Predicting Every MLB Team's Spring Training MVP
With the NFL season ready to wind down in a matter of days, the eyes of many sports fans will turn to MLB as teams all over the country head to Arizona and Florida for spring training.
We'll see many faces in new uniforms and twice as many unheralded prospects doing anything they can to gain the attention of their organization.
Spring training performances aren't always an indicator for regular-season success, but they definitely go a long way toward building the confidence of any player seeing the right numbers in their stat line.
Here are some names that could stand out for each MLB team this February and March.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Tyler Skaggs
Since coming over in the trade that sent Dan Haren packing from Arizona in 2010, Tyler Skaggs has emerged as one of the best pitching prospects in the Diamondbacks' system.
He was less than stellar in his six starts this season with the D-Backs, posting an ERA up around 6.00 as he went 1-3, but the future is looking bright for Skaggs.
If his productivity through all levels of the minor league system is any indication, he'll be a force in the major leagues for years to come.
Atlanta Braves: Justin Upton
The Atlanta Braves' biggest financial commitment of the offseason came when they signed outfielder B.J. Upton to a deal worth more than $75 million over five seasons.
They took on another lump sum of salary recently in their acquisition of B.J.'s brother, Justin, from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Both players will be counted on for big things as the team looks to compete in the tough NL East, and with some sibling rivalry hopefully pushing both players in the right direction, the little brother might just win out.
Baltimore Orioles: Dylan Bundy
Spending time on three minor league teams this season, Dylan Bundy showed the baseball world exactly why he's the game's top pitching prospect today.
He went 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA in 23 starts in the Orioles organization, and as Baltimore continues to build off of its impressive 2012 campaign, Bundy will no doubt be a huge part of its plans to return to playoff contention.
Boston Red Sox: Will Middlebrooks
It was an impressive debut for Will Middlebrooks last season, as the third baseman took over in Boston and hit 15 home runs while batting nearly .300 in 75 games before going down with a broken wrist.
Middlebrooks has the tools it takes to be a star in this league; his power and defense are both above average. Once he gets some more at-bats under his belt this spring, he may be primed for a breakout season in 2013.
Chicago Cubs: Edwin Jackson
There are certainly concerns that can arise when significant dollars are handed out on a rebuilding team.
In the case of Edwin Jackson, however, the pitcher could end up being a very valuable part of the Cubs as they look to get back to where they were.
He's got a proven track record in the NL Central, has remained healthy throughout his career and is seeing improved control on the mound, all things that point to the potential for a solid tenure in Wrigley Field.
Chicago White Sox: Chris Sale
The Chicago White Sox narrowly missed postseason play this fall. The team regressed from its standing atop the AL Central and eventually succumbed to the Detroit Tigers in the season's final weeks.
The White Sox did, however, have some strong performances from their starting pitching. Jake Peavy became the pitcher they expected when they traded for him, and first-year starter Chris Sale emerged as one of the league's young stars.
He should be set to take the reins as the team's ace in 2013, but with plenty of big league experience gained already, the next big thing is already here for the White Sox.
Cincinnati Reds: Billy Hamilton
Billy Hamilton's most appealing asset is obviously his speed, evidenced by the record 155 steals he notched in 132 games playing for Single-A and Double-A clubs last season.
He didn't see any major league action last season, but in spring training you'd better believe Hamilton will be ready to display his lightning speed as the team prepares for a new season.
Cleveland Indians: Mark Reynolds
Former Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds has had his share of struggles at the plate throughout his career, four times leading the league in strikeouts, even getting punched out 159 times last season despite missing nearly 30 games.
Nevertheless, Reynolds had to feel good about where he was, as 2012 marked the Orioles' resurgence in the AL East, and they finally got back to the postseason.
He won't be a part of their continued ascent, however, as he's out in Baltimore and has signed a one-year deal with the Cleveland Indians and has plenty of reason to prove that he's more than a strikeout waiting to happen.
Colorado Rockies: Michael Cuddyer
After giving Michael Cuddyer a big payday last offseason, the Colorado Rockies expected that he might be the answer to the team's problems and lead them back to the postseason.
He played well when healthy, though not up to his expectations, and as a player that's always held himself strongly accountable for his results, Cuddyer should be determined to put forth a strong spring training as the Rockies lead into the 2013 season.
Detroit Tigers: Al Alburquerque
Al Alburquerque may have only made eight appearances in 2012 as he recovered from elbow surgery, but he made the most of them once he did return, posting a 0.68 ERA while allowing only six hits in 13 innings.
