MLB Season Preview Part 3: Predicting the Award Winners

Over the past few weeks, I’ve dissected the American and National Leagues and predicted playoff teams and pennant winners. Today I’m here to lay out the favorites and dark horses for the MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Awards.

AL MVP – For the first time ever, the American League will be exposed to Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder on a full-time basis. Reigning MVP Justin Verlander was the first pitcher to win the award since Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and will have a much tougher time repeating due to the boost in the league’s talent. Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera and New York’s Curtis Granderson have to be included in the conversation as well, if only for their sheer raw skill and star power, not to mention their markets.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to mention the Ray’s Evan Longoria or anyone on the prolific Ranger’s offense. As for a long shot, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Carl Crawford have a massive bounce-back year and single-handedly lead the injured Red Sox into the postseason. If that happens and he puts up a .320 average, 20 home runs, 100 RBIs and 30 steal lines, it would be tough to vote against him. In the end, I see Miguel Cabrera coming away with the award after a strong season in Detroit.

NL MVP – Ryan Braun is in the opposite situation of Verlander. Braun now finds himself in a league devoid of Pujols and Fielder and is in a prime situation to repeat as MVP. While his offseason troubles might cloud the minds of voters, Braun’s skill is undeniable. Matt Kemp, and even his teammate Clayton Kershaw, should make strong cases for themselves, especially if they can lead the Dodgers into the postseason. Jose Reyes and Justin Upton figure to be in the mix, while Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman could be an upset winner if the Nats make some noise in the NL East. If the Marlins are as successful as some people are predicting and the injury bug doesn’t strike, I think Reyes will run away as the MVP.

AL Cy Young – Justin Verlander will be the favorite entering the year, but his incredible 2011 campaign will be almost impossible to duplicate. CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, David Price, James Shields and Ricky Romero highlight the candidates from the AL East while Felix Hernandez, Jered Weaver and Derek Holland top the rotations in the West. Of the aforementioned players, King Felix is my pick to take home the award for the second time in his young career.

An interesting wrinkle in the Cy Young pitcher exists due to the expected success of the Ranger’s Yu Darvish and the Ray’s Matt Moore. Both will have rookie eligibility in 2012 and could both make a strong case for both the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year honors, not to mention the MVP award as well.

NL Cy Young – The National League will be just as deep, if not deeper, in the pitching department. Adam Wainwright returns to the Cardinals after recovering from Tommy John surgery and will compete against other talented pitchers in his division, such as Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo and Johnny Cueto. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain will lead the Giants against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers in the West, and Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay will be on the frontline of the prolific Phillies staff that will face Josh Johnson of the Marlins multiple times this year.

One name to keep in mind is Johan Santana, who has not pitched in a Major League game since September of 2010. He is fully rehabbed from shoulder surgery and will be the Opening Day starter for the Mets. When healthy, Santana is one of the best in the business, and could put together another unbelievable season like the ones baseball fans were accustomed to during his days in Minnesota.

While Halladay and Lee are perennial contenders, Zack Greinke will be coming off a season in which he pitched well but did not achieve the results he desired. His peripheral statistics suggest that he was unlucky and his defense let him down. With another strong campaign and high strike out numbers, Greinke will take home the Cy Young.

AL Rookie of the Year – This race will boil down to three names: Matt Moore, Yu Darvish and Jesus Montero. All three will be huge contributors to their teams from Opening Day through game 162. Moore figures to throw at least 200 innings for the Rays, and Darvish plans on doing the same for the Rangers. Both flamethrowers have huge strikeout potential, but Moore will have to deal with the sluggers in the AL East, and Darvish will have to adjust to American baseball in the Texas heat after his move from Japan.

Montero moves over to Seattle from New York this year after being traded for Michael Pineda and will hit in the middle of a young, talented Mariners lineup. A full season of production out of him will jumpstart the offense and give support to the pitching staff that so desperately needs it. Ultimately, Moore will be named Rookie of the Year — the second year in a row that a Rays pitcher will win the award after Jeremy Hellickson won it last year.

NL Rookie of the Year – The National League won’t be as cut and dry as the American League this year. Highly-touted prospects Bryce Harper, Julio Teheran and Trevor Bauer will have to either wait for an injury or force their way into the lineup, but Cincinnati shortstop Zack Cozart already has the starting job secured. Everything scouts have to say about Cozart is positive, and the Reds will rely on his bat and glove to fuel a playoff run.

If Harper gets an early call-up, he could stay in the Washington outfield for the rest of the year and show off his five-tool skill set. Teheran has a log-jam of pitchers in front of him in Atlanta, but Bauer could convince the Diamondback’s front office to promote him sooner rather than later. A full season out of Bauer could prove that he belongs in the same elite class as Matt Moore. However, after a full season, Cozart will have accomplished more than his rookie competitors due to their late promotions and will take home the hardware.

Ed is a senior in engineering. He can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @cubsfan2310.