MLB Predictions: Chris Carpenter to the Yankees and 50 Bold Predictions for 2011
With football season coming to a close, many sports fans now turn their attention to the sunny beacon of hope that is spring training.
Even at this early stage of the season, it is always fun to pick who will win the major awards and which teams will be playing in October, but the following goes one further, not only picking those things, but also making some more player-specific predictions for all 30 teams.
So here are my 50 bold predictions for the 2011 season, because when you predict 50 things, you're bound to be correct on at least a few of them, right?
Braves: The Chipper Jones Era Is Over
With the retirement of Bobby Cox at the end of last season, Jones is the only holdover remaining from the Braves teams that took home 14 consecutive division titles, and he too is entering the twilight of what has been a fantastic career.
However, after suffering thorough his second down season in a row last year, things went from bad to worse for Jones, as his season was cut short by a torn ACL.
He expects to be back at full speed by spring, but at this point in his career full speed may not be enough, and we could see a Ken Griffey Jr.-type midseason retirement from Chipper this season. Nonetheless, he's had a Hall of Fame career and will go down as one of the best third basemen ever.
Marlins: Mike Stanton Will Hit 40 Home Runs
Stanton burst onto the scene last season, hitting 22 home runs in just 359 at-bats, and combining to launch 43 HR and drive in 111 runs last season between the minors and majors.
However, he also struck out a staggering 123 times in 359 at-bats after his call-up, as he clearly played like a 20-year-old at times, but still showed the potential that made him the No. 3 rated prospect in all of baseball last season.
Stanton may have the best pure power of any prospect in recent memory, and he could approach elite power numbers as early as next season. There is no question he is going to strike out a lot, but 40 home runs, while a bit of a reach, is not impossible for the promising young Stanton.
Marlins: Javier Vazquez Will Garner NL Cy Young Consideration
Vazquez was a disaster for the Yankees last season, losing his rotation spot on more than one occasion, and posting his highest ERA since 1999 at 5.32 and the worst BB/9 ratio of his career. In short, he was really bad.
However, he is only a season removed from a 15-win, 2.87 ERA season with the Braves and a move back to the National League and out of the bright lights of New York could go a long way.
The Marlins signed him to a low-risk, high-reward one-year deal, and there is no reason to think that he can't post an ERA in the mid-3.00s with great strikeout numbers that he has shown throughout his career.
Mets: Carlos Beltran Will Be Traded
The Mets have one of the highest payrolls in all of baseball, coming in at well over the $100 million mark, and they will once again be behind the Phillies and Braves at least in the NL East, with the Marlins looking better and better each season and even the Nationals now greatly improved.
At some point, they are going to have to tear things down and start over, and dealing Beltran could be the first step. They will no doubt have to take on a good deal of the $18.5 million that he is due next season before he becomes a free agent, but for a contender he could provide a big spark down the stretch.
If he opens the season healthy and productive, look for the Mets to begin their rebuilding by dealing their former $119 million man.
Nationals: Adam LaRoche Will Have a Better Season Than Jayson Werth
A couple years back when the Mets opened their wallets for Jason Bay, the popular opinion was that while Bay was a good player, he was not quite a superstar player capable of carrying a team and therefore, didn't deserve the max deal that he received.
The same can be said for Werth, who was a very good player for the Phillies, but is not quite the difference-making player you would think of when signing off on a seven-year, $126 million contract.
LaRoche, on the other hand, is among the most underrated run producers in the game and is coming off a 25 HR, 100 RBI season in a very poor Diamondbacks lineup. He came at just $6 million for one season, and could be one of the better bargain signings of the offseason.
Phillies: Joe Blanton Will Win More Games Than At Least One of the Big Four
This prediction hinges on the fact that the Phillies still have Blanton and don't find a taker for him before the season starts.
That said, the chances that all of the big four avoid injuries and pitch as incredibly, while certainly possible, is by no means a certainty. None of them aside from Hamels are particularly young, and an injury could very quickly make Blanton all the more important.
