25 Bold Predictions for the 2014 MLB Season

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2014

25 Bold Predictions for the 2014 MLB Season

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    We are now just a week away from the 2014 MLB season kicking into full swing, as the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres get things started this coming Sunday night before the rest of the league gets going on Monday, Mar. 31.

    With just a week of spring training to go, teams will put the final touches on their Opening Day rosters in the days ahead, and there will be some tough decisions to be made throughout the league.

    Turning our attention to the upcoming season, though, here are 25 bold predictions for 2014. The following slides feature everything from potential trades to surprise performances to award contenders.

    So here is a look at some of my best guesses regarding some unexpected events that could occur during what promises to be another great season of baseball.

NL: Brett Anderson Stays Healthy, Leads Colorado Rockies in Wins and ERA

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    After their rotation posted an MLB-worst 5.81 ERA in 2012, the Colorado Rockies improved significantly last season to lower that mark to 4.57though that was still only good for 26th-best in baseball.

    Looking to take another step forward, the team made a handful of additions to its staff this offseason, trading for the likes of Brett Anderson, Jordan Lyles and Franklin Morales.

    Anderson is the potential X-factor in that bunch, as he has the stuff to be a front-line starter but has struggled to stay on the field in recent years. After making 30 starts as a rookie, he has made a total of 54 appearances (43 starts) over the past four seasons, dealing with a fractured foot last year.

    He's now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, and his foot looks to be fully healed after a strong spring training. The Rockies have a solid 1-2 punch in Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin, but a healthy Anderson is capable of being their best starter in 2014.

NL: Starlin Castro Bounces Back, Hits .300-Plus with 15 HR and 15 SB

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    Starlin Castro started off his career with a bang, piling up 529 hits before his 23rd birthday and making back-to-back NL All-Star teams in 2011 and 2012 as the face of a rebuilding Chicago Cubs team.

    Expected to be a key piece of the team's future, Castro instead took a big step back in 2013. His OPS fell from .753 to .631, and his .245/.284/.347 line along with subpar defense at shortstop left him with a -0.6 rWAR when the season ended.

    The Cubs signed Castro to a seven-year, $60 million extension in the second half of the 2012 season, but with middle infield prospects Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara rapidly approaching the bigs, Castro will need to turn things around in 2014.

    A clean slate and a new manager in Rick Renteria may be exactly what Castro needs to get his career back on track. His aggressive approach at the plate may never result in a high OBP, but there is no reason he can't return to hitting .300 and flashing a good mix of power and speed, with 15-plus home runs and 15-plus steals.

    Castro must get healthy first and foremost, however, and Renteria spoke to his desire to come back in a big way in 2014 (h/t to Carrie Muskat of MLB.com):

    "I know he wants to play," Renteria said. "It affected him. He hated this setback this spring, obviously. He wants to show everybody and have a comeback-type season. He looks like he's ready to get back out there on the field."

NL: Gregory Polanco and Jameson Taillon Will Be in Pittsburgh by June

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Last year, the Pittsburgh Pirates finally reached the postseason for the first time since 1992, and a solid core of young, homegrown talent is a big reason why they were able to turn things around.

    More talent is on the way, too. The team's top-two prospects entering the season, according to Baseball Americaare outfielder Gregory Polanco (No. 10 overall prospect in MLB) and right-hander Jameson Taillon (No. 22), and both figure to debut some time in 2014.

    Polanco hit .285/.356/.434 with 44 extra-base hits and 38 steals last year, and he then followed that up by winning Dominican Winter League MVP honors. Taillon had a 3.73 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 147.1 innings over a full season in the high minors.

    Jose Tabata is holding down right field for now, but it won't be long before Polanco pushes him for the job and joins Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen in what may be the most athletic outfield in baseball. Meanwhile, the No. 5 starter job for the Pirates could be an issue if Edinson Volquez struggles, and Taillon could wind up being the answer.

    Seeing both of them called up and making a major impact by June is very possible.

NL: At Least Two Big-Name Philadelphia Phillies Are Traded at the Deadline

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Coming off of a 73-89 season, and having missed the postseason in each of the past two years, it looked like it was time for the Philadelphia Phillies to blow things up and start rebuilding this offseason.

    Instead, the team re-signed Chase Utley to a two-year, $27 million extension in August, brought back Carlos Ruiz on a three-year deal and added both A.J. Burnett and Marlon Byrd in free agency. With that, an already aging team brought on four players age 35 or older on multi-year deals.

