1 Player Each MLB Team Will Rely on the Most in 2013

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2013

1 Player Each MLB Team Will Rely on the Most in 2013

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    Unlike the guy who wears the shirt of the band that he's going to see live, every once in awhile being "that guy" isn't a bad thing.

    Every MLB team has one.

    This could be the player that not only his teammates, but coaches, look to when things aren't going well and say "Get us out of this mess."

    It could be someone who is no better than average on the field but an All-Star in the clubhouse—the proverbial glue that holds the team together.

    Or, it could be an up-and-coming youngster that a team is counting on to take the next step in their development, and as a result, the team evolves as well.

    That's what we set out to do here—figure out which of the 25 players on every MLB roster is that guy.

    Bill Withers wasn't writing about baseball when he penned his timeless classic "Lean on Me," but the sentiment of the song rings true in baseball.

    Even the deepest MLB rosters need someone to lean on.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt

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    For as maddeningly inconsistent as he was, there's no disputing that Justin Upton was the Diamondbacks most gifted run producer. With Upton in Atlanta, someone has to pick up the slack.

    Cody Ross, signed by the Diamondbacks before Upton was shipped out of town, is being counted on to be that guy. Sort of.

    Nobody can reasonably expect Ross, 32, to play like Upton did during the good times of his tenure in Arizona. But surpassing the efforts of Upton circa 2012, who finished the season with only 17 home runs and 67 RBI?

    That's reasonable, and that's what Arizona is counting on from Ross as it begins the post-Upton era.

Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki

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    For as talented a player as right fielder Carlos Gonzalez is, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is the key to any success that the Colorado Rockies might find on the field in 2013.

    A perennial MVP candidate, Tulowitzki missed all but 47 games in 2012 due to a groin injury, which coupled with Colorado's mediocre pitching staff, was a recipe for disaster.

    New manager Walt Weiss, a former shortstop himself, will look to Tulowitzki to provide the timely hitting and veteran leadership that it will take for the Rockies to return to the land of contenders in the NL West.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp

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    NBA icon Earvin "Magic" Johnson, part of the Dodgers ownership group, has set the bar high for his team in 2013, as he told Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times:

    "We want to go to the World Series. If we don't accomplish that, yes, it is not a good season for us. Guys should be saying that. As the ownership group, that is what we are saying."

    Despite adding some of the biggest names in the game to the roster over the past 12 months, no player will be relied upon by manager Don Mattingly more than center fielder Matt Kemp.

    Kemp, who battled a hamstring and shoulder injury (one that needed offseason surgery to repair) in 2012, must stay healthy and productive throughout the season if the Dodgers are to reach ownership's goals and if Donnie Baseball is to keep his job.

San Diego Padres: Edinson Volquez

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    With the outfield walls moved in and lowered, Petco Park is no longer quite the pitcher's park that it has been over the course of its history.

    That's great news for the Padres bats, not so much for the Padres pitching staff, whose mistakes very well may prove to be costly ones.

    No pitcher means more to San Diego's success in 2013 than the "ace" (I use that term lightly) of the staff, Edinson Volquez, who sets the tone for the rest of San Diego's starters.

    He was outstanding at home in 2012, posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, numbers certainly befitting the ace of a major league rotation.

    On the road, however, things weren't as pretty: a 5.60 ERA, 1.65 WHIP and nowhere near the pitcher he was at home.

    If the Padres are going to surprise people in 2013, Volquez must be the old Petco Park version of himself not only at the new Petco Park, but on the road as well.

San Francisco Giants: Buster Posey

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    Not only is Buster Posey a force in the middle of San Francisco's lineup, but he adeptly handles one of the best pitching staffs in the game like a seasoned veteran.

    Except Posey's far from a seasoned vet, as the reigning National League MVP is set to begin what amounts to his third full major league season, discounting his injury-shortened 2011 campaign.

    Posey, who celebrates his 26th birthday next month as he just begins to scratch the surface of his prime years, is going to get better.

    The Giants are counting on that, as Posey will be looked at to carry this team into the postseason and mount a successful defense of their World Series title. 

Houston Astros: Lucas Harrell

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    Nobody saw him coming, but by the end of the 2012 season, there was little doubt that Lucas Harrell was the ace of Houston's rotation.

    As a reward, the 27-year-old right-hander gets to lead a rebuilding Astros team into its inaugural season as members of the American League.

    Its going to be a long season for the Astros, one filled with multiple lengthy losing streaks and little to get excited about, with the team's best prospects still at least a year away from making a real impact.

