2012 MLB Power Rankings Entering Spring Training

Matthew StuckoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2012

2012 MLB Power Rankings Entering Spring Training

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    With spring training getting underway over the holiday weekend, it's appropriate for Major League Baseball power rankings to be released. 

    The offseason was busy for many teams. Many A-list players shuffled squads and will be wearing new uniforms in 2012.

    Some of the most impactful moves were made by the Los Angeles Angels, signing first baseman Albert Pujols and starting pitcher C.J. Wilson. The Miami Marlins also made a lot of noise, adding shortstop Jose Reyes and pitchers Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano.

    How much will moves like these improve teams this season? Find out by reading on. 

30. Oakland Athletics

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    While the Billy Beane-inspired movie Moneyball was a box office this winter, the Oakland A's front office swung and missed.

    The A's are without many of their pitchers who brought success to the team in recent years. Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Josh Outman are out of the starting rotation, while Craig Breslow and Andrew Bailey are no longer in the bullpen.

    The one offensive power bat in the lineup for the A's has also departed.

    Josh Willingham hit .246 with 29 home runs and 98 RBI in 2011, but is now part of the Minnesota Twins. However, Coco Crisp will still man the outfield after signing a $14 million, two-year contract with a club option for 2014 after hitting .264 with eight home runs, 54 RBI and 49 stolen bases last season.

    The only major headline the A's made this offseason was signing 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million deal.

    Well, that and the minor league deal agreement with Manny Ramirez. Ramirez retired last season after testing positive in a drug test that would have suspended him 100 games before league officials lowered the ban to 50 games.

    As usual, don't expect too much out of Oakland.

29. Houston Astros

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    The Houston Astros are under construction with new owner Jim Crane.

    From contemplating a new team name to making ticket prices as low as $1, the Astros are hoping their roster changes inspired by scouting and player development will pay off.

    That being said, the Astros traded away homegrown talent and All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence to the Phillies last season in exchange for blue-chip prospects in first baseman Jonathan Singleton and pitchers Jarred Cosart and Josh Zeid.

    In addition, they watched their next best player, Michael Bourn, run away to the Atlanta Braves, with whom he recently inked a one-year deal for $6,845,000.

    Last year, the pitching staff was bottom five in league rankings with a 4.51 cumulative ERA, 1.42 WHIP and a .266 opponents batting average en route to an MLB worst 56-106 record.

    Stakes will be high for the young talent on the team like Jose Altuve, Jason Castro and Fernando Martinez, while outfielder Carlos Lee will remain the lone star power on the roster.

28. San Diego Padres

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    The San Diego Padres' new GM, Josh Byrnes, made a solid debut over the winter with several transactions for his ball club, but it most likely won't be enough to put them anywhere near the top of the NL West. 

    Pitchers Aaron Harang and Mat Latos will be missed from the Padres rotation, which is currently slated to feature Clayton Richard, Edinson Volquez, Tim Stauffer, Dustin Moseley and Cory Luebke. Byrnes did a good job by replacing Heath Bell's closer role with Huston Street, formerly of the Colorado Rockies.

    The Padres offense received a minor face lift by acquiring outfielders Carlos Quentin, Yonder Alonso and Mark Kotsay. Their lineup was bottom three last year in runs scored (593), batting average (.237), on-base percentage (.305) and slugging percentage (.349). 

    There will be a battle between the Padres and the Rockies to stay out of the cellar in the NL West. 

27. Pittsburgh Pirates

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates' biggest problem is their pitching.

    Last year, the Pirates gave up the third-worst opponents batting average (.270) and received the fifth-fewest quality starts from their starting five. The recent acquisition of A.J. Burnett has potential to give them a boost in their rotation, but isn't a sure thing. 

    One thing to watch this year with the Pirates is their offense. The club is quietly bringing in an impressive top-heavy lineup in 2012.

    Outfielders Jose Tabata, Alex Presley and All-Star Andrew McCutchen will most likely be in the 1-2-3 spots in the batting order. Each hit over .277 last year with over 20 stolen bases.

