One Area Each Top MLB Player Under 30 Must Improve in the Offseason

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2012

One Area Each Top MLB Player Under 30 Must Improve in the Offseason

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    It's truly a great time to be a baseball fan, as there is a plethora of young talent with incredibly high ceilings that dots the landscape of the game in both the American and National Leagues at virtually every position.

    Players under 30 years old, most of whom are still years away from reaching the prime of their careers, can be incredibly exciting—and maddening—to watch perform.

    These players are works in progress, with parts of their games that need refinement before they can truly take the next step in their development.

    Let's take a look at some of the best youngsters in the game and one area that they need to spend some extra time this winter working on so that they can take that next step in 2013.

Catcher: Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles

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    Area That Needs Improvement: Hitting from the Left Side of the Plate

    One of the immensely talented young catchers in the game, 26-year-old Matt Wieters excels in many areas of the game—but hitting from the left side of the plate against right-handed pitchers is not one of them.

    It wasn't always a struggle for Wieters to hit from the left side, but it seems that the more exposure he gets to right-handed pitching, the worse he gets.

    Take a look at his splits against right-handers over the course of his career:

    • 2009: 235 PA, .313/.357/.447, 6 HR, 26 RBI
    • 2010: 372 PA, .265/.347/.397, 9 HR, 46 RBI
    • 2011: 405 PA, .235/.291/.371, 11 HR, 42 RBI
    • 2012: 442 PA, .224/.303/.412, 18 HR, 62 RBI

    He's simply too important to the Orioles' success for them to sit him against right-handers, but he needs to make whatever adjustments are necessary this offseason so that he can become a more consistent run producer in the middle of the Orioles' lineup.

First Base: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

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    Area That Needs Improvement: Defense

    It's true that his batting average of .256 in 2012 was significantly lower than the .282 mark he posted in 2011, when he finished second to teammate Craig Kimbrel in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

    But 23-year-old Freddie Freeman improved across the board offensively in 2012, leaving little doubt that he is well on his way to becoming one of the elite first basemen in the game.

    Where he needs work, however, is with the glove at first base.

    Of the 18 players who logged at least 950 innings at first base in 2012, Freeman ranked 16th in UZR/150, coming in just ahead of Baltimore's Mark Reynolds and Kansas City's Eric Hosmer with a -4.2 mark.

    For those who prefer the traditional fielding percentage statistic, Freeman finished the year with a .991 fielding percentage, tied with San Diego's Yonder Alonso for the worst mark of the 18 who qualified.

Second Base: Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians

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    Area That Needs Improvement: Hitting Pitches Besides Fastballs

    Jason Kipnis had a solid 2012 season for the Indians, posting a batting line of .257/.335/.379 to go along with 14 HR and 76 RBI.

    But think about how much better the 25-year-old's season might have looked had he been able to hit anything other than fastballs.

    Kipnis hit heaters to the tune of a .356 batting average but struggled against other offerings from the opposition: a .200 average against curveballs, .148 against sliders and a .167 mark against changeups.

    Some extra work in the cage this offseason could go a long way toward Kipnis having a breakout season for the Tribe in 2013.

Third Base: Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Area That Needs Improvement: Hitting Fewer Ground Balls

    Only two starting third basemen, St. Louis' David Freese and Minnesota's Jamey Carroll, hit more ground balls—and fewer fly balls—than Toronto's Brett Lawrie.

    You'd think that it wouldn't be a major issue for the 22-year-old, who has some speed and can beat out ground balls hit deep into the hole, but his power numbers suffer, as evidenced by his paltry 11 home runs on the season.

    When Lawrie went on his tear at the end of 2011, hitting nine home runs in 150 at-bats, he posted a 45-percent fly ball rate. That dropped to under 30 percent in 2012.

    Lawrie needs to work on his swing so that he can get back to putting the ball in the air more often in 2013.

Shortstop: Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs

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    Area That Needs Improvement: Defense

    Cubs manager Dale Sveum told reporters toward the end of the season that 22-year-old Starlin Castro has plenty to work on defensively, something that comes as no surprise (h/t ESPN):

    (It’s players) that don’t want to leave that cut of the grass because their arms are so strong. They don’t want to risk gaining ground on a ball. It’s not charging a ball, it’s gaining and you end up gaining three or four yards on ground balls and angles of balls and things like that. There is no doubt he’s still one of those guys who wants to rely on his arm.

    For as much as changing that is about concentration and being aware of what's going on around you, it's also a matter of getting into the habit of being aggressive. Repetition in the offseason can go a long way toward getting used to the idea of playing offense on defense when the situation demands it.

Outfielder: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

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    Area That Needs Improvement: Become a More Selective Hitter

    Marlins' slugger Giancarlo Stanton put together a solid 2012 season, hitting .290 with 37 home runs and 86 RBI, but as with many sluggers, he struck out a ton—143 to be exact, or nearly 29 percent of the time while drawing a walk in just over nine percent of his plate appearances.

    If the 23-year-old can become a bit more selective at the pitches he swings at—and get some luck from the injury gods—there's no telling how gaudy his numbers could be at the end of the season.

Pitcher: Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Area That Needs Improvement: Improved Command of His Pitches

    Matt Moore might have the best pure stuff of any pitcher on Tampa Bay's pitching staff, but the 23-year-old needs to improve his command if he hopes to take the next step in his development when the 2013 season gets underway.

    Moore, 23, walked 81 batters in 177.1 innings of work, just over four walks per nine innings of work. According to Fangraphs, that works out to walking nearly 11 percent of the batters he faced, a number that is far too high for him to find extended success in the majors, especially the AL East.

    Better command over all of his pitches, especially his breaking balls, will lend itself to Moore joining rotation-mate David Price as one of the elite young arms in all of baseball.