MLB: The Up and Coming "X-Factors" for All 30 Teams
It can't be defined, but everybody knows what an "X-factor" is. It is the guy who could potentially push his team to another level by preforming above expectations.
Through roughly 10-12 games of the MLB season, every team seems to have an up and coming player, or a mainstay, who is producing at career-high levels and seems capable of elevating his team's play by continuing his hot start. Most of the teams in the MLB don't have real World Series hopes, but the players listed here could help them win it in the future.
Here are 30 players, one for each team, that has had a very hot start and has looked like either a star in the making, or a former star having a career resurgence. Either way, these 30 guys have loved April so far, and hope to be their teams "X-factor".
Arizona Diamondbacks: Miguel Montero
The 27 year old catcher for the D-Backs has 13 hits already in this young season. Those 13 hits have him hitting .500, with an OBP of .552 and two home runs.
Arizona signed Montero to a $3.2 million/one year contract in the offseason to avoid arbitration. That could turn out to be an absolute steal if he keeps hitting like he has been. He obviously won't hit .500 all year, but any catcher hitting over .300 is a huge advantage, and Montero has the ability to do it.
The Diamondbacks won't win many games this year even if Montero hits .500, but he could be an important building block for the D-Backs.
Atlanta Braves: Craig Kimbrel
Braves manager Freddi Gonzalez said before the season that Kimbrel and Jonny Venters would share the closer role. Kimbrel apparently does not share well. He has looked lights-out as the Braves closer in his four appearances. In four innings, he has allowed only one hit and one walk, while striking out seven and not giving up a run.
Kimbrel may have only four innings under his belt as the 2011 Braves closer, but his reputation is growing. He doesn't look imposing on the mound, but when he is pumping it in there in the high 90's, he looks awfully good. At only 23 years old, Kimbrel could be the next great closer, and the key to the Braves overtaking the weak-bullpened Phillies for the AL East crown.
Baltimore Orioles: Zach Britton
Wasn't Britton supposed to start the year in the minors? That injury to Brian Matusz may just be the best thing that could have happened to Baltimore. Zach Britton has been brilliant on the mound in his two starts.
He is 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA in 13.2 innings. He has allowed only seven hits while registering eight K's. His weakness has been the six walks he has allowed, but since he has only allowed one earned run in his starts, those walks aren't hurting him too much.
People have been talking about the talent coming up through the Baltimore system for a few years now, and Britton has shown in just two starts, that maybe we had better start listening to the hype.
Boston Red Sox: Bobby Jenks
Jenks is far from a youngster, but he has been very valuable in the set up role for the Red Sox so far in 2011. Many thought this to be young Daniel Bard's role, but Jenks has filled it nicely.
In three innings, he hasn't allowed a hit and has struck out four batters. If Paplebon stays in Boston all year, or is traded like some speculate, Jenks will be very important to the Red Sox either as a closer, or a set up man for Paplebon or Bard.
That all comes with the idea that he will not eat too many Fenway Franks to make it out to the mound every night.
Chicago Cubs: Starlin Castro
I like Starlin Castro. A lot. He is, in my mind, the most promising player to come through the Cubs system since Felix Pie. OK, bad example. Pie may have never lived up to the hype in Wrigleyville, but Castro has the chops to live up to all the hype placed on him.
Castro is hitting .333 through 39 at bats, while only striking out twice. Consistent contact had been something hard to come by for the Cubs in recent years. Castro shouldn't strike out much, and he brings a grittiness to the Cubs infield that has been lacking for some time.
Chicago White Sox: Carlos Quentin
I said at the start of the year that Quentin was the White Sox x-factor, and he has proven me right. Just as in 2008, when Quentin plays good, the White Sox are tough to beat. He had decent years the last two seasons, but hasn't matched his production from 2008.
He is looking like the Carlos of old so far in 2011. He is hitting .353 and has 10 RBIs already. If he keeps up this pace, the Sox could sneak by the Twins in the AL Central, just like in 2008.
Cincinnati Reds: Aroldis Chapman
This is no surprise. Chapman has been dealing so far in 2011. He, and fellow bullpen mate Logan Ondrusek, have been untouchable.
