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Predicting All 30 MLB Teams' Biggest Surprise, Disappointment of 2013

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2013

Predicting All 30 MLB Teams' Biggest Surprise, Disappointment of 2013

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    Less than two weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training and roughly eight weeks away from Opening Day, it's time to start looking ahead to what's to come as the 2013 MLB season draws closer.

    Coming off of a season that saw a historic playoff run, breakout campaigns and the game's first Triple Crown winner in nearly 50 years, 2012 was full of both surprises and disappointments for players, teams, and the fans who cheer them on.

    While it's unlikely that we'll see another Triple Crown performance in either league, 2013 will be full of surprises and disappointments alike for every team.

    Let's take a look at what those might be.

     

    *Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.

Baltimore Orioles

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    Biggest Surprise: Jair Jurrjens

    It's easy to forget that 27-year-old right-hander Jair Jurrjens was actually a pretty solid major league starter for much of his career before it all came crashing down around him in 2012.

    He was hit hard in the majors, hit hard in the minors and summarily non-tendered a contract by the Atlanta Braves following the season, affording Baltimore (and every other team in baseball) the chance to sign him as a free agent.

    Yet there's reason for optimism.

    As Jurrjens told the Baltimore Sun's Eduardo A. Encina, he hasn't felt this good in quite some time:

    I’ve been able to do more stuff [this offseason] than I’ve been able to do the last couple years. I’m doing my bullpens early again; I’m doing a throwing program early again. I’m back on my old schedule and we don’t need to worry about my knee any more and [can] just concentrate on getting stronger.

    [Last season], my mechanics were off and I was a little weak in my leg and they caused a bad year. I’ve made sure I need to target what I need to target and I’m going to be ready to go this year.

    I'm not saying that Jurrjens is going to have a first half like he did in 2011, when he went 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA, but Jurrjens will be turn out to be one of Baltimore's top starters in 2013.


    Biggest Disappointment: Chris Davis

    Chris Davis is going to win some games for Baltimore with one swing of the bat, that much is for sure.

    The 26-year-old has always been a slugger, and he flexed his muscles for the Orioles in 2012, setting career highs in home runs (33) and RBI (85).

    It'd be great if he would learn to take a pitch—he drew only 37 walks while striking out 169 times last season—but that's just nitpicking.

    While Davis played multiple positions in 2012, nobody would argue that his best spot on the field is not to be on the field at all—Davis is the prototypical designated hitter.

    Yet he'll be manning first base in 2013 for Baltimore, which is going to be a problem.

    Remember those games that I mentioned he'd win with his bat?

    He'll cost Baltimore as many with his glove.

Boston Red Sox

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    Biggest Surprise: Rubby de la Rosa

    By the end of the 2013 season, Rubby de la Rosa will be taking the ball every fifth day as a member of Boston's starting rotation.

    Whether it's due to an injury or ineffectiveness, he's going to get a shot to start for the Red Sox in 2013—and he's going to stick.

    Still having minor league options, even if de la Rosa outperforms someone like John Lackey in spring training—and let's be honest, nobody knows what to expect from Lackey, who missed all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery—de la Rosa is going to start the season in Triple-A.

    He's been drawing attention all winter—and for all the right reasons, as Ben Crockett, Boston's director of player development, told Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe: 

    He looks good. He’s definitely been ready with his throwing program. You can tell he’s absolutely been working really hard with that, with the arm strength.

    He told us he’s been throwing for quite a while and it shows. Really quick arm, ball is jumping out. He’s aggressive and confident with that throwing program. He’s mixing in some of his offspeed [pitches] at this point, getting a feel for it. It looks like he’s ready to compete. Physically he’s made progress from when we first acquired him in the trade. We’re going in the right direction.

    With three pitches, including a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and his ability to hold that velocity deep into games—de la Rosa will be one of the most effective minor league call-ups in all of baseball this season.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Shane Victorino

    Granted, the contract that Boston gave Shane Victorino this winter wasn't on the scale of the one it handed to Carl Crawford prior to the 2011 season, but apparently the Red Sox haven't learned their lesson about speedy outfielders on the wrong side of 30.

    Victorino, 32, is coming off the worst season of his career since becoming a regular for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006.

    While he'll prove to be a defensive upgrade, the days of Victorino as an All-Star and Gold Glove-caliber outfielder who posts an OPS pushing .800 are gone—and what's left simply isn't worth $13 million a year.

New York Yankees

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    Biggest Surprise: Francisco Cervelli

    A career .271 hitter with a career .339 on-base percentage and solid defensive skills, all 26-year-old catcher Francisco Cervelli needed was a chance to play on a daily basis—which is one of the reasons that he spent the bulk of 2012 in the minors.

    Now, with former starter Russell Martin in Pittsburgh and career .217 hitter Chris Stewart his primary competition—prospect Austin Romine will need to prove he can stay healthy at Triple-A before he gets a shot—Cervelli is getting his chance.

