Spring Training Questions: AL Edition

Last week, we looked at key questions for National League teams going into Spring Training. Now, with Spring Training under way and games less than a week away, we will look at the key questions facing American League teams as they work their way towards Opening Day.

AL East:

Toronto Blue Jays – Can Jose Bautista stay healthy?

When Bautista is healthy, he is one of the most productive players in the game. In 2010 and 2011, he had a cumulative fWAR of 14.2. But wrist and hip injuries have held Bautista off the field as he has only appeared in 210 games in the last two seasons. Can Bautista get back to being a major run producer in the middle of the Blue Jays lineup?

Baltimore Orioles – Can Ubaldo Jimenez be the top of rotation arm the Orioles need?

Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, and Wei-Yin Chen are solid pitchers but none of them are aces. Starters who can give their team 200+ innings in a season are extremely valuable. Tillman is the only Orioles starter from last year who surpassed the 200-inning mark. The Orioles just signed Suk-min Yoon, who could possibly provide depth to the rotation. Dylan Bundy will not be ready to make an impact until July at the earliest. This is why it was so vital for the Orioles to invest in an arm like Jimenez, a guy who has the ability and stuff to be a front of the rotation arm. Jimenez does come with a decent amount of risk, as his mechanics have led to some inconsistency that caused him to bottom out until he found some success in the second half last year with the Indians. If Jimenez can carry over his second half into this year, the Orioles will have found their guy to lead their rotation and compete for the AL East.

New York Yankees – Can Robertson take over as the closer?

The Yankees were blessed with 17 years of Mariano Rivera closing out games. Robertson has been one of the best relievers in baseball setting up games for Rivera over the last 3 seasons. Everyone knows that pitching in the 9th inning can be a completely different story, but Robertson had a 10.45 strikeout rate and 2.44 walk rate last season. Both of those statistics bode well for Robertson as he takes over for the greatest closer to ever live.  There will never be another Rivera but can Robertson take his success in the set-up role and apply it in the 9th?

Tampa Bay Rays – Will the Rays try and move David Price?

The 2012 American League CY winner is the ace of the Ray’s staff. But Price will be a free agent after the 2015 season and his best trade value would be now. It seems unlikely that the Rays will be willing to pay Price top market value but will the Rays risk the 2014 season for their future? It’s hard to imagine what the Rays rotation will look without Price but I do not believe the Rays can compete in the A.L. East without Price (though don’t count out Joe Maddon, who has done some amazing things over his years with the Rays).

Boston Red Sox – Can Jackie Bradley Jr. replace Jacoby Ellsbury?

Ellsbury was dynamic at the top of the Sox order as he was 13th in the majors in fWAR (5.8),14th in Runs Scored (92), and 1st in stolen bases (52). Ellsbury decided to join the rival Yankees for a massive contract and the Red Sox will turn to their farm system for production. It may have been a surprise to some that Jackie Bradley Jr. made the Opening day roster and started in left field on Opening day last year. Bradley Jr. struggled to consistently hit and get on base. The Red Sox are very high on this kid but they need him to step up and fill a void in Center Field.

AL Central:

Chicago White Sox – Can Jose Abreu provide power immediately?

The Cuban star was given a 6-year contract worth 68 million dollars. The White Sox had one of the worst team slugging percentages (.378) in the Majors. The 27 year-old appears to have the physical tools to be a solid big leaguer, but how long will it take Abreu to get acclimated to big league pitching? Can Abreu provide the power the White Sox desperately need to produce runs?

Cleveland Indians – Do the Indians have enough starting pitching?

The Indians decided to let Scott Kazmir go and sign with the Athletics, and did not resign Ubaldo Jimenez. They combined for 29 of the Indians 73 quality starts and pitched brilliantly down the stretch in September. The Indians saw Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister take steps forward as they both sported earned run averages under 3.85. Danny Salazar burst onto the scene late in the season and ended up starting the 1 game playoff against the Tampa Bay Rays. Can Salazar pitch a full season in the big leagues and provide the Indians with a much-needed front of the rotation starter?

Detroit Tigers – Is Nick Castellanos ready to be an everyday player?

