The guys who have the best chance of far surpassing last year’s numbers
C-Jarrod Saltalamacchia, TEX — The Rangers knew what they were getting when they brought in Saltalamacchia as the key part of the Mark Teixeira trade. After some internal discussion on where he would play, it has been settled that “Salty” will spend at least this season behind the plate. You can expect that starting this year that he will start to show his enormous potential, and not the modest 33 RBI in nearly 100 games that he played last year.
1B—Billy Butler, KC — It is the power numbers that we expect to see from Butler this year. In his only 57 games he played at AAA last year, he blasted 13 HRs, and two years prior he tortured single A pitching with 25 homers in just 92 games. Obviously, the quality of pitching improves dramatically once you reach the show, but expect Butler to start to flex those muscles this year and approach 25+ home runs and a .300+ average.
2B—Howie Kendrick, LAA — Kendrick has a had run of bad luck with injuries in his first two professional seasons, and if he can avoid that this season he should start to show what he is really capable of. The guy was a career .359 hitter in his minor league career, and has been hyped as a batting champion of the future. Look for him to push his average around the .330 mark and start to show some pop in his bat to the tune of around 20 HRs. And although he isn’t the fastest guy around, Kendrick is a smart base runner, who could steal 10-15 bases. It’s Howie’s breakout season!
3B—Andy LaRoche, LAD — When finally given his chance to take the Dodgers’ starting third base gig last year, LaRoche really messed the bed. He hit a miserable .226 and jacked just one ball out of the yard in 35 games. He had a positive year down on the farm and with Team USA, and is now in “competition” with Nomar Garciaparra for the starting job again this year. Although it has been reported that Nomar is slightly ahead of LaRoche at the start of camp, expect that to change once games start to be played. Andy will show that he can make the transition from the minors to the Bigs this season and go for 24 HRs, 85 RBIs, and a .285 average.
SS—Stephen Drew, ARI — It is safe to say that the younger Drew’s first two seasons in the pros have been nothing short of disappointing. His batting average is well over 100 points less than his career average was in the minors, and his power numbers are basically in half. But Drew has too much potential, and too sweet a swing not to turn this around. Expectations may have to be tempered a bit, but projections of .290, 25 HRs, and 85 RBI are not out of the question.
OF—Matt Kemp, LAD — Kemp was a hitter all minor league pitchers feared from 2004-2007. For two years now he has just been waiting for his chance to get some regular playing time. Even with the signing of Andruw Jones, it seems like 2008 is going to be his year. Kemp showed some pretty good power, a decent eye at the plate, and even a little bit of speed. Given 162 games in RF this season, expect Kemp to go for .310/25/95/10.
OF—Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS — Coco Crisp’s bags are packed and he’s ready to go, and a decent spring by Ellsbury should punch his ticket to either the bench or to another team via trade. Ellsbury doesn’t have a ton of pop, should max out at 10-15 HRs, but it is his non-stop hustle and speed that will make him an exceptional player this season. Look for him to hit .295, 12 HRs, 58 RBI, and 50+ steals.
OF—Jeremy Hermida, FLA — When he hit a grand slam in his first major league at-bat, the fantasy world was put on notice about Hermida. He was 20/20 on two different levels of the minors and barely spent any time at AAA. Health seems to be the biggest concern for Hermida, and in the second half of the season in ’07 he hit .340 with 10 HRs and 36 RBI. Doing slightly better than doubling those numbers seems within reach. Temper the thoughts on the average down to a still impressive .310 with 26 HRs and 90 RBI. Throw in 15 steals just for shiggles.
SP—Clay Buchholz, BOS — With Curt Schilling’s mysterious shoulder injury, Buchholz goes to the back of the impressive Sox rotation. When someone throws a no hitter in their second start and has as impressive stats as Clay does in the minors (19-10, 356 Ks in 285 IP) and gets a chance in the rotation for a championship level team, you draft him a little early. Clay could easily win 15 games and strike out nearly 200 batters.
SP—Adam Wainwright, STL — Once the top prospect in the Braves' farm system, Wainwright was the main piece of the trade that sent J.D. Drew to Hotlanta. Famous for the 12-6 curve that buckled Carlos Beltran in the ’06 NLCS, Wainwright enters his second year as a starter with an opportunity to be special. His second half of 2007 was his best stretch as a pro, and although he will be hurt by the fact that the Cardinals have gone south for the summer, you can see Wainwright winning 16 games with a 3.30 ERA and 170 Ks.
SP—Matt Garza, TB — Garza may struggle in the win category as he isn’t on the strongest team in the league, but he should have a good ERA and whiff a lot of guys. Sent to Tampa in the offseason for Delmon Young, Garza will start the season as the number three starter for the Rays. He’s got all the potential to be the ace of any staff, and it would not be surprising to see Matt win 12 games with a 3.35 ERA and 160 Ks.
RP—Manny Corpas, COL — Although he isn’t the traditional fireballing closer, Corpas proved to be incredibly effective in his half a season as the Rockies closer. Manny was 19 out of 20 in save chances for the Rockies, and is poised to be the closer in Colorado in 2008. If the Rockies are able to duplicate last year’s miracle run to the World Series, it is more than possible for Corpas to close 40 games with 70 Ks.
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