    He'll hit towards the bottom of the lineup, likely either seventh or eighth, where 10-to-15 home runs and 60-70 RBI are certainly not out of the question in an aging, yet still dangerous Yankees lineup.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: David Aardsma

    Now a year-and-a-half removed from Tommy John surgery, 31-year-old reliever David Aardsma is being counted on to serve as a reliable middle reliever in the Yankees bullpen.

    While he has the ability to make batters swing and miss, evidenced by his career 9.1 K/9 mark, Aardsma struggles with his command, walking more than five batters per nine innings of work.

    That, coupled with the fact that he's a flyball pitcher—nearly 45 percent of all batted balls against him are airborne—is a recipe for disaster in Yankee Stadium.

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Biggest Surprise: Roberto Hernandez

    Formerly known as Fausto Carmona, the 32-year-old right-hander is looking to resuscitate a once promising career in Tampa Bay—and chances are it'll be as a middle reliever.

    Even after trading James Shields and Wade Davis, the Rays have a ton of starting pitching—so much that top prospect Chris Archer figures to start the season in Triple-A.

    While Carmona was a starting pitcher for most of his career, Hernandez will turn out to be a solid addition to an already formidable bullpen.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Fernando Rodney

    After putting forth one of the truly spectacular seasons any relief pitcher has ever had in 2012, one that saw him post a higher WHIP (0.78) than ERA (0.60), it's inevitable that 35-year-old closer Fernando Rodney is going to disappoint in 2013.

    There's simply no possible way that he can improve upon—or repeat—those numbers again in 2013.

    By comparison, whatever Rodney does this season will be disappointing.

Toronto Blue Jays

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    Biggest Surprise: Colby Rasmus

    You've heard it before: "This is the year that Player X finally figures it all out."

    Well brace yourself, because here it comes again: 2013 is the year that Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus finally figures it all out.

    Rasmus, 26, had a pretty good first half last year, with an .821 OPS, 17 home runs and 53 RBI before it all fell apart following the All-Star break.

    Once considered one of the best prospects in baseball, Rasmus figures to hit fifth in a stacked Blue Jays lineup, between Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie.

    Teams are going to pitch to Rasmus—and he'll finally deliver over the course of a full season.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Melky Cabrera

    Knowing what we know about Melky Cabrera's PED use, it's fair to ignore what Cabrera did in 2012 with the Giants before his suspension—and fair to lump his 2011 season with the Kansas City Royals in there as well—when trying to figure out what the Blue Jays can expect from him in 2013.

    Chances are, they can expect an average around .265, an OPS around .700 and middling power from someone who was in the thick of the NL MVP race last season until he got busted—essentially what he averaged from 2005 through 2010 with the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves.

Atlanta Braves

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    Biggest Surprise: Julio Teheran

    Perhaps Julio Teheran succeeding at the major league level doesn't really count as a "surprise" as he's one of the most highly touted pitching prospects in baseball, but after a miserable 2012, he's the pick for the Braves.

    Teheran, 22, allowed four earned runs and five hits in just over six innings of work with the Braves last year, while getting rocked in Triple-A to the tune of a 5.08 ERA and 1.44 WHIP.

    But after some tinkering with his mechanics by the Braves staff, Teheran showed signs of life in the Dominican Winter League during the offseason, pitching to a 3.23 ERA over seven starts.

    Over his last three starts, he threw 16.2 innings of scoreless baseball, scattering two hits.

    As Braves GM Frank Wren told MLB.com's Mark Bowman, there is definitely reason for optimism heading into the new season:

    I think we saw a guy who learned from some of the trials over the course of this past season and re-emerged as a top-notch prospect in the winter. He showed his pitchability and stuff that we didn't see a whole lot of during 2012. But he was really impressive in December.

    Everything was back to what we had seen in the past -- the stuff and the quality of the pitches. I think his command might have been a notch better than what we had seen in the past.

    Teheran will build off of his success in winter ball and finally begin to live up to the considerable hype that has surrounded him for the better part of the past three years.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Dan Uggla

    While he led the league in walks with a career-best 94 free passes in 2012, 32-year-old second baseman Dan Uggla is coming off of the worst season of his seven year major league career.

    A slugger who doesn't hit for average, Uggla figures to see even fewer pitches to hit in 2013 with either Juan Francisco or Chris Johnson, whoever is starting at third base that day, batting behind him.

    His walk totals and on-base percentage will remain solid, but the rest of his production will dip again this season.

Miami Marlins

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    Biggest Surprise: Rob Brantly

    Part of the package the Marlins received from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez last year, 23-year-old catcher Rob Brantly will prove to be one of the few players on a Marlins team that was blown up in a fire-sale by Jeffrey Loria, one of the worst owners in all of professional sports.

    Miami got a glimpse of what Brantly brings to the table in 2012, when he posted a .290/.372/.460 slash line with three home runs and eight RBI in just over 100 plate appearances.

    He might not sustain those numbers over a full season, but what Brantly finishes 2013 with will be a welcome surprise on a Marlins team that, outside of Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison, isn't expected to do much of anything.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Placido Polanco

    Now 37, Placido Polanco is clearly nearing the end of his 15-year major league career.

    He's failed to crack an OPS of .700 since 2010 and his body has begun to betray him, appearing in an average of 106 games a year over that time.

