by Pat Gunther
As the 2011 Major League Baseball season opened on March 31st, there were several stories that made this one of the more interesting Opening Days in recent memory. The Red Sox signing of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford made them the pre-season favorites to win the World Series, while the Phillies pitching staff of Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay has created one of the most feared starting rotations in baseball. Although the season is only beginning, let’s take a look at some of my favorites for the individual awards.
Cy Young Award (Best Pitcher)
1. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
Tim “The Freak” Lincecum is coming off of his worst season thus far going 16-10 with a 3.43 ERA and 231 strikeouts. Lincecum is one of the most talented players in baseball and has already captured two Cy Young Awards in his first two full-seasons as a pro in 2008 and 2009. Lincecum averaged a 16-6 record with a 2.55 ERA over those two seasons, and will surely return to form in 2011.
2. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies
Doc is coming back after an incredible first season in Philadelphia leading the MLB in wins (21), innings pitched (250.2), and complete games (9) all while pitching a perfect game on May 29, 2010. Halladay continued to shine in the post-season as he no-hit the Reds, joining Hall of Famer Don Larsen as only the second player to do so. Halladay and the Phillies should make another run at the playoffs, as he solidifies himself as a legitimate candidate for his first Cy Young.
3. Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado Rockies
Ubaldo Jimenez became one of the top Pitchers in Baseball last season as he went 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. While Jimenez showed flashes of brilliance early last season, he faded away after the All-Star Break. Jimenez’s inconsistency could be a problem, and will have to change if he wants to win the NL Cy Young
Most Valuable Player
1. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies
The Rockies shocked the baseball world by clinching a World Series berth in 2007 in Troy Tulowitzki’s second year. Though Tulowitzki struggled throughout the playoffs, he has matured and become one of the best short stops in baseball. Tulowitzki’s rare power at the short stop position (27 home runs in 2010) and knack for making contact with pitches (.315 BA in 2010) makes him the leading candidate for the NL MVP.
2. Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
Pujols is widely regarded as the best player in baseball, and has accomplished and incredible amount of feats in his ten seasons as a pro. Off-season contract negotiations did not make any progress, and will result in Pujols becoming a free agent in the fall of 2011. Though contract negotiations could be a distraction, look for Pujols to continue to put up uncanny numbers in batting average (.331 career BA), home runs (42 HR 162 Game Avg.) and on base percentage (.425 career OBP)
3. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
The young catcher Buster Posey emerged as a driving offensive force on the World Series champion San Francisco Giants roster. Posey is only twenty-four years old, and will eventually become one of the best players in baseball. Posey hit .320 last year with a single home run and eight RBI’s. Though Posey lacks the power necessary to wow casual fans, any die-hard will tell you that he will be in the MVP discussion for years to come.
Rookie of the Year
1. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
The Cuban defector was one of the most sought after players in the 2009 off-season, and signed with the Cincinnati Reds. Chapman made several appearances in relief last season, finishing with a 2-2 record and a 2.02 ERA. Chapman has recorded a 105 mph pitch on the radar gun, and can really make batters look stupid with his fastball and slider. Look for Chapman to make his way into the Red’s starting rotation in the near future, and capture the 2011 Rookie of the Year in the process.
2. Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
Belt is projected to start the season at AAA, but could emerge into a key role for the Giants playoff run. The big lefty finished his 2010 season with forty-three doubles, twenty-three home runs and ten triples, an impressive number for a six foot five first baseman. Belt hit .352 and had twenty-two stolen bases for the 2010 Giants, and will continue to put up gaudy numbers as the Giants first baseman of the future.
3. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
The emergence of Jason Heyward exposed the Braves impressive farm system, and in particular, first baseman Freddie Freeman. Freeman finished his 2010 AAA season with Gwinett as he knocked in eighty-seven runs and knocked eighteen home runs out of the park. Freeman, barring any severe injury, will become a key role in the Braves organization in the future. As of now though, he’ll have to settle for Rookie of the Year consideration.
1. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
After capturing his first Cy Young in 2010, Felix Hernandez has become one of the best young players in baseball. Last season, Hernandez became the first pitcher since the legendary Pedro Martinez to start fifteen games, allow one run or less, and pitch at least seven innings. Hernandez’s success will be a trend in Seattle for years to come, and in turn, help him collect some hardware for his trophy case.2. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
After a season in which the Tigers went 81-81, Justin Verlander led the team with an 18-9 record but a suspect 3.37 ERA. Verlander’s fastball is one of the best in baseball and can be a very useful tool in winning games for the Tigers. If Verlander can give up less runs and keep the tigers in close games, he could be a favorite to capture the AL Cy Young.
3. Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox
Lester has become the number one starter on a loaded Red Sox team for the 2011 season. Lester led the Boston Red Sox with 225 strikeouts and a record of 19-9 last season. With the acquisitions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox powerful offense will help Lester rack up the wins in bunches in 2011 and possibly capture the Cy Young Award.
Most Valuable Player
1. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
Robinson Cano finished the 2010 season as arguably the best second baseman in baseball. After finishing the season with 29 home runs, a .534 slugging percentage and a .319 batting average, Cano became one of the leading candidates for the 2011 AL MVP. Although he is often over shadowed by Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano will have another outstanding year and play a crucial role in the Yankees success.
2. Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox
Gonzalez became the Red Sox every day first baseman after being traded from the San Diego Padres. Gonzalez is consistently one of the best hitting first baseman in baseball, but has gone widely unnoticed due to the awful San Diego teams he was on. Now that Gonzalez is on a contender, his talents will be recognized. Gonzalez is one of the most complete players in baseball and should be a leading candidate to capture the MVP.
3. Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
The story of Josh Hamilton is one of the most famous in sports, and has given him national exposure. After being selected #1 overall in the 1999 MLB draft by Tampa Bay, Hamilton battled drug and alcohol addiction for the next several years. His breakout 2008 season, in which he hit .305 with 35 home runs, put him back on the baseball map. Hamilton has become one of the best offensive center fielders in baseball and should lead the defending AL Champion Rangers to another successful season.
Rookie of the Year
1. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays
At 23 years old, Hellickson is one of the most promising pitchers in baseball. In 2010, Hellickson appeared in ten games where he compiled a 4-0 record with a 3.47 ERA and 33 strikeouts. Hellickson is currently ranked as the number nine prospect in all of baseball, according to baseballprospectus.com. Hellickson’s impressive but brief appearances in 2010 shows exactly why he is the favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year.
2. Michael Pineda, Seattle Mariners
Pineda is one of the few bright spots on a dismal Seattle Mariners team. Under the tutelage of Felix Hernandez, Pineda could become one of the most dominant pitchers within the next several seasons. Pineda throws his fastball in the upper ninety’s, and possesses deceptive secondary pitches. Manager Eric Wedge gave Pineda the number five starting spot this season, which will allow Pineda plenty of opportunity to make his case for Rookie of the Year.
3. Jesus Montero, New York Yankees
Montero will soon be replacing longtime, fan-favorite catcher Jorge Posada as the Yankees main man behind the plate. Montero is currently rated as the number three prospect in all of baseball, and with good reason. Montero finished 2010 with the AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, and led the team in home runs. Montero is a very defensively sound catcher. If Montero can make more big league appearances this season, he will definatley be in the running for the AL Rookie of the Year.