Ranking the Top 10 Players in the National League West
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As spring training closes in on its final days, and Major League Baseball looks forward to the regular season, teams across the league view their competition and highlight players that they feel will have a big impact during the regular season.
The National League West, while not necessarily receiving the bulk of media attention, has become one of the preeminent divisions in MLB. The San Francisco Giants currently stand atop the baseball world, having won two out of the last three World Series titles. They also boast one of the best starting rotations in baseball along with the reigning National League Most Valuable Player and former Rookie of the Year Buster Posey.
Yet Posey and the Giants are not alone in a division that is steadily becoming one of the predominant divisions in the league.
To the south, the Los Angeles Dodgers have quickly transformed from the "laughing stock" days of the Frank McCourt era into a powerhouse, especially after transactions involving former All Stars Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Josh Beckett. Already hosting talent, the likes of which include Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers figure to challenge the Giants atop the division.
The Arizona Diamondbacks also made moves in the offseason, including trading for Martin Prado and signing veteran Cody Ross. The moves, among others figure to make the Diamondbacks a scrappy and tough-to-beat team in the division, one that hopes to thwart the two "big dogs" that are predicted to contend for the NL West crown.
The Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres are also looking towards the future. While neither team should realistically compete for the division championship, there are positives for each franchise. For the Rockies, both Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki should start 2013 healthy and poised for big numbers. The Padres are likely to put high hopes on Chase Headley.
All signs point to an exciting race, heralded by top performances from some of the key figures in the division.
Here are the top-10 players, along with a few notables, who figure to have big seasons in 2013.
Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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.
10: Left Fielder Martin Prado, Arizona Diamondbacks
Martin Prado joins a revamped Diamonbacks lineup.
Rich Pilling/Getty Images
2012 Statistics: (.301 BA / 10 HR / 70 RBI / .796 OPS)
There must have been a bitter taste in the mouths of Diamondbacks fans when Arizona general manager Kevin Towers shipped off one of their top young talents, Justin Upton.
Upton is a five-tool player that is just beginning to come into his prime. His services will certainly be missed in Arizona. In return, the Diamondbacks landed a number of players, key of which was former infielder turned outfielder Martin Prado.
The deal is a risky one for Arizona, considering that Upton's contract was reasonable, and the Diamondbacks once considered him untouchable, yet Arizona gets a fine player in return.
Prado, who has spent the entire seven years of his career with the Atlanta Braves, brings his talent to the National League West and a hitter-friendly ballpark. He has a career .295 batting average and boasts a .981 fielding percentage (baseball-reference.com). His offensive numbers must have been thwarted a bit, considering that Turner Field is largely regarded as "pitcher-friendly," and he will likely enjoy hitting at Chase Field.
The Diamondbacks' lineup is also revamped, including talent such as Cody Ross, Adam Eaton and Paul Goldschmidt. Prado will have plenty of opportunities to contribute to a lineup that figures to be "scrappy" at best. Prado's power numbers have never jumped off the charts, but he is not typically known for power. Instead, Arizona will enjoy his gap-to-gap style of hitting along with a keen baseball knowledge and work ethic.
While Prado contributes well at the plate, he is even more versatile in the field.
Prado is reliable, both in the infield and outfield, and while the Diamondbacks will likely slot him in the left field position, it is likely that fans may see him at various other positions in the infield as well. He is that good of a fielder and does a solid job at any position (rantsports.com).
Prado might not be the "stud" that Justin Upton is emerging into, but he certainly is the type of player any team would like to have. He is consistently solid at all aspects in his game and brings an element of leadership that a young Diamondbacks team will enjoy having.
Fans will enjoy having Prado.
9: Second Baseman Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks
Second baseman Aaron Hill should have a big year in 2013.
Rob Tringali/Getty Images
2012 Statistics: (.302 BA / 26 HR / 85 RBI / .882 OPS)
Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers was hoping for something special when he traded Kelly Johnson to the Toronto Blue Jays for second baseman Aaron Hill in 2011. The move helped Arizona win the division championship that season and Hill figured to play an even bigger role in 2012.
