Thursday, April 4, 2013

DC's First Annual Pre-Season Player To Watch Projection Project: NL East

The conclusion of L&B's first annual players to watch projection project, today featuring the NL East. Previous sections: AL EastNL CentralAL CentralNL WestAL West.

Miami Marlins
2012 record: 69-93
Player to watch: OF Giancarlo Stanton

We kick off the final segment with what could be the worst team in the majors this year, the Miami Marlins. The Marlins traded away their whole team, they have no one of interest beyond Stanton, and they might as well just be called the Miami Giancarlo Stantons. Hitting third in the Marlins lineup ahead of Placido Polanco (!!!) and behind Donovan Solano and Juan Pierre, Giancarlo does not have much lineup protection, to say the least. However, Stanton is so damn good that many project him to lead the NL in home runs anyways. He probably could have come close last year if he weren't sidelined for nearly 2 months with a knee injury. Stanton has absolutely ridiculous power (career .282 ISO) and has improved his average, OBP, SLG, wOBA and wRC+ every year so far at the Major League level. Marlins fans will have one thing and one thing only to get excited about when coming to the park this year, and it's Stanton.

DC Projection: .285/.366/.604, 43 HR, 101 RBI, 10.7 BB%, 25.4 K%

New York Mets
2012 record: 74-88
Player to watch: 1B Ike Davis

Ike Davis is a guy a lot of people think has the upside to give Stanton a run for his money at the NL home run crown this season. He had a breakout year of sorts last year, hitting 32 homers, but his .308 OBP and .227 average were, well, terrible. He didn't really get very lucky (his BABIP sat at .246), and really the only value he provided was from said home runs, as he finished with a WAR of just 1.0. I believe the BABIP will correct itself and Davis' average and OBP will bounce back, with the power of course still being there. Another reason Davis may improve is he is in in the final year of his contract, a year players tend to step it up in hopes of landing a lucrative multi-year deal. Davis could put up some gaudy numbers in Flushing and make the league take notice. 

DC Projection: .265/.347/.502, 39 HR, 96 RBI, 11.1 BB%, 23.6 K%

Philadelphia Phillies
2012 record: 81-81
Player to watch: OF Domonic Brown

Phillies fans are excited for Brown this season. After a few underachieving years, it appears as if Brown has made some changes to his swing and is ready to take the next step. He hit well in the spring, and while spring stats should always be taken with a grain of salt, Brown should eclipse his career slash line of .239/.318/.389 this season. Browns swing changes are similar to those Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion made in the second half of the 2011 year, and Edwin has hit .300/.389/.547 with 52 HR and 139 RBI in 868 PA since then. Brown will have to flash some of the 5-tool skills that made him a top prospect in the past this season or the Phillies may have to give up on him.

DC Projection: .268/.339/.442, 17 HR, 59 RBI, 9.5 BB%, 18.2 K%

Atlanta Braves
2012 record: 94-68
Player to watch: OF Justin Upton

I really like the 2013 Braves. They have a lot of exciting players in their lineup and a fantastic pitching staff. I like them in a wildcard spot this year as the Nats will probably win the division. Justin Upton is one of these exciting offseason acquisitions and is looking to bounce back this year in the ATL. Upton has a good lineup surrounding him and has gotten off to a quick start already this year. His career stats have followed a trend of up-year, down-year, and if these trends stay true, 2013 will be a good year for the younger Upton brother. After trade rumors swirled around the 25 year old for most of 2012, Upton should benefit from a fresh start and change of scenery as he joins his brother B.J. in the Braves outfield. Look for Upton to post at least a 20/20 season and help the Braves get back to the post season this year. 

DC Projection: .289/.368/.492, 28 HR, 87 RBI, 22 SB, 10.6 BB%, 20.4 K%

Washington Nationals
2012 record: 98-64
Player to watch: OF Bryce Harper

Ahh yes, we wrap up the L&B 2013 predictions with the phenom, the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year, the great Bryce Harper. Bryce is expected to emerge this year as one of the NL's premier players, and did not disappoint in his first game of the year, smacking 2 home runs in his first 2 ABs. The 20 year old already has a year of experience under his belt and will bat in the middle of a stacked Nationals lineup. A 30/30 season is not out of reach for young Harper, and the 5-tool stud could very well end up winning this year's NL MVP. Good defense, solid contact, baserunning ability, and pop in the bat, Harper has it all and he will be looking to take the Nats deep into the playoffs this year. 

