe Mauer is one of the best hitters in baseball and is changing positions. He will be moving to first base permanently and that may help him deal with fatigue problems in the dog days of August. However, who will be adding production around Mauer?
Houston Astros – Can the Astros young players make the jump and product in the big leagues?
The Houston Astros are a very young organization. The big question is can their young players make the jump and produce in the big leagues? Jarred Cosart is in the big leagues and looks to be a promising young arm. Cosart only started 10 games but had an impressive 1.95 earned run average. The Astros traded for Dexter Fowler in the offseason and could be a nice acquisition for a young team. Their top prospects, George Springer and Jonathan Singleton are in AAA and may not be far away. A good season for the Astros will not be in how many wins the able to achieve in 2014, but rather how their young prospects progress as they make the transition into the big leagues.
Los Angeles Angels – Can Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton get back to their old selves?
Pujols has not been the same player since he left St. Louis and last season he only played in 99 games as he dealt with plantar fasciitis. A major concern for Pujols is his slugging percentage has slowly declined over each of the past 4 years, including a career low .437 in 2013. Hamilton, on the other hand, struggled mightily in his first season in LA. He hit a career low .250 and his plate discipline was terrible as his strike out rate was almost 25 percent. If the Angels want to complete in the tough A.L. West, they need Pujols and Hamilton to get back to playing like they are capable of.
Oakland Athletics – Can Josh Reddick return to his 2012 form?
The A’s were very busy this offseason as the two-time defending American League West champs made a number of improvements. Josh Reddick was one of the big surprises in 2012 but was bothered by injuries last year as he only played in 114 games. The A’s were the 4th best run producing team in the majors, and surprisingly had the 3rd most home runs (186) in a big O.co Coliseum. If Reddick can get back to providing power to an A’s lineup that does not have many flaws, then watch out for the Oakland Athletics in the A.L. West.
Seattle Mariners – Can the Mariners protect Robinson Cano in the lineup?
Cano signed in Seattle for 240 million dollars but the Mariners don’t have another big bat. Justin Smoak was a top talent coming up through the minors but has struggled to put everything together as he hit .238 last season. Dustin Ackley hit .253 and it may be now or never for him to produce. Corey Hart and Logan Morrison are both coming off injury plagued seasons but could provide some stability to the Mariners lineup if healthy. The question not only in Spring Training but for the entire season will be can the Mariners protect Cano?
Texas Rangers – Can the Rangers pitching hold up?
Derek Holland had a freak accident and tore his meniscus and will miss a couple of months. Holland led the Rangers rotation in innings pitched last season with 213 and the Rangers will have to find someone to replace almost half of those innings. Martin Perez is a promising young pitcher but only threw 124 innings. Will Perez be able to pitch an entire season? Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison are coming back from injuries and could provide some depth to the Rangers rotation if healthy (and with today’s news on Harrison, that might not be likely). Yu Darvish is without question one of the best pitchers in baseball but may have to carry this staff until Holland and Harrison returns.