By Brent Hubbard – Senior Columnist
In today’s preview, we will run down our predictions for the AL and NL Award winners. Each of the Senior Staff at AngelsWin.com picked their favorites and then I picked a dark horse for each, as well.
My Pick: Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians
Chuck Richter’s Pick: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
Adam Dodge’s Pick: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
Eric Denton’s Pick: Mark Teixiera, New York Yankees
Geoff Bilau’s Pick: Vladimir Guerrero, Los Angeles Angels
Victor Varadi’s Pick: Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox
Dark Horse Pick: B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay Rays
Hamilton is the winner here, but all of these guys could win it. Sizemore is my pick, as he is getting better and better each year. If he plays as he did in 2007, he could take home the AL MVP while leading the Indians deep into the playoffs.
Hamilton’s HR Derby display and excellent season in Texas have overcome some of the injury concerns, but to me that remains a big issue. Teixiera had a huge impact on the Angels last season, and he could have a similar one on the Yanks this season. Vlad is healthy and happy and in a contract year. And Youklis is constantly putting up better and better numbers, despite his ridiculous beard and batting stance. Is he MVP material?
B.J. Upton has the talent and in a down year for him his team went to the World Series. He’ll open on the DL, but he could come on strong when he returns. If he stays away from the injuries, he isn’t really a long shot or a dark horse — he is a legitimate contender.
AL CY YOUNG
My Pick: Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay Rays
Chuck Richter’s Pick: C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees
Adam Dodge’s Pick: Cliff Lee, Cleveland Indians
Geoff Bilau’s Pick: Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
Victor Varadi’s Pick: Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
Dark Horse Pick: Ervin Santana, Los Angeles Angels
Jon Lester’s dominant post-season performance led him to be the selection by two of our writers. Lester definitely has the stuff and the will to win, so if he picks up where he left off, he could be the front-runner for the AL Cy.
Kazmir dominated as John Lackey did after a return from an injury early in the season. He can be the best pitcher in the AL and a friendly competition from rotation mates David Price (soon enough, anyway) and James Shields won’t hurt his chances. Cliff Lee to repeat is Adam’s pick and he won 22 games last season so you can’t knock this choice. Sabathia was excellent in Cleveland and Milwaukee last year, so if he takes his success to the Bronx, he’ll lead the Bombers to the AL Wild Card, if not the Division, and possibly win a Cy Young in the process.
My Dark Horse pick here is Ervin Santana from the Angels. First he has to be healthy, but he took a huge step forward in 2008 and if he continues on that path, he’ll be among the elite pitchers in the AL. As the No. 3 starter in the rotation, if everyone is healthy, he’d benefit from not facing the opposing team’s best pitcher and could top 20 wins even in an injury-shortened season.
AL Rookie of the Year
My Pick: Matt LaPorta, Cleveland Indians
Chuck Richter’s Pick: Matt Weiters, Baltimore Orioles
Adam Dodge’s Pick: Travis Snider, Toronto Blue Jays
Eric Denton’s Pick: Travis Snider, Toronto Blue Jays
Geoff Bilau’s Pick: David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
Victor Varadi’s Pick: David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
Dark Horse Pick: Matt Brown, Angels
Ok, so the consensus here seems to be Travis Snider with the Blue Jays or David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays. All four picks seem to be logical choices. I went with LaPorta because I can see him making an impact on a contending team — if he gets the playing time. The national favorite I think has to be either David Price or Matt Wieters. Snider could take it, provided he gets the job. And LaPorta can flat out hit, so will he force his way into the Cleveland OF? All four of these guys are starting in the minors, though, so how much time they get will really determine the winner. All of these guys are future All-Stars.
The Dark Horse pick is a bit of a stretch, but even though it is the Cactus League, you can’t ignore Matt Brown’s ridiculous spring. A .525 Avg in 40 AB’s with 17 RBI? Really? That’s excellent. Yet with Aybar (.477 AVG), Figgins (.407 AVG), Morales (.394 AVG) and Wood (.340 AVG) all having great springs, as well, I don’t know where he fits. Yet if he carries his hot spring over to the minors, well, he’d kind of force the hand right? And his versatility really plays well with a manager like Mike Scioscia. I know this is a minute possibility, but hey that’s why it’s a long shot, right?