DC Projection: .291/.362/.514, 32 HR, 103 RBI, 30 SB, 10.5 BB%, 17.1 K%

Players To Watch Recap!!!
Angels: Josh Hamilton
Astros: Chris Carter
Athletics: Yoenis Cespedes
Blue Jays: Melky Cabrera
Braves: Justin Upton
Brewers: Johnathan Lucroy
Cardinals: Matt Carpenter
Cubs: Anthony Rizzo
Diamondbacks: Aaron Hill
Dodgers: Adrian Gonzalez
Giants: Brandon Belt
Indians: Lonnie Chisenhall
Mariners: Franklin Gutierrez
Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton
Mets: Ike Davis
Nationals: Bryce Harper
Orioles: Manny Machado
Padres: Jedd Gyorko
Phillies: Domonic Brown
Pirates: Starling Marte
Rangers: Mike Olt
Rays: Desmond Jennings
Red Sox: Jackie Bradley Jr.
Reds: Todd Frazier
Rockies: Josh Rutledge
Royals: Mike Moustakas
Tigers: Miguel Cabrera
Twins: Aaron Hicks
White Sox: Dayan Viciedo
Yankees: Brett Gardner

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

DC's First Annual Pre-Season Player To Watch Projection Project: AL East

L&B's first annual players to watch projection project continues, today featuring the NL Central. Previous sections: NL CentralAL CentralNL WestAL West.

Boston Red Sox
2012 record: 69-93
Player to watch: OF Jackie Bradley Jr.

With David Ortiz on the shelf to start the 2013 season, The Red Sox are going with Jonny Gomes at DH, leaving rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. to patrol left field at least until Ortiz' expected return in mid-April. Bradley is a good defender and a patient hitter at the plate with a career BB% of nearly 15% in 615 minor league plate appearances. He will steal you some bases and has a likely ceiling of about a .280 average with 10+ homers given a full season. If Bradley can play well enough in the first few weeks of the season before Ortiz returns he may find himself in an increased role as the year goes on. Bradley Jr. has received some pre-season prediction support as a AL Rookie of the Year candidate for 2013, which is a realistic possibility if he is able to show the same sort of patience that he has in the minors and stick with the Big Club. 

DC Projection: 350 PA, .269/.340/.397, 8 HR, 41 RBI, 10.6 BB%, 18.0 K%

Toronto Blue Jays
2012 record: 73-89
Player to watch: OF Melky Cabrera

The Jays were among the most active teams in the offseason and brought in many talented players, and are set to field their most exciting squad in 20 years. Melky Cabrera was one of these players and was given a 2 year flier contract of sorts coming off a 50-game PED related suspension. Many people look for Cabrera's numbers to regress because of this but I am not so pessimistic. Melky has been consistently healthy throughout his career, never playing in fewer than 129 games in a Major League season, save for last year with the suspension. He is going to give you an average around .300, ~15 homers, ~15 stolen bases, a good walk rate and he doesn't strike out a whole lot. He'll be hitting behind Jose Reyes and ahead of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, 3 very talented hitters, so he should see many pitches to hit. I don't expect another .346 average like he hit last year, but Melky should give the Jays good production this year. 

DC Projection: .307/.352/.448, 15 HR, 76 RBI, 7.8 BB%, 12.4 K%

Tampa Bay Rays
2012 record: 90-72
Player to watch: CF Desmond Jennings

Desmond Jennings is a great player and I am a big fan. Last year in his first full season he turned in a .246 average with 13 homers and 31 stolen bases. This year he will be batting in the leadoff spot and should improve his peripheral stats with a year of experience under his belt. His average should improve, as his power and speed combination should raise his BABIP, which somewhat inexplicably has been around league average throughout his short career. With his excellent defense and baserunning he could be a 5 WAR player. His upside is probably a 20/40 player with great D in center field and the Rays will be counting on him to provide some of the offense lost in BJ Upton's departure.

