Spring Training baseball games kick off in just a few days, which means we're about to get to really excited about players and performances that don't really matter. It's been proven on a bunch of occasions that Spring Training results have very little to do with what we see in the year ahead. That doesn't mean it isn't fun to watch the games, pour through the stats and guess what kind of impact they'll have on the season - just that it probably isn't the best tool to judge players.
I've been looking forward to a chance to make my predictions for the upcoming baseball year, and to avoid getting my mind mixed up with spring training excitement, I thought I'd beat it to the punch and give some of my guesses now, as a little prelude to Spring Training. I'll start today with the main single player awards, MVP and Cy Young.
I'm also going to avoid listing the incumbents in my predictions. It would just be too easy, and too likely, that Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, Zack Greinke, and Tim Lincecum run away with the awards. So please, no hate-mail for excluding them! With that said, here are my predictions for the big award winners for MLB in 2010, with a couple of runners-up thrown in as well.
AL MVP: Evan Longoria - Tampa Bay Rays
In two years so far in the majors, Longoria has been pretty good. He knocked around 33 home-runs in 2009, as well as 27 in 2008 despite being in the minors for nearly a quarter of the season. He's done all this hitting a good average and providing exceptional defense. All of this, that is, before Longoria has turned 25! The sky truly seems to be the limit for Longoria, and if you anticipate success for the Rays in 2010, where many think they'll surprise, plus a contract year for Carl Crawford, a hopeful resurgence by BJ Upton and emergence of Desmond Jennings, Longoria could be in line for a massive year. He's the type of player you're all-but-certain will win an MVP one day, and 2010 may just be the day.
Mark Teixeira - New York Yankees: If all goes as many expect, it's hard to take Teixeira out of MVP consideration. He'll be right at the top of the league in batting average, on-base percentage, home runs, RBIs, and most other offensive categories, and would be the likely anchor of a Yankees expect playoff birth.
Curtis Granderson - New York Yankees: Certainly a dark-horse candidate, but Granderson may be on the verge of a monstrous year. His lefty-power should play incredibly well in Yankee Stadium, and with expected improvements in his batting average and on-base percentage, he could put up some increased stolen base numbers. It's certainly not the safest bet, but if he can meet the loftiest expectations, and hit .280 with 35-40 home runs and 25-30 stolen bases, it would be hard to beat Granderson in an MVP race.
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez - Seattle Mariners
My reasons for believing King Felix could easily win a Cy Young are pretty simple. He's coming off an incredible year, where he won 19 games with a 2.49 ERA. He's gotten better and better every year since 2006 - not just better, but making substantial improvements. And in 2010, he'll play in front of one of the top two defenses in the league, and a much improved offense that should help him pick up a few wins. It's hard to imagine a huge jump in ERA, as 2.49 is pretty great already, but I could certainly see 21 wins going with that.
Jon Lester - Boston Red Sox: Expecting a big year for Lester doesn't take much different reasoning that King Felix, other than that thus far the results he's put up have been a just a little bit weaker. Lester has always had terrific stuff, and this year he'll pitch in front of the other one of the top two defenses in baseball.
Jake Peavy - Chicago White Sox: A lot of people seem to have written-off Peavy, as he is switching from the NL to AL, leaving the pitching comforts of San Diego behind, and of course coming off of injury. Those are all valid points, but Peavy is a competitor that is going into the AL's, by far, weakest division in the AL Central. Petco Park may have saved him some home-runs, but now he gets to pitch against the Kansas City Royals a bunch. So let's call it a wash.
NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki - Colorado Rockies
Much like Evan Longoria, Tulo has had quite the successful MLB career thus. He broke-out in 2007, struggled in 2008, but was terrific again in 2009, finishing up with .297 average, 32 home-runs, and 20 stolen bases at the games, generally considered, weakest position. He's going to be at the forefront of a definite playoff contender, and with just some small healthy improvements, could bat over .310, with 35 home-runs and 25 stolen bases - a definite MVP-caliber season, especially if voters see him as the anchor of a playoff team.
Hanley Ramirez - Florida Marlins: The numbers you expect out of Hanley Ramirez aren't far off what I just mentioned for Troy Tulowitzki. He'll like have some more stolen bases and a better average, but a bit less power. That alone would make him a stronger candidate than Tulo, but he's also less likely to be on a playoff team - a very important fact to typical MVP voters.
Matt Kemp - Los Angeles Dodgers: With healthy improvements, Kemp could be right in line with the shortstops mentioned above. He could certainly he hit 30 home-runs, bat .310, and even steal 40-bases. The factor that holds him back in my eyes as being the top candidate is Manny Ramirez. In two likely possibilities, either Manny Ramirez steals the spotlight from Kemp, or he shows more of the struggles that we saw a bit of last year, and with the less-dangerous Manny out of the picture, Kemp gets challenged a bit more at the plate.
NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay - Philadelphia Phillies
This is the one category, in my opinion, that doesn't change if you include the reigning champs. Seeing what Halladay did to the AL East all these years, it's a bit scary to imagine what he'll do to the National League, where he kicks off opening day this year against the Washington Nationals. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest to see 23 wins and an ERA under 2.40. Sorry, Tim Lincecum, but the crown of the National League is probably moving over, for a few years at least.
Clayton Kershaw - Los Angeles Dodgers: The incredible stuff is obvious to anyone that watches him pitch. The only thing that's held him back is his control, with a walk-rate that's way too high, which also holds him from being able to pitch long outings. If he gains that control though, which I trust will happen eventually based on the character I've seen and heard from Kershaw, he'll be a scary pitcher.
Tommy Hanson - Atlanta Braves: Hanson was incredibly dominant in his first half-season in MLB, going 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA. It's likely that as the league gets used to his stuff those numbers will suffer in 2010, but there's at least a decent chance that he continues to destroy the league.
With that in mind, I fully admit that I'll probably be wrong in at least three out of four of these, and that some of the players I've mentioned will struggle their way through the year. So feel free to challenge my predictions and post some of your own, so that I won't be the only one looking like a fool come November!