Opening Day 2012: Must-See Stars and Prospects from Every MLB Team
A new season brings new hope and new opportunities to every MLB team.
Every year there are guys on a team that you expect to produce and guys who come out of nowhere to carry their ball club.
Matt Kemp will continue his quest to become the best player in baseball while young prospects like Mike Trout are just hoping to get a chance to prove themselves at the major league level.
Top prospects make the list as well, even though they might not start the year at the major league level. Matt Moore and Bryce Harper make the list for their respective teams as prospects who will shine this season.
Beyond prospects, MLB has numerous guys in their third and fourth year who are at that point in their lives where their career is going to be defined.
Will their one area that is flawed be fixed in 2012 or will they teeter on simply being a good player and not become elite.
Or how about second-year players that have a great rookie season behind them and are looking to somehow follow it up? Is it possible for some of these guys to build upon greatness?
All questions will be answered throughout the 2012 season.
The players on this list signify the year that they are going to have and the importance to their team.
Mike Stanton tops the list to be the most impressive and important player in 2012.
Giancarlo "Mike" Stanton: Miami Marlins
A look at most of his career home runs.
A new name in the same place.
This season, Mike Stanton wants to be called by his birth name Giancarlo.
He might be going by a new name but his game is going to be the same. He is an unbelievable talent with some of the best power in the MLB. In 150 games last season he hit 34 home runs and 30 doubles.
Stanton might contend for the MVP at the end of this year as 45 home runs is not out of the question.
He is the most exciting and impressive player I watched play last season. His ability to crush balls with such finesse is rarely seen.
The only X-factor will be how he adapts to the new stadium in Miami. I don't think there is any ballpark that could limit Stanton's power however.
Stanton led the majors in "No Doubt" home runs last season. This is a stat recorded by ESPN and is described as:
"No Doubt", or "ND", which means the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet AND landed at least 50 feet past the fence. These are the really deep blasts..."
Stanton is a no doubt stud going in to 2012.
Matt Kemp: Los Angeles Dodgers
Kemp's 2011 highlights.
No surprise here, but I believe he will have a bigger season that last year. Kemp should have won the MVP last season and will try to claim it this year.
Kemp hit 39 home runs, had 126 RBI, and 40 stolen bases.
Look for a decrease in strikeouts this season. Last year he has 159. If he can cut back on striking out, his number will become even better. Kemp is determined to make a winning team out of the Dodgers. The pitching is improved and is led by Clayton Kershaw.
Kemp and the Dodgers should have a revived season now that the team has been sold to Magic Johnson's group. More pieces might be put in place for Kemp to lead L.A. deep into the playoffs.
Matt Moore: Tampa Bay Rays
Matt Moore struck out 11 Yankees in his first MLB start in 2011.
Matt Moore pitched 4.1 innings before starting his first major league game at Yankee Stadium against New York. Moore pitched five innings and struck out 11 batters without giving up any runs.
He is one of the highest rated prospects and there is no reason to think he will not deliver in 2012. He is a dominant lefty that is capable of dominating in the majors.
He will be on a staff with David Price and James Shields, so if he runs into an problems, he will have good support around him.
AL East or not, Matt Moore will shine bight for the Rays.
Brett Lawrie: Toronto Blue Jays
Lawrie will help the Blue Jays to stay close in the AL East.
Brett Lawrie is going to be one of the brightest young stars in the game this season. He was called up late last season and saw his season ended early after fracturing his right middle finger. After recovering from surgery, Lawrie is poised to explode in 2012.
In 2011, Lawrie played in 43 games. In 150 at-bats, he had eight doubles, four triples, nine home runs, 25 RBI, and seven stolen bases.
It is a small sample but there should be no reason to expect anything but numbers on par with 2011.
Forty-three games represents just over a quarter of the MLB season. If Lawrie puts up these numbers over a whole season, he will be around 100 RBI, over 30 home runs, and over 20 steals.
With experience under his belt it would not be surprising to see his production exceed those modest expectations.
Hunter Pence: Philadelphia Phillies
Hunter Pence is going to be a star in Philadelphia.
Only Ryan Braun and Pence have hit at least 20 home runs, 70 RBI, 70 runs scored, and eight stolen bases in each of the last four seasons.
In 54 games with the Phillies last year, Pence hit .324 and had 11 home runs. Citizens Bank Park will only help is already stellar numbers.