Blanton has been incredibly durable during his career, and even if the big four do all stay healthy, it is not at all far-fetched to predict that Blanton could win 15+ games if he makes 30 starts, with the Phillies' strong bullpen and potent offense.
Astros: Carlos Lee Will Have One Last Big Year
Lee is still owed a staggering $37 million over the next two seasons, the final two years of the six-year, $100 million contract he signed when he joined the Astros, and if last season is any indication, he could arguably be the game's most overpaid player.
In his first three seasons in Houston, Lee posted an average line of .305 BA, 29 HR, 107 RBI as he was one of the most feared run producers in all of baseball. However, those numbers dipped to .246 BA, 24 HR, 89 RBI last season, marking his worst season since 2002 and the lowest average of his career.
All that said, if Lee were ever going to be motivated for a big season, then 2011 is the year. With offseason talks of a move to first base, or just an outright move to the bench, Lee should be anxious to prove that he still has something left, and a focused and in-shape Lee could certainly approach .300 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI at least once more.
Astros: The Brett Myers Signing Will Be Regrettable
Myers, a former top prospect with the Phillies who rose through the system quickly and found himself in their rotation at the age of 21, never quite panned out as many hoped he would in Philadelphia, and when he hit free agency prior to last season, there was limited interest in him.
The Astros took a chance, signing him to a one-year, $3.1 million deal, and they were handsomely rewarded with a 14-8, 3.14 ERA, 180 K season from Myers, as he became the staff ace after Roy Oswalt was dealt.
The Astros returned the favor this offseason, re-signing Myers to a slightly more substantial two-year, $23 million deal. When a player posts a career year at the age of 29, more often than not it is an aberration, and I would expect Myers to come back down to earth and post closer to his career 4.20 ERA, which in Houston this coming season could mean no better than a .500 record.
Brewers: Prince Fielder Will Struggle in the Face of Trade Rumors
Coming off of a career-worst season in which he hit .261 BA, 32 HR, 83 RBI, Fielder would be facing a good deal of pressure just to have a better season this year, but there are so many more factors that will go into Fielder's season.
On top of the comeback he needs to make, Fielder is also in a contract year and is seeking a record-breaking contract that the Brewers seem unable to offer him at this point. Because of that, rumors have been swirling for the past season. If the Brewers slip at all in the standings, and perhaps even if they don't, Fielder will again be the talk of the trade block this season.
With Mat Gamel able to step in and play first, or a potential Fielder-for-James Loney and Jonathan Broxton trade perhaps something that could be revisited, the retooled Brewers could possibly contend even without Fielder. All in all, these factors will result in another poor season for the big slugger.
Cardinals: Chris Carpenter Will Be Traded to the Yankees
Carpenter has been the ace of the Cardinals staff for some time now, and his return from injury was nothing short of amazing. On top of his fantastic performance, in the past few seasons he and Adam Wainwright have teamed up to form one of the best duos in all of baseball.
However, Carpenter is due to make $15 million in 2011, with a $15 million option for 2012 that holds a $1 million buyout. The right-hander will be 36 years old this coming season, and with the Cardinals still trying to re-sign slugger Albert Pujols to a massive contract, shedding Carpenter's salary may be an option the team explores.
It is doubtful that the team will have the money to re-sign him after this season, and they would more than likely have to buy him out if they intend to retain Pujols. So if the Cardinals fall out of the division race, look for Carpenter to be on the block. The Yankees are always a trade candidate, and their rotation is as weak as it has been in years.
Cubs: Carlos Pena Will Bounce Back Big for the Cubs
While Pena has never been the type of hitter to make a run at a .300 average, with a career mark of .247 entering last season, he struggled mightily last season, hitting just .196 and posting his lowest HR and RBI totals in four years.
However, there is cause for hope now that he has moved on to the Cubs and the National League. Pena hit a remarkably unlucky .222 on balls in play last season, well below his career mark of .297.
So it is reasonable to expect not only a bounce-back season, but a significant one, as he moves to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field and out of the pitching-stacked AL East. A 40 HR and 120 RBI season is not out of reach.
