October 3, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics celebrate after three players score a run on a single by first baseman Brandon Moss (37) after an error by the Texas Rangers during the eighth inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

2013 MLB Preview: 4 Teams That Will Come Out of Nowhere

Every year, teams come out and shock the so-called experts, as they enjoy a remarkable, almost magical ride. We saw it with the Oakland A’s last year, and we’re bound to see it again this year.

There are teams such as the Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees that are automatically labeled as contenders. Then there are teams like the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros penciled in for at least 90 losses. In between those teams we have talented teams with potential.

But which of those teams will show their potential?

Here are four teams that will come out of nowhere and surprise you in 2013.

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners have had the potential to go places the last couple of years, but they haven’t maximized their potential. This year, I think the Mariners can maximize their potential and even make the playoffs.

Seattle has finished in last in the AL West seven of the last nine years, and they are trying to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2001. They have talent, as Felix Hernandez, their ace who threw a perfect game in 2012, was just locked up for seven years.

Aug 21, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners fans hold up signs and wear t-shirts in support of starting pitcher Felix Hernandez (34) during the gameagainst the Cleveland Indians at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Morse became a Mariner over the offseason as well, and the same goes with Kendrys Morales. Those two can hit the ball over the pulled-in fences at Safeco Field, and Hernandez can keep the ball in the park.  The Mariners don’t have a great No. 2 pitcher, but they have rotation depth and talent in the farm, such as Brandon Maurer and Danny Hultzen.

Maurer was 9-2 and won Southern League Player of the Year, while Hultzen was 8-3 with a 1.19 ERA in the Southern League. So you can tell that both are talented, and both could even be on the Mariners in, say, September.

Another young hurler, Erasmo Ramirez, appears headed upwards, as he can touch 95 mph with his fastball and has some good off-speed stuff. Ramirez posted a 3.36 ERA last year in 16 appearances, and he could make the jump to No. 2. Blake Beavan throws strikes and won 11 games in 2012, and could help out a lot in 2013.

Seattle’s rotation appears fine, and their bullpen is as well. Tom Wilhemsein saved 29 games in 2012 and is ready for a full season closing games, while Carter Capps is a flame-thrower with lots of potential as a set-up man. The Mariners can hold leads, and the bullpen will have success.

While the Mariners don’t look great on paper, they are a good team. Seattle went 39-35 in the final 74 games of the 2012 season, and they improved a lot in the offseason. Morse hit .291 last year and skyrocketed a 465-foot bomb as well, and with the pulled-in fences, Morse should flash his power and hit around 25-30 long balls.

And so will Morales, who posted a .273 batting average and hit a home run in over 4.5 percent of his at-bats.

Seattle now has almost 20 games against the lowly Astros, and they should win most of them. That will give them an edge, and so will their talent. Expect the Mariners to have a winning season, and don’t be surprised if they make the playoffs.

Cleveland Indians

When Terry Francona accepted the manager job for the Indians, some wondered why the two-time World Series champion accepted a job with a team that appeared to be going nowhere. However, now that the offseason is over, some of those thoughts have been altered. And that’s a good thing for the Indians.

Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher both signed with the Indians, giving them an outfield full of talent: Michael Brantley in left field, Bourn in center and Swisher in right. Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera form one of the best-double play tandems in baseball, and Mark Reynolds adds pop to the right side of the infield.

Oct. 1, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder Michael Bourn (24) reacts after striking out against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the eighth inning at PNC Park. The Pittsburgh Pirates won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012, Swisher hit .272, which isn’t incredible, but he posted a very good OBP (on-base percentage) of .364 and an equally good OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .837. Bourn hit .274 with a .348 OBP, meaning he gets on base over one-third of the time, like Swisher. Kipnis had a .335 OBP, meaning he gets on over one-third of the time as well.

Cleveland will have an offense jam-packed with talent, with Bourn and Brantley being the table-setters, Kipnis, Cabrera and Swisher in the middle and Reynolds providing power from the bottom of the order. However, there are doubts about the pitching staff.

