MLB Speculation: One “Mike Napoli” Breakout Candidate at Every Position
If there's one player who surprised us all this year, it was Texas Rangers catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli. This man was traded twice during the offseason, first from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to the Toronto Blue Jays and then again to the Texas Rangers.
After establishing himself as an average hitter with home run power over the first five years of his career, Napoli had a career 2011 as he posted career highs in batting average (.320), home runs (30), RBI (75) and slugging percentage (.631). Sure enough, his success was instrumental in helping the Rangers reach a second consecutive World Series. In the Fall Classic, the man hit .350.
Simply put, the fact that Napoli royally broke out on that level and in just 114 games is amazing. I look forward to seeing him match or even go past those numbers next season. Speaking of next season, here is one man at every position bound to break out.
First Base: Brandon Allen, Oakland Athletics
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
After splitting time between the majors and the minors for three seasons, it appears that Brandon Allen has found a full-time job with Oakland after being traded there from Arizona at the trade deadline. The man is a powerful lefty bat who, according to his minor league stats, could have 30 home run power in the future.
The fact of the matter is simple. Allen is the type of player that Oakland GM Billy Beane dreams of in the fact that he is a master at getting on base. If he can improve his patience on the major league level and learn to adjust his power swing to Oakland Coliseum, then his 2012 could be an epic season.
Second Base: Dustin Ackley, Seattle Mariners
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Given how he was the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, Dustin Ackley has been surrounded by hype for a while. He was called up midseason in 2011 and hit .273 with six homers and 36 RBI in just 90 games. If you think about it, he was one of the few bright spots on an underachieving Seattle team.
He hasn't yet played a full season, but the stats don't lie. Ackley is on the verge of establishing himself as the greatest hitting second baseman of his generation, save for Robinson Cano. His power may need some work, but the patience he exhibits at the plate is impeccable.
With his positive attitude and amazing skill, look for him to have an eye-popping 2012.
Shortstop: Dee Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
In just 56 games last year, Dee Gordon proved that he could be the Dodgers' leadoff man of the future. He hit an impressive .304 and stole an astounding 24 bases.
The only problem with Gordon is his plate discipline. Though he hit .304, his OBP was just .325. If he can improve that by about 50 points, then he could be All-Star bound in 2012.
Third Base/Right Field: Don Kelly, Detroit Tigers
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
I'm convinced that if Don Kelly played for any team except the Detroit Tigers, he would hit 20-25 home runs. This man's swing is just so crisp and perfect at times that you have to wonder, is he man or machine?
Like many young hitters, the 26-year-old's biggest issue is his patience. His career average of .240 is paired with an equally underwhelming career OBP mark of .285. What he has to do is either work on his patience on his own or be sent to a team that preaches taking lots of pitches. Still, he managed to hit .300 this postseason.
Throw in the fact that he has a rocket for an arm, and Kelly could easily break out under the right circumstances next year
Center Field: Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres
Tony Medina/Getty Images
Cameron Maybin's situation now is basically perfect. He is on a talented young team that could find itself back in contention soon and has a bright career ahead of him at just 24 years of age. Last year, in 137 games, Maybin hit .264 with nine homers and 40 RBIs, not to mention a whopping 40 steals.
He'll never be much of a power hitter, at least not in Petco Park, but Maybin's ceiling is still high. Call it a hunch, but I have a feeling that he will have a career year in 2012. My prediction: an All-Star berth and leading the NL in steals, as well as hitting near .300 and hitting double digits in homers.
Left Field: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Seeing as how Jayson Werth is already penciled in at right field for the team, I'm placing Harper in left field just for the sake of speculation/argument. When it comes to his stats, I simply don't think words can do justice. His numbers do enough talking, if you ask me.
Starting Pitcher: James McDonald, Pittsburgh Pirates
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
The Pittsburgh Pirates surprised us all last year by actually being in first place for a short period of time, and I'm expecting them to seriously contend for a playoff spot next year. When it comes to the pitcher who will break out of his shell and be the alpha dog down the stretch, I'm going to pick James McDonald.
This may seem like an odd choice, but McDonald's pitching repertoire just impresses me in a way that I can't describe. Last year, he was fairly average as he went 9-9 with a 4.21 ERA. In 2012, I'm anticipating that he will win around 15 games with an ERA in the mid 3.00s.
The Pirates will contend this year, and much of said contention will be because of McDonald.
Closer: Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Forget closer by committee. Jason Motte is going to be the St. Louis Cardinals' closer next year and he is going to, for lack of better word, rock da house. His amazing 2011 postseason essentially earned him the job.
In all honesty, what else needs to be said? Motte has the imposing mound presence and a beard that could one day make Brian Wilson go, "....damn." His stoic manner and electric fireballing style will make him one of the elite closers not just in the NL, but in all of baseball.
If you ask me, I'm anticipating he may lead the majors in saves next year.
Manager: Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles
Jorge Lemus/Getty Images
Call me crazy, but I think that next year is going to be the year that the Baltimore Orioles turn it around. Sure, the team lost 93 games last year and the pitching was abysmal, but I'm convinced it was a fluke. Showalter is known for working well with young players and turning teams around, and it could be Baltimore's turn.
On top of that, let's not forget that the Orioles were cursed with underachievement and injury last year to a degree that bordered on the torturous. If everyone is on par and healthy next year, not to mention focused from the start of spring training and on, then the AL East race could easily become a four-horse contest.
When the dust settles, don't be surprised if Showalter is one of the last men standing.