Right Fielder Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers
2012 Statistics: (.284 BA / 20 HR / 89 RBI / .812 OPS)
Ethier was once one of the most prized possessions in the Dodgers' lineup. Yet in recent seasons, Ethier has struggled with nagging injuries, some of which have thwarted his production at the plate. More noteworthy are his problems against left-handed pitching. In 2007, his first full season, he batted .279 against lefties, essentially the same as he did against righties. Those numbers however have declined steadily in years since (espn.go.com).
His career numbers: .238/.649 off left-handers, .311/.913 off right-handers.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly still has confidence in his right fielder and expects big things from him in 2013. Mattingly stated, “His numbers are pretty consistent, his career numbers and last year. Last year early on he busted them” (via rantsports.com).
This year however, Ethier can count on the production and support of recent additions like Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez. If anything else, there will likely be plenty of opportunities with such a vaunted offense.
Unfortunately, his growing struggles against left-handed pitching prevent him from making the top ten.
Starting Pitcher Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
2012 Statistics: (10-15 W/L / 5.18 ERA / 190 SO / 1.468 WHIP)
2012 was more than just a down year for the two-time Cy Young Award recipient. It was outright bad. Lincecum had more than his fair share of struggles during the year, eventually landing him in the bullpen as the Giants entered the playoffs en route to their World Series title. He struggled with control at times and his fastball velocity was down.
Lincecum wants to bounce back in a big way in 2013. For starters, Lincecum is entering a contract year and needs to justify a big paycheck in 2014. He also wants to put 2012 behind him and approach 2013 with a different attitude.
It was more myself. I feel like as an introverted person myself, I reflect more on things, how they affect me and what I think I should do differently. A lot of those answers came from myself and what I didn't want to go through. And I didn't want to go through last year again. (via csnbayarea.com)
Aside from a new look and mindset, Lincecum has changed his workout regimen and has put on more weight (csnbayarea.com). He has experienced some setbacks so far this spring, but sings point to him feeling good about himself and the season ahead. While it is uncertain whether or not Lincecum will return to his former Cy Young capability, there is no doubt that he has the potential to return to winning form in 2013.
If Lincecum did not have an abysmal year in 2012, he would easily be one of the top ten on this list. He has a lot to prove in 2013.
First Baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
2012 Statistics: (.286 BA / 20 HR / 82 RBI / .850 OPS)
One player who made Tim Lincecum's 2012 campaign a nightmare was Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt was a pleasant surprise for Diamondbacks fans when he broke into the league in 2011. His sophomore season put to rest any more doubts as to whether or not the young slugger would be able to be a key part of Arizona's long term plans.
As a result, the Diamondbacks are currently in negotiations with Goldschmidt regarding a long-term contract.
Despite the trading of outfielder Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves, Goldschmidt will enjoy a quality lineup with the additions of right fielder Cody Ross, left fielder Martin Prado, and shortstop Cliff Pennington (fansideradio.com).
With two full seasons under his belt, Goldschmidt has made many of the adjustments necessary to thrive at the big league level. He will also enjoy playing half his games in the hitter-friendly confines of Chase Field.
There is a lot of hype behind the young star and there is little reason to doubt he will be an impact player for the Diamondbacks this year. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the division adjusts to him and whether or not he can move from an upstart hitter into an elite slugger.
Third Baseman Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
2012 Statistics: (.283 BA / 12 HR / 63 RBI / .789 OPS)
The "Panda" is probably best known now for his three home run performance against the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the 2013 World Series. Yet fans in San Francisco have been cheering for him since he broke into the league in 2008. Back then, Sandoval was a wild-swinging rookie who lacked any plate discipline but provided plenty of excitement in a lineup that lacked it otherwise.
Not much has changed aside from the Giants' lineup being much better in 2013.
Sandoval is still aggressive at the plate, but he has the uncanny ability to connect with pitches he has no business swinging at. It seems to work for him and the Giants. What is a question though is Sandoval's health.
In 2012, Sandoval landed on the disabled list twice during the season, eventually resulting in surgery to remove the hamate bone in his left hand. His weight has also been a factor. While it may not impede his game much at this stage in his career, it is reasonable to assume that his weight will cause problems in the future.
Yet Sandoval may have a huge 2013. The Giants' lineup remains the same, carrying over from last year's World Series championship. Batting ahead of Buster Posey will certainly give Sandoval pitches to hit. In addition, Sandoval has an interesting career trend thus far. He typically has a down season following a hot year. In 2009 and 2011, Sandoval hit .330 and .315 respectively. Yet in 2010 and 2012, he only hit .268 and .283 (baseball-reference.com).\
If that trend continues, Giants fans will likely enjoy a big year from Sandoval in 2013. His weight issues along with injury problems, including a sore elbow experienced during Spring Training, prevent the Panda from reaching the top ten.
Starting Pitcher Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
2012 Statistics: (14-9 W/L / 2.53 ERA / 229 SO / 1.023 WHIP)
Dodgers' starter Clayton Kershaw remains the ace of a solid pitching rotation in Los Angeles. The hard-throwing lefty won the Cy Young Award in 2011, becoming the youngest player since Dwight Gooden to do so (mlb.com).
Kershaw figures to have another dominant season in 2013. Aside from pitching in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, Kershaw will also be able to count on plenty of run support, thanks to the major bolstering of the Dodgers' lineup.
At 25 years of age, Kershaw is still blossoming and has a bright future ahead of him. Yet the young star wants to prove he is worth the big bucks that the newly rich Dodgers want to pay him. 2013 is a contract year for Kershaw and while there have been rumors of a long-term contract extension, nothing yet has been established. Los Angeles would hate to see their young ace test the free agent market after the season and Kershaw would probably want to get the type of money that elite starters warrant.
With that being said, Kershaw is enjoying a solid Spring Training thus far (latimes.com).
If the Dodgers want to upset the Giants in the division race, Kershaw will have to be a major factor in the equation.
There is no reason to assume he would not be.
Yet a significant injury to his hip late in 2012 required surgery and the lingering effects could cause problems this season. Dodgers fans hope otherwise.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
2012 Statistics: (.287 BA / 8 HR / 27 RBI / .846 OPS)
There was a time in the not-so-recent past where Troy Tulowitzki was considered the most productive shortstop in baseball. As a result, the Rockies rewarded him with a 10-year, $157 million contract, guaranteeing the young star would be in Colorado years to come.
Tulowitzki appeared to justify the huge contract with phenomenal campaigns in 2010 and 2011, hitting a combined 57 home runs and 200 runs batted in over the span (baseball-reference.com).
But then on May 30, 2012, Tulowitzki suffered a groin injury which needed surgery, causing him to miss the remainder of the season and thwarting hopes for a Rockies' postseason.
The injury forces speculation as to how the young star will bounce back in 2013. Yet if Tulowitzki can return to the form he possessed before 2012 and the subsequent injury, there will be high hopes for another big year. He is already in the 2013 MVP discussion and playing in the hitter friendly confines of Coors Field will no doubt boost his offensive stats.
Adding to the expectations will be the capabilities of fellow star Carlos Gonzalez. With both men in the lineup, the Rockies' offense is better without question (denverpost.com).
While the Rockies are not expected to make any realistic threats towards the division title, thanks to their mediocre pitching, they will certainly be able to produce offensively. For Tulowitzki, the game becomes one of personal performance and justification of the contract allotted to him.
Those reasons will be enough motivation for a big year.
Tulowitzki would easily make the top ten if it were not for his injury and absence from the majority of 2012.