The Tigers do not have many question marks. One question will be is Nick Castellanos ready to be an everyday player? He has shown the ability to hit and defend well in the minors but can that transition over? Miguel Cabrera was the worst defensive third baseman in baseball according to UZR (-16.8). The Tigers should be much improved defensively with Miguel Cabrera going back to first base if Castellanos can prove he is ready for the show.

Kansas City Royals – Can Mike Moustakas break through?

In 2013, the Kansas City Royals were asking the same question about Eric Hosmer. Hosmer went from hitting .232 in 2012 to hitting .303 in 2013. Moustakas is a career .244 hitter and has not provided consistent power. Moustakas is entering his fourth season in the big leagues and is running out of time to be given another season to figure things out. Eric Hosmer took a big step forward last season and the Royals need Moustakas to do the same if they want to end their streak of not making the postseason.

Minnesota Twins – Where will the Twins offense come from?

When you look at the Twins lineup, you will not see many household names. As team in 2013, they finished 25th in runs scored, 25th in batting average, and 23rd in slugging percentage. Joe Mauer is one of the best hitters in baseball and is changing positions. He will be moving to first base permanently and that may help him deal with fatigue problems in the dog days of August. However, who will be adding production around Mauer?

AL West

Houston Astros – Can the Astros young players make the jump and product in the big leagues?

The Houston Astros are a very young organization. The big question is can their young players make the jump and produce in the big leagues? Jarred Cosart is in the big leagues and looks to be a promising young arm. Cosart only started 10 games but had an impressive 1.95 earned run average. The Astros traded for Dexter Fowler in the offseason and could be a nice acquisition for a young team. Their top prospects, George Springer and Jonathan Singleton are in AAA and may not be far away. A good season for the Astros will not be in how many wins the able to achieve in 2014, but rather how their young prospects progress as they make the transition into the big leagues.

Los Angeles Angels – Can Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton get back to their old selves?

Pujols has not been the same player since he left St. Louis and last season he only played in 99 games as he dealt with plantar fasciitis. A major concern for Pujols is his slugging percentage has slowly declined over each of the past 4 years, including a career low .437 in 2013. Hamilton, on the other hand, struggled mightily in his first season in LA. He hit a career low .250 and his plate discipline was terrible as his strike out rate was almost 25 percent. If the Angels want to complete in the tough A.L. West, they need Pujols and Hamilton to get back to playing like they are capable of.

Oakland Athletics – Can Josh Reddick return to his 2012 form?

The A’s were very busy this offseason as the two-time defending American League West champs made a number of improvements. Josh Reddick was one of the big surprises in 2012 but was bothered by injuries last year as he only played in 114 games. The A’s were the 4th best run producing team in the majors, and surprisingly had the 3rd most home runs (186) in a big O.co Coliseum. If Reddick can get back to providing power to an A’s lineup that does not have many flaws, then watch out for the Oakland Athletics in the A.L. West.

Seattle Mariners – Can the Mariners protect Robinson Cano in the lineup?

Cano signed in Seattle for 240 million dollars but the Mariners don’t have another big bat. Justin Smoak was a top talent coming up through the minors but has struggled to put everything together as he hit .238 last season. Dustin Ackley hit .253 and it may be now or never for him to produce. Corey Hart and Logan Morrison are both coming off injury plagued seasons but could provide some stability to the Mariners lineup if healthy. The question not only in Spring Training but for the entire season will be can the Mariners protect Cano?

Texas Rangers – Can the Rangers pitching hold up?

Derek Holland had a freak accident and tore his meniscus and will miss a couple of months. Holland led the Rangers rotation in innings pitched last season with 213 and the Rangers will have to find someone to replace almost half of those innings. Martin Perez is a promising young pitcher but only threw 124 innings. Will Perez be able to pitch an entire season? Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison are coming back from injuries and could provide some depth to the Rangers rotation if healthy (and with today’s news on Harrison, that might not be likely). Yu Darvish is without question one of the best pitchers in baseball but may have to carry this staff until Holland and Harrison returns.

 

–MS

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Spring Training Questions: NL Edition

With the Dodgers and Diamondbacks already settled in at their Spring Training headquarters and the rest of baseball reporting this week, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at key questions that must be answered during the next 6 weeks. This post will take a look at key questions in the National League, with a similar post on the American League side coming this weekend.

National League East

Atlanta Braves – Can BJ Upton rebound from a miserable 2013?

