Saturday, January 5, 2013

13 Baseball Players to Watch in 2013

Jacoby Ellsbury
The speedy Red Sox centerfielder is coming off another injury plagued season, but Boston is counting on him to be the superstar he was in 2011 when he finished runner-up in the AL MVP race to Justin Verlander. 2013 is his contract year and Scott Boras is his agent, so if Ellsbury stays healthy one would expect him to put up big numbers batting leadoff for Boston's stacked lineup.

Eric Hosmer
After a promising rookie campaign in which he batted .293 with 19 home runs at the tender age of 21, Hosmer endured a sophomore slump that saw his batting line tank to .232/.304/.359. Much of his struggles can be attributed to his .255 BABiP, and I have a feeling the 23 year-old will take a big step forward next season as he matures into the Joey Votto clone that scouts expected him to be.

Brett Lawrie
Like Hosmer, Toronto's third-baseman displayed flashes of brilliance during his rookie year (.953 OPS in 43 games) but underachieved in his second season. Lawrie is even younger than Hosmer (by three months) but is burdened by similarly high expectations (the next Ryan Braun). While Kansas City needs Hosmer to bounce back and help the Royals win, the Blue Jays have surrounded Lawrie with enough fresh talent (Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey) that he doesn't have to try to do it all.

Giancarlo Stanton
Led the majors in slugging percentage last year and smashed 37 home runs despite missing a quarter of the season. He's only 23 but has already established himself as one of the top power hitters in the game. If he stays in Miami it will be interesting to see how he fares next season with no one to get on base in front of him or drive him home. He's not going to get as many good pitches to hit, so will he accept more walks/pass the baton or become more aggressive and start chasing pitches out of the zone?

Manny Machado
The 20 year-old was called up last August to supplant Mark Reynolds as Baltimore's third baseman. While he didn't exactly set the world on fire, he acquitted himself well at the hot corner while showing promising power for a youngster. The Orioles will fall back to earth next year, but Machado should start taking off.

Miguel Cabrera
What will the first Triple Crown winner since 1967 do for an encore? Continue to mash, of course.

Melky Cabrera
After enjoying a career year in 2011, the Melk Man played at an MVP level in 2012 before getting busted for PEDs in mid-August. Last month he signed a two-year, $16 million deal that I consider low-risk, high-reward. If he regresses into the player he was prior to 2011, then he'll be a bit overpaid. But if he can be anything close to the player he's been these past two years, then that contract will go down as a terrific bargain.

Edwin Encarnacion
Is this late-bloomer for real like teammate Jose Bautista? Or is he merely a one-hit wonder? I think he's legit.

Justin Upton
B.J. Upton's enigmatic younger brother has been up and down in his big league career, and his frustrating inconsistencies have caused the Diamondbacks to dangle his name in trade talks. But at 25 he's just entering his prime and could emerge as the superstar/MVP candidate he's supposed to be.

Tim Lincecum
The two-time Cy Young winner was one of the league's worst pitchers in 2012, leading the Senior Circuit in earned runs and losses. Manager Bruce Bochy moved him to the bullpen in the playoffs and the former ace pitched brilliantly, helping San Francisco win their second World Series title of the decade. He deserves a shot at regaining his starter's role next year, but there are doubts that he can be an effective workhorse again. I see him rebounding in 2013, but not to ace-levels.

Mariano Rivera
The best closer in the history of baseball is 43 and spent most of 2012 recovering from knee surgery. Can he come back? I'm tempted to say no, but wouldn't be surprised if the timeless Rivera returns to form next year.

Kris Medlen
Began last season coming out of Atlanta's bullpen but dominated during his brief stint in the starting rotation. Medlen made a dozen starts in 2012 and the Braves won them all. The converted reliever averaged seven innings per start, compiled a microscopic 0.97 ERA and posted an unreal 84/10 K/BB ratio while limiting opponents to .191/.218/.265 figures. Obviously those numbers are unsustainable, but I don't think he's a flash in the pan.

Albert Pujols
After a pair of down seasons in which his walk rate tumbled as he abandoned his trademark plate discipline, it remains to be seen if the Machine can rediscover the patient approach made him a three-time MVP in St. Louis. He needs to ditch the Vladimir Guerrero impersonation and stop chasing so many pitches outside the strike zone. The Angels have two other elite hitters in Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton, so Pujols shouldn't press and feel like he has to carry the team on his back. He can afford to sit back and take walks, but will he?

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