What if every team in baseball was one player away from becoming a championship caliber team? The following list of players aren’t necessarily ones that are expected to carry their teams to the promised land, but they could provide the key performances that elevate their teams to new heights.
New York Yankees – RHP Phil Hughes. The Yanks rotation is better than it used to be, but still has question marks. Is Michael Pineda the first half or second half version of himself? Can Hiroki Kuroda pitch away from the pitcher friendly confines of Southern California or in the AL? If Hughes returns to top form, I’d be convinced the Yankees rotation would hold up.
Tampa Bay Rays – IF/OF Sean Rodriguez. Rodriguez posted impressive power numbers in the minor leagues and has the ability to hit 20 HR’s and steal 20 bases as the Rays starting SS. In a lineup that lacks consistent punch he could be the all-around offensive threat that puts Tampa Bay back in the playoffs
Boston Red Sox – RHP Daniel Bard. A lot is riding on Bard’s performance in the rotation. He wasn’t necessarily a successful starter in the minors and may only be so dominant in the majors because of his high 90’s heat, but such transitions are becoming more common as of late. Could a heavier workload and longer outing make him ineffective, or can Bard make the successful transition to a rotation?
Toronto Blue Jays – RHP Brandon Morrow. The Jays bullpen is deep enough and their offensive has enough firepower to compete in the AL East. Their rotation has a lot of potential, but not a lot of guaranteed production. If Morrow can stay healthy and keep his walks down, he could turn into a front of the rotation starter.
Baltimore Orioles – LHP Zach Britton. There’s a lot of projection left in Britton, who hasn’t had the easiest time dealing with major league hitters so far. But it should only be a matter of time before he settles in as a solid mid-rotation starter and hopefully stabilizes a potentially lethal Baltimore pitching staff.
Detroit Tigers – RHP Jacob Turner. Turner still has a lot to learn about pitching and will more than likely chased in the early innings by major league hitters this year. But someday soon, he’s going to be a nice complimentary piece to a Tigers rotation that doesn’t stack up with other contenders just yet.
Cleveland Indians – LHP Ubaldo Jimenez. It’s been a full year and a few ticks on the radar gun since Jimenez was a Cy Young candidate. The Indians are already having injury problems, but if Ubaldo returns to form, Cleveland would have a worthy counter to divisional ace Justin Verlander. That could help keep them in the AL Central race all season long.
Chicago White Sox – RF Dayan Viciedo. It’s been a couple seasons since the White Sox landed the heralded Cuban defector. He isn’t the athlete everyone thought he’d be, but Dayan has refined his approach every year in the minors. Viciedo’s ability to drive the ball with authority could propel a White Sox offense that sputtered under the enormity of Adam Dunn’s failures in 2011.
Kansas City Royals – RHP Aaron Crow. Crow’s performance as a starter in his brief stint in the minors was just short of disastrous. The only good thing you could really say about it is he didn’t get hurt and has pretty decent stuff. He proved in 2011 to be capable of getting hitters out in a relief role, but will be transitioning back to the rotation for 2012. Hopefully this time around his ERA will be under five.
Minnesota Twins – 1B Justin Morneau. I’d like to tell you that there’s some young stud that can burst onto the scene in Minnesota and lead them back into the thick of the race, but this simply isn’t the case. The Twins chances of regaining the AL Central title fall squarely upon the shoulders of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Mauer is back healthy, and now Morneau needs to shake off the after-effects of a nasty concussion and return to form. It would be a shame to see such an insanely talented ball player be forced into retirement in the middle of his prime.
Texas Rangers – RHP Neftali Feliz. Their divisional rivals took their ace in an attempt the regain control of the division and now Texas is left with a bunch of 5th starters and question marks. But some of those question marks look a lot like exclamation points, and by that poorly phrased metaphor I mean they are exciting. Specifically Yu Darvish and Neftali Feliz. Darvish has been a successful starter (though not in America yet) but Feliz hasn’t proven capable of handling such a workload since AA. Will Feliz still be effective when his fastball drops into the mid to low 90’s later in games or during the summer stretch?
Los Angeles Angels – 1B/DH Kendrys Morales. The effectiveness of the new and improved Angels will ultimately come down to one man, Kendrys Morales. Everyone already knows Albert Pujols can carry an offense, but the only way this team consistently scores enough runs to win is if Morales is at full strength. When he’s healthy, Morales a .300-30 HR type of hitter. But he hasn’t played a game in close to two years.
Oakland Athletics – OF Yoenis Cespedes. Let’s be honest, Oakland’s offense is terrible, and it probably didn’t get much better when they added Seth Smith and Josh Reddick to the roster. This is a team that’s still a few years away from truly competing. But if Cespedes is as good as his terribly cheesy youtube videos attempt to convince us he is, then he could propel the A’s offense the same way Matt Kemp literally carries the Dodgers.
Seattle Mariners – OF Trayvon Robinson. Once the jewel of the Dodgers minor league system, Robinson was unceremoniously shipped off to Seattle in a head-scratcher of a deal. Robinson doesn’t have a starting spot with the M’s just yet, but he’s a 5-tool type of player that’s dynamic enough to usher in a new era in Seattle. If he plays his way into the starting lineup and cuts down on the K’s, Robinson could prove to be an unbelievably valuable pickup for the Mariners.