    Above anyone else in the rotation, Harrell will be expected to give the Astros a chance to win every fifth day. If he can pitch like he did in four inter-league games last year, with a 4.26 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 22 strikeouts over 25.1 innings of work, things may not be quite as bad as predicted at Minute Maid Park.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Albert Pujols

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    Owner Arte Moreno and the Los Angeles Angels have done something that most of us never thought possible—they've made Albert Pujols kind of an afterthought.

    But while all eyes will be on Josh Hamilton and Mike Trout, Pujols is the one that the Angels are counting on the most. 

    Chances are, Hamilton is going to miss a handful of games with an injury and there will be some regression from Trout's MVP-worthy rookie campaign.

    The Angels simply cannot afford to wait a month for Pujols to get going as they did in 2012. In a division where nearly every team improved during the winter, a slow start by Pujols could doom Los Angeles' playoff aspirations.

Oakland A's: Yoenis Cespedes

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    While Josh Reddick led the Oakland A's in home runs and RBI last season, it's Yoenis Cespedes who the A's count on to make the offense click.

    The 27-year-old outfielder had a solid rookie season, hitting .292 with 23 home runs, 82 RBI, 16 stolen bases and a .356 on-base percentage while playing in only 129 games, largely due to a sprained finger.

    Cespedes has superstar potential, and Oakland is relying on a full season of production from the Cuban import, whose signing by the team heading into the 2012 season was one of many surprises that the team had in store for us.

Seattle Mariners: Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse

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    Two of the newest members of the Seattle Mariners share the burden of being go-to guys for Seattle in 2013.

    After years of struggling to score runs—2007 being the last time Seattle's run production ranked higher than 20th in baseball—Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse are expected to ramp that production up a notch or two.

    Morales and Morse combined to hit .281 with 40 home runs and 135 RBI in 2012.

    Anything short of that in 2013 would be a disappointment in Seattle.

Texas Rangers: Adrian Beltre

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    There's no disputing that the Rangers lineup took a hit with the free agent departures of Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton, but Adrian Beltre remains, and he's become the focal point of the lineup in Texas.

    Beltre, who had a MVP-caliber season in 2012, hitting .321 with 36 home runs and 102 RBI, will be counted on to send more runners home in 2013. 

    Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski will help, but the onus to replace Hamilton's production is squarely on Beltre's back.

Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo

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    Pieces of the rebuilding process that is underway in Chicago have begun to emerge, none more prominently than 23-year-old first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

    Rizzo gave fans a taste of what's to come last year, going deep 15 times with 48 RBI in just over half of a season.

    With his first full major league season fast approaching, the Cubs are counting on Rizzo to swing a big stick in the middle of the lineup, getting on base, driving in runs, and giving fans a glimmer of hope for the future.

Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto

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    Don't let the fact that Cincinnati went 33-16 with Joey Votto on the disabled list in 2012 fool you into thinking that he's no longer a major piece of the Reds' offensive attack.

    He is.

    Limited to only 111 games due to the injury, Votto still managed to lead the National League in walks (94) and, for the third consecutive season, on-base percentage (.474).

    Cincinnati is counting on a full season of Votto coming to the plate with new leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo and Brandon Phillips already on base, watching their All-Star first baseman bring the runners home.

Milwaukee Brewers: Yovani Gallardo

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    Milwaukee focused on upgrading its bullpen this winter, and while it was most certainly an area that needed to be addressed, bolstering the starting rotation seemed to fall by the wayside.

    While the Brewers starting rotation is talented, it's inexperienced.

    Marco Estrada, Michael Fiers, Chris Narveson and Wily Peralta have made a combined 122 major league starts, 63 of those belonging to Narveson.

    Gallardo has made 148.

    Not only are the Brewers counting on Gallardo to perform as well, if not better than he has in the past, but as the senior member of the rotation, he's got to emerge as the unquestioned leader of the group, serving as a source for information and inspiration for his younger rotation mates.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen

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    If the 2013 season came and went without Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen seeing a decent pitch to hit, I wouldn't be surprised in the least.

    The Pirates return essentially the same lineup they ran with in 2012, failing to add another impact bat to give McCutchen some help—and protection—in the middle of the lineup.

    As it was in 2012, McCutchen will be counted on to do all things: hit for average, hit for power, get on base, steal successfully and play excellent defense in center.

    Should he falter for one reason or another, the Pirates can kiss any chance of contending for a playoff spot goodbye.

St. Louis Cardinals: Yadier Molina

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    Playing the most physically demanding position on the field, Yadier Molina has entrenched himself as the most irreplaceable part of the lineup in St. Louis.

