Early picks: Yankees, Phillies the class of 2010
The frost has barely melted and that wonderful time of year known as Spring Training is less than a month away from kicking in.
It’s a bit early to make in-depth predictions, but most of the contending teams are entering camp with a good idea of what their starting nine is going to look like. Keeping that in mind, I’ve given some early predictions and pointed toward some studs to look for in 2010.
AL East: It’s hard to bet against the Yankees. Curtis Granderson is a definite upgrade on Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner, despite Granderson’s down year in 2009. A solid rotation — albeit a bit injury prone — and continued dominance from the pen could give the Yanks their second AL East championship in as many years. Look for the Rays to improve quite a bit, though.
No team in baseball performed as far under their Pythagorean as the Rays last season. It’ll take turnarounds from B.J. Upton and Pat Burrell, plus solid seasons from Wade Davis and David Price, but the Rays look to be a top-3 team in the AL.
Top-3 prospect in all of baseball OF Desmond Jennings getting the promotion this year won’t hurt, either.
Division MVP: Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays
Watch out for: Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles
AL Central: A bunch of mediocre teams battling it out until the last day of the season makes for great baseball. Despite the emergence of Joe Mauer as a perpetual MVP candidate, I can’t call the Twins the division favorites just yet. The White Sox rotation of Jake Peavy, Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd and John Danks is just plain scary, but their offense leaves much to the imagination. Wild prediction: The Indians finally pull together a string of solid starts and take the division behind Grady Sizemore, Matt LaPorta and Shin-Soo Choo.
Division MVP: Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins
Watch out for:
Austin Jackson, CF, Detroit Tigers
AL West: For the first time in more years than I can remember, the 2010 Angels don’t look to be the tops in the West. The Angels signed Hideki Matsui to man the outfield with Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu, which raised the average age of an already elderly corps. The Mariners, however, have made a significant batch of upgrades, including Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley and Casey Kotchman. Add their offensive additions to a rotation with Felix Hernandez, Ryan Rowland-Smith and perhaps a finally healthy Erik Bedard, and the Mariners look pretty good.
Division MVP: Cliff Lee, P, Seattle Mariners
Watch out for: Neftali Feliz, RP, Texas Rangers
NL East: Sorry, but for the second or third year in a row, this looks like a one-man show. The Phillies are still the class of the NL, and until the Mets look to get younger and solidify their rotation they’re not going to compete. Fortunately, rebound years from David Wright and a full and healthy team will at least make the Mets respectable. Hard to see them do anything but battle Florida for third-place, though.
Division MVP: Roy Halladay, P, Philadelphia Phillies (He was that good in the AL … just think about the damage he’ll cause in the NL.)
Watch out for: Stephen Strasburg, P, Washington Nationals
NL Central: Another year in one of the most predictable divisions in baseball is probably going to end just as predictable as last year: Cardinals win the division, Cubs underperform, Pirates and Astros remain terrible.
St. Louis has one of the strongest rotations in baseball (assuming Carpenter and Wainwright stay healthy) and no matter how bad the offense is, Albert Pujols will again be the only bat worth mentioning. The Reds may actually pull it together this year, but don’t bet your life on it. Big years by Homer Bailey, Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto could rival the Cards in terms of rotation dominance.
Division MVP: Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals (Who else?)
Watch out for: Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
NL West: Brad Hawpe has silently become one of the league’s best right fielders, and behind an underrated offense that includes Troy Tulowitzki, Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez and Todd Helton, look for the Rockies to take the West.
The Giants may end up with the best rotation in the bigs, however, if their cards fall in place.
Top prospect Madison Bumgarner is joining Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain in what could be a dominant attack.
If only they had an offense …
Division MVP: Justin Upton, RF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Watch out for: Pablo Sandoval, INF, San Francisco Giants