Opening Day is here at last! The National League has kicked off its 136th season and the American League its 111th as the great wheel of the baseball season resets. It’s going to be a lot of fun and nothing is more fun that watching the great players of our day strut their stuff. Today we’re going to profile players to watch in the Junior Circuit in 2011.
Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers is a great human interest story and in 2010 he climbed to the top of the mountain, winning the Most Valuable Player award and carrying his team to its first-ever World Series. He played through some injuries and his style of play and position puts him in physical peril often, but he will have an excellent chance of repeating since he plays in a ballpark well suited to his skills and is part of a potent lineup.
Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins is another strong candidate. Joe won the MVP in 2009 and I think this year he will be more familiar with his sparkling new ballpark, Target Field, and will start to find the range again for his power numbers.
There is great anticipation in Boston, and many are thinking that new Red Sox Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez will be contenders for the award. If one of them wins, 2008 MVP and team-mate Dustin Pedroia can show them how to keep it shiny.
I think Shin-Soo Choo of the Cleveland Indians is an emerging superstar, a true five-tool player (and national hero in Korea) but the Tribe will have a tough time generating the attention that an MVP candidate needs.
My personal favorite, though, is Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays. I think the Rays are going to have a tough time competing in the AL East this season, but Evan is just a joy to watch, a great combination of hitting and fielding prowess at the Hot Corner. Evan will benefit from the media glare that playing against the Yankees and Red Sox will provide as well as the marketing glory his cover-boy status for video games involves.
I think that last year’s Cy Young Award winner, “King” Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners, is going to have a tough time repeating. King Felix’s numbers were off the charts while his won-loss record was remarkably punk. Not his fault, of course, playing for the weak Mariners, but it’s likely that will catch up with him in 2011. More ominously is the talk that the M’s might trade him and the Yankees’ hopes that happens. The Mariners have a history of trading their young stars, regrettable though that may be.
Carsten Charles Sabathia was third in the voting in 2010, and won 21 games to boot. In some respect it hurts C.C. that he plays for the Yankees since their lineup naturally produces runs and provides great defensive support, too. C.C. has to be considered a strong contender, though.
Two other AL East lefties will also be in the mix: Jon Lester of Boston, a hero to cancer survivors everywhere, and Tampa Bay’s David Price, last year’s runner-up. Dark horses would include C.J. Wilson of the Rangers, Jered Weaver of the Angels, and Trevor Cahill of the Athletics. The A’s have some really good pitchers this year.
As for rookies to watch, the short list would include catcher J.P. Arencibia and pitcher Kyle Drabek of the Toronto Blue Jays, outfielder Desmond Jennings and pitcher Jeremy Hellickson of the Rays, and third baseman Mike Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals. A lot of people had Yankees catcher Jesus Montero short-listed, but he’s going to start the season in the minors.