DC Projection: .277/.346/.439, 19 HR, 63 RBI, 44 SB, 9.6 BB%, 19.0 K%

Baltimore Orioles
2012 record: 93-69
Player to watch: 3B Manny Machado

Manny Machado will be given the everyday job at third this year and the O's are going to run with him through the ups and downs. The 20 year old showed good pop in his brief debut last season hitting 7 homers and slugging .445 in just 202 plate appearances. He brings a little bit of everything with decent contact, power, speed and defense. The O's are hoping that Machado brings a more patient approach to the plate this year as he only walked 4.5% of the time in the Majors last year after posting a career minor league mark of around 11%. Machado is not going to be a fantasy juggernaut but his numbers are well-rounded and he will be a staple in the Orioles lineup for years to come.

DC Projection: .265/.319/.432, 17 HR, 68 RBI, 13 SB, 7.4 BB%, 17.5 K%

New York Yankees
2012 record: 95-67
Player to watch: CF Brett Gardner

The Yankees start the year in pretty deep injury trouble. They have no Mark Teixera, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter or Curtis Granderson. Really the only thing they do have right now is Robinson Cano, and Brett Gardner. Gardner strikes me as an underrated/forgotten player as he only played 16 games last year due to injury. It is important to remember though that he posted WAR totals of 6.0 and 4.9 in 2010 and 2011 respectively and the Yankees badly need him to match these production levels while their star players are out. He can take a walk, doesn't strike out a lot, plays great D, and steals a whole lot of bases at a good rate.  He won't hit for power but his speed will be an asset at the top of the order for a Yankees club that will desperately need runners in scoring position. Gardner will not have a lot of lineup protection early in the year but he will have to play well for the Yankees to have any hope at the playoffs.

DC Projection: .276/.361/.373, 6 HR, 49 RBI, 42 SB, 11.8 BB%, 16.2 K%

Thursday, March 28, 2013

DC's First Annual Pre-Season Player To Watch Projection Project: NL Central

L&B's first annual players to watch projection project continues, today featuring the NL Central. Previous sections: AL Central, NL West, AL West.

Chicago Cubs
2012 record: 61-101
Player to watch: 1B Anthony Rizzo

After being traded a few times and a cup of coffee with the Padres in 2011, Anthony Rizzo was called up to the Cubs big league squad from AAA in late-June last year and tore the cover off the ball for the remainder of the year, finishing 2012 with 15 homers and a .349 wOBA in 368 plate appearances. Rizzo will get full time reps at 1B this year and will bat third in the order as the Cubs likely best hitter, with ample opportunities to drive in runs batting behind Starlin Castro and David Dejesus.The 23 year old lefty has a lot going for him, including an increasing walk rate, job security and a lack of strong left-handed starters in the NL outside of Cole Hamels and Clayton Kershaw. All signs point to a great season for Rizzo in a year in which the Cubs will attempt to be competitive again. 

DC Projection: .280/.352/.509, 30 HR, 91 RBI, 8.9 BB%, 19.5 K%

Pittsburgh Pirates
2012 record: 79-83
Player to watch: OF Starling Marte

Young Starling Marte will start the year as the Pirates starting left fielder and leadoff batter. The 24 year old Dominican native brings his power/speed combination to a team that has not posted a winning season since the final year they had Barry Bonds, which also happens to be the year I was born (1992). Key to Marte's success will be his ability to make contact and keep his strikeout rate down, as his speed should help him maintain a high BABIP and in turn raise his average if he's able to put the ball in play. Should he post a K% closer to 20% than 30% (27.5% in 182 plate appearances with the Pirates last year), he has the potential to hit 15 homers and steal 30 bases while hitting in the high .200's, which I'm sure the Pirates would be happy with out of their leadoff guy. His speed is fantastic (13 triples in under 400 PA at AAA last year) and will help raise his slugging%. Fangraphs' Mike Podhorzer predicted he will lead the NL in stolen bases, which isn't unreasonable if he can get on base enough. 