After a 2010 season that could have even netted him a Cy Young award, it has been all downhill for Ubaldo Jimenez. Justin Masterson struggled mightily in 2012 as well, and those two were and still are supposed to be the Indians’ best pitchers. Cleveland ranked 29th in pitching last year, and while they won’t be in the top 5, they will be improved.

Cleveland dealt Shin-Shoo Choo to the Reds, but in that three-team deal, they acquired star prospect Trevor Bauer, who can significantly improve the pitching staff. Bauer has some great stuff, and he could even be Cleveland’s No. 1 pitcher by the end of the year. In 2012, Bauer went 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA and 157 strikeouts in about 130 innings. Some scouts see him as a carbon copy of Tim Lincecum.

Jimenez has the potential to do well, as he threw harder in 2012, but command is an issue. The same goes with Masterson, who posted a 3.21 ERA in 2011 and should be back to form.

I think the pitching staff can step up, and even if Jimenez or Masterson struggles, the Indians can dump one of those two and let Carlos Carrasco slide into the rotation. Zach McAllister can be a good back-of-the-rotation guy with a good fastball, while Brett Myers brings experience. There is depth in the rotation, and potential.

Aug 13, 2012; Anaheim, CA, USA; Cleveland Indians pitcher Chris Perez (54) celebrates after the game against the Los Angeles Angels at the Angel Stadium of Anaheim. The Cleveland Indians defeated the Los Angeles Angels 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The offense is set, and the pitching will improve. Chris Perez saved 39 games and blew just four saves in 2012, while Vinnie Pestano knocked out right-handed hitters, which posted a miserable .168 batting average against him. The bullpen is set, and everything else will fall into place. Cleveland has potential, and they’re going to be going places in the future.

And the future can start as soon as, well, now.

Milwaukee Brewers

While no one sees the Brewers as a pushover, they aren’t expected to win the World Series. And while it’s hard to see them winning it all, the Brewers could surprise a few folks.

Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and the Brewers narrowly missed the playoffs in 2012, going on a tear in August and September while providing hope for the future. However, not many people outside of Milwaukee are optimistic about the Brewers’ chances.

The Cardinals and Reds both appear to be better, and while I believe that the Reds are easily better, the Brewers can finish better than the Cardinals. St. Louis was one game away from the World Series, but in the NLCS, they were outscored 35-18 by the Giants. I predict the Brewers to finish second in the NL Central, which would be a surprise to a ton of people. Last year, Ryan Braun posted absolutely incredible numbers, hitting .319 with 41 homers and 112 RBI. Braun, the 2011 NL MVP, could have won in 2012 as well, and he will be in the three-hole.

What does that mean? He will be knocking in Norichika Aoki, who posted a .355 OBP and .288 batting average in 2012, and Rickie Weeks, while setting the table for another star.

August 27, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez (16) hits a two run home run against the Chicago Cubs during the fifth inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Ramirez hit .300 with a .360 OBP and 105 RBI in 2012, and while he and Braun aren’t as dominant as Braun and Fielder, Ramirez is underrated and a very good player, and he and Braun will be dominant.

Corey Hart is also a talented player, and he will help drive in Braun and Ramirez in the five-hole. Hart will not be back on Opening Day, but he could be ready by late April. Last year, Hart hit 30 homers and got on base more than one-third of the time.

The Brewers finished third in runs scored with 776 runs in 2012, and while the Brewers were 22ndin pitching, the blame for that is almost solely on the bullpen. Milwaukee focused on upgrading the bullpen in the offseason, and brought in three relievers to help out.

Tom Gorzelanny posted a 2.88 ERA and can eat up innings, while Burke Badenhop was brought in to eat innings. Mike Gonzalez stifled lefties, holding them to a .179 batting average, and has good fastball velocity. He can pitch to righties too, though, as his overall ERA was 3.03 and his FIP (fielding independent pitching) was 2.98. Basically, that means that his ERA should have been about 2.98 if everything played out normally in terms of fielding.

