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Bold predictions for each AL East team in 2023

Will 2023 be the breakout year of Clarke Schmidt?

MLB: MAR 16 Spring Training - Pirates at Yankees Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Baseball season is upon us, and with Opening Day upon us, it is the perfect time to fire off some bold predictions. We’ll take a look at one of, if not the strongest division in baseball, and provide a surprising take that is still within the realm of possibility for each AL East team in 2023.

New York Yankees:

Clarke Schmidt will make the All-Star game

The Yankees’ rotation looked like a world beater when the organization signed Carlos Rodón to a long-term deal, and then life happened. Nestor Cortes is back and healthy after missing the WBC with a hamstring issue, but Rodón, Severino, and Montas will all miss the start of the year, with Montas down for likely the entire year and Rodón and Severion’s timelines still somewhat murky.

All of this turmoil meant that the team would need to rely more on its organizational depth in the early parts of the year, and one of the most promising names that makes this not such a dreaded endeavor is Clarke Schmidt.

The right-hander came up as a starter, but began his major league career in the bullpen, something not all that uncommon these days. He was still slated for the bullpen just weeks ago, but with the injuries to the rotation, he’ll shift to a starting role.

Schmidt’s 5.03 spring ERA isn’t exactly inspiring, but the foundation for success is there, with a slider-heavy approach that earned him 14 whiffs in his last tune-up start against the Rays earlier in the week. Neither his sinker nor the four-seamer were of much use in 2022, but Schmidt added a cutter to his arsenal, using it as his primary fastball in spring, and the results have been encouraging, including five whiffs on 12 swings against Tampa on Monday.

It would take a big leap for Schmidt to make the All-Star team; it’s why this is a bold prediction. But with a strong slider, and a cutter yielding better results than what he had last season with the sinker, Schmidt has all the tools to thrive in the rotation.

(Full PSA team predictions)

Tampa Bay Rays

Garrett Cleavinger will be a top 5 RP in the American League

The Rays know how to churn out pitching. They poach Cleavinger from the Dodgers, and have him looking like another potent weapon in their arsenal. The left-handed reliever thrived in a small sample size (18.2 IP) with the Rays in 2022, pitching to an 0.64 WHIP and 36.8% strikeout rate, as his slider-fastball combo completely stifled batters.

All the rage is on Pete Fairbanks, and rightfully so, but don’t be surprised if Cleavinger is a name being talked about by season’s end.

(PSA team preview)

Toronto Blue Jays

George Springer will finish in the top 3 for the AL MVP

Springer evolved as a hitter in recent years, with a more flyball-heavy and pull-oriented approach, which unlocked more power in his game. Between 2019 and 2021, he had a .292 ISO.

Last year, Springer played hurt, battling elbow issues all year, and needed to make concessions in his swing, in particular cheating more to get to certain pitches; you can read all about it in this FanGraphs piece here.

Staying healthy has always been a bit of a challenge for Springer, but if he can manage it, there is no reason why he shouldn’t carry over the form he showed between 2019-21, and with Teoscar Hernández gone, the Jays will certainly need him to carry an even larger role in this potent lineup.

(PSA team preview)

Baltimore Orioles

The O’s will have five rookie hitters in their lineup by the end of the year

Both Hestor Kjerstad and Jordan Westburg had strong enough springs that some clamored for a roster spot come Opening Day, but that didn’t come to pass. Nevertheless, both could easily be starting in Baltimore by year’s end.

Two other names to be mindful of are outfielder Colton Cowser and infielder Connor Norby. Both are lauded for their hit tool and will begin the year in the upper minors. With Adam Frazier and Jorge Mateo as the double-play combo, the path is mostly clear for any prospect to play his way into the lineup, and although the outfielder is a little crowded with Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander, in particular, at some point the O’s will make room for their younger guys.

It’d be interesting to see Norby, Cowser, Westburg, and Kjerstad all in the Orioles starting lineup by the end of the year, joining Gunnar Henderson as the fifth rookie in the lineup.

(PSA team preview)

Boston Red Sox

Chris Sale will be traded for a surprisingly good package at the deadline

The talented left-hander is back after one of the unluckiest years in recent memory. Sale had multiple injuries on and off the field, some of a freak nature, and never was able to contribute to the Red Sox.

Now he’s back, and already showing the world the unique talents that made him one of the top arms in baseball for many a year with a strong spring. If he can prove he’s reasonably close to his old self, Sale’s contract will suddenly appear very reasonable for a top-end arm, as the southpaw is set to make $27.5 MM in both 2023 and 2024, with a $20 MM vesting option for 2025.

A healthy first half, combined with a Red Sox team that could be out of it by July, could spell a trade in the works, and it honestly might be the best thing for both parties at that point.

(PSA team preview)