We’ve already run through the NL West, the NL East, the NL Central, the AL West and the AL Central in our look at some of the up-and-coming talent that figures to step into the Major League spotlight whenever play resumes. Let’s take a run through our final division, the American League East….
Nate Pearson and his 100 mph heater are close to the big leagues, and the Jays hope their 2017 first-rounder will cement himself as a controllable top-of-the-rotation complement to Hyun-Jin Ryu. If multiple rotation needs arise, they can turn to southpaw Anthony Kay, whom they acquired in last year’s Marcus Stroman trade with the Mets. Right-hander T.J. Zeuch made his big league debut in ’19, and righty Tom Hatch, who came over from the Cubs in the David Phelps swap, dominated in six Double-A starts with his new org.
As for position players, there aren’t as many names to monitor. Former top prospect Anthony Alford is out of minor league options and is facing an uphill battle as he vies for playing time in a crowded mix. Reese McGuire should be the backup to Danny Jansen.
In the bullpen, Yennsy Diaz landed on the injured list prior to the shutdown due to a lat strain, but he’s already made his MLB debut and now has additional time to rehab. Julian Merryweather, the righty received when Toronto traded Josh Donaldson to Cleveland, is on the mend from Tommy John surgery and could make an impact in relief.
Ryan Mountcastle, the Orioles’ 2015 first-rounder, has made it clear throughout his minor league tenure that he’s a force at the plate, but he’s also something of a man without a defensive home. Questions about his glove at multiple positions abound, but he slashed .312/.344/.527 in 127 Triple-A games as a 22-year-old.
Baltimore will get a second look at Austin Hays, who soared through the minors to make his MLB debut barely a year after being drafted in 2016. Injuries tanked Hays’ 2018 season, but he had a huge September with the O’s in 2019 and should get a look as the everyday center fielder. Outfielder Ryan McKenna and infielder Rylan Bannon could make their debuts in 2020, too. Bannon enjoyed a quality 120 wRC+ at both Double-A and a small sample in Triple-A last year.
The Orioles’ rotation looks astonishingly thin, and at a certain point the O’s would likely prefer to get a look at younger options as opposed to journeymen like Asher Wojciechowski, Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone. That could mean any of Dean Kremer , Keegan Akin, Michael Baumann or Zac Lowther will be tabbed for a big league debut.
Former top prospect Hunter Harvey could eventually enter the closer mix if the team trades Mychal Givens and if his litany of injuries are in the past. Dillon Tate, the twice-traded No. 4 overall pick from 2015, debuted last year and will get a chance to establish himself. Any of Kremer, Akin, Baumann or Lowther could land here as well.
Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo will be among the more interesting rookies to watch throughout MLB. Over his final four seasons in NPB, Tsutsugo hit .293/.402/.574 with 139 home runs, 116 doubles, five triples, a 15.1 percent walk rate and a 20.4 percent strikeout rate. He’ll see time at the infield corners, in left field and at DH. Also in the outfield will be Randy Arozarena, whom the Cardinals sent to Tampa Bay in the surprising swap that shipped top prospect Matthew Liberatore to St. Louis. He’s not regarded as an elite prospect, but it’s hard to ignore a .344/.431/.571 slash between Double-A and Triple-A.
Two-way player Brendan McKay should make an impact at the plate and on the mound. The former No. 3 pick could eventually be joined in the rotation by fellow premier prospect Brent Honeywell, who’s on his way back from last March’s Tommy John procedure. Both are top 100 arms. Look for hard-throwing right-hander Peter Fairbanks to log some innings in the ’pen.
Tampa Bay’s comically deep collection of infielders will make it tough to break onto the roster, but any of Vidal Brujan, Kevin Padlo, Lucius Fox, Taylor Walls or newly acquired Esteban Quiroz could push for a spot. Of the bunch, Brujan is the most highly regarded, ranking comfortably inside most top 100 lists.
Boston’s infield is mostly set outside of second base, which could make it tough for their top options to break into the Majors. Corner infielder Bobby Dalbec is the best of the bunch but could probably use a bit more time in Triple-A, where he slashed .257/.301/.478 in 123 Triple-A plate appearances last year. Rule 5 pick Jonathan Arauz (taken out of the Astros organization) and shortstop C.J. Chatham could compete for a bench spot. Young catcher Connor Wong, acquired in the Mookie Betts/David Price blockbuster, is blocked by Christian Vazquez but could end up in the big leagues if injuries arise.
Given the Red Sox’ paper-thin rotation, any of Tanner Houck, Matt Hall, Bryan Mata or Kyle Hart could find himself with an opportunity. Hart and Houck enjoyed nice seasons in the upper minors, while Hall, acquired in a minor swap with the Tigers, has elite spin and movement on his curveball (albeit with an otherwise pedestrian arsenal). Mike Shawaryn has been primarily a starter in the minors but moved to the ’pen last season. He made his MLB debut in that role but didn’t find success (22 runs in 20 1/3 innings). Righty Durbin Feltman dominated after being taken in the third round in 2018 but needs a mulligan after a terrible 2019 in Double-A.
Don’t look for many position players of note, but the Yankees have a number of appealing arms percolating in the upper minors. Right-hander Clarke Schmidt has surpassed righty Deivi Garcia as the top pitching prospect in the organization by some accounts, but he only tossed 90 2/3 innings last year (topping out with 19 in Double-A) as he worked back from 2017 Tommy John surgery. Garcia’s diminutive size (5’9″, 163 pounds) has led to some skepticism, but he averaged better than 13 K/9 through 111 1/3 frames across three minor league levels last year.
Those aren’t the only two options from which the Yankees can choose in the absence of Luis Severino, Domingo German and (depending on his recovery timeline) perhaps James Paxton. Righty Mike King made a brief debut (two innings) last season and has an excellent track record in the minors, though he was hobbled by a stress reaction in his elbow last season. Alliterative hurlers Albert Abreu and Nick Nelson both battled control issues in Double-A but are regarded as solid prospects who aren’t far from MLB readiness. If you’re looking for a reliever to watch, Brooks Kriske flirted with a sub-2.00 ERA and averaged nearly a dozen punchouts per nine innings between Class-A Advanced and Double-A.