Chapman has yet to allow an earned run, but has given up four walks. Chapman will have to cut down on his walks, but once he does, he will be one of the most feared pitchers in the majors. He has a lot of hype surrounding him, but has so far lived up to it. The Reds hope he can continue the masterful pitching, and that his 100+ MPH fastball keeps putting butts in the seats.
Cleveland Indians: Justin Masterson
The hot start of the Cleveland Indians has been totally unexpected. Justin Masterson's hot start has been unexpected as well.
Masterson is sporting a 2-0 record and a 1.35 ERA. He has won both of his games in different fashions. He got his first win by pitching to contact, and his second by registering a lot of strikeouts. If Masterson can keep up the hot pitching (along with the rest of the Indians), they may turn out to be better, a lot better, than most people expected.
Colorado Rockies: Jhoulys Chacin
Chacin has looked fantastic through two starts in 2011. He completely shut down the Dodgers in his first start, and did enough to win his second start as well.
Chacin has flown under the radar so far in his young career because of all the attention paid to Ubaldo Jimenez, but I don't think that will last too much longer. Chacin could be to the 2011 Rockies what Jimenez was to the 2010 Rockies. The difference is that the 2011 version of the Rockies looks a lot better so far. Chacin could will be valuable if the Rockies hope to make a playoff run.
Detroit Tigers: Jhonny Peralta
Since when did Jhonny Peralta play baseball in April? This is a player known for his extremely slow starts. That has not been the case so far this season.
Peralta is hitting .344 through nine games. He has only struck out three times, and has yet to commit an error. Peralta was highly thought of in the Cleveland organization when he was anointed as Omar Vizquel's successor, but he fell out of favor a little more each spring by never producing until June.
If Jhonny can carry his hot start into the warm months, when he usually hits well, he could have a career year for the Tigers, which would be a very nice addition to the core of Martinez, Cabrera and Ordonez
Florida Marlins: Logan Morrison
The young left fielder for the Marlins has had a great first week. Morrison is hitting .333 with an OBP of .476 thanks to his nine walks. Morrison has also belted two home runs already.
The Marlins have a winning record through nine games in 2011, and Morrison is a big reason for that. The Marlins, who have been a one horse team for a couple years, seem to have another star in the making.
Houston Astros: Angel Sanchez
The Astros have been struggling out of the gate. Angel Sanchez, who came over from Boston has been a pleasant surprise. Sanchez is hitting .364 in 10 games and has scored seven runs, which have been hard to come by for the Astros.
The Astros are not going to make the playoffs in 2011, even in a weak NL Central, but they are acquiring some building blocks for the future. If Sanchez keeps playing like he has so far, he could be in Houston for a long time.
Kansas City Royals: Alex Gordon
The 2011 version of Alex Gordon looks like the guy many people thought he would be in 2007. It seems like he has found his stroke, pounding out 15 hits in nine games on his way to a .357 average.
Gordon has struck out nine times already, which is likely because of his weakness for swinging and missing at curve balls. However, Major League pitchers are not stupid, they have been throwing him curves during his other at bats also, so he must be improving his curve ball hitting a little.
Maybe Gordon has finally found his stroke he was supposed to have all along. It seems he found it just in time too, since the Royals have what many call the best farm system in baseball. Gordon needs to keep it up to keep his job. If he does, he could be a big contributor on the Royals when they start to contend again, whether it is 2011 or beyond.
L.A. Angels: Howie Kendrick
Howie Kendrick seems like he has been around forever. Contrary to popular belief, he hasn't been around forever. He has only been around for five years and is only 27 years old. Kendrick has always had a sweet stroke, and it has never looked sweeter than in the last week or so.
Kendrick is hitting .389 with four home runs through nine games in 2011. His average may not surprise some, but the power sure does. The Rangers may not be able to be slowed down in the AL West, but with a hitter like Kendrick in the lineup, the Angels sure have a shot.
L.A. Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw
The young lefty for the Dodgers is 2-1 on the year with a 1.37 ERA. Kershaw has been looking like the ace the Dodgers needed him to be coming into 2011. The kid has the sutff, no doubt about that, he just needs to put it all together.