    He proved that outstanding defense and a rocket throwing arm aren't his only tools in 2012, setting career highs in home runs (22), RBI (76) and OPS (.874).

    When you throw in his ability to handle a pitching staff, one that now is without Chris Carpenter for the year, there isn't anyone that the Cardinals will rely upon more for their success this season. 

Chicago White Sox: Paul Konerko

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    His power numbers were down slightly from the 30 home runs and 90 RBI that the White Sox have grown accustomed to seeing, but Paul Konerko remains the key that starts Chicago's offense.

    While the end of his career is drawing closer, he's no less important to the team's success in 2013 than he was back in 2005, when the White Sox won the World Series.

    As they have for more than a decade, Chicago will count on Konerko for his productive bat in the middle of the lineup and his veteran leadership in the clubhouse to get the team over the hump and back into the playoffs, something that eluded the club in 2012 despite leading the AL Central for much of the year.

Cleveland Indians: Nick Swisher

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    No matter where Nick Swisher winds up playing—right now that'd be first base, it appears—Cleveland is counting on him to get on base consistently and serve as another power hitter in the middle of the lineup, something that the team has been missing for some time.

    More importantly, Swisher is being relied on to change the culture of the Indians clubhouse. After years of losing, the Indians, by the moves that they've made this winter, are intent on making a run to the playoffs, a concept that is foreign to the vast majority of holdovers from the 2012 Indians squad.

    Swisher, widely considered one of the best clubhouse guys in the game, is going to be looked at to not only keep things light in the clubhouse, but to help teach the younger players on the club what it takes to be a winner in MLB.

Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera

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    Detroit is counting on Miguel Cabrera to be...Miguel Cabrera.

    Simply put, that means that Cabrera, who celebrates his 30th birthday in April, needs to perform like the perennial MVP candidate that he's been since joining the Tigers prior to the 2008 season. In his five years with the Tigers, Cabrera has been a .323 hitter, averaging 37 home runs and 120 RBI per season.

    Another season of production at that elite level is what the Tigers are counting on to not only hold off their improved competition for the AL Central crown, but to return to the Fall Classic and bring the Motor City its first World Series Championship since 1984.

Kansas City Royals: Billy Butler

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    There may not be a more overlooked player in baseball than Kansas City's Billy Butler, who has been a model of consistency over the past five years and is now entering the prime of his career.

    A career .300 hitter, Butler is an on-base machine with plenty of pop in his bat, and having been relegated to the role of full-time designated hitter in order to get Eric Hosmer regular playing time, Butler doesn't miss a game, playing in no fewer than 158 games a season since 2009.

    While his teammates, namely Hosmer and Mike Moustakas continue to find their way as everyday major leaguers, Butler is the one that Kansas City counts on to produce on a daily basis, as he's really the straw that stirs the offensive drink at Kaufman Stadium.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer

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    Minnesota's everyday catcher and unquestioned clubhouse leader, the Twins reliance on Joe Mauer is nothing new—they've been counting on the hometown hero for the better part of the past decade.

    As it was in 2012, Mauer's skills behind the plate take precedence over his skills at the plate for the Twins, who enter 2013 with a relatively young, inexperienced starting rotation—of the five starters Minnesota will start the season with, only Kevin Correia has more than 100 career starts on his resume.

    Mauer will be counted on to bring those arms along while remaining a potent offensive force in the heart of the Twins lineup.

Atlanta Braves: Justin Upton

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    With trade speculation no longer hanging over his head, there are no excuses left for why Justin Upton fails to play at the MVP level that the baseball world knows he's capable of doing.

    Atlanta is counting on Upton to put a past of inconsistent performances behind him for good.


    2009 0.300 0.366 0.532 0.899 26 86
    2010 0.273 0.356 0.442 0.799 17 69
    2011 0.289 0.369 0.529 0.898 31 88
    2012 0.280 0.355 0.430 0.785 17 67

    That's maddening to look at.

    The Braves need Upton to perform as he did in 2009 and 2011, providing the pop and run production that Atlanta lost with Chipper Jones' retirement.

Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton

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    Even more than Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh, any team that actually pitches to Giancarlo Stanton this season gets what they deserve.

    With only an injury-prone Logan Morrison and inexperienced Rob Brantly supporting him in a decimated Miami lineup, Stanton's production could be hindered simply by teams pitching around him.

    Miami is counting on Stanton to perform at the plate in the hopes that his presence alone will entice disillusioned fans of the team to come out to the monstrosity that is Marlins Park, supporting an owner that has no regard for the residents of South Florida or for the handful of fans that remain supportive of his club.

