Every season gives each team and each player a new lease on life. This could be their year—their year to step up and make the fans and front office realize that they are here to stay.
It's their turn to say, "Lock me up now, because I'm going to cost you a lot more money the longer you wait."
Ostensibly, each team has at least one of those players step up each year. The teams that consistently are the sucker-fish in the MLB fish tank rarely have players that break out of anywhere except maybe the California Penal League.
There are still a few weeks until spring training starts, so let's get this done before any of these players fall flat on their faces.
While Alvarez doesn't have an eye patch, he did show last year that he has all the other tools to be a successful Pirate. He wasn't able to put everything together in his first stint of 95 games, but the 2011 season should be different.
Alvarez had only played in less than one-and-a-half seasons in the minors before his call-up last year to the big club. It's obvious that the Pirates' brass was willing to let him learn under fire.
He was a pretty good pupil when you look at his run production. In the 95 games he hit 16 HR and drove in 64 runs.
A big issue he had in 2010 was his plate discipline. A .256 BA and .326 OBP won't get it done in the long run. An encouraging sign was that he had a better eye during his stint in the minors, so more experience should only help him in that area.
His defense is still a work in progress, but he was actually better during his time up with the Pirates (.952) than he was during his time in the minors (.926). That certainly bodes well for 2011.
Colby Rasmus has been a solid player during his first two seasons in the majors. With the level of talent he has, solid just isn't good enough.
He improved in most areas from his rookie to sophomore season. In virtually the same number of PA, Rasmus improved in R, H, 2B, HR, RBI, SB, BB, BA, OBP, SLG and OPS. In most of those categories, the improvement was significant.
His only real blemish was a considerable increase in strikeouts (+53) from the 2009 season. Even with that increase, it didn't seem to impede his numbers from increasing across the board.
So here we are in 2011. Rasmus' name came up in trade rumors during much of the off-season. Whether there was anything serious to them, I don't know. He needs to show the Cardinals this year that they were smart in keeping him.
First of all, the dude has a cool name even if he does play for the Cubs. Second, he's not even 21 yet. Third, this year will be his coming out party.
In 125 games as a rookie, Castro showed why he was already playing in Wrigley at such a young age. While he always hit for average in the minors, it was a bit of a surprise that he finished the 2010 season 10th in the NL in hitting with an even .300 BA.
He struck out more than he showed in the minors, but that can just be a matter of getting to know the pitchers and the approach they take while he is at the plate. His .347 OBP was more than acceptable for a rookie, and I have no doubt that it will improve in 2011.
The biggest improvement from the minors to the bigs was his knack for hitting doubles. It was much more prominent than he ever showed down on the farm. To me, that already shows some maturation as a hitter.
It seems that the third base job is Johnson's to lose in 2011. He played in 94 games for the Astros in 2010 with some very encouraging results.
While Johnson never showed a ton of power in the minors, he seemed to develop his stroke with the Astros. His 11 HR were only three shy of his minor league high of 14 which he accomplished in 2007 between Lexington and Salem.
Additionally, Johnson improved his BA, SLG and OPS from his days in the minors. Some people might say it was just an aberration—I say that it shows that he's finally putting it all together.
We shall see who's right in 2011.
Wood will be 24 next week and after a very encouraging rookie campaign, I think he is ready to kick his game up a notch in 2011.
I always try to temper my enthusiasm for pitchers that play in Cincinnati. We all know about the size of the ballpark and that it's a contributing factor as to why the Reds' offense continues to be at the top of the NL most seasons.
That being said, Wood only pitched in four games in Cincy in 2010 while his 13 other starts were on the road. It seems the Reds' brass were wearing kid gloves so as not to shatter Woods' confidence.
Those who know psychology understand that "protecting" him in a such a way could have the opposite effect. Also known as the self-fulfilling prophecy, this behavior creates the conditions where he is expected to fail when he pitches at home and therefore he does.
Wood struggled at home in those 4 starts. Coincidence? Maybe.
I expect Wood to be unleashed in 2011 both at home and on the road. He's expected to succeed, and I believe he will.
Carlos, Carlos, Carlos.
In the four years he has spent in the majors, he has played for three teams. He went from the Mets to the Twins in the Johan Santana trade and then from the Twins to the Brewers in the J.J. Hardy deal.
