It isn't hard to recall last year's primary storylines in Major League Baseball.
Stephen Strasburg's pitch count. Upstart teams like the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics. The continuing debate over whether Mike Trout or Triple Crown-winning Miguel Cabrera should be named MVP. The disappointing Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who won the offseason by signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson but failed to reach the postseason.
So what will the storylines be this season? And more importantly, which players will we be talking about the most in 2013?
I have seven guesses. And yes, most of them are going to look very familiar.
Josh Hamilton, OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Few players will be under more pressure this season than Josh Hamilton, who signed a massive five-year, $125-million contract this offseason, switching from the Texas Rangers to divisional rivals Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Hamilton will now join Albert Pujols and Mike Trout in what appears to be the most stacked lineup in baseball. But should Hamilton stumble out of gate like Pujols did last season—or get injured, as he has a history of doing—he'll find himself under more scrutiny than any player in baseball.
The Angels are the favorites to win the AL West this season, and with the major moves the team has made in the past two offseasons, they darn well should be. This is a huge season for the Angels, and Hamilton is going to be under enormous pressure to perform.
Of course, he's also a threat to win a Triple Crown if he stays healthy, so that's worth monitoring, too.
Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
Can they do it again?
Last year's top rookies were amazing—historically amazing, in Mike Trout's case—in 2012. Trout hit .326 with 30 home runs, 83 RBI, 129 runs scored and 49 stolen bases in just 139 games. Trout was also one of the finest fielders in all of baseball, saving countless runs with his defense. And remember, he's just 21 years old.
Meanwhile, Harper hit .270 with 22 home runs, 59 RBI, 98 runs scored and 18 stolen bases in, you guessed it, 139 games. Oh yeah, he's only 20. The future is very, very bright.
This season, the question will be if Trout can maintain his MVP-esque production (yes, I'm one of those people who thinks he should have won it last year), while folks will want to see Harper take the next step toward superstardom.
All eyes will be on this pair of five-tool studs that should dominate baseball for the next decade. Will the sophomore slump bite, or are Trout and Harper ready to rule the MLB?
R.A. Dickey, SP, Toronto Blue Jays and Zack Greinke, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
R.A. Dickey was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason and joins newcomers Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Melky Cabrera in Toronto, a team many feel will win the AL East this season.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Zack Greinke to a whopping six-year, $147-million contract this winter, where he'll join a cast of players—Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford—added before the trade deadline last season.
Now, these two aces will be expected to lead their respective teams to the postseason this year. Few teams come into this season with more intrigue after major additions changed the landscape of the roster, and Dickey and Greinke are the faces of the rebuilding effort for both clubs.
Can Dickey replicate his epic 2012 season? Can Greinke be the right-handed ace that pairs with Clayton Kershaw and gives the Dodgers the best one-two punch in all of baseball? Will either live up to the huge price tags?
It will be fun finding out.
Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers
Can Miguel Cabrera win the Triple Crown for a second season in a row?
It's not as crazy as it might sound. While Cabrera set career highs in home runs (44) and RBI (139) last season, he has hit 30 or more home runs in eight of the last nine years and 100 RBI in nine straight seasons. He's touched 120 RBI or more three times and 110 RBI or more seven times.
And his career high in batting average wasn't last year's .330 mark, but rather the absurd .344 he hit in 2011.
Don't expect injuries, either—Cabrera has played at least 150 games in nine straight seasons.
In other words, last year's numbers are actually sustainable for Cabrera, who is only 29 years old and smack dab in the prime of his career. Don't be shocked in August when one of baseball's primary storylines is Cabrera's quest for a second straight Triple Crown.
Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Okay folks, it's time to go out on a limb—I believe Matt Kemp will the the National League MVP this season and lead the Dodgers to an NL West title.
For what it's worth, I think either Trout, Cabrera or Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees will win the award in the American League. I can't seem to pick between the three, but I'll give Cabrera the edge.
Two years ago, I thought Kemp was ever-so-slightly more deserving of winning the award than eventual winner Ryan Braun, after Kemp hit .324 with 39 home runs, 126 RBI, 115 runs scored and 40 stolen bases.
Calling those numbers epic would be an understatement.
Kemp was raking last season as well before hamstring issues struck. Kemp only played 106 games last year but still managed to hit .303 with 23 home runs, 69 RBI and 74 runs scored.
It may be a stretch to pencil him in for 40 stolen bases again, but beyond that, there is no reason he can't replicate his 2011 numbers. Look for a huge season from Kemp that ends with him edging out Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki in the NL MVP race.