After signing a 5-year, 75 million-dollar contract, the Braves expected Upton to play a key role on both sides of the ball. Upton was coming off a 2012 that saw him hit 28 home runs and steal 31 bases. Though Upton had a sub .300 OBP in his last year with the Rays, the Braves still were expecting to add a power-speed dynamic athlete to their lineup. Instead, the Braves saw Upton hit .184 with a .268 OBP and .557 OPS. Striking out in almost 34 percent of his plate appearances, Upton couldn’t recover from his slow start that saw him hit .143 in April and .147 in May. With the loss of McCann, the Braves are going to need Upton to provide more offensive production. It will be interesting to watch Upton in Spring Training and see if he can regain some of his power that was seen in Tampa Bay.

Miami Marlins – Can Giancarlo Stanton put together a complete season?

Stanton’s power is well documented. If you need a reminder, just watch this. Entering his age 24 season, Stanton has hit 117 home runs in his first four seasons, with a slugging percentage of .535. However, Stanton has had a difficult time staying on the field. Over the last two seasons, Stanton has only played in 239 of a possible 324 games. If Stanton is going to take a step up into the elite list of players, Stanton has to be able to put together a complete season. If he can do that, the numbers will be there for Stanton and the Marlins.

New York Mets – Who’s on First?

The Mets have tried to come up with a solution about what to do at first base all winter, yet it seems that they are right back at he beginning. They couldn’t find any takers for Ike Davis and Lucas Duda, looking not to just get rid of one of them but also seeking a decent player in return. With both in camp, it seems as if there will be an open competition to see who is on first come Opening Day for the Mets. I don’t think that there is room on the 25-man roster for both, with Josh Satin serving as the right-handed back up and either Davis or Duda unable to play any other position. Hopefully, one of the left-handed power hitters is able to establish himself in Spring Training and win the job. If not, look for the Mets to try playing Daniel Murphy there, with Eric young Jr. moving to second base and hitting leadoff.

Philadelphia Phillies – Does the aging roster have one more run in them?

Here are the ages of what would seem like the lineup on Opening Day:

C – Carlos Ruiz 35

1B – Ryan Howard 34

2B – Chase Utley 35

3B – Cody Asche 23

SS – Jimmy Rollins 35

LF – Dominic Brown 26

CF – Ben Revere 25

RF- Marlon Byrd 36

That’s five players who the Phillies are looking to be everyday guys that are 34 or older. If the Phillies have one more run in them, 2014 might have to be the year to do it.

Washington Nationals – Can the Nationals put it all together and make a run at the World Series?

The Nationals entered 2013 as a favorite to win not just the NL East, but to represent the National League in the World Series. As 2013 came to a close, the Nationals were in discussion for the biggest disappointment of the year, finishing behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, winning only 86 games. The Nationals have a new manager in Matt Williams and most of their roster returning in 2014. The expectations have not diminished. If anything, the pressure has increased. Look for the Nationals to be discussed with the Dodgers and Cardinals for the best team in the National League entering 2014.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs – Where is the pitching going to come from?

If Opening Day was today, the Cubs rotation would consist of Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Rusin, and Jake Arrieta. In 2013, the starting rotation finished 10th in the NL in fWAR and, which isn’t terrible, but has to be better in order to compete with the likes of the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds. With a ton of position prospects on the way, the Cubs need to find a way to upgrade their talent on the mound.

Cincinnati Reds – Can Billy Hamilton get on base enough to allow his speed to play everyday?

If you were fortunate enough to see the limited time that Billy Hamilton played last September, you could easily see how much of a game changer he can be with his speed. With Shin-Shoo Choo leaving Cincinnati for Texas, the Reds need Hamilton to play everyday. Not only do the Reds need Hamilton to play everyday, they need Hamilton to bat leadoff and get on base at a high clip in front of the likes of Phillips, Votto, and Bruce. With only a .308 OBP in 123 AAA games last year, the Reds have to be concerned that Hamilton is not ready for such a role. Pay attention to his at bats during Spring Training to see if he has improved his ability to control the strike zone.

Milwaukee Brewers – Can Ryan Braun still be Ryan Braun?

