2012 MLB Predictions: 12 Relative Unknowns Who'll Become Household Names
There are several talented baseball players ready to take the next step toward stardom. From relatively unknown to nationally adored (or loathed I suppose), 2012 will treat certain guys to bigger fame and recognition.
By relatively unknown, I mean guys who are newer to the league. These young guys have begun to make a name for themselves among the diehard, deeply knowledgeable fans. But they don't rank up there with any major players yet.
Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are household names. Your buddies, coworkers and neighbors know of them. Even your kids know who they are.
More recently, guys like Tim Lincecum, Josh Hamilton and Evan Longoria have become well-known players.
2011 gave us a taste of numerous up-and-comers. In 2012, many of the same guys will dive deeper into the public eye.
So who will take advantage of 2012 and make the jump from regionally known to national fan-favorite?
Here's a look at the top candidates who will make themselves known:
At just 22 years old entering his second season in the majors, Brett Lawrie will shine in 2012.
In his rookie year with the Toronto Blue Jays, Lawrie hit for a .293 average, nine home runs and 25 RBI in 43 games.
Lawrie has great power, slugging .580 and tacking on a .953 OPS. Twenty-one of his 44 hits were for extra bases.
Speedy as well, he added seven stolen bases.
This season, barring any setbacks, Lawrie has positioned himself to be the everyday starter at third base.
With already proven talent that should only get better quick, Lawrie has the tools to become one of the top third basemen in the league.
His talent and the lack of big names in Toronto outside of Jose Bautista make Lawrie a viable candidate to become extremely popular in 2012.
A 20 HR and 20 SB campaign at his age should open many people's eyes.
Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer has already made a name for himself in Missouri.
Baseball enthusiasts know him from his campaign that included a .293 average, 19 home runs and 78 RBI in 128 games.
Hosmer is also the owner of a .993 fielding percentage. Throw in a flash of speed with 11 stolen bases, and Hosmer can be considered a five-tool player.
In 2012, 22-year-old Hosmer will be tasked with becoming the face of a major turnaround in Kansas City.
Putting the Royals in the national spotlight in 2012 is a solid way to get your name circulated.
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Moore had a miniscule 2011 showing, only pitching in three games. Of the three, Moore started just once.
However, in 9.1 innings of work, Moore allowed only nine hits while striking out 15 and walking three. He currently owns a career 2.89 ERA and 1.29 WHIP.
Moore is currently listed as the fifth starter, though his stuff should garner him as much coverage and hype as teammate David Price received in his first two seasons.
Anyone who paid attention to the AL West last year was likely focused on the Texas Rangers.
With the recent acquisitions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, however, the spotlight has returned to the Los Angeles Angels. Because of heavy expectations, every player on the team will be heavily scrutinized.
At 23 years old, bullpen pitcher Jordan Walden earned closing duties. His 2.98 ERA wasn't terrible and his 1.24 WHIP was good.
Walden has a lot going for him in 2012. The Angels never signed a free agent closer indicating their faith in Walden. He'll have more experience working in the same role against the same hitters in the AL West.
Even better for Walden, his lineup got loads better. So did the rotation.
The boost in confidence and swagger the Angels received this offseason should spark nearly everyone on the roster.
Last year, Walden blew 10 saves on his way to saving 32 others. In 2012, Walden will relax and get it right while making a name for himself in the process.
The only thing holding Yonder Alonso back was a guy by the name of Joey Votto.
But that was Cincinnati. In 2012, Alonso suits up for the San Diego Padres.
In 47 games, Alonso hit five home runs and put up numbers like .330 AVG/.398 OBP/.545 SLG/.833 OPS.
He's ready for full-time, and with his trusty defense and fine skills at the plate, Alonso should shine on a roster stock with young players.
Call it a hunch, because his stats certainly don't support this argument.
In 2011, Teheran pitched 19.2 innings accumulating a 5.03 ERA.