    Neil Walker will likely fill the cleanup spot after turned things around in 2011 by hitting 17 home runs with 62 RBI in only 460 at-bats. Following him are corner infielders Garrett Jones, who showed some pop with 17 homers last year, and Pedro Alvarez who, like Walker, looks to turn a corner and have a successful 2012 campaign for the first time in his career.

    With Burnett added to the rotation and the No. 1 overall 2011 MLB draft pick Gerrit Cole debuting in the Pirates farm system this season, the team could be a league surprise in the near future.

26. Chicago Cubs

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    The Chicago Cubs still have their rich fanbase and freshly trimmed, vine-covered brick walls, but two things Wrigley Field won't have this year are hot-head of Carlos Zambrano and he big bat of Aramis Ramirez. 

    Zambrano spent 11 seasons with the Cubs before going to the Marlins this offseason. During his time in Chicago, he went 125-81 with a 3.60 ERA and 1,542 strikeouts. He was known to be a Gatorade jug's worst nightmare, and his mock retirement in 2011 turned his departure from Wrigleyville into a sour one, but he will be missed from a statistical standpoint.

    Ramirez on the other hand compiled the third-most 25-home run seasons among third basemen in the history of baseball with nine, only behind Mike Schmidt and Eddie Mathews, who each had 12. In addition, only the Atlanta Braves' Chipper Jones has had more seasons with at least a .300 batting average, 25 home runs and 90 RBI in the position's history. 

    Regardless of the losses, Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is on his way to a Hall of Fame career, Josh Vitters will soon make an impact at the major league level, and they still have Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano manning the outfield.

    A Cubs fan can only hope the starting rotation made of Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Chris Volstad and Travis Wood can provide some enlightenment in the Windy City.

25. Minnesota Twins

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    The Minnesota Twins won the AL Central in 2010, then fell face first into dead last in 2011.

    Only three players on the Twins saw more than 100 games of action last year. Those three were outfielder Michael Cuddyer, who is now with the Colorado Rockies, outfielder Ben Revere and third baseman Danny Valencia.

    Another eye-popping statistic was the lack of production by the faces of the franchise, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Plagued by injuries, Mauer hit .287 with three home runs and 30 RBI, while Morneau hit an abysmal .227 with four home runs and 30 RBI.

    If the Twins want to return to a .500 winning percentage, they will need productive performances from both former All-Stars, as well as consistency in their starting lineup.

24. New York Mets

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    Two players who needed to get out of New York are now out—shortstop Jose Reyes and outfielder Fernando Martinez.

    Now, the Mets can welcome starting pitcher Johan Santana back into his role as the ace of the rotation. It is hoped that there will be a resurgence of third baseman David Wright along with outfielder Jason Bay now that the outfield wall dimensions have been changed for the better.

    Santana missed all of 2011 after undergoing shoulder surgery. From 2008-2010, the left-hander posted a better ERA with the Mets than he did during his eight seasons with the Minnesota Twins. If he can provide his 3.10 ERA and 170-strikeout season average, 2012 will be considered a successful comeback for the much-missed starter.

    The Mets are also hoping first baseman Ike Davis can remain healthy for the entire season. Davis played only 36 games last year after injuring his ankle May 10 during a collision with teammate David Wright. He hit .302 with seven home runs and 25 RBI before being sidelined.

    With healthy players on their side and a cleared-out clubhouse, the Mets can only look to improve this season.

23. Baltimore Orioles

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    The Orioles probably had one of the worst offseasons of any Major League Baseball team.

    If you don't agree, here are their newly acquired players so you can decide for yourself: starting pitchers Wei-Yin Chen, Tsuyoshi Wada and Jason Hammel, relief pitcher Matt Lindstrom and position players Wilson Betemit, Endy Chavez and Taylor Teagarden.

    Plus, they lost Vladimir Guerrero, who hit .290 with 30 doubles, 13 home runs and 63 RBI in 2011.

    Baltimore's starting pitching in 2011 was horrendous. They placed last in team ERA at 4.89 and WHIP at 1.45, and second-worst with a .277 opponents' batting average.

    However, their offense wasn't all that bad and the core part of their lineup remains.

