MLB Season Preview: American League

Sam Linnerooth

Breakout Team: I had trouble picking a truly exciting breakout team in the American League. Many of last season’s lesser teams did not do enough in the offseason to warrant much excitement or a realistic shot at the playoffs. Conversely, some of the teams who made the best offseason moves have been elite for quite some time and predicting a breakout season would be deceptive. Eventually, I decided on the Baltimore Orioles. Admittedly, they are already one of the better teams in baseball, but they failed to reach the playoffs in a strong American League East division last year. The club has improved significantly this offseason with the free agent acquisitions of Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez, along with the further development of young talent like Manny Machado and Kevin Gausman. I expect the Orioles to contend for the division title and ultimately secure a wild-card playoff spot this season.

Disappointing Team: The Seattle Mariners will likely be the most disappointing American League this season. In recent years, mediocre teams like the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays have attempted to rebuild by making big moves in free agency and acquiring high-priced stars like Jos?e Reyes and R.A. Dickey, who both went to Toronto last year. Over the past four months, the Mariners have essentially followed the same model with the acquisitions of Robinson Cano, Fernando Rodney and Corey Hart. This strategy has failed to pay off in the cases of the Marlins and Blue Jays and there really aren’t many reasons to believe things will be any different for the Mariners this year. Seattle will be forced to rely on a lot of young players to pan out and still have very little pitching depth behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. I think the team will improve, but I don’t even expect a top-three finish in the American League West.

Player to watch: Barring major injury, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and Chris Davis will almost certainly lead American League MVP voting by the end of the season. Despite this, I am most interested to watch first baseman Jos?e Abreu this season. Abreu defected from his home country of Cuba in August 2013 and was signed to play first base for the Chicago White Sox in October. After seeing the immediate impacts of other Cuban phenoms like Yasiel Puig and Yoenis C?espedes, there is a lot of reason to show optimism for Abreu. His signing went fairly unnoticed, but Abreu had a more successful baseball career in Cuba than both Puig and Cespedes and could provide a huge boost to a rebuilding White Sox team.

Biggest acquisition: I’m going to cheat on this one and talk about the Texas Rangers’ acquisitions of both Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder. The Rangers signed Choo in free agency and acquired Fielder through the trade of Ian Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers. Choo’s ability to get on base and Fielder’s power make an already lethal Texas lineup even more dangerous. Additionally, trading away Ian Kinsler will open second base up for the Rangers’ top prospect, Jurickson Profar. The team probably still needs to improve its pitching to realistically contend this year, but the additions of Choo and Fielder will give them one of the most dynamic offenses in the game.

Best prospect: George Springer is an exciting outfield prospect for the Houston Astros. Springer will start the year in the minors and will likely be called up to the majors this summer. While he probably won’t receive a lot of attention playing for the worst team in baseball, Springer is undoubtedly one of the most talented prospects in the game right now. Throughout his minor league career, he has shown the ability to hit for both power and average, steal bases and maintain a high walk rate. This past year, Springer became just the third minor league player to ever hit 30 home runs and steal 40 bases in one season.

Predictions: I admittedly don’t expect a ton of turnover among the top American League teams from last year.The A.L. East will again be very competitive with the entire division potentially finishing above .500, but I still expect the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox to ultimately come out on top. Similarly, the Detroit Tigers will likely be the team to beat in the A.L. Central. The West could be more interesting, and I think there is a good chance that Texas has improved enough to surpass the Oakland A’s for the division title. Looking forward to the end of the season, if Justin Verlander has a bounce-back year and Miguel Cabrera is able to stay healthy through October, the Tigers could be a smart pick to represent the American League in the 2014-2015 World Series.

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