Each MLB Team's Star Hitter Who Needs to Step Up ASAP

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 26, 2013

Each MLB Team's Star Hitter Who Needs to Step Up ASAP

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    It's hard to put too much stock in a team or individual player's performance through just one month of the season, but that doesn't mean that performance should be ignored.

    Star players getting off to a slow start is nothing new, but there is no faster way to get a fanbase riled up than by stumbling out of the gates.

    So here is a look at every MLB team's star hitter that needs to step up ASAP as they look to get on track before the season gets too far along.


    *All stats via MLB.com and accurate through April 24 games.

AL East

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    Baltimore Orioles: SS J.J. Hardy
    (.179/.235/.346, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 6 R)

    Once the shortstop of the future for the Brewers, Hardy has had an up-and-down career, but he's been solid since coming to Baltimore.

    After leading all shortstops with 30 home runs in 2011, he slumped a bit last year but was still a plus bat at the position. Getting him going out of the No. 7 spot would make the Orioles lineup that much better.


    Boston Red Sox: 3B Will Middlebrooks
    (.165/.193/.380, 5 HR, 10 RBI, 11 R)

    After hitting 15 home runs with an .835 OPS in 267 at-bats as a rookie last year, many people, including myself, expected Middlebrooks to be one of the breakout stars of 2013.

    The power has been there, but he's done little besides hit home runs and has struck out 26 times in 79 at-bats. At 24, he still has some developing to do, and that could result in some growing pains in his sophomore season.


    New York Yankees: RF Ichiro Suzuki
    (.222/.265/.302, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 5 R)

    In the midst of the worst season of his career, a 38-year-old Suzuki was traded to the Yankees at the deadline last year. He turned things around in the Bronx, hitting .322 in 227 at-bats, and the team re-signed him to a two-year deal.

    He's not going to walk much or hit for much power, so his ability to hit for a high average and steal bases is where his offensive value comes from. Currently, he's hitting .222 with zero steals.


    Tampa Bay Rays: LF Matt Joyce
    (.189/.232/.321, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 7 R)

    The Rays don't have much in the way of offensive stars to begin with, but Joyce has been a decent power source of late with 46 home runs over the three years prior to this one.

    Best suited as a platoon player due to his inability to hit left-handed pitching (.198 BA, .601 OPS career), Joyce hasn't hit much of anything so far this year. An already thin offensive team could certainly use some sort of contribution from him.


    Toronto Blue Jays: 3B Brett Lawrie
    (.125/.194/.156, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 1 R) 

    Lawrie missed the World Baseball Classic and then the first 13 games of the season with a rib cage injury, and he's had trouble getting going now that he's back on the field.

    Lawrie remains a potential star in the making, but he is starting to become somewhat injury-prone, and to this point those injuries have kept him from reaching his vast potential.

AL Central

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    Chicago White Sox: DH Adam Dunn
    (.100/.182/.243, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 7 R)

    Dunn signed a four-year, $56 million deal with the White Sox prior to the 2011 season, then proceeded to turn in the worst season of any everyday player. He hit .159 with just 11 home runs over 415 at-bats and struck out 177 times.

    He bounced back last season, hitting just .204 but belting 41 home runs and posting an OPS of .800. He's off to a slow start again this season though, and at this point it's unclear which Dunn will show up for the duration of the 2013 season.


    Cleveland Indians: 2B Jason Kipnis
    (.170/.237/.226, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R)

    The Indians middle infield looked to be one of the team's strengths opening the season, but both players have struggled. You can see Kipnis' numbers above, and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is hitting just .156/.229/.281.

    Both players need to get it going and are capable of much more, but the pick here is Kipnis, who turned in a breakout first half last season but struggled after the All-Star break and is scuffling once again.


    Detroit Tigers: DH Victor Martinez
    (.197/.293/.225, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 2 R)

    Prior to the 2011 season, the Tigers signed Martinez to a four-year, $50 million deal, and he hit .330/.380/.470 with 103 RBI in his first season in Detroit.

    He missed all of last season with a torn ACL though, prompting the team's signing of Prince Fielder, and he was expected to make a potent Tigers lineup even better this season. There's no reason to panic as he continues to shake off the rust, and he's capable of a lot more.


    Kansas City Royals: 3B Mike Moustakas
    (.148/.212/.180, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R)

    A former top prospect in the Royals organization, Moustakas was an everyday player for the first time last season and hit .242 with 20 home runs and 73 RBI.

    After a strong spring in which he hit .394/.429/.718, big things were expected from the 24-year-old this season. Thus far, however, he's been a huge disappointment. He'll need to pick things up for a Royals team looking to contend.


