Monday, April 2, 2012

2012 American League Predictions

With Opening Day later in the week, it is time for my annual predictions for the 2012 baseball season. It is always fun to sort through all of the teams, players, and divisions to find out who will be the best of the best in the coming year. There are always going to be surprises along the way like the Diamondbacks were in 2011. The addition of the new wild card spots in each league will also add some spice to the race for the playoffs in the 2012 season.

Over the course of the week, I will release my picks from a variety of areas. For the National League and the American League, I will predict the division winners, the wild card teams, and the major award contenders. Later in the week I will focus on the Twins and decide who is going to stand out in the major and minor leagues. Here is the breakdown of the schedule for the week.

Monday: 2012 American League Predictions
Tuesday: 2012 National League Predictions
Wednesday: 2012 Twins Awards Predictions
Thursday: 2012 Twins Minor League Award Predictions
Friday: Links-N-Thinks
Pujols looks to point the Angels towards a title
 American League East: Tampa Bay Rays
The Yankees and the Red Sox have some holes in their starting rotations and while the Rays aren't perfect, they have one of the best starting rotations in the American League. David Price, James Shields, and last year's American League Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson sit at the top of the rotation. Matt Moore will get his first full year in the big leagues and many project him to be the ace of this staff in the coming years. There are young players at multiple positions on this team who are set to break through and make an impact on this club. Evan Longoria will put together one of his best seasons as a professional and be in the mix for the American League MVP at the end of the season.

American League Central: Detroit Tigers
The Tigers made a big splash in the offseason by signing Prince Fielder to a huge free agent contract but Detroit needed to fill a hole left by Victor Martinez getting hurt. Fielders addition to a team that is coming off of a strong performance in 2011 should vault the Tigers to their second consecutive AL Central crown. Justin Verlander will try to follow up his MVP and Cy Young seasons from 2011 by leading the Tigers through another campaign. A couple of injuries to the Tigers could open up the division for a team like the Royals, Twins, or Indians to push for the top spot. In the end the Tigers look very much like the team to beat in the Central but there could be some surprises out of the other clubs in the division.

American League West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Rangers have been the cream of the crop in the American League for the last two years but the new faces in LA could mean the end of the Texas stronghold on the division. Albert Pujols is coming off of a World Series Championship with the Cardinals and he is hoping the Angels will be in the same position at the end of this year. C.J. Wilson has switched sides in this AL West rivalry from the Rangers to the Angels and he hopes to add depth to a pitching staff that already includes Jared Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana. Top prospect Mike Trout will start the year in the minor leagues but he is one injury away from making an impact with the big league squad.

Wild Cards: Texas Rangers, New York Yankees
The Rangers and the Angels should have quite the battle for the AL West title but in the end, the team from Texas is going to have to settle for one of the Wild Card spots. Yu Darvish has already become a rock star to the throngs of Rangers fans who attended spring training. Now the young phenom is going to have to prove himself during the regular season. Neftail Feliz is moving from the closer role to the starting rotation and Joe Nathan is taking over the ninth inning duties from Feliz. There is a lot of pitching in Texas but it is hard to win three consecutive American League pennants.

The Yankees didn't need to make many changes to their powerful line-up in the offseason but they did complete one of the most intriguing trades of the offseason. The Mariners and the Yankees completed a deal that included two of the top prospects in the game. Michael Pineda, a powerful young pitcher, was coming off of a very good rookie year with Seattle before joining the Yankees. In order to get Pineda the Bronx Bombers had to give up slugging prospect Jesus Montero. Pineda showed up to camp overweight and out of shape and he will start the year on the DL. Luckily for the Yanks, they coaxed Andy Pettite out of retirement and they still have CC Sabathia as their ace. The AL East could see the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, and Blue Jays all fighting for two spots in the postseason. Let the battle begin...

American League MVP: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
At the beginning of last season, there were question marks surrounding Pujols and his lack of production on the field. He had been so remarkably consistent in his first decade in the league that any shift from that pattern was hard to believe. He still ended the season with outstanding numbers and he helped to lead his team to the most important goal, a World Series Championship. After shunning the Cardinals and signing a huge contract with the Angels, Pujols will have a lot of pressure on him this season. During his 11 seasons in the National League, he finished in the top five in the MVP voting ten times. His first year in the American League should be more of the same story. 

American League Cy Young: Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
The American League East is full of tough teams who are going to make it tough for opposing pitchers to succeed but a strong left-handed arm could make it through the mess. Jon Lester has won 15 or more games in each of the last four seasons and he might be the ace of a rotation full of holes. After back-to-back All-Star seasons, the 28-year old lefty could be set to take the next step and make a big splash for the Red Sox. Boston should be in the pennant race for most of the season and Lester's performance could go a long way in deciding if they make the playoffs.

American League Manager of the Year: Ned Yost, Kansas City Royals
On paper, the Tigers are suppose to win the AL Central but what happens if the Royals are pushing them for the top spot during most of the season. There has been plenty made out of the young talent compiled by the front office of the Royals and this team could be only a year or two away from being contenders for a championship. Eric Hosmer has been on fire this spring and he could be in the MVP discussion at some point in 2012. In the end the Tigers will have too much firepower to allow the Royals to win the division but a strong second place showing should give Yost the Manager of the Year Award.

American League Rookie of the Year: Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers
There are many players already mentioned in this post that could be up for this honor at the end of the season. Matt Moore should be dominant for the Rays, Jesus Montero will try to find his swing in Seattle, and Mike Trout will eventually get his time with the Angels. In the end, it will come down to the performance of Darvish and Moore. Darvish has looked very good this spring and Moore turned heads with his playoff performance last year. It is a toss-up between these two young pitchers and in the end I picked Darvish out of what has the potential to be one of the best rookie classes in years. 

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