Athlon Sports predicts the 2014 baseball season
1. Tampa Bay
3. New York
It has been traditionally baseball’s toughest division, but the AL East appears to have weakened heading into 2014. Still, it may be the deepest of the six divisions, with at least four of the teams capable of winning the crown. The defending World Series champs from Boston may take a step back with the loss of center fielder and offensive catalyst Jacoby Ellsbury. And with all the dollars spent by the Yankees, their infield could be atrocious. With ace David Price still on the roster and Evan Longoria anchoring the lineup, the Rays can beat anyone. And we believe the Rays will win a tight, dramatic race. Baltimore landed outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz and starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez late in free agency to add to a talented core. But pitching will likely be the Orioles’ downfall. Toronto looks like the odd team out in this race.
2. Kansas City
The Tigers appeared to be sleepwalking through much of last season, winning the division by a game over Cleveland. The Tigers tinkered with their lineup, trading Prince Fielder to Texas and moving two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera back to first. Rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos will be under the gun to produce. Detroit’s starting rotation and bullpen, featuring new closer Joe Nathan, should be enough to win another AL Central title. While Cleveland remains a threat, the stiffest competition for the Tigers will come from Kansas City. The Royals will finally see the fruits of a long, tedious rebuilding process. Ace James Shields and closer Greg Holland lead a young and talented staff. The Indians closed 2013 with a 10-game winning streak to earn the first wild card spot. It may take another similar streak to repeat. Chicago and Minnesota are still in the also-ran category.
4. Los Angeles
Much like the East this season, there are four teams capable of winning the West. The Rangers have deep pitching and added Prince Fielder to the middle of an already talented lineup anchored by third baseman Adrian Beltre. Newcomer Shin-Soo Choo gives Texas one of the best leadoff men in the game. But a troublesome back ailment of ace Yu Darvish could derail the season. A quick study of Oakland’s everyday lineup doesn’t exactly scare anyone. But somehow the group manages to score, and more importantly, win with back-to-back division titles. This season, the A’s will lean on rookie Sonny Gray to lead the rotation. Seattle invested heavily in prized free agent Robinson Cano. The Mariners have the pitching to compete with any team. The Angels still have a star-studded lineup, but pitching could prevent a serious run.
*Wild card teams
Detroit over Tampa Bay
St. Louis over Detroit
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles
We know it’s bound to happen soon. There’s been a strong contingent of Trout supporters who believe he should have already won an MVP. The scary thought for AL West rivals is that the fleet outfielder continues to improve. The MVP runner-up the past two seasons will likely see better pitches to hit with the expectation that teammate Albert Pujols should have a bounce-back season.
2. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
3. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay
4. Prince Fielder, Texas
5. Dustin Pedroia, Boston
AL Cy Young
1. Justin Verlander, Detroit
The Tigers’ ace is not exactly an automatic choice for AL Cy Young, although it seems that way. David Price of the Rays, pitching in a contract year, and Yu Darvish of Texas, if back problems don’t delay his season too long, are equally viable candidates. But Verlander may be as healthy and strong as we’ve seen him.
2. Yu Darvish, Texas
3. James Shields, Kansas City
4. David Price, Tampa Bay
5. Felix Hernandez, Seattle
Rookies to Watch
Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox
The Cuban import had dominated in his homeland and turned heads at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. At age 27, he should be in his prime.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston
The shortstop became the youngest postseason starter in Red Sox history last fall when he played his way onto the postseason roster.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit
The Tigers’ willingness to part with first baseman Prince Fielder to open a spot for Castellanos speaks volumes as to his potential.
George Springer, OF, Houston
At age 23 he posted 37 homers, 45 steals, 106 runs and 108 RBIs in 135 games across Single-A and Double-A. The Astros believe he’s ready.
Taijuan Walker, SP, Seattle
The athletic Walker is still learning to pitch. He held big league hitters to a .204 average in three starts last season.