In case you missed previous installments in this series, we looked at AL West hitters and pitchers seeking bounce-back seasons in 2020. We’ll now turn our attention to the AL East and eight notable position players looking for better things this year…
Andrew Benintendi, OF, Red Sox:
Benintendi, then a premier prospect, made his debut in 2016. He has been fairly valuable since then, especially in 2018 (.290/.366/.465, 4.4 fWAR), but his production took a tumble last season. Despite a 10 percent jump in hard-hit rate (via FanGraphs), Benintendi managed a so-so .266/.343/.431 line with 13 homers and 10 steals in 615 plate appearances. A 6 percent spike in strikeout rate and a 4 percent jump in swinging-strike rate certainly didn’t help matters. Of course, Benintendi logged similar bottom-line production in 2017, so maybe this is just who he is. But the Red Sox are surely hoping for production along the lines of 2018 (or better than that), especially considering their offense has lost former centerpiece Mookie Betts.
Mike Zunino, C, Rays:
After an up-and-down tenure with the Mariners, the former No. 3 overall pick joined the Rays in a headline-grabbing trade in November 2018. But Year 1 as a Ray couldn’t have gone much worse offensively for Zunino, who batted a miserable .165/.232/.312 with nine home runs and a typically high strikeout percentage (33.9) over 289 plate appearances. Zunino did put up more encouraging Statcast numbers (.271 expected weighted on-base average, compared to a .235 real wOBA), but he didn’t exactly stand out in that regard. If there’s a saving grace, it’s that Zunino performed well behind the plate, throwing out 39 percent of would-be base thieves and finishing near the top of the league in Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average metric. Considering his defensive abilities, Zunino doesn’t have to thrive at the plate to provide value to his team, but he does have to be a lot better than he was last season.
Joey Wendle, INF/OF, Rays:
Wendle’s terrific first season with the Rays in 2018 seemed to fly under the radar, but he wasn’t able to build on it last year. With a .231/.293/.340 line over 263 PA, his OPS plummeted more than 150 points, while his hard-hit percentage fell 5 percent, per FanGraphs. In fairness to Wendle, though, his season got off to a terrible start because of injuries. He suffered a strained left hamstring and a broken right wrist in April.
Jose Martinez, 1B/OF, Rays:
Following an offseason trade, Martinez is a Ray now after he spent the first four seasons of his MLB career in St. Louis. Martinez was typically an outstanding hitter with defensive defects as a Cardinal, but his effectiveness at the plate waned to a significant degree last season. In his final campaign with the Cards, the 31-year-old recorded a .269/.340/.410 line – good for a league-average wRC+ of 101 (down from 127 in ’18) – across 373 PA. Compared to the previous season, his average exit velocity, hard-hit rate and strikeout percentage each made noticeable changes for the worse. Nevertheless, the Rays are banking on Martinez’s strong track record winning out in 2020.
Giancarlo Stanton, OF/DH, Yankees:
Stanton’s on this list for injury – not performance – reasons. The former NL MVP continued to handle opposing pitchers last year (.288/.403/.492), but he took just 72 trips to the plate on account of various injuries. If healthy, there’s not much doubt Stanton will hit in 2020. Problem is that he’s dealing with yet another injury – a Grade 1 right calf strain – that could shelve him for the start of the season.
Miguel Andujar, 3B, Yankees:
Andujar joined Stanton as one of the many Yankees whom injuries cut down in 2019. Shoulder troubles held the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up to 12 games in his sophomore season, during which Gio Urshela usurped his starting job at third base. The 25-year-old Andujar now figures to see time at third, first, outfield and DH, but considering his limitations as a fielder, his value will be tied to his bat. If Andujar can return to being the type of offensive player he was two years ago, when he slashed .297/.328/.527 with 76 extra-base hits in 606 PA, it’ll be a boon for the Yankees.
Travis Shaw, 1B/3B, Blue Jays:
Shaw combined for 7.1 fWAR with the Brewers from 2017-18, but they non-tendered him after last season, leading him to take a one-year, $4MM offer from the Blue Jays. Despite his recent success, it was understandable that the Brewers bailed on Shaw, who endured an abysmal 2019. A 30-home run hitter in his two best campaigns, the 29-year-old totaled only seven in 270 PA last season and batted .157/.281/.270. He struck out 33 percent of the time along the way, representing nearly a 15 percent increase from the previous year, and saw his ISO drop more than 100 points. If you’re looking for at least a couple reasons for hope, Statcast indicates that the average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage Shaw recorded in 2019 weren’t much different than in previous years.
Randal Grichuk, OF, Blue Jays:
The Blue Jays showed their faith in Grichuk when they extended him on a four-year, $47MM guarantee last April, but they received little bang for their buck in 2019. Although he did mash 31 homers, Grichuk concluded with a below-average .232/.280/.457 line in 628 PA. At this point, it’s probably fair to expect inconsistency from the OBP-challenged Grichuk, who has thrice been a two- to three-WAR player but has also put up a couple disappointing seasons (including last year) since he debuted in 2014.