Jake’s Take on the MLB

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Breakout candidates:

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            Jason Heyward (Atlanta Braves)- The two most important things you need to know about the J-Hey Kid is that Baseball America slotted him above Stephen Strasburg in their 2010 prospect rankings and before his first legal drink, Heyward posted a triple slash of .277/.393/.456 with 18 home runs as a 20-year-old.

            Heyward struggled in 2011 and it can largely be attributed to a shoulder injury that caused him to alter his swing mechanics in an attempt to stay on the field. He claims he’s healthy entering the 2012 campaign, and the 6 foot 5 inch bohemian dropped 20 pounds this off season. Always nice when a young guy stays committed in the off season.          Stats in the range of a .285 average, 25 home runs, and 90 RBI’s are likely for the young stud.

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Addison Reed (Chicago White Sox) – With former closer Sergio Santos slamming the door in Toronto, the gig is up for grabs in Chicago. Reed, along with lefty Matt Thornton, are the clear frontrunners.

            Sporting a lethal fastball slider combo, Reed blew away hitters at every level in the minor leagues the past two years. Over five minor league stops in 2010 and 2011, Reed never posted an ERA above 1.80, a K/9 below 11.81, or a BB/9 above 2.61.

            It’s no surprise that he was named the Minor League Reliever of the Year in 2011.

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Matt Moore (Tampa Bay Rays) – Another gem to come out of the Rays’ farm system.    Moore is ranked No. 1 on Baseball America’s top 100 list for 2012 after the 22-year-old posted a 1.92 ERA over 155 minor league innings last year. He also struck out 210 batters while only walking 46 – a ratio many of the games best pitchers can’t match.          Moore’s early success has left some predicting he will overtake the No.1 spot in the rotation from David Price in the near future.

            Manager Joe Maddon said about the youngster’s change-up that, “David relies on other offspeed pitches, but I don’t know if he has one as devastating as Matt does.”     In addition to his change-up, the lefty throws a curveball and a fastball averaging just under 96 mph in his brief stint on the Rays last September.

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Lorenzo Cain (Kansas City Royals)- The key piece that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee, Lorenzo Cain finally gets a shot at every-day playing time in 2012.

            At 26-years-old he is a little older than most minor league players with his type of track record, and, as a result, should hit the ground running on an up-and-coming Royals squad.

            He’s always possessed speed and during his 2010 and 2011 campaigns, Cain kept his average above .310. He also displayed developing power last year, hitting 16 home runs and 28 doubles in 487 at-bats.

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Andrew Cashner (San Diego Padres)- Once one of the most dominant closers in college baseball at TCU, Cashner fell victim to a Cubs organization in desperate need of a starting pitching for the 2011 campaign.

            Early in the season, the Cashner strained his rotator cuff and subsequently missed most of the year. Now in San Diego, Cashner transitions back to the bullpen where he can pitch in the role best suited for his skill-set and arm’s well-being.

            So far, so good this spring. In his eight innings of spring training, Cashner posted a 1.13 ERA with 11 strikeouts. Against the Mariners he averaged more than 102 miles per hour on his fastball.

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John Mayberry (Philadelphia Phillies) – The former nineteenth overall pick received his first chance at the MLB level last year and did not disappoint.

            Posting a .273/.341/.513 line with 15 home runs in 267 at-bats, Mayberry likely earned himself an every day job in 2012, at least until Ryan Howard returns. At 6 feet 6 inches and 230 pounds with speed, the sky is the limit for this late-bloomer.

            Former Phillies pitcher Mitch Williams referred to Mayberry as “the next Jayson Werth waiting to happen.” The similarities are certainly there, both Werth and Mayberry were blessed with exciting raw power and speed but took longer to develop than expected.    They also started their MLB careers as platoon players and forced themselves into more playing time. We’ll see if Mayberry enjoys the same type of success Werth did when he first earned regular playing time.

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Award Predictions:

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AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez – Came into his own as a hitter in 2011. If he can duplicate the power he showed in the pitcher friendly Petco Park in 2012 he could run away with the award.

NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki – Just entering his prime at 27-years-old the Rockies shortstop has already averaged 30 homers and a .300 average the last three seasons. Has a cannon that would make Jack Sparrow envious.

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez – When a 3.47 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in the American League are disappointments you know you’re good. He has already thrown 200 innings in each of the past four seasons and he is still only 25.

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw – The stats he put up as a 23-year-old were outstanding. 21 wins, 248 strikeouts, a 2.28 ERA, and a 0.98 WHIP are hard to argue against.

AL Champions: New York Yankees – Pains me to say it but they’re just too good. Offense is deeper than any other and they added Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda to bolster their rotation. Best bullpen in baseball.

NL champion: Atlanta Braves – In a now overrated NL East the Braves are shoo-ins to make the playoffs and boast one of the best rotations and bullpens in the game.

World Series Champions: New York Yankees – There simply aren’t any holes on this team and they have the prospects and money to bring in a masher to fill their DH spot at the deadline if need be.