Every MLB Team's X-Factor Heading Into 2012

Phillip BrownSenior Analyst IIFebruary 4, 2012

Every MLB Team's X-Factor Heading Into 2012

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    This is not going to be a list of every team's best player. You will not see Clayton Kershaw, Jose Bautista, Robinson Cano or Albert Pujols here.

    This is a list of each team's No. 1 X-Factor heading into 2011. That one player that can make or break a team's season. It may be because he is coming off injury, is a promising prospect or a player that has been disappointing recently.

    These players can propel their teams to the next level. Each of these players could make a .500 team playoff contenders.

    Let's see each team's X-Factor heading into 2012.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Chris Young

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    2011 Stats: .236/.331/.420, 20 HR, 71 RBI, 22 SB

    Projected 2012 Stats: .261/.348/.473, 29 HR, 93 RBI, 25 SB

     

    Chris Young has a lot of talent but he has been very disappointing for most of his career.

    Young has hit 25 home runs per 600 at-bats over his career, topping out at 32 home runs in 2007. But he has never hit .260 or posted an .800 OPS.

    The Diamondbacks signed Jason Kubel to go along with Gerardo Parra, Justin Upton and Young.

    If Young can bring it all together and have a big season, the Diamondbacks have a shot at a World Series appearance.

Atlanta Braves: Jason Heyward

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    2011 Stats: .227/.319/.389, 14 HR, 42 RBI, 9 SB

    Projected 2012 Stats: .285/.401/.482, 28 HR, 84 RBI, 10 SB

     

    Jason Heyward had a great rookie season in 2010 by hitting .277 with 18 home runs. Then the dreaded Sophomore slump happened.  He stopped hitting for power and his batting average plummeted to .227.

    Heyward was the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball just a couple years ago and has the potential to hit .300 with 35 home runs. If he can top his rookie season in 2012 his bat will be much appreciated in the middle of an already potent Braves lineup.

    Not only would Heyward improve but the batters around him, such as Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla, would all become much better hitters as a result of a more dangerous Jason Heyward.

Baltimore Orioles: Adam Jones

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    2011 Stats: .280/.319/.466, 25 HR, 83 RBI, 12 SB

    Projected 2012 Stats: .297/.338/.473, 30 HR, 91 RBI, 14 SB

     

    Adam Jones is a very good player. The 26-year-old center fielder hits about .280 and about 20 to 25 home runs every year. Adam Jones should break out in 2012 and drive his team out of the AL East cellar.

    There is no denying Jones has the tools. He also has the batters around him to facilitate a breakout season.

    The only thing standing in between Jones and stardom is time. Most players do not peak until they have been in the league for a few years and have gotten used to how the game is played and how pitchers pitch.

    Jones has reached that plateau and it is time for him to become the true superstar he was expected to be. If he can do that, this Baltimore Orioles team has a slim chance of jumping the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East standings.

Boston Red Sox: Clay Buchholz

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    2011 Stats: 82.2 IP, 6-3, 3.48 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 60 K, 31 BB

    Projected 2012 Stats: 160 IP, 12-8, 3.41 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 110 K, 58 BB

     

    Clay Buchholz and his 2.70 ERA over the last two seasons are very impressive. His 89 innings pitched per season for his career on the other hand is cause for concern.

    No matter how talented a player is, injuries can derail a career. After a stress fracture in his back that caused him to miss half of 2011, Buchholz will have to prove that he is healthy.

    Buchholz gives the Boston Red Sox a legitimate one-two-three punch atop their rotation. In a league based around pitching, that's huge.

    We all know the Red Sox can trade run for run with any team in the majors. But getting Buchholz back to 100 percent has to be their No. 1 priority.

    Without him, the Red Sox are a borderline playoff team. With him they are legitimate World Series contenders.

Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo

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    2011 Stats: .144/.281/.4242, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 2 SB

    Projected 2012 Stats: .263/.332/.475, 20 HR, 65 RBI, 5 SB

     

    Anthony Rizzo was traded from the San Diego Padres to the Chicago Cubs for reliever Andrew Cashner.

    Many people expected Theo Epstein to sign either Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder but he decided to trade for the best first base prospect in baseball, whom he drafted in Boston.

    Rizzo has a lot of potential and Theo Epstein put a lot of faith in him.

    Rizzo had an excellent minor league career but struggled in the majors in 2011. Many people believe it was because he is a power hitter and PETCO Park in San Diego is where power hitters go to die.