Pirates: James McDonald Will Be the Best Pirates Starter Since Oliver Perez
Before you laugh at the headline, especially all of you Mets fans, you have to remember the season Perez had in 2004, when he went 12-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 239 K. McDonald has the stuff to have a big year as the team's ace.
McDonald came over in a midseason trade from the Dodgers for Octavio Dotel and cash, and he pitched well in 11 starts with the Pirates, going 4-5 with a 3.52 ERA and striking out 61 batters in 64 innings.
He may not be the most attractive staff ace out there, but McDonald could relish the opportunity he has been given. He posts good strikeout numbers, and the Pirates offense is improving. A 12-14 win season with 180+ Ks is not out of reach.
Reds: Aroldis Chapman Will Be Closing Games by Season's End
Francisco Cordero has been a constant headache for Reds fans since signing for four years and $46 million before the 2008 season, and while his 113 saves in three years are impressive, his 3.13 ERA and 15 losses over that stretch leave something to be desired, especially for a contending team.
Chapman is absolutely electric, and he was clearly better in the bullpen last season even in the minors, so a move to the rotation at this point seems unlikely, especially with the Reds' depth at starting pitcher.
Cordero will no doubt open the season finishing games, but by midseason, the flame-throwing lefty should be mowing down hitters in the ninth as the Reds look to repeat as NL Central champs.
Dodgers: Matt Kemp Will Finally Become a Superstar
After a .297 BA, 26 HR, 101 RBI, 34 SB season in 2009, Kemp seemed primed to be the next great outfielder for the coming decade. However, he took a big step back last season, as he seemed more interested in dating Rihanna than he did playing baseball at times.
Still just 25 years old, expect Kemp to come to camp re-focused and ready to complete his ascent to superstardom, as he hopes to break a string of disappointing seasons by the Dodgers.
There is no reason Kemp can't put together a .300 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 30 SB season as soon as next year, as he is a true five-tool talent. As long as he plays with a chip on his shoulder after hitting just .249 last season, he should be just fine.
Diamondbacks: Kelly Johnson Will Have a Big Contract Year
Johnson, who signed for just $2.35 million last season after spending his entire career with the Braves, came out of nowhere to hit 26 home runs, a significant improvement over his previous career high of 16.
He will be 29 this coming season, and he will be playing for a long-term deal, something he will undoubtedly get if he can duplicate his 2010 numbers or improve upon them.
He is slated to hit third in the D'backs lineup, and he will get all the RBI opportunities he can handle. As long as he doesn't try to do too much and sacrifice his batting average, a solid .284 last season, there is no reason to think he can't get the job done.
Giants: Cody Ross Will Struggle to Match His Postseason Heroics
There is no denying how important Ross was to the Giants' World Series run last season; he may well be one of the best late-season waiver wire pickups of all time, and at least the best since the Cardinals stole Larry Walker in the same manner.
Ross hit five HR and tallied 10 RBI in 15 postseason games, including three HR and five RBI during the NLCS that netted him MVP honors of the series.
However, the Giants have him penciled in the fifth spot in their lineup this coming season, and he will be counted on to be a big-time run producer for what is an otherwise average-at-best offense. He is a good player, but he may not be capable of filling that role on a full-season basis.
Padres: Cameron Maybin Finally Starts to Live Up to the Hype
After making his big league debut at the age of 20 with the Tigers, Maybin and pitcher Andrew Miller were the key pieces that the Marlins acquired in the deal that sent Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis out of town.
After spending most of 2008 and 2009 in the minors, Maybin received his first real extended look last season for the Marlins, but his stat line was a pedestrian .234 BA, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 9 SB.
Hoping to deal while he still had some value, the Marlins shipped him to San Diego this offseason for Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb, and the change of scenery could be exactly what Maybin needs to get his career on the right track. A .270 average with 40+ steals is within reach if he gets the opportunity.
Rockies: Ubaldo Jimenez Will Struggle to Match His Breakout Season
Jimenez was the talk of the baseball community in the first half of the 2010 season, going a staggering 15-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 18 first-half starts. He also threw the first no-hitter of the season, as he changed what it meant to pitch in Colorado.