    With the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves (even with their injury issues) looking strong, it looks like the Phillies will be playing for third place in their own division. If they fall out of things earlyand there is a decent chance they willthey could finally pull the trigger on rebuilding at the deadline.

    Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Domonic Brown, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon are all pieces that could potentially be shopped if the Phillies decide to sell. My guess is at least two of those guys will be playing elsewhere by the end of 2014.

NL: Giancarlo Stanton Will Win the NL Home-Run Title

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    There may be no one in baseball with more raw power than Giancarlo Stanton, as he already has 117 longballs to his credit entering his age-24 season and routinely eclipses 450 feet with his tape-measure blasts.

    Injuries have kept him from reaching his full potential over the previous two seasons, though, as he played 123 games in 2012 and just 116 last year while battling a strained hamstring, among other injuries.

    He's healthy entering the 2014 season, and he has put together a nice spring training, with five home runs and a .313 batting average in Grapefruit League action. Trade and extension rumors continue to swirl as he moves ever closer to free agency (after the 2016 season), but for now he's back in the middle of the Marlins lineup.

    Paul Goldschmidt and Pedro Alvarez tied for the NL lead last season with 36 home runs, and Jay Bruce was the only other player to reach the 30-HR mark in the league. Stanton managed 37 home runs in just 449 at-bats in 2012, and if he can stay on the field, a 40-plus home run season and the NL home-run title is well within reach.

NL: Stephen Strasburg Will Double His 2013 Win Total, Lead NL in Strikeouts

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    There was no better example of why win-loss record is a poor indication of how well a pitcher performed in a given season than Stephen Strasburg in 2013, as the right-hander was just 8-9 over 30 starts but was a legitimate Cy Young candidate based on peripheral numbers.

    Accompanying that record was a 3.00 ERA, 1.049 WHIP, .207 BAA and 191 strikeouts in 183 innings of work, as he was, by all measures outside of record, one of the best pitchers in the National League.

    If the Nationals can give him more than the 3.47 runs of support they did on average last year, according to ESPN.com, and play up to their potential as a team, there is no reason he can't double his win total to a career-high 16 this coming year.

    As for leading the NL in strikeouts, that prediction is a bit more ambitious. His 191 punchouts ranked 12th in the NL last season and trailed the leader, Clayton Kershaw, by 41. However, Kershaw also threw 53 more innings than Strasburg did, and if Strasburg can make around 32 starts this season and raise his K/9 just a bit, he should be able to make a run at Kershaw and the rest of the NL.

NL: Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo Will Combine for More HR Than Any Duo

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    Looking to add a power bat to their lineup to help protect Paul Goldschmidt, the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Mark Trumbo from the Los Angeles Angels in a three-team deal at the winter meetings.

    Last season, Trumbo set a new career high last season with 34 home runs, while Goldschmidt was a legitimate NL MVP candidate on his way to tying for the NL lead with 36 home runs of his own.

    Those 70 combined home runs would have been good for the second-best teammate total in the MLB last year, trailing only the Baltimore Orioles duo of Chris Davis (53) and Adam Jones (33). Even with some regression from Davis, those two will likely put up a big numbers once again.

    Look out for Texas (Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre) and Toronto (Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion) as well, but my pick for most prolific duo in 2014 is Goldschmidt and Trumbo.

AL: Dustin Ackley Will Finally Breakout

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    As the No. 2 pick in the 2009 draft, just behind Stephen Strasburg, expectations were extremely high for Dustin Ackley in Seattle.

    He turned in a strong debut season in 2011, hitting .273/.348/.417 over 333 at-bats and posting a 3.7 rWAR to finish sixth in AL Rookie of the Year voting, and that only further raised expectations.

    The 26-year-old has had trouble establishing himself over the past two seasons, though, and his struggles earned him a demotion on May 28 of last season. After a month in Triple-A, he returned to the Bigs as a different player, going on to hit .304/.374/.435 in 184 second half at-bats.

    He's continued that momentum into spring training this year, hitting .418 with six doubles and two home runs. He'll break camp with the everyday left field job in hand, and based on what he told Chris Gabel of MLB.com, he looks to have no shortage of confidence heading into the year:

    People don't put a lot into the stats in Spring Training. But I put a lot into how I've felt and the confidence you build in the spring. I think that's huge. You can't really put into words what that does for you. I think taking everything I've done and just being consistent with that is going to be the biggest thing.

