Continuing with TheSportNotebook’s analysis of the 2012 baseball season, we will take a look at some of the players that will surprise you. Last season, we had guys like Alex Avila, Michael Pineda, Jair Jurrjens, Matt Kemp, and James Shields all taking the league by storm and completely obliterating the expectations set for them.
Avila aided the Tigers in their run into the postseason by having a breakout 2011 campaign, batting .285 with 19 HR’s and 82 RBI’s. He definitely got a lot more time behind the plate, possibly giving him the confidence he needed to contribute to the lineup. Michael Pineda swept the northwest by coming out and putting together a terrific rookie season. He only had 9 wins, but had a sub-4 ERA, with a .211 BAA (batting average against), 4th in the American League. Jair Jurrjens was absolutely lights out until he went down with injury. He went 13-6 with a sub-3 ERA. He was a large reason why Atlanta had so much success last year, and is it coincidence that Atlanta began their fatal collapse around the same time that Jurrjens went to the DL? Matt Kemp had by far the best numbers of anyone last year. He was .013, in batting average from being the NL Triple Crown winner. He led the National League in HR’s with 39 and led MLB in RBI’s with 126. James Shields was probably the biggest surprise out of anybody. There were several years of struggle for Shields before he finally reached his potential in 2011. We all knew he had the stuff, but for some reason he couldn’t put it all together. Last season, he finally got his command back, his changeup was supercharged, and his stamina was unmatched. Shields posted 11 complete games, tops in the league.
The 2011 season definitely had its fair share of drama and heroic endings, but 2012 has a completely different outlook. We had our fair share of players contributing to the storyline but 2012 will have a new crop of people leading their teams to the coveted Series. Here is the list of five players that look to finally have that breakout season or get back on track after seasons of diminished expectations.
1. Adam Dunn – 1B/DH, Chicago White Sox – A man that’s known for his power, Dunn has hit 25 or more home runs in 9 of his last 11 seasons. The exceptions are 2008 when he played only 44 games in Arizona, hitting 8, and last season with the White Sox, hitting only 11. He posted a .159 BA in 122 games. Dunn posted a career low .569 OPS in 2011 after having an .800 or higher his entire career. He may strike out a lot but that OPS is indicative that he can also get on base (or around them). He was quoted by Yahoo! Sports as saying that he is seeing the ball well this spring and is touted by many as a Comeback Player of the Year candidate.
2. Brandon Beachy – SP, Atlanta Braves – Beachy is looking to breakout this season after only posting 7 wins in 25 attempts last year. He did have a strikeout ratio of 10.7 per nine innings which led the Major Leagues. With Atlanta’s recent injury problems in the rotation, Beachy will be expected to carry the load and win more games for the Braves. There is no reason that Beachy will not post the numbers that can move him into the upper echelon of pitchers this season. With that strikeout ratio, Beachy should be able to reach at least 15 wins and substantially lower his ERA.
3. Brett Lawrie – 3B, Toronto Blue Jays – With protection coming in the form of Jose Bautista, there is no reason that Lawrie should not be able to put up top 20 offensive numbers. The situation here is a little Prince-Fielder/Ryan Braun-esque, where Fielder provided Braun with protection in the lineup and allowed him to blossom into the great hitter he is. Not to say that Lawrie needs protection, but it does allow for him to put balls in play greatly increasing his odds of adding to the scoreboard. Lawrie is capable of posting a 30/30 season, but not just yet. In 2011, we saw Lawrie play in 43 games, posting a .293 BA, with 9 HR’s, 31 RBI’s, and 7 stolen bases. If Lawrie were to continue at this pace for 2012, we could see him surpass 35 HR, 120 RBI, and steal about 30 bases.
4. Joe Nathan – CP, Texas Rangers – We have to remember that Nathan is only two years removed from his 47-save season with Minnesota in 2009. Nathan had surgery in 2010 and returned for the 2011 season and struggled. He posted only 14 saves with a 4.34 ERA while going 44.2 innings. Nathan did get it together about halfway through the season as he went 27.1 innings with a 3.29 ERA and a 26/5 K/BB ratio. There is reason to believe that Nathan will be more than able to rebound from a down year and post numbers close to what he was putting up before surgery. He is 38 and has had surgery, but about 35 saves and a sub-3 ERA is not out of the realm of possibility. The Rangers are hoping the $14 million used on Nathan will pay off, as they’ve moved Neftali Feliz to the rotation.
5. Allen Craig – OF, St. Louis Cardinals – Allen Craig has been able to consistently put up numbers even with limited Major League play. In the 2011 regular season, Craig played in 75 games and batted .315 with 11 HR and 40 RBI. What’s more impressive is the .917 OPS that he put up. Craig is an absolute masher and proved it during the 2011 postseason tallying 4 HR and 8 RBI. Because of knee surgery, however, Craig is expected to miss about a month to open the season. Once he returns, we can expect him to continue his success. He has yet to play a full season and will not in 2012, but he is capable of putting up huge numbers if given 120 or so games. Look for him to post somewhere around 25 dingers with around 90 RBI, even with limited action. Allen Craig is the real deal, a lot of people just haven’t caught onto that yet.
Honorable Mentions – Johan Santana , Brandon Belt, Francisco Liriano, Andrew Bailey, and Colby Rasmus
-Will Fairbanks is the owner and contributor to The Educated Sports Fan, a blog offering analysis and opinion for all things MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, and NCAA.