Yovani Gallardo anchors a strong rotation with lots of talent, one that posted the 13th best ERA last year among starting rotations. Marco Estrada, Mark Rogers and Mike Fiers are all young, and Wily Peralta is also a prospect with potential.

Gallardo is 60-38 in the last four years, and Estrada posted a decent 3.64 ERA while walking under 1.9 batters every nine innings. These two can take the reins and lead the pitching staff, and if needed, the Brewers can target a pitcher at the trade deadline. Milwaukee has a great offense and a good pitching staff anchored by a legitimate ace, and I believe the bullpen will be a lot better, as John Axford still saved 35 games. I believe he can return to his 2011 form, when he saved 46 games in 48 chances.

There are question marks, but the same goes with every team. Milwaukee is complete and has the bats to find success, and I think the pitchers will surprise and power the Brewers to the playoffs.

And if they do get there, they could go even further.

Oakland Athletics

Last year, the Oakland Athletics literally came out of nowhere. However, they are still extremely underrated and not expected to go very far.

The A’s made a lot of moves in the offseason, such as acquiring Jed Lowrie, Chris Young, John Jaso and Hiroyuki Nakajima. However, the A’s appeared to be fine, as they were one win away from the ALCS after a magical run to capture the AL West.

Oakland finished sixth in team ERA last year, and the bullpen combined for a 30-14 record and 2.94 ERA. The A’s had a rotation full of just rookies in 2012, but now with Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Bartolo Colon and A.J Griffin, they are ready to roll.

Dec 18, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima poses for photos with his jersey during a press conference announcing his signing at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

No one expected the A’s to win the World Series in 2012, but it is a realistic possibility in 2013. Sure, it would be unexpected, but that’s the way the A’s like it. The Giants have always been doubted and underrated, and they have captured two championships in three years.

Last year, the A’s had huge needs at catcher, second base and shortstop (before Stephen Drew), and they filled both needs. John Jaso posted an exceptional .389 OBP in 2012, while Jed Lowrie posted a .331 OBP and hit 16 homers in 340 at-bats. That means that he hit a home run in 4.7 percent of his at-bats.

The A’s already had a good offense, but they should be much better with Jaso and Lowrie. Second base is still a bit of a problem, but Nakajima, who hit .297 or better in all of his years in Japan, can play there. Scouts have even compared him to 2009 World Series MVP Hideki Matsui, and he has been projected to hit .270 or .280 in the big leagues, a solid clip by all means.

In 2012, Oakland scored 713 runs, 14th in the league, and blasted 195 home runs. For a frame of reference, the World Series champion Giants hit just 103 long shots. Oakland can go long, and their new additions will help.

Another thing that will help is having Cuban star Yoenis Cespedes healthy. Cespedes hit .292 with a .356 OBP in his rookie season, while hitting a home run in about 4.72 percent of his at-bats. The speedy Cespedes also stole 16 bases with an 80 percent success rate.

Cespedes can be a star on a team that lacks one, but in baseball, you don’t need stars. The A’s are a low-payroll team, but one that is complete with talent and the potential to go far. They make games dramatic, play hard, make the game fun and win close games. Having Cespedes as a star would only help. Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie will be decent table-setters, and Cespedes can knock them in, swipe some bases and score for himself with the powerful Josh Reddick behind him. It will make for a powerful lineup that will score runs.

Oct 7, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Oakland Athletics left fielder Yoenis Cespedes (52) at bat during game two of the 2012 ALDS against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

While critics can think of reasons to doubt the A’s, and while I think that the A’s could struggle in 2013, they are out on a mission to prove that 2012 wasn’t a fluke. They are much more talented and experienced, and with a successful first half instead of a 43-43 record, they can go places.

And they will go places. If players step up and things fall into place, the A’s could actually go to a dark, gloomy place that no one, not even A’s fans, expect them to go: the World Series.

 

Tags: Cleveland Indians Milwaukee Brewers Oakland Athletics Seattle Mariners Yoenis Cespedes

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