O's, Yankees are positioned for run at AL East title

April 25, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

Although many prognosticators are saying this will be the New York Yankees' year, a position-by-position analysis shows that the Orioles rank as tops in the American League East.

First basemen

1. Cecil Fielder: He always will be a punch line to AL fat jokes. But he always is good for 30 homers and 100 RBIs.

2. Rafael Palmeiro: He had 55 extra-base hits in 111 games last year with a .550 slugging average, and he has good hands.

3. John Olerud: With that tremendous swing, he consistently should threaten .300. Average defensively at best, and coming off a relatively poor season.

,fgb 4. Mo Vaughn: He could be the next great player to spend his entire career in Boston. Hit 26 homers and drove in 82 runs. There's no hope for him defensively.

5. Don Mattingly: Hard to believe, eh? Says a lot about the strength of this position in the division when this guy is fifth. It was too bad he missed his chance to play in a pennant race last year. Best defensive first baseman in the division, but he's no longer an impact hitter.

Second basemen

1. Roberto Alomar: The total package, with power, speed, average, defense. Last year, Alomar batted .306, with eight homers, 38 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. A future Hall of Famer.

2. Lou Whitaker: He's on his last legs at age 37, and his defense has regressed. But he's still a productive player. Last year, he hit .301 with 12 homers and 43 RBIs, with a .377 on-base average.

3. Pat Kelly: Not a lot of range, and he doesn't really do anything particularly well. A decent hitter (.280 in '94) with a little bit of sock (26 extra-base hits), and he doesn't steal any bases. But he must be doing something right, because Buck Showalter continues to play him.

4. Bret Barberie: He hasn't hit much for the Orioles this spring, somewhat of a surprise, because his history suggests that hitting for average is the one thing he does well. Doesn't offer much power or speed or defensive range, but he has a good arm and has surprised the Orioles with his ability to turn double plays.

5. Luis Alicea: A fill-in until the Red Sox find somebody else. Alicea is 29 and never has played more than 115 major-league games in a season. OK defensively, but can't steal many bases or hit many doubles and homers. A weak position in the division.

Third basemen

1. Wade Boggs: Still a great hitter, batting .342 for the Yankees last year and compiling an incredible .433 on-base average. Not flashy on defense, but his ability to make plays won him a Gold Glove.

2. Travis Fryman: He has 90 career homers, almost 400 career RBIs, and he's only 26. Average defensively -- ranked 15th among major-league third basemen in chances per nine innings, committed 14 errors and turned 12 double plays in '94.

3. Ed Sprague: All in all, he has been a disappointment, and the Blue Jays could replace him before the end of the year. But he hits just enough in this lineup to be a respectable RBI man.

4. Leo Gomez: Lots of people around baseball, including the Orioles, are waiting to see whether the Leo Gomez of 1994, with the .502 slugging average, will return this year. Not a lot of range on defense, but good hands and a good arm.

5. Tim Naehring: Scott Cooper is gone, and, for now, the Red Sox go with Naehring. But this just may be a temporary solution. Naehring, injury-prone, hit .276 with seven homers and 42 RBIs last year. May be better as a utility player.


1. Cal Ripken: Some question the validity of the range rating -- chances per nine innings -- to measure defensive ability, but Ripken usually ranks at or near the top. Turned more double plays than any other shortstop in baseball last year. He's coming off a good offensive year, as well. One more bonus: He plays every single day.

2. John Valentin: A classic Fenway Park middle infielder, with good power. Valentin hit nine homers last year and drove in 49 runs. Has shown good hands and average range. A nice player, but a far cry from Ripken.

3. Chris Gomez: The Tigers like him a lot, and even moved Travis Fryman from short to third to get him into the lineup. Gomez should get better as a hitter. Last year, he batted .257 with 19 doubles and eight homers. Ranked 27th among everyday major-league shortstops in chances per nine innings.

4. Tony Fernandez: A stopgap until Derek Jeter is ready for the big leagues. Fernandez still can be an effective major-leaguer -- last year, he batted .279 for the Reds -- but his reputation as a clubhouse disruption precedes him. Fernandez mostly played third base last year.

5. Alex Gonzalez: Blue Jays thought he was ready last year, but that didn't work out. Gonzalez lasted only 15 games with Toronto and batted just .151. He's getting another shot this year, and some scouts think he eventually can be a star.

Left fielders

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