AL: Tommy Hunter Saves 40-Plus Games for the Baltimore Orioles

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Jim Johnson took over as the Baltimore Orioles closer in 2012 after four seasons as a solid setup man for the team, and he wound up leading the AL in saves each of the past two years, with 51 and 50, respectively.

    While the 50 saves last season were nice, his MLB-high nine blown saves were not so nice, and the Orioles opted to ship him to Oakland in a trade this offseason rather than pay him $10 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility.

    After making a run at signing Grant Balfouronly to have the deal fall apart after questions about the health of his arm popped up during his physicalthe team opted to fill the vacancy in-house by sliding Tommy Hunter into the role.

    Like Johnson, Hunter does not have overwhelming strikeout stuff, but he knows how to keep the ball down and get guys out. The Orioles should be fringe contenders once again this season, meaning there will likely be plenty of save situations, and as long as Hunter proves he can handle the role he should have no problem ranking among the AL leaders in saves.

AL: Joe Mauer Hits 20-Plus Home Runs Thanks to Move to First Base

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    Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

    With a .323/.405/.468 career batting line and three batting titles under his belt, Joe Mauer is undoubtedly one of the best pure hitters in all of baseball.

    However, he only has 105 home runs in his 10 seasons in the majors, and he has only topped the 20-home-run mark once in his career. During his MVP season in 2009, Mauer had 28 home runs, but he followed that up with just nine the following season and 33 over the past four years.

    Mauer played 113 games last year before a concussion ended his season, and those games included 29 appearances at DH and eight at first base. In an effort to avoid further injury and get all they can out of the $115 million he is owed over the next five years, the Twins have opted to move the 30-year-old to first base full time.

    Avoiding the wear and tear of catching regularly should help Mauer stay healthy, and a spike in his offensive production could go hand in hand with that. The Twins will be counting on him to be a run producer, and 20-plus home runs could be in order.

AL: Aaron Sanchez Makes a Big Second-Half Impact for Toronto Blue Jays

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    After their rotation posted a 4.81 ERA last season, which ranked 14th in the AL, most expected the Toronto Blue Jays to add at least one starter to the mix this offseason. Instead, they opted to stick with their stable of in-house options, hoping that a handful of guys returning from injury could turn things around.

    Outside of veterans R.A. Dickey (14-13, 4.21 ERA) and Mark Buehrle (12-10, 4.15 ERA), the rest of the Blue Jays starters went just 20-34 with a 5.39 ERA last season, and 13 different pitchers started at least one game.

    Healthy seasons from guys like Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison and J.A. Happ, who combined for just 28 starts last season, could certainly help right the ship. However, the team also has two impressive prospects in Aaron Sanchez (No. 32 prospect by Baseball America) and Marcus Stroman (No. 55 prospect), and both could make an impact in 2014.

    Sanchez in particular has been terrific this spring, allowing just nine hits in 12.1 scoreless innings of work. He's still just 21 years old and has yet to top 100 innings in a season, so he'll almost certainly open the season in the minors. Don't be surprised to see him make an impact in the second half, though, especially if he keeps pitching like he has.

AL: Mike Trout First Batter with 200 H, 30 2B, 10 3B, 30 HR, 30 SB, 100 RBI, 100 R

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    At this point, it would be hard for Mike Trout to put together a surprising season, unless he were to drop off significantly and struggle. From a success standpoint, though, would anyone be overly shocked to see him go 40/40 or bat .375 and win the batting titleor even win the Triple Crown?

    We'll stick to a slightly more realistic and incredibly specific prediction here and say that Trout will become the first player ever to fill up a stat line with 200 hits, 30 doubles, 10 triples, 30 home runs, 30 steals, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored.

    He was fairly close to achieving it last season, as he fell short of those marks by just 10 hits, one triple, three home runs and three RBI. Becoming the first to fill it up like that would simply be a testament to how good the 22-year-old's all-around game is.

    Two guys have come close to achieving the feat, missing out by one category:

    Ken Williams (1922): 194 H, 34 2B, 11 3B, 39 HR, 37 SB, 155 RBI, 128 R

    Jimmy Rollins (2007): 212 H, 38 2B, 20 3B, 30 HR, 41 SB, 94 RBI, 139 R

AL: Drew Smyly Has a Better Season Than Doug Fister

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    David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

    Many have questioned the Detroit Tigers' decision to trade Doug Fister this offseason, as the team remains in win-now mode and did not get all that much in return for the big right-hander (though Robbie Ray looks to have a bright future).