With Ryan Howard's lingering health issues, Hunter Pence might be the best player in Philadelphia.
He was always a stud in Houston but was never able to showcase his talents night after night to the whole country. Being on one of the best teams in baseball makes it easier to do so.
Madison Bumgarner: San Francisco Giants
A look at Bumgarner from 2009.
Madison Bumgarner has put up great numbers in his last two seasons. Last year was his first full season, and he pitched to a 3.21 ERA while striking out 191 batter and only walking 46 in 204.2 innings.
As good as he was last year many people still don't know anything about him. In three years he has a 3.10 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP.
It would not surprise me if he pulls his ERA to 2.70 and strikes out over 210.
David Freese: St. Louis Cardinals
Freese was the hero in the World Series last year.
Before the 2011 postseason, many fans had no idea who David Freese was. Although he had an amazing postseason, hoisting the NLCS and World Series MVPs and hitting .397 with five home runs and 21 RBI, he had a great regular season.
Even though it was a quiet season, he still hit 10 home runs and hit .297 in 97 games.
I expect him to explode this season for the Cardinals. Without Pujols in the lineup, Freese will be an even more important hitter.
Starlin Castro: Chicago Cubs
Highlights from Castro's fantastic 2011 season.
In 2011, Castro had 207 hits, 36 doubles, 10 home runs, nine home runs, and 22 stolen bases.
There is no reason to think 2012 bring Castro even more success. Castro will be 22 years old when the season begins and already has two years of major league experience under his belt.
He was criticized for not paying attention at times last season but he is young and those little things will come in time. He is learning through experience when he is on the field.
There is no reason to believe that his play would deteriorate after his two great years prior to 2012.
Mike Napoli: Texas Rangers
Napoli was a huge addition to Texas in 2011.
Mike Napoli hit a season high 30 home runs last season in his first year in Texas. He also had a career high in RBIs with 75.
Next fall he will be able to hit the free agent market and he is going to have a big year before hitting the market. I expect him to exceed last year's home run and RBI totals and cash in huge next season on the free agent market.
He should be one of the best catchers in the league this season.
Andy Pettitte: New York Yankees
Andy Pettitte is not going to start the year in the majors but he will make his presence felt before summer begins.
Pettitte and the Yankees shocked everyone in spring training when plans were announced for Pettitte to rejoin the ballclub.
Once his legs are under him and he feels strong enough, Pettitte will find himself pitching once again at Yankee Stadium.
At times, Pettitte looked brilliant for the Yankees in 2010, and he even made the All-Star team. In the first half of the season he was 11-2 and had a 2.70 ERA. He battled an injury in the second half, and the Yankees were cautious with him to make sure he was rested for the playoffs.
In the playoffs he continued his brilliance earning a win in the ALDS but a loss in the ALCS. In both games he pitched seven innings, while giving up five hits and two earned runs.
A return to 2010 form and there is no reason to think that Pettitte will not lead New York to another run in the playoffs.
David Ackley: Seattle Mariners
If David Ackley can improve his numbers against lefties then Ackley is going to be one of the best second basemen in baseball in 2012.
Ackley only hit .224 against lefties in 2011 but still managed to hit .273 overall.
The Seattle Mariners might not be going anywhere this season but that doesn't mean Ackley won't.
He was impressive from the second he came to the majors and this season I expect him to be a star for the Mariners.
Carlos Santana: Cleveland Indians
Carlos Santana's best moments of 2011.
Carlos Santana is looking to improve upon his .239 average of a season ago.
Although he had a low average he was still able hit 27 home runs and 35 doubles.
This season he will need to cut down on his strikeouts and I think he will be successful doing so. It is his second full season in the league and this should be his break out year.
Brennan Boesch: Detroit Tigers
Boesch in spring training talking about the 2012 team.
Brennan Boesch batted in every spot of the order last season at least once, except the ninth spot. He saw most of his at-bats in the two-hole (142) and the third spot in the lineup (186).
It would appear that most of his at bats are going to come in the No. 2 hole again this season. That puts him after Austin Jackson in the lineup and before Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Alex Avila.
Boesch will be getting plenty of pitches to hit in front of those guys.
Bryce Harper: Washington Nationals
Harper's AA highlight reel is impressive, imagine the possibilities in the MLB?
Bryce Harper is the Jason Heyward of 2012. The 19-year-old's arrival to Washington is eagerly anticipated.