    A move to Wrigley Field in 2012 should be able to showcase Rizzo's incredible potential.

    The Cubs will rely on Anthony Rizzo to hit in the middle of their lineup and become a big run producer.

Chicago White Sox: John Danks

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    2011 Stats: 170.1 IP, 8-12, 4.33 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 135 K, 46 BB

    Projected 2012 Stats: 180 IP, 9-13, 3.75 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 146 K, 56 BB

     

    Mark Buehrle is in Miami and Gavin Floyd has been implicated in trade rumors.

    Jon Danks on the other hand signed a five-year $65 million extension with the Chicago White Sox.

    Danks is their new ace and after a subpar 2011 season, he has to step up and earn his new contract for the White Sox to have any chance of getting over the loss of Mark Buehrle.

    At times John Danks looks like a very good lefty starting pitcher that is worth $65 million. But most of the time he looks like an erratic pitcher with an ERA hovering around 4.00.

    If Danks can take a step forward and fulfill his potential, the White Sox have a chance to finish second int he AL Central behind the Detroit Tigers.

Cincinnati Reds: Johnny Cueto

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    2011 Stats: 156 IP, 9-5, 2.31 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 104 K, 47 BB

    Projected 2012 Stats: 196 IP, 14-8, 3.74 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 150 K, 68 BB

     

    Johnny Cueto is a bit of an enigma.

    Cueto started 30-plus games from 2008 to 2010 and had a 4.27 ERA during that time. In 2011 Cueto started 24 games, posting a 2.31ERA, which was the best in the majors among pitchers with over 150 innings pitched.

    Is he really that good or was 2011 a fluke?

    If he can keep that performance up in 2012 while starting 30-plus games he will be considered one of the best pitchers in the majors.

    Advanced statistics do not think he will keep his ERA that low in 2011. Cueto's FIP in 2011 was 3.45 and his xFIP was even worse at 3.90. If does not bode well for 2012 when your xFIP is more than double your ERA.

    If Cueto can even keep his ERA around 3.00 he, along with Mat Latos, will create a very good top of the rotation in Cincinnati. This will give the Reds a good chance of knocking off the St Louis Cardinals atop the NL Central.

Cleveland Indians: Ubaldo Jiminez

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    2011 Stats: 188.1 IP, 10-13, 4.68 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 180 K, 78 BB

    Projected 2012 Stats: 203 IP, 12-10, 3.60 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 190 K, 82 BB

     

    The Cleveland Indians gave up quite a bit to trade for Ubaldo Jiminez. Jiminez proceeded to regress even farther from the first half of 2010.

    In 2012 an ace will not be enough to compete, you will also need an excellent No. 2 starter. Jiminez must be that pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.

    There is no doubt that Jiminez has ace potential but the Indians need him to be at least a very good No. 2 pitcher behind Justin Masterson if they have any chance of competing with the Detroit Tigers for the AL Central crown.

Colorado Rockies: Jorge De La Rosa

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    2011 Stats: 59 IP, 5-2, 3.51 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 52 K, 22 BB

    Projected 2012 Stats: 164 IP, 11-10, 3.48 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 151 K, 68 BB

     

    We all know about Jhoulys Chacin, Drew Pomeranz and Alex White. But Jorge De La Rosa may be the most important of the four for the Colorado Rockies in 2012.

    Even at just 24, Chacin has showed he can be a very good starting pitcher. Pomeranz and White on the other hand have not really been given a shot to succeed yet so not much is expected of them.

    De La Rosa had a good 2011 season, posting a 3.51 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 7.9 K/9 in 59 innings pitched.

    He had never posted an ERA below 4.20 in his career. In 2011 he broke that streak, but he did not pitch enough innings to have a big impact.

    If De La Rosa can become a dependable No. 2 starter with 180 innings pitched and an ERA below 3.60, the Rockies will become a much better team.

    The Rockies already have some great hitters, including Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Todd Helton, Ramon Hernandez and Michael Cuddyer.  They just need a rotation upon which they can rely.

Detroit Tigers: Doug Fister

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    2011 Stats: 216.1 IP, 11-13, 2.83 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 146 K, 37 BB

    Projected 2012 Stats: 210 IP, 15-8, 3.28 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 138 K, 35 BB

     

    When the Detroit Tigers traded for Doug Fister at the 2011 trade deadline, people thought it was a nice move to help the middle of their rotation. It turned out to be much more than that as Fister went on an absolute tear by posting a 1.79 ERA in 70.1 innings.

