105.3 THE FAN — Opening Day is here, and you’re probably still playing catch up trying to get to know the players and teams that make up the 2014 season…But in case you don’t have the time to pour through every roster in the majors, here’s a list of 32 guys (one from every team) that you should keep an eye on in the 2014 season.
Red Sox – DH David Ortiz. Entering his 12 season with the Red Sox, Big Papi looks as good as ever – He’s averaged 36 HRs per 162 games in his last four seasons, and he’s 38 years old. The short right field at Fenway keeps him from aging too quickly, and keeps those power numbers very steady.
Yankees – SP Masahiro Tanaka. The next best story from Japan, this time he comes with a mythical legend – a 24-0 season that included a 1.27 ERA, and a heroic series-clinching performance in the league’s championship series. What can he do against the best in the world?
Orioles – 1B Chris Davis. Former Ranger finally put it all together last season…led the lead with 53 HRs and 138 RBI. Though he’ll probably fall short of his prediction this season of 106 HRs and 276 RBI, don’t think that another 50 HR season is out of the realm of possibility. He’s a lock for 40.
Blue Jays – 1B Edwin Encarnacion. Before 2013, he’d never hit more than 26 HRs or drove in more than 76 runs. The last two years? He’s AVERAGED 39 and 107. He’s now 31. Bautista may be the draw because of his HR prowess, but Encarnacion is the engine that makes that offense go.
Rays – SP David Price. The 2012 AL Cy Young winner and one of the best young pitchers in baseball, Price will be one of baseball’s hottest commodities come trade deadline. The Rays can’t afford to pay him long term, and if they want to get any value, they’ll trade him while he’s still got a year left of arbitration in 2015.
Tigers – SP Anibal Sanchez. Everyone knows Justin Verlander. And Max Scherzer. But did you know that Anibal Sanchez had a better ERA than BOTH last season? That’s right, a 2.57 ERA was the best in ALL of baseball, and he did it while striking out 202 batters over 182 innings. The Tigers may have 3 legit aces on it’s starting staff.
Royals – SP Yordano Ventura. WHO? Yes, it’s the question all your friends will be asking. And you can tell them this – “He’s the next great fireballer in baseball.” Last season, his 101.9 MPH offering to Padres Yonder Alonso was the fastest pitch thrown by any starter in 5 years. He’ll be the Royals 5th starter out of the gate. He could be their ace by the end.
White Sox – 1B Jose Abreu. Another player in his prime who’s spent his time playing in another league altogether. Abreu hit 13 HRs in just 136 plate appearances last season. Most believe he’s got 30+ home run potential, but once again, more people will only start to believe it when they see it.
Indians – SP Danny Salazar – In 52 innings of Major League work, he was dazzling last season…he struck out 65 batters, allowed just 44 hits, and owned a 3.12 ERA. If he can keep the ball in the park this season (allowed 7 HRs last year), he could have a sub-2.70 ERA, and will be considered among the best starting pitchers in baseball at the age of 24.
Twins – Manager Ron Gardenhire – He’s probably the most exciting aspect of this Twins team…seriously, they’re horrible. But somehow, he got himself a 2-year extension last offseason despite having posted 3 straight losing seasons. He’s the second longest tenured manager in baseball (2002, behind Scoscia in 2000), and you can tell the players like him. Just look at the prank pulled on Mike Pelfrey, which he executed brilliantly, to see how much his players enjoy having him around. Plus, he went to school at UT in Austin!
Mariners – 2B / OF Dustin Ackley – Apparently, Seattle is where prospects go to die. Justin Smoak never got it going, Franklin Guitierrez has been all but forgotten, but Ackley is still sticking around…2009’s 2nd overall pick, Ackley almost busted out last season…he batted .226 in 2012, and was sent down to AAA last season…but he came back up, and batted .304 in 53 games after the All-Star break. He’s moved from 2B to OF to accommodate Robinson Cano, but Ackley could be a major impact player for the Mariners this season.
Athletics – SP Sonny Gray – From mid-season call-up to Opening Day starter, Sonny Gray has come a long way in 8 months. It was Dan Strailly who was once the hot topic in Oakland…but not anymore. He shined in the first round of the playoffs last season, and his 2.67 ERA over 12 appearances (including 10 starts) had a lot of people salivating over what he could do for an encore. He’s the ace of the A’s, and if he looks strong for them, watch out Texas.
Angels – OF Mike Trout – The most must-watch player in baseball since Ken Griffey Jr. Every night, ever moment could be his best. We all know he just signed a 6 year, $144 million deal – and he’s worth every penny of it. If he played in New York, he wins the MVP last season. This year, he wins it in LA.
Rangers – OF Michael Choice – Honestly the most intriguing prospect the Rangers have at the Major League level. The luster of Profar has worn off, and now that we won’t see him for 3 months, it’s time to focus on Choice. I don’t want to say I’d like to see a Rangers OF get hurt, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to see an avenue open up to see what Choice can do.
Astros – SS Jonathan Villar – The best prospect in the Astros organization, he’s one of the reasons there’s optimism surrounding the team this season. He stole 49 bases in 149 games between AAA and the majors last season, and he only hit .243 with the big league club. If he can up his average, 60 isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Braves – 2B Dan Uggla / OF BJ Upton – The Braves were the only team to make the playoffs last season sporting two regulars that batted under .200. Somehow, both of these guys made over 120 starts for Atlanta. Probably because they’re both making an average of $27 million per year combined. With all their pitching injuries, the Braves need these two to bounce back in a big way.