So why are teams so willing to trade a young outfielder with loads of potential? Two words that come to my mind are attitude and coachability.
Gomez has speed to burn and he's not afraid to use it in CF and on the base paths. The problem is that he can't get on base. He has a career BA of .246 and OBP of .293.
A big part of his problem is that he thinks he's a power guy, so he has a tendency to swing for the fences, creating way too many fly balls. The biggest enemy of players with speed to burn is a fly ball. Just ask Willie Mays Hayes. Hitting for contact and hitting ground balls are what Dale Sveum has been trying to get him to do since last spring.
A lack of focus has also plagued Gomez both on the bases as well as in the field. His range in the field is unsurpassed and his speed on the bases can change games. It did on several occasions last season for the Brewers.
With Lorenzo Cain moving on to Kansas City, Gomez has first shot at the CF job. The Brewers showed confidence in Gomez by not bringing anyone new to camp to compete with him. If Gomez becomes more unselfish and focused, the sky is the limit.
I think most people knew Kennedy was good when he was a Yankee. He was given only 12 starts in three years in the Bronx before being shipped off to the desert.
Both Kennedy and the Diamondbacks couldn't be happier. In 32 starts in 2010, Kennedy showed flashes of brilliance. In 194.0 IP he allowed a minuscule 163 H. His control was just a bit shaky at times leading to 70 BB and a league-leading 16 WP.
If he is able to improve his command even slightly, Kennedy could be THE breakout star in the NL in 2011.
It's strange to put a 35 year-old pitcher in this category, but he's been on the cusp of something for several years now.
Why is it that some of these older Japanese pitchers seem to get better with age? A former Dodger and current Brewer, Takashi Saito, also falls into this category.
There is no reason why Kuroda can't take that next step and entrench himself right behind Clayton Kershaw in the starting rotation. He has the control to continue to pitch at a high level, and if he is able to go just a bit deeper into games, there's no reason to believe his win totals won't increase as well.
Even older players can be breakout candidates, just ask Kuroda. If you ask him though, I suggest you speak Japanese since I don't think you'll get very far with any other language.
Dexter Fowler is young and blessed with amazing athletic ability. Unfortunately he hasn't been able to harness that ability and put it all together to become a difference maker.
He's only 24 and still growing as a baseball player. His numbers in the minors showed that he is much better at getting on base than he has shown thus far with the Rockies. He has also shown the ability to hit for a high BA, .335 in 2008 and .340 at Triple-A in 2010.
Fowler has now played 280 games in the majors and things should begin to fall into place sooner rather than later.
He'll never be a big run-producer, but he should become a big run-scorer. With Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez hitting behind him, the odds are those runs will start coming this April.
That picture of him is not at all flattering. I chose it to make a point. Kung Fu Panda is no joke. I mean that in both a good and a bad way.
It's no joke that he's a good hitter and, at times, a great hitter. He showed that in his rookie year of 2009 with 25 HR, 90 RBI and a .330 BA.
You might be wondering why he is on this list then. It's because his sophomore season was a major regression to mediocrity. He had virtually the same number of at-bats in 2009 and 2010, but his numbers declined markedly across the board.
The other thing that is no joke to me is Sandoval's weight. If he keeps going like he has, he is going to eat his way out of San Francisco and over to the AL to play 1B or even DH. It's a proven fact that fat guys don't play very well at 3B. That's why teams don't play them there.
If Sandoval was committed this off-season to getting into better shape and improving his stamina, I see him bouncing back to his 2009 form.
Like Carlos Gomez, Cameron Maybin is a highly-regarded prospect that has switched teams several times before his MLB career had even begun. He went from the Tigers to the Marlins and from the Marlins to the Padres.
It looks like the Padres' CF job is Maybin's if he wants it. The kid doesn't even turn 24 until April, but some people are already labeling him as a bust. Those people could get a slap in the face if Maybin takes a big step forward in 2011 like I think he will.
I'll be honest. None of his numbers were very good last year, so I guess there's nowhere to go but up. He's shown the ability to hit for a high average and get on base, so I expect some of that to start translating to his major league game quite soon.
The Padres' may have gotten a huge bargain in Maybin. I'm one who thinks he can still play and play well.
Jair Jurrjens is a good pitcher—I think we can all agree on that. In my estimation, he can be significantly better.