DC Projection: .275/.321/.448, 14 HR, 60 RBI, 35 SB, 5.0 BB%, 22.2 K%

Milwaukee Brewers
2012 record: 83-79
Player to watch: C Jonathan Lucroy

Lucroy is tough to predict, as the he missed significant time last year due to injury, and the Brewers' other fine young catcher Martin Maldonado may cut into his playing time. Perhaps one may be traded, maybe one gets hurt, maybe one plays his way into the full time starting role, but for now Lucroy is penciled in as the Brewers starting catcher. The peripherals look good: his K% was down 9% in 2012 compared to his 2011 mark, his AVG, OBP, SLG, and WAR were all up, and he had almost identical HR, RBI and runs scored totals in 122 less plate appearances. Lucroy is an underrated player who looks to be on the upswing, but his playing time will depend on his health, and the success of Maldonado. My projection is dependent on Lucroy playing full time and getting approximately 500 PA. 

DC Projection: .291/.350/.449, 17 HR, 69 RBI, 7.6 BB%, 14.2 K% 

St. Louis Cardinals
2012 record: 88-74
Player to watch: UTIL Matt Carpenter

Carpenter is listed on both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference as being a 1B/3B, but he had reps at LF, RF and 2B for the Cards in 2012 and should start the season as the starting third baseman in the absence of the injured David Freese. Once Freese returns, Carpenter will be a super-utility guy, able to play almost every position. Carpenter is a great guy to have on your team. He is going to hit for a good average, get on base, play solid D, take a walk, and not strikeout a whole lot. Depending on injuries, he may wind up with around 500 PAs this year which could, optimistically, translate to ~15 homers. Although his numbers aren't going to blow anyone away, Carpenter is the solid type of player the Cards love and provides them with depth at a handful of positions along with some great discipline and a bit of pop.

DC Projection: .288/.370/.439, 11 HR, 59 RBI, 11.4 BB%, 17.8 K%

Cincinnati Reds
2012 record: 97-65
Player to watch: 3B Todd Frazier

Frazier had an impressive rookie campaign in 2012, finishing 3rd in NL Rookie of the Year voting, and posting in the top 10 among Major League third basemen in wOBA and isolated power. Scott Rolen is gone, so Frazier is going to see about 550-600 plate appearances this year in a good lineup, in a good hitters park. Turning 27 and entering his prime, the extreme fly-ball hitting Frazier looks like he could be on the verge of a breakout. Frazier is a guy that could hit 25+ dingers if he made more contact with the ball but his high K% doesn't look like it's about to drop anytime soon. I still think Frazier doesn't get as much credit as he should and my prediction for him looks a little more bullish than others. 

DC Projection: .275/.333/.487, 23 HR, 72 RBI, 7.9 BB%, 23.5 K%

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

DC's First Annual Pre-Season Player To Watch Projection Project: AL Central

L&B's first annual players to watch projection project continues, today featuring the AL Central. AL West predictions can be found here, NL West is found here.

Minnesota Twins
2012 record: 66-96
Player to watch: CF Aaron Hicks

The Twins are going through a rebuild and they are going to be very bad this year. This offseason, they somewhat surprisingly traded away both their starting center and right fielders, Ben Revere and Denard Span. This opened up two outfield spots, and it was recently announced that 2008 first round pick and #3 ranked Twins prospect Aaron Hicks would be the teams opening day center fielder. Hicks is a toolsy guy who had a good year at AA in 2012, hitting .285/.382/.459 with 13 homers and 32 stolen bases, while showing he can take a walk. The depth behind Hicks is pretty underwhelming so it appears the Twinkies are going to have a long look at him this year. He is going to be hitting leadoff, and many believe he will be able to swipe 30 bags. Hicks is about the only player worth watching on the lowly Twins this year as the rest of their roster is looking pretty rough.

