Here are my most intriguing players to watch in the AL East for 2016. I couldn't even fit Chris Davis into the top 10.
Red Sox players don't usually fly under the radar, but that seemed to be the case in 2015 with Betts, who quietly finished with a .291/.341/.479 batting line, 18 home runs, 42 doubles and 21 stolen bases. He also played solid defense in center field. And he did all that after a slow start that had him hitting .221 in the middle of May. So Betts already has a nice all-around game, but I think he can become a top-five MVP guy in 2016 for three reasons: (1) He's just 23, entering his second full season in the bigs; (2) I love his contact ability, as he ranked 26th in the majors in strikeout rate in 2015, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio should get better; (3) He has a swing tailor-made for Fenway, as he pulls the ball over and off the Green Monster.
Everyone seems to assume that Betts will move to right field this year while Jackie Bradley Jr. takes over in center, but that's not guaranteed. Betts averaged 2.68 putouts per nine innings in center last year compared with 2.45 for Bradley.
Tulo's subpar production in his 41 games with the Blue Jays went largely unnoticed because the team took off right after it acquired him. But he hit just .239 with five home runs for Toronto. Of course, he got injured in September, suffering a small crack in his left shoulder blade after a minor collision and missing a couple of weeks. Before that, however, he hit just .214 in August, so the question of how he'll hit away from Coors Field -- and at age 31, after incurring various injuries throughout his career -- remains. It will also be interesting to see where Tulowitzki hits in the order. He was batting leadoff for much of August until Ben Revere took over that spot, but Revere was traded in the offseason and the Jays lack a traditional leadoff guy.
The Yankees would like a redo on this contract, considering that Ellsbury will be making $21 million the next five seasons and hit just .257/.318/.345 in 111 games. Was that all the result of a knee injury he suffered in May? He was hitting .324 when he was injured and hit just .224 the rest of the way, along with 63 strikeouts and just 16 walks. Yankees leadoff hitters ranked third in the majors in OPS in 2014 but fell to 19th last year. If Ellsbury stumbles, the Yankees have other center-field options in Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner.
4. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
John Gibbons sent a pretty strong message when he essentially elected to start Stroman over David Price in Game 5 of the division series: that he had more faith in Stroman coming up big than in his rent-an-ace. Stroman allowed two runs in six innings and left with a 2-2 tie before the game turned all crazy and the Jays won. The fact that he was even pitching was remarkable considering that he had torn his ACL in spring training, and now he'll be even stronger a full year after surgery. Stroman, a little guy with a six-pitch repertoire (fastball, changeup, curveball, slider, cutter, sinker), is so fun to watch. He keeps everything down in the zone, so, while he's not going to register huge strikeout numbers, he won't surrender many home runs, either, a key factor for someone who’s pitching in the Rogers Centre. People might worry about the Toronto rotation, but I think Stroman will emerge as an ace.
5. David Price, LHP, Boston Red Sox
Nobody questions what Price can do in the regular season. He's probably my preseason Cy Young pick because he's great, he's durable and he has pitched well at Fenway (where he has a 1.95 ERA in 11 starts) in his career. Nonetheless, pitching in Boston with a $217 million contract isn't the same as pitching in Tampa -- or even in Detroit or Toronto during a pennant race. Then there's the postseason, and that's when Price will need to earn his money. He has started eight playoff games in his career and is 0-7 with a 5.47 ERA.
Machado might have been the most improved hitter in the league last year. After hitting 26 home runs in 2013-14 combined, he blasted 35 last season. But here's what I liked most: His walk rate improved from 5.7 percent to 9.8 percent. No doubt the power increase was partially a result of his improved plate discipline. Machado's chase rate on pitches out of the zone dropped from 33 percent to 25 percent. Yes, swinging at strikes helps. And, after his knee injury limited his playing time in 2014, he played all 162 games last season. He's now had surgery on both knees, so you worry about the long-term effects of that, but for now he's entering his age-23 season, still young enough to get even better and maybe produce a .300, 40-homer season.
7. Luis Severino, RHP, New York Yankees
Severino flashed a big-time fastball during his 11-start rookie debut, averaging 95.3 mph while mixing in a changeup and slider. His 2.89 ERA was a little misleading, however, as he had a 4.37 FIP. Yankees fans will be expecting a front-of-the-rotation starter, and, although Severino has that ability, he'll need to cut down on the walks and home runs.
8. Aroldis Chapman, LHP, New York Yankees
Although prosecutors didn’t press charges against Chapman for the domestic dispute between him and his girlfriend in Florida, speculation remains that he will be suspended. But when he returns, the bullpen trio of Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances will obviously be formidable. It's the kind of pen that can carry the Yankees all the way to the World Series ... if they can first get to the postseason.
If you don't love this kid, you don't love baseball. Archer is a great performer on the field and one of the best guys in the game off of it. And he's right up there with Price and Dallas Keuchel on my preseason Cy Young list. Coming off a 2015 season in which he had a 3.23 ERA and 252 K's in 212 innings, all he needs is a little more consistency. Archer had 15 starts in which he allowed one or no runs -- but also had two nine-run outings, an eight-run game and three five-run games.
10. Hanley Ramirez, 1B, Boston Red Sox
New year, new position ... new Hanley?