Every AL East Team’s Biggest X-Factor for the 2021 MLB Season

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No matter how good or bad a player performed in 2020, all arguments circled back to the season being “the COVID year.” Sure, there were certainly players who took the next step into stardom, but could these guys really do it over a full, 162-game season? If someone had a poor season in 2020, people passed it off as a “bad stretch” of 60 games. Regardless of last year, the American League East players in this list are pivotal to their team becoming a contender.

Some are the best players, while others are lesser-known or young contributors. X-factor players are not always the stars; these are players who don’t absolutely need to perform in 2021, but their team could sure use the production.

The Rays shocked the AL East last season, turning a team with one of the lowest league payrolls into the World Series runner-up. This certainly didn’t bode well with the Yankees, who boosted their pitching staff in the offseason and are out for blood with a healthy roster. The Red Sox and Blue Jays were on the outside looking in, but the Jays certainly made the offseason signings to push for the division title. The Orioles aren’t too exciting this year, but with the enormous amount of prospects in their farm system, who knows what they’ll accomplish? Here are each of the AL East team’s biggest X-factors.

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Biggest X-Factors in the AL East

Tampa Bay Rays

Tyler Glasnow (SP)

With Blake Snell traded and Charlie Morton signing elsewhere, the pressure of being the Rays’ ace falls upon Tyler Glasnow, who many are projecting to be the league’s next elite pitcher. For a guy who throws triple-digits with his fastball and possesses one of the league’s nastiest curveballs, the debate is whether he’s truly an ace yet. 2020 was a wash for Glasnow, who struggled with his command of the strike zone, evidenced by his 4.08 ERA. He’ll have to channel his 2019 campaign, where he posted a 6-1 record with a 1.78 ERA and 0.890 WHIP.

Baltimore Orioles

Trey Mancini (1B, RF)

The Orioles may be closer to the basement than contending for their division pennant, but all eyes will be on Trey Mancini, who sat out all of 2020 battling colon cancer. From 2017-19, he was by far the Orioles’ most consistent player, culminating in a 35 HR, 97 RBI, .899 OPS 2019 season which solidified Mancini as the building block of this rebuilding Orioles squad. If they have any shot at a wildcard spot, Mancini needs to come back strong in 2021.

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Credit: Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports

New York Yankees

Aaron Judge (RF)

Everybody knows Aaron Judge, but not everyone realizes he hasn’t played over 112 games since 2017 , his rookie season in which he finished second in AL MVP voting. The Yankees have not made the World Series since 2009, something that their fans can’t stand, given their all-time dominance. We all recognize Judge’s skill, so remaining healthy is the number-one priority if the Yankees want any shot at finally winning the AL. As someone who most people consider a top-5 player, it’s time Aaron Judge proves it.

Toronto Blue Jays

Nate Pearson (SP)

The Blue Jays were undoubtedly one of the offseason kings. Sure, they brought in George Springer, Marcus Semien and Kirby Yates, but there’s one glaring flaw in this young contender. Their rotation is incredibly weak in comparison with other AL teams. Hyun Jin Ryu is a solid ace, but everything outside of Ryu is quite weak. Nate Pearson is the Jays’ best pitching prospect, so it seems like his success dictates whether or not this rotation will hold up against division rivals. Toronto has the firepower, but Pearson needs to stay healthy and bring stability to a shaky rotation.

Boston Red Sox

Bobby Dalbec (1B, 3B)

The Red Sox have officially moved off most of their 2018 World Series Champion core. Bobby Dalbec is just one of many young prospects the Red Sox are counting on to continue this mini-rebuild. He was absolutely fantastic in the 23 games he appeared in last year, racking up 8 HR, 16 RBI, and a whopping .959 OPS. Those numbers aren’t really sustainable over a full, 162-game season, but Dalbec is one of the younger MLB stars that nobody talks about. Alex Verdugo and Rafael Devers get all the love on this Boston squad, but Dalbec could breakout this season and have a crack at Rookie of the Year.

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