If you are a baseball fan, you have heard and seen the saga over the last two years involving Ryan Braun. With the soap opera appearing to be behind him, the question needs to be asked: who is the real Ryan Braun? Is the real Ryan Braun the yearly MVP candidate, or is he something less than that? How will he handle the fans, media, and scrutiny as he tries to repair his image? I actually think Braun will put up another huge year, but it will be interesting to see how his Spring Training goes for him.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Is there enough talent to take the next step?

The Pirates were the best story in baseball last year, not only having a winning season, but making the playoffs, beating the Reds in the Wild Card round, and playing a tough series against the mighty Cardinals. Now that the Pirates have jumped back into baseball relevancy, do they have enough to take the next step and get into an NLCS? Can the pitching, which had the 3rd best ERA in all of baseball, put together another solid year? Is there enough of a lineup to support Andrew McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP? Can the bullpen be as dominant as they were a year ago? As good as 2013, there are a lot of questions about the Pirates going into 2014. Spring Training will begin to answer some of them.

St. Louis Cardinals – Does Oscar Taveras find a spot in the Opening Day lineup?

If you pay attention to prospect lists, Oscar Taveras has been near the top of many lists for some time now. If he has a good Spring Training, he will only add to what appears to be one of the better lineups in the National League going into 2014. If he does make the team out of Spring Training, there may be a logjam in the Cardinals lineup, as Allen Craig and Matt Adams would both not be able to be in the same lineup with Tavares. If Tavares is ready come Opening Day, it will be interesting to see how the Cardinals handle all of the depth that they have accumulated.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks – Who is the Opening Day shortstop?

In 2013, Didi Gregorius had a respectable rookie campaign. Hitting .252/.332/.373 and showing his athleticism in the field, it seemed as though the Diamondbacks may have found a shortstop for the next couple of years. However, though Gregorius’ numbers were respectable for a rookie, he faded in the second half, only hitting .207 in comparison to .275 in the first half. In addition, Arizona has prospect Chris Owings, who was MVP of the Pacific Coast League in 2013, ready for the big leagues. Arizona said it will be an open competition in spring. To me, this will be one of the most interesting position battles to watch this spring.

Colorado Rockies – Can Carolos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki stay healthy?

When healthy, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki combine for one of the top duos in all of baseball. The problem has been keeping them both on the field. Listed below are the number of games played for both Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki since 2011:

 

2011

2012

2013

Carlos Gonzalez

127

135

110

Troy Tulowitzki

143

47

126

The ability to stay on the field for both will not get easier. Combined with getting older, both players play a demanding defensive position, with Tulowitzki playing shortstop and Gonzalez likely to play centerfield after the Rockies traded Dexter Fowler to the Astros. If the Rockies have any chance to compete in the West, they need 140+ games from both Gonzalez and Tulowitzki. The goal in Spring Training should be making sure their two franchise pieces are healthy for Opening Day.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Who starts in the outfield?

This is well documented but does not mean that it isn’t worth talking about. The Dodgers, one of the pre-season favorites to get to the World Series, have four outfielders (Matt Kemp, Andre Either, Yasiel Puig, and Carl Crawford) for three spots. The Dodgers do not have to worry about this right away, as it seems that Matt Kemp will not be ready for the start of the season. However, if Kemp proves that he is healthy and can get back his MVP level production, the Dodgers have to decide who will be the fourth outfielder. It will be interesting to see if the Dodgers explore trading one of the four outfielders if Kemp can show that he is healthy.

San Diego Padres – Can Josh Johnson regain his form?

The Padres are hoping that this is the year that they can take a step forward and contend for a playoff spot. If they are going to do that, they need Josh Johnson to regain his form from when he was dominant with the Marlins. When Johnson was healthy, he dominated hitters with a heavy sinker and sharp slider. The problem with Johnson is that he has not been able to stay healthy. Having had a miserable couple of seasons, does Johnson have anything left that resembles his once dominant form? Keep an eye on his Spring Training outings to see how he is coming along.

San Francisco Giants – Can the starting pitching turn it around?

The Giants, built around their pitching, were 13th in the NL in ERA for starting rotations with a 4.37 ERA. After winning 2 of the last 3 World Series, the Giants staff couldn’t seem to get on track. With the addition of Tim Hudson, the Giants staff is experienced. With Cain, Bumgarner, Lincecum, Hudson, and Vogelsong, the Giants have what seems to be a rotation that will allow them to compete for at least a Wild Card spot. However, they will have to right themselves after their disappointing 2013. Keep an eye on how the staff progresses throughout Spring Training, specifically Hudson, who is coming off a bad ankle injury.