    While I do think he will come down to earth, I also think he will remain a very good No. 2 starter right behind Justin Verlander.

    The Tigers' rotation outside of Verlander and Fister is full of question marks like Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer and Jacob Turner, who is very talented but is still a prospect.

    For the Tigers to compete in 2012, Fister must keep his ERA in the low 3.00 because Verlander cannot carry the rotation by himself, no matter how dominant he is.

Houston Astros: J.A. Happ

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    2011 Stats: 156.1 IP, 6-15, 5.35 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 134 K, 83 BB

    Projected 2012 Stats: 162 IP, 6-11, 4.52 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 138 K, 79 BB

     

    J.A. Happ was the prize of the deal that sent Roy Oswalt to Philadelphia. Happ looked very impressive in his rookie season with the Phillies, posting a 2.93 ERA in 166 innings. But he has been disappointing to say the least so far in Houston.

    Happ is a very talented lefty but he has to improve his control in order to fulfill his potential. With Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers likely to be traded by the 2012 trade deadline, Happ might become the Astros' ace.

    The Astros will not compete in 2012, but if Happ can reach his potential their future may be just a little bit brighter.

Kansas City Royals: Mike Moustakas

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    2011 Stats: .263/.309/.367, 5 HR, 30 RBI, 2 SB

    Projected 2012 Stats: .288/.322/.455, 18 HR, 73 RBI, 3 SB

     

    Mike Moustakas is a highly-touted third base prospect for the Kansas City Royals. Moustakas had a disappointing debut in 2011 but he did show some promise.

    The Royals probably will not compete in 2012. But with a young core led by Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, they have a bright future.

    Expect Moustakas to put up similar numbers to Eric Hosmer in 2011 and cement himself as an elite third baseman.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Kendrys Morales

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    2010 Stats: .290/.346/.487, 11 HR, 39 RBI, 0 SB

    Projected 2012 Stats: .286/.339/.498, 29 HR, 87 RBI, 0 SB

     

    Kendrys Morales had an incredible 2009 season by hitting .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBI. But he broke his ankle while celebrating a walk-off home run on May 29 against the Seattle Mariners.

    Not only did he miss the rest of the 2010 season but he also missed all of the 2011 season. Morales should be back to his old self in 2012, if he is still in an Angels' uniform.

    With the signing of Albert Pujols and the emergence of Mark Trumbo, somebody has to go unless Trumbo can learn third base. Pujols is not going anywhere and Trumbo is the cheaper option without the injury issues.

    If Trumbo learns third base and Morales plays DH, the Angels will have a very potent middle of the order.

Los Angeles Dodgers: James Loney

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    2011 Stats: .288/.339/.416, 12 HR, 65 RBI, 4 SB

    Projected 2012 Stats: .298/.352/.458, 21 HR, 78 RBI, 7 SB

     

    James Loney has never lived up to his potential, especially since he is not a power hitting first baseman. First basemen are expected to hit for power but since Loney can't, he is underrated.

    Loney is heading into his contract year and we all know how that can motivate a player to have a career year. Loney will be fully motivated to have the best season of his career in order to garner a larger contract come December.

    Loney should finally become the big bat the Los Angeles Dodgers thought he would be, even if it is only for one season.

Miami Marlins: Josh Johnson

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    2011 Stats: 60.1 IP, 11-13, 1.64 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 56 K, 20 BB

    Projected 2012 Stats: 203 IP, 18-7, 2.52 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 202 K, 53 BB

     

    If you do not already know, Josh Johnson is a bona fide ace...when healthy.

    The 28-year-old righty has a 2.98 career ERA, but in his six-year career Johnson has only pitched over 90 innings three times.

    It is a little encouraging that in 2009 and 2010 he averaged 196.1 innings pitched, but in 2011 he once again got hurt and missed a majority of the season.

    The Miami Marlins signed Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle because they want to make a move to win the NL East or at least the Wild Card. Johnson is going to have to be healthy for them to make the postseason.

Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun

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    2011 Stats: .332/.397/.597, 39 HR, 111 RBI, 33 SB

    Projected 2012 Stats (with 50-game suspension): .317/.380/.574, 26 HR, 77 RBI, 23 SB

     

    Ryan Braun is the Milwaukee Brewers' X-Factor for a couple of reasons.

    First, he will probably be suspended for the first 50 games of the 2012 season for taking PEDs. No major league player has ever won a PED appeal.

    If he does, the Brewers team will not compete to win the NL Central. If not, they are still postseason contenders.

