Welcome to our annual series of ‘best player by position’ per division across all of Major League Baseball. Our goal in this set of articles was to set forth the player from each position that is the best in the division right now. No weight was given to a player’s glorious or dubious past. These are our opinions as to who is most likely to represent the division in top-tier form in 2013.
As such, we welcome all feedback, criticism, and (gasp!) praise in the comments section below. Enjoy!
Catcher – AJ Pierzynski, Texas Rangers – The signing of Pierzynski was perhaps the least hyped major move of the offseason across all of baseball. Pierzynski put together a career year in 2012, his final season as a longstanding member of the White Sox. He clubbed a career-high 27 homers and 77 RBI’s and should put up big power numbers again in the hot Texas summer.
1B – Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels – Pujols was an early season storyline for his inability to hit the long ball. He didn’t launch his first homer until May 6th but it was one of 30 that he would eventually smash. Pujols ended the season with solid numbers: .285 avg., 30 HR’s, 105 RBI’s. The days of a .310+ average and 40 homers may be gone, but Pujols can still get it done.
2B – Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers – The only knock on Kinsler prior to 2011 was his injury history. 312 games later over the past two seasons and nobody is talking anymore. Kinsler possesses a very rare power-speed combo at the 2nd base position. Over the last 2 seasons he has averaged 25.5 homers and steals. His on-base % slipped to a career-worst .326 in 2012, something he would like to correct.
SS – Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers – Andrus’ name was bantered about over the winter in trade rumors but Texas values his 2-way game far too much to let him go and hand the keys to the still unproven Jurickson Profar. Andrus posted career highs in batting average (.286), on-base % (.349), RBI’s (62), slugging (.378), OPS (.727) and extra-base hits (43) a season ago but it’s his defense that truly sets him apart from the rest of the pack.
3B – Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers – I swear I’m not a Rangers fan, their infield is just that good. Beltre received MVP consideration after another huge year for Ron Washington’s team. Over the last 3 seasons (including 2010 in Boston), not only has Beltre continued to pick it at 3rd base but he has averaged 32 homers and 103 RBI’s. He hit .321 last year and will now be asked to be this team’s premier power hitter thanks to the departure of Josh Hamilton.
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels – Trout put together what we all know now to be a truly historic season as a rookie in 2012. Because of that, and his strikeout/game ratio, most experts have predicted some regression in his stats this year. While that may happen in some categories, I don’t see this guy falling from elite status anytime soon. Keep in mind that due in large part to an illness last spring Trout didn’t debut with the big club until April 28th. With that in mind, his 49 steals seem all but certain to be surpassed in 2013. Don’t be surprised if he hits .300 or better with 25+ homers and around 60 steals. That, my friends, is absurd.
Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels – Hamilton took mega dollars to go to his former team’s arch rival. In a contract year, the perennial MVP candidate suited up 148 times in 2012 (the 2nd most in his career). Will he pull that off again now that he is cashing those long-term paychecks? Even if he doesn’t he will still put up huge numbers. Hitting around guys like Trout and Pujols is going to make life nice and comfortable for Hamilton.
Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland A’s – Cespedes came over from Cuba to play in relative obscurity in Oakland and then performed so well that he was eventually cast into the spotlight of postseason baseball. Cespedes handled the American transition beautifully and has the look of a dangerous power-speed guy for years to come. He missed 33 games in his rookie season due to injury. If he can find a way to get into 150+ games he has true 30/30 upside.
Designated Hitter – Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels – Trumbo’s 2012 was a tale of two halves. By the time the All-Star break hit he was batting .306 with a .358 on-base % while swatting 22 homers and driving in 57 runs. He put on a massive power show in the All-Star Game Home Run Derby that had fans ooh’ing and ahh’ing nationwide. And then the bottom fell out. In the season’s 2nd half he hit just .227 with a .271 on-base % with just 10 homers and 38 RBI’s. Add it all up and you have the makings of what could have been a breakout season. He will have all kinds of RBI potential hitting behind Pujols and Hamilton in a loaded Angels lineup. The offensive tools are there – consistency is all he seeks now.
#1: Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels – It’s nearly impossible to pick an ace between Weaver and King Felix so I let the Cy Young voters do it for me. Weaver finished 3rd behind David Price and Justin Verlander. Weaver went 20-5 in 2012 with a 2.81 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 142 K’s in 188.2 innings. The limited innings (he pitched 235.2 in 2011) are all that kept him from legitimately challenging Price for the Cy Young. Weaver’s K rate is on a stark decline but he generates a lot of weak outs and remains among the best.
#2: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners – Hernandez continues to amass impressive career numbers but there are a few warning signs here. His average fastball has dropped in speed by one full mile per hour each of the last two years and sat at just 92.4 a year ago (he was 96.3 as a rookie in 2007). Nobody has pitched more innings over the last three years. Hernandez works within a very tight speed variance between his fastball, slider, and changeup. It takes a very special pitcher to be able to do what he does, but he is that special.
#3: Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers – Darvish had some great months and some subpar months in his rookie season. The good news was that he made major adjustments with his command and put together a stellar September (3-0, 2.21 ERA, 39 K’s, 7 walks in 36.2 innings). If he can get to 32 starts this year he has the ability to punch out 250 hitters. Some people aren’t a believer in Darvish’s ability to be elite. Clearly, I am. He will be expected to lead the Rangers’ rotation this year and post ace-like numbers. Bet on it.
#4: Brett Anderson, Oakland A’s – We haven’t seen a full season of Brett Anderson pitching since 2009 so we’re not really sure what that looks like now. But my hunch is it will be dominant. It’s tough to put a guy with such a checkered injury history at #4 but I like his upside over a guy like CJ Wilson or teammate Jarrod Parker. If Anderson can toe the rubber 32 times I’d expect him to keep his ERA right around 3.00, the WHIP at about 1.10, and for him to post somewhere near 160 K’s.
#5: Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers – Harrison has really stepped up over the past two seasons. He is 32-20 over the span with ERA’s in the low 3’s. Despite the hype surrounding fellow lefty rotation-mate Derek Holland, Harrison is the 2nd best pitcher on this staff. He loads up that sinkerball and makes opponents miserable in the batter’s box. Working with a catcher like Pierzynski should keep the 27-year old Harrison on an upward trend.
Setup – Ryan Cook, Oakland A’s – Cook had some trouble in the closer’s role as he blew 7 saves before giving way to Grant Balfour. Despite those struggles, Cook put up a monster year alongside Balfour and Sean Doolittle at the back end of Bob Melvin’s pen. He K’d 80 in 73.1 innings with a 2.09 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. Cook may close again if Balfour isn’t back in time from his injury and would probably be better equipped for that gig this time around.
Closer – Ernesto Frieri, Los Angeles Angels – Joe Nathan was a great reclamation project in Arlington. Tom Wilhelmsen was a revelation in Seattle. But nobody in the division was nastier than Frieri in 2012. His role is uncertain heading into 2013 with the addition of the still injured Ryan Madson. If Mike Scioscia goes with anyone else I’d be shocked. Frieri K’d 98 in just 66 innings to support his 23 saves in 26 chances, 2.32 ERA, and 0.98 WHIP.
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