DC Projection: .255/.345/.404, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 28 SB, 12.5 BB%, 24.3  K%

Cleveland Indians
2012 record: 68-94
Player to watch: 3B Lonnie Chisenhall

The Indians should be much improved this year. In addition to landing new manager Terry Francona, the Tribe acquired some significant pieces in Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds, who will help their lineup. At third base, Lonnie Chisenhall is going to be the everyday starter for the first time in his career. I'm a fan of Chisenhall and he has great upside which I believe he will live up to this year. With almost 400 major league plate appearances under his belt, look for him to be more comfortable and reach the power numbers he showed in the minors as he came up. He should get the chance to drive some runs in with some good hitters in front of him who will be able to reach base often. He doesn't take many walks and his OBP won't be very high but his power will give him an above average OPS. The Tribe should challenge for the AL Central pennant this year and Chisenhall is going to be a part of that.

DC Projection: .279/.328/.440, 20 HR, 71 RBI, 6.7 BB%, 17.2 K%

Kansas City Royals
2012 record: 72-90
Player to watch: 3B Mike Moustakas

Mike Moustakas went through a bit of a sophomore slump last year. Though he hit 20 homers, his batting average dipped almost 20 points and his K% went up almost 6%. The Royals are going to need Moose to bounce back this year, and I am predicting he will do just that and have a breakout year. His BABIP dropped almost 20 points last year as well which may attribute some of his struggles to bad luck, but almost every prediction system has it regressing back to the .296 mark he posted in 2011. I am bullish on Moustakas and my projection for him is one of the bolder ones I have made so far, but it is not without reason. Moustakas hits a ton of fly balls, and regularly showed fantastic power numbers coming up through the minors which have not yet translated to the majors. This year he will catch up with those numbers and have a great season for the Royals.

DC Projection: .268/.319./.468, 29 HR, 92 RBI, 7.1 BB%, 16.9 K%

Chicago White Sox
2012 record: 85-77
Player to watch: LF Dayan Viciedo

After a decent season season at the plate, the powerful Dayan Viciedo will look to take the next step in 2013.  He hit 25 homers in 2012, but he couldn't take a walk, struck out 22% of the time, and clearly can't play defense. Viciedo would be a great DH for most teams, but unfortunately the Sox have another no defense/high strikeout guy in Adam Dunn playing there for the next 2 years. Though many figure Viciedo will take a step back this year, I am one of the few who believe Viciedo has improved his approach at the plate and will hit for a better triple slash line this year, and playing in US Cellular Field could help him reach 30 homers. With potential similar to that of Chisenhall, Viciedo could be the next premier power hitter in the AL and I believe we will see a glimpse of that in 2013.

DC Projection: .272/.316/.469, 31 HR, 77 RBI, 6.9 BB%, 18.7 K%

Detroit Tigers
2012 record: 88-74
Player to watch: 3B Miguel Cabrera

Ahhh we've saved the best for last. In what might be the boldest prediction I'll make this year, I am going to come out and say Miguel Cabrera will repeat as the Triple Crown winner. Let me explain: first off, although it seems like he's been around forever, Cabrera is only 29 years old, and still in his prime years. Second, looking at all the hitters in the AL, I don't see anyone who is a sure bet to hit the way Cabrera will. I see Trout slowing down, Bautista's wrist is a question mark, and Hamilton and Granderson will not repeat their power numbers. Cabrera is the best bet to win in all three of the Triple Crown categories. Should he repeat, he would obviously be the first player in the history of the game to do so and would most definitely cement his spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

DC Projection: .332/.413/.599, 42 HR, 129 RBI, 12.9 BB%, 14.6 K% 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

DC's First Annual Pre-Season Player To Watch Projection Project: NL West

My first annual players to watch projection project continues, today featuring the NL West. The first section, detailing my AL West predictions can be found here.

Colorado Rockies
2012 record: 64-98
Player to watch: SS/2B Josh Rutledge

Colorado had a rough year in 2012. Their pitching was terrible and they had injuries to key players Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton. Their pitching isn't going to be any better this year but they're hoping their run production will increase with their main guys coming back from injury. I like Josh Rutledge as being a big part of this offense this year. Last year the 23 year old Rutledge played a lot of shortstop with Tulo being out and hit .292 with 21 HR and 21 stolen bases in 633 plate appearances between AA and the Majors. He will be the Rockies starting second baseman this year and should hit something close to that in his first full season at notorious hitters' park Coors Field. He doesn't take walks well so his OBP will suffer but you can live with that given his power/speed combination that plays terrifically at his position. Rutledge is going to break out in a big way this year and establish himself as a top tier second baseman in the NL.

