2011 MLB Preview: Adrian Gonzalez, Robinson Cano and B/R's AL Award Predictions
The lead-up to Opening Day is a time for excitement. It's a time for optimism and hope. And it's a time for predictions.
Yes indeed, there are predictions.
Everyone and his mother has an opinion about which teams will make the playoffs and which will collapse, which players will rise to stardom and which will fade into obscurity. With so many people putting in their two cents, how can we keep it all straight?
Luckily, Bleacher Report's Featured Columnists are here to help with the first installment in our season-long series of FC Polls.
Twenty-five of B/R's top MLB writers, representing 17 teams, offered their predictions for the Most Valuable Player, Cy Young and Rookie, Manager and Comeback Player of the Year awards for each league.
Today, we look at the American League awards (NL to come tomorrow). For each honor, I've included our vote totals, as well as explanations by the writers who named the winners on their ballots.
Thanks so much to everyone who voted and submitted commentary!
Most Valuable Player: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox and Robinson Cano, Yankees
T1. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox—24 percent
T1. Robinson Cano, Yankees—24 percent
3. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers—16 percent
T4. Carl Crawford, Red Sox—Eight percent
T4. Josh Hamilton, Rangers—Eight percent
T4. Joe Mauer, Twins—Eight percent
T7. Nelson Cruz, Rangers—Four percent
T7. Justin Morneau, Twins—Four percent
T7. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees—Four percent
On Adrian Gonzalez
Gonzalez, 29 has proven to be an absolute monster throughout his career despite playing the bulk of his games in the most pitcher-friendly park in Major League Baseball.
Gonzo is making the move to a ballpark that is tailored to his swing and a team chock-full of legitimate offensive weapons.
When you toss in his Gold Glove-caliber defense, durability and the fact that he’s in the midst of his peak, it’s not a stretch to say we’re about see the very best of Adrian Gonzalez.
On Robinson Cano
In 2010, Cano had a .319 batting average, .381 OBP, .534 SLG, .914 OPS and 142 OPS+ with 29 home runs, 109 RBI and 200 hits.
Cano will benefit from another year under Kevin Long's tutelage and a possible move to third in the lineup if Mark Teixeira gets off to a slow start.
His best-in-the-game defense at second base and the potential for a .330 batting average, 30-plus HRs, 115-plus RBI and an OPS closer to 1.000 with an OPS+ closer to 150 scream “MVP” to me.
Interesting Pick: Nelson Cruz, Rangers
If Nelson Cruz ever gets a full-time job, may God have mercy on the rest of the league.
Over the last two years, minor injuries and Ron Washington’s baffling lineup choices have limited Cruz to just 236 games. But boy, has he made the most of limited opportunities.
Cruz hit .318/.374/.576 last year in 108 games while playing great defense (12.4 UZR/150). Projected over a full season, he was on pace for 33 homers, 117 RBI, 90 runs, 26 steals and 7.7 WAR.
That, my friends, is an MVP—as long as Wash remembers to play him.
Cy Young: Jon Lester, Red Sox
1. Jon Lester, Red Sox—44 percent
2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners—28 percent
T3. Francisco Liriano, Twins—Eight percent
T3. Justin Verlander, Tigers—Eight percent
T5. Brett Anderson, Athletics—Eight percent
T5. David Price, Rays—Four percent
T5. CC Sabathia, Yankees—Four percent
On Jon Lester
Jon Lester, 27, is arguably the best left-hander in the game today.
Lester throws four plus pitches—a fastball, cutter, curve and changeup—and he's struck out 450 batters (9.8 K/9) over the last two seasons.
Lester certainly has the peripheral stats and pitching ability of a Cy Young contender, and his spot as the clear ace of the Red Sox, along with the backing of a solid offense, gives him a great chance at a 20-win season. Despite King Felix's 2010 victory, wins are still considered an important part of the Cy Young equation.
Interesting Pick: Brett Anderson, Athletics
Brett Anderson is a very hittable pitcher. His 92 mph fastball is underwhelming, and he had a pedestrian 6.01 K/9 last year.
But Anderson is the real deal.
In 2010, he improved his fastball (1.7 weighted runs, up from -7.8); add this to one of the game’s best sliders and an underrated curveball, and Anderson has quite a good repertoire of pitches.
This is the year that Anderson establishes himself as an elite southpaw pitcher, goes 16-5 with a 2.60 ERA and wins the AL Cy Young for the surprising A’s.