    Miami's starting third baseman, Polanco's diminishing skills and his penchant for injury will only add to the disappointment that will be the 2013 season in South Florida.

New York Mets

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    Biggest Surprise: Pedro Feliciano

    The last time 36-year-old lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano threw a pitch in a major league game was on October 2, 2010, as a member of the New York Mets.

    After signing with the crosstown Yankees, Feliciano would throw a total of 10.1 minor league innings over the next two years, missing significant time after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

    Now, a year-and-a-half removed from surgery, Feliciano, while he can't carry the heavy workload the Mets gave him previously (he led or was tied for the MLB lead in games pitched from 2008 through 2010), will prove to be a viable left-handed specialist out of the Mets bullpen.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Kirk Nieuwenhuis

    With rumors swirling that the Mets want to sign free agent center fielder Michael Bourn, Kirk Nieuwenhuis might be relegated to fourth outfielder duty—if he makes the team at all—should Bourn come aboard.

    But until the press conference is held announcing the signing (which I think is a long shot), Nieuwenhuis will get the nod in center field.

    He started 2012 strong, posting a .325/.386/.475 slash line over his first 22 games, but fell off drastically once May came around, with a .223/.287/.337 line over his next 69 games, before a foot injury ended his season prematurely.

    Nieuwenhuis looked over-matched and undisciplined at the plate, striking out more than 31 percent of the time while drawing a walk in only eight percent of his plate appearances.

    That impatience and inability to make consistent contact will become only more exposed with regular playing time—and the pitcher hitting behind him, as the opposition will give him nothing good to swing at.

Philadelphia Phillies

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    Biggest Surprise: Ben Revere

    Acquired from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Vance Worley and Trevor May, Ben Revere arrives in Philadelphia as the full-time center fielder and No. 2 hitter, between Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.

    While he has hardly any pop in his bat—he's never gone deep in a major league game and had only five home runs over parts of six seasons in the minors—he makes up for it with tremendous speed and base running acumen.

    Revere, who has never played in more than 125 games in the regular season, has a real shot to be a .300 hitter who swipes 50 bases a season for the Phillies while playing above-average defense in center field.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Delmon Young

    Delmon Young was fantastic for the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs, hitting .313 with a .907 OPS, three home runs and nine RBI in 13 games.

    But flashes of brilliance have dotted the 27-year-old outfielder's career, followed by longer stretches of mediocrity.

    A mediocre defensive player on a good day, Young, who has battled the bulge and inconsistent play throughout his seven-year career, has tremendous natural ability.

    While he might see an uptick in his power numbers playing in the bandbox that is Citizens Bank Park, his overall game will disappoint.

Washington Nationals

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    Biggest Surprise: Zach Duke

    Despite GM Mike Rizzo's intent to keep 29-year-old lefty Zach Duke stretched out in spring training and in contention for the fifth spot in the Nationals rotation, he proved in 2012 that his best fit is in the bullpen.

    A September call-up, Duke posted a 1.32 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 13.2 innings of relief, walking four and striking out 10.

    When not asked to throw more than two innings at a time, he was even better, posting a 0.93 ERA and an 1.04 WHIP with two walks and seven strikeouts over 9.2 innings of work.

    With the Nationals losing both Sean Burnett and Tom Gorzelanny in free agency, Duke projects to be manager Davey Johnson's go-to southpaw out of the bullpen, a role that he'll continue to thrive in.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Wilson Ramos

    Considered to be the Nationals catcher of the future, 25-year-old Wilson Ramos enters 2013 as the backup, and any thoughts of him surpassing veteran Kurt Suzuki can likely be put on hold for at least another year.

    Ramos, who shredded his right knee last May and required two surgeries to repair a torn ACL and meniscus, is sure to be eased back into action by Johnson, who will be mindful to not put too much stress on his surgically-repaired knee.

    Despite dropping 10 pounds this winter in an effort to ease the burden on his balky knee, Ramos is sure to have considerable rust—and hesitation—that needs to be shaken off.

    He'll get better—and stronger—as the season progresses, but it won't be until 2014 that Ramos is finally back to feeling like himself and producing as the Nationals and their fans hope he will.

Chicago White Sox

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    Biggest Surprise: Dylan Axelrod

    Underwhelming as both a starter (5.03 ERA, 1.37 WHIP) and a reliever (6.94 ERA, 1.97 WHIP) for Chicago in 2012, 27-year-old right-hander Dylan Axelrod will redeem himself in 2013.

    Slated to start the season as a utility pitcher, serving in long relief and as a spot-starter, the 27-year-old has a four-pitch repertoire that, while it doesn't feature any overpowering, knee-buckling stuff, is more than capable of keeping major league batters off balance.

    Under the tutelage of pitching coach extraordinaire Don Cooper, Axelrod will get back on track and look more like the guy who pitched to a 2.86 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 18.2 innings when he debuted late in the 2011 season.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Tyler Flowers

    With long-time backstop A.J. Pierzynski out of the picture, Chicago's catcher of the future, Tyler Flowers, is expected to pick up where the veteran left off.