Nationals – SP Stephen Strasburg – His W/L total doesn’t tell the whole story…Strasburg was one of the league’s best a season ago, but his record shows he was 8-9…That’s because he had 8 starts last season where he went at least 6 innings allowed 2 or fewer runs, and failed to get a win. With a fully healthy Bryce Harper behind him, expect Strasburg to be battling with Clayton Kershaw for the NL Cy Young award. Without Matt Harvey in the mix, it’s a two man race.
Mets – 2B Daniel Murphy – Last season, only two second basemen in all of baseball hit at least 10 HRs and stole at least 20 bases – Jason Kipnis and Daniel Murphy. Not Pedroia. Not Kinsler. Not Cano. Murphy was 2nd in the NL in hits last season with 188. You might not know his name, but he’s one of the reasons the Mets could have a turnaround season.
Marlins – OF Giancarlo Stanton – The phrase “light-tower power” was created for guys like Giancarlo. Formerly known as Mike, Stanton hasn’t been able to put together a full season. The last time he did though was in 2011, when he smacked 34 HRs less than 12 months after celebrating his 21st birthday. He’s still only 24. If he stays healthy, you could be looking at the NL home run champion.
Phillies – OF Dominic Brown – The #4 ranked prospect in all of baseball going into the 2010 season, Brown was ready to take off early last season…He belted 23 HRs before the All-Star break in July, but a 2nd half slump (and an injury) slowed him down to only finish with 27 on the year. If he puts it all together, Dominic Brown could be MVP-Ryan Howard – without the strikeouts.
Dodgers – Hanley Ramirez – The thing that REALLY turned the Dodgers around last season wasn’t so much Puig – it was Hanley, he batted a ridiculous .345 and slugged 20 HRs in a little more than half a season. If he can keep his average up, with this lineup, the 30 year old could return to his 2009 form – a season in which he hit 24 home runs, drove in 106, swiped 27 bags and batted an incredible .342. O yeah…he’ll be a free agent this offseason.
Padres – 2B Jedd Gyorko – Here’s probably the one offensive player you need to know from the San Diego Padres. He’s the rare power-hitting second baseman, evident by the 23 HRs he hit in his rookie year last season while playing just 3/4 of a the year….He batted .321 for his career in the minors, so expect his .249 average from last season to see a significant bump.
Giants – SP Madison Bumgarner – On a team with high-profile pitchers like Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, the best of the bunch with hardly any doubt is Bumgarner. MadBum is a workhorse, having gone 200 innings in each of the last 3 seasons. He’s cut down his WHIP by one-tenth of a point every season since he’s burst onto the scene in 2010, culminating in last year’s 1.03 mark. Expect him to hit the 200 Ks mark for the first time in his career…he came up one strikeout short last season.
Rockies – SS Troy Tulowitzki – The Rockies haven’t been in contention for a while, and a lot of that is tied to the injury issues surrounding their all-star SS Tulo. When healthy, you can pretty much right him down for .300-30-100, but that’s a big IF…He’s missed an average of 53 games per year over the last 4 seasons.
D-Backs – 1B Paul Goldschmidt – If it weren’t for the fact that Pittsburgh was making their first playoff push in nearly 30 years, Goldschmidt would have been the MVP in the National League last season. He led the league in HRs (36), RBIs (125), OPS (.952) and was 3rd in the league in runs scored (103). He also added 15 stolen bases, more than any other player at his position. He’s only 26, so the sky is the limit for this Woodlands, Tx native.
Cardinals – 2B Matt Carpenter – He’s probably the best leadoff man in the league, and maybe in all of baseball if Mike Trout dropped out of the one-spot like he should be…Carp took advantage of his first full-time gig in the majors last year – to the tune of a .318 avg with a .392 OBP…He led the NL in hits with 199, including 55 doubles, and he even showed some pop with 11 dingers. Carp is only 25, and is a legitimate MVP candidate for one of the best teams in baseball.
Pirates – OF Starling Marte – The Pirates made the playoffs for the first time in 30 years last season, and Marte was a big reason why. Hitting at the top of the lineup, Marte ran wild on opponents, racking up 41 steals, which was good for 3rd in the National League. He just signed a 6-year, $31 million deal (an absolute STEAL for the Pirates), which will keep him there throug. If he can increase his walk rate (just 1 every 22 plate appearances), he’ll probably steal 50 this season.
Cubs – SP Jeff Samardzija – If Samardzija is ever going to take the next step as a major league pitcher, the time is now. A former football player at Notre Dame, Samardzija has always had the stuff to make batters miss – he’s averaged nearly a strikeout per inning in his big league career. But it’s his control that needs to take the next step. He walked 78 batters last season, the 2nd most in the National League.
Brewers – OF Carlos Gomez – Gomez has always had speed (77 steals in the past two seasons) but now he’s added power too – hitting 43 bombs during that time as well. He only became an everyday player midway through 2012. Now, with a full season under his belt, a 30-30 season may not be outside the realm of possibility.
Reds – OF Billy Hamilton – He’s the most electric player on the basepaths in all of baseball, and it’s not even close. He torched AAA, stealing 75 bags in just 123 games…In just 13 games with the big league club last year, Hamilton stole 13 bases. It’s really this simple : if he can stay in the majors all season (his batting average has been a question mark), he’ll literally run away with the stolen base crown.
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