James “Big Game Jay” McCormick: 2009 American League Baseball Preview

January 14, 2011
American League Central
by danny.hammontree

Best Team in AL – New York Yankees

Let’s just go down the list: CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, a healthy Chien Ming Wang followed by Andy Pettite and Joba Chamberlain will take this team back to the playoffs and into the World Series. Jorge Posada is healthy again and will catch 110-120 games and Hideki Matsui is back from an injury-plagued year and he’ll be playing for a contract next year. 2B Robinson Cano has a lot to prove and will do so. Mark Teixera brings professional, tremendous presence at the plate and a gold glove first baseman. Add a the ageless future Hall of Famer, Mariano Rivera, bullpen depth and SP Phil Hughes waiting for his turn to make believers out of the Yankee brass and this team is stacked. We didn’t even mention the games second best player coming back in May or June, Alex Rodriguez.

Worst Team in AL – Seattle Mariners

Bringing back homegrown kid Ken Griffey Jr. notwithstanding, the Mariners appear poised to struggle this season. First year manager Don Wakamatsu and Jack Zduriencik’s inaugural season as General Manager will try to take steps toward forgetting their 100-loss season last year. Losing Raul Ibanez (23 HR, 110 RBI) wont help that cause. Not improving the offense substantially will be their downfall. The top of the rotation with Felix Hernandez (an elite starter) and Erik Bedard hopefully healthy is a strongpoint.  Brandon Morrow is a talent and will be given a shot to close. Overall I don’t see where the runs will come from this year and because of that I think they’re in for a tough season.

Biggest Turnaround Team – Oakland A’s

The A’s lost 86 games last year for the second year in a row so GM Billy Beane went to work retooling this team. Acquiring SS Orlando Cabrera will provide consistency at the position. DH Jason Giambi hit 32 homers last year in a down year and should add some veteran leadership not to mention significant pop to this offense. Perhaps the biggest addition is one of the best players in the game in Matt Holliday. He hits, scores runs, hits for average and runs the bases along with a good outfield. Those things and a (hopefully) healthy 3B Eric Chavez will drastically improve one the major’s worst offenses. Pitching will be the yearlong question mark as they have lots of young arms that need to be developed.

Team to Watch – Cleveland Indians

This is a team that could make some noise in the AL Central division. CF Grady Sizemore is one of the most talented players in baseball as there’s nothing he can’t do. Adding Kerry Wood as closer will help change a team’s league worst bullpen ERA in 2008. Starting pitchers Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona lead the top end of the rotation. Carl Pavano will be given a chance to recover from the disaster that was his Yankee career. If a pitcher is needed down the line there is some depth in the farm system to go out and get help. DH Travis Hafner is back healthy and mashing the ball and expect big things out of Mark DeRosa who can play several positions. SS Johhny Peralta is very underrated and he shouldn’t be. Watch this team, closely.

Top 5 Young Players To watch:
Matt Wieters, C – Baltimore Orioles

Wieters is a switch-hitting catcher, drafted in 2007 out of Georgia Tech. He’s widely considered to be baseballs top prospect. Already considered a take-charge leader of the rotation he’s also expected to be able to handle the bat. Although he’ll start the year in Triple A, there’s no doubt he’ll be called up at some point. This way the Orioles can delay his free agency, isn’t it funny how it always comes down to business?

David Price, P – Tampa Bay Rays

You might remember the dominating performance Price displayed in last years postseason, earning his first win and save in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. The Rays will start him off in the minors to monitor his workload and pitch count. Watch out for his emergence in the second half of the season. The 2007 No.1 draft pick will be heard from before the end of the 2009-10 campaign.

Elvis Andrus, SS – Texas Rangers

This guy can play defense at a high level right now and that will be what he’s expected to do right away. The 20yr old is part of a talented infield in Arlington with 3B Michael Young, Ian Kinsler manning second and Chris Davis expected to be one of the better young players this year as well. Andrus is also an automatic base stealing threat. Look for 25 steals or more from this guy.

Matt LaPorta, LF – Cleveland Indians

Right now he’s known as the guy that the Indians got in return in the CC Sabathia trade with Milwaukee. His bat is his strength as he can hit for power to all sides of the field. His defense is coming along and he can also step in at first base. Think of him as a young Travis Hafner who he’ll certainly replace if Hafner has an injury again. They might bring him up anyway because of his potential.

Travis Snider, RF – Toronto Blue Jays

Hard worker and will be in the lineup from day one for the Blue Jays. Good power, hits to all fields and went through three levels of the minor leagues last season. He should be one of a few stars in the Blue Jays farm system.

Best Manager- Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota Twins

Entering his eighth season at the helm of the Twins, Gardenhire finished second in Manager of the year voting in four out the last seven years and rightfully so. Some would argue that it’s one thing to win consistently with a payroll that approaches 0million but it’s entirely different to do with a limited budget, a keen scouting eye, young players a few stars. Gardenhire leads a team that relies on scouting and player development. This year expect the Twins to contend once again for a playoff berth despite C Joe Mauers back problems, a shaky bullpen leading up to closer Joe Nathan and too many guys in the outfield. You can thank Gardenhire for that.

Manager On The Molten-Lava Hot Seat:
Joe Girardi – NY Yankees

Girardi played for the NY Yankees so he knew what he was getting himself into when taking the job. In 1998, with Joe Torre managing and Girardi the primary catcher, the Yankees started the year 1-4 and were under fire despite winning it all two years prior. Long story short, the Yankees ended up winning over 100 games that season including the World Series. The Yankees are expected to win. PERIOD.

After missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years in Girardi’s first year as manager he cannot afford to get off to a slow start or miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. With a new sparkling ballpark opening and all the talent in the world including a mercurial superstar named A-rod there are no excuses. He must win, NOW.

Big Game Jay is currently a Contributor for ThinkPhillySports.com…

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