He had a solid season in 2008, and then stepped it up in 2009. Unfortunately last year he took a step backward. That may have been partly due to an injury, but I think he has the ability to bump it back up to his 2009 level on a regular basis.
Jurrjens' ERA jumped 2.00 from 2009 to 2010, and his WHIP increased by .179. That is certainly not acceptable, especially on a winning team.
With Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Derek Lowe already locks for the rotation and up-and-comers Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy pushing for the open spot(s), Jurrjens needs to step up his game from day one this season.
He has all the ability to do it, and he should, based on all the tools he has to work with.
The Marlins are extremely high on Morrison, and we got to see why during his 62-game stint in Florida in 2010.
He was able to translate his game rather seamlessly from the minors to South Florida. Morrison isn't a power hitter, but his power to the gaps was evident. His BB/K ratio was close to even, he hit .283 and had an OBP of .390.
Morrison is a well-built dude, so the odds are he will develop a bit more power in the next few years. He knows how to hit and has a great command of the strike zone, which is rare for a young hitter.
I expect him to improve across the board this season and become one of the top young outfielders in MLB.
Obviously his first name lends itself to all sorts of references, but I'll try to stay away from that as best as I can.
Davis basically played one-and-a-half years in the minors, including only 10 games at Triple-A in 2010. There isn't a lot of data to go on, but .264 BA, .351 OBP, 33 2B, 19 HR, 71 RBI and 72 BB is a darn good start to a major league career.
The number that stands out the most to me is the 72 BB. I expect that to only increase, which will lead to him taking his game to a whole new level.
I expect Davis to build on his success from his rookie season. I don't know what you're thinking, but I think the Mets have got themselves a keeper.
It's hard to pick someone from the Phillies since nearly all of their players are veterans entrenched in their positions. With the departure of Jayson Werth, Domonic Brown steps right into his spot in the outfield.
Brown played in only 35 games with the Phils in 2010, so he will still be considered a rookie this season. With that pitching staff as it is constructed, it will take any pressure there is on Brown and redirect it to the Fab Four.
Brown should be able to bring a bit of everything to the table for the Phillies. He won't be the power hitter or run producer Werth was, but I do expect Brown do a lot of other things and do them well.
He should hit for a good average and get on base regularly. In doing that, he'll have an opportunity to use his skills on the bases as well.
He'll help the team win games, and that's good enough for now in my estimation.
A lot is going to be expected of Zimmermann in 2011, and rightfully so. He showed some promise during his rookie year in 2009, but injuries derailed his 2010 campaign limiting him to only 31 IP.
At the age of 24, Zimmermann is obviously still young, but he will still need to prove himself on a more consistent basis.
Building a team begins with the starting rotation. Livan Hernandez can only pitch for so long, and Stephen Strasburg is coming back from an injury. Someone else will need to solidify a spot in the top three of the rotation.
Zimmermann proved in the minors that he can get hitters out. His control sets him apart from a lot of other young pitchers. If his command remains intact, his WHIP should remain low, limiting the amount of opposing base runners.
That is usually a recipe for success. I expect Zimmermann to be cooking when the 2011 season begins.
Okay there are a few things I know for a fact about Chris Sale. First is that he's only 21 years old. The second thing is that he's one tall and lanky guy. The third is that he spent a total of 11 games in the minors before the White Sox brought him to Chicago.
In 21 games with the Sox, Sale basically mesmerized hitters. He finished 2010 with a 1.93 ERA, 1.071 WHIP and 4 saves.
As for 2011, the White Sox really aren't sure where they want to utilize him on the pitching staff. He was successful last year as a lefty-specialist, set-up man and even closer. There has been some talk of giving him a shot in the starting rotation.
With Bobby Jenks gone, the closer's role is a possibility. I'm not sure if Ozzie Guillen would be comfortable with someone Sale's age in that pressure-packed role. If that's the case, I would say Ozzie is wrong. I think Sale is the best they have to offer.
Wherever he ends up, he is likely to have quite an impact in 2011.
Do you remember in 2008 when the Indians traded CC Sabathia to the Brewers? In return the Tribe received Matt Laporta and a player to be named later. Michael Brantley turned out to be that player.
So far he hasn't turned out to be the player they thought he might. That could change as early as this year. He's still just 23 and maybe this is the year it "clicks" for him.
