There isn’t a division in baseball that’s better set up for long-term success than the AL East. Each team can win the division in any given season, which is something many others around the league can’t say.
In recent years, we’ve seen Aaron Judge top 60 home runs and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. come within inches of the MVP Award in 2021. Last year, 11 of the top 30 leaders in fWAR were from the AL East. Now Juan Soto is in the mix as well, turning the division into a juggernaut.
In the 2023 All-Star Game, a whopping nine position players were included from the AL East – three starters and six reserves. With all the starpower, that figure will likely be the new norm moving forward.
The moral of the story is that the AL East has a ton of talent, especially on the position player side. After previously taking a look at the NL East’s top hitters, we’re going to focus on the AL East and see who the best of the best will be in the upcoming season.
There are three glaring honorable mentions that just barely missed the cut, so let’s touch on them before we continue.
Isaac Paredes of the Rays is one of the top ones worth mentioning. The big corner infielder hit 31 home runs and drove in 98 runs last year, earning some stray MVP votes along the way. His 131 OPS+ was higher than some others on this list, so how could he have missed the top-10?
A trip over to his Statcast page suggests that his underlying numbers were, in a word, awful. He did not regularly hit the ball hard at all and seemingly outperformed his advanced metrics in every way. To me, he feels like a significant regression candidate in 2024.
Gleyber Torres of the Yankees was the second last minute removal from the rankings. He has been so hot and cold in recent years that it was tough to bank on a promising performance last year. He hit 25 home runs and had a 118 OPS+, but this falls just below “top 10” material.
Finally, we have Orioles outfielder Anthony Santander. I’d like to see him lengthen his track record when it comes to health and power production. Last year, the switch-hitter played over 100 games for just the third time in seven years. He’s also only been an above-average hitter twice in those three years, so I’m going to need to see just a bit more from him for next year’s rankings.
10. Triston Casas
There were a few different avenues the 10 spot could’ve gone, but Triston Casas gets the edge this time around.
Casas, 24, burst onto the scene in a big way last year, establishing himself as one of the top young talents in the game. In 132 contests, the sweet-swinging lefty hit 24 home runs and drove in 65 runs. He finished second amongst qualified rookies in the AL in home runs, fourth in RBI and OBP, and fifth in wRC+.
A look at Casas’ Baseball Savant page will show a ton of red, which was why he had the edge over some others for the final spot in our rankings.
You don’t need me to tell you that Casas is not ever going to steal 20 bases or win a Gold Glove. However, this level of output is highly promising. The fact that a rookie can finish with this high of percentage rankings says a lot about how special his bat is.
9. Randy Arozarena
A former Rookie of the Year and postseason legend, Arozarena may not have the sexiest stats compared to others in the AL East, but he’s certainly earned a spot on this list.
The 28-year-old has turned himself into the face of the Rays’ franchise over the past few seasons and is one of their best hitters. Last year, he hit 23 home runs with 83 driven in, stealing over 20 bases and posting a 120 OPS+. Nearly all of these numbers mirrored his output from the year before, speaking volumes to his overall consistency.
In 33 career playoff games, Arozarena has 11 home runs, a .336 batting average and a 1.104 OPS. He finds a way to come up big whenever the lights are at their brightest. He is the player most fans think of when you say “Tampa Bay Rays”, so him and his oh-so-consistent bat was an easy choice for this list.
8. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
There are a few players in the second half of this list that could so easily see themselves rocketed up the list come this time next year. Guerrero is one of them.
Guerrero had a good season in 2023, but it was well short of what we’ve come to expect from him. He played 156 games and hit 26 bombs with 94 driven in. This comes nowhere close to the 48-homer, 111-RBI showing he had in 2021.
MLB.com believes a significant improvement is in the cards for Vladdy in 2024. In fact, they think he’ll post a 144 wRC+ and finish the year as the only player to hit over 30 home runs and strike out less than 100 times.
Guerrero, the MLB The Show 2024 cover athlete, has the potential to be a top-three talent in the AL East. He’s shown it before. The upcoming season is going to be telling as to what we can reasonably expect from him moving forward.
Like Bichette, he’s going to hit free agency after 2025. If it comes down to it and the Jays can only extend one of them, Vlad’s got some work to do to earn a long-term commitment over Bo.
7. Gunnar Henderson
Yet another threat on both offense and defense, Henderson gives the Orioles a top-tier talent in the infield. The 2023 AL Rookie of the Year hit 28 home runs last year with 82 driven in and a 125 OPS+. He showed the Orioles that he’s got what it takes to become one of the best hitters in the league and it’s exciting to know that he’s only just getting started.
Henderson’s Baseball Savant page shows much more red than you’d typically expect from a 22-year-old. He will need to cut down on his K% moving forward, but again – he’s just 22-years old.
On a more positive note, he hit the ball harder than most, finishing in the 95th percentile in HardHit%. He also was 91st in AVG Exit Velocity.
