What Should We Look Forward to in Major League Baseball This Year

Although difficult to wade through the college basketball talk and piles of NCAA brackets, opening day is quickly approaching, baseball fans, and this season is shaping up to be one of the finest in years.  Certainly part of that is the excitement of another successful season for the Nationals and a possible World Series appearance, but there are many other compelling storylines throughout baseball.

Building off my article last week discussing the many things I am excited about watching this season in regards to the Nationals, and to help build excitement for the upcoming season, I thought I should briefly mention a few of the many things I am excited to observe around baseball in 2013.

9)            MLB Draft

As an aspiring baseball scout, the three days of the MLB Draft are some of my favorite days of the year.  This year’s draft has some interesting storylines with Stanford pitcher Mark Appel returning for his senior season rather than signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who drafted him 8th overall last June.  It will be fascinating to see where he is ultimately selected in the draft this summer.

In addition, it will be an intriguing to see how major league front offices adjust in the second year under the new collective bargaining agreement rules limiting the amount of money teams can spend on draft pick bonuses.

Finally, I am curious to see how the Nationals overcome their lack of a 1st round pick, forfeited as compensation for signing Rafael Soriano this winter.  For the third consecutive year I will be live blogging all three days of the draft, so join me in June for this extravaganza.

8)            Trade Deadline

The July trade deadline always holds intrigue, as the rumors flying on various websites gets fans excited about the prospect of new players on their roster, and disappointment if their team decides to stand pat.  Last year for the first time in years, the Nationals were perceived buyers at the deadline, only to let the deadline pass and acquire catcher Kurt Suzuki a few days later.  Who knows what will happen this summer, but I eagerly anticipate the days leading up to the deadline, and breaking down each team’s transactions or lack thereof.

7)            Breakout Stars

Although sabermetricians have done outstanding work in recent years projecting future performance of players and teams, one of the best aspects of baseball is the unpredictable nature of the game itself.  Each year, a few players outperform even their most outlandish projections to produce magical seasons and often announce themselves as superstar quality players.

2012 saw breakout seasons from Anaheim CF Mike Trout, Oakland SP Jarrod Parker, San Diego 3B Chase Headley, and Washington SS Ian Desmond to name just a few.  While it is foolish to attempt to prognosticate such extraordinary and unlikely performances, my top choices to flourish in 2013 are Kansas City 1B Eric Hosmer, Tampa Bay OF Desmond Jennings, Toronto 3B Brett Lawrie, and Washington 2B Danny Espinosa.

6)            World Baseball Classic

Although this tournament has already finished, I wanted to recognize this event as one of the best parts of this baseball season. I was somewhat skeptical of this tournament in the months leading up to this event but my opinion was quickly transformed after watching the passion of the players and fans and how much the quality of baseball around the world, especially in the supposed underdog countries, has improved from the last event.  There will be many articles written in the upcoming years on how to improve this event, but take these columns as acknowledgement that the baseball community understands the importance of this tournament.  Congrats to the Dominican Republic on an excellent win.

5)            Watching MLB Extra Innings Late Night

After watching Nationals games in the early evening, I look forward to turning to the baseball package to watch superstars on the west coast like Anaheim Angels hitters Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp and starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey and pitcher Tim Lincecum, and Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez and Beast Mode Mike Morse to name just a few.

4)            The American League East

So many wonderful and intriguing storylines exist in the AL East this year.   How do the many new pieces in Toronto fit together and do they have enough talent to make the playoffs for the first time in twenty years.  Does Baltimore replicate their success from last year in 1-run games and approximate their 93-69 record.  Can Tampa Bay overcome the loss of pitchers Wade Davis and James Shields and return to the playoffs.  Will the age of the Yankees roster catch up to them this season, or do Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera have one last World Series run left in them. Finally, how will the Red Sox respond after the major trade last summer and the numerous free agent signings this winter.  I am excited to see how each of these teams reacts to their given circumstances this season and who eventually wins the dogfight to claim the division title.

3)            Houston Astros

Many baseball analysts are predicting a historically bad season for the Astros in 2013, and on paper, their roster looks much worse than some of the shabby teams the Nationals fielded just a few seasons ago.  However, I am a big believer in former Nationals third base coach Bo Porter, and I think Houston has hired some of the most impressive baseball people in general manager Jeff Luhnow and executives Kevin Goldstein and Mike Fast to name a few.  This season will be a struggle at the major league level, especially as they shift to the more difficult American League West, but I will watch with a keen eye as the Astros shrewd front office continues to implement their long-term organizational plan to rebuild through scouting and development.

2)            Emergence of Young Players

Major league baseball is going through a prosperous time in terms of emerging young talent, with talented under 25-year-old players such as Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward, Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, Tampa Bay Rays southpaw Matt Moore and outfielder Wil Myers, and Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg, not to mention the 22-and-under rising stars such as Baltimore pitcher Dylan Bundy and third baseman Manny Machado, Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, and Texas Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar.   I am excited to watch the continued development of these young superstars all season.

1)            Mike Trout and Bryce Harper

These two rising stars will be interminably linked throughout their careers and it will be fascinating to watch both of their careers progress.  Perhaps the most interesting year for each player will be this season, as Trout is coming off the most impressive baseball season since Barry Bonds in 2004 and Harper arguably the best season for a 19-year-old hitter in baseball history.  Expectations have increased significantly and both teams’ World Series aspirations will only happen with monster seasons from both of them.  I expect both of them to exceed all expectations and post jaw-dropping numbers leading both teams to the playoffs next fall.