    Second, somebody has to pick up the slack for the loss of Prince Fielder to the Detroit Tigers. Braun already had an incredible 2011 season but he is going to have to pick up his game in 2012 without the protection of Fielder batting behind him.

    Braun has to work on his appeal and then get ready for the 2012 season if the Brewers have any chance of making the postseason.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer

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    2011 Stats: .287/.360/.368, 3 HR, 30 RBI, 0 SB

    Projected 2012 Stats: .325/.415/.470, 14 HR, 82 RBI, 0 SB

     

    Joe Mauer is amongst the best players in the game when healthy.

    Mauer is listed at 6'5" and 235 pounds, which is very big for a catcher.Mauer may have to play a lot of first base to stay healthy and let Justin Morneau, who has injury problems of his own, rest by being moved from first base to DH.

    In Mauer's eight-year career he has never played in 150 games and he only played in 82 games in 2011 due to injury.

    Mauer will always hit for average but power is the big question. In 2009 he hit 28 home runs but his next highest season total was 13 in 2006.

    If he can stay healthy, keep his average up and hit double digit home runs once again, Mauer will be among the best players in the majors in 2012.

New York Mets: Johan Santana

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    2010 Stats: 199 IP, 11-9, 2.98 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 144 K, 55 BB

    Projected 2012 Stats: 192 IP, 12-10, 3.01 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 172 K, 49 BB

     

    Johan Santana, just like Joe Mauer and Josh Johnson, is one of the best players in the majors when healthy.

    Santana is only 32 and missed all of the 2011 season due to injury. If he can get healthy he should be the same Johan Santana than has posted a 2.85 ERA in three seasons with the New York Mets.

    The Mets are moving in the walls at Citi Field. Players like David Wright and Jason Bay are going to be positively affected by this change but Santana should not be so excited.

    Citi Field used to be a pitcher's park but that may not be the case anymore. The New York Mets need an ace because R.A. Dickey is not enough to lead their rotation.

New York Yankees: Michael Pineda

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    2011 Stats: 171 IP, 9-10, 3.74 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 173 K, 55 BB

    Projected 2012 Stats: 200 IP, 17-7, 3.28 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 205 K, 62 BB

     

    Brian Cashman and the New York Yankees made a big risk when they traded Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda.

    The Yankees' rotation was very weak but right now it looks very good...on paper. I already wrote an article on Pineda that goes into a little more detail but I will summarize those thoughts here.

    Most people are worried about Pineda's move from Safeco Field to Yankee Stadium and his ERA spiking after the All-Star break. But I am not as worried about that as most people.

    Luck may not seem like a good reason for a player to improve but it is. Pitchers can only control a few things. Stats like BABIP, HR/FB rate and runners stranded are not in the pitcher's control.

    He was extremely unlucky on the road because his BABIP is .066 higher away from Safeco. He also has a 10.5 percent HR/FB at home and a lower 7.8 percent HR/FB on the road even though Safeco Field is supposed turn home runs into routine fly balls.

    He also only stranded 64.4 percent of runners on the road in 2011 even though the league average is 75 percent.

    Pineda was a very unlucky pitcher on the road in 2011.

    His FIP on the road is 3.26 but his FIP at home is 3.62. Neither of those are bad at all and he is actually better on the road away from Safeco Field.

    Pineda actually improved as the season went on, despite what his sudden spike in ERA will tell you.

    His ground ball rate was from 31.3 percent from March to June and then from September to October it was 45.3 percent. That is a huge improvement. His strikeout and walk rates also remained fairly constant throughout the year.

    After the All-Star break he had a 5.14 ERA, right? Sounds awful. He also had a 3.22 xFIP during that time, which is actually pretty good.

    If Pineda can improve like any 23-year-old pitcher should, he can become a very good No. 2 pitcher behind C.C. Sabathia.

Oakland Athletics: Brandon McCarthy

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    2011 Stats: 170.2 IP, 9-9, 3.32 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 123 K, 25 BB

    Projected 2012 Stats: 183 IP, 11-10, 3.17 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 138 K, 29 BB

     

    With Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey all gone, Brandon McCarthy becomes the Oakland Athletics' best pitcher.

    McCarthy should be fine in 2012, especially since he gets to pitch in the AL West in O.co Stadium.

    If you believe in Billy Beane's sabermetric approach, the sky is the limit for McCarthy, who posted the fifth lowest FIP in the majors.

    Is he an ace? No, but he should improve on his impressive 2011 campaign by posting even better numbers in 2012.

