Chapman dazzled baseball fans when he hit 103 MPH on the gun during his first outing on American soil. It seemed as if the 24-year-old Cuban Missile was destined for greatness. But injury and uncertainty plagued the young lefty early in his career. Although he tossed at speeds that are pretty much unheard of (including a 105 mile per hour pitch, which would be a Major League record), Chapman’s control was a question mark. Many predicted he would be a dominant starter, yet he couldn’t prove it to his own manager, Dusty Baker. And maybe Baker was right after he witnessed his 6-foot-4 hurler walk a disappointing 41 hitters in 50 innings last year.
But Baker better be second guessing what Chapman can do for his club in 2012. After losing out on a back-end of the rotation job to the formerly highly-touted prospect Homer Bailey in Spring Training because of control issues, Baker elected to throw Chapman back into the bullpen. The manager’s decision only proved to be a wake up call for the velocity-driven youngster.
In part nine of Couch Side’s series of the best players in the MLB by position, I’ll take a look at the top five right fielders for 2012.
I grew up playing the undesirable position in legion baseball, but I never let position No. 9 ever bother me. It’s one of the most valuable spots on the diamond, which is why managers choose to place their strongest throwing outfielders in the right corner. Despite Ichiro’s raw fielding ability, the Seattle Mariners never really thought bout placing him in center to chase down balls. His cannon was to valuable. It’s a position that may not get a lot of hype, yet we can never question it’s importance.
Here’s five right fielders in Major League Baseball who show us just how vital right field can be to a big-league club.
When will teams start pitching around this guy? It had better be this year or MVP voters may want to give Jo Baut a little more love. Last season, the 31-year-old set a career high in batting average (.301) while smacking 43 home runs and 103 RBI. In 2010, he easily led the league with 54 homers and 124 RBI. To say the least, this guy is now just entering his prime and he’s doing it loudly. Bautista’s power numbers are somewhat unmatched. Not a single player has belted at least 50 home runs during the past two seasons and maybe only a couple have reached the 40-home run plateau last season. I expect nothing but great things in the future from Bautista. And if he ever gets on an actual contender, his numbers should only improve with more protection in the lineup. (more…)
BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com contributor
As part of The Couch Side’s MLB positional power rankings, we turn to Centerfield, arguably one of the more important positions in the game.
But first, here is my 10-6 to build anticipation
Now onto the cream of the crop, the five best centerfielders in the game right now.
The Braves leadoff hitter split time between Houston and Atlanta last season, and he still led the NL in stolen bases with 61. He’s a fantasy goldmine, simply put. He has two gold gloves in his short career, and rates favorably with his defense. What is he expected to achieve this year? The projection model ZiPS has him hitting .270 with 97 runs scored, and 56 stolen bases. I’ll take that, you’ll take that, and we’ll all take that.
This was a tricky one; Ellsbury in 2011 had a near MVP season at the dish, only to have his teammates do their best to sabotage those efforts, which they did. Assuming the Red Sox won’t self destruct with a montage of alcoholic behavior, and unhealthy food choices, they’ll be back in the postseason, and so will the 4th best centerfielder in baseball. Jacoby had a herculean spike in power last year. The HR totals from his first four healthy seasons look like this,
That’s pretty remarkable, almost Jose Bautista-like. The question of whether or not he has a season close to that production remains to be seen, but it would be hard to believe that his peripherals would enable him to improve on such a feat.
We are well into the 2012 spring training season and continuing with our theme of previewing each position in the big leagues, Brett Murdock turns his attention to the second basemen. Here is what he has to say about the spot.
The diminutive player out of Arizona State may be small in stature, but is possibly the Red Sox’s most important player. He does a little bit of everything and plays with a fiery passion. Pedroia won the AL MVP in only his second full year in the bigs and is also a 3-time All-Star. Last year, he finished with a .307 average with a career high 21 home runs and a .990 fielding percentage, committing only seven errors in 722 defensive chances. He is probably the most complete second basemen in the game.
In part three of Couch Side’s 12 part series on the best position players going into 2012, we’ll take a look at what could be the deepest position in the MLB – first base. Although this is my top five, one guy you won’t see on the list is Miguel Cabrera, who is expected to move across the infield to third with the Tigers’ addition of Prince Fielder.
With that said, let’s take a look at my top five first basemen heading into the new season.
When a season consisting of a .299 batting average, 37 home runs and 99 RBIs, is considered a “down season,” you know you’re one of the game’s best. That was Pujols’ line from a year ago and it snapped his 10-year streak of hitting .300 with 30 home runs and driving in 100 runs. This season, Pujols moves out West following 11 seasons with the Cardinals fresh off his second World Series title, but nothing short of a “bounce back” season is expected from him. Pujols is a career .348 hitter in interleague play, so although the jersey may have changed, the colors haven’t and if there’s such a thing as a sure-bet, Pujols is just that. There’s a reason why he’s called The Machine. “El Hombre” or not, the Angels need their new $240 million acquisition to the man if they hope to reclaim their spot atop the AL West.
Until last year, A-Go had spent his previous five seasons in the spacious confines of Petco Park and still managed to knock out 32 dingers a season as a Padre. So expectations were sky-high moving to the American League where he could swat balls over the short right field porch at Fenway with that sweet lefty swing. Well, Gonzalez actually only managed to hit 27 balls out of the park, but in exchange he hit a career-high .338, more than 30 points above his previous career-high, and topped 200 hits for the first time. This year, the batting average might dip a little, but I expect an increase in his home run production between 30-35 in that murderer’s row that is the Red Sox lineup. Oh and he’s also won three Gold Gloves in the last four years, so there won’t be any Bill Buckner moments with this guy.
BY WADE MCMILLIN, Couchsideshow.com editor
The St. Louis Cardinals aren’t automatic favorites anymore with Pujols not in the picture. And the magic will have probably left Milwaukee — along with Fielder — when the final months of the 2012 season unfold. There’s no doubt the N.L. West will never be the same. But don’t be discouraged. The largest division in baseball should still create some late-season drama. The Cards and the Brew Crew did lose some big bats, but have bright stars in the waiting. And don’t count out the Chicago Cubs or the Cincinnati Reds, either. As usual, those four teams should be in a dead heat toward the end of the season for the division crown. Each club definitely has a shot and the division should be as competitive as ever.
Here’s Couch Side’s early preview of the N.L. Central and the top four clubs could finish out 2012: