Kings of Spring: 8 Players to Watch Heading into the 2012 MLB Season
The last article I wrote highlighted the progress of the top MLB prospects for the 2012 season. If you've read it, or followed the box scores of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Yu Darvish, and others, you've probably noticed that the results have been a tad disappointing. Several established major leaguers like Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, Albert Pujols, Alfonso Soriano and others have gotten off to hot starts this spring, but this article will look at other players who could take big steps forward in their MLB careers this season and break out with collectors.
It's pretty difficult to build on what Brett Lawrie did in 2011, but he's done it nonetheless. Fourteen hits in 23 at bats (.609 BA) with six doubles, eight RBI, and five SB have Blue Jays fans salivating over the anticipated future returns from their top young hitter. One caveat has reared its head once again, however. Lawrie has propensity to suffer nagging injuries. Last year, it was a broken bone in his wrist and this spring it's a mild strain of his groin. Lawrie's all-out style of play is reminiscent of Texas' Josh Hamilton. Like Hamilton, Lawrie can put up MVP numbers when he's on the field. But the injury bug has a taste for Lawrie, which is mildly concerning.
Wow, this guy can hit! This spring, Eric Hosmer has gone 13 for 36 (.361) with two homers, 15 RBI and a 7 BB/4K ratio to boot. Hosmer has the look of a perennial .300 hitter with 25- to 30-home run power and the ability to tally double-digit stolen base totals as well. The Royals are building something special offensively with a lineup that features Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Jeff Francoeur. Hosmer's the centerpiece and should find himself as a hometown All-Star this July.
The younger brother of Milwaukee Brewers All-Star Rickie Weeks, Jemile used the second half of last season to distinguish himself as a future star, a trend that he's continued into 2012. Standing just 5' 9" and 160 lbs, the former Miami Hurricane has demonstrated some surprising pop this spring, smacking three home runs and nine RBI en route to a .389 batting average. Weeks should bat lead-off for the A's this season, but his ability to work counts and draw walks still leaves a bit to be desired. That said, his decent gap power and lightning speed should help him keep defenses honest and make him a threat to repeat his .300 batting average from last season.
The 24-year-old hurler issued an ultimatum to the Braves brass this offseason to either put him in the rotation or trade him. He's backed up his words in a huge way, putting up a string of 14 scoreless innings with ten strikeouts. Solid springs are nothing new to Mike Minor as he gave up just one earned run in ten innings of work last March. With the early struggles of Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado, Minor has pretty much locked up the fifth spot in the Braves' rotation and should build on what was a somewhat successful 2011 campaign.
The former Padres lefty has been flat-out dominant this spring, winning two games and allowing just one earned run in 14.2 innings of work. Known primarily as a soft tosser, Wade LeBlanc touched up his fastball's velocity late last season, going from the upper-80s to the 90-92 MPH range. This has resulted in bigger strikeout totals and has enhanced the effectiveness of his off-speed pitches. LeBlanc has a 2 BB/15 K ratio this spring and is a shoo-in for a spot at the end of Miami's talented rotation. With a solid offense behind him and a brand new park that will be advantageous to pitchers, LeBlanc could turn more heads in 2012.
The season-ending injury to Scott Sizemore has made the competition for the A's' third base job a hot one. Josh Donaldson is rumored to have the inside track, but Sogard has put together the best spring of all hopefuls. The spunky former Padres farmhand has been a spark plug in Oakland's lineup this spring, hitting well over .300 with two home runs, six RBI, two stolen bases and a Major League-leading 13 runs scored. Sogard has excellent plate discipline, makes good contact and is fundamentally sound, both offensively and on defense. He has the ability to play any position in the infield and plays with passion. He won't wow you with his power, but there are enough other positives in his game to make him a solid full-time contributor for the A's in 2012.
The 6' 2" 180 lb. Dominican outfielder had a breakout season at AA Altoona in 2011, hitting .332 with 12 homers, 50 RBI, 24 stolen bases and 91 runs scored. His 38 doubles and eight triples and projectable frame promise more power in the future. His brief stint with the Pirates this spring has confirmed that, as he hit .520 with three home runs and four RBI in a dozen Grapefruit League games. Marte is a career .309 hitter at the minor league level, but the Pirates opted to send him to AAA Lynchburg. There, he can continue to develop his power and hone his plate discipline, which is still below average. He should get a look with the Pirates late this summer and could end up being a top-ten prospect entering the 2013 season.
Over the past two seasons, the 30-year-old Tiger has been the epitome of a terrible first-half and terrific second-half player. If this spring is any indication, however, this may well be the season that Ryan Raburn puts it all together and becomes a top-ten second baseman. In nine games this spring, he is 11-24 (.458) with five home runs, 16 RBI and six runs scored. Slated to hit in the bottom third of the Tigers' regular season lineup, Raburn could see a lot of RBI opportunities in 2012 and put up gaudy numbers.
Other "Kings of Spring" to watch heading into the regular season:
- Colin Cowgill, Oakland A's
- Delmon Young, Detroit Tigers
- Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals
- Alex Liddi, Seattle Mariners
- Alex Presley, Pittsburgh Pirates
- Brian Matusz, Baltimore Orioles
- Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins
- Vance Worley, Philadelphia Phillies