DC Projection: .290/.319/.450, 17 HR, 65 RBI, 4.1 BB%, 20.5 K%

San Diego Padres
2012 record: 76-86
Player to watch: 3B/2B Jedd Gyorko

With last year's Padres MVP 3B Chase Headley set to start the season on the DL, top prospect Jedd Gyorko (pronounced JER-ko) will make the team out of spring training, and fill in for Headley at third while Logan Forsythe mans second. Once Headley comes back however, the team will have to chose between Gyorko and Forsythe at second base, which I believe will wind up being Gyorko's job to lose. The 24 year old has yet to play in a Major League game but has raked in the minors at every stop, with 30 HR in each of the last two seasons. He profiles as a gap hitter with home run power, projected to be able to hit for an average in the .290's or higher. He reminds me of Rutledge in a sense, but with more power, less speed and more walks. Their home run totals should look about the same however since Petco Park plays as an extreme pitchers park in contrast to Coors. Gyorko is another great young infielder and could make a run for NL Rookie of the Year in 2013.

DC Projection: .272/.330/.444, 15 HR, 62 RBI, 8.3 BB%, 19.7 K%

Arizona Diamondbacks
2012 record: 81-81
Player to watch: 2B Aaron Hill

The second baseman parade continues! Aaron Hill though, unlike his counterparts in this article, is an established major leaguer entering his 9th season in the bigs. He had a resurgence last season in the desert at age 30, (he turns 31 today! (March 21, 2013)) rediscovering his stroke and jacking 26 homers while hitting a career high .302. I have had the chance to see a lot of Aaron from his time as a Blue Jay however, and I am not convinced. Hill seems to follow a pattern of having one good season, then one terrible season. In 2013 he is due for a terrible season. He has hit .304 in the desert since coming over from the Jays mid-2011, but with his age and inconsistency I can't see him putting up numbers like he has in his first year and a half with the D-backs. I expect him to regress in 2013 and have a frustrating season by his standards/career averages.

DC Projection: .260/.322/.420, 13 HR, 63 RBI, 6.2 BB%, 14.7 K%

Los Angeles Dodgers
2012 record: 86-76
Player to watch: 1B Adrian Gonzalez

I'll admit I had troubles picking a player to watch when looking at the Dodgers roster, as they all seem more or less like "what you see is what you get" type players. After debating though, I felt as though I could confidently predict a revival for A-Gone going into 2013 and here's why:
1. Though his home run totals have been down the past few years, returning to the NL West from the strong AL East should bode well for Adrian. His homers should increase from playing in a weaker division, and hitting in the middle of a stacked lineup.
2. He has been with the Dodgers for half a year now, and will get to start the year with a clean slate, not having to worry about the disaster that was the '12 Red Sox.
Gonzalez, still only age 30, should be able to bounce back to the elite form he was in from 2009-11 and put up another great season. But really, if he has a season like 2012 (.299, 18 HR, 3.6 WAR), its not like anyone is complaining.

DC Projection: .304/.393/.505, 30 HR, 107 RBI, 10.9 BB%, 15.8 K%

San Francisco Giants
2012 record: 94-68
Player to watch: 1B Brandon Belt

It's hard to believe Brandon Belt is still just 24. It seems like he has been toiling for years waiting for his full time shot and this year he will get it as the defending World Series Champion Giants everyday first baseman. The slugging youngster has hit well over his first two seasons with the Giants, but manager Bruce Bochy has never seemed to have the confidence in him. It's his spot this year and they are going to run with him, good or bad. I have always been a fan of Belt and I have long been frustrated with the Giants brass for not giving him a chance sooner. Though my projections for Belt are still bullish, they could be even higher if he played in a different home park, as fewer home runs were hit at the power-sapping AT&T Park last season than any other park in the Majors. Belt has good speed for a first baseman, decent power, and a fantastic walk rate, though he needs to keep his strikeouts down more to reach his potential. Look for Belt to have a solid season as the Giants look to defend their second World Championship in 3 years.