On the other side of the ball, Henderson finished in the 84th percentile in Arm Strength and even earned a 100th percentile ranking in Baserunning Run Value. Point being, his value comes from many different avenues and he’s going to be something special for the O’s.
6. Rafael Devers
Devers is another player who could so easily see himself shoot up these rankings come this time next year. He’s got superstar potential and has flashed it in the not-so-distant past.
Armed with one of the sweetest left-handed swings in the league, Devers once again had an outstanding year at the plate in 2023. The 27-year-old hit 34 doubles, 33 homers and drove in 100 runs for the third time in his seven-year career.
Without Xander Bogaerts’ bat alongside his in the lineup, Devers was forced to carry the team last year. His production slipped ever so slightly from what we’ve seen from him in the past, but there’s no reason to doubt he won’t return to his MVP-caliber output from recent years.
Again, Devers has the potential to shoot up this list come next year. The talent he possesses is immense, so keep a close eye on him in 2024.
5. Bo Bichette
The fact that the player who has led the AL in hits two out of the past three seasons ranks fifth on this list speaks volumes to the amount of talent we’re dealing with here. Bichette has the third-highest batting average in the AL dating back to 2021 and easily has the most hits in that time.
Much like Rutschman in Baltimore, Bichette has become the undisputed leader of the Blue Jays. The 25-year-old has proven to be their top offensive player across the past few years and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
Last year, Bichette made it into just 135 games, but he still recorded 175 hits – 20 of them leaving the yard. He posted a batting average above .300 for the first time in his career (in a full season) and continued to be above .800 in the OPS department.
A consistent threat to reach 200 hits and a .300 batting average, Bichette is such a promising talent but it still feels like there’s another tier to be reached for him. His potential free agency after the 2025 season will be one of the top storylines to watch in the AL East.
Will the Jays be able to lock him up for good?
4. Yandy Diaz
Diaz, 32, has a shorter track record than most others on this list. He really only has three full seasons of production under his belt. That questionable durability is what makes him hard to pinpoint. There’s no doubt, though, that when he’s healthy, he’s an incredible player.
Last year, the corner infielder broke out, hitting 22 home runs while driving in 78. Along the way, he won the AL batting title and posted an MVP-worthy .932 OPS and 158 OPS+. He is the heart of the Rays lineup and has rather quietly turned himself into one of the premier names in the AL East.
The level of output Diaz had last year carried him to a top-five spot in this ranking. However, he’s going to need to keep it up in the upcoming season, or he could see himself drop. Since he’s only appeared in over 100 games three times (the past three seasons), it’s going to be crucial for him to continue at this rate in 2024 and beyond.
3. Adley Rutschman
Rutschman, the undisputed leader of the Orioles, provides value in so many ways that it’s impossible to leave him any lower on this list. The soon-to-be 26-year-old provides immense value both on offense and defense and is arguably the best catcher in all of baseball.
Last year, the switch-hitter hit 20 home runs and drove in 80. He also had an OPS north of .800 and an OPS+ just under 130. He took home the Silver Slugger for AL catchers, made the All-Star Game and finished ninth in the MVP voting.
His value did not stop on offense, though. Rutschman also ranked near the top of the league in most Statcast metrics for catchers. He finished in the 85th percentile in Blocks Above Avg, 84th in Framing and 81st in Pop Time.
The future of the Orioles is oh, so bright, and Rutschman is at the core of that. There’s just no way he can fall any lower, as he’s established himself as one of the best young stars in today’s game.
2. Juan Soto
Pound for pound, Soto is every bit of a superstar that Judge is. We’re going to give the latter a slight edge here, as we have yet to see how the former will adjust to the AL East. There’s no cause for concern in how he’ll adjust, but let’s give it a year and see where he’s at. 365 days from now it’s entirely possible that the top two in this list are flip-flopped.
Last year, Soto hit .275 while playing all 162 games. He hit a career-high 35 home runs and drove in 109, coming within one RBI of another career-best. He once again led the entire league in walks with 132 and had a ludicrous 158 OPS+.
Soto has consistently reminded us why he’s on a surefire path to the Hall of Fame. Last year was no different. He’s still so young and the pace he’s at already could not be more promising. The fact that he’s now going to be in the same lineup as Judge just feels unfair.
This pairing alone makes the Yankees much more favorable in the AL East standings.
1. Aaron Judge
As if there could be anybody else topping the list.
Judge, one of the most fearsome hitters in all of baseball, appeared in just 106 games last year. In that time, though, he hit 37 home runs and drove in 79. The rate in which he drives in runs is incredible, especially in such a small amount of games.
The 31-year-old will once again lead the Yankees and function as the face of their franchise in 2024. He has posted an OPS+ north of 140 in each of his six full seasons and really has shown no signs of slowing down.
Judge can be penciled in for a top-five finish in the AL MVP voting in any year he’s healthy. There’s just no other way to say it; he’s the best player in the AL East.