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Friday, February 17, 2012

2012 American League Breakout Players

Every year major league teams hope they have at least one player on their roster that will break out and give them unexpected production. Such players often mean the difference between the post-season and going home after game 162. Teams more or less know what they will get from their stars, so any surprises they get from other members of their roster can really impact a season.

With the start of spring training bearing down upon us, speculation has already begun about who will be each team’s breakout player. There are intriguing candidates on every squad, but I have sifted through to pick the most likely player on each roster, and will start with the American League.

Baltimore Orioles- Designated Hitter/First Baseman- Chris Davis: This is not the first such list Davis has been on over the past few seasons. However, with Baltimore, he may now have his best opportunity for consistent playing time, regardless of what shortcomings (a swing hole-ier than Mother Theresa) he may have. Given the Orioles’ lack of established players, Davis should see the field quite often, and while he probably won’t hit much better than .250, he has the ability to hit home runs in bunches. 

Boston Red Sox- Outfielder- Ryan Sweeney: Sweeney’s claim to fame thus far in his career are the many people who have raved about his performances in warm-ups and batting practice. Unfortunately that has never translated into game results, but with right fielder Ryan Kalish out until June and Carl Crawford a bit uncertain because of a balky wrist, Sweeney figures to get 300-400 at bats with the Red Sox in 2012. He is a career .283 hitter, and with his solid defense, could create some surprising production from the bottom of the Boston batting order. He has never hit more than 6 home runs in any season, but given his 6’4, 225 pound build, and now playing his home games at Fenway, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him double that number this year.

Chicago White Sox- Outfielder- Dayan Viciedo: Thanks to off-season moves and the decline of remaining players, outside of Paul Konerko, the White Sox no longer have any reliable power bats. The team hopes they can squeeze something out of Adam Dunn’s corpse, but he looked toasted in 2011, so Chicago isn’t holding its collective breath. Enter Viciedo. The young Cuban is not defensively gifted, but has a powerful bat. He has played several positions, but the White Sox have come to believe he will do the least damage in the outfield. Look for him to do a reasonable Carlos Quentin impersonation in 2012. 20 home runs and 80 RBI are not out of the question if he is allowed to play on a regular basis.

Cleveland Indians- Outfielder- Michael Brantley: Of all the American League teams, the Indians probably have the most break-out candidates on their roster. The sexiest pick may be someone like second baseman Jason Kipnis, but I believe Brantley is the choice. He has steadily improved each year since debuting in 2009, including becoming an above average defender. If he gets a little more selective at the plate, he could give the Indians a solid season from the lead-off position. Something along the lines of .280, 12 home runs, and 20 steals are reasonable goals for this rising player.

Detroit Tigers- Outfielder- Delmon Young: It may be more apt to call Young a come-back candidate, given the success he has had in the past. Regardless of what you want to call him, 2012 may be the season where he finally gets back to his previous form. The off-season emphasis in Detroit obviously focused on the signing of free agent Prince Fielder, and the one-two punch he forms with Miguel Cabrera. Even with those two big boppers, people shouldn’t sleep on the rest of the Tiger’s lineup. Young looked comfortable during his 40 games with Detroit last year (.274 and 8 home runs), so something in the neighborhood of .290 with 15-20 home runs and 90 RBI are reasonable expectations.

Kansas City Royals- Catcher- Salvador Perez: Although they hasn’t yet translated into wins, the Royals have started to become defined by their impressive group of young players. This past year, name brand rookies like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer made long-anticipated debuts. Other lesser known rookies also made their way to Kansas City in 2011, with perhaps the most intriguing being Perez, who seemingly came out of nowhere to claim the starting catcher position.

Just 21 at the start of the 2012 season, Perez hit .285 during his minor league career, and posted an impressive .331 mark in 30 major league games last year. He was also no shirker behind the plate, throwing out 42% of base stealers. Now that he figures to play a full season with the Royals, the sky may be the limit for the young catcher. It is totally within the realm of reason to think Perez can hit .275 with 10 home runs in 2012, well on his way to a solid big league career.

