Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The American League figures to be quite
interesting this season, given some major offseason moves by teams like the Los
Angeles Angels, Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals, who all failed to
reach the postseason last year.
With spring training getting under way this week, let's examine a big question
mark that each AL team will face as it prepares for 2013.
BALTIMORE ORIOLES: Is Dylan Bundy ready to be a big-time contributor?
An elite pitching prospect and the crown jewel of the Orioles' solid minor-
league system, Bundy got a brief taste of big-league action with two
appearances last September. It's likely that he'll open 2013 in the minors,
since he has never pitched in Triple-A and has thrown just 16 2/3 innings in
Although he's only 20, Bundy has shown remarkable poise and strikeout stuff. He
mostly needs to work on commanding the strike zone after having issued eight
walks in those 16-plus Double-A innings. It would be a mild surprise if he
doesn't come up to Baltimore for good sometime around June.
BOSTON RED SOX: Can Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz bounce back to lead the
Last year, Lester slumped to 9-14 with a 4.82 earned run average. Buchholz was
a mediocre 11-8 with a 4.56 ERA.
Prior to September 2011, Lester appeared on the verge of becoming a big-time
ace. Buchholz showed the promise to be a solid No. 2 starter.
Both pitchers have no known physical issues, so let's give them the benefit of
the doubt. Team attitude and morale has been an utter disaster since September
2011. Perhaps that will change under new manager John Farrell.
Talent usually wins out in the end, and Lester (age 29) and Buchholz (28) are
too young and gifted to not bounce back.
NEW YORK YANKEES: Can newly acquired third baseman Kevin Youkilis rebound in
Originally believed to be roughly a half-season fill-in for Alex Rodriguez (hip
surgery), Youkilis could end up being the starting third baseman for the entire
season. A-Rod's Yankees future is up in the air after last month's published
report tying him to the purchase of performance-enhancing drugs.
Youkilis is going to be 34 on Opening Day, and he's been declining for the past
two seasons. Last year, splitting time between the Red Sox and White Sox, he
batted a mere .235 with 60 RBIs in 509 plate appearances.
Expect Youkilis to be rejuvenated this year and bounce back to a degree. The
days of being a big-impact hitter, though, are unlikely to return.
TAMPA BAY RAYS: Can Wil Myers live up to the hype?
The price was steep. Tampa Bay had to send dependable former all-star pitcher
James Shields to the Kansas City Royals in a trade to acquire outfielder Myers,
who was the consensus No. 1 hitting prospect in the minor leagues last year.
The transaction was most likely a successful one for the Rays, since payroll
limitations would have probably prevented them from holding onto Shields beyond
this season. To sacrifice one year of Shields, they obtained a potential
cornerstone offensive player who will be under their control for a while.
Myers is probably major-league ready, but he's expected to open the year in the
minors. When he eventually arrives in Tampa Bay, however, the 22-year-old Myers
is expected to provide an excellent batting average and good power.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS: How will the team deal with the pressure of being regarded
by many as a preseason favorite?
Despite winning just 73 games last season, the Blue Jays have become a chic
pick to not only win their division, but also capture a world championship.
Adding R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to the starting rotation is
the kind of thing that will raise expectations, so Toronto looks like a
championship-caliber team on paper.
Whether the Jays will develop championship chemistry, and whether their young
offensive core that hasn't been in too many pennant races will be able to
deliver under pressure, remains to be seen.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX: Will Tyler Flowers adequately replace A.J. Pierzynski?
Maybe the White Sox were correct for not breaking the bank to retain
Pierzynski, who is 36 and almost certainly had his "career year" in 2012.
Still, the Sox left Flowers with big shoes to fill.
Flowers was at one point thought to be one of the better catching prospects in
baseball, but he's been underwhelming as a backup the past two seasons. He just
turned 27 and has a career .205 average, with 12 homers and 107 strikeouts in
273 at-bats. The home runs look nice, but he swings and misses far too often to
ever significantly surpass the Mendoza Line.
CLEVELAND INDIANS: Can Ubaldo Jimenez become a staff anchor?
What happened to this guy? He was a Cy Young candidate as recently as 2010,
when he went 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA while pitching half of his games in Colorado.
Last season, Jimenez was 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA for the Indians.
His strikeout rate has dropped and he's become much more hittable. In 2010,
Jimenez allowed just 164 hits in 221 2/3 innings; last year, he surrendered 190
hits in 176 2/3 frames.
Since he's only 29 and believed to be healthy, Jimenez is still a bounce-back
candidate. He's never had great control, even when he was at his best, so he's
going to have to start missing more bats again or settle for being a bottom-of-
DETROIT TIGERS: Is Bruce Rondon ready to take over the closer's job and run
Rondon fits the profile of the prototypical closer - high strikeout rate,
occasionally unhittable stuff, but mixed in with bouts of wildness. He's 22,
and he's only pitched eight Triple-A innings.
