7 MLB Players Who Will Avoid the Sophomore Slump

Ryan Clutter@@rclutt07Contributor IIIMarch 11, 2013

7 MLB Players Who Will Avoid the Sophomore Slump

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    A sophomore slump is always somewhere in the minds of the previous season's top rookies.

    The term is thrown around when players see their numbers drop dramatically in their second year. 

    There are guys every year who fall under the spell of the sophomore slump. This could be due to the fact that these players have made it to the show. They’re at the top of the ladder and there’s nothing left to climb.

    Maybe they get too comfortable in the big leagues, or they feel the pressure to exceed their rookie performance and can’t handle the grind of a 162-game season yet.

    Last year’s rookie class was one of the best we’ve seen in the history of MLB. This year, those players will try to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

    Here are seven players that will.

Yu Darvish

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    The Texas Rangers had high hopes for Yu Darvish after paying almost $112 million for his services.

    After an April where Darvish was 4-0 with a 2.16 ERA, his numbers dipped in the late summer months. He finished his rookie season with a 16-9 record and 3.90 ERA. 

    As a power pitcher, Darvish struck out 221 batters in 191.1 innings.

    He will always be compared to other Japanese pitchers like Daisuke Matsuzaka, but Darvish is a different type of pitcher. While Matsuzaka’s successes have plummeted, Darvish has yet to reach his peak.

    His walk total hurt him last season, giving up 89 bases on balls. He walked more than two batters in 17 starts last season, but was able to turn it around in September. In his last six starts he walked just seven batters.

    He’s been lights out this spring and he has that ace potential. A year of experience in America and the hitters he has faced will give him valuable insight into the quality of players he’s pitching against.

    The experience is crucial. His mid-season struggles, and ensuing adjustments, will help him better prepare for the summer and keep him consistent through the year. 

    There’s a bright future for Darvish, and one that doesn’t include the dreaded sophomore slump.

Todd Frazier

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    Todd Frazier played extremely well in his rookie season. In the shadow of Scott Rolen, Frazier saw extended playing time due to injuries to Rolen and Miguel Cairo.

    He finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, hitting .273 with 19 homers and 67 RBI in 422 at-bats.

    This season, he’s slated to be the Opening Day third baseman. As Frazier admits, he still has something to prove. Per Paul Daugherty of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Frazier said: 

    I still have to prove myself. Not overplay it, just do what I do, and I’ll be there a long time. Whatever I have to do to stay here, I’ll do it.

    His personality makes him a clubhouse favorite, but there are still parts of his game that need some polishing.

    He’s spent time this offseason getting quicker for defensive purposes. Playing the same position everyday should work to his benefit in 2013. You can be assured there will be no lack of focus.

    Frazier possesses stolen base potential and an uncanny ability to hit for power. With a full season of at-bats, Frazier can easily see 25 or more home runs.

    There won’t be much pressure on Frazier, he just needs to play the way he did last season. He became a force at third base, and with the mindset that he still has something to prove, he’ll be an even bigger force in the lineup this season.

Jesus Montero

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    In his first full season in the big leagues, Jesus Montero didn’t quite live up to expectations. 

    The 23-year-old catcher hit .260 with 15 home runs and 62 RBI. He had to deal with the uncertainty of whether he would DH or be behind the plate.

    Montero was a No. 1 prospect with the Yankees before being traded to Seattle for Michael Pineda.

    He was able to make himself a presence behind the plate and establish a rapport with the pitching staff. One season of growth will go a long way toward Montero’s development.

    Montero said to Greg Johns of MLB.com prior to spring training:

    I feel great. I feel comfortable. Last year, I came here and I was like, 'What's going on? I don't know anything.' Now I know a little bit, I know what's going to happen.

    Becoming a full-time catcher this season will work to his advantage. Last year, when playing behind the plate, his stat line was .310/.343/.498 with 10 home runs and 32 RBI.

    With a full season under his belt, Montero will look to improve both offensively and defensively. His defense is a work in progress, which is why he spent so much time at DH last season. 

    The Mariners have been patient with his progress. Manager Eric Wedge, a former catcher, knows the importance of letting young catchers develop.

    Montero will benefit from the fences being moved in at Safeco Field as well as the hitters Seattle has signed this offseason.

    He was one of the main power threats last season, but the M's have given him some support with the likes of Mike Morse and Raul Ibanez.

    Expect better offensive production out of Montero in 2013.

Jarrod Parker

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    The Oakland A’s started eight different rookies last season on their way to winning a tough AL West.

    A big part of their success was the performance of Jarrod Parker. He posted a 13-8 record with a 3.47 ERA. This coming after Tommy John surgery in 2010.

    Parker will be the ace of the A’s pitching staff this season as he looks to build on his effort from a year ago.