He became immensely better as the season drew to a close, however, posting an ERA of 3.00 in the last week of the season. His WHIP was .67 in the same span.
The fact that he came into the league last year at 20 years old is worth noting.
If Teheran can nail down a starting spot in spring training, the Atlanta Braves will have a dangerous rotation all the way through. One so vaunted it will have fans from all over drawing up comparisons to the Braves' rotation of the 90s.
The Kansas City Royals could produce several talented athletes that fit on this list. Catcher Salvador Perez is one of them.
In 39 games, Perez posted an average of .331 in 2011. In 2012, he'll likely start.
Next season, he must keep his batting average consistent and show more pop.
With former catcher Jason Kendall lending his expertise, Royals players are already raving about Perez's talents.
High-quality catchers are harder to come by than any other position, so if he gets the job done, he'll have his name in the papers consistently.
Mark Trumbo was already making a name for himself in 2011, leading the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim with 29 home runs and finishing second in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
He gained even more recognition this offseason when the team signed free-agent slugger and first baseman Albert Pujols. Though his name was brought up mostly because the Pujols signing meant Trumbo lost his position.
In 2012, he'll likely spend the majority of his time at third base. Recent reports, however, speculate Trumbo could spell Torii Hunter in right field and DH too.
He'll be in the lineup somewhere, regardless of where he is on the field. In the thick of his prime at 26 years old, Trumbo will add to the success he found last season and earn his due appreciation.
The Cleveland Indians stunned many last season with an unexpected showing of talent and wins.
Most of the spotlight went to Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana. In 2012, the Indians' success depends on young guys like Jason Kipnis to take the next step.
Kipnis has impressive power for a middle infielder. He hit seven home runs in 36 games while posting a .507 slugging percentage. Four of his home runs came in consecutive games.
In the game of baseball, nothing garners attention quite like the home run does. If Kipnis can keep producing at this pace, or add to it, he'll easily win fans over in 2012.
Oakland Athletics second baseman Jemile Weeks is already on his way to becoming a household name.
Last season, he put up numbers that could have easily earned Rookie of the Year considerations had Weeks played in more games.
In just 97 games, Weeks posted a .303 average and swiped 22 bases. His average was highest on the team. Twenty-two stolen bases was second best.
A fan favorite in Oakland, baseball fans will benefit from seeing Weeks play an entire season.
Though it shouldn't bear any consideration necessarily, the fact that his brother is Milwaukee Brewer Rickie Weeks certainly doesn't hurt Jemile from getting more easily recognized.
Dee Gordon will reap the benefits of many things in 2012.
First, he plays shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The franchise is one of the most recognizable in Major League Baseball. They're still going through turmoil with owner Frank McCourt, so the publicity only increases.
His position, the storied franchise he plays for and the state of the current team should help Gordon's thrust to front and center.
Luckily for him, it's not like he won't be able to handle it.
In 56 games as a rookie, he hit .304. More impressive, he stole 24 bases in the same amount of time, adding a different dynamic to the Dodgers' power game from the duo of Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp.
Even Gordon's size at 5'10'', 150 pounds may gain him fans. Not the prototypical baseball build, Gordon could be seen as an underdog.
New York and Seattle fans already know the 22-year-old catcher well. But in 2012, the rest of the nation will become very familiar with the name Jesus Montero.
In 18 games as a rookie with the New York Yankees, Montero's numbers were .328/.406/.590/.996.
He handled his first ever postseason game quite well, going 2-for-2, knocking in one run and scoring once himself.
This offseason, the Yankees dealt him to the Seattle Mariners for pitcher Michael Pineda. Pineda took fifth place in Rookie of the Year voting, so the Mariners' confidence in dealing the young pitching prospect for Montero should speak volumes.
The plan, for now, appears to DH Montero in the fifth spot in the lineup until he can take over full-time catching duties.
After Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle lacks "stars" who can get Seattle fans excited. Insert Jesus Montero. He is the apparent heir to the throne of Seattle's next big superstar, which will be vacated sooner than later.