    Aside from the obvious payroll reasonsthe team is looking to re-up with Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer in the near futurethe Tigers were also comfortable dealing Fister because of the presence of left-hander Drew Smyly.

    The 24-year-old Smyly broke into the league as a starter in 2012, going 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA in 23 games (18 starts), but when the team decided to re-sign Anibal Sanchez last offseason, Smyly wound up as the odd-man out. However, he moved to a setup role and emerged as one of the best southpaw relievers in the game, making 63 appearances and posing a 2.37 ERA, 1.039 WHIP and going 6-0 to boot.

    Now back in the rotation, he will inevitably be compared to Fister all season. While I fully expect Fister to be solid once again in Washington, don't be surprised if Smyly has the better all-around season in 2014. 

AL: The White Sox Claim AL Rookie of the Year and AL Cy Young Honors

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Chicago White Sox finally opted to start rebuilding last August, shipping out Jake Peavy and Alex Rios in a pair of cost-cutting trades. The process continued this offseason, with the team acquiring a handful of big-league ready young players.

    Highlighting their offseason pickups was Cuban defector Jose Abreu, who inked a six-year, $68 million deal to replace Paul Konerko at first base and in the middle of the order. He has the power to be an immediate 30-home-run guy, and in what figures to be deep AL ROY field with the likes of Xander Bogaerts, Masahiro Tanaka, Yordano Ventura and others, Abreu is my early pick to take home the hardware.

    While the new talent is exciting, the White Sox did have a few pieces in-house to build around, and none is bigger than ace Chris Sale. The 24-year-old has gone a combined 28-22 with a 3.06 ERA and 418 strikeouts in 406.1 innings of work since joining the rotation in 2012. That has netted him sixth- and fifth- place finishes, respectively, in AL Cy Young voting, and he is my pick to take the award home in 2014.

    So while the White Sox may have a hard time finishing any higher than fourth in the AL Central, some postseason awards could make their season one to remember, nonetheless. For what it's worth, the last team to win both ROY and Cy Young was the 1994 Kansas City Royals (Bob Hamelin and David Cone).

Surprise NL All-Star: 2B Jedd Gyorko, San Diego Padres

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    A natural third baseman, Jedd Gyorko made the move to second base last season in order to get out from behind Chase Headley on the depth chart and into the everyday lineup for a San Diego Padres team that needed his power bat.

    He wound up leading the Padres with 23 home runs and 63 RBI. Those 23 longballs were also tops among rookies and second only to Robinson Cano (27) among all second basemen.

    His .249/.301/.444 line and 123/33 K/BB leave plenty of room for improvement heading into his sophomore campaign, but there is little doubt that he is already one of the biggest offensive threats in the game at second base.

    Consider how weak the crop of NL second basemen is (Brandon Phillips, Chase Utley, Aaron Hill) as well as the fact that the Padres lack a bona fide star on their roster, and it is not all that far-fetched to think Gyorko will represent the team at the All-Star Game this year.

Surprise NL All-Star: RP J.J. Hoover, Cincinnati Reds

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    A scary injury to Aroldis Chapman on a liner back up the middle will sideline the Cincinnati Reds closer for at least two months, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. That leaves a vacancy at the back of the bullpen for what figures to be a very good Cincinnati team.

    Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall both have some level of closer experience, but they will open the season on the disabled list, per Mike Axisa of CBS Sports.

    That leaves J.J. Hoover as the likely candidate to step into the ninth-inning role to open the season, and the 26-year-old has the stuff to seize the opportunity and thrive. In 69 appearances last season, he posted a 2.86 ERA, 1.106 WHIP and 9.1 K/9, saving three games in the process.

    Last season, Mark Melancon made the NL All-Star team as an ace setup man who also spent some time at closer when Jason Grilli was sidelined. Hoover could be the 2014 version of Melancon, and he could find his way onto the NL All-Star roster in the process.

Surprise AL All-Star: C Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians

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    jim mone/Associated Press

    Little was made of a move last November that saw the Cleveland Indians send Esmil Rogers to the Toronto Blue Jays for catcher Yan Gomes and infielder Mike Aviles, but it wound up being a fantastic deal for the Tribe, as the two players they acquired combined for 4.6 rWAR in 2013.