    Executive vice president Kenny Williams, who was the team's general manager when it acquired Flowers from the Atlanta Braves back in 2008, sees no reason why the 27-year-old can't effectively replace Pierzynski, as he told the Chicago Tribune's Mark Gonzales:

    But in the guy replacing him, or at least has the chance to replace him, Tyler Flowers ... we have Adam Dunn, (Paul) Konerko, (Dayan) Viciedo who can hit the ball a long way. But none of them can hit it as far as Tyler Flowers. It will be interesting to see what he can do over the course of a season.

    Being able to hit the ball a mile is great, but when you strike out nearly 37 percent of the time you step to the plate, it's largely irrelevant.

    Flowers, with a total of 108 games under his belt, has yet to prove that he can hit major league pitching, with a career batting line of .205/.307/.388.

    Things won't get much better at the plate for him in 2013, as his towering home runs will be overshadowed by an inability to consistently make contact or get on base.

Cleveland Indians

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    Biggest Surprise: Chris McGuiness

    Selected from the Texas Rangers in the Rule 5 draft, 24-year-old first baseman Chris McGuiness will likely start the season as Cleveland's designated hitter.

    Named the MVP of the Arizona Fall League after hitting .370 (29-for-92) with five doubles, four homers and 27 RBI in 25 games, McGuiness will provide power and the ability to get on base from the left side of the plate for manager Terry Francona.

    With Mark Reynolds at first base, Francona, who knows a thing or two about slugging first basemen who are defensive liabilities, will eventually work McGuiness into some regular playing time at first as well.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Ubaldo Jimenez

    Ubaldo Jimenez has been awful in Cleveland since arriving halfway through the 2011 season.

    Over 42 starts for the Tribe, Jimenez has gone 13-21 with a 5.02 ERA and 1.57 WHIP, and he led the league in both losses (17) and wild pitches (16) in 2012.

    His disappointing run in Cleveland will continue in 2013, as there's no reason to expect things to get any better.

    Jimenez is what he is, and that's a mediocre starting pitcher.

Detroit Tigers

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    Biggest Surprise: Bruce Rondon

    Rather than replace former closer Jose Valverde with a high-priced veteran like Rafael Soriano, the defending American League champions are handing the ball to a 22-year-old that hasn't thrown one pitch in the major leagues.

    Pushing 300 pounds, Bruce Rondon uses his considerable girth to his advantage, blowing what many consider to be the best fastball in the minor leagues past hitters. Not only does the pitch routinely hit triple digits, but it moves in on batters, shattering bats in the process.

    Rondon, who finished third in the minor leagues with 29 saves in 2012, will prove to be a massive upgrade over the veteran Valverde, becoming the next great young reliever to emerge in the major leagues.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Anibal Sanchez

    It's not that Anibal Sanchez is a bad pitcher, because he's far from it.

    But he's being paid like an ace, and he most definitely is not that.

    There's no disputing that Sanchez was electric in the playoffs for the Tigers last year. You can't argue against a 1.77 ERA, 0.94 WHIP or 18 strikeouts in just over 20 innings of work.

    Yet this is a player who has never thrown more than 200 innings in a season and, unlike last season, doesn't have the element of surprise against American League lineups who hadn't faced him previously.

    Sanchez will put up solid numbers, just not numbers that justify his new five-year, $80 million deal.

Kansas City Royals

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    Biggest Surprise: Salvador Perez

    Salvador Perez, who missed a chunk of the 2012 season due to a knee injury he suffered in spring training, has the ability to be a difference maker with the bat and will put up big numbers over the course of the season.

    The 22-year-old has shown glimpses of what's to come over parts of the past two seasons, posting a .311/.339/.471 slash line with 14 home runs and 60 RBI in 115 games.

    Finally healthy, Perez will not only put up big numbers behind the plate, but his play will land him a spot on the American League All-Star team.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Luke Hochevar

    In 11 of his starts in 2012, Luke Hochevar gave up at least five earned runs and had a 13.88 ERA.

    In his other 21 starts, his ERA was 2.88.

    That maddening inconsistency has plagued the former first overall draft pick throughout his six years with the Royals, as he's pitched to a 38-59 record and a 5.39 ERA in 132 games

    While he'll be honing his craft in the bullpen this season, Hochevar will continue to flash the maddening inconsistency that has plagued him throughout his career, making the fact that he got himself a raise of more than a million dollars for 2013 even more infuriating to Royals fans who have been pining for the club to cut ties with the 29-year-old right-hander.

Minnesota Twins

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    Biggest Surprise: Liam Hendriks

    Things didn't go according to plan for Liam Hendriks in 2012, as the Australian native was shelled in 16 starts, going 1-8 with a 5.59 ERA and 1.55 WHIP.

    It can't get much worse.

    Hendriks, 23, has four quality pitches in his arsenal and the command to locate them effectively, keeping the ball in play but without the oomph needed to get out of the park.

