2013 could be the most exciting year of baseball ever, but not for everyone, such as those players facing increased pressure to perform at a high level this season. Some players are being asked to step up as a result of injuries ahead of them on the depth chart, others are entering make-or-break seasons for new contracts, looking to re-establish their presence or are young players vying to avoid being written off. In this entry, I’ll identify a few players per group, starting with the first two that come to mind.
Asked to Step Up
Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals: Miller has spent the past few seasons as one of the game’s top prospects, but there was a point in 2012 when many wondered if the Texan would ever put it together after a horrid start to the season. As seen in the table below, the 22-year-old corrected his flaws, regained his velocity and went on a dominant stretch before St. Louis rewarded their top pitching prospect with a September call up. Now with Chris Carpenter sidelined for the season and Jaime Garcia’s uncertain status for April, the St. Louis Cardinals will need Shelby Miller to step up for them by grabbing a back-end rotation spot in 2013, but performing at a higher level than that.
Kevin Youkilis, 3B, New York Yankees: With third baseman Alex Rodriguez potentially out for the entire 2013 season, the entire reason Kevin Youkilis was brought in on a one-year, $12 million deal is to fill the void at the hot corner.
Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum began his career as well as anyone could, winning 2 Cy Young awards in his first three seasons and turning in another few fine seasons that seemingly had him poised to become one of the highest paid pitchers in the league. So it wasn’t that crazy for the righty to settle for a two-year, $40.5 million deal as opposed to a five-year, $100 million extension that would have bought out three of his free agency seasons. It didn’t quite work that way, though, as the Washington product struggled mightily in 2012, turning in a career worst strikeout and walk percentage while also losing a few ticks off of his fastball. Lincecum’s been proving doubters wrong since day one with his unorthodox style that have turned in unparalleled success, but he’ll need to do it again in 2013, even if he may never get the long-term deal he once had hoped for.
Jeff Francoeur, RF, Kansas City Royals: Using fWAR (FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement), Jeff Francouer was one of the worst players to take the field in 2012 to the point he was providing negative value to his own team. The kicker is he’s back for another season as the team’s everyday right fielder after Kansas City opted to trade his heir apparent in top prospect Wil Myers and bank on the beloved veteran to provide some level of passable production in 2013. Just about everything will have to go right for the Royals to make the playoffs and it starts with Francouer performing in his walk year. So far, he’s saying all the right things, but he can prove it on the field?
Justin Upton, LF, Atlanta Braves: Ever since Kevin Towers became the Arizona Diamondbacks general manager, Justin Upton found his name in trade rumors on a consistent basis and it was the beginning of the end for the two sides. The relationship became irreparable; before finally finding a landing spot for the 25-year-old Upton, Arizona removed the “Uptown” signs at Chase Field, overcrowded their outfield by signing Cody Ross to a multi-year deal, and lost out on their preferred return package because Upton exercised his limited no-trade clause. With a much needed change of scenery, I expect Justin Upton to re-emerge as a star in 2013 by producing All-Star caliber numbers, meaning he would need to put up a 5 fWAR season.
Melky Cabrera, LF, Toronto Blue Jays: Melky Cabrera hit a ridiculous .346/.390/.516 in 501 plate appearances for the San Francisco Giants in 2012, made it to his first career All-Star game and was on his way to winning the NL batting title. He was doing all this in the final year of his contract, too. Cabrera couldn’t have been in a better situation, that is until the outfielder tested positive for testosterone and received a 50-game suspension as a result. While he still managed to sign a two-year, $16 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, Cabrera undoubtedly lost out on millions of dollars in his deal. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays perhaps made the biggest bargain signing in the offseason.
Don’t Write Me Off
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals: As a 21-year-old, Eric Hosmer showed how good he could be at the plate, batting .293/.334/.465 with 19 home runs in his first season in the big leagues. 2012 was a completely different story, though, as Hosmer joined the aforementioned Jeff Francouer as one of the least valuable players in baseball. There are several theories as to why the Hosmer couldn’t hit a lick last year, ranging from a shoulder injury to being a 22 year old playing everyday at the highest level. But unless Hosmer lost all the tools he possessed that had him projected as a superstar, it’s hard to worry about his putrid sophomore campaign.
Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies: Domonic Brown has been one of the Phillies top prospects for the past few years now, but the team hasn’t exactly showed faith in their corner outfielder. Instead of giving the now 25-year-old a chance, Philadelphia has gone out and signed veteran free agents to take over glaring holes on their roster (see: Juan Pierre, Delmon Young). Spring training performances don’t mean much, but Brown did have this mammoth home run on Tuesday. Maybe this is the year Brown is given his chance to contribute. Maybe.