The Washington Nationals have a tremendous team this season with a lot of young talent.
Fans will have to wait a little bit to see Harper's incredible power at the major league level since the Nationals opted to have him start the year in Triple-A Syracuse.
Harper will have to prove that he can hit pitching at the Triple-A level before he gets his shot in Washington. If he produces in the minors, he should make his way to the majors before the All-Star break.
Carl Crawford: Boston Red Sox
Crawford talks about 2011 season.
It is now or never for Carl Crawford. After an abysmal 2011 in Boston, he has to step his game up in 2012.
He has something to prove in Boston. Tampa had always questioned whether he had it in him to play for a big market team.
Does Crawford have it in him?
Fans will give him a mulligan this season, but 2012 is put up or shut-up time for Crawford.
Drew Stubbs: Cincinnati Reds
Stubbs' 2011 highlights.
Drew Stubbs has played in the majors for three seasons and has a career .251 average.
He is a great base stealer with pop, but he strikeouts far too much. In the last two seasons he has 373 strikeouts.
His home runs and average went down last year and his stolen bases and strikeouts went up.
I believe that Stubbs numbers will significantly improve if he can simply cut down on his strikeouts. This will be key to his success this season.
This season will decide whether he will be a great player hindered by too many strikeouts or a potential 30/30 guy.
Joe Mauer: Minnesota Twins
Mauer catching and taking swings in 2012 spring training.
The Minnesota Twins do not look like a strong team this season, but Joe Mauer will do his best to keep them in contention. After only playing 82 games last season, Mauer is looking to rebound from injury and get back to his 2009 ways.
In 2009, he hit 28 home runs. In two season since, Mauer has only hit 12 home runs.
He has successfully gained the weight he lost last season when he suffered from pneumonia. Mauer needs to have a big season if he wants to continue to be considered a top player. He won't need to hit 28 home runs, but 20 home runs and at least 40 doubles will not be too much to ask.
Aramis Ramirez: Milwaukee Brewers
Ramirez's Chicago highlights.
Aramis Ramirez is essentially being asked to fill the void that Prince Fielder left in Milwaukee. Ramirez has benefited greatly from playing at Wrigley field. In the last three seasons he was a .329 hitter at home and a .246 hitter on the road.
What makes it further challenging for Ramirez, in the last three seasons he has only hit .214 at Miller Park.
So will he adapt to Miller Park or will he be a .250 hitter all year?
I think that Ramirez is going to embrace Milwaukee and his role there. The fans are some of the best in baseball and as long as he gets off to a good start, he will be comfortable as he adopts Miller Park as his home ballpark.
Alex Presley: Pittsburgh Pirates
An interview with Presley before he was called up for the second time.
Alex Presley is going to be a star in the majors.
He played 52 games last season for the Pittsburgh Pirates and put up great numbers. He hit .298 while hitting 12 doubles, three triples, four home runs, and nine stolen bases.
Presley is similar to Logan Morrison of the Miami Marlins. He has the potential to help the Pirates significantly this season.
He will be the Bucs' Opening Day left fielder.
Daniel Murphy: New York Mets
Murphy arrives early at 2012 spring training.
Daniel Murphy was extremely productive for the New York Mets last season. Unfortunately the Mets were not a good team but Murphy helped to keep them out of last place.
It took a little while, but Murphy has been able to find a position that has not been detrimental to the team. He will be playing second base for the Mets and should be able to improve upon his number from last season.
Last year in 109 games he has 28 doubles, six home runs, and 49 RBI to go along with a .320 average.
Jesus Guzman: San Diego Padres
Guzman launches one at Petco Park.
Jesus Guzman has found a home in San Diego and is not effected at all with the big ballpark he calls home.
Last season, Guzman hit .346 at Petco Park and .312 overall. In only 76 games, not even half a season, he had 22 doubles, two triples, five home runs, and 44 RBI.
A full season for Guzman will give him All-Star numbers in a park that usually eats hitters alive. He has proven that the park is nothing but an advantage for him.
Mike Moustakas: Kansas City Royals
Moustakas last year in a game in Toronto.
Mike Moustakas is a part of a young and dangerous Kansas City Royals team that might be on the verge of braking out over the next few years.
While everyone focuses on Eric Hosmer, it is important to remember that Moustakas has just as much potential.
Moustakas did not have the immediate impact last season that Hosmer had last season however. Moustakas has power, but only had one home run before he hit four in September. His power will come in time however.