The Tigers let incumbent closer Jose Valverde (35 saves, 3.78 ERA in 2012) walk
in free agency. He blew five saves in the regular season and was removed from
the closer role after a blown save in the playoffs.
Rondon will likely get his chance to take over, and he has the chance to be
dominant if he can get off to a good start. If he falters, left-hander Phil
Coke could be a big part of a committee that might also include Octavio Dotel
and Joaquin Benoit.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS: Can Shields and Ervin Santana improve the pitching enough
for the team to contend?
Heading into last year, it seemed the Royals had the offensive potential to be
a playoff contender but that young, unproven pitching would likely be their
downfall. Well, that was only partially true. The Royals' 4.30 ERA ranked only
10th among the 14 American League teams, but the surprising thing was that
their 676 runs scored were only 12th in the AL.
To answer the question: Sure, there's little doubt that Shields and Santana
will improve the Royals' pitching fortunes. Shields will be the unquestioned
ace, and Santana should at the very least provide innings.
It won't mean that much, though, if the young hitters like Eric Hosmer and Mike
Moustakas don't live up to their offensive potential.
MINNESOTA TWINS: Can the pitching staff count on Scott Diamond and Mike
Pelfrey, who are coming off injuries?
Diamond is the team's de facto ace after finishing 12-9 with a 3.54 ERA last
year, but he had a bone chip removed from his pitching elbow during the
offseason. Ex-Mets pitcher Pelfrey underwent Tommy John surgery last April,
missing all but his first three starts of the 2012 campaign.
Both pitchers have fine upside, but will they be healthy enough to start the
season on time?
HOUSTON ASTROS: Will there be enough offense for the team to be competitive?
The Astros ranked dead last in the majors with 583 runs scored in 2012. Now
they're headed to the American League, where they're forced to field a lineup
with an extra offensive player - the designated hitter. This isn't likely to
If the season started today, the Astros' lineup would potentially feature
Carlos Pena, Jose Altuve, Tyler Greene, Matt Dominguez, J.D. Martinez, Justin
Maxwell, Fernando Martinez and Chris Carter. The Angels and Rangers probably
LOS ANGELES ANGELS: Will the back end of the rotation be good enough?
One of baseball's most talented teams in 2012, the Angels remarkably missed the
playoffs. They've had an interesting offseason, adding Josh Hamilton to bolster
an already impressive offense. They'll surely be a threat to lead the majors in
runs scored after ranking No. 4 last year.
The news isn't all rosy, though. The Angels let Zack Greinke and Dan Haren
leave via free agency, and they traded Santana, who, despite a down year, had
posted double-digit wins five times in eight seasons.
The new Nos. 3-5 starters figure to be Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton and Jason
Vargas. Hanson was a big-time Braves prospect who has had his moments but has
never put it all together because of injuries. Blanton is an innings-eater who
can be an adequate No. 4 or 5 but no longer possesses the upside to be anything
Vargas was 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA last year in Seattle. He could really thrive
in a winning environment, but there's just as good a chance that 2012 was his
OAKLAND ATHLETICS: Will Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima be an impact player?
Oakland needed to add offense to build on its surprising 2012 campaign. Since
it had to adhere to its usual payroll limitations, it rolled the dice a bit and
came away with the 30-year-old shortstop, who hit .311 with 13 homers in 136
games last season in Japan.
It's hard to know what to expect from the first-time major-leaguer, but it
won't take much for him to out-produce last year's primary shortstop, Cliff
Pennington (.215, six homers, 28 RBIs in 418 at-bats).
SEATTLE MARINERS: Who will replace Jason Vargas in the starting rotation?
It's been an interesting offseason for Seattle, which has added a decent amount
of offense. However, the additions of Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse and Raul
Ibanez have left the team with a glut of DH types.
Seattle's starting pitching has a chance to be pretty good, with Felix
Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan holding down the
top four spots in the rotation.
However, that leaves the likes of Hector Noesi (2-12, 5.82 ERA in 2012), Joe
Saunders (9-13, 4.07 ERA), Danny Hultzen (5.92 ERA in 12 Triple-A starts) and
Jeremy Bonderman (out of baseball since 2010, when he underwent Tommy John
surgery) battling it out to be the fifth starter. Yikes.
TEXAS RANGERS: How will the team overcome the loss of Josh Hamilton?
The Rangers let Hamilton and Mike Napoli go in free agency, but they signed
Pierzynski and Lance Berkman to try to help offset the loss in production.
While those two will help, the key to the Rangers' success could be top
prospects Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt - especially Profar, who could really
play a prominent role. The Rangers gambled a bit that their farm system was
ready to pay dividends, and Profar will try to prove them right.
Jeff Saukaitis has been a professional sportswriter since 1985.
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