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AL East position-by-position: Middle infielders

@ladsonbill24
January 15, 2020

Over the coming weeks, MLB.com will be taking a position-by-position look at the teams in the American League East. This week, it's middle infielders. NEW YORK -- Right-hander Gerrit Cole isn’t the only reason the Yankees are considered the best team in the American League East. Check out their dynamic

Over the coming weeks, MLB.com will be taking a position-by-position look at the teams in the American League East. This week, it's middle infielders.

NEW YORK -- Right-hander Gerrit Cole isn’t the only reason the Yankees are considered the best team in the American League East. Check out their dynamic duo at shortstop and second base -- Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu -- that can do the job from both sides of the ball.

Last year, Torres split time between shortstop and second base, while LeMahieu was utilized all over the infield. Torres, the Yankees' latest star-in-the-making, now takes over at shortstop with the departure of free agent Didi Gregorius.

Torres, a two-time All-Star, batted .278 with 38 homers and 90 RBIs in 2019, joining Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio as the only Yankee to hit 30 homers in a season before age 23. Torres’ 90 RBIs were the second-most by a Yankee age 22 or younger since Mickey Mantle tallied 102 RBIs in 1954.

LeMahieu was a magician at second and third base, while working diligently on his defense at first base. With Luke Voit healthy once again, and the emergence of Mike Ford, LeMahieu will return to his familiar second base -- where he won three Gold Gloves during his time with the Rockies.

LeMahieu was lauded by manager Aaron Boone as the Yanks’ 2019 MVP after a terrific debut in pinstripes in which the 31-year-old set career highs in runs (109), hits (197), homers (26), extra-base hits (61) and a Major League-leading 61 multi-hit games. LeMahieu also led the Yankees with a 6.0 WAR.

In the AL East, there is no better combo up the middle.

The rest (in alphabetical order, not ranked):

Blue Jays

While the Blue Jays used a number of different players up the middle last year, the organization landed on its most intriguing combination by the end of the year with rookies Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette at second and shortstop, respectively. The pair showed potential in the infield and at the plate, although there is still room to grow. Biggio, 24, performed better by the end of the season, hitting .300 with a .424 on-base percentage during the month of September. Overall, Biggio had a slash line of .234/.364/.429 with 16 homers, 48 RBIs and a 2.8 WAR.

Bichette sustained a concussion at the end of the year, cutting his first year in the big leagues short, but he showed where his ceiling might be if he stays on the field. Bichette posted a 2.1 WAR in just 46 games with a slash line of .311/.358/.571 with 11 home runs and 21 RBIs in his first taste of the big leagues.

Orioles

The mid-December trade of Jonathan Villar to the Marlins left a serious hole in the Orioles’ middle-infield plans, given that Villar was arguably their best all-around player while appearing in all 162 games at either shortstop or second base last season. José Iglesias and Hanser Alberto are not expected to replicate the offense that left with Villar, but the Orioles should be better served defensively with the former All-Star Iglesias manning short every day.

Iglesias, 30, posted career-high marks in Defensive Runs Saved and dWAR for the Reds in 2019, ranking as MLB’s ninth-best infielder by Outs Above Average. Bringing him into the fold allows the Orioles to prioritize development with former Rule 5 pick Richie Martin, and pencil Alberto in every day at second base at least to start. Alberto was a plus defender at both second (4 OAA) and third (3 OAA) in 2019, when he broke out to hit .305 with 12 homers and a .751 OPS.

Rays

With continued improvement, Willy Adames could develop into one of the best shortstops in the American League. Despite a slow start in 2019, Adames, 24, finished with 20 home runs and had a 4.2 WAR during the regular season. He also posted a 1.106 OPS in six postseason games. Adames made significant improvements defensively, leading all Rays infielders with four Outs Above Average.

At second base, the Rays will count on Brandon Lowe to provide some offense. Lowe, 25, was running away with AL Rookie of the Year Award honors before a deep bone bruise on his right shin sidelined him for nearly three months. Despite the injury, Lowe was named an All-Star and finished his rookie campaign with 17 home runs in just 82 games, placing third in Rookie of the Year voting. Aside from Lowe and Adames, the Rays could also turn to Michael Brosseau, Joey Wendle and Daniel Robertson, all of whom are capable of playing both middle-infield positions for Tampa Bay.

Red Sox

The middle infield will once again be anchored by shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who has become the leader of the Red Sox on and off the field. Bogaerts had a breakout year in 2019 and was the shortstop on the inaugural All-MLB first team. Bogaerts will break in a new double-play partner in Spring Training in José Peraza, who the Sox signed for one year at $3 million after he was non-tendered by the Reds. The hope is that the right-handed hitter can return to the form he had for Cincinnati in 2018, when he had a career year at the plate. Peraza struggled to stay consistent last season after the Reds replaced him as the starting shortstop with José Iglesias.

Jonathan Arauz, the Rule 5 pick the Sox snagged from the Astros, will also get a chance to show his versatility all over the infield. At this point, it’s still hard to know when, or if, Dustin Pedroia will recover from the problematic left knee injuries he’s dealt with the past three seasons. The invaluable Brock Holt is still a free agent and at this point, it doesn’t appear he will be back.

Bill Ladson has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. He covered the Nationals/Expos from 2002-2016. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.