Hill enjoyed his best year since 2009, putting up numbers not typically seen from a middle infielder, earning him the Silver Slugger Award at the position that year (baseball-reference.com). In addition, Hill is solid defensively, providing an anchor up the middle in the infield.
In years past, there were concerns regarding Hill's consistency. His last two seasons in Toronto were forgettable, but after the trade, Hill thrived and the Diamondbacks benefited.
Now, the question will be how Hill will perform in the revamped Diamondbacks lineup.
Hill figures to bat second in the lineup, ahead of some of the bigger bats including Paul Goldschmidt and Jason Kubel. In that position and with the talent behind him, Hill should get plenty of pitches to hit which should further bolster the type of numbers he put up last year (rantsports.com).
The Diamondbacks recognized how Hill was finally coming into his own and, realizing that Hill would be a free agent after the 2013 season, the team locked him up with a 3-year, $35 million extension, keeping him in Arizona through the 2016 season (azsnakepit.com).
Hill was excited about the extension and praised his team for their efforts and the culture they are employing:
It was a "very easy decision" to sign here long-term. Coming into a first-place team, that's why you play, everybody wants to be in the race. Maybe there was a new-found excitement. I came into a playoff atmosphere from day one, and I immediately felt at home. (via azsnakepit.com).
There are a lot of high hopes for Hill and the Diamondbacks in 2013. Chris Lacey, Diamondbacks writer for Rantsports.com, predicts that Hill will be Arizona's MVP this year (rantsports.com).
With the new-look Diamondbacks lineup, it is hard to assume Hill would not be.
8: Starting Pitcher Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner is key to their rotation.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
2012 Statistics: (16-11 W/L / 3.37 ERA / 191 SO / 1.114 WHIP)
The Giants are putting a lot of hopes on the shoulders of their left-handed starter Madison Bumgarner.
After all, they recently locked him up with a five-year, $35 million contract, keeping the young and talented lefty in a rotation that has helped the Giants win two of the last three World Series.
Bumgarner has been a huge part of the Giants' recent success.
In 2010, he shut down the Texas Rangers in Game 4 of the World Series. He backed up the performance in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series against the Detroit Tigers, echoing teammates' sentiments that he had "ice water running through his veins" (via popblerd.com).
During the regular season, Bumgarner got off to a hot start, going 10-4 through the month of June (baseball-reference.com). His performance helped offset the 2012 struggles of former ace Tim Lincecum. Towards the end of the season however, Bumgarner experienced some mechanical troubles, leading to velocity and control problems, issues that carried over into the playoffs (mlb.com). Fortunately, the Giants coaching staff was able to correct the problems, giving Bumgarner the ability to excel in the World Series.
In 2013, Bumgarner needs to be an even bigger part of the pitching staff.
The Giants will most likely slot him second in their rotation, behind Matt Cain. While Cain should be another workhorse, there is no guarantee how Lincecum will bounce back and how their other lefty, Barry Zito, will perform after being impressive last year.
That is a lot of pressure on the 23-year-old, yet he has shown that he is equal to any task out there, and his talents and mindset should put the Giants in excellent position to defend their championship title (mlb.com).
There are some concerns regarding injury. Bumgarner has logged a lot of innings, including the postseason, over his young career. He also frequently utilizes his slider. Yet if Bumgarner can stay healthy, then there is no reason to expect that his growth and maturity will help him have a great 2013.
Jason Pisani of Examiner.com figures the lefty is in excellent position to contend for this year's Cy Young Award.
Could Bumgarner contend for the Cy Young award in 2013? Let's compare the start of his career to rival pitcher Clayton Kershaw.
- Both were tall, lanky high-school pitchers from the south, drafted in the top-10
- Both made an abbreviated stint at the major league level at age of 20, pitching right around 20 starts each.
- Both allowed 11 home runs in roughly 110 innings during their rookie year.
- Both first full seasons resulted in .500 records and around 190 strikeouts
- Both second full seasons saw a slight rise in era to the tune of roughly a tenth of a run, setting career highs in wins, and striking out slightly less batters per nine innings.
