Fox Sports analyst sees fierce AL East, better M's

by: COURTESY OF MEG WILLIAMS - Robinson Cano takes over at second base this season for the Seattle Mariners.Harold Reynolds' new gig starts Saturday, when he teams with Joe Buck and Tom Verducci for Fox Sports' telecast of the 1 p.m. Los Angeles-San Francisco game at Dodger Stadium.

Reynolds recently signed on to take the place of the retired Tim McCarver in the booth alongside Buck. The Corvallis native and former All-Star second baseman with the Seattle Mariners will work eight regular-season games for Fox Sports as well as the All-Star Game and the entire postseason.

Reynolds will continue to serve as studio analyst for MLB Network's "MLB Tonight" show Monday through Friday from 7-10 p.m.

With the major league's regular season set to begin, Reynolds took time for a question-and-answer session with the Portland Tribune.

Portland Tribune: How strong is the American League East, with the New York Yankees, Boston, Baltimore, Toronto and Tampa Bay? Are any of its teams not a contender?

Reynolds: Parity-wise, it could be the closest race ever. Every team in that division has the potential to win 90 games. You don't come across that, ever.

Of course, they play each other 19 times, so somebody is going to get beat up down the line. But it's a loaded division, no doubt about it.

The Yankees have gotten back in it. A year ago, they didn't spend as much money and sort of wrote off the season. This season, they're loaded up. When the Yankees are good, it affects everybody in baseball. The Yankees have made a statement, "We're coming after you." That forces everybody else to reload, too.

Tribune: What kind of an impact will Jacoby Ellsbury have with the Yankees? What kind of a season do you expect from him?

Reynolds: He's going to be great. Yankee Stadium is going to be maybe even better for him than Fenway Park was, because of the short porch in right field. He's a guy who pulls the ball a lot. That'll help him.

The big key for Jacoby is health. There's no question about his ability. If he stays healthy, he'll put up an All-Star year. if he gets hurt again, you worry about him.

Tribune: Michael Pineda, the former Seattle Mariners pitcher who has missed the last two seasons dealing with a labrum tear in his pitching arm, has won the fifth spot in the Yankees' rotation. What kind of a season can he have?

Reynolds: I watched Michael throw (during spring training) in Florida. It was the best I've seen him. He looked like he did in Seattle, throwing free and easy, the ball exploding out of his hand. He's in shape, and he has that great size. I don't know what he's going to do after being out so long, but I was very impressed with what I saw.

Tribune: Atlanta has lost starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, both to Tommy John surgery. Can the Braves cover for them and be a playoff team again?

Reynolds: It's going to be difficult, it really is. Before those injuries, you could pencil them in with the (Washington) Nationals at the top in the NL East. Now the Braves definitely drop down a notch. But getting Ervin Santana is a big help.

Plus, it's not always how you start. They have the potential in the minors to make moves. You'll see them continue to try to build that club through the season.

And a positive about the Braves, B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward have all hit well this spring. I don't see them having down years like they did last year. B.J. tried to be too much of a people pleaser, changing his swing and so forth, and fell into a rut. I think he's mentally back.

Tribune: What difference will Robinson Cano make in Seattle?

Reynolds: A huge difference. The thing about Cano, when you see him every day, you recognize how great a player he is.

I'm not convinced the Mariners have enough around him right now, but you can't look at this as a one-year deal. He signed a 10-year contract. We'll have to see how the club performs around him the next couple of years.

The crazy thing, with all the injuries Texas and Oakland have suffered, the Mariners find themselves in the AL West race. They have the pitching. They could be competitive right out of the gate.

The Rangers have lost their whole rotation, plus (second baseman) Jurickson Profar and (catcher) Geovany Soto. The A's have lost Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin. That leaves the Mariners and the Angels as the two teams that are relatively whole.

Tribune: What do you know about Mariners pitching prospect Taijuan Walker?

Reynolds: Love him. He hurt his shoulder early in training camp and didn't throw a lot. I think he'll start the season in the minors but be up by late April or May. This kid's ceiling is incredible. He's an athlete. He's only 21, but he's going to be one of those special pitchers who comes along once in a generation. He has a fastball in the mid-to-high 90s, a nice curveball and changeup. I don't think he has the stuff Felix (Hernandez) did at that age, but that same kind of presence.

Tribune: Offer names of two or three other rookies who you think could make an impact this season.

Reynolds: I like Nick Castellanos, Detroit's young third baseman. He's going to hit with high average and power, and he's playing his natural position.

I think in Boston's Xander Bogaerts, you're looking at the next great shortstop in baseball. He has the potential to hit 20 home runs and play every day at short.

Seattle catcher Mike Zunino has a chance to be another Buster Posey. I don't know if he'll hit like Buster, but he can catch and throw and control a game. He'll have a big impact for that team.

Tribune: How good is Max Scherzer, who won the Cy Young Award last season with an almost unbelievable 21-3 record? Can he replicate the kind of season he had with Detroit?

Reynolds: He has the ability to. I watched him throw a bullpen session the other day. His confidence oozes. That's the one thing that stands out. His stuff is electric. Now he has the confidence to go with it.

Tribune: What do you expect from the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig this season?

Reynolds: I love him. If they can keep him out of trouble, he'll be something special. He's going to drive you crazy. One day he'll be throwing to the wrong base or taking unnecessary chances on the base paths. The next day he's hitting a ball 500 feet, and you're amazed. That's the story with Puig.

The question will be how soon he learns to play the complete game of baseball, but they're going to try to build the franchise around him.

Tribune: The Dodgers have a payroll of $235 million, knocking the Yankees from the top spot in baseball for the first time in 15 years. Will they get their money's worth?

Reynolds: I think they will. The question is, will they win the World Series? I don't know about that. But with the roster they have, they are putting a product on the field that people want to see. They have a chance to win the NL West and go deep in the playoffs. That brand is worth watching again. They're getting their money's worth, no doubt.

Tribune: Who do you like to get to the World Series? Pick a Series champion.

Reynolds: I have the Nationals and the Tigers going to World Series, with the Tigers winning it all.

The Nationals are a deeper club than the Dodgers. They have a bench that can handle the injuries that happen with every club. They can go deep into the minor leagues for talent with players other teams are going to want. They're sitting in a good position to keep that machine going.

The reason I like the Tigers is the experience of having been (to the AL championship series) last year, to the Series two years ago, and the way they've done it the last couple of seasons. With Scherzer and (Justin) Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, they have guys who have been there. The experiences they've had make them ready to be champions. I think they'll win it this year.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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