AL East Prospects – Getting Younger and Better

american league east prospectsArguably baseball’s toughest division, the American League East features five teams with varying payrolls but one common trait – each organization has a talented farm system.

A prime example of the abundance of promising young talent was showcased Friday night at Fenway Park, where the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays opened a three-game series.

For the visiting Blue Jays, 21-year-old Anthony Gose, who made his major league debut on Tuesday against the Yankees, was in the leadoff spot and playing right field.

Gose stole 70 bases last year at Double-A New Hampshire and was No. 37 on Baseball America’s Mid-Season Top 100 Prospects List.

Gose projects as a center fielder long term in the majors. Why was he in right field on Friday? Colby Rasmus, who was a highly regarded prospect in the Cardinals organization before he was traded to Toronto, patrols center field. The 25-year-old Rasmus, who was 2-for-5 with two RBI on Friday, has 17 home runs and 55 RBI this season. He is an exceptional defensive outfielder.

On Friday night. Boston’s starting lineup featured 23-year-old third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who was No. 51 on the aforementioned Baseball America mid-season list.

The emergence of Middlebrooks, who was Boston’s top overall prospect before he was called up in early May when Kevin Youkilis was sidelined, led the Red Sox to deal Youkilis a clear a spot for the third baseman of the present and future.

Middlebrooks was 2-for-4 on Friday and is hitting .291 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI in 203 at-bats this season.

If not for the presence of no-doubt American League Rookie of the Year Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, Middlebrooks would be a candidate for the award.

The Red Sox and Blue Jays have an array of promising young players on their active rosters.

Boston Red Sox Prospects

Ryan Lavarnway NewsAlong with the Middlebrooks, the Red Sox have been bolstered by 24-year-old left-hander Felix Doubront, who is 10-4 and leads team’s rotation in wins.

On opening day next season, chances are the Red Sox starting lineup will include Middlebrooks at third and 22-year-old Cuban phenom Jose Iglesias at shortstop.

Many scouts agree that Iglesias would be the best defensive shortstop in the majors right now, but he is still developing hit bat at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he is hitting .260.

Ryan Lavarnway, a 24-year-old catcher who was Boston’s Co-Minor League Offensive Player of the Year last season, will likely platoon with Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate in 2013.

He could even join the Red Sox this summer if they opt to trade backup catcher Kelly Shoppach.

Though Middlebrooks, Lavarnway and Iglesias are attracting a lot of attention, they are not among Boston’s three prospects who cracked the Baseball America list.

Matt Barnes, a right-handed starting pitcher who was drafted out of the University of Connecticut last year, was No. 13 and has already worked his way to advanced Single-A Salem (Va.) Teammate Xander Bogaerts, who is one of the youngest players in the Carolina League at 19, is at No. 31 and one spot behind him is Jackie Bradley at No. 32.

The 22-year-old Bradley already received a promotion from Salem to Double-A Portland, and he could make his major league debut as soon as next season.

Because of Bradley’s ascent through the farm system, the Red Sox could choose to trade Jacoby Ellsbury this off-season or in 2013, or let him walk when he becomes a free agent after the 2013 season.

Ellsbury is represented by Scott Boras, who will likely seek a lengthy deal exceeding $20 million a season and six or seven years.

Toronto Blue Jays Prospects

Anthony Gose NewsToronto features third baseman Brett Lawrie (who is on the DL) and left-handed starting pitchers Ricky Romero and Henderson Alvarez.

Young starters Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison are also on the DL but give Blue Jays manager John Farrell hope for an impressive rotation for the future.

Toronto has three players on Baseball America’s Mid-Season Top 100 Prospects List. Travis d’Arnaud (No. 19) is a catcher who is pushing current Blue Jays backstop J.P. Arencibia, who a few years ago was a promising prospect himself.

Gose is No. 37 and will likely patrol Toronto’s outfield next opening day.

Another athletic outfielder, who was recently promoted to Double-A New Hampshire, is Jake Marisnick, who is No. 38 on the list, one spot behind Gose. Rasmus, Gose and Marisnick are all natural center fielders who have the athleticism to play the corner outfield spot.

The Red Sox and Blue Jays are not alone with their plethora of exciting young players. The Orioles roster is dotted with catcher Matt Wieters and center fielder Adam Jones, who along with right fielder Nick Markakis give Baltimore a solid core of position players for the long term.

Baltimore Orioles Prospects

Dylan Bundy NewsThe Orioles have some intriguing young pitchers, like left-hander Zach Britton and right-hander Jake Arrieta.

No minor league starting pitcher in baseball has received more fanfare than 19-year-old right-hander Dylan Bundy, who is No. 1 on Baseball America’s mid-season list.

The charismatic Bradley, who faced Bundy when the top overall high school pick in the 2011 draft was promoted to advanced Single-A, joked that he heard Bundy was so good that he recorded three outs on two pitches.

Baltimore also Manny Machado, a 20-year-old shortstop who was No. 9 on the Baseball America list and is currently at Double-A Bowie.

Tampa Bay Rays Prospects

Rays Chris Archer NewsFor several years, Tampa Bay has stockpiled a deep farm system by consistently getting high draft picks and making wise choices with most of them.

Though the Rays are now an annual contender, their scouting department continues to do a formidable job picking later in rounds.

Two members of the Rays starting rotation were among Baseball America’s pre-season top 20 prospects in 2011.

Jeremy Hellickson, a 25-year-old right-hander who earned American League Rookie of the Year honors last season, was No. 6 in 2011 and 23-year-old left-hander Matt Moore was No. 13.

Tampa Bay’s starting left fielder, Desmond Jennings, was No. 22. Left-hander David Price, who has once the top overall prospect in the majors and is now an American League Cy Young Award contender, is still just 26.

At No. 47, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee is the lone Tampa Bay Rays prospect in the top 50 on Baseball America’s mid-season list, though 23-year-old right-hander Chris Archer and 24-year-old left-hander Alex Torres are well-respected minor leaguers.

New York Yankees Prospects

Mason Williams NewsThe Yankees still have the game’s highest payroll, but they have been helped by homegrown talent in recent years, especially with contributions from right-handed reliever David Robertson, right-handed starting pitcher Ivan Nova and speedy outfielder Brett Gardner.

New York has three position players on Baseball America’s mid-season top 50 list – outfielder Mason Williams (No. 28), catcher Gary Sanchez (No. 30) and outfielder Tyler Austin (No. 39).

With the arrival of the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014, every major league team will be placing a stronger emphasis on developing homegrown players to stay under or near that annual payroll number.

AL East Trending Younger and Better

Of course, some teams have learned their lessons after high-cost free agent signings have not turned out as expected. The Red Sox have hamstrung their payroll with underperforming and injury-prone veterans like Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Carl Crawford.

In the next two seasons, prospects like Lavarnway, Iglesias, Bradley, Bogaerts, Barnes and outfielder Bryce Brentz will join the likes of Middlebrooks, Pedroia, starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and outfielder Ryan Kalish on Boston’s roster as the team sheds the salaries of Beckett, Matsuzaka, Ellsbury (via trade of free agency) and Jon Lester (maybe through a trade).

To remain an annual contender, it helps to have a nice mix of seasoned veterans, young veterans and rookies. The AL East is trending towards the “younger is better” philosophy.

 


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