MLB Breakout Predictions: AL East

Caption: AL East Teams

by Ryan Harless

Ryan Harless is a third-year undergraduate at BGSU from Hillsboro, Ohio. He is majoring in Sport Management with a Journalism Minor. Baseball and golf at all levels are his primary interests but he is also interested in combat sports, hockey, basketball, and football.

February 21, 2023

Welcome back to part four of six of my predictions for the breakout star of every Major League Baseball (MLB) team for the 2023 season. Today we tackle the stacked AL East.

Kicking off with the team that finished in last place in 2022, the Boston Red Sox. Boston won 78 games last year which would be a huge upgrade for most of the last place teams in 2022.

The Bosox don’t really have a plethora of young talent to pick from, but the one that I have the most confidence in is Triston Casas. He will more than likely be sitting behind Bobby Dalbec at first base, but with Dalbec’s average dropping substantially every season since 2020, I could see Casas getting some serious playing time.

Casas is just 23 years old and has only played 27 games, so still has fewer than 100 at bats in his MLB career. Even though he struggled (.197/.358/.408) when he played last year, he still barely played. I could see Casas being a strong middle of the order batter for Boston this year.

I anticipate Casas playing 100+ games this season and slashing .270/.380/.450 if he is able to use his 6’5” frame to generate some power and use the 302’ right field wall to hit some homers. I could also see Casas hitting 18-20 homers with 80+ RBI.

Finishing five games above Boston in 2022 were the Baltimore Orioles. I would imagine, most people would expect me to say Adley Rutschman for their 2023 breakout star. However, I expect someone who is yet to have any MLB experience to have a much better statistical year.

The 2023 breakout star for the Baltimore Orioles will be pitcher Grayson Rodriguez. Another 23-year-old for the list, Grayson was drafted in the first round in 2018 and has put up four great seasons across the minor leagues.

In four seasons of minor league baseball, Rodriguez is 25-9 with a 2.47 ERA to go along with his 419 strikeouts in only 292 innings. Of course, the glaring issue is that he has zero MLB experience and has also averaged just over 4 innings per start. But I think that once he debuts this season, he will make an instant impact.

Rodriguez has a three pitch mix that he uses to keep batters off balance, including his fastball that effortlessly touches triple digits.

I expect Rodriguez to go 10-6 this year with a 2.80 ERA and to be a heavy candidate for AL Rookie of the Year.

Coming now to the first of three AL East teams that made the playoffs in 2022, are the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays have a good mix of relatively young players and talented veterans. I would have Wander Franco as my pick, but I feel that he already had his breakout year when he was a rookie and continued to play well last year.

I also considered Shane Baz, but he’s currently injured and doesn’t look to be available for Opening Day.

So my choice for the Rays’ breakout star is Peter Fairbanks. Fairbanks is a 29-year-old relief pitcher who has been very underappreciated in my opinion. He has four years of MLB experience but has only thrown 114.1 innings up to this point. However, in his defense, Fairbanks is doing well with what he has been given putting up a 3.46 ERA and punching out 161 batters in his time.

I expect Fairbanks to be the full-time closer for Tampa Bay this season, and if they can make another playoff run he should play a massive part in closing those games.

My prediction is that Fairbanks will have 60+ innings pitched this year, an ERA around 2.50, and 30+ saves for Tampa this year. He is also a great early pick for the AL All-Star team.

Finishing second in the AL East in 2022 were the Toronto Blue Jays, another super good team with tons of talent looking to return to the playoffs in 2023.

Again, I was shocked to remember that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is only 23 years old and nearly has a triple crown to his name. However, my pick for their breakout star is someone who is yet to play an MLB game for Toronto.

Daulton Varsho is a rarity in today’s game as he is both a catcher and an outfielder. Varsho reminds me a lot of J.T. Realmuto since he is a brick wall behind the plate and he also has incredibly deceptive speed. Varsho stole 16 bases last season and I would be shocked if he doesn’t have more in 2023.

I think Varsho will finally get his feet under him at the plate and will start to bring his batting average around. I anticipate that Daulton Varsho will hit .265 this season with 30 home runs and 25+ stolen bases. The Blue Jays really have something special on their hands with a catcher that could easily become a 30/30 hitter.

Although I would love to see Varsho continue to catch, if Toronto wants to save his hitting and keep his legs fresh longer, I could see him transferring to mostly outfield duties.

Finally, we get to talk about everyone’s favorite, the New York Yankees. The Yankees didn’t make many moves this offseason as they mostly focused on bringing back Aaron Judge.

As excited as I am to get to see Jasson Dominguez, I don’t expect him to be on the team until September call-ups. So, my choice for the Yankees breakout star is Oswald Peraza.

Peraza only appeared in 19 games for New York last season, getting 15 hits in 49 at bats alongside his 1.000 fielding percentage. He seems to be the Yankee shortstop of the future, finally filling the gap that Derek Jeter left when he retired. And lucky for Yankee fans, he seems to have a sure-handed glove.

I think that if Peraza can stay healthy and get 80+ starts this season, he will be able to perform at the level Yankee fans expect.

I look for him to slash .275/.350/.400 with 50 RBI and no fewer than 25 stolen bases; if he does, he will be a heavy contributor to the 2023 Yankees.

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