    Now that he knows what doesn't work in the big leagues, Hendriks will make the necessary adjustments to his approach and emerge, alongside Scott Diamond, as one of the building blocks for the Twins rotation.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Shortstop

    Whether it's Pedro Florimon Jr., Brian Dozier or Eduardo Escobar who wins the spot in spring training, shortstop will continue to be an area of concern for the Twins in 2013.

    For their careers, the trio has combined to hit .223 with seven home runs and 63 RBI in just under 800 plate appearances.

    That's not good—and while none of them would be counted on to be a prime contributor offensively, those numbers simply aren't going to cut it over a full season.

Chicago Cubs

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    Biggest Surprise: Kyuji Fujikawa

    Despite what Theo Epstein explained to the Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan last month, incumbent, embattled closer Carlos Marmol will be pushed hard by 31-year-old Japanese import Kyuji Fujikara:

    The Cubs talked to Carlos Marmol’s agent, Paul Kinzer, at the winter meetings, after some concerns that Marmol was being displaced as closer. Epstein said he reiterated to Kinzer that “Marmol is closing,” and said Friday the notion of Fujikawa closing was not brought up during talks with the player and his agents.

    “He said: ‘My job is not closer, it’s setup guy -- to help the team win and do what the manager asks of me,’ ” Epstein said. “And that’s the only time it came up in the whole discussion.”

    Not only will Fujikawa push Marmol, but he'll push him out of the way and claim the ninth inning for himself.

    With 202 saves and a 1.36 ERA in six seasons with the Hanshin Tigers of the Japan Central League, Fujikawa will prove to be the best relief pitcher in Wrigley Field.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Welington Castillo

    He'll battle Steve Clevenger for the starting spot behind home plate in spring training and win—and his defensive abilities and throwing arm will be a plus for the Cubs in 2013.

    But 25-year-old prospect Welington Castillo will be something of a disappointment in 2013 at the plate, despite finishing the season with 15-20 home runs.

    Impatient at the plate, opposing pitchers will bait him into swinging and missing at junk, leaving a small village of runners on base and a batting average hovering around .250.

Cincinnati Reds

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    Biggest Surprise: Shin-Soo Choo's Defense

    Make no mistake about it—Shin-Soo Choo is not a good defensive outfielder.

    He's certainly not going to win any Gold Gloves, and Chris Heisey, who will be Cincinnati's fourth outfielder, is a far better choice, defensively, to roam center field at Great American Ballpark.

    But it's the stadium that will make Choo's defense less of an issue than it would be elsewhere.

    Great American Ballpark boasts one of the smaller outfields in baseball, and it doesn't have any of the crazy cuts in the outfield—like the triangle at Fenway Park—or ridiculous features, like the center field flagpole and hill in Houston that makes fielding the position significantly harder.

    With less ground to cover, Choo's speed will allow him to get to balls hit into the gaps far more often than he could somewhere else.

    This does nothing to help balls hit in front of him, but overall, Choo's defense will prove to be less of an issue than many believe it will be.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Devin Mesoraco

    Devin Mesoraco struggled mightily in 2012, never able to supplant Ryan Hanigan as the starting catcher and being used sparingly by skipper Dusty Baker throughout the season.

    While he possesses excellent power and showed discipline at the plate, drawing a walk 9.2 percent of the time while striking out in less than 18 percent of his at bats in 2012, Mesoraco was felled by a .234 BABIP.

    That number figures to go up in 2013, but, stuck behind Hanigan, it will be another disappointing season for the 24-year-old backstop.

Milwaukee Brewers

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    Biggest Surprise: Jean Segura

    Acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in the Zack Greinke trade, 22-year-old shortstop Jean Segura will flourish in his first full season of major league action.

    After a slow start to his Brewers career where he struggled to hit .200 for the first month or so, Segura finished the 2012 season hitting .264 in 44 games for the Brewers with no homers, 14 RBI and a .321 on-base percentage.

    He flashed his potential at the plate in the Dominican Winter League, winning the batting title after hitting .324 (48 for 148) with two home runs, 21 RBI, a .379 on-base percentage and 11 stolen bases, second in the league.

    As a complimentary bat at the bottom of Milwaukee's lineup, Segura's ability to get on base, coupled with his speed, will find him in scoring position more often than not when Norichika Aoki, Milwaukee's leadoff batter, comes to the plate.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Mat Gamel

    A torn ACL bought Mat Gamel's 2012 season to an abrupt halt after only 21 games, but Milwaukee didn't miss a beat, sliding Corey Hart into the vacancy at first base.

    With Hart sidelined with his own knee injury, Gamel is assured of starting the 2013 season as Milwaukee's first baseman once again.

    His shortened season was unimpressive, posting a .246/.293/.348 slash line with one home run, six RBI, and nearly four times as many strikeouts (15) as walks (four).

    There will be significant rust for him to work out in spring training, something assistant GM Gord Ash noted when he spoke to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

    The only thing Gamel hasn't done yet is get on a field and play," said Ash. "In terms of his health, he's ready to go. He won't run as much in the spring, just to be careful. He was going to try to play a little outfield which he still will do. Maybe dabble at third base from time to time. He's going to focus mainly on first base.

    Trying him out at different positions makes sense, as Hart will reclaim the first base job upon his return.