In his minor league career, Brantley had 292 BB and only 218 K. That's virtually unheard of at any level. I'm not sure how someone can just lose their eye at the plate, but it seems Brantley did. A .303 BA and .388 OBP should translate to better play than it has so far.
Maybe Brantley has been pressing, looking over his shoulder or whatever. This season he needs to go out and just play the game. If he does, I'm confident he'll make some noise.
Porcello is a young gun, and he has already had some success with the Tigers. With Justin Verlander at the top of the rotation, the eyes of the world rarely notice Porcello.
In order for the Tigers to take that next step as a team, guys like Max Scherzer and Porcello need to get people to stand up and take notice.
In 58 starts over the past two seasons, Porcello has been a little above average. He's not overpowering, evidenced by his 84 K in 2010. He gives up a good number of hits and does not go deep into games very often.
Limiting his base runners is one of Porcello's keys to success. Another is being more economical with his pitches. Pitch economy leads to shorter innings which leads to pitching deeper into games.
With a little maturation and a better understanding of the art of pitching, Porcello could make a name for himself this season.
I got to see just about every game Cain played in Milwaukee. You can see it. It's all right there. I'm referring to the tools needed to become a good major league player.
For those of you not aware, Cain was shipped with Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi to the Royals for Zach Greinke.
Cain is a true CF and showed time and again last season why many people have compared his defense to that of a young Devon White—it looks completely effortless.
The defense is there, but the hitting still needs some polish. He's going to hit for a high average as evidenced by his .306 mark in 43 games with the Brewers last season.
Cain needs to be more selective at the plate and cut down just a bit on his swing. He has a tendency, at times, to load up and go for the fences. When you're not a home run hitter, that approach is just plain foolish. He also has tremendous speed which can be quite disruptive for opposing teams.
I hated to see him go, and I'm confident he'll blossom this season in Kansas City.
Span has played long enough in the majors to give everyone a pretty good idea of what he can do. That doesn't mean he can't do more—I think he can.
With the hitters behind him in the line-up, Span should be scoring more runs. He hits for a pretty good average and has shown the ability to get on base.
Last season, Span regressed. His batting average dropped significantly as did his OBP. Did leaving the turf in the dome have something to do with it? I think it may have.
If that was the case, hitting high choppers in Target Field is just not going to happen. That means Span may need to adjust his approach to hitting in his new home environment. If he can do that, I see him taking a step forward in 2011.
Wieters was supposed to be can't miss. He was supposed to be THE guy. A lot of us are still looking for that guy he was supposed to be.
He's only 24 and plays an extremely difficult position. That being said, when you hit .343 in the minors with a .438 OBP, big things are expected of you.
Wieters' rookie season was relatively impressive with a .288 BA and .340 OBP. His 2010 season was less so. His average and on-base numbers declined significantly. The only bright spot was that his strikeouts leveled off.
This season Wieters should be comfortable behind the plate which, in turn, should help him to be more comfortable at the plate. Look for his BA and OBP to rise to much more respectable levels.
Breakout? You might be thinking that this dude has already broken out. I can see why you might think that. In a way he has, but I believe he's got even more he can show us.
The Red Sox bullpen is full of closer-types. There's the incumbent in Jonathan Papelbon and the new guy in Bobby Jenks. Both have proven to be bonafide major league closers. Both have also shown that they are not immune to meltdowns.
There sits Daniel Bard.
As it stands now, he is one of the top set-up men in the game. His stats from 2010 are just phenomenal. At some point this season, I see the need for Bard to assume the closer's role. That's where I believe his next step will lead.
If he finds success closing in Boston, I'll say,"Welcome to stardom Mr. Bard."
Okay, he won 18 games last year. You've got me there, but is that the whole picture? I think there's more to see. Yes, he was an All-Star last year, but please bear with me.
Hughes started out the 2010 season with a bang, seemingly becoming one of the top starting pitchers in the AL. He dominated the competition in April and May, but from that point on his numbers declined for the remainder of the season.
His 18 wins were deceiving. He was 6-1 in April and May and only 12-7 the rest of the way including 7-6 in the second-half.
Hughes seemed to tire quite a bit as the season wore on, which is most likely a result of his 176.1 IP. That was the most he had ever thrown in any season as a pro.
If he is able to increase his strength and stamina in 2011, he will be THE guy behind CC Sabathia in the Yankees' rotation.
