The 2013 MLB Season may have just begun, but we're already thinking ahead to the coveted MVP awards. As teams go head to head in the coming weeks and months who will stand out at the plate or in the field? While it's anybody's guess we decided to take a stab at singling out the players to watch from both leagues. And regardless of whether or not they ultimately take home the hardware, there's a strong chance these are the guys you want to keep your eyes on—the ones that might be able to carry their respective teams to the top of the standings and maybe, even a championship.
The Champion: Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers
How he can win: Last season, Miguel Cabrera pulled off the first triple crown since 1967, posting a .330 average with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs. With such raw power and talent at the plate, it’s hard to argue against the possibility of a repeat MVP year. 2012 was no fluke for Cabrera either—it was his first time gaining MVP honors, but he had already been a top-five candidate in five other seasons. Simply put, he’s one of the best players in the game. Why he might not: Great as he is with his bat, Cabrera isn’t too quick on the base paths and is a below average fielder. If MVP voters had treated these aspects of the game with more significance last year, Cabrera likely would not have taken home the award. He’s also entering into his 30s, when most players begin leaving their peak playing days behind (Barry Bonds on steroids doesn’t count).
Contender: Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees
How he can win: Robbie Cano has risen to stud status over his past few years with the Yanks, boasting great batting numbers, silky smooth fielding and a number of consecutive injury-free seasons (he’s missed no more than a few games per season since 2007). While other Yankee batters have aged and taken a turn for the worse, like ARod and Mark Teixeira, Cano has continued to improve—last year, he won his second Gold Glove award and posted a career-high 33 home runs. Who’s to say he can’t continue on his way and make an MVP run while anchoring a questionable Yankee lineup. Why he might not: That (surprisingly) uncertain-looking Yankee lineup could also hurt Cano’s chances at making an MVP run—no matter how well a player does, it’s rare to see it go to someone on an unsuccessful team. Cano won’t shine too brightly if the Yanks’ stars like Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner play like their age. There’s also Cano’s sub-.100 average from the 2012 postseason, which must have left a bad taste in his mouth.The Legends of Baseball>>>
Contender: Josh Hamilton, OF, Los Angeles Angels
How he can win: The 2010 AL MVP, Josh Hamilton developed into a pure power hitter last year, slugging 43 home runs and driving in 128 runs, shattering his previous numbers in those categories. He hits for a pretty solid average as well (.285 with a .354 OBP last year), and needless to say, constantly stood as the central threat in a dangerous Texas lineup over the past few years, which finished in World Series appearances in 2010 and ’11. If Hamilton can continue hitting for power while rekindling his ability to hit for average and OBP at a very high level, he’ll have a great MVP shot. Why he might not: Hamilton hit .359 with a .411 OBP in 2010, while also leading the league in slugging percentage. Over the past two seasons, that’s proven to be a torrid pace he just couldn’t keep up with. He’s remained among the best in the majors, but he’ll probably have to return to superhuman form to have a shot. In reality, he’s 32 this year and just signed to a very lucrative five-year contract. It might be ironic, but big deals are often made before a player declines, not while he’s still on the rise. We’ll see how Hamilton handles the big payday.
Contender: Prince Fielder, 1B, Detroit Tigers
How he can win: Prince Fielder did an impressive job flanking Cabrera last year, smashing 30 home runs while posting a .313 average, as well as an exceedingly high .412 OBP. It was his fourth season finishing in the top 10 in MVP voting, despite the fact that he’s had much more powerful years—he slugged 50 homers in 2007 and knocked home 141 runs in 2009. Still in his late 20s, it’s not crazy to consider a season in which Fielder revisits some of those earlier power numbers while keeping his average up as well. If he can do that and keep the errors to a minimum, he could be the third straight MVP out of Detroit. Why he might not: Prince is a big man that casts a big shadow, but last season, teammate Miguel Cabrera towered over Fielder and his admirable contributions to the offense. Of course, there’s also 2011 MVP Justin Verlander taking the mound as Detroit’s ace. Simply put, he’s on a tough team to prove himself as the standout. That along with his sub-par fielding and need to return to true slugger status (his HR total fell by eight last year) will make it a tough situation for Fielder to take the trophy.