AL Comeback Player of the Year
My Pick: Kelvim Escobar, Los Angeles Angels
Chuck Richter’s Pick: Kelvim Escobar, Los Angeles Angels
Adam Dodge’s Pick: Kelvim Escobar, Los Angeles Angels
Eric Denton’s Pick: Kelvim Escobar, Los Angeles Angels
Geoff Bilau’s Pick: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
Victor Varadi’s Pick: Jason Giambi, Oakland A’s
Dark Horse Pick: Travis Hafner, Cleveland Indians
The consensus here is Kelvim Escobar of our Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. As one of the most dominant pitchers in the league in the first five months of 2007, he suffered an injury in September of that year and struggled, then missed all of 2008. But he supposedly hit 96 on the radar gun and is healthy way ahead of schedule. This is good news for a team struggling with starting pitching injuries. If he puts up a year like 2007 in 2009, he’ll probably get this award, and a decent contract, too.
Verlander struggled last season, but I think that was likely driven by injury and he should come back to form. But on a team with so many issues, will it be enough? Giambi isn’t really coming back from anything, except back to Oakland from the Evil Empire. He had 32 HR and 96 RBI for the Yanks in 2008.
Hafner struggled in 2007 and 2008 and he is my dark horse pick for 2009. He hit 42 HR in 2006 and was one of the best RBI guys in the lineup. The Indians need his bat, so if he can get back to 2006 form, he could definitely win the award. If not, the Indians will likely go in a different direction at DH for 2010.
My Pick: Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers
Chuck Richter’s Pick: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
Adam Dodge’s Pick: David Wright, New York Mets
Eric Denton’s Pick: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
Geoff Bilau’s Pick: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
Victor Varadi’s Pick: Manny Ramirez, Los Angels Dodgers
Dark Horse Pick: Chris Young, Arizona Diamondbacks
Phat Albert vs. ManRam seems to be the battle here. While I don’t think Vic the Brick’s favorite god-turned-flesh is going to put up the numbers he did after the trade from the Sox, he did put up excellent numbers before the trade, too. Pujols is one of the best hitters in the game, but he did battle injuries last year. Is he on the decline? Probably not, but will the Cards contend? Probably not. So I gave the award to Manny, though three of my colleagues disagree. David Wright is an interesting pick. Jose Reyes gets the publicity in Metsville, but Wright always puts up solid to excellent numbers.
The Dark Horse pick here is the guy who plays in the OF with B.J. Upton’s little brother in Arizona. Justin Upton is probably as talented as B.J., but I don’t think he’s quite ready for an NL MVP award — though I think he’ll have a solid, if not breakthrough season. But my pick here is the Diamondbacks’ Chris Young. He could really take a step forward this season after a step-back from his 2007 rookie campaign. 40 steals and 40 HR? Not out of reach, though 30/30 with a .300 batting average is definitely doable, and if you add a playoff contending Arizona club, that could be a recipe for success and an NL MVP Trophy for Chris Young.
NL CY YOUNG
My Pick: Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
Chuck Richter’s Pick: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
Adam Dodge’s Pick: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
Geoff Bilau’s Pick: Dan Haren, Arizona Diamondbacks
Victor Varadi’s Pick: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
Dark Horse Pick: Chad Billingsley, Los Angeles Dodgers
Tim Lincecum is the pick by most to repeat his 2008 Cy Young Season. He dominated in just his second season. He is coming off a 227-inning season, but he looks healthy. If he were to maintain the rate of improvement we saw between 2007 and 2008, we’d be looking at Bob Gibson 1968-esque numbers. Just Dominant.
My NL Comeback Player of the Year (more on that later) is also my NL Cy Young Pick. Carpenter won the 2005 award and it wasn’t really a contest. Will the same be true in 2009? Perhaps not with Lincecum and Johan Santana out there, but I still think he can return to form. Dan Haren could return to Oakland form and probably improve to be the guy that the Diamondbacks thought they were getting when they made that big trade. If he does, this will be a ridiculous competition from a very large field.
