MLB

MLB Rankings: Justin Verlander & Each MLB Team's Most Improved Player of 2011

Alec DoppCorrespondent IMay 23, 2011

MLB Rankings: Justin Verlander & Each MLB Team's Most Improved Player of 2011

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    NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 31:  Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers pitches against the New York Yankees on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on March 31, 2011 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    New Attitudes: Justin Verlander, Trevor Cahill and Each MLB Team's Most Improved Player from a Season Ago

    The 2011 MLB season is now in full swing and many players have seen an improvement in their individual achievements.

    Still, as the season progresses, many players will more than likely see a flux in their statical output. 

    But for now, who are the most improved players of this young season?

    Here is one player from each team who's improved the most from 2010 to 2011.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Justin Upton

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 11:  Justin Upton #10 of the Arizona Diamondbacks in action against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on May 11, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    At just 23 years of age, Upton already has four years of MLB experience under his belt.

    Expectations are higher than ever for Upton in 2011, who finished off his 2010 campaign with just 69 RBI, 17 HR and a .273 BA—a relatively low output for Upton's standards.

    This season, Upton has put together quite the resume: boasting a .251 BA, 23 RBI and 9 HR.

    If the Diamondbacks are to contend for the NL West, Upton will have to produce up to his expectations.  So far, he's managed to do just that in 2011.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 04:  Matt Kemp #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers bats against the Chicago Cubs at Dodger Stadium on May 4, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Now in just his sixth career MLB season, Matt Kemp has catapulted himself in the discussion as one of the most versatile hitters and defenders the league has to offer.

    However, last year wasn't quite what the Dodgers had envisioned out of their superstar center-fielder—yielding just 89 RBI, 28 HR and a .249 BA.  Tremendous numbers without question, but not even close to what is expected of him.

    What has he done to improve in just under 50 games played in 2011?  Try on a .324 BA, 31 RBI and 10 HR on for size.

    If things keep up, I wouldn't be surprised if we're talking "MVP" at the end of the season.

San Diego Padres: Cameron Maybin

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    ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 31: Cameron Maybin #24 of the San Diego Padres rounds third base after hitting a home run against the St. Louis Cardinals on opening day at Busch Stadium on March 31, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Imag
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Another young prospect with tremendous upside and talent, Maybin has failed to stake his claim as a dependable leadoff-caliber batter for an entire MLB season.

    In his debut season with the Padres, however, Maybin may finally be catching fire.

    Registering 5 HR, 15 RBI, 7 SB and a .268 BA, Maybin is on pace to shatter career-highs in every offensive statistical category for a single season.

San Fransisco Giants: Tim Lincecum

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    WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 29:  Starting pitcher Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants delivers to a Washington Nationals batter at Nationals Park on April 29, 2011 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Widely considered one of the most imposing pitchers of the past few seasons, Lincecum wasn't able to accrue satisfactory statistics in his 2010 campaign.

    This season, Lincecum is back at it again—dominating National League batters to the tune of 75 SO, a 2.06 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP.

Colorado Rockies: Jhoulys Chacin

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    DENVER, CO - MAY 09:  Starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin #45 of the Colorado Rockies delivers against the New York Mets at Coors Field on May 9, 2011 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Who would've though someone other than Ubaldo Jimenez would become the driving force of Colorado's starting rotation?

    Last season, Chacin was hardly effective, if at all (9-11, 3.28 ERA, 1.27 WHIP).  This season, Chacin is staking his claim as one of Colorado´s finest (5-2, 2.70 ERA, 1.12 WHIP).

Texas Rangers: Alexi Ogando

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    DETROIT, MI - APRIL 11:  Alexi Ogando #41 of the Texas Rangers throws a pitch while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on April 11, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Before this season, Ogando had never started a major-league game.

    This season, the 27-year-old is spinning heads and taking names with his electrifying fastball and astonishing command.

    So far, Ogando boasts a 2.13 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP—two of the best in the major leagues, as a matter of fact.

Oakland Athletics: Trevor Cahill

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    OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 17:  Trevor Cahill #53 of the Oakland Athletics picthes against the Detroit Tigers at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on April 17, 2011 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    By the end of his 2010 season, Cahill accumulated impressive statistics to say the least—18-8, 2.97 ERA, 1.11 WHIP.

    Just over a month into his 2011 season, however, Cahill is arguably the major's most impressive pitcher.

    A 6-1 record, 1.79 ERA, and a 1.10 WHIP, Cahill could potentially be a Cy Young contender when it's all said and done.

Los Angeles Angels: Dan Haren

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    ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 22:  Dan Haren #24 of the Los Angeles Angels pitches against the Boston Red Sox at Angel Stadium on April 22, 2011 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    Over the course of his eight-year career, we've seen glimpses of greatness from Haren.  The start to his 2011 season may be the most impressive, however.

    Haren is third in the AL in ERA (1.84), and is second in the AL in WHIP (0.85).

    Take that into account with his major league-leading 5.5:1 strikeout-to-walk ration, and Haren stakes his claim as one of the most dominating pitchers of this young 2011 season.

Seattle Mariners: Michael Pineda

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    SEATTLE - MAY 04:  Starting pitcher Michael Pineda #36 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field on May 4, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The Mariners have (surprisingly enough) one of the best starting-five rotations of any team in the majors to this point in the season.

    But what if I told you someone other than Felix Hernandez would be considered Seattle's most proficient starter?

    You'd probably laugh.

    In his rookie campaign with the Mariners, Michael Pineda has shocked the baseball world with his 2.16 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and his 4.3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

St. Louis Cardinals: Kyle Lohse

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    ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 7: Starter Kyle Lohse #26 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium on May 7, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    In three seasons with the Cardinals, Lohse hasn't been up-to-snuff when it comes to both consistency and dependability on the mound—carrying a 5.02 ERA, and a 1.48 WHIP.

    Be that as it may, Lohse is out to an outstanding start to his 2011 season, boasting a 5-2 record with a 2.17 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP.

    Without Adam Wainwright in the St. Louis rotation, Lohse has flourished.  Let's see if that will continue into the season.

Cincinnati Reds: Brandon Phillips

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    CHICAGO, IL - MAY 08: Brandon Phillips #4 of the Cincinnati Reds hits the ball against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on May 8, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Reds defeated the Cubs 2-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Since being traded from Cleveland to Cincinnati before the 2006 season, Phillips has gained a reputation as being one of the most important catalysts in Dusty Baker's offense.

    Yet, Phillips was anything but impressive during his 2010 campaign where he accumulated just 59 RBI, 18 HR, and a .275 BA.

    Last offseason, Phillips went back to the drawing board and revamped his swing—helping him 5 HR, 26 RBI, and a career-high .847 OPS to this point in the 2011 regular season.

Milwaukee Brewers: Chris Narveson

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    ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 8: Starter Chris Narveson #38 of the Milwaukee Brewers pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on May 8, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    At 29 years of age, Narveson is only in his fourth career big-league season, two of which have come as a Milwaukee Brewer.

    His career statistics aren't exactly impressive (16-12, 4.49 ERA, 1.34 WHIP), but don't overlook what he's done as Milwaukee's anchor in their revamped rotation.

    To this point in the season, Narveson has made significant improvements in all his pitches.  But, more importantly, he has bettered his statistics—registering a 2-3 record, 3.44 ERA, and a 1.28 WHIP.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Neil Walker

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    DENVER, CO - MAY 01:  Second baseman Neil Walker #18 of the Pittsburgh Pirates takes an at bat against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on May 1, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Pirates defeated the Rockies 8-4.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Pirates fans haven't had much to cheer about in the last decade, but they can rest easy when it comes to Walker's offensive arsenal.

    With only one true season under his belt, Walker is set to become Pittsburgh's version of Albert Pujols— leading the Pirates in BA (.283), and RBI (30).

    Walker is on pace to shatter his regular-season highs of last season where he amassed just 66 RBI and 12 HR.

Chicago Cubs: Sean Marshall

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 04:  Sean Marshall #45 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 4, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Marshall, now in his sixth season with Chicago, has made colossal strides in his overall production from last season.

    In 2010, Marshall sustained a 2.65 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and registered 22 HLD—exceptional statistics for a dependable bullpen arm, but not even close to what his potential may allow him to achieve.

    Marshall is tied for fourth in the majors in HLD (9), and ranks second among relievers in ERA (1.42) with 9 HLD or more.

Houston Astros: Bud Norris

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    ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 18: Starter Bud Norris #20 of the Houston Astros pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on May 18, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    The Astors once again look like the most atrocious ball club in the majors, but that hasn't stopped the progressions of Norris.