    Gomes contributed 4.0 of that, as he was a dangerous weapon off the bench before unseating Carlos Santana for everyday catching duties. When all was said and done, the 26-year-old hit .294/.345/.481 with 18 doubles and 11 home runs in just 293 at-bats.

    Throw in fantastic defense behind the plate, and an argument can be made for him being a top-10 catcher last season despite his limited playing time. Now, with an everyday job to call his own entering the 2014 season, the Brazil native looks to be primed for a big year.

    Salvador Perez and Brian McCann look like his stiffest competition among AL backstops, with Matt Wieters and A.J. Pierzynski in the mix as well, but Gomes could certainly find his way onto the AL All-Star roster in 2014.

Surprise AL All-Star: RP Dellin Betances, New York Yankees

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    This may be the boldest of any prediction I've made here, but hear me out.

    More and more setup men have found their way onto All-Star rosters over the past few years, as the more competitive nature of the game has left teams favoring the idea of carrying a few extra relievers over more starters.

    Looking specifically at the Yankees, David Robertson found his way onto the team in 2011 when he was setting up Mariano Rivera. Now that Rivera has retired, Robertson will slide into the closer's role, leaving a vacancy in the eighth inning.

    Shawn Kelley and Matt Thornton figure to open the season as the team's primary setup men, but don't sleep on former top prospect Dellin Betances.

    The big 6'8" right-hander was once ranked as high as No. 43 on the Baseball America Top 100, but after struggling in 2012, he moved to the bullpen in 2013 and posted a 2.68 ERA and 11.6 K/9 in Triple-A.

    He's enjoyed a terrific spring training this year as well, with just four hits and one run allowed in 10.1 innings, and a dominant season in the eighth inning could land him on the AL roster come July.

Kolten Wong Wins NL Rookie of the Year

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    The NL rookie class last year was as deep as any in MLB history, with Jose Fernandez beating out the likes of Yasiel Puig, Shelby Miller, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Teheran and others for Rookie of the Year honors.

    Billy Hamilton opens the 2014 season with perhaps the most fanfare of any NL newcomer, as he looks to make a run at leading the league in steals as the Cincinnati Reds' new leadoff hitter.

    Archie Bradley (SP, ARI), Javier Baez (2B/SS, CHC), Mike Olt (3B, CHC), Oscar Taveras (RF, STL), Gregory Polanco (RF, PIT), Jameson Taillon (SP, PIT), Edwin Escobar (SP, SF), Maikel Franco (3B, PHI) and Alex Guerrero (2B, LAD) could make an impact at the big league level before the All-Star break, but my pick to take home NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2014 is St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong.

    The 23-year-old saw 32 games at the big league level last year, hitting just .153/.194/.169 in 59 at-bats, and he capped that off by being picked off to end Game 4 of the World Series.

    However, he has done nothing but hit over his three minor league seasons, posting a .301/.365/.446 line. In fact, he beat out veteran Mark Ellis for the starting job this spring by hitting .372 with five doubles, a triple and two home runs. If he can hold onto the job all season, he should be able to finish with better numbers than any of his NL peers.

Yordano Ventura Finishes Second in AL Rookie of the Year Voting

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    While the NL rookie crop is somewhat thin, the AL Rookie of the Year race figures to be a serious battle, with a handful of impact prospects breaking camp with their respective clubs this year.

    As stated a few slides back, Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu is my pick to win the award thanks to his big-time power in a hitter-friendly home ballpark.

    Most would likely assume that Abreu will be joined by Boston Red Sox phenom Xander Bogaerts and New York Yankees high-priced Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka in the top three for voting results, but I have those two finishing in third and fourth place, respectively. 

    Instead, my pick to finish second is flame-throwing Kansas City Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura, who beat out Danny Duffy for the team's No. 5 starter spot this spring. With a fastball that routinely touches triple digits, Ventura posted a 1.77 ERA in 20.1 innings of work in preseason play. Pitching for an ever-improving Royals team in 2014, he has a chance for a big rookie season.

Gerrit Cole Finishes Within Top 10 in NL Cy Young Voting

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    The No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, Gerrit Cole was called up on June 11 last season, and he went on to make 19 starts for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    The results were as good as anyone could have hoped, as he went 10-7 with a 3.22 ERA and then pitched well in two NLDS starts.