 

Top 10 Third Basemen

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be looking at the best players at each position. Much like the shows airing on MLB Network, there are many different ways to rank players. Mick and I both will look at different stats as well as what we have seen to come up with our lists. The next position that we will be taking a look at is Third Base, a position that is loaded with premier talent.

10. Chase Headley, SD 3.6 fWAR, 113 wRC+, .250/.347/.400, 7 UZR

When looking at Chase Headley, the question is which player are you going to get? In 2012, he had an MVP caliber season with 31 Home Runs and 115 RBI while supporting a 7.2 fWAR. His 2013 campaign was not as impressive as his power and average numbers dropped dramatically. Headley is still worthy of being in the top 10 due to his 2012 season with the idea that he can get close to those numbers again. I expect Headley’s 2014 season to be somewhere in between his 2012 and 2013 numbers.

9. Chris Johnson, ATL 2.8 fWAR, 127 wRC+, .321/.358/.457, -6.6 UZR

Chris Johnson’s first full season in Atlanta was a success as he had a very solid season. The Braves dealt Martin Prado in the offseason to acquire Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks, because they felt Johnson could handle the everyday duties of third base. He finished second in the National League in batting average on an Atlanta Braves squad that hit under .250 as a team. Johnson is a solid hitter and one of the few hitters on the Braves that can consistently hit.

8. Martin Prado, ARI 2.4 fWAR, 103 wRC +, .282/.333/.417, 2.7 UZR

Prado had his first season not part of Atlanta since he came into the big leagues in 2006. Prado is a player that I really like because he is a solid defender and a good hitter.  He is a contact hitter as he only had an 8 percent strikeout rate but can also provide some power. He is also an above average defender as he had a 2.7 ultimate zone rating. The one concern I have with Prado is his 7.1 percent walk rate is low and puts a lot of pressure on him to get on base via a hit.

7. Pedro Alvarez, PIT 3.1 fWAR, 111 wRC+, .233/.296/.473, -.3 UZR

There is no question that Alvarez is one of the best power hitters in baseball. He has produced two straight seasons of 30+ Home Runs and had his first 100 RBI season. The concern with Alvarez is his low batting average and his low OBP. He also strikes out 30 percent of his at-bats. The Pirates need Alvarez to produce runs and that is exactly what he does. Alvarez has improved his defense as his UZR has improved by almost 10 points from the 2012 season. I expect him to have another big season if the Pirates want to go back to the Postseason.

6. Ryan Zimmerman, WSH 3 fWAR, 125 wRC+, .275/.344/.465/ -14 UZR

Zimmerman is one of the most consistent offensive players in baseball. When healthy, he will hit from .280 to .290, hit 25 home runs, and drive in around 80-100 runs. What was strange about Zimmerman’s 2013 campaign was that he had a horrible defensive season. In the past, he has been known as a sure-handed third baseman, but it appeared Zimmerman had the yips when it came to making a throw across the diamond. I fully expect him to get back to his solid defense and have another solid offensive season, and lead the Nationals to a division title.

5. Manny Machado, BAL 6.2 fWAR, 101 wRC+, .283/.314/.432, 31.2 UZR

There is no doubt Machado is one of the best young talents in the game. The 21 year-old has excellent bat control and will win a batting title in the next couple of years. I expect his power to continue to increase as he fills out his frame and continues to learn how to hit. Defensively, Machado is a fielding wizard. He has the best arm of all the third basemen in the big leagues and has incredible hands for the hot corner. He won his first gold glove in 2013 and it definitely will not be his last. Machado had knee surgery in the offseason to repair a torn meniscus but could be ready for opening day. Expect Machado to keep getting better and solidify himself as one of the game’s best.