He had 18 doubles in 89 games last season and finished the season hitting .263.
He does not strike out much, so expect the average to come up and the home runs to significantly increase in 2012.
J.J. Hardy: Baltimore Orioles
There aren't many bright spots on the Baltimore Orioles. Last season J.J. Hardy had a career year, hitting 30 home runs and driving in 80 RBI.
It was not a fluke for Hardy, but he has had a problem staying healthy throughout his career.
Hardy is currently battling shoulder soreness but expects to get back in the lineup soon.
Last season he had 527 at bats. The only other seasons that he had over 500 was in 2007 and 2008, when he hit 26 home runs and 24 home runs.
I am taking the high road on Hardy and thinking that he will put together back-to-back solid seasons for the second time in his career.
If he can replicate what he did last season, he will help the Fighting Showalters improve this season.
Mike Trout: Los Angeles Angels
If Trout gets a chance, he will take advantage of it.
This pick is assuming he makes it to the big leagues during the season.
Los Angeles has too many Angels in the outfield this season. This means that Mike Trout is starting the season in Triple-A. He is expected to remain in the minors barring an injury to one of the outfielders.
Considering the outfield has two veterans in Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter, it might not be long before one of them gets injured or enters a prolonged slump.
If an outfielder goes down, Trout will make an immediate impact in the majors. Keep an eye on him if and when he gets called up. I think there is a good chance he gets his shot this season.
Dexter Fowler: Colorado Rockies
Fowler back in 2007.
Dexter Fowler is a switch-hitting center fielder who possesses all the tools to be an All-Star in the majors.
If Fowler can figure out how to effectively steal bases, he will be an added force in Colorado.
In 2011 he stole 12 bases but was caught nine times. He has tremendous speed and needs to work on his stealing ability.
In 125 games last season, Fowler hit .266 with 84 runs, 35 doubles, 15 triples, and five home runs.
This will be his breakout year as the Rockies will improve after their disappointing season last year.
Yoenis Cespedes: Oakland Athletics
Cespedes in Cuba.
Yoenis Cespedes was signed by the Oakland Athletics in February. The 26-year-old outfielder has the potential to be a significant contributor to an offensively-challenged A's ballclub.
It will be interesting to see if he can ignite their offense.
In 90 games last season in Cuba, Cespedes hit .333 with 33 home runs and 99 RBI.
Jason Heyward: Atlanta Braves
Heyward's first at bat resulted in a home run.
Remember the hype that was packaged with Jason Heyward when he was brought up the show?
The Atlanta Braves right fielder is coming off one of the worst sophomore slumps we have seen in years. I expect him to bounce back and have a year along the lines of his rookie season when he was runner-up for rookie of the year.
His average dropped from .277 in 2010 to .227 in 2011 along with 30 less RBI while playing in 14 less games due to injury.
If his injuries are behind him then he will return to form.
Jason Kubel: Arizona Diamondbacks
A good look at the field Kubel had to deal with at home the last two seasons.
Jason Kubel is getting out of Target Field and entering a home field that hitters love.
That alone is a reason the be excited about Kubel in Arizona. Kubel is a career .271 hitter and in 2009 hit a career high 28 home runs.
By the time the season is over I expect him to approach 30 home runs again in the desert.
Brent Morel: Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox might have a tough time competing in the division this season. Starting third baseman Brent Morel is entering his sophomore season playing the hot corner in Chicago.
While he has not been known for his power, he exploded in September in 2011, hitting eight home runs to go along with 19 RBI and 15 walks in 27 games.
On the season he only had 10 home runs, but the September surge might be a glimpse of things to come for the 24-year-old third basemen.
I don't think the power will be there all year, but the month showed that he has potential to break out and this season he will hit for more doubles and home runs and be a productive member of the White Sox.
Bud Norris: Houston Astros
John Sommers II/Getty Images
The Houston Astros lost 106 games last season. Who will emerge in 2012 to help this team to improve?
With an awful offense, it is going to come down to the Astros pitching staff.
Bud Norris finished the year with a 6-11 record but showed life if 2011. He is going to improve upon his 3.77 ERA in 2012. He struck out 176 batters in 186 innings so he is always capable of getting out of a jam.
Without many eyes on him, Norris might be able to have a great season in Houston.
You can follow me on Twitter @NargOnSports.