    Norris, 26, is currently in his third career major league season, and has made major strides in his production on the field from 2010.

    Compared to last season, Norris has lowered his ERA (3.93), and WHIP (1.31), and has improved his K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings pitched) from 9.25 in 2010, to 10.47 in 2011.

Cleveland Indians: Asdrubal Cabrera

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 16:  Asdrubal Cabrera #13 of the Cleveland Indians in action during the game against the Kansas City Royals on May 16, 2011 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The upstart Indians are one of the more refreshing storylines of this young 2011 season.

    In the midst of it all, however, is there promising young superstar shortstop in Cabrera.

    To be plain, Cabrera has all but carried the load for his Cleveland squad—leading the team in BA (.302), HR (9), RBI (32) and hits (55).

    After fracturing his forearm this time last year, Cabrera has successfully worked his way back to respectability.

Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander

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    ST. PETERSBURG - JULY 27:  Pitcher Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on July 27, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Verlander, now the 26th pitcher in MLB history to throw multiple no-hitters, is one of the most improved players in the big-leagues from a season ago.

    In 2010, Verlander boasted a 3.37 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP with the Tigers.  Not only has he made history in 2011, but he's also made significant strides in his statistical output—carrying a career-best 2.96 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in 73.0 innings of work.

    Mo-Town's fire-baller is finally realizing his full potential.

Kansas City Royals: Alex Gordon

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    DETROIT, MI - APRIL 08:  Alex Gordon #4 of the Kansas City Royals smiles from the dugout while playing the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on April 8, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    The Royals are a team on the rise with a plethora of young talent on the farm, but there hasn't been many individual improvements from last season.

    One player worth mentioning, however, would be Gordon.

    Last year, Gordon suffering many untimely injuries that sidelined him for most of the season.

    Nevertheless, Gordon came to spring training with one thought in mind: improvement.

    Amassing a .277 BA, 23 RBI, and 3 HR thus far in 2011, Gordon is on pace to have a career-best season for the Royals.

Chicago White Sox: Sergio Santos

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    CHICAGO, IL - MAY 17: Sergio Santos #46 of the Chicago White Sox looks to the sky after a win against the Texas Rangers at U.S. Cellular Field on May 17, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Rangers 4-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Im
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Santos saw unlimited playing time as a rookie in 2010, where he managed 14 HLD, a 2.96 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP.

    This season as manager Ozzie Guillen's go-to guy in the ninth inning, Santos has been lights-out—with six saves in seven opportunities, a 1.69 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP.

    If the White Sox are to become threats in the AL Central race, Santos will need to be at the top of his game for the entire season.

Minnesota Twins: Jason Kubel

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    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 17:  Outfielder Jason Kubel #16 of the Minnesota Twins rounds the bases after his fourth inning home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on April 17, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. M
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    The Twins have been the most disappointing team in the majors thus far, and without Joe Mauer for at least another four weeks, things aren't looking much better.

    In Mauer's absence, however, Kubel has shown Twins fans what he's capable of doing on a day-to-day basis.

    Kubel leads Minnesota in BA (.317), HR (5), and RBI (24)—a substantial upgrade from his 2010 output of 92 RBI, .249 BA, and 21 HR.

Philadephia Phillies: Placido Polanco

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    PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 27:  Infielder Placido Polanco #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies during the Major League Baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on April 27, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Phillies defeated the Diamondbacks 8-4.
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    A lifetime .304 hitter, Polanco has always maintained a sense of pride at the plate.

    Still, his 2010 campaign was anything but the norm for this 13-year veteran, where he batted .298 with just 52 RBI and 2 HR.

    Polanco's 2011 season has showed that hard work and dedication to the game pays off, as he ranks fourth in the NL in BA (.335).

Florida Marlins: Leo Nunez

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    MIAMI GARDENS, FL - APRIL 26:  Leo Nunez #46 of the Florida Marlins pitches during a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Sun Life Stadium on April 26, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Leading the league in saves (17) is only the beginning of what Nunez brings to the table.

    Last season, Nunez was a proficient closer for the Marlins where he managed 30 saves, a 3.46 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP.

