Now that the 2012 Major League Baseball season is under way, the sprint is on to see who will claim playoff spots, and ultimately who will be the team to claim the World Series. Along the way there will be a number of players who will emerge as the season’s best. There may be no “I” in team, but these players will go a long way in helping determine the pennant races. Without further ado, I give you my 2012 player award predictions.
American League: Evan Longoria- This will be Longoria’s best chance in his young career to claim an MVP award. The Rays are a team built on pitching and defense, and as their best hitter and defender, he will especially stand out if they compete as anticipated. His campaign will be aided by playing in the ultra-tough American League East, where it is a good possibility that 3 playoff teams could emerge with the creation of the second wildcard. There will be other players on other teams who will put up sexier numbers than Longoria, but his steady production in leading the gritty Rays will give him the edge and allow him to claim the MVP.
National League: Matt Kemp- Even before the Ryan Braun scandal, many felt that Kemp was robbed of the 2011 MVP. Although he has said all the right things since finishing second and subsequently finding out that Braun tested positive for performance enhancers, it is a certainty that he is seething on the inside. Kemp has talked frequently of his goal to go 50/50 in 2012, and while talk of such personal achievements may not be conducive to a typical team environment, the Dodgers will need such production if they want to compete in their division. The transfer of the team from the McCourts to the ownership group headed by Magic Johnson felt cathartic, and the boys in blue begin the year on a wave of positivity. Kemp will respond well to the Dodgers returning to the baseball spotlight and will produce another well-rounded season that solidifies his status as the best position player in the National League.
American League: Justin Verlander- It may be a boring or safe pick to predict that Verlander will repeat, but honestly, who will wrest the award from his talented hands? Not only is Verlander at the peak of his powers, but the Tigers super-charged their offense with the signing of Prince Fielder. If Verlander is even 75% of the pitcher he was last year, he would still be a pretty good bet for 20 wins. As the clear number one in Detroit and the most dominant pitcher in the American League, there is good reason to believe Verlander can also repeat with another pitching Triple Crown and make a run at 25 wins. Those sound like lofty goals, but he really is that good and will be getting more run support than ever before. His 2012 season may be all-time great, let alone Cy Young-worthy.
National League: Clayton Kershaw- I apologize for picking another repeat winner, but Kershaw looks like he could accumulate an untold number of Cy Youngs before his career is over. Not only did he win the pitching Triple Crown last year, but he did so at the tender age of 23, and for a team in the midst of great strife. The scary thing is that he is probably still a few years away from fully harnessing his full potential. Kershaw possesses some of the nastiest stuff in the game, highlighted by a devastating curveball. As the Dodgers fight their way back to relevance, Kershaw will be helping lead the charge. He may find it more difficult to win 20+ games in 2012, but his peripheral numbers may be his best yet; the major reason why he is the front runner once again for the Cy Young.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR-
American League: Yu Darvish- Some may forget, but though Darvish has been pitching professionally for years, he is considered a rookie by major league standards. If he comes close to pitching to expectations, he will be one of the best pitchers in the league and the ace of a Rangers team expected to compete for the AL West title, and at worst for a wild card spot. Provided he stays healthy, it will be a surprise if he posts less than 15 wins. Since he is already a seasoned veteran, he will not be babied as much as other younger players, and this should assist in his capturing the ROY award. He will also benefit from pitching a few extra games against inner division rivals in Seattle and Oakland who have subpar lineups. Darvish has such dominant stuff that he will have a much smaller learning curve and will rapidly turn into the next Japanese player to become a star in the major leagues.
National League: Devin Mesoraco- Many baseball people have pegged Reds’ shortstop Zack Cosart as the probably ROY, but he won’t even be the best rookie on his own team. That title will belong to catcher Devin Mesoraco by the time regular season game 162 has been played. Mesoraco may not be the Reds’ starting catcher at the moment, but that should change as the season goes on. Ryan Hanigan is a nice player, but should not block someone of Mesoraco’s talents. Mesoraco has developed into a solid defensive catcher, with the offensive ability to hit .285 and 20-25 home runs on a regular basis. The Reds are built to win now and it won’t be long before Dusty Baker realizes that his best lineup will be one including the rookie. It’s not out of the realm of reason to think Mesoraco could have a Buster Posey-like rookie season impact on his team this year, which would likely be more than enough to be the National League ROY.
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