New York Mets: David Wright

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    He doesn't adorn the Mr. Met costume (at least, we don't think that he does), but David Wright remains the face of the New York Mets and the most important piece of the puzzle in Flushing.

    Sure, the Mets are counting on Ike Davis to rebound from a dismal 2012 season and provide Wright with some much needed protection in the middle of the lineup. 

    But whether Davis shows up or not is irrelevant—the Mets are counting on Wright to perform like a MVP, serving as the team's primary source of timely hitting and run production, while playing capable defense at third base, being a clubhouse leader and the unofficial spokesman for the club.

    Seems like a lot, right?

    That's one of the main reasons the Mets handed Wright, 30, an eight-year, $138 million extension this winter.

    They simply count on him to do nearly everything, short of throwing a pitch or hawking hot dogs in the stands.

Philadelphia Phillies: Chase Utley

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    Philadelphia got a taste of what life is like without Chase Utley in 2012.

    Neither the Phillies nor their fans much cared for it.

    Utley, 34, hasn't played in more than 115 games since 2009 and appeared in only 83 games for the Phillies in 2012, thanks to a degenerative knee condition.

    Freddy Galvis isn't ready to handle major league pitching, and the Phillies did little to address acquiring a backup for their All-Star second baseman that can contribute with the bat.

    Philadelphia is counting on Utley to spend more time on the field than the disabled list, a challenge considering that the more he uses his knees, the more aggravated the condition becomes.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper

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    A successful rookie campaign behind him, baseball waits to see what Bryce Harper has in store for his first full slate of major league action.

    While the Nationals return a solid lineup, the team is counting on Harper, 20, to take the next step in his development. What does that mean? 

    Considering Harper's tremendous upside, it's hard to say. Realistically, the Nationals are counting on him to have learned from his mistakes as a rookie, be able to make adjustments quickly and be a run generator, both with his power and speed when he's on base.

Baltimore Orioles: Manny Machado

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    After making a surprising run to the playoffs in 2012, Baltimore spent the winter...doing a whole lot of nothing.

    Mark Reynolds, who came through with timely home runs for the Orioles in 2012, has moved on to Cleveland, and Baltimore has done nothing to replace that production in the lineup.

    All eyes will be on 20-year-old third baseman Manny Machado, the team's top position prospect, as he'll be the one tasked with picking up much of that slack.

    Machado showed flashes of his tremendous upside in 2012, hitting .262 with seven home runs and 26 RBI in 51 games.

    But he struggled to get on base and lacked a disciplined approach at the plate, striking out far more often (18.8 percent of the time) than he walked (4.5 percent). 

Boston Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia

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    After a toxic 2012 season that tore apart the clubhouse and left the Red Sox a lifeless, broken mess, Dustin Pedroia's attitude and leadership is just as important as his natural talents on the field.

    With new faces in the clubhouse, all eyes will be on Pedroia to keep things together and lead the team back to the land where playoff contenders roam.

New York Yankees: Derek Jeter

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    If you watched the American League Championship Series between the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees last season, you got a more recent reminder of how important Derek Jeter is to the team.

    As soon as Jeter hit the ground late in Game 1, fracturing his ankle, the Yankees season ended.

    I knew it. You knew it. 

    The players knew it as well, resulting in the lackluster overall performance of the club in the remaining three games of the series.

    Sooner, rather than later, the day will come when a 38-year-old Jeter is no longer capable of playing.

    Until then, Jeter remains a legendary figure still performing at an incredibly high level, coming off of a season that saw him lead all of baseball in hits.

    The Yankees are counting on then not becoming now anytime soon.

Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria

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    For Tampa Bay to have any chance of taking the American League East crown, third baseman Evan Longoria must be able to stay on the field. 

    Really, it's about as simple as that.

    With Longoria in the lineup last season, the Rays went 47-27. Without their All-Star, 41-44.

    He gives the Rays a potent bat in the middle of the lineup, one with tremendous power and the ability to get on base while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base, making an already formidable pitching staff even better.

Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista

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    For all of the new pieces that Toronto acquired this winter, it's an older, somewhat tattered one that will be looked at to elevate an already solid lineup into an incredibly dangerous one.

    Since the 2010 season, no player in baseball has hit as many home runs as Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista, who finished the 2012 season with 27 round-trippers despite playing in only 92 games due to a wrist injury that required surgery to repair.

    With Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera batting ahead of him, Bautista figures to come to the plate with a runner on more often than not.

    The Blue Jays need his powerful right-handed swing to not only bring them home, but to get on base when he's not going deep, giving 40-home-run club member Edwin Encarnacion a shot at driving in some runs.