    There is great potential for Parker and he knows he has some work to do to improve in 2013.

    He spoke with Lyle Spencer of MLB.com and said:

    I never want anything handed to me. I've always worked for it and competed. You're always focused on getting better. It starts in the offseason, to be ready when you get here, so you can let what you do on the field take care of itself.

    He can keep hitters guessing with his six different pitches. He throws three types of fastballs and three offspeed pitches. 

    His four-seam is the pitch he utilizes most often, throwing it anywhere from 93 to 95 mph His sinker averages just over 92 mph and his cutter is around 88 to 90 mph.

    He also throws a plus change-up, curveball and slider.

    The variety of pitches and his ability to change eye levels will lead to his continued success. His focus and dedication on improvement will go a long way this season.

    There are other sophomore pitchers on the A's who could see their production drop, but not Parker.

    He’ll have a better 2013 than he did 2012.

Mike Trout

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    Mike Trout had the best rookie season in recent memory. A five-tool player, Trout has speed, power, contact, a plus arm and incredible range in the outfield.

    A unanimous decision for Rookie of the Year, Trout hit .326 with 30 homers, 49 stolen bases and 83 RBI.

    There’s never been a player quite like Trout. He works hard, plays hard and goes to "war" for his team. He led the majors in with a 10.7 WAR last season.

    After the Angels renewed his contract for $510,000, Trout’s agent was furious his player wasn’t getting paid as much as he deserved. 

    Trout will approach this season with the same hunger as last year, still looking to prove his worth (this year in terms of dollars, not playing time). With a powerful group around him in the lineup, he shouldn’t feel much pressure and will continue to play like he did last season.

    He’s bound to go through some rough patches as the season goes on, but Trout’s athleticism will allow him to keep his stats similar to to those of his rookie season. 

    Bill James predicts Trout will hit .325 with 30 homers, 87 RBI, 53 stolen bases and 122 runs scored.

    Manager Mike Scioscia commented on the issue of sophomore slumps to MLB.com:

    If you look at Mike’s workouts, he’s going about it the same way he always has. He’s going to play baseball, he’s not going to get caught up in, ‘Oh this is your sophomore year, you’re going to have to repeat this statistic or that statistic.' He’s going to play hard and let the stats fall where they will.

    He is already one of the best outfielders in all of baseball. 2013 will only solidify that.

Yoenis Cespedes

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    Cuban defect Yoenis Cespedes burst into the majors with the Oakland A’s last season. The 27-year-old hit .292 with 23 homers and 82 RBI in 129 games.

    The A’s rode his bat to the playoffs. He has one of the sweetest swings in all of baseball and hits the ball extremely hard.

    He had his struggles early on in the season, and ended up missing most of May and a handful of games in June. If he can stay healthy, his numbers are likely to increase with a full season. He only played in 129 games last season. 

    His average jumped to a season-high .310 on Aug. 4. After the All-Star break, Cespedes hit .311 with 14 homers and 46 RBI. He was one of three players, joining Ryan Braun and Trout, with over a .300 average, and double-digit home runs and steals in the second half.

    Cespedes wasn’t the typical rookie. He was highly touted out of Cuba and is already in his prime. While it took him a little while to get used to major-league pitching, he has developed into one of the more dangerous hitters.

    He's learned how to hit a breaking pitch and displays sneaky power. With his 5’10” frame, he doesn’t look like a power hitter, but has a violent swing and the ball flies off his bat.

    Cespedes will continue to be a major force in Oakland’s lineup over this upcoming season.

    He shouldn’t be worried about suffering a sophomore slump.

Bryce Harper

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    Bryce Harper emerged onto the scene as one of the highest-touted prospects in the history of MLB.

    He was drafted as a 17-year-old and quickly rose through the Nationals' organization, earning his call-up in late April at just 19. He established himself as a premier talent in the Nationals' lineup and hit in the two-hole for much of the season.

    While suffering a minor slump through the summer months, Harper turned it around down the stretch on his way to a 22-homer season, with a .270 average.

    He earned National League Rookie of the Year with his performance and provided energy and hustle for the Nationals.

    He stole home, tracked down fly balls in center, stretched extra bases and never slowed down.

    An offseason of maturity and bulking up (he gained 20 pounds and is now 230 pounds) will give him the strength to make it through a full season.

    Moving from center to left field should help his legs stay fresh.

    He’ll have more stolen bases, more extra-base hits and more home runs this season than he did last.

    Harper has come through in the clutch on numerous occasions and proven to be a valuable piece in the Washington lineup. He energized the rest of the team on its way to a league-best 98-win season

    That won’t change this year, as Harper will continue to grow and improve as a ballplayer. There's no season-long slump in sight.