NL Awards Prediction: Matt Kemp Will Score Comeback Player and MVP Prizes
This is a rare feat, but one that was accomplished just this past year by the Giants' Buster Posey.
Kemp was injured twice last season, aggravating his hamstring in June and then tearing his labrum, which required offseason shoulder surgery.
Such lack of playing time must have been torture for Kemp, who has always played at the highest level. In fact, he didn't even swing a bat until January. And he has even come out saying that spring training will be a time for serious rehab as he prepares for the start of the season (via Ken Gurnick of MLB.com):
I can definitely tell my labrum is stronger, my shoulder is stronger from the rehab I'm doing. I'm sure when I come to Spring Training there will be some limits put on me for some things. I'm not trying to be 100 percent for the first game of Spring Training. I'm trying to be 100 percent for the first game of the season.
But that won't stop him from having a career year. At 28 years old and playing in the middle of one of baseball's most potentially explosive lineups, Kemp will have an opportunity to show off all five of his exceptional baseball tools.
He should truly be the biggest beneficiary of a revamped Dodgers team.
Kemp will likely bat third behind Carl Crawford and Mark Ellis, two veteran players with a knack for getting on base. Should Crawford return to his pre-injury status as one of baseball's most dangerous base stealers, there is a better-than-good chance he will be on second base a lot when Kemp comes up. If Crawford doesn't steal second, the shrewd batsman Ellis should be able to advance him.
Either way, Kemp will have a chance to surpass 100 RBI.
With Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier batting in the fourth and fifth spots, pitchers will not be looking past Kemp, so he should get plenty of good looks at the plate. And with his hamstring repaired and rested, 30-plus steals will undoubtedly be in reach.
It will be a stellar year for National League baseball with younger players like Bryce Harper, Jason Heyward, Carlos Gonzalez and Andrew McCutchen—all five-tool players in their own right. And vets like Ryan Braun, Joey Votto, Posey and David Wright will give Kemp a run for NL honors.
Can Matt Kemp win both the Comeback Player and MVP Awards?
Then there are his teammates, first baseman Gonzalez and pitcher Clayton Kershaw. The latter could score the "Verlander" by winning both the Cy Young Award (again) and the MVP.
Still, Kemp's baseball acumen speaks for itself. And if it weren't for his untimely injuries, he most assuredly would have had another stellar year in 2012. In April alone, he hit 11 home runs, breaking a club record, and was named Player of the Month.
Kemp is not often injured, having played 399 straight games before straining his hamstring last year. As he enters the 2013 season in what should be perceived as the prime of his career, he should return to his status as one of the top-five players in the league, if not the best.
Although he was criticized by Dodger general manager Ned Colletti in 2010 for lackluster play, Kemp went on a tear the following year, hitting 39 home runs and 126 RBI, leading the league in both categories. He also led the league in runs scored (115), total bases (353), OPS+ (171) and WAR (10.0).
He finished second in slugging percentage (.586), OPS (.986), extra base hits (76) and stolen bases, (40, tied) and he was third in batting average (.324) and outfield assists (11).
He also finished a very close second to Ryan Braun in the MVP vote.
This year, Kemp will be looking down at Braun and the rest of the NL.
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