4. Josh Donaldson, OAK 7.7 fWAR, 148 wRC+, .301/.384/.499, 9.9 UZR

In his first full season in the big leagues, Donaldson had a huge year for the AL West Champion Oakland Athletics. Not only did Donaldson have the highest fWAR among third basemen, but he had the third highest fWAR in all of baseball. Donaldson is not a big guy as he is only 6’0”, but he has a big swing that produced 24 Home Runs while playing half of his games in the spacious Oakland Coliseum. He is also an elite defender at the hot corner with a 9.9 UZR, which ranks 5th among third basemen. I expect Donaldson to have another big year as he is entering his age 28 season.

3. David Wright, NYM 6 fWAR, 155 wRC+, .307/.390/.514, 3.7 UZR

There is no doubt that David Wright is one of the premier players in baseball. The face of the New York Mets has been one of the best players in the game for the last 9 years. I am a big David Wright fan and wanted to put him at # 2 on my list, but in two of the last three years he has missed at least 50 games. When Wright is on the field, he is a terrific hitter who can hit for average and has benefited from the shorter fences at Citi Field. The Mets are a team that is on the rise, and they will need a healthy David Wright if they want to continue to move in the right direction.

2. Adrian Beltre, TEX 5.2 fWAR, 135 wRC+, .315/.371/.509, -1.2 UZR

Beltre is one of the true gamers in baseball. He is a guy you can pencil in the lineup every day even if he has a small injury. Many people were skeptical when the Rangers gave him a long term deal, but Beltre has proven he has been worth every penny. In his 3 seasons in Texas, he is top 10 in cumulative fWAR as he has put together 3 straight 30 Home Run seasons. Beltre has proven to be one of the toughest hitters to strike out with his 11.3 percent strike out rate. Beltre has had an excellent career and if he continues tearing the cover of the ball for a couple more seasons, he will be on his way to a Hall of Fame career.

1. Evan Longoria, TB 6.8 fWAR, 133 wRC+, .269/.343/.498, 14.6 UZR

Evan Longoria is one of the most valuable players in Major League Baseball. When he is in the Rays lineup, they are a completely different team. In 2012, Longoria suffered a hamstring injury and only played in 74 games and the Rays hit .240 as a team. In 2013, Longoria played 160 games and the Rays hit .257 as a team. Now Longoria isn’t the only reason why the Rays team averaged jumped almost 20 points, but there is no question that teams have to pitch the Rays differently when Longoria is in the middle of their lineup. Longoria is a terrific power hitter, a great defender, and one of the game’s best leaders.

Mick

For more of our thoughts on all things baseball as well as updates on new posts, follow us on Twitter at @StormsBros.

 

Top 10 Second Basemen

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be looking at the best players at each position. Much like the shows airing on MLB Network, there are many different ways to rank players. Mick and I both will look at different stats as well as what we have seen to come up with our lists. The next position that we will be taking a look at is Second Base.

10. Marco Scutaro, SF 2.7 fWAR, 111 wRC+, .297/.357/.369, -7 DRS

Scutaro was a key piece to San Francisco’s World Series run in 2012. After hitting .500 in the NLCS, Scutaro had the game-winning hit in Game 4 of the World Series to give San Francisco its second title in three years. In 2013, Scutaro put together another solid season at the plate. Scutaro’s strength is his ability to make contact. Last year, he only struck out in 6.2% of his at bats, the second best rate in all of baseball. In today’s game where strikeouts are frequent, having a guy with the ability to make contact can be so important for a line-up. Entering his age 38 season, look for Scutaro to continue to be an asset in the 2-hole for the Giants.

9. Jedd Gyorko, SD 2.5 fWAR, 110 wRC+, .249/.301/.444,  -1 DRS

Jedd Gyorko had a strong rookie season for the Padres in 2013. Gyorko led all NL second basemen in home runs with 23. Finishing 6th in NL Rookie of the Year voting last year, Gyorko will look to continue to establish himself as a power threat for the Padres in 2014. If the Padres are going to have any chance to contend in a tough NL West, Gyorko’s power will be play a big role.

8. Neil Walker, PIT 2.7 fWAR, 114 wRC+, .251/.339/.418, +9 DRS

Walker has established himself as one of the more reliable second basemen in the National League. He is a player that doesn’t do anything outstanding, but does everything really well. Walker’s .251 batting average can be attributed to a .274 BABIP, well below his career .312 BABIP. Look for Walker to be a consistent presence in the Pirates lineup in 2014.