What happened next for Kershaw, in his third full season (2011), is what manager Bruce Bochy is hoping Bumgarner continues to copy. Kershaw won the National League Cy Young Award after setting career bests in wins, era, strikeouts, whip and innings pitched. (via examiner.com)
This kind of success is definitely a possibility for Bumgarner, and the Giants would love to see it happen. If it did, then San Francisco would have three Cy Young Award pitchers in the rotation: Lincecum, Zito and potentially Bumgarner.
Pitching has been the Giants' strength the past three years.
It still is.
7: Starting Pitcher Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
Giants pitcher Matt Cain became the team's ace in 2012.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
2012 Statistics: (16-5 W/L / 2.79 ERA / 193 SO / 1.040 WHIP)
Yes, there are two Giants pitchers back-to-back on this list.
There should be.
The Giants have won two out of the last three World Series, and pitching was critical to that success. Both Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain were instrumental pieces in making that happen. No other pitchers on the Giants' roster played such key roles during both championships.
For years, Cain played in the shadows of teammate Tim Lincecum. Lincecum had the wicked stuff, the violent delivery and the unique appearance and frame. Cain however was considered the workhorse of the staff but struggled to earn the recognition he now commands.
One of the elements haunting Cain's early career was the fact that the offensively challenged Giants struggled to score runs (mlb.com). Yet Cain remained the ever-supportive teammate, never criticizing fellow players for their lack of production. It was something of an anomaly considering how effective Cain had been since breaking into the majors in 2005.
In 2012, Cain took over as the Giants' ace.
Lincecum, who had long been regarded as the vanguard of the rotation, fell on hard times during the season. Fortunately, Cain was able to pick up much of the slack, going 16-5 over the course of the season with a 2.79 ERA.
Cain's regular season high-water mark was a perfect game pitched on June 13 against the Houston Astros (usatoday.com). The performance marked the very first time a Giants pitcher had accomplished the feat in their entire franchise history.
The Giants knew they had something special in Cain. As a result, they made sure that Cain would remain a Giant for a very long time, signing him to a five-year, $127 million contract. It is considerable money, but barring any significant injury or slump, the cash is well spent.
The deal itself ensures that the Giants will retain one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. Cain could have left via free agency had the deal not been finalized, and San Francisco had plenty of concerns that their ace could have wound up playing for their rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers (mccoveychronicles.com).
Cain will be the Giants' opening day starter in 2013 and should have another dominant season, this time with a lineup that can score more runs than it used to during the early years of his career.
He is the ace of their staff, the likes of which have won two World Series in the last three years.
That is reason enough to be on this list.
6: Third Baseman Chase Headley, San Diego Padres
Padres third baseman Chase Headley had a huge 2012.
Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
2012 Statistics: (.286 BA / 31 HR / 115 RBI / .875 OPS)
San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley is the most underrated and overlooked player on this list. Playing in relative obscurity with the lowly Padres has not helped Headley's recognition in baseball media. Yet fans should pay attention to him.
Headley is good... really good.
There were high hopes surrounding Headley when he broke in with the Padres in 2008. Yet he struggled over the first three seasons. Things started to turn around in 2011 and Headley hit a respectable .289 for a Padres franchise struggling to stay relevant (baseball-reference.com). Then in 2012, Headley finally came into his own, batting .286 and hitting 31 home runs with 115 runs batted in; great numbers considering he spent half his games in cavernous Petco Park.
Not only is Headley a legitimate offensive threat, but he is also excellent defensively. He earned the 2012 Gold Glove Award for his defensive skills and helped anchor the young Padres infield.
For a team looking to rebuild for its future, Headley is a critical component to build around. Yet there have been rumors surrounding whether or not the Padres will be able to keep him. San Diego has its share of financial problems and Headley is entering a contract year with the team. Will the Padres try to keep him and build a team around his talent, or will they trade the young slugger in the hopes of getting prospects in return?
