Every year, players in the MLB take their individual performances to a new level. Sometimes it’s a player who becomes a superstar, while others a back-up becomes an everyday regular.
Last season, players like Nate McClouth and Carlos Quentin went from relative unknowns to All-Stars with MVP upside. Chad Billingsley and Tim Lincecum established themselves as bona-fide aces, while Andre Ethier and Jed Lowrie both played their way into everyday roles.
Check out this year’s breakout candidates in the A.L West in part three of a six part series.
2009 A.L. West Breakout Candidates:
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels are still capable of winning the west despite losing Mark Teixiera, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jon Garland. To take the west, the Angels need a pitcher who took a big step forward a year ago to continue his success.
In his first full season, left-hander Joe Saunders knocked more than a full point off of his ERA (down to 3.41) from the year before. He finished last year with very impressive totals in wins and whip as well, posting 17 and a mark of 1.21 respectively.
If Saunders can repeat those marks, he will take steps towards becoming an elite AL starter and will likely return to the All-Star team.
Many doubters believe that Saunders season last year likely won’t be repeated, as his strike out numbers are not very good. If Saunders can put together another season of that caliber though, people will have no choice to but to accept Saunders as a frontline starter.
The team will also need to fill the offensive void left by the vacated 1B spot. While Kendry Morales is expected to see the majority of the time at the position, very few people expect to emerge as a middle of the order that can help the Angels get back to the playoffs.
Instead, LAA brass will look to Howie Kendrick to be an impact bat. Kendrick has demonstrated the ability to be one of the best hitting second basemen in baseball, and could likely contend for batting titles if he could stay on the field long enough to do so.
At just 25, Kendrick could emerge as a No. 3 hitter in Anaheim if he can stay on the field for more than 140 games.
The A’s have an arm in their rotation who needs to answer questions as well. Justin Duchsherer moved from the bullpen to the starting five last year and emerged as the team’s ace.
The 30-year old has a chance to become one of the game’s best starting pitchers, but needs to prove he can hold up for close to 200 innings. If he can make 30 or more starts, he could win 15-18 games and give the A’s a shot to make the playoffs for the first time in a few years.
The A’s have added one of the biggest bats in baseball to help Duchscherer try and get Oakland baseball in October. Matt Holliday might have more to prove than any player in baseball this season (except perhaps CC Sabathia).
Many people question whether Holliday can be an elite hitter away from Colorado. If Holliday can put together an All-Star season in Oakland he will prove those doubts, and firmly establish himself as one of the game’s top notch hitting talents.
His numbers away from Coors Field aren’t quite as gaudy as they are when he was able to hit there. They do however point to Holliday putting together a solid campaign and ultimately cashing in because he can hit away from the thin air.
He still posted an OPS of .892 on the road last season, a mark better than budding star Ryan Braun.
Before he even arrived in the big leagues, Felix Hernandez was anointed a pitching “King.” After bursting onto the season as a 19-year old kid, Hernandez has failed to live up to his kingly status.
He has shown signs of emerging as a frontline starter for the Mariners. Hernandez, who will turn 23 shortly after opening day, reached 200 innings for the first time last year, and allowed less than a hit an inning for the first as a full-season pitcher.
With more improvement, Hernandez could finally take the next step and emerge as a Cy Young candidate.
Jose Lopez also reached the MLB at an early age, joining the Mariners when he was just 20. Like Hernandez he hasn’t immediately become the player that members of the Seattle front office expected.
Last year, he took a big step forward toward becoming a top notch second basemen at the big league level. After swatting 17 homers and going to his first All-Star game, Lopez served notice to the rest of baseball that he is arriving.
If Lopez continues to develop, which isn’t expecting too much as he’s just 25 years old, he could emerge offensively and be in the same class as guys like Pedroia, Kinsler, Utley, and Phillips.
Given his big role in the Mariners offensive plans, Lopez could be a 2B who crushes 25 homers while driving in and scoring over 100 runs.
Chris Davis powered his way into Arlington last summer and slammed 17 homers in just 80 Major League games as a 22-year old.
The power wasn’t a fluke, either, as he crushed 40 homers and 44 doubles, and drove in 128 runs while scoring 119 runs between the majors and minors last season.
Davis is going to get a full year in the big leagues this season, and could erupt as one of baseball’s premier power threats. He immediately gives the MLB another legitimate 40-homer threat, and could wind up hitting in the middle of the AL All-Star team’s batting order for a decade.
Summer players don’t develop quite as quickly as Davis. In fact, some players take a lot longer to reach their potential. Nelson Cruz looks like one of those players. Cruz spent most of last year annihilating AAA pitching as he hit 37 round-trippers there en route to a slugging percentage upwards of .700.
Cruz didn’t stop when he got the Texas either as he posted a line of .341 .430 .609 in 30 big league games. Cruz has a chance to establish himself not only as a big league regular, but also as a potential All-Star as a player who will turn 30 in July.
He’ll benefit from hitting in one the MLB’s best batting orders, and hitting .300 with 25 HR and 25 SB isn’t out of the question.
Did you miss the other AL divisions? Check them out:
AL East http://bleacherreport.com/articles/142093-2009-al-east-players-to-watch
AL Central http: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/147321-2009-al-central-players-to-watch
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