    In 2011, their 708 runs scored were ranked 14th in the major leagues, .257 batting average placed them 11th and .413 slugging percentage was ninth mostly due to four of their players hitting 20 or more home runs.

    If Mark Reynolds can produce another 30-plus home run season, and Adam Jones and Nick Markakis continue their consistent hitting, the Orioles could end up being a mediocre team. Regardless of how well they hit, however, there is no chance they will come close to the top half of the AL East.

22. Chicago White Sox

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    The city of Chicago sent off two of baseball's biggest loud mouths to Sunshine State this offseason, one being from the White Sox.

    Manager Ozzie Guillen is out and rookie manager Robin Ventura is in.

    GM Ken Williams also showed a desire to rebuild his club by getting rid of longtime White Sox starter Mark Buehrle and letting go of Juan Pierre, Carlos Quentin, Jason Frasor, Sergio Santos and Omar Vizquel.

    One of the key transactions made by Williams was the signing of John Danks to a five-year, $65 million contract and filling Buehrle's spot in the rotation with young gun Chris Sale.

    One of the older players still on the team, Paul Konerko, will turn 36 years old in March and is closing in on his 400th career home run. All he needs is four more home runs to join the 400-home run club.

21. Cleveland Indians

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    One of the biggest highlights of 2011 for the Cleveland Indians was the production of catcher Carlos Santana.

    The 25-year-old missed the end of the 2010 season following a home plate collision in August at Fenway Park that left him with a high grade strain of his LCL and hyperextension of his left knee.

    Before his injury, the switch-hitter saw action in 155 games while hitting .239 with 35 doubles, 27 home runs and 97 walks (sixth in the majors).

    Another highlight, a not-so-good one, came toward the end of the year when the starting pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona was arrested Jan. 19 outside the U.S. consulate in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, for using false identification while trying to hold a visa so he could attend spring training.

    The pitcher now known as Roberto Hernandez Heredia may be his last season in an Indians uniform since his contract with the Indians has club options for 2013 and 2014. Plus, there is still no timetable on when he will be able to return to the United States.

    If starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez repeats anything close to his performance last year when he posted a 10-13 record with 4.68 ERA and "Heredia" misses time in the rotation, the Indians can expect some pitching struggles.

20. Seattle Mariners

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    This is the last year of Ichiro Suzuki's contract with the Seattle Mariners. The 38-year-old has seen his batting average drop 80 points over the last two seasons, so you can only expect that this will be his final season with the club unless he's back to being the old Ichiro.

    In addition to Ichiro's decline in batting average, the Mariners finished dead last in runs scored, batting average, on-base and slugging percentage last year, easily making it a season to forget for Mariner fans.

    Their pitching was the only thing that kept them in the 67 games they won after producing a 3.90 team ERA, 1.26 WHIP and .251 opponents batting average. 

    These numbers were one of the main contributing reasons as to why the club traded away No. 2 starter Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees in exchange for prized catching prospect Jesus Montero, who can provide pop in the team's lineup.

    Felix Hernandez may continue to be the best pitcher in the majors this year with the worst offensive support. Trade bait?

19. Colorado Rockies

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    Offensive help is on the way, as if the Rockies didn't have enough of it already. 

    Casey Blake, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez and Michael Cuddyer will all be joining the Colorado this season, which can only provide more cushion in a lineup that already features some of baseball's best hitters.

    Troy Tulowitzki hit .302 with 36 doubles, 30 home runs with 105 RBI last year. His partner in crime, Carlos Gonzalez, hit .295 with 27 doubles, 26 home runs and totaled 92 RBI through only 127 games. Despite CarGo's impressive numbers for his shortened season, it is a drop from his 2011 offensive production when he captured the league batting crown at a .336 clip.

    The crisp air in Colorado with these players and Todd Helton at the forefront can only mean runs, runs and more runs.

    Cuddyer, who hit 20 home runs in 2011, may be celebrating the most long balls he's ever hit after slugging in Target Field last year for Minnesota.

    As a side note, this is Jim Tracy's last season of his contract as the Rockies manager.

