Last year we saw a handful of players surprise even the most optimistic fans and become stars in one of the most competitive leagues in all of sports. The list includes Jacoby Ellsbury, Ricky Romero, Ivan Nova, JJ Hardy, Brett Lawrie, and yea I have to admit I didn’t expect Josh Beckett to post an ERA in the 2’s. (Thank you 80% left on base rate) I expect each team in the AL East to have some sort of breakout player, and I’ve picked one from each non-Yankee team. Between the Rays, Red Sox, and Blue Jays a breakout or comeback year could shift the whole power rankings of the league, and I could see a couple of these players doing just that.
- Tampa Bay Rays- OF Desmond Jennings
It’s hard to imagine Jennings as a sleeper after spending so many years on top of prospect lists, but in 2011 Jennings was forgotten behind fellow teammate and rookie of the year Jeremy Hellickson. In half a season, Jennings smashed 10 homeruns, stole 20 bases, and posts an .805 OPS and .361 wOBA. Entering prime years, it appears the 25 year old could very well post 20+ homeruns and 40+ stolen bases, behind some very good defense in the outfield. Although Jennings is still highly regarded, in a full season, Jennings could very well be a 5.0 WAR player. The outfielder looks remarkably similar to a star player the Rays lost in Carl Crawford. It’s a long shot, but if the stars align, Jennings has the potential to be the most valuable Ray next year, a scary addition to an offense that already consists of Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria, and B.J. Upton.
- Boston Red Sox- OF Carl Crawford
Don’t write him off yet. It appears Crawford’s awful 2011 may have been a product of his ongoing wrist issues and a relatively low BABIP. The news on his wrist has been far from encouraging so far, but the team doesn’t appear willing to put him on the field with such issues again. His BABIP was also .030 points lower than career numbers. A healthy Crawford posting career average numbers could add another 5+ WAR positional player to arguably the best offense in baseball. The difference between Crawford’s 2011 and career wRC+ was almost 30 runs created, which means a rebound could be a very dangerous possibility when added to a Red Sox team that posted the most runs in 2011.
- Blue Jays- SP Brandon Morrow
Morrow appears to be unable to piece every bit of his success together. In 2011, Morrow led the American League with a 10.19 K/9, and vastly improved his BB/9 rate to 3.46. With these incredible peripherals, the right hander held an impressive 3.64 FIP and a 3.53 xFIP, but somehow managed a 4.72 ERA behind a 65.5 LOB%. Morrow had similar luck in 2010, where his 3.16 FIP translated to a 4.49 ERA behind a 69.0 LOB% and .342 BABIP. It appears the starting pitcher has seen some bad luck with the Blue Jays. Now entering his age 27 season, Morrow may finally see his numbers equal out and become the top of the rotation pitcher the Blue Jays need to accompany Ricky Romero.
- Orioles- SP Zach Britton
In Britton’s first year in the majors, he posted a 4.61 ERA and 4.00 FIP. As the southpaw’s minor league numbers indicate, his strikeout and walk rates could take a step further this year. If Britton can maintain the high GB% he’s shown through his career, he’ll probably be the Orioles best starting pitcher. However, if Britton improves upon his command and strikeouts he has the potential to finally breakout into the top of the rotation pitcher that scouts predicted for him as a prospect.