Rookie of the Year: Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
1. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays—46 percent
2. Desmond Jennings, Rays—13 percent
T3. Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays—Eight percent
T3. Jesus Montero, Yankees—Eight percent
T5. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays—Four percent
T5. Hank Conger, Angels—Four percent
T5. Mike Moustakas, Royals—Four percent
T5. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Twins—Four percent
T5. Michael Pineda, Mariners—Four percent
T5. Chris Sale, White Sox—Four percent
On Jeremy Hellickson
Hellickson has excellent movement on his fastball, a plus curveball and also a plus changeup. He has excellent control of all his pitches and a clean yet deceptive delivery that allows him to strike out batters at a ratio of nearly one per every inning he is on the mound.
He was named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year, the International League Most Valuable Pitcher and the USA Today Minor League Player of the Year in 2010.
Simply put, the kid has the stuff and flat-out knows how to pitch.
Interesting Pick: Mike Moustakas, Royals
Mike Moustakas. Remember the name.
Moustakas ripped the cover off the ball in AA and AAA last season. Over the combined 118 games he played at both levels, he accumulated 36 HRs and 126 RBI and hit a whopping .322.
This guy is ready for the big leagues. It will be difficult for the Royals to keep their future superstar in the minors for much longer—the competition is just not there.
When he makes the leap to the bigs this season, you might as well hand him the ROY award.
Manager of the Year: Bob Geren, Athletics
1. Bob Geren, Athletics—24 percent
T2. Terry Francona, Red Sox—16 percent
T2. Jim Leyland, Tigers—16 percent
T2. Buck Showalter, Orioles—16 percent
T5. Ron Gardenhire, Twins—Eight percent
T5. Joe Maddon, Rays—Eight percent
T7. Joe Girardi, Yankees—Four percent
T7. Ron Washington, Rangers—Four percent
T7. Eric Wedge, Mariners—Four percent
On Bob Geren
Luck and coincidence usually dictate who wins Manager of the Year honors—which is good news for the Oakland Athletics' Bob Geren.
The Elephants were almost literally gutted by the injury bug in 2010—80 percent of the anticipated starting rotation, the closer and most of the major contributors on offense spent at least 15 days on the DL.
With just slightly better luck on the injury front, the Athletics should be serious contenders given their revamped offense and maturing staff—which is even better news for Geren because he should be polishing a shiny trophy by year's end.
Interesting Pick: Joe Maddon, Rays
"Mad Joe" Maddon has become the darling of the league's intelligentsia, yet he still knows how to work an old-school reporter in the standard interview.
Even better than his charm is the fact that so many expect Maddon's team to fall off a cliff after losing Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Matt Garza and the bullpen.
When Maddon's squad—better than anyone thinks—manages 85 wins and stays in the wild-card hunt all season, Hoodie South will look even more like the evil genius from whom he takes his stylistic cues.
Comeback Player of the Year: Brandon Webb, Rangers
1. Brandon Webb, Rangers—25 percent
2. Grady Sizemore, Indians—17 percent
T3. Jake Peavy, White Sox—13 percent
T3. Manny Ramirez, Rays—13 percent
T5. Kendry Morales, Angels—Eight percent
T5. Joe Nathan, Twins—Eight percent
T7. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox—Four percent
T7. Aaron Hill, Blue Jays—Four percent
T7. Derek Jeter, Yankees—Four percent
T7. Vernon Wells, Angels—Four percent
On Brandon Webb
Comeback Player of the Year is always a challenge to forecast, but Brandon Webb is an obvious choice.
Things were looking up for Webb in 2008 when he posted a 22-7 record with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he has since struggled with numerous shoulder and arm injuries.
Stashed in the middle of the rotation, a prolific Rangers offense and other spacious AL West ballparks should help the ground-ball master Webb become a pleasant surprise for the Rangers and baseball in general, as long as he is healthy.
Interesting Pick: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
Jacoby Ellsbury had a great season in 2008, finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting. The following year, his defense took a giant step back, but he improved with the bat, hitting over .300 and leading the American League in triples (10) and steals (a franchise-record 70).
But 2010 was a lost year after he injured his ribs in early April.
Now healthy, he does not have to do anything exceptional to be a contender for the award—2010 was such a disappointment that even playing at his 2009 level will put him in the running.