In Headley's case, it probably does not matter much. Instead, he certainly looks to build upon a career-best year. There is some young talent surrounding him, but as long as he is a Padre in 2013, Headley will probably have to put up much of the offensive thump by himself (rantsports.com). The contract year will be motivation enough.
In any case, fans within the division need to pay attention to Headley and what he can do. He has the talent and the ability. The only question is whether or not he will finish the year within the division.
Headley recently suffered a fractured thumb after sliding into second base last Sunday. He is expected to miss 4-6 weeks (foxsports.com). The injury is not only a setback for the offensively-challenged Padres, but also hurts his prospects for a dominant 2013 season. If he returns healthy, he should still remain on this list.
5: 1st Basemen Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is part of a dangerous lineup.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
2012 Statistics: (.299 BA / 18 HR / 108 RBI / .806 OPS)
Similar to Chase Headley now, Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was playing in relative obscurity with the San Diego Padres until he was traded to the Boston Red Sox before the 2011 season.
National League West fans were familiar with the left-handed slugger long before the trade, as Gonzalez was one of the major offensive forces in San Diego. The trade prompted many to think the Red Sox would be favored to win the 2011 American League Pennant.
Yet Gonzalez's situation in Boston never really worked out. After signing a seven-year, $154 million contract with the Red Sox, problems arose. While hitting .338 with 27 home runs in his first season with Boston, he tailed off the first half of 2012 (baseball-reference.com). The Boston media, long known for being harsh on its athletes that do not perform, began questioning the value of his contract and whether or not Gonzalez would ever return to being the type of player they traded for.
Gonzalez became more frustrated with the situation in Boston, a situation that was becoming more of a mess by the day.
Attempting to redress the issue, the Red Sox traded Gonzalez along with starting pitcher Josh Beckett, outfielder Carl Crawford and utility-man Nick Punto to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a mid-season deal on August 25, 2012.
For Gonzalez, he was able to finally get away from a situation where he felt uncomfortable.
Gonzalez stated about the Boston media:
They didn’t like that I was a calm person. I won’t throw my helmet, I won’t scream, I won’t use bad words if I strike out. That’s what they want over there … They took me over there and I didn’t change. My intensity, how I prepared, everything was the same. When they took me over there, they took me over there to drive in runs. And I did that. (via nbcsports.com)
The trade was a clear attempt by the newly rich Dodgers to make a legitimate World Series run in 2012. In addition, the Dodgers agreed to take on all the contracts of the former Boston players. In Gonzalez's case, the move further emphasizes how much Los Angeles wants to be involved in the playoff discussion for years to come (rantsports.com).
After being traded, Gonzalez went on to hit .297 for the Dodgers during the latter months of the 2012 season (baseball-reference.com).
Although the trade did not immediately provide a playoff berth to the Dodgers (finishing second to the San Francisco Giants by eight games), Los Angeles' future looks bright. Their lineup is one of the most feared in the National League West. Gonzalez will certainly enjoy hitting in a lineup with stars like Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez over the course of a full season. He will also be back in the National League West, a division in which he thrived before his Boston stint.
Given the weapons surrounding him and his track record of being one of the best hitters in the game, there is no reason to assume that Gonzalez will not have another tremendous year in 2013.
4: 3rd Basemen Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers
Hanley Ramirez figures to have a big year in 2013.
Rob Tringali/Getty Images
2012 Statistics: (.257 BA / 24 HR / 92 RBI / .759 OPS)
Say what you want about third baseman Hanley Ramirez: He has been a problem in the clubhouse. He has given up on his team. He is a show-boater.
He is also one of the most prolific hitters in the game.
Ramirez became one of the cornerstone pieces for the Florida Marlins over the first five seasons of his professional career. Yet in 2011, he fell off, hitting only .243 with 10 home runs during the season. During the first half of 2012, he hit only .246 (baseball-reference.com).
There were accusations against his work ethic and questions as to whether or not the Marlins could command his salary demands. The issues lead to him becoming a "problem child" of sorts within the Marlins' clubhouse, further fueling rumors of a potential trade. All signs pointed to the notion that a change of scenery might do Ramirez some good.