He wasn't nearly the same in the second half, however, going just 4-7 with a 3.80 ERA, and he missed out on what looked to be a sure-thing Cy Young to Roy Halladay.
There is no question Jimenez is talented, as he won 12 and 15 games the previous two seasons before his big season last year, but his chances of matching his 2010 numbers and being part of the upper tier of starters seem slim after his poor second half.
Blue Jays: Jose Bautista Won't Reach 30 Home Runs
Bautista was the out-of-nowhere surprise of the season last year, hitting an MLB-best 54 home runs and finishing fourth in AL MVP voting, as he had a career year at the age of 29.
The chances of a 29-year-old suddenly figuring out how to be the best power hitter in the league are slim, and while Bautista has a track record as a solid utility player with some pop, there is nothing that indicates he will repeat.
He will get every chance to play every day and hit in the middle of the order, and he should still produce decent numbers hitting in a good Blue Jays lineup, but 25 HR and 80 RBI seem like a better bet than his 2010 numbers.
Orioles: Brian Matusz Will Win 15 Games
Matusz has been the pride of the Orioles' prospect pool since being selected fourth overall in the 2008 Draft, and made just 19 minor league starts, going 11-2 with a 1.91 ERA before being called up to the majors in 2009.
Last season, he spent the entire year with the big league team, winning 10 games and finishing fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
Matusz has a ton of talent, evidenced by the fact that he was the fifth-ranked prospect in all of baseball entering last season. The Orioles are a much improved team offensively, and Matusz should benefit greatly. A 15-win season as the ace of the staff is not out of the realm of possibility.
Rays: Jeremy Hellickson Will Make the Rays Forget About Matt Garza Immediately
Hellickson dominated at Triple-A last season, posting a 12-3, 2.45 ERA, 9.4 K/9 line before earning a big league call-up and continuing the impressive performance by going 4-0, 3.47 ERA, 8.2 K/9 in 10 games, including four starts.
That was enough for the Rays to feel confident in trading Matt Garza to the Cubs this offseason, netting an impressive package of prospects in the process. However, for a rotation that already has some of the best young talent in the league in David Price and Wade Davis, all eyes will be on Hellickson this coming season.
If his past track record and impressive September are any indication, the Rays should be just fine, and Hellickson should be considered a frontrunner for the American League Rookie of the Year.
Rays: Manny Ramirez Will Be This Year's Vladimir Guerrero
After hitting just nine home runs and playing 90 games last season, the market for Ramirez was small this offseason, and at 39 years old no one quite knows what to expect from him at this point in his career.
Still, the Rays lost a great deal of their offensive punch this offseason when Carl Crawford signed with the Red Sox and Carlos Pena joined the Cubs, so taking a chance on Ramirez for one year and $2 million made a lot of sense.
This is much the same situation as Vladimir Guerrero found himself in last season, as Guerrero was coming off of a .295 BA, 15 HR, 50 RBI season while Ramirez is coming off of a .298 BA, 9 HR, 42 RBI season. If the Rays can get anywhere near the same production the Rangers got out of Guerrero, the contract will be a steal.
Red Sox: Jonathan Papelbon Will Be Traded to the White Sox
Papelbon had been lights-out in his first four seasons as the Red Sox closer, but he came back to Earth a bit last season, posting a 3.90 ERA, nearly two full points over his career ERA. That was more than enough to push some doubt into the minds of Red Sox fans and management alike, as Daniel Bard is waiting in the wings as one of baseball's best young relievers.
Bard was nothing short of amazing last season, with a 1.93 ERA and 9.2 K/9 in a whopping 73 appearances, which were the fifth-most of any AL reliever.
With Bobby Jenks gone as a free agent, and coincidentally now on the Red Sox, the White Sox are without a proven closer, and their current options are All-Star setup man Matt Thornton and 21-year-old Chris Sale. They will likely give one of them a shot to open the season, but may need to look outside the organization at some point in the season.
Yankees: Andy Pettitte Will Pull a Roger Clemens and Return Midseason
Pettitte has been on the fence about whether or not he is going to return in 2011, but as of now it looks as though he will be starting the season watching from home.
