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Prospects to impact AL East in ’17

In the last handful of years, the American League East has witnessed an infusion of prospects that have had a direct impact on the divisional race. The list includes prospects like Boston’s Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley, and Toronto’s Roberto Osuna and Marcus Stroman. There has also been Baltimore’s Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy, and Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer and Steven Souza Jr. And, of course, the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez and Dellin Betances.

With pitchers and catchers set to report to Spring Training in approximately 11 weeks, here’s a look at the AL prospects that could have a direct affect on the 2017 AL East division standings.

Red Sox

The Sox got an incredible boost in their lineup with Betts, a leading contender for the AL MVP Award. He wasn’t alone – Bradley had a breakout season playing alongside Betts in the outfield and Xander Bogaerts continued his maturation at shortstop.

The best of all of them, however, may be Yoan Moncada. Red Sox Nation has been chomping at the bit since the Cuban-born Moncada signed with Boston in 2015. Moncada was  a second baseman in Cuba as well as for most of his two seasons in the minors. But late last season, the Red Sox had him move to third base, and he played there for the Major League club when the rosters expanded in September.

Moncada is that rare five-tool player, and one that might actually utilize all of those tools in the Majors.  In 187 minor league games, Moncada stole 94 bases and was caught just 15 times. Last year, split between Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland, he slugged 15 home runs and drove in 62 runs. While he struck out 124 times, he also walked in 72 trips to the plate and produced a .918 OPS.

Moncada will start the 2017 season at Triple-A but could supplant Travis Shaw and/or Pablo Sandoval at the hot corner during the regular season. When the time comes for Dustin Pedroia to retire, Moncada could move back across the diamond to his old position. That decision will be based on need, defensive ability, and possibly whether or not Moncada’s physique is built for a middle or corner infielder. For now, he’ll be a top-5 prospect entering next year, (he was a top-10 prospect in 2016), no matter what position he plays.

Orioles

Chance Sisco’s name sounds like a ballplayer or a character in an old Western. He’s definitely the former, though, and the top-rated player in the Orioles system. Sisco didn’t become a catcher in his senior year in high school. Despite that, he has moved up the ranks nicely since Baltimore took him 61st overall in the 2013 draft.

The Sisco Kid can hit, and scouts have liked how his defense has improved, especially this past season. At Double-A Bowie, he put up splits of .320/.406/.422, with four home runs and 28 doubles. It remains to be seen if Sisco’s power will increase as he matures. Defensively, Sisco’s arm has been graded as average and the overall impression is that he needs to improve his footwork behind the plate. But, the pitchers at Bowie noticed the difference/improvement in his game management behind the plate.

The Orioles decided not to extend a $17.2MM qualifying offer to incumbent catcher Matt Wieters. The free agent worked his way back from Tommy John surgery. Should Wieters leave, the Orioles would want an established catcher behind the plate and Caleb Joseph probably isn’t that guy.

Wieters future will have a direct impact on Sisco, though his best chance to make the club will be near the All-Star Break. Sisco spent four games at Triple-A Norfolk to end the 2016 season. While there, he hit two home runs, one of them a Grand Slam. He’ll start out the 2017 season in Norfolk as the Orioles look for him to continue to upgrade his defense.

Another prospect who has a decent chance of going north with the club in April is first baseman Trey Mancini. After he hit 13 home runs in the minors this year, Mancini hit three more in 14 at-bats for the Orioles in late September. He added a double, a single, and drove in five runs in five games.

Mancini was an eighth-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2013.  Two years later, he slugged 21 home runs and drove in 89 runs. This past season he hit 20 homers and drove in 68 runs in 17 fewer games.

Blue Jays

Baseball America recently named the Blue Jays’ number one prospect, a name you’re very familiar with. A name with a Jr. on the end of it. As in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The 17-year old “Vlad the Impaler” won’t be wreaking havoc on Major League pitching like his Dad anytime soon, but Rowdy Tellez might be.

While Tellez’ face has a bit of a Matt Stairs look to it, at 6’4″, 220 lbs, he would tower over the 5’9″, 220 lb Stairs. However, the two left-handed hitters know how to hit the longball. Tellez smacked 23 home runs for Double-A New Hampshire this past season and drove in 81 runs.

Though he was a 30th-round selection in the 2013 draft, Tellez is hitting like a player taken higher in the draft. The 21-year old has a good eye at the plate. He struck out 92 times in over 500 plate appearances. Additionally, Tellez hit .297 and drew 63 walks for a .387 OBP.

Tellez will start the season in Triple-A but could join the team at some point during the Summer. His odds increase if free agent first baseman Edwin Encarnacion signs elsewhere during this offseason.

Yankees

The Yankees got a great glimpse of their future during the 2016 season. This will be more of an overview  since the Yankees’ prospects have been written about in great detail on this site. No one made more of an impression than Sanchez, the AL Rookie of the Year runner-up. The catcher set Major League rookie home run records despite playing in just 53 games.

Though he missed last season with shoulder surgery, first baseman Greg Bird will be set to do battle to replace the retired Mark Teixeira. He’ll have competition from converted outfielder Tyler Austin. Austin and outfielder Aaron Judge became the first teammates to hit back-to-back home runs in their first Major League at-bats.

Judge is being counted on to supply power in right field. Clint Frazier, acquired from Cleveland in the Andrew Miller trade, and Mason Williams could be in the outfield mix as well. Their odds increase if Brett Gardner is dealt during the current offseason.

The Yankees hope starter Luis Severino can bounce back from a miserable season to pitch the way he had in the minors. Justus Sheffield could join the team sometime in the second half. Sheffield, acquired along with Frazier, will start the season in Double-A but could be fast-tracked to Triple-A Scranton, and then join the rotation or pen as the season goes into the stretch drive.

Rays

Evan Longoria just completed his ninth year as a member of the Rays. During that time, the Rays, for the most part, have had a punchless lineup. They have relied on speed and hit-and-run plays to score runs. Other than Longoria, Carlos Pena (2007-2011) was the only consistent power threat in the lineup in Longoria’s tenure.

With Longoria guaranteed $99MM through 2023 (the final year has a $5MM buyout), there would be no better time for the Rays to deal him than now. Yes, he’s the face of the franchise, but he has no support around him in the lineup. The Rays have produced pitcher after pitcher, but no offense other than Longoria and Carl Crawford. Melvin Upton Jr., Desmond Jennings, and others have either not reached their potential or have been inconsistent.

The Rays top prospect is shortstop Willy Adames, who played a full year at Double-A Montgomery in 2016. Barring a big jump in his game, he could still use a full year at Triple-A before joining the Rays. First baseman Casey Gillaspie, on the other hand, has an excellent shot at starting the season in the Major Leagues. The switch-hitter was the 20th overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft.

Gillaspie split last season between Double-A (85 games) and Triple-A (47 games) and put up good numbers. He produced a combined slash line of .284/.388/.479, and continued to hit at Triple-A (.909 OPS). He’s another prospect with a decent strikeout ratio – 117 K’s in 560 plate appearances – and he drew 80 walks. With no true first baseman on the team, he could definitely be a regular in the lineup.

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