The AL East gets even tougher, plus more prospect news

The Orioles’ effort to rebuild a team that lost a combined 223 games over the 2018 and 2019 seasons was always going to be difficult and challenging. The Cubs and Astros rebuilt teams and took them all the way to World Series championships.

But they didn’t do it in the American League East.

It’s a division where everywhere the Orioles look they find challenges. There are the traditional powers and big spenders in Boston and New York. The smart, efficient and talented Tampa Bay Rays made the World Series last year. And now there are the emerging Toronto Blue Jays, who may be ready to make a push for an AL East title in 2021.

Schoop-Throws-Umpire-Signals-Toronto-Sidebar.jpgThe Blue Jays went 32-28 in the shortened 2020 season and made the AL playoffs before losing in the opening round to Tampa Bay. Now they are looking for more and after some recent moves. The team may well be, as they say, “all in.”

This week Toronto agreed to terms with free agent outfielder George Springer on the richest contract in club history. Springer gets six years and $150 million. That tops the extension that outfielder Vernon Wells got in 2006, which was for seven years and $126 million.

During the last full season, in 2019, Springer played 122 games and hit .292/.383/.591 with 20 doubles, three triples, 39 homers, 96 runs, 96 RBIs and an OPS of .974. In 2020 he batted .265/.359/.540/.899. He finished seventh for the AL Most Valuable Player Award in 2019 and 13th last year. The Astros used the No. 11 overall draft pick to get him in 2011.

His former teammate, outfielder Michael Brantley, seemed on the verge of joining Springer in Toronto late Tuesday night. But yesterday he agreed to stay with Houston for two years and $32 million.

A former University of Connecticut star, Springer has come up big in the postseason. He has hit 19 homers with a career .895 OPS in 63 career playoff games. He hit five homers and was named MVP of the 2017 World Series. Since 2016, Springer ranks second among all outfielders in home runs (138), fourth in runs (463), fourth in WAR (21.1) and sixth in hits (657).

So the Blue Jays clearly feel ready to challenge for the AL East title and more. With Tampa Bay losing pitchers Blake Snell and Charlie Morton and Boston coming off a last-place finish, the door may be ajar for the Blue Jays. They’ve been building a better club for a couple of years and last winter spent $80 million on free agent pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Now they add Springer, 31, to a lineup of 20-somethings that includes Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and of course Randal “Babe” Grichuk.

In September MLBPipeline.com ranked the Orioles farm system No. 8, and that was a nice move up for the club. In that same ranking, Toronto was No. 7. And the Blue Jays could certainly be called a big market club. They have plenty of resources and the backing of a major city, not to mention much of an entire country. They’re going to be around.

The AL East remains very, very formidable. But we already knew that.

Some more prospect rankings: MLBPipeline.com is rolling out some position and pitcher prospect rankings this week, all leading up to its new top 100 list, to be released on Friday, Jan. 29.

So far they have released their ratings of the top 10 right-handed and left-handed pitching prospects in the game. The O’s Grayson Rodriguez, rated No. 22 in the recent release of Baseball America’s top 100, is ranked as the No. 7 right-handed pitching prospect in the game.

Better yet, Rodriguez was named as the prospect with the highest ceiling among the elite group of young right-handers. Meaning he potentially could hit it bigger than all of them.

The article said of Rodriguez: “There are many candidates on this list to claim this category, but Rodriguez’s size, stuff, feel for pitching and age (he’ll be 21 for all of 2021) make it easy to imagine the 2018 first-rounder topping this list in the future.”

The outlet rated the Orioles’ DL Hall as the No. 9 left-handed pitching prospect in the sport. Baseball America, in its new top 100, rates Hall at No. 59.

The O’s have five players on that Baseball America top 100 list. Now we await the release of the MLBPipeline.com list a week from tomorrow. The O’s placed four on that list last year, with Adley Rutschman No. 4, Rodriguez No. 36, Hall No. 69 and Ryan Mountcastle No. 94.

And then late last night, MLBPipeline.com released this tweet detailing the top 10 catching prospects. Who doesn’t like a late-night release? Guess who is No. 1 on the list?

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