However, if the Yankees' starting pitching situation plays out like many believe it will, with nothing but question marks beyond CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, the Yankees could make an even bigger push to bring Pettitte back.
With Sergio Mitre currently in line to secure a rotation spot, the Yankees could find themselves feeling the effects of missing out on Cliff Lee right off the bat. Pettitte still has plenty left in the tank after an 11-3 season and an All-Star appearance last year.
Yankees: Derek Jeter Will Have an MVP-Caliber Season
For all of the issues that surrounded the re-signing of Jeter this past offseason, he finds himself with a new contract and back in the Bronx, where the captain will no doubt finish his Hall of Fame career.
That said, there may be no one more aware of their own legacy than Jeter, and he will not want his final seasons to be ones where he is at odds with the organization and struggling to post the numbers he's accustomed to.
Jeter is a living legend, and if anyone is going to bounce back from the sort of offseason that Jeter had, it is him—you can expect that bounce-back this season.
Indians: Justin Masterson Will Be the Team's Best Starter
Masterson has gone an uninspired 7-20 since coming over from the Red Sox in the deal that sent Victor Martinez out of town, but he is much better than his record may show.
While his 4.70 ERA last season may not inspire much confidence, his mark of 3.84 in the second half may be a sign of better things to come, as he will open the season as the team's second starter.
While Fausto Carmona may be the staff ace, it is Masterson who will have the better season in 2011, even though "better" may still mean a losing record pitching for the Tribe.
Royals: Joakim Soria Will Be Traded
With the trade of Zack Greinke this offseason, the Royals are now entirely committed to a complete rebuild, and they have the farm system to do it.
However, when Luke Hochevar is the ace of your staff, you have little use for an All-Star closer, as there are much more pressing issues that could potentially be shored up with the package of players that Soria would fetch.
Soria is a great reliever, and if a team making a pennant run finds themselves in need of a late-inning arm to push them over the top, Soria could be the answer.
Tigers: Brad Penny Will Return to Front-of-the-Rotation Form
Penny missed the majority of last season with an injury, making just nine starts for the Cardinals, and he received little interest this offseason, settling on a one-year, $3 million deal to be the Tigers' fifth starter.
However, Penny is not too far removed from back-to-back 16-win seasons as a member of the Dodgers, and he will have the benefit of a very good Tigers offense that was made even better by bringing back Ordonez, Inge and Peralta as well as signing Victor Martinez.
If Penny can stay healthy, he could easily once again be a front-of-the-rotation starter, and along with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, could make the Tigers favorites in a wide-open AL Central.
Twins: Jim Thome Will Be the Everyday DH
On the surface this may not seem like a stretch, as Thome launched 25 HR in just 276 at-bats. But with Justin Morneau now healthy at first base, Thome will have to contend with Jason Kubel for DH at-bats, and he is coming off a 21 HR and 92 RBI season of his own.
Still, even at this stage in his career, Thome is capable of carrying an offense for stretches at a time like few players in baseball can.
The consummate professional, Thome will accept whatever role he is given at his point, but I see the slugger getting the majority of the Twins' DH at-bats, even as he enters his 21st season.
White Sox: Mark Buehrle Will Be Traded
The White Sox made a pair of big moves this offseason, signing slugger Adam Dunn and re-signing first baseman Paul Konerko, and because of that they are left with a payroll that has been stretched rather thin.
Because of this, the White Sox could look to deal Buehrle and some of the $14 million he is due this coming season. With a rotation that also features Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Edwin Jackson and Jake Peavy, and has top prospect Chris Sale waiting in the wings in the bullpen, Buehrle could be expendable.
He has meant a lot to the Sox over the past 11 seasons, winning 148 games as one of the most consistent pitchers around. However, he had a subpar 13-13 record last season with a 4.28 ERA, and the team more than likely won't bring him back in 2012 anyway as he becomes a free agent.
Mariners: Michael Pineda Will Be the Mariners' Second-Best Starter
After having not pitched above high Single-A prior to 2010, Pineda opened last season at Double-A and ended it in Triple-A, as he went a combined 11-4 with a 3.36 ERA as one of the younger pitchers in the league at 21 years old.