    Minnesota Twins: DH Ryan Doumit
    (.203/.288/.305, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 7 R)

    The Twins signed Doumit to a one-year, $3 million deal last offseason to help ease the loss of Jason Kubel, and he responded with a .781 OPS and 18 home runs to earn a two-year extension.

    Hitting out of the No. 5 spot, he is being counted on as a significant run producer for the Twins this season, but he's yet to homer and has just six RBI.

AL West

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    Houston Astros: DH Carlos Pena
    (.208/.313/.361, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 12 R)

    With their move to the American League, the Astros employ a DH for the first time this season, and they signed Pena to a one-year, $2.9 million deal to provide some punch in the middle of the Astros lineup.

    He hasn't hit over .230 since the 2008 season, but he has managed a .324 on-base percentage and .781 OPS over that span. The Astros aren't going anywhere this season, but getting some proven veteran production out of the middle of their lineup wouldn't hurt.


    Los Angeles Angels: RF Josh Hamilton
    (.225/.281/.350, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 9 R)

    After a disappointing 2012 in which the Angels missed the postseason, the team again spent big in the offseason, with the big contract going to Hamilton. He got $125 million over five years.

    Much like Albert Pujols last year, Hamilton opened his Angels career with a thud, going 1-for-20 over the team's first five games. He's hitting .283/.308/.450 in the 15 games since, so things have gotten better, but he still has a ways to go to be worth $25 million.


    Oakland Athletics: RF Josh Reddick
    (.161/.254/.274, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 8 R) 

    Acquired in the trade that sent Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox last offseason, Reddick was one of the surprise stars of 2012 hitting in the middle of the A's lineup.

    He hit 32 home runs and also won a Gold Glove in right field, and the 26-year-old looked to be a star in the making. He's gone just 10-for-62 to open the season, though. He has been bumped down to the No. 7 spot in the lineup for the time being.


    Seattle Mariners: C Jesus Montero
    (.208/.232/.283, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 2 R)

    The Mariners shipped promising right-hander Michael Pineda to the Yankees last offseason to acquire Montero, who was one of baseball's top offensive prospects.

    Expected to be a front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year honors, he hit just .260/.298/.386 with 15 home runs and 62 RBI. Still just 23, he has time to turn into the player everyone expects him to be, but so far it's not looking good for 2013.


    Texas Rangers: LF David Murphy
    (.195/.235/.338, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 7 R) 

    Calling Murphy a star may be a stretch, but after he hit .304/.380/.479 with 15 home runs in just 457 at-bats last season, the team expected him to step up in an expanded role this season.

    Slotted in the No. 5 spot in the team's lineup, Murphy was expected to help ease the loss of Josh Hamilton and others. Instead, he's off to a terrible start, and the team may need to consider dropping him down in the lineup soon.

NL East

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    Atlanta Braves: RF Jason Heyward
    (.121/.261/.259, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 8 R)

    When Heyward was given an everyday job out of camp as a 20-year-old in 2010 a tremendous amount of hype surrounded him, and he responded with a .277/.393/.456 line and 18 home runs.

    He slumped to .227 in his sophomore campaign, but he got back on track last year with 27 home runs and 21 steals to go along with a .269 average. Now he's sidelined following an appendectomy, and when he returns, the team will be looking for him to return to last year's form.


    Miami Marlins: RF Giancarlo Stanton
    (.200/.333/.255, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 4 R)

    Since breaking into the league at the age of 20 in 2010, Stanton has quickly emerged as one of the best sluggers in all of baseball.

    Last season, he launched 37 home runs in just 449 at-bats, and many expected this to be the year he made a run at 50 home runs. Instead a combination of lack of talent around him and a left shoulder injury has led to a rough start for the 23-year-old.


    New York Mets: 1B Ike Davis
    (.169/.260/.308, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 9 R)

    After a 19-homer, 71-RBI season as a rookie in 2010, Davis appeared to be one of the league's next great sluggers.

    An ankle injury limited him to just 36 games in 2011, and he hit just .201/.271/.388 in the first half last season. He got on track with a big second half though, hitting .262/.335/.566 with 21 home runs after the break and looked to be in line for a big year this year.


    Philadelphia Phillies: CF Ben Revere
    (.207/.242/.230, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 9 R)

    The Phillies dealt Vance Worley and top pitching prospect Trevor May to the Twins to acquire Revere to be their center fielder and leadoff hitter.

    He has absolutely no power, but he entered the season with a .278/.319/.323 career line and 74 steals in the past two years. He still has no power, but his average has not been there either this season, though he has swiped five bases.


    Washington Nationals: 1B Adam LaRoche
    (.169/.258/.339, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 6 R) 

    While Bryce Harper is off to a great start in the middle of the Nationals lineup, Ryan Zimmerman (.226 BA, .670 OPS) and LaRoche have struggled behind him as the team's other primary run producers.