    In 2011, Nunez has dominated NL hitters to the tune of 17 saves, a 2.66 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and a league-best 2.7:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Atlanta Braves: Jair Jurrjens

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    ATLANTA - JUNE 30:  Pitcher Jair Jurrjens #49 of the Atlanta Braves against the Washington Nationals at Turner Field on June 30, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Jurrjens has never been known for his superb ERA, but 2011 is shedding some much-need light on one of baseball's most improved pitchers from last season.

    Last season was undoubtedly Jurrjens' worst season, registering a 4.64 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and a 7-6 record.

    In the offseason, Jurrjens went back to the drawing board, and has worked wonders so far in his 2011 campaign—boasting a 5-1 record, 1.80 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP.

    Can you say, "Cy Young"?

New York Mets: Carlos Beltran

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    DENVER, CO - MAY 12:  Carlos Beltran #15 of the New York Mets watches his third home run of the game off of Matt Lindstrom of the Colorado Rockies in the ninth inning at Coors Field on May 12, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. Beltran had three homeruns and six R
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Beltran missed the better part of his 2010 campaign with a knee injury, and finished with 27 RBI, 7 HR and a .255 BA.

    In 2011, Beltran has exuded confidence and productivity, already surpassing some of his totals from last season (25 RBI, 8 HR, .281 BA)

Washington Nationals: Tyler Clippard

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    PITTSBURGH - APRIL 24: Tyler Clippard #36 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the game on April 24, 2011 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Last season was Clippard's breakout season—totaling 23 HLD and 112 SO in just over 91 innings of work with the Nationals.

    Expectations are high in the nation's capitol for Clippard, and so far he's answered the call with great exuberance: carrying a 1.73 ERA and 31 SO in just over 26 innings of work.

New York Yankees: Curtis Granderson

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    NEW YORK, NY - MAY 14:  Curtis Granderson #14 of the New York Yankees bats against the Boston Red Sox on May 14, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    The Bronx Bombers are once again out to a hot start, and no single player has had more to do with the Yanks' success than Granderson.

    In a lineup filled with MVP-caliber talent, Granderson leads New York in HR (16), and RBI (34), and has accumulated one of the best OPS (.935) in the majors today.

    Compare that to his less-than-impressive 24 HR, 67 RBI season of 2010, and you've got a very improved player ready to make his mark.

Tampa Bay Rays: Matt Joyce

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    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 30:  Outfielder Matt Joyce #20 of the Tampa Bay Rays scores the game winning run in the tenth inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Tropicana Field on April 30, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Joyce, 27, has a career .268 BA, and has never truly held a vital role in Joe Maddon's lineup to this point in his career.

    Well, let's just say he's improved from seasons past.

    Leading the majors in BA (.355), Joyce is arguably the biggest surprise of this young 2011 season, and will play a vital role in Tampa Bay's playoff hopes coming down the stretch.

Boston Red Sox: Josh Beckett

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    NEW YORK, NY - MAY 14:  Josh Beckett #19 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch against the New York Yankees on May 14, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    As any Red Sox fan would tell you, 2010 wasn't the most thrilling season of Beckett's 10-year career.

    Last season, Beckett registered a career-worst 5.78 ERA, 1.54 WHIP and a 6-6 record to boot.

    Beckett's 2011 season is easily the biggest turnaround of anyone featured on our list, as he currently boasts a 1.73 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and a 3-1 overall record.

Toronto Blue Jays:

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    SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 13:  Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jays rounds the bases after hitting a three run homer in the eighth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on April 13, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Last year's home-run king, Bautista may have just added a whole new dimension to his offensive arsenal: batting for average.

    Hitting 54 bops last season was impressive to say the least, however Bautista's lackluster .260 BA made for a sour aftertaste.

    Yet, who would've thought over a month into the 2011 season that Bautista would have the AL's second-best batting average (.364), and most home runs (16)?

Baltimore Orioles: Zach Britton

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    CHICAGO, IL - MAY 01: Starting pitcher Zach Britton #53 of the Baltimore Orioles delivers the ball against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on May 1, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The Orioles defeated the White Sox 6-4. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Unfortunately, we were not able to find any significant individual improvements, so we'll throw in a rookie for compensation.

    In his rookie season, Britton has all but staked his claim as Baltimore's ace in-the-making, registering a 2.14 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP.

    If things keep up, expect Baltimore's 23 year-old phenom to make the All-Star roster as a honorable mention.

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