Philadelphia Phillies: Ty Wigginton and Jim Thome

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    Wigginton 2011 Stats: .242/.315/.416, 15 HR, 47 RBI, 8 SB

    Wigginton Projected 2012 Stats: .262/.333/.412, 9 HR, 32 RBI, 2 SB

    Thome 2011 Stats: .256/.361/.477, 15 HR, 50 RBI, 0 SB

    Thome Projected 2012 Stats: .250/.352/.470, 11 HR, 35 RBI, 0 SB

     

    Jim Thome and Ty Wigginton will replace Ryan Howard at first base until he comes back from his Achilles injury.

    These two players will platoon to keep each other fresh and healthy. They will also switch them off against righties and lefties since Thome bats left-handed and Wigginton bats right-handed.

    With Ryan Howard gone the Phillies' lineup lacks a true power hitter. Hunter Pence is a very good hitter, so are Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins. None of them will hit 30 home runs in a season like Howard.

    The Phillies will rely on Thome and Wigginton to help pick up the slack left by Howard. The two veterans should be up for the challenge and although they will not produce like Ryan Howard they will play better than expected.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Gerrit Cole

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    2011 Stats (Minor League Stats): 15 IP, 2-0, 3.00 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 16 K, 4 BB

    Projected 2012 Stats: 48 IP, 15-8, 3.29 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 53 K, 22 BB

     

    Gerrit Cole was the No. 1 pick in the 2011 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and he is very close to being major league ready.

    Cole will not be in Pittsburgh on Opening Day but he could be there by the All-Star break. Barring an injury he will be in the majors by September.

    Cole has an electric fastball than can hit triple digits that should translate to the major league level.

    With the weakening of the St Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers, the AL Central is wide open.

    The Pirates were in first place half way through 2011, so they have the talent to compete. Gerrit Cole could be that final piece that pushes them over the top and into the postseason.

San Diego Padres: Yonder Alonso

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    2011 Stats: .330/.398/.545, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 0 SB

    Projected 2012 Stats: .286/.351/.453, 18 HR, 62 RBI, 4 SB

     

    Yonder Alonso was the biggest piece of the deal that sent Mat Latos to Cincinnati.

    The San Diego Padres then sent highly-touted Anthony Rizzo, who was the major piece of the Adrian Gonzalez trade, to the Chicago Cubs. That shows that the Padres really believe in Alonso as their first baseman of the future.

    Alonso had a great short stint in the majors in 2011 and most people believe he will regress because of his move from Great American Ballpark to PETCO Park.

    I do not believe that will happen because Alonso is not a power hitter.

    He is a line drive hitter that should thrive in the cavernous PETCO Park due to its big gaps in left and right center field.

    The Padres have found their first baseman of the future.

San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey

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    2011 Stats: .284/.368/.389, 4 HR, 21 RBI, 3 SB

    Projected 2012 Stats: .312/.378/.512, 26 HR, 82 RBI, 5 SB

     

    Buster Posey was a rising star that had the potential to move up with the elite catchers such as Joe Mauer and Brian McCann. Then he had a horrendous leg injury that sidelined him for the rest of the 2011 season.

    Posey should be ready for the 2011 season, although he may spend most of the season at first base to protect his ankle.

     Despite the injury, Posey is still one of the best young players in the majors and should have a bounce back year in 2012, helping the Giants in their attempt to reclaim the NL West crown.

Seattle Mariners: Jesus Montero

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    2011 Stats: .328/.406/.590, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 0 SB

    Projected 2012 Stats: .301/.362/.515, 27 HR, 73 RBI, 0 SB

     

    Jesus Montero was on the other end of the deal that sent Michael Pineda to New York.

    The Seattle Mariners' pitching is pretty good. Felix Hernandez is an ace and then they have a lot of choices to fill out the rest of the rotation, including Jason Vargas, Hisashi Iwakuma, Hector Noesi, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton.

    Their lineup on the other hand is a pretty weak. Dustin Ackley is a rising star, Ichiro Suzuki is getting older and Justin Smoak has been disappointing so far.

    Then there is Jesus Montero, the power-hitting catcher/DH from New York. In his short 20 game stint in New York (including the postseason) he hit .349/.414/.603, with a 1.017 OPS, four HR and 12 RBI.

    In his first full season in the majors Montero should be an anchor in the middle of the Mariners' lineup.