That happened on July 25, 2012.
The Los Angeles Dodgers traded for Ramirez in exchange for a multitude of prospects. The move was another part of the Dodgers' efforts to build a powerhouse lineup that could dominate the National League West.
The Dodgers understood what the trade would mean for Los Angeles. They knew that Ramirez had tremendous offensive upside. They also knew the baggage he came with and the struggles he recently experienced.
Dodgers coach Manny Mota stated:
We will work with Hanley to help him recover the confidence he lost. We know that he is young and immature, but will work with him to make him feel comfortable and help him develop all the potential he has to play baseball. (via espn.go.com)
There are also questions surrounding Ramirez's defensive ability. Perhaps the move to third base from shortstop, one that he made in Miami, will take off some of the pressure. Regardless, Ramirez will wind up being part of a vaunted offense that is at the top of the division.
Ramirez will be able to enjoy his first full season with the Dodgers and compliment a lineup including Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp. It is true that Ramirez's numbers have been in steady decline since his first few years in Florida, but at only 29 years old, there is little reason to assume the slugger will not bounce back.
Ramirez should have a tremendous 2013 season.
Ramirez suffered an injured right thumb on Tuesday, March 19 during the championship game of the World Baseball Classic. He may miss up to two months. While the injury hampers Ramirez's immediate future, he should be able to bounce back nicely in such a dynamic lineup.
3: Left Fielder Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies
Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is healthy for the 2013 season.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
2012 Statistics: (.303 BA / 22 HR / 85 RBI / .881 OPS)
The Colorado Rockies must have liked what they saw in outfielder Carlos Gonzalez when they acquired him from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Matt Holliday on November 12, 2008.
Gonzalez is a five-tool player that figured to be another cornerstone of the Rockies' young team. As a result, Colorado signed Gonzalez to an extension: a seven-year, $80 million contract, guaranteeing the young star would be in a Rockies uniform through 2017.
At 27-years-old, Gonzalez is just reaching his prime.
He already has amassed a .299 lifetime batting average with 99 home runs and 349 runs batted in (baseball-reference.com). He was also the recipient of the 2010 and 2012 Gold Glove Award, showcasing his ability in the field in addition to his accolades at the plate (mlb.com).
There have been some injury concerns regarding the talented Gonzalez.
In 2011, he suffered a wrist injury that resulted in a disabled list stint and also plagued him for the remainder of the season.
When healthy however, Gonzalez is one of the best well-rounded players in the league.
Further assisting Gonzalez's prospects for a huge 2013 season will be the return of Troy Tulowitzki, who is back after a groin injury that caused him to miss much of the 2012 season. Tulowitzki will most likely bat fourth in the Rockies' lineup, right behind Gonzalez. If Tulowitzki returns at or near 100 percent, then Gonzalez will most likely get better pitches to hit.
It is scary to think what he can do in that situation.
True, Gonzalez's numbers are better at home in Coors Field compared to on the road. 13 of his 22 home runs in 2012 came in Colorado, but the numbers were equal the year prior (baseball-reference.com). The power numbers are there and they should be again, especially with Tulowitzki returning.
Despite the Rockies' dim outlook in 2013, Gonzalez is the type of player that is poised to put up tremendous numbers as he enters the prime of his career. Colorado fans may not have a lot to cheer about this upcoming season, but they will certainly be paying attention when Gonzalez steps into the batter's box.
2: Center Fielder Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
Matt Kemp will lead the Dodgers' vaunted offense in 2013.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
2012 Statistics: (.303 BA / 23 HR / 69 RBI / .906 OPS)
Perhaps no other player in Los Angeles symbolizes the current era of the Dodgers more than center fielder Matt Kemp.
In many ways, Kemp is the face of the franchise. He certainly deserves the accolade.
Kemp is a career .295 hitter with 151 home runs and 526 runs batted in over the course of seven seasons, all with the Dodgers (baseball-reference.com). The Dodgers want to keep him in their services as well, signing him to an eight-year, $160 million contract that will expire in 2019.