He will be given every chance to win a rotation spot this spring, and it seems a foregone conclusion that he will make his MLB debut sooner rather than later in 2011.
All due respect to Jason Vargas, but if Pineda pitches any where near his potential next season, he will immediately be slotted behind Felix Hernandez as the second-best pitcher on the team, and he will certainly be in the AL Rookie of the Year running.
Angels: Kendry Morales Will Pick Up Right Where He Left Off
Morales burst onto the scene in 2009 with a .306 BA, 34 HR, 108 RBI season in his first full year in the league. He was well on his way to another great season in 2010 when a home run celebration gone wrong left him out for the season with a fractured leg.
Since then, it was not only a tough season for the Angels, but an awful offseason, as they missed out on their top two targets in Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre, and they made the head-scratching decision of acquiring overpriced outfielder Vernon Wells.
If Morales can step back into his spot in the middle of the lineup once again, it would go a long way towards helping forget about such an awful winter, and all signs point to Morales being ready to go.
Athletics: Brett Anderson Will Be the Team's Best Starter
Following an 11-11 rookie season in 2009 in which he posted a 4.06 ERA and finished sixth in AL Rookie of the Year voting as a 20-year-old rookie, Anderson entered 2010 as the staff ace.
However, injuries struck and he made just 19 starts, as Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez ran away with the headlines in Oakland as the leaders of an up-and-coming staff.
Still, Anderson was terrific in his 19 starts, going 7-6 with a 2.80 ERA, and he seems poised to have a great season if he can stay healthy. He is certainly the most talented pitcher of what should be one of the American League's best starting staffs.
Rangers: Neftali Feliz Joins the Rotation, Doesn't Miss a Beat
The Rangers have one of the top young arms in all of baseball in Feliz, and he won AL Rookie of the Year honors last season after saving 40 games and striking out 71 hitters in 69.1 innings. However, after the Rangers failed to retain Cliff Lee, the rotation suddenly had a hole.
A starter in the minors, and a good one at that, Feliz will be stretched out this spring and given a shot at a rotation spot. There is no reason he shouldn't be able to not only land one, but be one of the staff's better arms.
The Rangers had success with this sort of move last season, as CJ Wilson joined the rotation and went 15-8 after saving a total of 50 games the previous three seasons serving solely as a reliever.
Surprise AL All-Star Pitcher: John Danks
After a rocky first season in Chicago following the trade that sent Brandon McCarthy to the Rangers, Danks has been fantastic the past three seasons, winning 40 games and posting an impressive 3.61 ERA as he has established himself as one of the better lefties in the American League.
However, he is still just the third pitcher in the White Sox rotation, and has yet to take that next step that shows he is really among the best starters in the league.
With a revamped lineup, and Danks just entering his prime at the age of 26, expect a big season out of Danks, one that propels him to the front of the White Sox rotation.
Surprise NL All-Star Pitcher: Daniel Hudson
In hopes of making a run at the playoffs last season, the White Sox dealt the promising young Hudson to the Diamondbacks for Edwin Jackson in hopes that Jackson could immediately bolster their rotation.
Jackson pitched well, going 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA in 11 starts with the White Sox, but Hudson made them immediately regret their decision. In his 11 starts with the Diamondbacks, Hudson went 7-1 with a sterling 1.69 ERA as he emerged as the staff ace and will be the ace entering the 2011 season.
The Diamondbacks are a team on the rebuild, and Hudson will play a big role in that. While it is not realistic to expect the same type of performance, he looks to be the real deal and could take the next step towards being a star in this league.
Surprise AL All-Star Position Player: Daric Barton
Barton was handed the Athletics' starting first base job entering the 2008 season at just 22 years old, and he understandably went through some growing pains, hitting just .226 with nine HR with 47 RBI despite making 446 at-bats.
He then spent the majority of 2009 in the minors, and that seems to have greatly aided in his development. He rightfully earned back the first base job in 2010 with a .273 BA, 10 HR, 57 RBI season in which he led the American League in walks.
