13 MLB players to watch in 2013

If Jacoby Ellsbury can stay healthy in 2013, expect him to put up big numbers for the Red Sox. (cbssports.com)

As we ring in the new year, here are 13 MLB players to watch as we approach the upcoming 2013 season:

Jacoby Ellsbury

The speedy Red Sox center fielder is coming off another injury-plagued season, but Boston is counting on him to be the superstar he was in 2011, when he finished runner-up in the AL MVP race to Justin Verlander. This is his contract year and Scott Boras is his agent, so if Ellsbury stays healthy, one would expect him to put up big numbers batting leadoff for Boston’s stacked lineup.

Eric Hosmer

After a promising rookie campaign in which he batted .293 with 19 home runs at the tender age of 21, Hosmer endured a sophomore slump in which his batting line dropped to .232/.304/.359. Much of his struggles can be attributed to his .255 BABiP. I have a feeling Hosmer, just  23, will take a big step forward next season as he matures into the Joey Votto clone scouts expected him to be.

Brett Lawrie

Like Hosmer, Toronto’s third baseman displayed flashes of brilliance his rookie year (.953 OPS in 43 games), but underachieved in his second season. Lawrie is even younger than Hosmer (by three months) but is burdened by similarly high expectations (the next Ryan Braun). While Kansas City needs Hosmer to bounce back and help the Royals win, the Blue Jays have surrounded Lawrie with enough fresh talent (Jose  ReyesJosh JohnsonMark BuehrleR.A. Dickey) that he doesn’t have to try to be the savior.

Giancarlo Stanton

Led the majors in slugging percentage last year and hit 37 home runs despite missing a quarter of the season. He’s only 23 but already has established himself as one of the top power hitters in the game. If he stays in Miami, it will be interesting to see how he fares next season with no one to get on base in front of him or drive him home. He’s not going to get as many good pitches to hit, so will he accept more walks/pass the baton or become more aggressive and start chasing pitches out of the zone?

Manny Machado

He was called up in August to supplant Mark Reynolds as Baltimore’s third baseman. While he didn’t exactly set the world on fire, he acquitted himself well at the hot corner while showing promising power for a 20-year-old. The Orioles will fall back to earth next year, but Machado should start taking off.

Miguel Cabrera

What will the first Triple Crown winner since 1967 do for an encore? Continue to mash, of course.

Melky Cabrera

Was his newfound greatness a result of the natural aging curve or a PED-fueled illusion? After enjoying a career year in 2011, the Melk Man played at an MVP level in 2012 before testing positive for high testosterone levels in mid-August. He recently signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, which I consider to be low-risk, high-reward. If he regresses to the player he was prior to 2011, then he’ll be a bit overpaid. But if he can be anything close to the all-star caliber player he’s been the past two years, that contract will go down as a terrific bargain. He’s still just 28 and in his prime.

Edwin Encarnacion

Is this late-bloomer for real like teammate Jose Bautista? Or is he merely a one-hit wonder? I think he’s legit.

Justin Upton

B.J. Upton‘s enigmatic younger brother has been up and down in his big-league career, and his frustrating inconsistencies have caused the Diamondbacks to dangle his name in trade talks. But at 25, he’s just entering his prime and could emerge as the superstar/MVP candidate he’s supposed to be.

Tim Lincecum

The two-time Cy Young winner was one of the league’s worst pitchers in 2012, leading the National League in earned runs and losses. Manager Bruce Bochy moved him to the bullpen in the playoffs, and the former ace pitched brilliantly, helping San Francisco win its second World Series title in three years. He deserves a shot at regaining his starter’s role, but there are doubts he can be an effective workhorse again. I see him rebounding in 2013, but not to ace-levels.

Mariano Rivera

The best closer in the history of baseball is 43 and spent most of 2012 recovering from knee surgery. Can he come back? I’m tempted to say no, but wouldn’t be surprised if the timeless Rivera returns to form.

Kris Medlen

He began last season coming out of Atlanta’s bullpen, but dominated in his brief stint in the starting rotation. Medlen made a dozen starts in 2012 and the Braves won them all. The converted reliever averaged seven innings per start, compiled a microscopic 0.97 ERA and posted an unreal 84/10 K/BB ratio while limiting opponents to .191/.218/.265 figures. Obviously, those numbers are unsustainable, but I don’t think he’s a flash in the pan.

Albert Pujols

After a pair of down seasons in which his walk rate tumbled as he abandoned his trademark plate discipline, it remains to be seen if the Machine can rediscover the patient approach that made him a three-time MVP in St. Louis. He needs to ditch the Vladimir Guerrero impersonation and stop chasing so many pitches outside the strike zone. The Angels have two other elite hitters in Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton, so Pujols shouldn’t press and feel he has to carry the team on his back. He can afford to sit back and take walks, but will he?

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