What players can move the needle for their respective teams in the 2020 Major League Baseball season? Here are X factors for every team in the American League East.
New York Yankees: J.A. Happ
Luis Severino will miss 2020 due to a forearm injury, and James Paxton recently underwent back surgery. The Yankees need someone to step up on the pitching front, and Happ is candidate number one to do as such.
Last season was a shaky trail for the veteran left-hander. Albeit he settled down a bit in the final stages of the regular season, Happ struggled immensely for the bulk of 2019. He struggled to get his fastball over the plate and deceive hitters with his off-speed deliveries. He recorded a 4.91 ERA while surrendering a career-high 34 home runs.
Gerrit Cole is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and Masahiro Tanaka is a proven commodity, but the two aren’t enough to provide stability to the Yankees rotation. Happ is a proven ground-ball pitcher. He sports a career 3.99 ERA, can catch hitters off-balanced, and is capable of being a steady force in a team’s rotation. Happ’s ability to bounce back from a turbulent campaign is pivotal.
Tampa Bay Rays: Willy Adames
The Rays added power this offseason, acquiring Hunter Renfroe, Jose Martinez, and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, to an offense that includes budding stars Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe and a handful of proven bats. The forgotten man? Willy Adames.
Once a central part of Tampa Bay’s rebuilding efforts, the shortstop is viewed as a young stopgap to the team’s top prospect, Wander Franco. Adames could alter his team’s plans with its top prospect by having a breakout season. He totaled 20 home runs in his first full season at the big-league level in 2019, makes highlight reel plays in the field, and could be a swift everyday shortstop, if given the chance.
Adames limiting his strikeouts, becoming more sound in the field, and having a standout season would bolster his image. Bigger than that, it would further weaponize manager Kevin Cash‘s offense with a well-versed, right-handed bat.
Boston Red Sox: Nathan Eovaldi
Chris Sale is expected to miss the beginning of the regular season, and David Price and Rick Porcello are elsewhere, so, yeah, the Red Sox could use a rotation enhancer. That’s where Eovaldi comes into play.
The right-hander is entering the second year of a four-year, $68 million deal. Eovaldi was hindered by an elbow injury in 2019, which prevented him from building off a successful 2018 campaign split between the Red Sox and Rays. When healthy, he’s a power pitcher who goes deep into games and is capable of being a middle-to-top-of-the-rotation starter.
The Red Sox likely aren’t competing for the AL playoffs this season, but they have the talent to stay competitive in their division and the AL, as a whole. With that said, Boston’s rotation is a liability in any success they wish to find. Eovaldi putting together a complete season would give the Red Sox a much-needed, stable starter and maybe something to hang their hat on.
Toronto Blue Jays: Matt Shoemaker
The Blue Jays have the best young positional core in baseball and a group of veteran starting pitchers, most notably 2019 National League Cy Young Award finalist Hyun-Jin Ryu. However, right-hander Matt Shoemaker is the key to Toronto having a sturdy rotation this season.
Shoemaker has made just 12 starts since 2018 due to injuries. At the same time, in the starts he has made in that time frame, as well as the ones beforehand, he was a reliable force. He was efficient, worked out of trouble, and found success heavily relying on off-speed pitches.
Ryu is one of the premier southpaws in baseball, and Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson are proven commodities, but having a dependable and/or proven pitcher of a similar mold to round out Toronto’s rotation would make them a well-rounded team. A healthy and productive Shoemaker fits that description.
Baltimore Orioles: Kohl Stewart
The Orioles have a group of position players to build around, and John Means is a compelling, young starter. Outside of that, they have a ways to go, which is why it’s vital that a young starter shows promise in 2020. Maybe Kohl Stewart can provide that optimism?
Stewart comes to Baltimore after limited appearances in 2018 and 2019 with the Minnesota Twins. It’s difficult to base Stewart’s future on his Twins’ tenure, however, he’s projected to be in the Orioles starting rotation this season. Still 25, he has room for growth. Taking into account how Alex Cobb (32), Wade LeBlanc (35), and Asher Wojciechowski (31) are likely on the back nine of their careers — or at least Cobb and LeBlanc — one could argue that Stewart is Baltimore’s best chance at getting a breakout arm.
The Orioles aren’t a playoff contender; the goal is finding players to build around and those same players garnering consistency, which derives from a consistent workload. If Stewart makes 30 starts, he’ll make strides and maybe give Orioles brain trust something to think about.