18. Milwaukee Brewers

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    First, Milwaukee learns that its reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Then, homegrown first baseman Prince Fielder departs to Detroit, signing a $214 million, nine-year contract with the Tigers in January.

    It seems as if things can only get better from here for the Brew Crew.

    On the bright side, they signed third baseman Aramis Ramirez, though Miller Park is known for being noticeably difficult on right-handed power hitters. However, you can't ignore the fact only Chipper Jones has had more seasons of hitting at least .300 with 25 home runs and 90 RBIs with six, while Ramirez has five.

    In addition, Yovani Gallardo is a preseason contender to win the NL Cy Young Award. Gallardo will serve as a good role model for 22-year-old starting pitcher Wily Peralta, who is developing into a No. 2 starter.

17. Kansas City Royals

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    It's only a matter of time before the Kansas City Royals are on the better half of this power rankings list.

    The club is loaded with young talent like Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Jarrod Dyson and Derrick Robinson. Alex Gordon turned a huge corner in 2011. Billy Butler, Jeff Francoeur and Jason Kendall proved to be huge in the clubhouse for veteran leadership, and there are more top prospects on the way like Wil Myers and Bubba Starling.

    One thing the Royals aimed to do over the offseason was improve their pitching, and they did just that, adding Jonathan Sanchez to their starting rotation and closer Jonathan Broxton to their bullpen.

    It would be nice for Kansas City if it can have a few of these players represent the team during the All-Star Game at their park this summer. 

16. Toronto Blue Jays

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    Even though the Toronto Blue Jays haven't made much of a splash in free agent pools in recent offseasons, they are always a fun team to watch.

    Third baseman Jose Bautista has been an absolute stud at the plate the past two seasons. In 2010, he hit .260 with 35 doubles, 54 home runs and 124 RBI. If that wasn't good enough, he silenced critics by hitting .302 with 24 doubles, 43 home runs and totaling 103 RBI in 2011. This season, he is a safe bet for to compete for the MVP trophy if he continues on this torrid pace.

    On the pitching side, ace Ricky Romero has also been nothing short of excellent for the club. Last season, the 27-year-old went 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA and 178 strikeouts.

    Throw infielder Brett Lawrie into the full-season mix with top MLB prospects outfielder Anthony Gose and catcher Travis D'Arnaud on their way to the big leagues, and there is nothing Toronto fans should be worried about besides the constant road block of the New York Yankees in the AL East.

15. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Despite the front office distractions last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team did an impressive job individually and as a whole by posting a 82-79 record for third best in the NL West.

    Starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw took home the NL Cy Young last year and could very well win the award again. He is signed with the Dodgers through 2013.

    Matt Kemp was the runner-up for the NL MVP Award, but lost to Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun. Kemp, 27, was one home run shy of joining baseball's elite 40/40 club. His performance led to a contract extension through 2019.

    One of the key losses over the offseason was starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to the New York Yankees, but his spot in the rotation will be replaced by Aaron Harang. Most of their club will be returning in 2012. 

14. Washington Nationals

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    It may be bold to have the Washington Nationals listed at No. 14 on this list, but baseball fans in D.C. have every reason to be excited for this upcoming summer.

    Starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg and top prospect outfielder Bryce Harper have the chance to create a nationwide buzz if the two are featured on the Nationals' Opening Day lineup.

    Strasburg, 24, is coming off a 2011 season where he started only five games at the MLB level due to recovering from Tommy John surgery. This year, the Nationals will most likely limit him to 160 innings like they previously had done with Jordan Zimmerman. Regardless, the way he lit up the baseball world his first time around with the club was unforgettable.

    On the other hand, baseball's golden boy is looking to make the club out of big league camp.

    Harper finished last season with a .297 batting average, 17 home runs and 58 RBI before shutting the season down with a hamstring injury at Double-A Harrisburg. The 19-year-old phenom has been tabbed as a "sure-fire superstar" by Baseball America.

    The Nationals were just one game below .500 at 80-81 so don't be surprised if their new talent pushes them close to, or even over, the 90-win mark.

