6 Dark-Horse Candidates for AL MVP

Sam Stryker@sbstrykerContributor IIIMarch 13, 2013

6 Dark-Horse Candidates for AL MVP

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    Last season, perennial MVP favorite and Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera captured the Triple Crown title and, with it, the AL MVP—but don’t expect this year’s winner to necessarily be another big name.

    While the usual suspects like Cabrera, New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Mike Trout will be among the favorites to win the award, don’t count out a dark-horse candidate from winning the AL MVP.

    Whether it is someone like Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie, who is poised for a breakout year, or a player returning from an injury-shortened 2012 campaign like Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, there are plenty of under-the-radar candidates for the 2013 AL MVP. 

    All stats via ESPN.

Billy Butler

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    The 2013 season could be the one that both the Kansas City Royals and their designated hitter make a big statement heard around the rest of the league.

    Butler took a huge step forward last season, accomplishing career-bests in home runs with 29 and RBI with 107. He also hits for average, having batted .313 in 2012.

    And with the Royals bolstering their rotation in the offseason with their acquisition of former Tampa Bay Rays starters James Shields and Wade Davis, Kansas City may also make a playoff push this year.

    If Kansas City is in playoff contention with Butler putting up big numbers, you can bet MVP voters will take notice of the Royals slugger. 

    If there is one thing hurting Butler’s chances, it is that he doesn’t contribute defensively to the Royals. In 2012, he only played 20 games in the field, all at third base.

    But his big bat alone might be able to do enough talking to help Butler make a splash in the AL MVP race.

Mark Trumbo

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    Trumbo’s name often gets lost in the shuffle because of his high-profile teammates on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but the outfielder is a dark-horse MVP candidate.

    Center fielder Mike Trout may have been runner-up in the race last year, first baseman Albert Pujols may have the star power and outfielder Josh Hamilton may be the latest hired gun to join the Angels, but Trumbo deserves some attention too. 

    Last year, in his second full season in the big leagues, Trumbo hit 32 home runs and 95 RBI in 144 games while also batting .268. 

    With Hamilton, Pujols and Trout all also having hit at least 30 home runs last year, Trumbo will benefit from some amazing lineup protection. Look for the big outfielder—he stands 6’4” and 220 pounds—to have an outside shot at the AL MVP.

Jacoby Ellsbury

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    Ellsbury is off the radar after an injury-shortened 2012 campaign that saw him play just 74 games. But if Ellsbury’s track record is any indication, the Boston Red Sox outfielder should return to form this year with a bang.

    A few years ago, Ellsbury wouldn’t be considered a dark horse on this list—he was the runner-up to Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander for the AL MVP in 2011. Ellsbury had a career year that season, batting .321 with 32 home runs, 105 RBI and 39 stolen bases.

    But then last year happened, when he hit just .271 with four home runs and 26 RBI.

    Ellsbury is in a contract season, so expect him to make a big return in 2013—and possibly garner attention for MVP.

Manny Machado

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    The 20-year-old Orioles third baseman didn’t reach the big leagues until August of last year but made a big splash upon his arrival.

    Machado hit seven home runs and 26 RBI in just 51 games last year following his August call-up, all while the Orioles were making a high-pressure playoff push to make their first postseason since 1997.

    If Machado can avoid the sophomore slump and raise his game in 2013, he could be in the running for the AL MVP in just his second season in the major leagues.

Brett Lawrie

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    The 2012 campaign was supposed to be Lawrie’s breakout season, but the Toronto Blue Jays third baseman didn’t quite live up to expectations in 2012.

    Playing in just 125 games due to injury, Lawrie batted .273 with 11 home runs, 48 RBI and 13 stolen bases last season. Those aren’t bad numbers per se, but far short of what was expected, considering ESPN named the third baseman a “breakout candidate” for 2012.

    But with newly acquired shortstop Jose Reyes near the top of the order and monster mashers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in the lineup, the Jays’ offense looks positively frightening for 2013—and Lawrie’s numbers should benefit. 

    It may be a year later than predicted, but 2013 should be a breakout year for Lawrie—and the Toronto third baseman could make some noise in the AL MVP race.

Adrian Beltre

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    The Texas Rangers had a quiet offseason, but not by design—the team swung and missed on any most major free-agent signings. They traded veteran infielder Michael Young and lost outfielder and former AL MVP Josh Hamilton to the rival Angels via free agency.

    The Rangers will need their remaining bats to step it up in 2013 if the team is to remain a playoff contender, and Beltre is probably the best candidate to do so.

    Beltre is strong in the field and at the plate, having won several Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards. He had a solid year last season, batting .321 and hitting 36 home runs and 102 RBI.

    It feels like Beltre has been in the big leagues forever, but the third baseman is still just 33 years old. Expect a big year from Beltre—and possibly an MVP award—as the Rangers make yet another playoff push.