    But between the rust and his unimpressive career numbers in nearly 270 major league plate appearances—a .229/.305/.367 slash line with 19 extra-base hits and 26 RBI—there's no reason to expect that something is suddenly going to click for the 27-year-old Gamel.

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Biggest Surprise: Jason Grilli

    An excellent setup man for the Pirates over the past two seasons (2.76 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 127 Ks in 91.1 innings of work), Jason Grilli has never finished a season with more than two saves.

    Yet it's the 36-year-old who will open the season as Pittsburgh's closer, replacing Joel Hanrahan, who was traded to the Boston Red Sox earlier this winter.

    While many expect that Mark Melancon, part of the package the Pirates received from the Red Sox, will eventually take over the role, Grilli's performance will keep Melancon relegated to setup duty for the entire season.

    Grilli isn't a long-term solution in the ninth inning, with either Melancon or prospect Brian Thomas eventually taking over the spot—but in 2013, Grilli will wind up being one of the better closers in the National League.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Francisco Liriano

    Already, Francisco Liriano's time in Pittsburgh is off to a rocky start—and he's not even an official member of the organization yet.

    After originally signing a two-year deal worth between $12 and $14 million, Liriano injured his right arm sometime around Christmas and threw the whole thing into jeopardy.

    According to MLB.com's Tom Singer, Liriano will eventually sign a minor league deal with an invite to spring training.

    Whether he breaks camp with the Pirates or not, Liriano, now seven years removed from his breakout season and six years removed from the Tommy John surgery that derailed his career, the 29-year-old right-handed starter is what he is—a mediocre pitcher that struggles to control his stuff.

    Over his last 60 appearances (52 starts) spanning 291.2 innings, Liriano has pitched to a 5.23 ERA and 1.48 WHIP, walking five batters per nine innings of work.

    There's absolutely no reason to expect things to get significantly better with a new team in a new league.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Biggest Surprise: Greg Garcia

    A non-roster invitee to spring training, 23-year-old infielder Greg Garcia hasn't played above Double-A.

    He'll be seeing some action in Busch Stadium this summer, despite the Cardinals' signing of utility infielder Ronny Cedeno to a one-year, $1.15 million deal.

    With incumbent shortstop Rafael Furcal recovering from yet another injury and held together by duct tape, while second baseman Daniel Descalso is best suited for a utility role, the Cardinals middle infield is a fluid one, with nobody firmly entrenched as a starter.

    Garcia, who plays adequate defense and has been a solid, patient hitter that has shown improvement with each rung of the minor league ladder he's climbed, is in a position to take advantage of that situation.

    A strong spring training will find him added to the 40-man roster and a quick promotion from the minors when the Cards need some help.

    He'll make an impression once he arrives.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Carlos Beltran

    After a first half that had people talking about Carlos Beltran as a legitimate MVP candidate, the 35-year-old outfielder struggled down the stretch, hitting only .236 with a .742 OPS in the second half of the 2012 season.

    Most troubling was the continuing decline of his plate discipline. Beltran swung at some ugly pitches last year, resulting in 124 strikeouts, the highest total he's posted since 2002 and the first time he cracked triple digits since 2007. 

    While he played in 151 games (135 starts), Beltran has had lingering knee issues for years, and with each passing year, he needs more and more rest to stay healthy, fresh and on the field.

    Between his balky knees and increased inability to lay off of pitches out of the strike zone, Beltran is in for a long 2013 season.

Houston Astros

22 of 31

    Biggest Surprise: Fernando Martinez

    While much of the shine has worn off of outfielder Fernando Martinez, the 24-year-old outfielder is not the lost cause some believe him to be.

    There wasn't much to get excited about when he played with the Astros in 2012, with a .237/.300/.466 slash line, six home runs and 14 RBI—but those numbers were a step in the right direction.

    The team's full-time right fielder, Martinez isn't going to put up spectacular numbers. He's not going to be an All-Star.

    But a .260 average, 15 home runs and 60 RBI certainly isn't out of the question as he takes the next step in his development.


    Biggest Disappointment: Phil Humber

    Yes, Phil Humber threw a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox in 2012.

    But he also allowed five-or-more earned runs in seven starts, and he finished the season with a 6.44 ERA, 1.54 WHIP and wound up being non-tendered a contract by Chicago at the end of the season.

    He's been mediocre as a starter throughout his career, with a 4.73 ERA and 1.31 WHIP over 44 starts, and there's no reason to expect anything but a continuation of that mediocrity as the 29-year-old right-hander joins his fifth organization in eight years.

Los Angeles Angels

23 of 31

    Biggest Surprise: Chris Ianetta

    Felled by a wrist injury that required surgery and limited him to only 79 games in 2012, 30-year-old catcher Chris Ianetta will bounce back with a strong 2013 behind the plate for the Angels.

    With a full offseason to recover and strengthen the wrist, a healthy Ianetta isn't going to hit for a high average, but he'll supply power in the bottom half of the Angels lineup, making an already potent lineup that much more dangerous.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Joe Blanton

    Six times over his nine-year career, 32-year-old right-hander Joe Blanton has thrown more than 190 innings in a season. 

