Thursday, December 25, 2014

15 Baseball Players to Watch in 2015

What does A-Rod have in store for 2015? (The Greedy Pinstripes)
Here are 15 ballplayers to keep an eye on next year;

1. Alex Rodriguez
What will the 39 year-old (who turns 40 in July) be able to contribute to the Yankees coming off a season-long PED suspension? Not much, I suspect, but he could be moderately useful.

2. Bryce Harper
Harper hasn't quite lived up to expectations, primarily because of his penchant for running into outfield walls, but he's also 22. He hasn't come close to reaching his ceiling.

3. Josh Hamilton
Remember him? He's been a huge bust in the first two years of his five-year, $125 million pact with the Angels, contributing just three bWAR between the two seasons combined. Played just 89 games last year after hurting himself while diving into first base, so will a healthy Hamilton return to form in 2015? Seeing as how he turns 34 in May, probably not.

4. Xander Bogaerts
The Red Sox shortstop was a major disappointment in his first full season, batting just .240/.297/.362 with questionable defense. He's still just 22, though, and will undoubtedly get better.

5. Masahiro Tanaka
The Yankees rookie was lights out in the first 16 starts of his big league career before struggling and missing most of the second half with a partially torn UCL. Which begs the question; how will he hold up over the course of a full season?

6. Chris Davis
A beast in 2013, terrible in 2014 before his lousy season was mercifully cut short by a PED suspension. Which Davis will show up in 2015; the MVP-caliber slugger of two years ago or the Mark Reynolds-esque version from last year?

7. Javier Baez
The definition of raw, Baez struck out 95 times in just 213 official at-bats last year, resulting in a meager .169 batting average and .227 on-base percentage. The rare times when he did make contact, he flashed his enormous power potential by slugging nine home runs in 50 games. The former first round draft pick is only 22 and could break out if he cuts down on his swing.

8. Jorge Soler
Another 22 year-old Cubbie (though he'll be 23 next year), Soler raked in his brief debut last year, batting .292/.330/.573 with five home runs and 20 RBI in jut 24 games. The Cuban outfielder could be Chicago's Yasiel Puig.

9. Ryan Braun
His last two seasons have been underwhelming compared to his first six. Now 31, is he merely just a good player instead of the perennial All-Star and MVP candidate he used to be?

10. Justin Verlander
Over the past two years, Verlander hasn't come close to matching his brilliant 2011-12 seasons. He was horrendous last year, will be 32 next year, and has steadily lost velocity over the past five years. Will the Tigers continue to let him start if his struggles persist, or will they try to convert him into a super-reliever a la Wade Davis or Tim Lincecum circa 2012 postseason?

11. Giancarlo Stanton
How will he perform under the pressure of signing baseball's first $300 million contract? How will he respond to the beanball that drilled him in the face last September, costing him the final three weeks of what was shaping up to be an MVP-run? Probably by hitting more towering home runs, I'd imagine.

12. Joey Votto
Batted a career-worst .255/.390/.409 and missed 100 games in 2014. Have to think the 31 year-old former MVP returns to form in a healthy 2015.

13. Clayton Kershaw
What will he do for an encore? It's not like he can get any better, can he?

14. The Texas Rangers
Pretty much their entire team got hurt last year, turning a 91-win team in 2013 into a last place team in 2014 (yep, they were worse than the Astros). Positive regression is coming, but how much? And how will they fare under new skipper Jeff Bannister?

15. The San Diego Padres
Will they hit? The Padres loaded up on righthanded power, this offseason's soup de jour, but their park is brutal on righties. One thing's for certain; they're going to be way more fun to watch than recent editions.

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