13. Cincinnati Reds

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    As previously mentioned, Cincinnati Reds GM Walt Jocketty got busy this offseason.

    While capturing the NL Central Division title in 2010, the Reds were unable to repeat their success in 2011. They finished the season at a disappointing 79-83.

    Jocketty upgraded the starting rotation by adding former Padres ace Mat Latos. He also bolstered the bullpen by bringing in Ryan Madson and Sean Marshall, and added offensive depth by acquiring Wilson Valdez, Willie Harris and Ryan Ludwick. All of this was done without having to significantly raise payroll.

    Bringing in new talent was a smart move considering the Central Division no longer has likes of power bats such as Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, who signed with American League teams.

    Combined with Joey Votto and talented outfielder Jay Bruce, the newest Reds have the potential to help Cincinnati once again seize the top spot in the NL Central.

12. San Francisco Giants

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    The San Francisco Giants have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. All they need is some offense.

    Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are a great 1-2-3 punch from each side of the rubber. They helped the Giants to an 86-76 record in 2011, but that wasn't enough to make it to the playoffs.

    After winning the 2010 World Series, the club isn't totally out of the picture for a possible appearance this year as long as they can produce at the plate.

    Catcher Buster Posey is back after missing most of 2011 after a collision at home plate. Pablo Sandoval's new and improved frame propelled him to a .315 batting average with 23 home runs and 70 RBI. They added Melky Cabrera from the Kansas City Royals, a player whose speed will help him counter the Giants' unique park dimensions. Angel Pagan was also added to the outfield during the offseason.

    The tools are there. They just need to all come together and who better to guide them than a manager like Bruce Bochy?

11. St. Louis Cardinals

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    Despite losing the best hitter in baseball in Albert Pujols and manager Tony La Russa, the Cardinals still have a chance to make noise in the NL Central.

    Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright will be returning this season from Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2011 and will be at the head of the rotation followed by Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse.

    In six seasons, Wainwright is 66-35, posting a 2.97 earned run average with 724 strikeouts in 874.1 innings pitched.

    Also, keep an eye on 2011 World Series MVP David Freese. His 21 RBI over 18 postseason games could be a launching pad for the third baseman, who hit .297 with 10 home runs and 55 RBI last year.

    If Lance Berkman can come close to the .301 batting average, 31 home runs and 94 RBI he posted in 2011 and Matt Holliday continues hitting around .300 with 20-plus home runs, St. Louis will still be a major player. 

10. Boston Red Sox

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    The Boston Red Sox are taking on an entirely new look in 2012.

    For the first time in countless years, Jonathan Papelbon, J.D. Drew, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek will not be on the Opening Day roster for the Red Sox.

    What's more, outfielder Josh Reddick is gone after heading to the Oakland A's, and the outfielder he once battled with for a starting role, Ryan Kalish, is out until midsummer at the earliest.

    The biggest change of all, however, is no Terry Francona or Theo Epstein. The Red Sox are now Bobby Valentine's team.

    Despite a new look, the Red Sox front office will always do whatever it takes to keep them a contender, which is why they made sure to fill Papelbon's closer role by snagging former A's closer Andrew Bailey. New GM Ben Cherington also picked up former World Series hero Cody Ross to man the outfield.

9. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Even though the Arizona Diamondbacks finished first place in the NL West Division at 94-68, their starting rotation was filled with career-best seasons:

    • Ian Kennedy went 21-4 with a 2.88 earned run average and 198 strikeouts in 222 innings pitched.
    • Daniel Hudson went 16-12 with a 3.49 earned run average and 169 strikeouts in 222 innings pitched.
    • Joe Saunders went 12-13 with 3.69 earned run average and 108 strikeouts in 212 innings pitched.
    • Josh Collmenter went 10-10 with a 3.38 earned run average and 100 strikeouts in 154.1 innings pitched.

    Do these pitching lines and player's individual careers prior to their 2011 seasons match up? This question is what kept them out of one of the top spots on this list.

    Arizona's offensive production was a bit above average in 2011, though its batting averages were not. Much of the Diamondbacks lineup struggled to hit over .250 despite everyday players Gerardo Parra, Justin Upton and Miguel Montero hitting .292, .289 and .282, respectively.

