MLB: 5 Bold Predictions for the 2012 Season
After a very interesting offseason, Spring Training for Major League Baseball has finally arrived. The dust has settled, and what remains is a vastly different landscape than what we were left with following the St. Louis Cardinals’ World Series Victory.
Last season unquestionably offered up some unforgettable moments, which inspired me to come up with a list of five bold predictions for 2012.
Mike Stanton Hits 50 Home Runs for the Marlins
Since bursting onto the scene in 2010 with the then Florida Marlins, Stanton has long been revered as the next great young power hitter.
After hitting 22 home runs his rookie season in just 396 plate appearances, and adding another 34 home runs in 601 plate appearance in 2011 at the age of 21, Stanton is on a power trajectory that doesn’t come around too often.
An interesting note about Stanton’s 2011 season is that he produced from the clean-up spot without the protection from the three hole that a team desires. Hanley Ramirez battled injury all year long and truly was not himself. I don’t see that happening again, even with his switch to third base.
Along with Ramirez bouncing back and the Marlins adding a dynamic leadoff hitter in Jose Reyes to set the table, Stanton will receive plenty of pitches to hit. And although the new Marlins Park is said to favor pitchers with the deeper dimensions, Stanton’s raw power plays well to all fields.
Bryce Harper Breaks Camp with the Washington Nationals
Is the next big thing ready for “The Show”? Bryce Harper’s demeanor projects the confidence that he is, and his combined peripheral numbers in two minor league stops last season aren’t too far behind.
After hitting 17 home runs, with a .297/.392/.501 line in high A and AA last season, Harper showed the poise and raw talent that indicates a quick rise to the big leagues. What may be even more telling, playing against other high quality prospects, are his Arizona Fall League stats.
He finished with six doubles, two triples, six home runs, 26 RBI with a .333/.410/.629 line in just 93 at bats spanning 25 games.
What it will boil down to is how Harper handles Spring Training. It will take similar numbers to what he posted in the AFL to force the Nationals’ brass to accelerate his advancement and open in the Majors. And with a thin outfield and a young nucleus, it might make more sense to group Harper in with this core and take advantage of the excited fanbase.
Alex Rodriguez Passes Willie Mays for 4th on the All-Time Home Run List
Rodriguez currently sits sixth on the all-time home run list with 629, one behind Ken Griffey Jr. and 31 behind Willie Mays. You would think that hitting 32 home runs for someone of A-Rod’s caliber would be a cinch, but he hasn’t had that many in a season since the 35 he posted in 2008.
Age is also not on Rodriguez’s side, as he will turn 37 just after the All-Star Break. Battling a plethora of nagging injuries over the last few seasons, A-Rod has not played in more than 138 games since 2007 nor has he had over 600 plate appearances during that same period.
Still, when healthy, Rodriguez is one of the most feared hitters in the game, and he’ll get plenty of pitches to hit with the protection he has in the Yankees’ lineup—so, one more great season is not too much to expect out of the slugger is it?
The Pittsburgh Pirates Win the National League Central Division
Say what? Yes, you read it here first. The Pirates have positioned themselves very nicely to make a run at the NL Central title in 2012.
This division could be won by a team that can get to 88 wins. Sure, a 16-game improvement in the standings looks daunting at face value, but the Pirates were a very respectable 54-49 on July 28 before taking a nose dive to finish last season.
All of the NL Central teams are in serious transition heading into this year. The Cardinals lost Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa. The Brewers lost Prince Fielder (even with Ryan Braun winning his appeal of a 50-game PED suspension, replacing Fielder’s bat will be no easy task).
The Reds picked up Mat Latos at the expense of emptying their cupboard. The Cubs gave themselves a complete overhaul this offseason. And the Astros are a lame-duck team in their last year in the National League before packing up for the AL West.
So who knows how they will all respond, thus putting the Pirates in prime position to swoop right in and snatch the crown.
The Pirates are staying the course with their plan by adding a few key pieces here and there to their core, with the acquisition of AJ Burnett at the forefront. A move back to the NL could be just what Burnett needs to get his career back on track and help make the Pirates relevant.
The American League West Will Feature Two 100-Win Teams
The Texas Rangers and Anaheim Angels both made splashes this offseason by adding high profile players to their core, while their division mates accomplished quite the opposite.
The AL Champ Rangers basically replaced CJ Wilson, who is now on the Angels, with Yu Darvish, who they see as the potential ace of their staff.
Other than Darvish, the Rangers chose to keep their core intact, and do you blame them? Their offense is stellar, especially if Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler can stay healthy for the entire season.
To complement their offense, they have assembled one of the best bullpens in baseball to protect the leads they expect to have on a nightly basis. Neftali Feliz’s transition into the rotation is something to watch, but if it pans out the way he and Rangers’ brass hope it will, it could be the primary decision that pushes Texas to a World Series title, something that has eluded them the past two seasons.
The Angels won the Albert Pujols sweepstakes, giving them the offensive punch they needed to match their stellar pitching (where they also got better by adding CJ Wilson).
Following suit with the Rangers by keeping their core intact, the Angels do find themselves needing to make a decision with their outfield with super prospect Mike Trout presumably in the mix.
By adding Pujols and Wilson, the Angels have cemented themselves as major players in the American League. Their starting pitching is remarkable with the likes of Danny Haren, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana and the aforementioned Wilson. And the offense will be able to pick them up on a bad night with Pujols, Mark Trumbo and Torii Hunter manning the middle of the lineup.
Maybe the biggest factor in making this prediction is the fact that the Mariners and Athletics seem to be taking steps backwards. Both teams finished with less than 74 wins in 2011, and each lost key pieces to their starting rotations while not improving enough anywhere else to make that up.
The Mariners sent Michael Pineda to the Yankees in exchange for catcher Jesus Montero, who, alone, can’t win games from the plate or from behind the plate for the Mariners. They have some young pieces on their way from the minors, but this won’t be the year that pans out.
The A’s traded Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals for four prospects, meaning they are content with mediocrity. The bullpen features some nice pieces, but the offense will be not be near good enough to get them a lead, even with Manny Ramirez on board.
Both the Rangers and Angels will have plenty of inter-divisional games to beat up on the Mariners and A’s to pad their win totals on their way to the century mark.