In 2011, he was 6-1 with a sub-2.00 ERA while striking out nearly 14 batters per nine innings.
With Jose Valverde out of the picture in Detroit, Alburquerque could play a high-profile role in the Tigers pen, one that could lead to the emergence of an All-Star.
Houston Astros: Jose Altuve
The Houston Astros have one of the youngest teams in baseball, and with stars like Carlos Lee and Wandy Rodriguez no longer with the team, it's probably hard for fans outside of the Houston area to identify many players.
They do have a potential star in the making with Jose Altuve, who at just 5'5'' is no doubt one of the smallest players in the league, nonetheless he made an All-Star appearance in 2012 and could be headed for bigger things yet as the team moves to the AL in 2013.
Kansas City Royals: Wade Davis
The Kansas City Royals made a bold move to re-shape their starting rotation this offseason when they pried James Shields and Wade Davis away from the Tampa Bay Rays.
Davis had a sparkling campaign this past season, making 54 relief appearances while posting a career low 2.43 ERA and striking out nearly 12 batters per nine innings.
Despite his strong efforts as a reliever, Davis will be returning to the starting rotation in 2013, and while there could be a period of adjustment involved, he should do well once again getting the starting nod.
Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout
Just a year ago it would've seemed that the newly signed Albert Pujols would become the face of the Los Angeles Angels franchise.
What a difference a year makes.
Mike Trout emerged in a huge way last season, taking home unanimous Rookie of the Year honors while also being snubbed in MVP voting.
He'll be looking to avoid the sophomore slump in 2013, but with an idea of everything he's capable of, it's hard to see him having trouble getting into the swing of things in February.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Zack Greinke
The Los Angeles Dodgers have no shortage of superstars on their revamped roster, and with the highest of expectations coming along with all of them, none are higher than their biggest offseason acquisition.
Zack Greinke's massive contract will no doubt put the pressure on heading into spring training, but with questions surrounding his long-term destination for years now as he's jumped around rosters, he should feel somewhat at ease knowing he'll call Dodger Stadium home for years to come.
Miami Marlins: Jacob Turner
As a member of the Detroit Tigers, it was thought that Jacob Turner could be the type of pitcher that would fill in as a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy behind ace Justin Verlander.
That all changed last summer when the Tigers moved Turner to Miami, bringing Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to the Motor City.
With Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson both out of the picture in Miami, Turner should be able to finally solidify himself as a strong starter in Major League Baseball. He has the stuff to build on the 3.38 ERA he put up as a Marlin last year.
Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun
Ryan Braun's name and reputation may have taken a hit last winter when word broke that he was facing a 50-game suspension for violating the PED policy in MLB, but the overturning of the suspension cleared his name and brought massive expectations.
He answered in a big way in 2012, hitting a career-high 41 home runs and carrying the load on offense after the departure of Prince Fielder left a big hole in the Brewers' lineup.
Heading into spring training, he'll look to prepare for a strong early season effort with slugger Corey Hart on the bench for the first few weeks.
Minnesota Twins: Kyle Gibson
The Minnesota Twins' dismal 2011 and 2012 seasons can be attributed to a number of factors, but none bigger than the lack of viable starting pitching at their disposal.
Kyle Gibson has been one of the team's top prospects since he was drafted and was set to be on the Opening Day roster in 2012 until Tommy John surgery in 2011 derailed those plans.
The team has made some big changes in its rotation for 2013, and with Gibson healthy and determined to crack the major league roster, he should be giving it everything he has in spring training.
New York Mets: Zack Wheeler
The New York Mets got themselves an outstanding prospect when they moved Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants, and though he still has some spots to work on, he'll be a great addition to the team's rotation in a short amount of time.
Zack Wheeler was strong in 2012 with a 12-8 record and 3.28 ERA in 25 starts between Double-A and Triple-A and with a good effort in the spring training, he may find himself in a Mets uniform in a short matter of time.
New York Yankees: Derek Jeter
After a somewhat down season in 2011 in which he hit only six home runs and notched his lowest hit total since 2003, Derek Jeter proved that age is nothing but a number, as the seasoned veteran came back in a big way last season.
Despite potential questions about his conditioning this offseason as he recovered from his season-ending injury, Jeter should be healthy for the 2013 season and with no plans on slowing down, he will no doubt show once again why he's the captain.
Oakland Athletics: Yoenis Cespedes
Last offseason, the Oakland Athletics made a move that surprised many in the baseball world, signing Yoenis Cespedes away from the many suitors that could've been more common destinations for the slugger.
He proved to be a valuable part of the A's offense in 2012, and as they look to build on their postseason appearance in 2013 and beyond, Cespedes will no doubt be a part of their plans.
