From Toronto to Tampa, the American League East is littered with power on the corners of the infield. Of the 14 players expected to get the most run at third or first base in the division in 2020, five totaled at least 20 homers in at least one of the
From Toronto to Tampa, the American League East is littered with power on the corners of the infield. Of the 14 players expected to get the most run at third or first base in the division in 2020, five totaled at least 20 homers in at least one of the past two seasons. Another came one long ball away last year. And another is a former league home run champ. Yet another is projected to soon reach the 20-homer mark on a regular basis.
All told, being dangerous with the bat is more or less a prerequisite to playing first or third in baseball’s most competitive division. Here’s a look at each club’s situation heading into the season:
Rafael Devers, Michael Chavis, Bobby Dalbec
First base is relatively wide open entering Spring Training for the Red Sox, but they claim the divisional crown here because of the way Devers has developed into a star. Devers emerged as a stud last season, proving to be one of the most dangerous all-around hitters in the game. He also improved his defense at third base in the second half of the season. At the age of 23, Devers could keep getting better.
Two young power hitters are the top contenders for the first-base job in Chavis and Dalbec. Chavis made his debut last season, belting 18 homers in 347 at-bats. He can also play second. Dalbec was just ranked No. 7 among third base prospects by MLB Pipeline. However, with the emergence of Devers, his value is at first for the Red Sox. The right-handed hitting masher, who has launched 59 homers over the past two seasons in the Minors, has been comfortable when given the chance to play first.
-- Ian Browne
The rest (in alphabetical order):
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Travis Shaw, Rowdy Tellez
Though much has been said about Guerrero Jr.’s defense at the hot corner, after an offseason of vigorous training and workouts, the Blue Jays head into Spring Training with the young slugger slated to man third base for the foreseeable future. The 20-year-old hit .272/.339/.772 with 15 home runs, 26 doubles, two triples and 69 RBIs in 123 games in 2019, offering glimpses of what the future might hold.
In December, the Blue Jays signed utility infielder Shaw with the intent to have the 29-year-old spend the majority of his time at first base. Shaw played the position coming up through the Minor Leagues, and he has appeared in 129 games in the Majors at first. The Ohio native can also shift to third to spell Guerrero, as Toronto aims to get Shaw’s left-handed bat into the lineup.
Tellez also has an opportunity to earn a spot in the Blue Jays’ lineup during Spring Training after spending last season in the Majors splitting time between first base and designated hitter. The 24-year-old is looking to bring an improved approach with him to Class A Advanced Dunedin, after hitting .227/.293/.449 with 21 home runs, 19 doubles and 54 RBIs in 111 games.
-- Alexis Brudnicki
Chris Davis, Rio Ruiz, plus Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle
The Orioles got surprise production last season out of Hanser Alberto, who worked his way into a platoon for third-base duties with Ruiz and made 66 appearances at the position. With Alberto more rooted at second this season, it’s up to Ruiz to assert himself as the everyday third baseman after an up-and-down 2019. The 25-year-old ended up hitting .232/.306/.376 with 12 home runs and 46 RBIs in 127 games during his first full season in the Majors, also rating well defensively by several metrics. The Orioles are expected to give hot corner opportunities this spring to former prospect Dilson Herrera as well.
On the other side of the infield, it looks like No. 4 prospect Mountcastle is nearly ready after winning International League Most Valuable Player accolades in 2019. The big question is what his arrival means for Davis, who is coming off his third consecutive down season and is owed north of $63 million through 2022. The O’s will probably have to keep moving Mountcastle around, whether it’s to the outfield, second base, third or designated hitter. Mancini was a star-level hitter in 2019, when he also started 51 games at first.
--- Joe Trezza
Yandy Díaz, Ji-Man Choi, plus Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, José Martínez, others
After having a lot of unknown heading into the 2019 season, the Rays believe their corner infield spots could be a strength as the team looks to clinch a second straight postseason berth in 2020. The Rays will have a lot of options at first and third base, which is exactly how they like it, but the bulk of the responsibility will fall on Díaz at third base and Choi at first. Multiple injuries limited Díaz to just 79 games in ’19, but the Cuban infielder was still able to set a career-high with 14 home runs. He had hit just one in his first 265 Major League at-bats. With Matt Duffy gone, Díaz will get a lot of playing time at third, especially against left-handed pitching. Díaz finished with a .976 OPS against southpaws last season. Against right-handed pitching, Díaz could slide over to first base or serve as the team’s designated hitter.
It’ll be Choi who gets the first crack at consistent playing time at first base. The 28-year-old entered last season looking to establish himself as a regular Major League player, and he answered with a career-high 19 homers. He also played decent defense at first base, which was a concern. Newly acquired Martínez will likely cut into Choi’s playing time, especially against left-handers, but Choi will still get plenty of opportunities to build on a solid ’19 season. Joey Wendle, Tsutsugo, Michael Brosseau and Daniel Robertson are also options at third base for Tampa Bay. Nate Lowe and Brian O’Grady add depth at first base behind Choi, Martínez and Díaz.
--- Juan Toribio
Luke Voit, Mike Ford, Gio Urshela, Miguel Andújar
The Yankees are counting on first baseman Voit to reclaim the production that he showcased toward the end of the 2018 season and in the first half of ’19, before he was slowed by bilateral core injuries that required offseason surgery. The big-swinging Voit batted .280 with 17 homers, 50 RBIs and a .901 OPS prior to sustaining the injury during the London Series in late June. He then hit .228 with four homers, 12 RBIs and a .715 OPS through the end of the regular season. Left-handed hitting Ford is also expected to compete for reps at the position.
Urshela will enter Spring Training as the odds-on favorite to serve as the Opening Day third baseman, as general manager Brian Cashman recently said the job is Urshela’s to lose. Urshela was among baseball’s biggest surprises in 2019, compiling a .314/.355/.534 slash line with 21 homers and 74 RBIs in 132 games. He’ll be challenged by Andújar, who finished second in the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year Award voting but missed most of 2019 due to a right shoulder injury sustained in late March.
-- Bryan Hoch
Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.