Welcome to Part Two of my AL East position comparison series, where I’m ranking the five division teams at every position.
Yesterday, I focused on the infields, and the Orioles came in last at four of the five positions.
Today, I’m moving on to the outfields, designated hitters and benches. Will the Orioles fare better in any of these rankings?
Spoiler alert: They will not.
- Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox
- Tommy Pham, Rays
- Brett Gardner, Yankees
- Billy McKinney/Teoscar Hernandez, Blue Jays
- Trey Mancini, Orioles
Benintendi is in a class by himself among AL East left fielders. Last year he flashed his on-base ability (.366 OBP), extra-base power (41 doubles, six triples and 16 homers) and speed (21 steals in 24 attempts), and he’s a strong fielder, too. The 24-year-old could lead these left field rankings for years. Slotting in behind him is a relative newcomer to the division, Pham, who scorched AL pitching after the Rays acquired him last July. Pham batted .343 with a 1.071 OPS in 39 games with Tampa Bay. I’ll go out on a limb and say he won’t keep up that pace in a full season, but he figures to be a key cog in the Rays’ lineup.
Gardner, after years of being the top left fielder in the division, slipped back with a so-so 2018. His batting average (.236), OBP (.322) and OPS (.690) were all his worst marks since his rookie year in 2008. Perhaps a rebound season is in the cards, but at 35, his best days could be behind him. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are going young, spreading starts between the 26-year-old Hernandez and the 24-year-old McKinney. Hernandez brings home run power but not much else, while McKinney, who has already been traded three times, has upside but is unproven.
For those who thought the Orioles’ regime change this offseason would finally mean the end of the Mancini left field experiment, it’s not that simple. Chris Davis is still penciled into the first base slot, and Mark Trumbo — although injured — remains under contract as the DH, meaning Mancini is blocked from his ideal roles. So, until the logjam clears, Mancini will linger in left field, where his -12 Defensive Runs Saved last year were the worst of any AL left fielder. He’ll also need to bounce back at the plate after posting a disappointing .242 average and .715 OPS last year.
- Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
- Aaron Hicks, Yankees
- Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox
- Kevin Pillar, Blue Jays
- Cedric Mullins, Orioles
Every year, I list Kiermaier at the top of the center field rankings, with the caveat that he just needs to stay healthy. And every year, he fails to do so. Kiermaier suffered yet another major injury last year, a foot fracture, which limited him to 88 games. He hasn’t played more than 105 games in a season since 2015. But the two-time Gold Glover’s defense is so much better than anyone else’s that I’m going to steadfastly continue to rank him first. He just needs to stay healthy, haven’t you heard?
The best hitter among the group is Hicks, who swatted a career-high 27 homers and 79 RBIs last season and was rewarded with a seven-year extension from the Yankees during the winter. Hicks will miss the opening series against the Orioles with a stiff back, but the injury isn’t expected to sideline him for long.
Boston’s Bradley and Toronto’s Pillar put up similar offensive numbers last year — a .717 OPS for Bradley, .708 for Pillar — and both have strong defensive reputations. But Bradley is 15 months younger than Pillar and has a better track record as a hitter. The Orioles’ Mullins, meanwhile, has little track record to speak of. After climbing steadily through the Baltimore system, Mullins struggled at the plate and in the field in a two-month tryout in the bigs last year. Still, the rebuilding Orioles will give Mullins plenty of opportunity to show what he can do.
- Mookie Betts, Red Sox
- Aaron Judge, Yankees
- Randal Grichuk, Blue Jays
- Austin Meadows, Rays
- A cast of thousands, Orioles
Last year at this time, I struggled over whether to give Betts or Judge the nod for the No. 1 ranking. There’s no struggle this year. Betts removed all doubt with his incredible, MVP-winning 2018 season, in which he led the majors with a .346 batting average, .640 slugging and 129 runs scored, along with 32 homers, 30 steals and a .438 OBP — and Gold Glove defense. Plus, he’s a great bowler. Apparently there’s nothing Betts can’t do.
In most other divisions, Judge would be the top right fielder, but he’ll have to settle for second place. The 2017 Rookie of the Year winner and MVP runner-up was limited to 112 games last season because of a fractured wrist, but still managed 27 home runs. In Toronto, Grichuk enjoyed a red-hot second half in 2018 after a brutal first couple of months.
Meadows, a former Pittsburgh Pirates first-round pick whom the Rays acquired in the Chris Archer trade last year, is expected to get most of the playing time in right. Meadows has lost some of his prospect sheen but has plenty of potential. The Orioles, meanwhile, are likely to use a revolving door in right field, at least initially. Joey Rickard is the projected Opening Day starter, perhaps with Dwight Smith Jr. also in the mix, until prospects Austin Hays and/or Yusniel Diaz are deemed ready for the majors.
- J.D. Martinez, Red Sox
- Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees
- Ji-Man Choi/Avisail Garcia, Rays
- Kendrys Morales, Blue Jays
- <shrug emoji>, Orioles
Although Stanton was the most high-profile slugger to join the AL East last season, Martinez was the most productive. His first year in Boston was unforgettable, a 43-homer eruption in which he led the majors in RBIs (130) and total bases (358). Oh, and he hit .330. Those numbers eclipsed Stanton, who was plenty good in his own right — 38 homers and 100 RBIs — but was a slight disappointment compared to his 2017 MVP season with Miami.
The Rays, in classic Rays fashion, have cobbled together a cheap and likely effective platoon. Choi has a career .815 OPS against right-handers and Garcia an .816 mark against lefties, allowing Tampa Bay to mix and match as needed. The Blue Jays are stuck with an aging designated hitter who doesn’t fit into the club’s rebuild. The 35-year-old Morales has seen his slugging percentage, hits and RBI totals decline each of the last three years, though he’s contributed 20 or more homers every season since 2015.
The DH spot is a question mark in Baltimore with the news that Mark Trumbo will miss at least the first month of the season recovering from last September’s knee surgery. While he’s out, the Orioles could give DH starts to Renato Nunez, who’s still slowed by biceps soreness. Trey Mancini, Chris Davis and others could also shuffle into the role.
- Red Sox
- Blue Jays
The Rays have put together one of the most versatile benches you’ll find anywhere. Super utility man Brandon Lowe can play second base and outfield, Daniel Robertson plays all over the infield and Avisail Garcia is a quality pinch-hitting option against southpaws when not DHing or playing right field. The Rays employ so many platoons and position time-shares that it’s hard to tell where the starting lineup ends and the bench begins.
The Red Sox, too, have a versatile crew, led by jack-of-all-trades Brock Holt and infielder Eduardo Nunez. Even backup catcher Blake Swihart played five other positions last year. Steve Pearce, though, will start the year on the injured list with leg discomfort. New York’s Romine was arguably the best backup catcher in the division last year, popping 10 home runs and playing solid defense, and the Yankees’ bench also features Gold Glove second baseman DJ LeMahieu and lefty pinch-hitting option Greg Bird.
The Blue Jays’ unremarkable bench is headlined by backup catcher Luke Maile and whichever of Billy McKinney and Teoscar Hernandez isn’t starting in left field. Meanwhile, the Orioles’ starting lineup is weak enough that their young bench players, including versatile but inexperienced Rule 5 pick Drew Jackson and discarded ex-Blue Jay Dwight Smith Jr., could get plenty of playing time. It remains to be seen whether they’ll take advantage of it.
With that, the Orioles have ranked in last place in five more categories. Can they move up the rankings tomorrow? Well, Part Three covers the pitching staffs, so you can probably guess how that’s going to go.