He'll look to avoid the sophomore slump just like Trout this season, and with a strong spring effort, he should be on track to give a great repeat performance.
Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Howard
It would be an understatement to say that the 2012 season didn't go as planned for the Philadelphia Phillies. They struggled early on and fell into a hole that would prove to be too much to climb out of in the NL East.
Ryan Howard was solid once he came back from his 2011 injury, and he'll no doubt continue to be an offensive threat as the team looks to bounce back and get back to the top of the division.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Clint Barmes
The Pittsburgh Pirates were cautiously optimistic about their chances heading into the 2012 season, and with free-agent infielder Clint Barmes signed to a multi-year deal, that was one spot they thought they could count on.
Barmes was in many ways a disappointment in a Pirates uniform last season, batting only .229 as his strikeout numbers were on the rise, while his on-base percentage went in the other direction.
In 2013, he'll look to turn things around and prove that he was worth the contract he signed more than a year ago.
San Diego Padres: Casey Kelly
In desperate need of a top-flight starter to add to their rotation in 2013, the San Diego Padres have a number of strong pitching prospects that could fit the bill in due time.
Casey Kelly is no exception, as the young righty has a number of strong pitches that he can command, and though he struggled to a 2-3 record after making his major league debut last August, he should join the Padres rotation at some point in 2013 if he can post strong enough numbers.
San Francisco Giants: Marco Scutaro
Of all the acquisitions that took place during this past summer, the San Francisco Giants' trade to bring in Marco Scutaro was arguably the biggest.
After coming over from Colorado, Scutaro batted .362, driving in 44 runs in 61 games.
His performance in the postseason propelled the Giants to their second World Series title in three years, as he batted .500 during the NLCS, good enough to earn him series MVP honors.
There is plenty of optimism in San Francisco for 2013, and with Scutaro back in the lineup, he should be back to his 2012 ways early on.
Seattle Mariners: Danny Hultzen
As one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, lefty Danny Hultzen showed exactly what he was made of in Double-A last season, posting a 1.19 ERA in 13 starts before getting promoted to Triple-A.
He struggled a bit after the promotion as his ERA jumped to nearly 6.00 in 12 starts with Tacoma, but he'll enter spring training knowing that he's just one strong month away from earning a promotion at some point in 2013.
St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Wainwright
After missing the entire 2011 season, Adam Wainwright showed some signs of struggles in 2012 but still managed to win 14 games while posting a sub-4.00 ERA.
Perhaps his best performance of the year came in Game 4 of the NLCS, pitching seven innings of four-hit baseball, Wainwright struck out five Giants and didn't allow a walk, and holding them to one earned run would prove to be the difference in the Cardinals' 8-3 win.
Leading into 2013, he'll hope to build off his strong finish and should have a solid spring training that Cardinals fans hope will lead to a big season.
Tampa Bay Rays: Wil Myers
The future of the Kansas City Royals was waiting in the wings as Wil Myers was working his way through the minor league ranks as one of the top prospects in all of baseball.
His plans changed this offseason when the Royals sent him to Tampa Bay in exchange for ace James Shields.
Myers no doubt wants to see major league action soon, and with a strong performance in spring training, he could go a long way toward making his dream a reality.
Texas Rangers: Lance Berkman
The Texas Rangers offense took a big hit this offseason when outfielder Josh Hamilton signed a lucrative contract with division rival Los Angeles.
In response, the Rangers brought Lance Berkman back to the lone star state, where the slugger spent a great deal of his career in Houston.
Berkman may be in the twilight of his career, but he has a great deal of talent and should be looking to prove he's still got something left in the tank heading into spring training.
Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista
The Toronto Blue Jays have transformed their roster this offseason through multiple blockbuster trades and the signing of one of last year's best offensive players in Melky Cabrera.
Even with all the new weapons in the lineup, their most dangerous asset is still Jose Bautista.
He'll no doubt be energized by all of the additions the franchise has made over the winter and with a renewed sense of belief in their chances in the AL East, Bautista should be swinging for the fences all spring training long.
Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper
Entering the season as one of the most highly anticipated prospects in quite some time, Bryce Harper showed flashes of exactly what made him one of the top prospects in all of baseball.
Despite a 22-home run effort in fewer than 140 games last season, Harper's efforts were overshadowed by the epic stat line fellow rookie Mike Trout posted.
Harper is just one of many sophomores looking to capitalize on the major league experience gained last season, and while the pressure will be on all of the Nationals heading into the 2013 season, the young outfielder should be up to the task.
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