    While he might be an innings-eater at the back of a rotation, when those innings aren't very good, what's the point?

    He gets hit often, surrendering nearly 10 hits per nine innings of work, and he's not an overpowering strikeout artist, averaging just over six Ks per nine.

    Against an improved AL West, that's a recipe for disaster.

Oakland Athletics

24 of 31

    Biggest Surprise: Hiroyuki Nakajima

    At 30 years old, Hiroyuki Nakajima is no spring chicken, but Oakland's rookie shortstop will bring stability to a position that the A's have been without for quite some time.

    A career .310 hitter with some pop in his bat and a penchant for getting on base, Nakajima will be a perfect addition at the bottom of Oakland's lineup, supplying timely hitting and solid defense that wasn't available to the A's via free agency or the trade market.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Jemile Weeks

    Some may chalk Jemile Weeks' 2012 struggles up to a sophomore slump—unfortunately, I think the problems run deeper than that.

    I include him here assuming that he'll have a spot on the 25-man roster by the time spring training comes to an end, something that is far from a certainty.

    It's not only that his performance dropped—but how far it dropped. His batting average went from .303 to .221; his OPS from .761 to .609.

    While he reduced his strikeout rate in 2012, his walk rate came down along with it. With a hungry Scott Sizemore itching for a chance to play everyday, it will take a small miracle—or major injury—for Weeks to atone for last year's terrible performance.

Seattle Mariners

25 of 31

    Biggest Surprise: Erasmo Ramirez

    While all eyes are on Seattle's trio of stud pitching prospects—Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Danny Hultzen—22-year-old right-hander Erasmo Ramirez has somehow managed to fly under the radar.

    With a full-time spot in Seattle's rotation, he won't be an unknown commodity for much longer.

    He showed off his stuff briefly in 2012, posting a 3.64 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in eight starts, striking out 41 batters in 47 innings of work. More impressive was that batters struggled to hit his stuff, posting a .218/.247/.362 slash line against him.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Raul Ibanez

    While Raul Ibanez put the New York Yankees on his back and carried them to a five-game victory over the upstart Baltimore Orioles in the 2012 ALCS, father time is finally going to catch up to the 40-year-old outfielder.

    A far cry from the .284 hitter who spent a decade with the Mariners earlier in his career, Ibanez will still provide some pop off of the bench in 2013, but it might be a stretch to expect him to push 20 home runs and 70 RBI as he did during the regular season in 2012.

Texas Rangers

26 of 31

    Biggest Surprise: Leonys Martin

    While he's struggled in limited playing time over the past two seasons in Texas, 24-year-old Leonys Martin figures to get the bulk of the playing time in center field for the Rangers in 2013 and he won't disappoint.

    He's not quite as polished defensively as his main competition for the job, Craig Gentry, but Martin's upside is tremendous—and with Texas missing the power supplied by Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli, who both departed via free agency, the 10-to-15 home runs Martin could provide are needed.

    In only 55 games at Triple-A last year, Martin hit .359 with a .422 on-base percentage and .610 slugging percentage.

    He won't equal those lofty numbers in his first year as a full-time major leaguer, but an average hovering around .300 and solid defense in center field, along with some unexpected pop, will quickly endear him to fans in Arlington.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Joakim Soria

    Coming off of the second Tommy John surgery of his career, former All-Star closer Joakim Soria shouldn't be expected to contribute much in 2013.

    While it typically takes a pitcher 12-to-18 months to fully recover from the procedure, it typically isn't until the season following their return to action that they are throwing the ball like themselves once again.

    Considering that this is his second time around with the operation, it's fair to think that it might take his elbow a bit longer to recuperate than others who have undergone the same surgery.

    Soria might contribute a bit in 2012, but it'll be a disappointment compared to what we've come to expect from the 28-year-old hurler.

Arizona Diamondbacks

27 of 31

    Biggest Surprise: Adam Eaton

    It's no secret that Adam Eaton is a talented ballplayer, but just what he brings to the table will surprise many in 2013.

    A solid defender with a strong throwing arm,  Eaton's exceptional speed allows him to cover a lot of ground in center field.

    With a penchant for getting on base consistently and no fear of taking pitches, along with some surprising pop in his bat, Eaton will put together a season that is worthy of Rookie of the Year honors.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Shortstop

    Whether it's Cliff Pennington or Didi Gregorius that gets the starting nod,  the production Arizona gets from the shortstop position is going to leave something to be desired in 2013.

    Pennington is a career .249 hitter while Gregorius struggled mightily with Triple-A pitching, posting a .243/.288/427 in just over 200 plate appearances in 2012.

    While both are solid defensively, neither player will provide skipper Kirk Gibson with much in the way of offense at the bottom of the lineup.

Colorado Rockies

28 of 31

    Biggest Surprise: Drew Pomeranz

    The key piece that Colorado received from Cleveland in the Ubaldo Jimenez trade back in 2011, 24-year-old left-handed starter Drew Pomeranz will bounce back from a miserable 2012 campaign in a big way.