My Dark Horse is Chad Billingsley from he Dodgers. Billingsley had an excellent season in 2008 and if he takes a step forward the way Lincecum did, watch out NL West. He is a dark horse only because no one is talking about him for the award, but he definitely has the talent.
NL Rookie of the Year
My Pick: Dexter Fowler, Colorado Rockies
Chuck Richter’s Pick: Travis Ishikawa, San Francisco Giants
Adam Dodge’s Pick: Cameron Maybin, Flordia Marlins
Eric Denton’s Pick: Cameron Maybin, Flordia Marlins
Geoff Bilau’s Pick: Tommy Hanson, Atlanta Braves
The popular pick here seems to be Cameron Maybin of the Marlins. Maybin was the centerpiece in the Miguel Cabrera deal. He only played in AA last year, so the jump may be a bit overwhelming. How good can he be? Is he Torii Hunter 2.0?
Chuck picked the San Francisco Giants’ Travis Ishikawa, a left-handed 1B, who put up a .737 SLG in 171 at-bats in the PCL last season. He also hit .310 with a .370 OBP. Not bad. I took Dexter Fowler, who could lead the National League in steals as the leadoff guy for the Colorado Rockies. I decided this when he took 2B on a lazy liner to RF this spring — when Vladimir Guerrero was playing RF. That took guts. Geoff took Tommy Hanson, the Atlanta Braves righthander, who dominated the Arizona Fall League in 2008. Not a bad pick, Geoff.
Dark Horse Pick: Steven Strasburg, Washington Nationals, and Kyle Blanks, San Diego Padres. OK, I get two here since Strasburg isn’t even a National yet. If he ends up with the Mariners at pick No. 2, he’d be an AL Rookie of the Year Candidate. I just can’t see him getting past the Nats, but if he does end up in the AL, I hedged my bets with Kyle Blanks of the Padres.
Both guys could be huge for two teams in need. Blanks is a slugging first baseman, but that’s the only position the Padres have locked down, with Adrian Gonzalez firmly entrenched. In the AL, Blanks would be the DH. In the NL, maybe he moves to the OF, where the Padres need a lot of help anyway. And the guy can just flat out hit.
NL Comeback Player of the Year
My Pick: Chris Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
Chuck Richter’s Pick: Nick Johnson, Washington Nationals
Adam Dodge’s Pick: Rafael Furcal, Los Angeles Dodgers
Eric Denton’s Pick: Ivan Rodriguez, Houston Astros
Geoff Bilau’s Pick: Eric Byrnes, Arizona Diamondbacks
Darkhorse Pick: Barry Zito, San Francisco Giants
OK, so we have six writers and six different picks for the first time with these predictions. Carpenter is by all accounts healthy again. Will it last? 1.52 ERA in Spring Training certainly bodes well. And he is dominant when he is on. If he returns to form, the award is his.
Nick Johnson has a .937 Spring OPS, but played just 38 games the past two seasons. Big comeback if he can stay healthy. Furcal had a 1.012 OPS last season in 140 something at-bats, so I’m guessing Adam just hopes he stays healthy. In 2007, he had a .688 OPS in nearly 600 at-bats, so hopefully he can put the 2008 OPS in the 2007 number of at-bats. Pudge couldn’t find a job, but then he did after the WBC with the Astros. If he can be the Pudge of his Ranger days, then that would be an excellent comeback. Eric Byrnes missed 2008 with injuries, but if he returns to 2007 form, the D’Backs would be a team to watch. They really depend on him.
The Dark Horse pick is Barry Zito of the San Francisco Giants. No longer depending on him to lead the staff, he hasn’t been very successful in his two seasons in SF. But he could turn things around and give the Giants the best pitching in the division — or at least right there with the D’Backs. The Giants $126 Million Man has always pitched to contact and has always pitched a ton of innings. He used to strike guys out, too, but has failed to do that regularly since coming over from Oakland. Cut down on the walks, strike more guys out and pitch deeper into games = a sub 4.0 ERA and NL Comeback Player of the Year? Maybe.