The NL West favorite is obviously the defending champion Giants. Few would argue that the Dodgers have a better lineup than the Giants. The real make or break for the Dodgers could be Kershaw's performance as their number one starter. If the Dodgers can pitch with the Giants, they can win the West and possibly end their own World Series draught.
Milwaukee Brewers: Chris Narveson
No Grienke? No Problem for the Brewers. Narveson has been outstanding as a starter.
In 13 innings pitched, he has yet to allow an earned run, and has 14 strikeouts. When people talked about the potential of the Brewers pitching staff, they rarely mentioned Narveson. That has proven to be a mistake.
When Grienke comes back, he will have his work cut out for him to top the performance of Chris Narveson so far.
Minnesota Twins: Nick Blackburn
Nick Blackburn has easily been the Twins best starting pitcher through two starts. Carl Pavano looked better in his last outing, and Francisco Liriano will right the ship, but Blackburn has been the man so far for Minnesota.
In 11 and 2/3 of an inning pitched, Blackburn has allowed only one earned run. He has given up 11 hits, which isn't great, but he has gotten out of every jam so far. If Blackburn can continue to pitch well, along with Pavano, Liriano and Scott Baker, the Twins could have one of the better starting staffs in the AL.
New York Mets: Ike Davis
The Mets hot prospect, Ike Davis, has lived up to his billing in 2011. Davis is hitting .364 with 10 RBIs in his first nine games.
The Mets have struggled, but a promising youngster like Davis could be just what this team needs. If an x-factor like Davis can help the Mets tread water until Johan Santana returns, the Mets may surprise some folks, I just wouldn't hold my breath on it.
New York Yankees: Russell Martin
Somehow, through nine games, Russell Martin is hitting .300. He has already gone deep three times in a Yankees uniform.
I didn't expect anything from Martin except a suitable defensive catcher. His offense has looked like it did in L.A. four years ago. It has surprised everybody that he has found his power stroke again. If Martin keeps producing like he has done, the Yankees lineup really has no holes, and that is a frightening thought.
Oakland Athletics: Trevor Cahill
Cahill or Gio Gonzalez would have been good choices for the A's x-factor. While Gonzalez has a better ERA (0.69 to Cahill's 1.42) and has two wins to Cahill's one, Cahill has been, if possible, better.
Cahill has allowed seven hits and four walks in 12.2 innings. He has struck out 15 and only allowed two earned runs. In other words, he has been dominant.
The A's pitching staff is young and very talented. Being called the most talented of the bunch is quite a compliment, and Cahill has received that compliment more than once. This is a team with the pitching to go to the playoffs. Cahill needs to be the horse they ride to the playoffs.
Philadelphia Phillies: Ben Francisco
The "throw in" in the Cliff Lee deal from the Indians, Francisco has played like anything but a throw in. Francisco has stepped up as the third outfielder the Phillies needed to replace Jayson Werth.
Francisco is hitting .306 with two home runs and seven RBIs through nine games. Many thought Dominic Brown would take over the right field position, but Francisco has claimed the spot and doesn't want to give it away. If he can hit anywhere around the .300 he is now, the Phillies offense may be better than many thought, which could be huge problems for the rest of the NL.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Kevin Correia
The Pirates are 5-5 in their first 10 games of the season. Pittsburgh would throw a parade if the Pirates finished the whole season .500. Kevin Correia has two of those wins. He has been the Pirates ace and has pitched very well.
Many people, including me, thought this pitching staff would be terrible. So far, they haven't been too bad. Correia has been very good. He is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in 14 innings pitched.
They are still not going to make the playoffs, or finish above .500, but any bright spot for the Pirates is good. If Correia can establish himself as a legitimate ace, the Pirates could have found their x-factor of the pitching staff.
San Diego Padres: Orlando Hudson
Orlando Hudson may never be an All-Star second baseman, but he is a classic "x-factor". Hudson brings a hustling attitude and some veteran leadership to San Diego.
In eight games, he is hitting .286 while drawing five walks. Hudson isn't a .300 hitter at this point in his career, but he does know how to get on base. That is something that can not only help the Padres in 2011, but it can be passed on to the younger players and could benefit the Padres for years to come.
