The 2012 rookie class across MLB was perhaps one of the best ever, highlighted by the Rookie of the Year winners in each league: Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. But past Harper and Trout, there were a lot of rookies who had great years. Seven rookies put together three win seasons, and an additional 15 accrued at least two wins on the season. Going into 2013, many members of this rookie class will be expected to play pivotal roles on their team. Which of last year's rookies will have the most crucial roles, though? Here are my seven picks for 2012 rookies that will play huge roles on their teams this season.
Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles. Chen was one of just three Orioles pitchers to make at least 20 starts in 2012, along with Jason Hammel and Tommy Hunter. But when you consider that both Hammel and Hunter made exactly 20 starts, and that Chen ended up making 32, Chen's importance to the Orioles cannot be understated. The team used 12 starting pitchers in 2012, with eight pitchers getting at least ten starts for the team. Luckily for the Orioles, their bullpen was so unbelievably good that they were able to withstand the erratic nature of their rotation, but Chen needs to put together another solid performance in 2013 to prevent Baltimore's rotation from giong into another tailspin. Imagine if he struggled or got hurt last season and the Orioles had to reach even further down their depth chart. I mean, they've got Jair Jurrjens penciled into a spot right now if he stays healthy. Chen going down would cause headaches for Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette.
Yu Darvish, Rangers. The 26-year old Darvish was the saving grace of the Texas rotation in 2012 after being signed to (essentially) replace CJ Wilson at the top of the starting five. He'll be counted upon even more in 2013 after the departure of Scott Feldman and injuries to Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz that have thrown their status for 2013 into question. The Rangers rotation past Darvish includes Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, on-again off-again reliever Alexi Ogando, and rookie Martin Perez. You can definitely see why Darvish is going to be perhaps the most important 2012 rookie for any team in their quest to reach the playoffs.
Bryce Harper, Nationals. Despite finishing tied with Ryan Zimmerman for fourth among all returning Nationals regulars in wOBA and wRC+, Harper might be their best hitter going into 2013 if you think that Ian Desmond and Adam LaRoche will regress, and that Jayson Werth will struggle if he plays in more than half a season worth of games. Remember that Harper is just 20, and he'll be playing left field after playing center (and playing it very well, I might add) in 2012. If Harper struggles in 2013, it could be a difficult year for the Nationals, especially if the rest of the offense suffers a drop in production like many expect. A lot of pressure is going to be on the phenom to carry the team going forth in 2013.
Manny Machado, Orioles. The 20-year old Machado burst onto the scene at third base in 2012 for Baltimore, and solidified the position after Wilson Betemit struggled immensely on defense before going on the DL with a wrist injury. Machado was a vacuum with the glove after his promotion from AA, and combined with shortstop JJ Hardy to create a tremendous defensive left side of the infield. Once the jitters starting wearing off, Machado's bat began to come into his own and it'll need to keep progressing in 2013 for the Orioles to repeat their playoff run.
Jarrod Parker, Athletics. In a very young 2012 A's rotation, Parker was the best pitcher of the bunch, logging 3.7 fWAR and a 3.47 ERA in 181 1/3 innings. Parker will have less pressure on him in 2013 than he did in 2012 due to Brett Anderson's presence for a full season, but the rotation past Parker will be filled with his fellow 2012 rookies on Opening Day (until Bartolo Colon's PED suspension is over, that is). Due to his excellent performance a year ago, he'll have a lot of eyeballs on him in comparison to Tom Milone, AJ Griffin, and Dan Straily. If Parker falters, the rest of the rotation may fall along with him.
Andrelton Simmons, Braves. Simmons' role in 2013 with the Braves will be important on two fronts. Firstly, he'll be playing between a pair of generally poor defenders in Dan Uggla at second base and Chris Johnson (or Juan Francisco, either way, the statement holds true) at third base. Simmons thrived last year between Uggla and the equally immobile Chipper Jones, but that was in just a 49 game sample. With three of the Braves' five starters exhibiting solid groundball tendencies, Simmons is going to be the glue that holds a poor defensive infield together. Secondly, Simmons is currently penciled in as Atlanta's leadoff hitter, setting the table for Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Freddie Freeman. Offense has never been his strong suit, and he'll need to improve on his .335 OBP last year in order to keep the Braves offensive machine rolling.
Mike Trout, Angels. The 30 homers and 49 stolen bases were pretty awesome from Trout in 2012, and the Angels enhanced their tea by (essentially) replacing Torii Hunter and Kendrys Morales with Peter Bourjos and Josh Hamilton. But if Trout can't get on base at the top of the order, Hamilton, Albert Pujols, and Mark Trumbo will see their opportunities to drive in runs decreased. A .400 OBP from Trout would do wonders for the Los Angeles offense, especially with how volatile their pitching staff looks after Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson.
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