5 AL East players looking to turn it up

April 22nd, 2021

Repeat after me: It is early.

This is something that struggling hitters need to remind themselves over and over again when the season is three weeks old and the only statistics that are on those jumbotrons across MLB ballparks represent a sample size of well under 100 at-bats.

The American League East, like all divisions, has some quality hitters who are slumping. At this point, there’s no reason to think those players can’t get hot as quickly as they went cold.

Here is a look at one player from every AL East team who started cold, but should turn it around before long.

Blue Jays: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Gurriel simply hasn't looked like himself this April, both defensively and at the plate. That's surprising for the 27-year-old outfielder, who's coming off an .882 OPS and being named a finalist for the AL Gold Glove Award. Gurriel isn't often mentioned alongside the young core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Nate Pearson and others, but he should be.

Since Gurriel doesn't have a full season in the big leagues to point to, his profile doesn't quite match his talent, but combining his 2019 and '20 seasons helps to show what he's capable of. Those two years add up to 141 games for Gurriel, in which he hit .289 with 31 home runs and an .874 OPS. Getting back to his Gold Glove candidacy might be more difficult, but soon enough, Gurriel's bat should return to form. This Blue Jays lineup would welcome that turnaround, too, after Guerrero and Bichette have been asked to carry a heavy load offensively. -- Keegan Matheson

Orioles: Trey Mancini
Mancini became one of the best stories of the 2021 season the minute he stepped on the field, after spending '20 defeating Stage 3 colon cancer. But he’s been slow to return to his old form, hitting .194 with four homers, 12 RBIs and 20 strikeouts through 18 games. Exacerbating the slump are five double plays Mancini has hit into already, the most in the Majors. And his frustration has been plain to see, with Mancini speaking openly about the pressure he’s put on himself early as his return received national attention.

Why will Mancini turn it around? Three reasons. One: Because he was simply too good before not to. Mancini’s diagnosis came on the heels of a breakout 2019 season, when he hit .291 with 35 home runs, 97 RBIs and an .899 OPS. Two: The issue isn’t physical. Two of his '21 homers rated among the 10 hardest of his career, and both traveled at least 427 feet. Three: Some of his underlying metrics. While Mancini is hitting the ball on the ground far more often than he was in '19, his quality of contact is sound (better barrel rate, comparable hard-hit rate) and consistent (chase and whiff rates half what they were in '19). -- Joe Trezza

Rays: Brandon Lowe
In his first 18 games of the season, Lowe has hit just .182/.299/.364 with three homers, 10 RBIs, nine walks and 23 strikeouts in 77 plate appearances. That might invite questions when combined with Lowe’s postseason performance, as he hit .118 with a .459 OPS and 28 strikeouts in 82 plate appearances. There’s some cause for concern, as Lowe’s average exit velocity and barrel rate numbers have dipped while his chase rate and whiff rate have increased.

But it’s a small sample size in a long season, and Lowe is simply too talented -- with too much of a track record -- for this skid to last much longer. From 2018-20, Lowe hit a combined .262/.342/.513 with 37 homers and 113 RBIs in 181 games. He’s shown a tendency to be a streaky hitter in the past, especially at the start of the season, and every slow stretch is followed by a torrid run in which he’s capable of carrying the lineup. It won’t come as any sort of surprise if Lowe finds his timing and catches fire soon, especially after he went deep Tuesday on a chilly night in Kansas City. -- Adam Berry

Red Sox: Bobby Dalbec
After leading the Grapefruit League with seven homers in just 47 at-bats, Dalbec’s power stroke ran dry to start the regular season, as he didn’t go deep in his first 49 at-bats of the season entering action on Thursday. For a player who has the raw power to hit anywhere between 30 and 40 homers in his rookie season, this has been surprising. Especially when you consider that Dalbec banged eight long balls in his first 80 at-bats in his debut with the Red Sox at the end of last season. Dalbec has always been known as a big strikeout guy, so it’s not necessarily a surprise he K’d 18 times in his first 53 plate appearances this season.

The bottom line is that the Sox will accept the strikeouts if it is accompanied by power, and the club has every reason to think the big slugger will turn it around. Manager Alex Cora noted that Dalbec had a habit of struggling each time he advanced to a new level in the Minor Leagues and always managed to figure it out in short order. He has already shown signs he is ready to break out. On Monday, he had a 14-pitch walk, which clearly shows he is tracking the ball well. In Tuesday’s win, Dalbec went 2-for-3 with a triple. Hitting at the bottom of the order for a team that is off to a surprisingly strong start, there isn’t much pressure on Dalbec right now, and he is likely to heat up along with the weather. As an added bonus, Dalbec’s defense at first base has been terrific. He has saved many errors from his fellow infielders with his ability to scoop, which is impressive considering he is a natural third baseman. -- Ian Browne

Yankees: Aaron Hicks
There were some eyebrows raised this spring when Hicks was anointed as the Yankees’ No. 3 hitter -- though manager Aaron Boone explained that he liked the switch-hitting Hicks in that spot because he would break up a string of right-handed bats -- led the AL with a 19.4% walk rate last year and has a knack for avoiding hitting into double plays. It hasn’t worked out thus far -- Hicks was benched this week to work on mechanical adjustments, owning eight hits in 52 at-bats (.154). His hard-hit percentage is down to 27%, having registered 38.5% in 2020.

Why will Hicks turn it around? The underlying factors that prompted the Yankees to bat him third are still intact. Hicks arguably owns the best strike zone eye on the Yanks’ roster, though with only seven walks in 60 plate appearances, his plate discipline has been out of whack -- likely pressing to bust out of his slow start. Once that patient approach returns, his on-base percentage should rise, fulfilling Boone’s concept of having Hicks on base when big swingers like Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sánchez come to bat. -- Bryan Hoch