With spring training just around the corner, there are many players out there who will be drafted later than normal because of being in the AL East. However, there are some batters who will advance their skills or rebound from average seasons to become a mainstay in their everyday lineup.
For the next few weeks I will analyze each of the three AL divisions and choose a player on each team that will be a decent late-round pick and will help you wither off the bench or in the everyday lineup.
Baltimore Orioles: Matt Wieters, C
Matt Wieters is a good offensive and defensive catcher, but struggled at times during the 2012 season hitting the ball. He finished with a career-high in home runs (23) and RBIs (83). He did, however, also record a career-high with 112 strikeouts. The strikeout rate was what really brought his average down to .249 from .265 in 2011.
Wieters is still young and is about to hit his prime as one of the best catchers in the game. His ability to call a game and throw out runners on the base paths really made a difference in the successful season for the Orioles.
With three seasons under his belt, the switch-hitting catcher should put a real thorn in the side of opposing pitchers. He could be a 30-100 guy in 2013 if he keeps making contact with the ball while keeping his strikeout rate down.
Boston Red Sox: Shane Victorino, RF
The Red Sox made some additions to the dreadful 2012 team that just really filled some holes on the payroll and in vacant spots in the lineup. They added the likes of Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and the speedster, Shane Victorino.
The one player of these three that is really a question mark is Victorino. The 32-year-old has really not performed well in recent years and was even traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last season because the Philadelphia Phillies did not want him anymore. He hit only .255 with 11 home runs and 55 RBIs, but did manage to steal 39 bases and walk 53 times. His OBP dropped to .321 which is its lowest total since the 2005 season with the Phillies when it was .263 in only 21 games played.
The “flyin’ Hawaiian” did have some success against AL East opponents in the past. In 12 at-bats against the Baltimore Orioles he has a .333 average with one home run and five RBIs. Against the Toronto Blue Jays, his average is .250 in 12 at-bats with a couple of stolen bases. His lowest average is against the Tampa Bay Rays at .143 in seven at-bats. He has never face the New York Yankees in the regular season.
New York Yankees: Curtis Granderson, CF
Another batter who has discipline problems at the plate, Curtis Granderson, really needs to show a more consistent approach at the plate. He totaled 43 home runs and 106 RBIs in 2012, but struck out 195 times. His average dropped from .262 in 2011 to .232 in 2012. He finished with 138 hits and 65 of those went for extra bases, which tells me that he is trying to just hit the ball out of the park every time up.
The good thing about his approach is that he can also take a close pitch for a much-needed walk. He finished with 75 walks in 2012 in the patient lineup of the New York Yankees.
Imagine if somehow the 31-year-old was able to hit .270, then his OBP would be about .360 or so. That is what the “Grandyman” needs to strive for in 2013 for the Yankees to really be the best team in the toughest division. He is one of the younger players on the team and he needs to provide that thump and speed at the top of the order to put fear in his opponents the entire season.
Tampa Bay Rays: Yunel Escobar, SS
Yunel Escobar was sent to the Miami Marlins in the blockbuster deal that sent Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Co. to the Toronto Blue Jays. He was then shipped back to the AL East, but this time it was the Tampa Bay Rays who acquired his services.
The 30-year-old shortstop is one of those rare talents who can play the field very well and also can hit the ball enough to make a really good living. He finished 2012 with a .253 average and nine home runs and 51 RBIs. He has put together several good seasons since joining the Atlanta Braves in 2007. His best year came in 2009 when hit 14 homers and drove in 76 runs.
However, in recent memory, Escobar has made some bad choices. He most recently put some condescending words in his eye black which caused a stir and he got suspended.
His abilities at the plate will help solidify the Rays team that really had trouble offensively without Evan Longoria for most of the year.
Toronto Blue Jays: Emilio Bonifacio, UTIL
Bonifacio really had trouble staying on the field in 2012, but has a chance to make a name for himself in a new environment with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013.
His best season came in 2011 with a career-high 152 games played and a .296 average. He stole 40 bases and hit five home runs. In 64 games in 2012, he was able to steal 30 bases, which means he was on pace to steal at least 70 bases.
The 27-year-old has the potential to play every day with the Blue Jays because he can play multiple positions on the field. He can play third, first, short and plays all three outfield positions. Sure, he will have to prove that he is healthy enough to be that guy for the Blue Jays, but being on the field for this Blue Jays team will make this guy a threat to steal bases any day of the week.