DC Projection: .283/.375/.473, 21 HR, 77 RBI, 12.3 BB%, 20.8 K%

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

DC's First Annual Pre-Season Player To Watch Projection Project: AL West

I have decided to do a series of "players to watch" projections just ahead of opening day, which is April 1. I will give you one player to look out for, (positively or negatively) from each team over the coming week and a half. I will start with the AL West and gradually move my way east. So without further ado, here are your 2013 players to watch in the AL West!

Houston Astros
2012 record: 55-107
Player to watch: 1B/LF Chris Carter

The Astros finished the 2012 season as the worst team in the league, with their second straight 100 loss season. Things get no easier this year with a move to the tough AL West. New acquisition Chris Carter, who came over from Oakland in the Jed Lowrie trade, will likely win the starting left field job for the Astros and look to be a middle of the order power presence in his first full big league season. After smacking 16 homers in just 260 plate appearances, it is not a stretch to say Carter could hit 30+ in a full season, especially moving to a more hitter friendly park in Houston. His walk rate will likely go down due to less protection in the order.

DC Projection: .237/.335/.470, 30 HR, 77 RBI, 10.5 BB%, 29.5 K%

Seattle Mariners
2012 record: 75-87
Player to watch: CF Franklin Gutierrez

Gutierrez has not been healthy since 2010, playing in just 132 games since 2011, and just 40 last season. He has been healthy this spring however and I predict him having a bounce back/breakout year similar to his 2010 season. He has always been a very solid defender, and has a passable 162 game average of hitting .256/.308/.384 with 13 HR and 57 RBI. Even if he doesn't hit however, which I believe he will thanks to an improved Mariners lineup and the Safeco Field fences being moved in, he will always be a serviceable major leaguer due to his great defense at a premium position. Entering his age 30 season I have high hopes for Gutierrez and the Mariners.

DC Projection: .258/.315/.396, 17 HR, 65 RBI, 6.5 BB%, 19.0 K%

Los Angeles Angels
2012 record: 89-73
Player to watch: OF Josh Hamilton

The position-player prize of the 2012 offseason, Josh Hamilton signed a huge contract with the Angels on December 15 for $123 million over 5 years. Josh tore it up with the Rangers in the first half of last season and finished the year with a career high 43 home runs, but also a career high 162 strikeouts and K% of 25.5. He battled nagging injuries and seemed to lose focus at times. His batting average has dropped over the last three years, and his 2010 mark of .359 is starting to look like an aberration. I expect Josh to struggle to adapt to his new team and his numbers to drop off, especially considering his move from a hitters' park in Arlington to a more pitcher friendly park in Anaheim, and his giant new contract. Look for Hamilton to take a step back this season.

DC Projection: .270/.333/.490, 25 HR, 95 RBI, 8.3 BB%, 24.3 K%

Texas Rangers
2012 record: 93-69
Player to watch: 1B/3B/RF Mike Olt

Mike Olt is the no. 2 prospect in the Rangers system behind shortstop Jurickson Profar, who by many accounts is the top prospect in all of baseball. However, current Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus is blocking Profar at the Major League level, and the team is hesitant to move second baseman Ian Kinsler over to first. If first baseman Mitch Moreland struggles or goes down with injury, Olt's versatility will help him get into the lineup. He killed AA last season with 28 HR in 420 plate appearances, although he had his fair share of strikeouts, evidenced by his 32% strikeout rate in a short 16 game stint with the big club last season. I like Olt as a prospect and I think he will be able to make a difference with the Rangers as a rookie this season.

DC Projection: 350 PA, .262/.349/.481, 15 HR, 11.0 BB%, 26.7 K%

Oakland Athletics
2012 record: 94-68
Player to watch: OF Yoenis Céspedes

Cuban import Yoenis Céspedes had a fantastic rookie year with the A's in 2012 and was an integral part of their run to the playoffs, posting a 3.4 WAR. He finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting and would have undoubtedly won had it not been for a certain phenom out in Anaheim. I expect Céspedes to build on his 2012 season and emerge as an elite Major League player in 2013, cementing himself as a force in the middle of the A's revamped order. With a year of Major League experience under his belt, the 27 year old is in his prime and ready to perform right now. Expect a huge year from Céspedes.