Please be honest, have you ever heard of Matt Joyce?
Well, there's this guy that plays in an awful ballpark in Florida with that name. Still don't believe me? Just stick around, I'll do my best to enlighten you.
As a rookie in Detroit in 2008, Joyce put up some decent numbers. he spent most of 2009 in the minors before playing half a season for the Rays in 2010. The guy has shown some flashes of his talent.
As he's gotten older, Joyce has been able to walk more and cut down on his strikeouts, which shows a better understanding of hitting. His OBP has been solid and his SLG better than expected.
Even though he's an OF by trade, he should see significant time at DH. He should get his at-bats and if he does, he can certainly do some damage.
If he could only implode that stadium, the world would be a better place.
I have always been a fan of this guy and thought he was just scratching the surface of his potential. He pitched well enough last season to prove me right. The dot on the exclamation point was his complete game one-hit shutout of the Tampa Bay Rays on August 8th of last year—and don't forget his 17 K's to boot.
Morrow has always been inconsistent, but it seemed that he was starting to put things together during the second half of the 2010 season. With Shawn Marcum traded to the Brewers, Morrow needs to be that No. 2 guy in Toronto.
An area he needs to improve upon significantly is his pitching on the road. There was a huge discrepancy in his home and road numbers. At home he was 8-1 with a 2.74 ERA while on the road his record was 2-6 with a 6.72 ERA. He started 13 games both home and away.
I think things have clicked for Morrow. I expect him to break out this year and put up some consistently good numbers, which should make the front office feel better about trading Marcum.
Andrus has now played two full seasons in Texas with pretty good results. I believe he has the talent to produce extremely good results. His is still only 22, but age should not be a hindrance to success.
He will never be a power hitter, that much is obvious, but he should be more than just the slap hitter he showed in 2010. Of his 156 hits, 138 were singles. His batting average and OBP were nothing to write home about either.
Andrus should take the team's success from last season and use it to motivate himself to become better in every facet of the game. There's no question that he has the talent to do so. It's time for him to translate that talent into results on the field.
Oh, dear. Here we have a former Ranger passed along to Seattle in Cliff Lee's wake.
Last season for Smoak was ugly at best. He was equally bad between both the Rangers and the Mariners. Those struggles were a bit perplexing.
Based on his minor league numbers, Smoak was not an all-or-nothing type of hitter. He worked counts, drew walks and consistently got on base. Once he was in the majors, all of those skills seemed a thousand miles away. His anemic BA of .218 and OBP of .307 was as ugly as a 50-year-old woman with a botched nose job and spray-on tan.
Hopefully Smoak was just pressing way too much, and this season will bring back the old Justin. He should be more relaxed and hopefully more confident.
I don't want to see that woman anywhere near him in 2011. I'm pretty sure I saw her hanging around Jeff Francoeur in 2008 and 2010.
This guy turns 23 on Tuesday, so that means he's still young. Even at his age, he has already made 49 starts for the A's. For the most part, those starts have been pretty impressive.
Overall, Anderson improved slightly across the board in 2010 despite being limited to only 19 starts. That type of improvement is expected heading into the 2011 season as well.
Billy Beane has been so impressed with Anderson that he bought him out of his arbitration years and signed him through 2015 with a team option in both 2014 and 2015.
Anderson should be able to increase his workload now that he has gotten used to pitching more innings at the major league level.
I can see him eclipsing the 200 IP mark in 2011, which will be the next step forward to bigger and better things.
Unimpressive. That's the first word that comes to mind when you look at what Bourjos did last season with the Angels.
As we all know, looks can be, and often are, deceiving. Yes, his numbers make me cringe, but there's more to him than that.
It seems as if Bourjos's game is predicated on speed and defense. While they are both a big part of his game, he has more pop in his bat than you might think. In 102 games in Salt Lake last summer, Bourjos hit 13 2B, 12 3B and 13 HR, contributing to his .498 SLG.
He has always hit for a high average, but he could cut down on his strikeouts just a bit. When you've got speed, just putting the ball in play can make a world of difference. Your speed isn't useful as you're walking back to the dugout after striking out.
The Angels must think pretty highly of this guy to move Torii Hunter over to RF to make room for him. If he's as good as people think, Bourjos .204/.237/.381 line from 2010 will be all but forgotten.