    In 2011, Upton became only the 14th player in baseball history hit at least .300 with over a .500 slugging percentage and 25-plus home runs at 21-year-old or younger. All of the other players who have accomplished this feat are either in the Hall of Fame or bound for Cooperstown in the future. 

8. Miami Marlins

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    New team name, new uniform, new logo, new stadium, new manager and new players.

    Welcome to Miami (Will Smith voice).

    The Miami Marlins are one of three teams in the top 10 of this list from the NL East Division and obviously did the most work this offseason to get where they are now. 

    Marlins Park will play host to the new-look squad under longtime Chicago White Sox manager and loud mouth Ozzie Guillen. Some of the fresh faces arriving in Florida will be reigning NL batting title champion Jose Reyes, closer Heath Bell and starting pitchers Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano.

    Reyes will take over at shortstop, with Hanley Ramirez moving to third base. Reyes says he's very excited about playing on the same side of the infield as Ramirez, but the newly transition corner infielder hasn't made similar comments public yet. Guillen however has said that he is confident Ramirez will embrace his new role.

    Buehrle will follow ace Josh Johnson in the starting rotation. If there is anyone to manage the left-handed pitcher as he makes his transition to the National League, it's Guillen, who managed him during his time with the White Sox.

    Zambrano will get a chance to redeem himself coming off an embarrassing 2011 season. Big Z and Guillen will either be a killer clubhouse combo or a deadly one.

    In addition to their key acquisitions, the Marlins already had a strong lineup featuring Ramirez, first baseman Gaby Sanchez and outfielders Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison.

    This season should be nothing short of entertaining. 

7. Atlanta Braves

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    Barring injuries, the Atlanta Braves can make a strong statement for first place in the NL East.

    The Braves are coming off a second-place division finish behind the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011. They were 13 games behind the MLB-best Phillies, who were 102-60.

    One of the strengths of the Braves this year will be leading off and closing games.

    They will have speedy outfielder Michael Bourn in the top spot of the lineup, who will provide a spark to every game as long as he can repeat his 2011 performance. Split last season between the Astros and Braves, the left-handed hitter hit 34 doubles, 10 triples, two home runs with 50 RBI and a league-leading 61 stolen bases.

    Finishing the games will be returning 2011 Rookie of the Year Craig Kimbrel. The closer saved 46 games, posted a 2.10 earned run average and had 127 strikeouts in 77 innings pitched. Kimbrel, along with 21-year-old Arodys Vizcaino, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty, make up one of the most well-structured bullpens in baseball.

    The starting rotation will also be one of the best and brightest in 2012. Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor will be at the head, with touted prospects Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran waiting in the wings. They'll all be handled by one of the best offensive catchers in baseball, Brian McCann.

    This year may be one of Chipper Jones' last seasons as a legendary Brave as outfielder Jason Heyward will be filling his footsteps for years to come.

6. Detroit Tigers

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    There is nothing that should keep the Detroit Tigers from winning the AL Central in 2012.

    Last season, the team finished top four in runs scored, batting average, on-base and slugging percentage. The numbers can only get better with the offseason acquisition of first baseman Prince Fielder.

    Fielder, 27, agreed to a $214 million, nine-year contract with the 2011 AL Central champions during the offseason and will be side-by-side in the lineup with future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. Fielder is a career .282 hitter averaging over 32 home runs and 93 RBI per season over the last six years.

    Cabrera led the Tigers in all major offensive categories last season with a .344 batting average, 48 doubles, 30 home runs, 105 RBI, a .448 on-base percentage and 197 hits.

    One key loss is DH Victor Martinez. He is expected to miss the entire season after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee during offseason training. In 2011, he hit .330 with 12 home runs and 103 RBI.

    Returning as the ace is, of course, Justin Verlander, who captured the AL MVP and Cy Young Awards after winning the pitcher's triple crown award with a 2.40 ERA, 24 wins and 250 strikeouts. His WHIP was also eye-popping at 0.92.

    Motor City should be revving its engines for another great season of baseball.

