MLB: The All-Unfilled Potential Team

Dan MoriCorrespondent IFebruary 22, 2012

MLB: The All-Unfilled Potential Team

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    When you consider a player for this list of those with great unfulfilled potential, you must first believe that the player has the tools to be something special.

    Had I written this article a year ago, Matt Kemp would have made my team. However, he had a monster season in 2011 and is now miles away from being considered an underachiever.

    Inclusion on this list can be easily erased if the player has a stellar season in 2012.

    Lets look at those players who currently make our list.

Catcher: Chris Iannetta

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    After spending his first six seasons with the Colorado Rockies, catcher Chris Iannetta moves to Los Angeles and joins the Angels.

    Iannetta appeared ready for stardom in 2008 when he hit .264 with 18 home runs and 65 RBIs. His OBP was .390 and OPS was an extremely strong .895.

    Unfortunately for Iannetta, these were all the highest of his career.

    In the three seasons following his breakout year, Iannetta's batting average fell to .228 in 2009, .197 in 2010 and then slightly back up to .238 in 2011.

    Iannetta is a good defensive catcher, so there is no concern with him behind the plate.

    The Angels are hoping Iannetta, who will turn 29-years-old in April, can recapture the batting stroke that he displayed in 2008.

First Base: Justin Morneau

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    When a player has four consecutive seasons of over 100 RBI, it's hard to say there is unfilled potential there.

    However, in the case of Justin Morneau, there really is.

    Morneau was the AL MVP in 2006 and earned four consecutive All-Star selections, from 2007-2010.

    It was in 2010 however, when the injuries began to take their toll on Morneau, as he played in only half of the Twins' games since.

    In 2010, Morneau played extremely well in the limited time he was able to take the field. In 296 at-bats, Morneau hit .345 with 18 home runs, 56 RBIs and an OPS of 1.055.

    However, as Morneau missed significant time in the second half of the season, the Twins were unable to make up for his lost production.

    Morneau was reduced to only 69 games and his effectiveness waned, in 2011. He hit only .227 with four home runs and 30 RBIs, in .264 at-bats.

    The Twins desperately need Morneau to return to his All-Star caliber form, or they will be hard pressed to stay in the race for the AL Central crown.

Second Base: Rickie Weeks

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    At one point not long ago, it looked like Rickie Weeks was on the road to becoming a superstar.

    However, that continued upward improvement was lost in 2011.

    Weeks has all the physical tools to be the top second baseman in the National League, but the consistency and further development did not occur for the 29 year old second baseman.

    In 2010, Weeks had a monster year and led the league in plate appearances and at-bats. He hit a career high 29 home runs and drove in 83 runs. He also played in 160 games that season.

    This past year was a different story for Weeks, as he often looked lost at the plate, seemed to lose confidence and also had a variety of injury problems.

    Weeks still hit 20 home runs, but only drove in 49 runs, while playing in only 118 games.

    The injuries and reduced number of at-bats certainly reduced his numbers. The Brewers are counting on a big rebound from Weeks in 2012.

    With the loss of Prince Fielder, Milwaukee will need Weeks to return to his 2010 form. If he can accomplish this, the Brewers will again be a factor in the NL Central.

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez

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    Hanley Ramirez is a five-tool player, who was considered a superstar and one of the top players in all of baseball.

    He won the Rookie of the Year award in 2006 and had four consecutive seasons hitting over .300 with over 20 home runs, from 2007-2010.

    Ramirez, who led the league in hitting with a .342 average in 2009, suddenly slumped in 2011.

    He feuded with manager Fredi Gonzalez and had the look of a disinterested, lackadaisical player. Gonzalez even benched Ramirez for his lack of hustle, which did not sit well with the mercurial star.

    In 2011, Ramirez hit just .243, the lowest of his career. He hit only 10 home runs, with 45 RBIs, both career lows.

    At the age of 27, when he should be in the prime of his career, Ramirez had the worst season of his life.

    The Marlins went out and signed free agent Jose Reyes to play shortstop. They also brought in manager Ozzie Guillen, who could be a huge asset for Ramirez.

    Guillen is known to wear his emotions on his sleeve and the hope is that he can get through to Ramirez and keep him engaged for a return to greatness. Guillen's biggest task is to make sure Ramirez will make the move to third base and be positive and productive.

    Ramirez has tremendous talent and the only thing standing in his way is himself. His attitude and effort were sorely lacking in 2011 and it showed on the field.

    If Ramirez recaptures his enthusiasm and focus for the game, he will, once again, be an elite player.

    However, if he continues to be a divisive presence with the Marlins, he will soon find himself on the move to another team.

Third Base: Chone Figgins

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    When the Seattle Mariners signed Chone Figgins prior to the 2010 season, they thought they were getting a perennial All-Star caliber player.

    Figgins was outstanding with the Angels in 2009, as he led the league in walks and also scored 114 runs. His batting average was .298, with an OBP of .395, one of the best in the league.

    Seattle believed that Figgins would be a dynamic player for them for future years.

    In 2010, the Mariners signed Figgins to a four year—$36 million contract and after two years, to say that he has been a disappointment would be a large understatement.

    In his first year with the Mariners, Figgins hit only .259 and his OBP slipped to .340.