7. Ian Kinsler, DET 2.5 fWAR, 105 wRC+, .277/.344/.413,  +11 DRS

Ian Kinsler enters an important year in his career. Entering his age 32 season, Kinsler has had two consecutive years where his OPS hasn’t been above .757, in comparison to his first six seasons where his average OPS was .822. On top of the slight decline in production, Kinsler will enter 2014 with a new organization, as Texas traded him to Detroit in a November blockbuster that saw the Rangers acquire left-handed slugger Prince Fielder. Will the change of scenery help? Will the bigger ballpark lead to a bigger decrease in production? There is no question about it, this is a big year for the thee-time all-star.

6. Aaron Hill, ARI 2.0 fWAR, 124 wRC+, .291/.356/.462,  -9 DRS

Hill had a solid season in 2013, but was a bit unfortunate as well. Hill suffered a broken hand a couple of weeks into the season, costing him more than two months of his 2013 season.  Despite only playing in 87 games, Hill had a strong season at the plate. If he can stay healthy in 2014, look for Hill to have a strong offensive season for the Diamondbacks.

5. Chase Utley, PHI 3.9 fWAR, 126 wRC+, .284/.348/.475, -4 DRS

Over the last four seasons, Utley has not played in more than 131 games in a season due to various knee injuries. It really is a shame, because Utley is one of the best left-handed hitters in the game when he is on the field. Entering his age 35 season, it will be interesting to see if Utley can play in 125 games. If he can stay on the field, he will give the Phillies a dynamic bat in a lineup full of question marks.

4. Ben Zobrist, TB 5.4 fWAR, 115 wRC+, .275/.354/.402, +7 DRS

I wasn’t sure if I was going to include Zobrist on this list because he plays all over the diamond. But considering he played 125 games at second, I think I had to include him. Zobrist is the ultimate weapon for Manager Joe Maddon, giving him the roster flexibility that he needs to get the best lineup on the field for that given day and matchup. Not only is Zobrist extremely versatile in the number of positions he can play, but he is also extremely productive. Since 2011, Zobrist ranks sixth among all hitters in baseball with a 17.5 fWAR, just behind the likes of Votto, Cano, McCutchen, Cabrera, and Trout. Though he may not get mentioned among those names, Zobrist is truly one of the most valuable players in all of baseball.

3. Jason Kipnis, CLE 4.5 fWAR, 130 wRC+, .284/.366/.452, -1 DRS

Kipnis put together a strong 2013 season for the surprise 92-win Cleveland Indians. Batting third for the majority of the season, Kipnis lead the Indians in hits, runs, runs batted in, and stolen bases. Though only average with the glove, Kipnis is one of the most productive second basemen offensively, ranking fourth among all second basemen with a 130 wRC+. Look for Kipnis to build off his strong 2013 and have the Indians in the hunt for another wild card berth.

2. Dustin Pedroia, BOS 5.4 fWAR, 115 wRC+, .301/.372/.415, 15 DRS

To me, Pedroia is the ultimate gamer. The guy just loves to play the game of baseball. In last year’s World Series, I will never forget the play Pedroia made before the controversial obstruction call that ended game three. The dive, the abiity to pick the short hop, the ability to get up and make the strong throw to home. It’s a shame that his effort on the play gets overlooked because of the chaos that ensued shortly after. The heart and soul of the Red Sox, Pedrioa had a very solid season last year despite the torn ligament in his thumb that occurred on opening day. Look for Pedrioa to continue to be Pedrioa in 2014, grinding out at bats, taking major hacks, and playing the best defensive second base in all of baseball.

1. Robinson Cano, SEA 6.0 fWAR, 142 wRC+, .314/.383/.516, 6 DRS

There are not many smoother things in all of baseball than Cano’s left-handed swing.  Since 2010, Cano’s wRC+  has been 143, 134, 149, and 142 in each of those four seasons. In addition to the offensive production, Cano is also one of the best defenders in the game, making some of the toughest plays look so easy and effortless. It will be interesting to see how the change of scenery affects Cano. Will he have enough around him to continue to get pitches to hit? Will he be able to resurrect a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since 2009 and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2001? Will Cano be able to maintain a place in baseball’s spotlight outside of New York, or will he be a forgotten man playing on the West Coast? Only time will tell, but it will be interesting to see what happens this summer in Seattle.

TS