DC Projection: .298/.369/.517, 32 HR, 103 RBI, 9.0 BB%, 17.5 K%

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Oakland A's Are Ballin' On A Budget

Jonny Gomes poppin' bottles to celebrate the A's unlikely 2012 AL West title
By now the secret of long-time Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane and his "moneyball" strategy of running his team has been exposed to the masses through a best-selling book and subsequent full-length feature film starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. I am not going to get into all that but if you have not read the book or seen the movie I recommend you do so as they are both excellent. The fact of the matter is, Beane's strategy continues to work and his teams continue to overachieve, and win. 2013 should be no different, yet the Athletics will once again be underrated heading into the season. Let us take a look at what Beane has been able to do over the past 15 years with one of the lowest payrolls in the entire league over that time span.

Billy Beane became the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics on October 17, 1997 after a disappointing 65-97 campaign for the A's. The team improved steadily over Beane's first 5 seasons at the helm, culminating in a 103 win season in 2002 and a loss in the ALDS. In fact, Billy's A's have reached 100 wins twice in his 15 seasons, made the playoffs 6 times, and have only had 5 losing seasons. These statistics all sound somewhat normal, until you factor in team payroll. The A's since 1998 have averaged the 24th lowest payroll in the league, out of 30 teams. From 2000 to 2003 the A's had the 25th, 29th, 28th and 23rd highest payrolls respectively. They made the playoffs each of those years and topped 100 wins twice. Amazing. The Oakland A's payroll in 2002, the year they won 103 games, came in at just under $40 million. The division rival Texas Rangers spent $105 million that year, and finished last in the AL West at 72-90. The A's seem to get it done every year with a microscopic budget, while teams like the Cubs and Mets spend hundreds of millions and still disappoint.

2012 was no different. With the second lowest payroll in the league at $55 million, the A's were expected to round out the bottom of a stacked AL West featuring the powerhouse Angels ($154 million) and Rangers ($120 million). Instead, The Athletics shocked the baseball world by winning the division and making the playoffs after a 1-game play-in versus said Rangers, who had reached the World Series in each of the past 2 seasons. They got solid seasons out of role players like Seth Smith, Jonny Gomes, and Brandon Moss. Former Red Sox outfielder Josh Reddick had a breakout year, smashing 32 home runs and providing 4.8 WAR. Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes had a 3.1 WAR rookie season and Chris Carter hit 16 dingers in 260 plate appearances. Up and down their lineup the A's received contributions. The pitching however, was the true X factor.

Oakland's starting rotation in 2012 was one which had lost 5 starters from the previous year. They were predicted to struggle and be unable to provide significant quality starts. What occurred was the polar opposite. Veterans Brandon McCarthy and Bartolo Colon performed solidly while rookies Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, and A.J. Griffin (combined 6 (!!!) major league starts coming into 2012) really came into their own and defied expectations. 30 year old journeyman Travis Blackley was picked up off waivers from the giants and turned into a key piece for the A's, appearing in 28 games and making 15 starts, both career highs. Brett Anderson came back from injury late in the season and torched the opposition to the tune of a 67 FIP- (33% above league average) in 6 starts, as well as pitching 6 scoreless innings in a playoff game against the Tigers. The A's young rotation managed to post the 3rd best ERA in the AL. Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour had terrific seasons in the bullpen. The kids were not flustered and everything broke right for Oakland's pitchers.

Oakland's 2012 season was yet another odd-defying feat that Billy Beane's A's seem to pull off every year. The A's are once again going to be a new look team in 2013, and once again they will predict to disappoint. Gone are key players Carter, McCarthy, Gomes and Cliff Pennington among others. New arrivals include John Jaso, Jed Lowrie, Chris Young and Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima. The pitching stays largely the same save for McCarthy, although it is realistic to expect Parker, Milone and Griffin to regress, as the league has had a chance to scout them for a full year. Their payroll is projected to be around $60 million, higher than only the Pirates, Marlins and Astros. I am a fan of the changes to the lineup and the position players they have brought in however, and I will be watching closely for the A's and Billy Beane to once again be contenders come September, as the next chapter in the moneyball era is written.