Here is one youngster from each AL East squad who would benefit most from a hot start in 2023 to benefit their team.
Getting a cup of coffee at the big league level is hardly something to scoff at, especially in a division as tough as the AL East. But to earn their status as resident big leaguers, young players need to capitalize on every chance they’re given. Here’s one young player from each AL East squad who would benefit most from a hot start.
Yankees: Oswald Peraza
Oswald Peraza is gearing up for a Spring Training position battle for Opening Day shortstop for his Yankees club. Peraza showed much promise in his limited 2022 campaign, but a big Spring Training is in order if he hopes to win the job over incumbent Isiah Kiner-Falefa and super-prospect Anthony Volpe.
Oswaldo Cabrera could also have his hat in the ring for the job. A fellow ‘Oswald’ and rookie shortstop, the switch hitter shined in 2022 making quite the name for himself as a defensive whiz on the infield dirt and surprisingly, the warning track. Cabrera’s newfound reputation as an able-gloved utility man may encourage Yanks’ skipper Aaron Boone to continue slotting him around the diamond, so Peraza may not have too many roadblocks between him and an Opening Day job at short.
Red Sox: Triston Casas
Triston Casas first cracked the Red Sox top 30 prospects list back in 2019, and after consecutive seasons at #2, Casas became the organization’s top prospect in 2021. Casas’ reputation is built around the power stroke – one scout’s grade was a 65/80 during his time in the minor leagues where he smacked 46 home runs in the past three seasons and hit a respectable .269 batting average.
The first baseman played in 27 games last season and hit at a .197/.358/.408 clip with five home runs and 12 RBI. His pedestrian batting average is not wholly concerning for the power-first rookie, and as he gets more time at the big league level his average will almost surely bump up. What’s more, Casas managed a .358 on-base percentage despite his low average which is an encouraging sign as the Red Sox look to find his ceiling.
In the absence of Xander Bogaerts and JD Martinez, Casas will be asked to shoulder the load of the Red Sox offense alongside Rafael Devers and Masataka Yoshida. Only time will tell, but a productive Triston Casas could be the difference between an average Boston squad and a fringe playoff team in the AL East.
Orioles: Gunnar Henderson
The Orioles have had an abysmal half decade, failing to break .500 even once from 2017-2021. In that time, Baltimore’s front office has done a fantastic job amassing loads of high-caliber prospect talent, and chief among them is Gunnar Henderson.
Henderson made his debut in 2022, playing 34 games and slashing .259/.348/.440 in 34 games with four home runs and 18 RBI. The third baseman will play a larger role in 2023, starting the campaign at the big league level locking down the left side of the infield at either his natural shortstop or third.
Henderson is just one of a handful of talented young Orioles talent beginning to make an impact at the big league level. Teammates like Adley Rutschman, Felix Bautista, Grayson Rodriguez, and DL Hall headline the next generation of O’s baseball and both Rutschman and Bautista delivered in 2022. To get further contributions from Hall, Henderson, and Rodriguez (when he graduates to MLB) would be a massive step forward for an Orioles squad which has looked more like the Bad News Bears than a big league team these last few years. If Henderson can contribute with his teammates and get a hot start to the year, the hungry young squad might be to ride that momentum to a first half of above .500 baseball.
Blue Jays: Nate Pearson
In 2019, a 22-year-old Nate Pearson tore up the minor leagues, working to a 2.30 ERA in 101.2 innings with a 0.885 WHIP and 119 strikeouts across three levels. A 2020 pandemic cancelled the minor league season and back-to-back injuries sidelined Pearson to just 78 innings in three years.
The bright side about Pearson is that the young flamethrower seems poised, for the first time in almost four years, to make an impact at the big league level. Pearson sports an average fastball velocity of 97.8 mph, topping out at 100 mph, and sports a slider at 87 mph. He also commands a changeup and curveball which he sprinkles in from time to time.
Through 12 innings in the Dominican Winter League, Pearson did not allow a single earned run, and surrendered five hits and four walks while striking out 16. Pearson is coming back to a Blue Jays rotation in need of a shot in the arm. Current rotation pieces Kevin Gausman, and Alex Manoah excel but the trio of Jose Berrios, Yusei Kikuchi, and Hyun Jin-Ryu all sported ERA’s well north of five and Ryu failed to make more than six starts all year. If Nate Pearson and recent addition Chris Bassitt can perform, a very scary four-man rotation can tear apart the AL East – even with abysmal showings from Berrios, Kikuchi, and Ryu.
Rays: Luis Patiño
In three seasons as a minor leaguer, Luis Patiño threw 213 innings and pitched to the tune of a 2.58 ERA and struck out 279 batters. Patiño quickly earned his way into the upper echelon of highly ranked Padres prospects, topping at sixth in the loaded Friars’ system. After making an underwhelming debut in 2020, Patiño was sent to Tampa Bay as part of a swap for Blake Snell.
Since his major league debut in 2020, Patiño has led three abysmal campaigns totaling just 114 innings in which he surrendered a 5.10 ERA and 1.474 WHIP while striking out only 106. In 2022 the 22-year-old made only six starts, tossing just two-thirds of an inning in his first start before a shoulder injury which sidelined him until mid-July. His only good start of the season came on August 18 – his lone start of the month – where he pitched 5.2 scoreless innings against Kansas City.
Patiño is still young at just 23 years old, but time is running short for the former top prospect. In a rotation highlighted by Tyler Glasnow, Shane McClanahan, and Jeffrey Springs, Patiño needs to start delivering or the Rays may look for other options in their minor league system. Luckily, Patiño has shown the ability to dominate when healthy in the minor leagues and could become a resident contributor in the major leagues if he can string together a few healthy months.
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