2011 was Kemp's best career year, leading many to think that he would be the National League MVP at the end of the season. He eventually lost out to Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, but the second-place finish takes nothing away from Kemp.
In 2012, Kemp set out to prove he deserved the award over Braun. Yet injuries plagued the Dodgers' star over the course of the season. Kemp injured his hamstring on May 14, resulting in a disabled list stint. He then further aggravated it two games after returning, resulting in another return to the disabled list. Even after that return, Kemp was again injured towards the end of the season when he crashed into the outfield wall in Colorado on August 28.
Kemp missed roughly two months of the regular season and played in only 106 games (baseball-reference.com). Despite the prolonged absence, Kemp's numbers were still impressive and provide hope that he will be able to return to full form in 2013.
Further assisting Kemp's potential will be the Dodgers' blockbuster transactions the year prior. Kemp was not totally healthy when Los Angeles brought in Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. After his recovery, having those batters hitting around him in the lineup will certainly help Kemp's statistics in the year to come.
Kemp is coming off shoulder surgery, and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is not worried about his slow start this spring (latimes.com). Kemp is not worried about his shoulder being an issue either.
The only thing I worry about is swinging and missing, and I did that a couple times and it didn't hurt. The swing is still long. I need to shorten it up, and I'll be good. I'm definitely not worried about where I am. I'll be happy to get back on the field. If I think about the shoulder, I won't be successful. I have to trust that what I did in the offseason worked and just go out and play. (mlb.com)
Kemp's outlook is a positive one for the Dodgers and their fans. There is no doubt that he is one of the best players in baseball today. His health, being the lone concern, seems to be at or near 100 percent.
Considering what Kemp means to the Dodgers and the impact he can have with a deadly Dodger lineup, he may very well be in contention for an MVP award this season.
1: Catcher Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey is the face of the Giants' franchise.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
2012 Statistics: (.336 BA / 24 HR / 103 RBI / .957 OPS)
Buster Posey is to the Giants what Matt Kemp is to the Dodgers.
Perhaps Posey means even more.
It is safe to say that Posey is the face of the Giants franchise. Not only is he their primary offensive force, but he also is responsible for handling one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. His leadership in the clubhouse is one of the many reasons behind San Francisco's success in recent years.
It is also safe to say that Posey's impact on the Giants has been invaluable.
Over his three-year professional career, Posey has helped the Giants win two World Series championships. He received the Rookie of the Year Award in 2010. Then he backed up the accolade by winning the batting title as well as the MVP and Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2012 (baseball-reference.com).
The only season Posey did not receive any awards was 2011 when he suffered torn ligaments in his ankle in a collision at the plate during a game on May 25. The injury resulted in Posey missing the remainder of the season, and the Giants' offense suffered as a result.
Posey roared back in 2012, eventually claiming the batting title in the National League, hitting .336. The Giants went on to win the division and then enjoyed a dramatic playoff, eventually leading to a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
With Posey, the Giants are legitimate champions. Without him, they are average at best.
Posey is even more special thanks to the type of attitude he brings to the field each day. His approach to the game is refreshing, especially compared to some of the high-profile personalities that dominate professional sports.
The Giants appreciate the type of player Posey is and what he means to the team. There are reports that Posey will receive a hefty contract extension, putting him among the highest-paid players in baseball. Currently, he is in a one-year, $8 million deal. Given what Posey and the Giants have done during his young career thus far, it would be hard to argue paying top dollar for their star catcher.
Yet Posey remains focused on the upcoming season.
Really, my focus is just on the upcoming season; coming here each day and getting prepared and being ready to go. I think the injury I had a couple years ago keeps the game in perspective for me, because I've seen how fast it can be gone. So no matter what you're feeling, not feeling great at the plate or body is a little off, I try to draw on that and remember there might be somebody who is on the shelf and wishes they were out there. (via mlb.com)
Posey's comments signify the type of player that he is. The best part is that he backs up his humble statements not only with his leadership, but with his bat as well.
For those reasons, as well as all the hardware and awards he has received thus far in his young career, Posey is the best-of-the best in the National League West.