2012 was an amazing year for catchers in the National League, as Buster Posey and Yadier Molina both put together six win seasons and finished in the top five of MVP voting, with Posey winning the award running away over runner-up Ryan Braun. In addition to those three, a pair of young, rising stars rounded out the top five in Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates and Chase Headley of the Padres. Headley's chances of a win in 2013 have been dealt a blow by his broken thumb, and of the top five finishers a year ago, the only one that a member of our staff picked to win in 2013 was Molina. But he wasn't the favorite, as two players stood out from the pack: Joey Votto and Matt Kemp.
Votto was on pace to win the award last season before getting knocked out for six weeks in the second half after meniscus surgery. The 2010 MVP is healthy this year, and you can pretty much pencil his stats in for the season if he stays healthy: 90+ walks, 25+ homers, a .300+ batting average, and a .410+ on-base percentage. Being on a loaded Reds team will certainly helps Votto's cause in 2013, and if they repeat their 97 win season from a year ago with Votto playing in 150 games at his usual level, he might be a shoo-in to win the award.
Kemp is another hot pick from our staff, and the Dodgers' center fielder had an unreal April before succumbing to a strained hamstring that would wreck the rest of his season. He still hit 23 homers in 106 games, but stole only nine bases a year after swiping 40. Kemp is an interesting guy to watch in 2013 because of his hamstring, and his style of player. If his hamstring still isn't 100%, I'm really not sure what kind of player he'll be going forward. He also had offseason shoulder surgery that could affect his play going forth, and the 28-year old's best days could behind him. But of course, when healthy, he's a guy that can have a 40/40 season in his sleep.
Not a lot of people seem to be giving the reigning MVP Posey any love this spring, but his 2012 season was one of the best ever from a catcher. In addition to the MVP award, Posey won the NL batting title, homered 24 times, and put together an unreal 7.6 fWAR season. The 26-year old is in his prime behind the dish for the Giants, and he can definitely contend for the award again this year, especially with Hunter Pence behind him in the lineup all season.
Molina has always had the reputation of being a solid defensive catcher, but his offense has taken huge strides over the last two seasons. Last year was his finest yet, as Molina hit 22 homers with an .874 OPS and 12 stolen bases. His defense remained elite and he won another Gold Glove, making him one of the more valuable all-around players in the game. But Molina is now 30, and catchers tend to fall off when they reach that age, especially when one who has logged as many innings behind the plate as Molina has thusfar.
As for Braun and McCutchen, both are obviously contenders once again in 2013, but their teams' weak starting pitching could sabotage their chances at contending in the NL Central, where the top two teams are looking incredibly strong. But if either Braun, the 2011 MVP, or McCutchen have a standout year and no one else takes control of the race, they could end up winning almost by default (like when Justin Morneau won the AL award a few of years back).
Bryce Harper is getting a ton of love as well this spring, and for good reason. He's playing ball like a bat out of hell in Spring Training, and big things are expected after the 20-year old smashed the hell out of the ball last September. The 2012 NL Rookie of the Year is more than likely going to take a huge step forward, even with a bit of a loss in value from him being shifted to left field from center.
If you want a dark horse contender, how about I give you two: Braves outiflelders Justin Upton and Jason Heyward. The 23-year old Heyward had a 20/20 season in 2012 and won a Gold Glove for his defense in right field, and that season even came with his strikeout and walk rates on the wrong side of his career averages. If those numbers look like they did in his 2010 rookie year while Heyward's power and speed accelerate, you could be looking at one of the elite players in baseball. As for Upton, he's been smashing the ball like a man on a mission this spring, and he's fully healthy after dealing with a thumb injury for most of 2012. With Heyward and Upton feeding off of each other in a potent Braves lineup (without even mentioning Freddie Freeman, Justin's brother BJ, or a potentially resurgent Dan Uggla), the duo could turn the MVP race into a "most valuable Brave" race.