    It's difficult to gauge Pomeranz based on his numbers in 2012, considering the ridiculous eight-man-rotation or whatever it was that the Rockies were trying during the season—it was an experiment that failed miserably.

    But as the season progressed, there were some promising signs from Pomeranz, namely that his strikeout rate increased, his walk rate decreased.

    With the Rockies going back to a traditional rotation in 2013, Pomeranz can take the ball every fifth day and worry about nothing but throwing strikes, which will result in a newfound confidence and effectiveness, as he finally starts to put his significant talent to use.


    Biggest Disappointment: Jorge de la Rosa

    Looked at as the ace of the staff, 32-year-old lefty Jorge de la Rosa enters 2013 looking to restart his career after missing the bulk of the 2012 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.

    While De la Rosa has posted a Coors Field-acceptable 4.38 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 91 games as a member of the Rockies, he has always struggled with his command, walking more than four batters per nine innings of work over the course of his career.

    With command and control often one of the last things that returns to a pitcher after a long layoff, expectations that he will emerge as the pitcher who went 16-9 with a 4.38 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 2009 are unrealistic.

    In 2013, de la Rosa will be nothing more than a mediocre starting pitcher.

Los Angeles Dodgers

29 of 31

    Biggest Surprise: Carl Crawford

    Call this one a gut feeling, because there's no reason for anyone to think that a 31-year-old Carl Crawford, coming off of an injury-plagued season with Boston is going to revert to his All-Star form with the Dodgers in 2013.

    I'm not ready to sit here and say that Carl Crawford will be patrolling left field at Dodgers Stadium, but the player who shows up won't be too far off.

    While the pressure on the Dodgers to win it all this season will be tremendous, the magnifying glass will hover over Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Zack Greinke more than anyone else.

    That he'll be able to simply go about his business as part of a lineup that, with few exceptions, features a legitimate All-Star candidate at every position will lend itself to Crawford getting his once electrifying career back on track.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Brandon League

    While Brandon League was solid for the Dodgers after the team acquired him from Seattle at last year's trade deadline, the decision to re-sign him to a lucrative contract and anoint him the team's closer was the wrong move to make.

    League, who lost the closer's role in Seattle before the Mariners decided to cut ties, isn't even the team's best ninth-inning option.

    That title belongs to hard-throwing flamethrower Kenley Jansen.

    By the time the All-Star break rolls around, League will have lost his spot in the ninth inning, making him one of the most expensive setup men in the game.

San Diego Padres

30 of 31

    Biggest Surprise: Cameron Maybin

    If it seems as if we've been waiting for Cameron Maybin to breakout forever, and you aren't too far off.

    Now entering his seventh major league season, Maybin, 25, is poised to build on a strong finish to the 2012 season.

    Over the second half of the season, Maybin began to come into his own, posting a .283/.333/.402 slash line with four home runs and 21 RBI. 

    With the emergence of Chase Headley and a full season of Carlos Quentin taking the onus off of Maybin to be a major force in the middle of San Diego's lineup, Maybin will thrive hitting near the bottom of San Diego's lineup in 2013.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Edinson Volquez

    The home and away splits for San Diego's ace in 2012 were drastic:

    Split W L ERA WHIP IP H R ER HR BB SO
    Home 6 5 2.95 1.291 100.2 74 35 33 3 56 99
    Away 5 6 5.60 1.646 82 86 53 51 11 49 75

    Couple that with more than 15 percent of his fly balls on the road leaving the ballpark, and you'll understand why Volquez is poised to disappoint in 2013.

    San Diego has made Petco Park less of a pitcher's park.

    The fences have been moved in and lowered (Yahoo! Sports' Mark Townsend has photos of the construction here.)

    That's bad news for a pitcher who struggles with his command and gives up far too many deep fly balls.

San Francisco Giants

31 of 31

    Biggest Surprise: Brandon Crawford

    Brandon Crawford overcame a miserable start to the 2012 season in time to show off the defensive skills that make him a future Gold Glove award winner, posting a 9.7 UZR/150 ) and 12 DRS, which ranked fifth and seventh among qualified shortstops, respectively.

    At the plate was another story. With only a .248/.304/.349 slash line and no power or speed, Crawford left much to be desired.

    Yet he finished strong. Over the final two months of the season, he posted a .285/.340/.385 mark, and while he struggled to hit in the playoffs, it's not a stretch to expect a .265 batting average and .320 on-base percentage from the 26-year-old in 2013.

     

    Biggest Disappointment: Barry Zito

    For the first time in the six years that Barry Zito has spent in a Giants uniform, the high-priced left-handed starter finished the season with a win-loss record above .500, finishing 2012 with a 15-8 mark, due largely in part to the run support he received during his starts.

    No starter on the Giants got as much support from the offense as Zito, who checked in with 4.69 runs per game, one of four Giants starters to pick up more than four runs per start from the lineup.

    Unlike the other pitchers on that list—Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong—Zito was the only one with an ERA higher than 4.00 and a WHIP north of 1.25.

    He simply cannot count on that kind of run support again in 2013—and a slip back into the abyss of the overpaid and under-performing awaits him in 2013.

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