San Francisco Giants: Pablo Sandoval
Kung-fu Panda was written off by many coming into 2011. I am still not crazy about the Giants lineup, but a healthy and productive Sandoval goes a long way towards the Giants being World Series contenders again.
If Sandoval can regain his 2009 form, which he has done through nine games (12 for 30, 1 HR), the Giants could score some runs. Even though their pitching is fantastic and scary in a seven game series, runs are needed to get into the playoffs. Sandoval could be the heart and soul of the order if he hits the ball like he has shown he can.
Seattle Mariners: Michael Pineda
Not a whole lot is going right for the Mariners in 2011. Their closer is hurt, their best hitters (Ichiro and Milton Bradley) are only hitting .250, and even reigning Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez is being hit around. Pineda could be the guy who provides a spark to the team and the fan base.
If Pineda can live up to the scouting reports, he could be a very nice number two starter to stick behind King Felix. If the Mariners could just figure out a way to score some runs, Hernandez and Pineda could be one of the best 1-2 punches in the game.
St. Louis Cardinals: Colby Rasmus
It seems like the Cardinals have been looking for the table setter for Pujols for years. They finally got Matt Holliday to hit behind Pujols to give him some protection, but they have needed that young star that can make things happen with his bat and his feet. Colby Rasmus is that guy so far in 2011.
The Cardinal's record isn't pretty, but Rasmus's play has been. He is hitting .353 with an OBP of .487. The OBP will have to drop, but if he hits like he has shown he can, and continues to draw walks, (and play great defense), then the Cardinals may be able to score enough runs to help the pitching staff and make up for the loss of Adam Wainwright.
Tampa Bay Rays: Ben Zobrist
Zobrist has been the x-factor for the Rays for a few years now. He is the do-it-all utility man who is always somewhere in the lineup.
The Rays are off to a terrible start, but if they have any hopes of turning it around, Zobrist could be the spark that starts the fire. He can play multiple positions, can hit for average, and can hit for power.
He strays from the rest of this list because he has not had a very good first week. He is hitting only .205, but the thing is, that is still better than many regulars in the Rays lineup. As a team, they are just not hitting the ball. Zobrist has shown he can get hot, and if he does, the Rays might catch a hot streak of their own.
Texas Rangers: Alexi Ogando
The Rangers lineup has looked unstoppable. The pitching has looked awfully good too. Converted starter, Alexi Ogando, has helped Rangers fans forget about Cliff Lee real quick.
Ogando is 2-0, has thrown 13 innings, and has yet to allow a run. He has only allowed four hits and three walks, while striking out eight. He has looked outstanding on the mound so far, and very comfortable in the starter role.
The Rangers struck gold in 2010 by converting C.J. Wilson from a bullpen pitcher to a starter, they could have found it again in Ogando.
Toronto Blue Jays: Kyle Drabek
The Blue Jays are another team that could have had multiple candidates (Ricky Romero, Yunel Escobar, Jose Bautista), but Drabek is not only their up and coming x-factor, he is also the future of the franchise.
Drabek was the key piece in the Roy Halladay deal. Halladay was the face of the Jays, and even though it was a mutual move, a lot of pressure was put on Drabek to perform. He has done just that.
In 13 innings pitched he has only allowed two earned runs while registering 12 K's. He has given up seven hits and seven walks, which isn't great, but his stuff has gotten him out of those jams. Drabek could fit in very well with the Jays up and coming pitching staff, and could eventually be their ace and the x-factor that puts the Jays in contention with the AL East's big boys.
Washington Nationals: Wilson Ramos
Ramos has been outstanding at catcher in 2011. Ivan Rodriguez was supposed to be the starting catcher for the Nationals, but Ramos has out preformed Pudge through the first 10 games.
While only recording 17 at bats, Ramos has gotten seven hits and drawn two walks, which is good for a .474 OBP. He will still have to defer to Rodriguez for some games, but by the middle of the year, I expect Ramos to be fully entrenched in the catcher position. The Nationals will be very good in a couple years with the young talent like Strasburg and Harper coming. The question of if they can be any good this year may rest with the young catcher.
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