Barton may never be the prototypical power-hitting first baseman, but there is no reason to think he won't be a perennial .300 hitter who plays a strong first base, and if he gets off to a hot start, he could be rewarded with a trip to the Midsummer Classic.
Surprise AL All-Star Position Player: Matt Wieters
The fact of the matter is, Wieters is simply too talented to not become the superstar that everyone has predicted he will, and 2011 could very well be the season when he takes that next big step.
In his first pro season in 2008, Wieters had an impressive .355 BA, 27 HR, 91 RBI stat line after being drafted fifth overall in 2007 out of Georgia Tech. The following season, he forced the Orioles' hand and received a late-season call-up after just 39 games at Triple-A.
He batted .288 the rest of the way in his rookie season, but took a step back in 2010, hitting just .249 with 11 HR and 55 RBI. Nonetheless, if he starts out the season well, he has a legit chance to make the All-Star team, with Jorge Posada and Victor Martinez now considered DHs and only Joe Mauer a sure thing.
Surprise All-Star NL Position Player: Pedro Alvarez
Alvarez may be the best of an impressive group of young hitters that the Pirates have ushered to the big leagues in recent seasons, and he could be ready for a huge season in his first full year in the majors.
The second overall pick in the 2008 Draft, Alvarez was fast-tracked to the majors, and made his debut midway through last season, collecting a .256 BA, 16 HR, 64 RBI line in just 347 at-bats, which averages out to 27 HR and 109 RBI over a full season.
The fact that every team must have a representative helps his cause, but he could easily post power numbers in line with those of David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman and find himself deserving of an All-Star berth.
Surprise NL Position Player All-Star: Starlin Castro
As the Cubs find themselves mired in yet another losing slump, and buried under a number of awful contracts, the performance of young players such as Tyler Colvin, Andrew Cashner and Castro are cause for hope looking to the future.
Castro in particular seems destined to be a superstar after hitting .300 in 463 at-bats as a 20-year-old rookie last season, as he finished fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Fans love exciting young players, and if Castro can get off to a hot start with his bat and his dazzling glove, he could find himself playing in the Midsummer Classic this season and for years to come.
Surprise AL Team: Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles have not had a winning season since 1997, when they won the AL East with a 98-64 record, and they haven't topped 70 wins in the past four seasons, so why the sudden cause for optimism in Baltimore?
While the Orioles are still a ways from competing in the AL East, they are moving in the right direction. With a solid core of good young hitters in Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters along with a some of the best young pitching in baseball led by future ace Brian Matusz, the Orioles carried over a good deal of talent from last season.
However, they didn't stand pat, as they added Derrek Lee, JJ Hardy and Mark Reynolds to shore up their infield, and Kevin Gregg to fill out the back of their bullpen. In the toughest division in baseball, this won't be enough to compete, but the Orioles could approach .500 baseball as soon as 2011.
Surprise NL Team: Florida Marlins
The Marlins, much like the Orioles, are in a very good division, and while it is unrealistic to expect them to make the playoffs this coming season, they are a very good up-and-coming team.
Josh Johnson is one of the best pitchers in the games, and throw in Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, Chris Volstad and a veteran Javier Vazquez, and their rotation is an impressive one.
The loss of Dan Uggla to the offense hurts, but a full season of Mike Stanton, the continued development of Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez, the additions of John Buck and Omar Infante and another year of one of the game's best in Hanley Ramirez will prevent the Marlins from being an NL East pushover by any means.
AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Moustakas
For Moustakas, the second overall pick in the 2007 Draft, it will only be a lack of opportunity that holds him back from winning the award, as the Royals may choose to hold him back in the minors for part of the season to control his rights for longer.
However, he is clearly ready to put up big numbers now after acquiring a .322 BA, 36 HR, 124 RBI stat line last season between Double-A and Triple-A.
His defense needs some work, but the kid can flat-out rake. The Royals may be better suited to move incumbent third baseman Wilson Betemit to a utility role, a position in which he has thrived in the past, and give Moustakas a chance to see what he can do.
