As part of our 2014 MLB Preview, we break down the best players in each division, by position. This edition will focus on the AL East, home of the defending champs. The Red Sox, Orioles and Rays each have four players on our list, the Yankees have three and the Blue Jays just one.
Catcher – Brian McCann, New York Yankees – The Yankees shelled out $85 million to sign McCann, a seven-time All-Star and a five-time Silver Slugger. He brings some serious thump to a home run hitter’s dream ballpark, Yankee Stadium. As a member of the Braves, McCann belted at least 20 homers in seven of the last eight seasons.
1B - Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles - Davis slugged 53 homers last year and posted a robust 1.004 OPS. He established himself as the premier home run hitter in baseball. Additionally, Davis set new career-highs last season with a 10.7% walk rate and a .286 batting average.
2B - Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox - A 2013 Fielding Bible Award winner, Pedroia is an outstanding defensive player. Last season, a nagging thumb injury negated his power (9 homers), but he still posted a .301 batting average with 84 RBI and 17 stolen bases. Look for him to return to his 20+ homer ways this season and continue to be one of the most dynamic players in baseball.
3B – Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays - The oft-injured Longoria was one of only nine players to crush 30 home runs last season and have a batting average of .260 or higher. He is the cornerstone, heart and soul, and face of the franchise in Tampa Bay. The only knock on him has been his propensity to land on the disabled list. When healthy, he is a legitimate MVP candidate and surefire bet to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs.
SS - JJ Hardy, Baltimore Orioles - Hardy has quietly established himself as one of the elite shortstops in baseball. He won his second straight Gold Glove last season and added a Silver Slugger Award for good measure. Last season he belted 25 home runs, drove in 76 runs and posted a .738 OPS.
Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles - The 28-year-old Jones is coming off a stellar year in 2013 in which he established new career-highs in home runs (33) and RBI (108). He added 14 steals and a .285 batting average. He’s an excellent defensive player with three Gold Gloves on his mantle. If there’s a knock on Jones, it’s his free swinging ways. He struck out a career-high 136 times last season and drew just 25 walks.
Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees - Ellsbury signed a massive seven year, $153 million contract to become a member of the New York Yankees. He had a incredible season last year with a slash line of .298/.355./.426 with 31 doubles, eight triples, nine home runs and 92 runs. He also stole 52 bases in 56 attempts. Bovada ranks Ellsbury third in their AL MVP odds (12/1).
Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays - Bautista’s 152 home runs since the beginning of 2010 trail only Miguel Cabrera’s 156. Those numbers would be more impressive if the 33-year-old slugger wasn’t so well acquainted with the disabled list. Bautista is coming off a second straight season cut short due to injury. If he can stay healthy, he is one of the most feared power hitters in baseball.
David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox - David Ortiz is simply a great hitter. As a 37-year-old in 2013, he belted 30 home runs, drove in 103 and posted a .309 batting average. He is one of the most feared clutch hitters in baseball. As a designated hitter, Ortiz has won six Silver Slugger Awards. His .959 OPS last season was good for fourth best in the AL. There’s absolutely no reason to expect a major decrease in production this season from Big Papi.
David Price, Tampa Bay Rays - Price is the Tim Duncan of Major League Baseball. He is extremely gifted, yet also very methodical as he goes about craving up opposing line ups like a surgeon performing an intricate procedure. Price was a little bit out of whack last season, starting with a 1-4 record and 5.24 ERA, before landing on the disabled list. He finished the season strong and will be force in 2014. Price is a three-time All-Star and won the AL Cy Young Award in 2012.
Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays - Cobb started last season with a 6-2 record, 2.67 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. He survived a scary moment when he took a line drive off his head last year. He was able to comeback from that and finished the season with some impressive numbers, including a 55% ground ball rate, a 8.4 K/9 rate, an 11-3 record and a 2.76 ERA.
Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees - Kuroda is a workhorse who has pitched over 200 innings in each of the past three seasons. He has been a bit of a tough luck pitcher, finishing with a losing record in three of the last four seasons. However, his numbers are strong across the board. He has never had an ERA above 3.76, he’s had at least 150 strike outs in four straight seasons and he doesn’t walk a lot of batters as he consistently ranks among the top ten in that category.
Chris Tillman, Baltimore Orioles - Tillman, who will be Baltimore’s opening day starter in 2014, is coming off a breakthrough season in which he posted a 16-7 record with a 3.71 ERA. He also became the first Orioles starter to be named to the All Star game since 1999 (Mike Mussina). Tillman made 33 starts in 2013 and fanned 179 batters in 206.1 innings pitched. His hits per nine innings ratio of 8.03 was eighth best in the AL.
Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox - Buchholz has battled injuries throughout his seven year big league career. He’s never reached the 200 innings pitched plateau and he’s never started 30 games in a season. He made 16 starts last season and posted a 12-1 record with 1.74 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. His career numbers,3.60 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, suggest that when healthy he is one of the top pitchers in the AL.
Setup - Joel Peralta, Tampa Bay Rays - Peralta has led the majors in hold in each of the past two seasons. He racked up an astonishing 41 holds and appeared in more games, 80, than any other pitcher in baseball last season.
Closer - Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox - The 38 year old Uehara had a season for the ages in 2013. He finished fifth in Cy Young balloting, he had a razor thin 1.09 ERA and 0.57 WHIP. He also punched out 101 batters in 74.1 innings. He published a book in the offseason and figures to be dominant once again in 2014.