    The Mariners must wonder if the big contract Figgins signed went to his head. If his work ethic declined even slightly, that could be a reason for his precipitous decline.

    In 2011, Figgins battled injuries, playing in only 81 games.

    His batting average plummeted to an abysmal .188, with an OBP of .241. Figgins' defense also suffered as his .941 fielding percentage at third base was the lowest of his career.

    One has to wonder if Figgins' who is now 34 years old, has enough left in the tank to be a top player again.

Outfield: Jason Heyward

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    Heading into the 2011 season, Jason Heyward looked like the next Atlanta Braves' superstar. The young outfielder appeared to be a five-tool player, following his 2010 season.

    Heyward was an All-Star in his rookie season, in 2010. He also finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting to Buster Posey.

    Heyward hit .277 with 18 home runs, with 72 RBIs and his OPS was a very strong .849.

    Whether it was a sophomore slump or more of an indicator that opposing pitchers had adjusted to Heyward, he had a poor 2011.

    Heyward hit just .227 with 14 home runs and 42 RBI, last year. His OPS decreased to .708.

    Heyward is still only 22-years-old and is a tremendous athlete with outstanding overall skills. The Braves are hoping for a rebound from Heyward and for him to tap the huge potential he has.

Outfield: Carl Crawford

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    Carl Crawford ended the 2010 season with the Tampa Bay Rays with a .307 batting average, 19 home runs and 90 RBI. He also stole 47 bases and scored 110 runs.

    He was an All-Star, a Gold Glove winner and recipient of a Silver Slugger award.

    Crawford was one of the jewels of the free agent class and the Red Sox were able to lock him up. He signed a seven-year contract with Boston for $142 million. 

    Whether it was the increased pressure and expectations, or if the money went to his head, Crawford had a poor year in 2011.

    Boston fans became impatient with him and that only served to increase the pressure he faced.

    In 2011, Crawford hit only .255 with an OBP of .289, some 67 points below his OBP of 2010. Crawford also hit only 11 home runs, with 56 RBIs and 18 steals. This level of production was not what the Red Sox bargained for when they gave Crawford his mega-contract.

    Crawford will be 30 years old in 2012, so he's still young enough to turn things around. His skills and athleticism should still be at an elite level, but we'll see how well he can handle the pressure and scrutiny that comes with the kind of money he's making.

Outfield: Domonic Brown

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    For several years the Phillies' brass was raving about the enormous potential of Domonic Brown. He had outstanding speed and tremendous power.

    Thus far, he has only lightly scratched the surface of that enormous potential.

    After a late season call-up in 2010, Brown was the heir apparent to the right field job in Philadelphia. The Phillies allowed Jayson Werth to leave via free agency to the Washington Nationals and hoped that Brown would seize the right field job for the 2011 season.

    Brown struggled and spent time back in the minors for more seasoning. In Philadelphia, Brown hit .245 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 210 plate appearances.

    Brown will get another chance in 2012, but he must get off to a good start.

    With Ryan Howard likely to start the season on the disabled list, that moves John Mayberry over to first base to start the year.

    The Phillies also allowed Raul Ibanez to depart via free agency, so the left field job will be open to Brown to start the year. Once Howard returns, however, the Phillies will have four outfielders for three positions.

    Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence are well-entrenched in the Phillies' outfield, so that means Brown and Mayberry will battle for playing time at the other starting spot.

    Brown has huge upside, but a slow start will derail him once again in 2012.

Pitcher: Ubaldo Jimenez

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    In a surprising move, the Colorado Rockies traded their ace pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians for four minor league prospects.

    In the first half of 2010, Jimenez was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. He was dominant and looked like a lock to win his first Cy Young award.

    He tailed off badly over the last two months of the season, but still ended the year with a 19-8 record, 2.88 ERA and 1.155 WHIP ratio. He threw 221.2 innings with a career high of 214 strike outs.

    Entering 2011, Jimenez was still considered the ace of the Rockies' pitching staff. The only problem was that he did not pitch like an ace.

    Prior to his trade in late July, Jimenez was 6-9 with a 4.46 ERA and 1.374 WHIP.

    The Indians hoped Jimenez could rediscover the magic he displayed in the first half of the 2010 season, and lead them to the playoffs.

    Unfortunately, he pitched even worse in Cleveland than he did in Colorado.

    In 11 starts with the Indians, Jimenez went 4-4 with an ERA of 5.10 and WHIP of 1.454. Jimenez has a live arm and electric stuff, but seemed to lose command inside the strike zone last season. This made him more hittable and was the main reason for the jump in Jimenez' ERA and WHIP.

    Jimenez is a relative bargain, with a contract of only $4.2 million.

    The Indians hold contract options for 2013 and 2014, and are hoping that Jimenez returns to top form in 2012.

Let the Games Begin

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    The 2011-12 Hot Stove league was exciting, as top free agents Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Prince Fielder are all on the move.

    Now, as spring training has begun, it's a time for optimism and hope.

    The players mentioned in this report on unfulfilled potential all have the skills to get their careers on track.

    It will be interesting to look back at the end of the year and see which of these players, who underachieved in 2011, took a step back to stardom.

    Play Ball!