    LaRoche earned a two-year, $24 million contract with the Nationals this offseason following a 33-homer, 100-RBI season last year. That offense has been nowhere to be seen so far this season, though.

NL Central

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    Chicago Cubs: LF Alfonso Soriano
    (.282/.309/.372, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 7 R)

    Few contracts have been as ridiculed as the eight-year, $136 million deal Soriano inked with the Cubs prior to the 2007 season.

    After three straight rough seasons, he posted an .818 OPS, 32 home runs and 108 RBI last year and the Cubs tried in vain to deal him in the offseason. His .282 average is great by his terms, but his lack of power out of the cleanup spot has been a cause for concern.


    Cincinnati Reds: RF Jay Bruce
    (.272/.343/.380, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 13 R)

    Another guy whose average is not all that bad so far this season, Bruce is also a guy whose value lies in his power, and he has not provided much of it this season.

    His .380 slugging percentage is weak, and he's leading the National League with 31 strikeouts in 92 at-bats. After piling up 134 home runs over his first five seasons in the league and a career-high 34 last season, he's not living up to expectations so far.


    Milwaukee Brewers: 2B Rickie Weeks
    (.169/.273/.260, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 12 R)

    The Brewers had the highest-scoring offense in the National League last season. While they returned essentially the same group, they've battled injuries early, with run producers Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez currently on the DL.

    In their absence, Weeks slid into the cleanup spot. After a strong start to the season he's currently in a 5-for-58 slump, providing virtually no protection for Ryan Braun.


    Pittsburgh Pirates: CF Andrew McCutchen
    (.234/.294/.416, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 14 R)

    Last season, McCutchen single-handedly carried the Pirates offense in the first half, hitting .362/.414/.625 with 18 home runs and 60 RBI before the All-Star break.

    He came back to earth in the second half, and while the Pirates' pitching has carried them to a hot start, McCutchen will need to once again be the driving force behind the offense for the team to have a real chance at contending.


    St. Louis Cardinals: CF Jon Jay
    (.205/.244/.321, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 14 R)

    Calling Jay a star may be a stretch, but he was solid last season in hitting .305/.373/.400 and scoring 70 runs while spending time in the leadoff spot.

    He's been the everyday leadoff hitter this season with Rafael Furcal out for the year, and while he's managed to score 14 runs ahead of the team's sluggers, it could be a lot more at this point if he were hitting higher than .205.

NL West

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    Arizona Diamondbacks: C Miguel Montero
    (.194/.295/.264, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 8 R)

    One of the best offensive catchers in the game for several years now, Montero signed a five-year, $60 million extension with the Diamondbacks last May.

    Over the past two seasons combined, he's hit .284/.372/.454 with 33 home runs and 174 RBI. He's hitting in the cleanup spot for a new-look Diamondbacks lineup this season. He's managed to draw 11 walks for a respectable on-base percentage, but his average and pop needs to pick up.


    Colorado Rockies: 2B Josh Rutledge
    (.230/.293/.378, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 18 R)

    Rutledge is not a star, but he looked to be headed that way last season when he stepped in for the injured Troy Tulowitzki and hit .274/.306/.469 with eight home runs and 37 RBI in 277 at-bats.

    He shifted to second base with the return of Tulowitzki, and while the Rockies lineup has been fantastic so far this season, he has been the weak link.


    Los Angeles Dodgers: CF Matt Kemp
    (.250/.289/.355, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 8 R)

    When Kemp posted a .986 OPS with 39 home runs and 40 steals in 2011, it seemed to be only a matter of time before he was an MVP and 40/40 player.

    He got off to an other-worldly start to open last season, but injuries cut into his numbers when he was limited to just 106 games. The Dodgers have been a major disappointment in the early going, and Kemp has been a big part of that with just one home run and three steals in his first 76 at-bats.


    San Diego Padres: 3B Chase Headley
    (.160/.267/.280, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R)

    No one was better at the plate last season in the second half than Headley, as he hit .308 with a .978 OPS, 23 home runs and 73 RBI after the All-Star break.

    Expected to continue on with the breakout and set himself up for a huge contract extension this season, he opened the season on the DL with a fractured thumb. After missing the first 14 games of the season, he's still rounding into form in the early going this season.


    San Francisco Giants: 1B Brandon Belt
    (.224/.270/.328, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 6 R) 

    A fifth-round pick in the 2009 draft, Belt burst onto the scene with a .352/.455/.620 line, 23 home runs and 22 steals while reaching Triple-A in his first minor league season.

    In his first season as an everyday player for the Giants last year, he put up solid numbers but didn't show much in the way of power. After hitting .410/.432/.833 with eight home runs this spring, he looked like a prime candidate to break out, but that has not been the case so far.