Los Angeles Angels- Catcher- Hank Conger: Jeff Mathis (whose inexplicable amount of playing time over the past few seasons can best be explained by him either being related to Mike Scioscia or possessing incriminating photos of the manager) has moved on, and the Angels traded for Chris Ianetta, meaning Conger is still not viewed as an everyday catcher. However, he will receive at bats as the back-up catcher, designated hitter, and pinch hitter. Conger will have little pressure batting towards the bottom of the order, and if he gets the playing time, could hit 10-12 home runs.

Minnesota Twins- Utility Player- Trevor Plouffe: From Denny Hocking to Nick Punto, the Twins have traditionally had a super utility player on their roster. It appears that Plouffe will be that guy this season, finally giving him a shot at consistent playing time. He is not the type of player who will put up huge numbers, but he may play up to a half-dozen different positions and will provide capable prooduction at all of them.

New York Yankees- Utility Player- Eduardo Nunez: Nunez got 338 at bats in 2011 and figures to at least match that this season. Versatile enough to play any position but catcher or pitcher, Nunez should get plenty of opportunities all over the diamond, particularly at third, with A-Rod still uncertain after his German blood infusion thingy; and shortstop, where an aging Derek Jeter may need a few extra days off. Nunez’s best skill is his speed, and he has the ability to put up 30 or more steals this year, while continuing to develop as a hitter.

Oakland A’s- Outfielder- Josh Reddick: When it comes to offense, the cupboard of the A’s is nearly bare, but they may have a keeper in Reddick. He got sporadic playing time with the Red Sox over the past few seasons before being obtained in the Andrew Bailey trade. Reddick finally seemed to be putting everything together in 2011, and may emerge even further in 2012. He projects to hit in the middle of the A’s order, in front of or behind new outfield mate Yoneis Cespedes, and is one of the few hitters on the team capable of hitting 15-20 home runs.

Seattle Mariners- Pitcher- Hector Noesi: Jesus Montero, obtained in the Michael Pineda trade, is the player everyone in Seattle is talking about, but Noesi may be the break-out Mariner of 2012. He already cut his rookie teeth on the American League East in 2011, getting into 30 games with the Yankees and acquitting himself admirably. He will either pitch out of the bullpen or back of Seattle’s rotation, but should excel in either role. He has the stuff to approach a strikeout an inning, which will come in handy for the offense starved Mariners.

Tampa Bay Rays- Starting Pitcher- Matt Moore: This feels like a little bit of cheating, since Moore is the most ballyhooed pitching prospect since Stephen Strasburg, but he is still the pick. Although the popular practice these days is to put young pitchers on an innings limit, Moore will still get to throw about 175 frames this season, and is a good bet for 12 wins and 190+ strikeouts. He could also very well be a determining factor in frugal Tampa Bay’s ability to hang with Boston and New York in the American League East.

Texas Rangers- First Baseman- Brandon Snyder: Snyder is my Texas dark horse breakout candidate for a few reasons. I am not a huge believer in Mitch Moreland and think he is better suited to platooning. The Rangers also always seem to suffer strings of injuries each season, which could open the door for Snyder. He primarily plays first, but can also handle third, the outfield, and catch in a pinch. Finally, he has always been a productive minor league hitter (.275 career batting average), but has never been given any significant major league opportunity. If things fall into place for him in 2012, he could see 200 at bats in Texas and approach double digits in home runs.

Toronto Blue Jays- Outfielder- Colby Rasmus: Now that he is free from the disapproving eye of Tony LaRussa, who never seemed to embrace the talented outfielder, Rasmus may finally realize his potential in Toronto. He was terrible in his brief stint there after being traded this past season, but has too much talent to repeat that performance.

Whether it is an advanced team hitting approach or a mysterious middle-aged man relaying signs from the bleachers, the way the ball has jumped out of the stadium in Toronto in recent years could translate into Rasmus’ first 30 home run season occurring in 2012. If he is allowed to play fulltime, Toronto may finally have another star to play alongside Jose Bautista, which could tighten up things considerably in the American League East.

So there you have it; one man’s take on the 2012 American League breakout players. It’s not an exact science, but is a necessary exercise for baseball junkies around the world, as they anxiously await the start of the season. Keep an eye on these players because chances are good that they will figure prominently in their team’s plans this summer, and when that happens, don’t forget who let you in on the secret. 

National League breakout players:


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