    He will open the season slotted as the team's No. 2 starter behind Francisco Liriano, but I fully expect him to be the ace of the staff by season's end. He has the stuff and the build to be a workhorse atop the Pittsburgh rotation for the next decade, and he may have only scratched the surface of what he's capable of in his debut last year.

    I don't expect him to make a run at winning the NL Cy Young Award in 2014, but seeing him sneak into the top 10 in voting with a big sophomore season is well within the realm of possibility.

Martin Perez Finishes Within Top 10 in AL Cy Young Voting

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    Rick Yeatts/Getty Images

    The Texas Rangers have been hit hard by injuries this spring, and they will open the season with projected starters Derek Holland and Matt Harrison on the sidelines.

    A stiff neck could also keep Yu Darvish from pitching in the opener, according to Jean-Jacques Taylor of ESPN Dallas, but only if it causes him to miss his start on Friday.

    That has left the team with a number of question marks on their staff heading into the year, but one name they are sure of is left-hander Martin Perez.

    Long a top prospect within the organization, Perez broke through last year to go 10-6 with a 3.62 ERA, and the team rewarded him with a four-year, $12.5 million extension this offseason.

    There is little doubt that Darvish is the best pitcher on the roster, but it would not be crazy to think Perez could have a season worthy of top-10 consideration. Entering last year, no one would have called Hisashi Iwakuma a better pitcher than Felix Hernandez, but he wound up having the better season. Perez could do the same in Texas this year.

Jason Heyward Finishes Within Top 5 in NL MVP Voting

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    Dave Tulis/Associated Press

    In terms of talent and potential, there are few players in the National League that rival Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward.

    A fantastic rookie season in 2010 that saw him hit .277/.393/.456 with 18 home runs and 11 steals as a 20-year-old raised expectations even higher, but he has yet to truly breakout.

    Freak injuries sidetracked him last year, as an emergency appendectomy and broken jaw on a HBP cost him a combined 49 games, but he still managed to post a 3.6 rWAR thanks to his fantastic defense and all-around offensive game.

    Entering his age-24 season, Heyward is still looking for that monster season that everyone knows he is capable of, and I think he will have it in 2014. Given his combination of tools and the fact that the Braves figure to be among the top NL contenders this year, a big season would no doubt land him in the NL MVP conversation. I don't think he'll win the award, but he could still see a top-five finish.

Wil Myers Finishes Within Top 10 in AL MVP Voting

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    When the Tampa Bay Rays pulled the trigger on dealing workhorse James Shields to the Kansas City Royals last winter for a package built around Wil Myers, the hope was that Myers would join the lineup around midseason and provide a dangerous power bat alongside Evan Longoria in the middle of the order.

    He arrived on June 18 and went on to hit .293/.354/.478 with 23 doubles, 13 home runs and 53 RBI over 335 at-bats, winning AL Rookie of the Year honors in the process.

    Impressive as those numbers were, he spent much of his rookie season hitting second, fifth or sixth in the Rays lineup. The training wheels will be off in 2014, though, as he is expected to hit cleanup behind Longoria to open the year.

    Myers has the raw power to be an RBI machine, and a 30-HR/100-RBI season is by no means out of the question. That could be enough to drive him into the top 10 in AL MVP voting, especially if the Rays are right in the thick of things in the AL East once again.

Surprise 2014 Postseason Team: Kansas City Royals

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    It was a busy offseason for the Kansas City Royals, as they plugged the hole left in their rotation by the departing Ervin Santana by signing Jason Vargas and then went about upgrading their lineup with the additions of second baseman Omar Infante and right fielder Norichika Aoki.

    With a deep lineup, one of the best bullpens in baseball and a starting rotation that was shored up this spring by the emergence of Yordano Ventura, the team looks to have no clear weakness heading into the season.

    The Detroit Tigers have ruled the AL Central of late, but it has not been a walk in the park for them. The Chicago White Sox took them to the final days of the 2012 season, while the Cleveland Indians hung around and wound up earning a wild-card spot last year.

    The Royals had their first winning season since 2003 last year, and if they can avoid the offensive struggles that plagued them in the early going, there is no reason they can't make a run at a wild-card spot in 2014. They have not been to the postseason since winning it all in 1985, and a year after the Pittsburgh Pirates broke their playoff drought, it will be the Royals who will make a long-awaited return to October this time around.