St Louis Cardinals: David Freese

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    2011 Stats: .297/.350/.441, 10 HR, 55 RBI, 1 SB

    Projected 2012 Stats: .315/.368/.479, 30 HR, 94 RBI, 2 SB

     

    David Freese had a good 97-game regular season for the St. Louis Cardinals and then the postseason happened.

    Freese's 2012 postseason campaign is one for the ages. He hit .397/.465/.794 with a 1.258 OPS, five HR and 21 RBI in 18 games.

    Obviously he will not repeat those numbers over a full season, but he should see an improvement over his 2011 numbers, especially since he will be a full-time starter.

    With Albert Pujols gone, the Cardinals signed Carlos Beltran. Adam Wainwright should be back after missing all of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery.

    Beltran cannot fill the hole left by Pujols by himself, he will need help and David Freese is just that man. Expect a breakout season for David Freese in 2012.

    The AL Central is wide open for four teams with a legitimate chance of taking the division. Freese may be just that player to push the Cardinals over the top.

Tampa Bay Rays: Matt Moore

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    2011 Stats: 9.1 IP, 1-0, 2.89 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 15 K, 3 BB

    Projected 2012 Stats: 200 IP, 16-8, 2.88 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 229 K, 59 BB

     

    Matt Moore showed in 2011 how dominant he can be. In his first start he threw five shutout innings with 11 strikeouts against the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium.

    If that wasn't enough, he followed it up with a seven inning shutout with six strikeouts in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Texas Rangers in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

    The sky is the limit for the talented lefty. We all saw what Jeremy Hellickson did in 2011 but Moore will likely be even better.

    The Tampa Bay Rays' rotation is loaded wit David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore leading the way. It may not take long for Moore to jump over the other three pitchers and become the Rays' ace.

    If the Rays make the postseason in 2012, Matt Moore will be a big reason why.

Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish

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    2011 Stats (Japanese Stats): 232 IP, 18-6, 1.44 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 276 K, 36 BB

    Projected 2012 Stats: 185 IP, 14-8, 3.54 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 189 K, 58 BB

     

    The Texas Rangers paid $112 million for Yu Darvish. That is the most paid for a right-handed pitcher...ever. That sounds like a lot for a pitcher who has never thrown a pitch in the major leagues.

    Despite all of that, Darvish is only 25 and has incredible talent. He is not like most Japanese pitchers: he is used to living in America, has a 6'5" frame and had better stats in Japan than pitchers like Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kei Igawa and Hideo Nomo.

    Darvish will still struggle due to the better batters, different mound, different ball, less days off, new catcher, smaller ballpark and the Texas heat. But he should still be a solid pitcher for the Rangers.

    Do not expect him to come out in his first season and be a dominant pitcher. But do not expect him to flop, either. He will not replace C.J. Wilson in 2012 but he can be a good No. 2 pitcher for the Rangers.

    The Rangers will likely make the postseason in 2012 and when they do Darvish could be their Game 1 starter in the ALDS.

Toronto Blue Jays: Colby Rasmus

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    2011 Stats: .225/.298/.391, 14 HR, 53 RBI, 5 SB

    Projected 2012 Stats: .283/.372/.511, 28 HR, 77 RBI, 9 SB

     

    Colby Rasmus has a lot of talent but he is known to have character issues, which is why the St Louis Cardinals traded him at a discounted price to the Toronto Blue Jays at the 2011 trade deadline.

    With a veteran like Jose Bautista right next to him in left field I expect Rasmus to improve his character and work on baseball. He will hit for a solid batting average but he will hit for quite a bit of power for a 25-year-old.

    Rasmus should go back to his 2010 season, where he was a dynamic hitter for the Cardinals. The Blue Jays will have a nice young hitting tandem of Rasmus and Brett Lawrie for years to come.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper

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    2011 Stats (Minor League Stats): .297/.392/.501, 17 HR, 58 RBI, 26 SB

    Projected 2012 Stats: .281/.350/.511, 24 HR, 85 RBI, 16 SB

     

    A little cliche? A little obvious? I thought so, too. That doesn't mean it isn't true.

    If Bryce Harper lives up to his hype the Nationals have a legitimate shot at the Wild Card, especially if the majors institute the two Wild Card system in 2012. If not, the Nationals will wish they signed Prince Fielder.

    Harper will play in 2012. In fact, he reportedly has a chance of making the team out of spring training.

    The only question is if he will win the NL Rookie of the Year Award to which his name has already been attached.

    Harper has the potential to be the best player in the majors in his prime but let's see what he can do as a rookie before we crown him.