Under-the-Radar Players Who Will Become Household Names This Spring
Edwin Encarnacion, Ian Desmond and Josh Reddick all enjoyed breakout seasons in 2012.
But, at the beginning of the season, their names were not well-known by the average fan.
Who has the potential to become somebody everybody is talking about in 2013?
Some players are young up-and-comers. Others are good players who will benefit from a change of scenery. And then there are those who are ready to step out of the shadows and have a big season.
Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves
Andrelton Simmons' rookie season was off to a great start before he broke his finger and lost two months. But his abbreviated 2012 (.289 BA, 3 HR, .751 OPS in 182 plate appearances) showed potential for a breakout sophomore campaign.
Better yet, Simmons will be able to develop his game out of the spotlight. With both B.J. Upton and Justin Upton coming to Atlanta in the offseason and Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and a host of other notable players already on the Braves' roster, Simmons will not shoulder a large load of media attention.
Smart money says the 23-year-old will be garnering that attention by the end of the season.
Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
Anthony Rizzo made his long-awaited debut for the Chicago Cubs on June 26. In just 87 games, he hit .285 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs. It far outshined his 49-game stint with San Diego in 2011 where he hit just .141 in 128 at-bats.
Given a full season, Rizzo is capable of hitting 30 home runs and driving in 100 runs. And the more he adjusts to left-handed pitching (he hit just .208 against lefties in 101 at-bats), the closer his average will rise to .300.
Along with Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt and Ike Davis, Rizzo is one of the up-and-coming first baseman in the National League.
Rizzo may have the most upside of any of them as a complete hitter.
Shin-Soo Choo, Cincinnati Reds
Shin-Soo Choo has been a quality big-league player for several years now.
But playing in Cleveland and out of playoff contention has minimized the exposure Choo gets for his play.
After an offseason trade sent him packing for Cincinnati, Choo is now front and center (literally) for the Reds.
Manager Dusty Baker plans on playing Choo in center field, a place he has only played 10 games in his major league career.
But Choo solves the biggest offseason need for the Reds: a leadoff hitter.
Choo was at his best in 2008-10 when he hit over .300 each season and had on-base percentages of .394, .397 and .401. He also averaged 19 home runs in those three seasons.
After an injury-plagued 2011, Choo bounced back to hit .283 with 16 home runs, 67 RBI, 21 stolen bases and a .373 on-base percentage.
Another season with an average between .280 and .300 and an on-base percentage closer to .400 will be the missing piece to Cincinnati's already potent lineup.
And now that he's on a winning team, Shin-Soo Choo will be able to showcase his talents on a bigger stage, just in time for him to hit free agency next offseason.
Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
At this time last season, Eric Hosmer was on many of these same lists as a guy who was ready to catapult to the next level.
As a rookie in 2011, Hosmer hit .293 with 19 home runs and 78 RBI in 128 games as a 21-year-old.
But Hosmer suffered from a big sophomore slump, hitting just .232 with 14 home runs and 60 RBI in 152 games.
Well, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
So, Hosmer finds his way back on the list for the 2013 season. The lineup is largely unchanged from last season and is expected to take the next step as their younger guys approach their primes. The rotation has been bolstered with the additions of James Shields, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie.
ESPN's Jim Bowden expects a rebound from Hosmer this season:
He struggled in his second season as the league found some holes and exposed him. It was a learning experience for him, and now that he knows how pitchers are going to approach him, he’ll adjust thanks to great hand-eye coordination, explosive hip torque and perhaps the game’s strongest wrists and forearms. I expect Hosmer to hit something in the neighborhood of 25 home runs and have a considerable impact in the Royals' quest for their first winning season since 2003.
The Kansas City Royals are expected to contend in the American League Central this season. If Hosmer is able to get back to his 2011 production or better, they stand a better chance of trying to take home their first division title since 1985.
Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
Speaking of Kansas City's young core, Salvador Perez is quickly moving his name into that group.
Perez was more known for his defensive talents behind the dish. But lo and behold, the dude can hit, too.
At 22 years old, Perez hit .301 with 11 home runs and 39 RBI in just 289 at-bats. Project that out over a full season and Perez could be one of the best two-way catchers in the game.
A torn meniscus forced him to miss a lot of time in 2012. If Perez can stay healthy and continue to produce, fans in Kansas City and the rest of the country will continue to take notice.
Matt Harvey, New York Mets
People in New York certainly know Matt Harvey's name. The rest of the baseball world should by season's end.
Harvey is a former first-round pick who came up to the parent club in late July 2012. Projections heading into 2012 had Harvey as a "good No. 3 or average No. 2 starter."
In 10 starts to end last season, Harvey did everything he could to raise those expectations.
Forget the 3–5 record. He played for a bad New York Mets squad that faded badly at the end of the year. But in 59.1 innings, Harvey struck out 70 and pitched to a 2.73 ERA. His best moment may have been his first moment as he struck out 11 in 5.2 innings in his major league debut.
The talent, coupled with his bulldog attitude, have Harvey primed to perhaps become the future ace of the Mets staff for years to come.
Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays
As a left fielder, Desmond Jennings' .246 average with 13 home runs 47 RBI don't fit very well. Jennings has played out of position while B.J. Upton roamed center field in Tampa.
But now that Upton has moved onto the green pastures in Atlanta, the middle of the outfield is all for Jennings. He is back in his rightful home.
Also, he will slide into the top spot of Joe Maddon's lineup as well.
Jennings has the tools to be a speedy leadoff hitter (53 stolen bases in 212 career games) with a bit of pop.
Now that he's in his comfort zone at the plate and in the field, the Tampa Bay Rays hope he can flourish in his new role.
Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays
Like Andrelton Simmons in Atlanta, Brett Lawrie will be able to do his work in 2013 under relative obscurity.
With newcomers Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera and Emilio Bonifacio (among others), Lawrie will be nowhere near the center of attention.
He has had trouble staying healthy. In a total of 168 games over the past two seasons, Lawrie has hit .277 with 20 home runs and 73 RBI. Combine that with his energy level and work ethic and Lawrie could be one of the better producers in a potent Toronto Blue Jays lineup.
Denard Span, Washington Nationals
Denard Span falls under the same category as Shin-Soo Choo: a good player that is coming to a team with a chance to go deep into the postseason in 2013.
Span came over from Minnesota and is a perfect fit for the Washington Nationals.
The Nats needed a center fielder and a leadoff hitter. They got a two-for-one special in Span.
Span isn't a superstar. He is a solid offensive player and a dependable defender.
At his peak in 2009, Span hit .311, got on base at a .392 clip, scored 97 runs and stole 23 bases.
If he can get on base, the rest of his stats will take care of themselves. The Nationals have one of the best lineups in all of baseball. As long as he sets the table, the rest of the guys behind him will clean up the dishes.
But much like Choo, Span was a good secret hidden on a non-contending team the past few years.
In the nation's capital, his talents will be on display more often and will be much more appreciated by those who have not had the chance to see what he can do.
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