5. Tampa Bay Rays

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    The Tampa Bay Rays have averaged 92 wins over the last four seasons. Only three teams in the majors had a higher average with one of the lowest four-year payroll totals in baseball at $222 million.

    Their pitching staff will likely be stronger than ever in 2012.

    David Prices, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann and team spark plug Matt Moore will round out a six-man rotation.

    Hellickson won the AL Rookie of the Year award last season, and Moore has recorded 715 strikeouts over 506 professional innings entering his rookie season. Tampa Bay may have back-to-back Rookie of the Year award winners come August.

    Now all the Rays need is a new fanbase and stadium.

4. Philadelphia Phillies

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    The Philadelphia Phillies are tied with the Yankees for a major league-best 384 wins the last four seasons. Despite the regular-season wins, it's the postseason ones they are most concerned with entering 2012.

    The Phillies have lost three of their last postseason series, and age is catching up with their roster.

    Their infield is filled with 30-year-olds. Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins are 33, Chase Utley is 32 and Placido Polanco tops the list out at 36. Hunter Pence seems like a youngster at 28.

    The starting rotation is as good as it gets with Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Vance Worley, and newly acquired closer Jonathan Papelbon should help secure several more wins. 

    This may be one of the last seasons before the squad begins feeling its "growing old" pains.

3. Texas Rangers

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    Two key additions to the Texas Rangers were made this offseason in the departure of former ace C.J. Wilson.

    The Rangers made a $103 million investment in Yu Darvish and will be moving prized pitcher Neftali Feliz to the starting rotation for the first time in his major league career.

    The Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is a hitter's fantasy and with the same lineup returning in 2012, there is no reason they can can be lead the league in team batting average again following a .283 overall clip in 2011. Not to mention, they placed top five in runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage last year.

    One player to keep an eye on will be Josh Hamilton. After some offseason issues, the former AL MVP is looking to stay healthy with Texas this year after battling some injuries last season. Before the incident, he was focused on a constructing a new contract with the ballclub. Now with talks on hold, Hamilton hopes to have a strong return this season and recovery off the field.

2. New York Yankees

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    The New York Yankees "Core Four" is down to Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, after Jorge Posada's retirement this offseason and the long-gone Andy Pettitte.

    Rivera recently hinted at retirement, but won't say when. His MLB-record 603 saves have all come with the Yankees, and what better way to end for the 42-year-old to end his career then on top in the Big Apple.

    On a lighter note, the Yankees' pitching increased tremendously behind CC Sabathia by the addition of starting pitchers Hiroki Kuroda and 23-year-old Michael Pineda. Prospects Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos will soon find their way to the major league rotation as well.

    As long as the pitching comes together and the offense is there with MVP-like showings again from Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano, there is no reason first baseman Mark Teixeira and Jeter can't lead them to another World Series title.

     

    *Side note: If Mariano Rivera retires this season, he will be the last player to wear a No. 42 jersey in the history of baseball. MLB has retired the number in honor of the legendary Jackie Robinson.

1. Los Angeles Angels

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    Following the free-agent signing of first baseman Albert Pujols and starting pitcher C.J. Wilson, the 2012 season can only be seen as upsetting for Los Angeles Angels fans if they don't win the World Series.

    Between Pujols and Wilson, the Angels committed $331.5 million, which left little room for the team to add anyone else significant during the offseason. New GM Jerry DiPoto did, however, get his hands on a reliable veteran relief pitcher LaTroy Hawkins and an average bat behind the plate in Chris Iannetta.

    The Angels' roster cranked out six players with home runs in double digits and another six with over 59 RBI. This year, they'll have 30-home run threats with Pujols, Mark Trumbo, Vernon Wells and possibly Torii Hunter.

    Top prospects in catcher Hank Conger and outfielder Mike Trout will also be in the running for a full season with the club. Their production can set the tone for years to come.

    On the pitching side, Wilson will be backed by the 2011 AL All-Star Game starting pitcher Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and MLB journeyman Jerome Williams. The staff posted the league's sixth-best ERA at 3.57 as they look to capitalize that number in 2012.