AL East 2014: the rhythm of the Grapefruit


Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

On this lovely Monday morning with only two weeks to go until real games are being played on North American soil, we will look around the division at a couple storylines that are in the works at each Grapefruit League Camp.


Record: 7 – 10

On a team filled with mid-level superstars, it’s often not easy for a minor leaguer to make an impression as the winter turns to spring. The Boston Red Sox 2010 draftee Bryce Brentz, despite not being mentioned amongst their top 15 prospects this year at FanGraphs, has absolutely raked this year in the Grapefruit League. He leads the team in RBIs, runs and is tied for the lead in dingers with Mike Carp at 3. His .409/.480/.818 line is nothing to sneeze at (though obviously as with any Spring story small sample size disclaimers abound) Baseball-Reference tracks a stat for Spring Training competition that evaluates the competition level that any given player has faced, since there are so many players ranging from promising AA prospects to quad-A players getting work in during the Spring, and the stat rates Brentz’ average competition thus far to be just a hair above AAA quality. Needless to say, if the Sox had a batter in AAA who was putting up a slash like that, they would be clamoring to find room on their roster for him. Brentz has done about all he can to prove to the Boston brass that he deserves a look once Spring starts to turn to Summer, and the only thing that may prevent him from getting one is that his team already possesses a glut of rosterable corner-outfielder types in Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, and Mike Carp. Should Grady Sizemore fail to make the camp out of Spring, and should Brentz continue to hit the cover off the ball, it’s not inconceivable that he ends up on the roster to open the season.


Record: 7 – 10

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While Toronto’s fifth starter battle continues to produce headlines, Drew Hutchison appears to have forced his way into the fourth spot. After an excellent outing on Friday that saw him touching 95 mph after 4 innings of work, Hutchison has moved to a 2.79 ERA over his 3 starts this spring. He’s struck out 14 in his 9.2 innings while issuing just a single walk. When he went down in the Jays’ rotation detonation in 2012, Hutchison was just starting to settle in after a rocky start to the season. According to gossip amongst fans, the righty started to overthrow in order to gain some velocity and better his results, and subsequently went down for Tommy John surgery. This is obviously unverifiable, but it’s encouraging to see him hitting his higher velocities again as he works his way back from the surgery. John Gibbons named J.A. Happ as the favorite to win the fifth job yesterday, provided that the lefty’s back holds up, and righty Todd Redmond has quietly made some small case for why he should be considered for the role if Happ doesn’t sew it up. Redmond does a little of everything and appears to have added some significant strikeout ability in his last couple years in the minors. While his flyballing ways don’t play too well in the concrete mausoleum of the Rogers Center, if he can hold onto some of the strikeout gains he could be a pretty effective backend guy.


Record: 10 – 9

Arguably the biggest story of this offseason was the posting and eventual signing of Masahiro Tanaka. Those across the baseball universe have taken basically every stance on the issue and, really, it is both crazy that they signed him to a contract that pays him like an established ace without having thrown a pitch professionally in the US, and completely justifiable considering the market conditions and talent evaluations that led up to the deal. Regardless of your opinion on the signing, what really matters is how well Tanaka pitches, obviously, since we are talking about baseball players after all. If he pitches well, the Yankees will look smart; if he pitches poorly, the other thing. This is all pretty clear. So far, this Spring, Tanaka has pitched well. Like Italics well. After yesterday’s stellar outing, he has a 1.93 ERA in his 9.1 innings. He’s struck out ten batters against only two walks and put up a .96 WHIP while keeping the ball on the ground when it was hit. He looks increasingly worth at least some investment, though it’ll take a lot longer to determine whether the Yankees are truly receiving the full value of their significant investment in the Japanese hurler and his nigh-legendary splitter.


Record: 10 – 6

The Orioles likely opening day starter, Chris Tillman, has been quietly quite effective so far this Spring. He’s thrown 12.2 innings, striking out 14 and walking only two. He continued his strong performance yesterday and Chris Davis crushed a dinger to retake sole possession of the top spot on the team’s home run leaderboard with his third of the season. Davis has hit very well in his 8 games so far, with a .500/.560/1.000 batting line that would even look out of place in a video game. While Manny Machado looks increasingly unlikely to be with the team opening day, a lot of pundits chalked Davis’ monster 2013 up to good luck and having him show signs of maintaining the gains he made last year is a promising sign for a club that hopes to contend. The O’s offense is nothing to sneeze at, with Davis being backed up by solid performers in Adam Jones, JJ Hardy, Matt Wieters, Nelson Cruz and Machado, but their success or failure may hinge on Tillman and co. in the rotation being able to pull their half of the weight. The Orioles do, fortunately, have quite a stockpile of incredibly promising arms in the upper minors that should be ready to contribute at any time, and despite a rocky start to his MLB career last year, top prospect Kevin Gausman will be looking to make an impact at the highest level after so far putting up very strong numbers this Spring.

 the RAYS

Record: 11 – 4

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Matt Moore rebounded a bit after a rocky start to his Spring with 3.1 innings that maybe looked a little better than they were. He allowed no runs but walked three batters to go along with his three strikeouts, and in his 5.2 Grapefruit innings so far he’s walked 5 batters against 6 Ks. The promising lefty had trouble last year with decreased velocity and his usual command problems, and his performance thus far has done little to assuage the worries of the fans in Tampa. Rotation mate Chris Archer, on the other hand, has picked up right where he left off after a strong showing in 2013 that saw him finish third in the Rookie of the Year voting. He’s been basically unhittable all Spring, throwing 10 innings of 0.90 ERA ball and striking out 9 while allowing only one free pass. Baseball Reference competition rating says he’s been facing nearly the toughest competition that the Spring has to offer, so it hasn’t been smoke and mirrors. Rays fans and front office staff have got to be eying Archer and his progress and weighing it into their decision on when to trade David Price, who was especially excellent yesterday. It certainly makes it easier to swallow the loss of a true Ace when you have the likes of Archer and Alex Cobb waiting in the wings, even if Moore continues to struggle.