NL Rookie of the Year: Craig Kimbrel
Kimbrel will compete with another young pitcher in Jonny Venters this spring for the closer's job that was vacated by Billy Wagner, but it should be Kimbrel who comes out on top.
The 22-year-old flame thrower was unhittable last season, going 4-0 with a 0.44 ERA in 21 appearances and striking out a ridiculous 40 hitters in 20.1 innings pitched.
The Braves should get him plenty of save opportunities, and he has the stuff to post a Neftali Feliz type season. The only issue may be his splitting votes with teammate Freddie Freeman for the award, but it should be Kimbrel who has the better season.
AL Cy Young: Jon Lester
While arguments can certainly made for guys like Cliff Lee, Johan Santana and CC Sabathia among others, Lester could very well be the best left-handed pitcher in baseball today, and just is just entering his prime at 27 years old.
A 19-9, 3.25 ERA, 225 K season was good for a fourth-place finish in the voting last season, as Lester moved his career record to an impressive 61-25 in parts of five seasons.
With the Red Sox now the favorites to win the AL East, Lester is in line for a 20+ win season and a Cy Young Award, provided Felix Hernandez doesn't do something crazy for an encore in 2011.
NL Cy Young Winner: Adam Wainwright
Wainwright has emerged as the ace of the Cardinals staff, and he has gotten better every season since leaving the bullpen and joining the rotation in 2007.
He has won 39 games over the past two seasons, finishing third and second in Cy Young voting, respectively, and he has lowered his ERA each season to a stellar 2.42 last season, which was good for second best in the NL. His strikeout numbers have also risen each season to 213 last year, which was fourth in the league.
In other words, Wainwright just keeps getting better, and if he somehow finds a way to improve his 2010 numbers, it will be virtually impossible not to give him the award. The fact that the Phillies pitchers will steal votes from each other also helps his case.
AL MVP: Robinson Cano
Cano, who had already established himself as one of the best offensive second baseman in all of baseball, took another step last season, as he improved his power numbers without sacrificing his average.
Not only that, but he put to rest any questions about his dedication and ability to stay in shape, carrying the Yankees offense for much of the season when guys like Jeter, A-Rod and Teixeira struggled.
If he can tack on a few more home runs and RBI to the .319 BA, 29 HR, 109 RBI line he posted last year, he would be the frontrunner for the award.
NL MVP: Chase Utley
The Phillies' entire season will be put under a microscope this year, so whoever comes through biggest offensively for them will have a great shot at the NL MVP, and my money is on Utley.
Coming off a season in which he missed a good deal of time due to injury, Utley is the type of player who will be fired up to make up for what he missed last season. Also, the team is counting on their stars to step up and shoulder some of the load left behind with the departure of Jayson Werth.
Utley is a supremely talented second baseman, and he has a great shot at the award if he stays healthy...or maybe it will just end up going to Albert Pujols—that's always a strong possibility.
AL Pennant: Boston Red Sox
Already a great team that simply missed out on the playoffs because of the division they are in, the Red Sox went all in this offseason, acquiring two of the biggest bats on the market and quietly turning their bullpen into one of the best in the league.
For most teams, signing Carl Crawford or trading for Adrian Gonzalez would constitute a huge offseason, but the Red Sox did both, giving them one of the most impressive lineups in all of baseball. On top of that, they added Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler to an already good bullpen.
If John Lackey and Josh Beckett can bounce back, and the team can avoid the wave of injuries that struck them last season, they could be unstoppable.
NL Pennant: Philadelphia Phillies
It is easy to say that this group the Phillies have right now has not won anything yet this season, because they haven't. However, it is awfully hard to make a case against why they won't at least stroll to the NL Pennant this coming season.
With the best rotation in all of baseball, and the best lineup at least in the National League, the Phillies look to be unstoppable, barring a wave of injuries. The only real hole is in right field, where rookie Domonic Brown will be counted on, but even if he struggles the offense is still stacked.
The Red Sox and Phillies match up fantastically, and it will all come down to whose pitching gets hot when it matters most.
In the end, I'll take what I feel is the more impressive lineup at this point, and say Red Sox in seven games.