The Dark Horse: Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
How he can win: Mike Trout’s 2012 season ignited a huge amount of debate amongst fans and analysts as to how players should be assessed, especially in the MVP debate. Advanced statistics generally showed Trout to be the most valuable player in baseball due to his adeptness at every facet of the game—he got on base, hit for average and power, stole bases and rarely got caught, and played top-notch defense. Last season, Trout lost to traditional thinking—Cabrera won the triple crown and won MVP pretty easily. But if Trout can have another 2012-caliber season, it’d be hard to believe if gets denied twice. Why he might not: Did we mention this kid is barely old enough to drink? Good as he is, he’s still the dark horse because of his age. He only has one season under his belt and as much potential as he has, such an amazing rookie season could lead to a sophomore slump, or sophomore ‘come-back-to-earth’ in Trout’s case. MVP voting that favors guys with the most home runs and RBIs also hurt his cause last year, and the voter mentality will probably be similar in 2013.
The Champion: Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
How he can win: It’s tough to argue against this defending champion. Catchers generally aren’t expected to hit like outfielders and first basemen due to the heavy defensive demands of their position. Posey, on the other hand, won the National League batting title last year, while also posting a .408 OBP and .549 slugging average before the Giants stormed through the playoffs and won another World Series. He’ll be turning 26 this season and should still be shy of his peak performance—there’s plenty going for him. Why he might not: In order to repeat, Posey is probably going to have to keep his average way up, like it was last season. He’s not a huge guy and won’t be among the league’s home run leaders any time soon (although he hit a respectable 24 homers in 2012). He’ll also need to avoid injuries, like the catastrophic collision on a play at the plate that ended his 2011 season after just 45 games.
Contender: Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
How he can win: Braun has put up impressive numbers ever since his 2007 rookie season, and in his past two, he’s been in peak form. He snagged the 2011 NL MVP Award by hitting .332 with 33 homers and 111 RBIs, then finished second in last year’s voting after a comparably great year (.319, 41 HR, 112 RBI). Braun’s remarkable consistency has been the story of his career so far, and there’s no reason to think anything will change. Why he might not: It’s very simple—steroids. Braun tested positive for PED use during the 2011 playoffs, the postseason that followed his MVP season, but he avoided a 50-game suspension and kept the award through a successful appeal. Recently, his name’s cropped up again in PED talk, so suspicions alone could kill Braun’s chances, even if he continues to avoid punishment and has another MVP-caliber season.
Contender: Matt Kemp, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
How he can win: Kemp was the runner-up to Braun in the 2011 MVP race then injury shortened his 2012 season and kept him out of the mix at the end of last year. Kemp’s ‘11 season may have been the best any player had that year, as he smacked 39 homers, knocked home 126 runs, scored 115 times and got on base at a .399 clip. In the 106 games he played last year, he wasn’t too far off the ’11 pace, hitting 23 homers with a .367 OBP. An injury-free season could be all Kemp needs to grab the award as he reaches his peak at age 28. Why he might not: It’s clear that 2011 was a breakout year for Kemp, but it was also his only full season that truly gave him an MVP shot. In previous years, he had never hit .300 or exceeded 28 home runs. He lacks the consistency of players like Braun, and last year showed his vulnerability to injury.
Contender: Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
How he can win: The 2010 NL MVP, Votto missed out on a ripe opportunity to make a run for his second title last year when he was knocked out for a couple months with a knee injury. In the 111 games he managed to play, he set a scorching pace, hitting .337 with a .474 OBP. Had he stayed healthy, he would have been the favorite. Of course, he’ll have a chance to secure another MVP in 2013 if he can have a more complete version of his 2012 campaign. Why he might not: All things considered, Votto doesn’t look like a bad option if you’re making a bet. But like Kemp, he’s clearly not invincible and shouldn’t be expected to keep his numbers at staggeringly high levels for the length of his career.Five-Tool Baseball Player Workout>>>
The Dark Horse: Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates
How he can win: The 26-year-old had a breakout season last year, as he hit .327 with a .400 OBP, along with 31 home runs and 107 runs scored. He even earned a gold glove for his defense. McCutchen has steadily improved throughout his four years in the majors, and his third place finish in last year’s MVP voting suggests he’s poised to take the award in 2013. Why he might not: Well, he’s still on the Pirates. Perennial cellar dwellers, the Pirates aren’t the toughest team to stand out on, but getting MVP recognition is another story. Even a crazily good season for McCutchen might not bring contention to Pittsburgh, and the award is often given to playoff-caliber teams (last year, Posey and Cabrera faced each other in the World Series). It’ll be a tough road to climb for McCutchen, but he has his youth, which should help.