Great hitters used to be a dime-a-dozen, especially in the American League. But with power numbers plummeting and pitchers getting better and better, it’s tough to find a well-rounded hitter who will help your team in multiple categories. In most cases, you’re either getting power and a low average or speed without much pop. Here are four AL hitters who will help you rise to the top in 2013.
Edwin Encarnacion - Toronto Blue Jays
Encarnacion really came into his own in 2012, posting huge power numbers while keeping his average at a pretty high level. He belted 42 home runs and drove in 110 runs, both of which were career highs, while hitting .280. Even more impressive is that a lot of his damage was done without Jose Bautista ahead of him in the lineup. Encarnacion played in 151 games in 2012 but has only averaged 117 games per season over his eight-year career due to troubles at the plate and some injuries. I believe those problems are behind him.
The Dominican Republic native put up numbers in 2012 that blew his career averages out of the water. His OBP was .384 compared to a career .344 average. Encarnacion’s slugging percentage was .571 – 100 points higher than his career mark of .471. As a result, his OPS shot up to .941, which is more than 100 points higher than his career .815. All of these numbers will be the norm going forward for the infielder/DH.
The 30-year-old is in his prime and has several years ahead of him where he might be able to smack 50 balls out of the park – and he has a great stadium to do it in at the Rogers Centre. Encarnacion has been mainly used as a DH or first baseman over the last two seasons and should expect to see more time there with his recent success.
Imagine how many runs he will be able to drive in with Jose Reyes as the leadoff guy along with Emilio Bonafacio, who is also a major threat on the base paths. Encarnacion’s numbers should be staggering over his next few seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Mike Trout - Los Angeles Angels
The 2012 AL Rookie of the Year will follow up his sensational first campaign with a season that will put him right back in contention for the MVP award in 2013.
Trout finished with a .326 average, 30 home runs, 83 RBI, 49 stolen bases and 128 runs scored. All of these numbers were at or near the top of the AL - and he played in just 139 games. Even more staggering was Trout’s 10.7 WAR, which was the best in baseball since Barry Bonds’ 11.6 in 2002.
His other numbers weren’t too shabby either: a .399 OBP, .564 slugging and an OPS of .963. Each of those placed Trout in the American League’s top six. Needless to say, it was a phenomenal season for the rookie.
The 21-year-old is still extremely young and has all the talent as a veteran player despite playing in just 179 games so far in his career. He can run the bases, get the extra-base hit and basically put the Angels back into the playoff race late in the season with his spectacular play.
He might not be able to put up the same monster numbers, but there won’t be a sophomore slump for this kid.
Jacoby Ellsbury - Boston Red Sox
The 2013 season is a contract year for the 29-year-old and he has a full season ahead of him to put up some monster numbers. We all know that when he is healthy, Ellsbury is one of the most productive leadoff hitters in the game. He needs to prove that he can still get the job done, and he will be on a mission to earn as much money in 2014 as possible.
In 2011, Ellsbury really resurrected his career after playing just 18 games in 2010. He finished second in the MVP vote to Justin Verlander, who really blew everyone away by winning both the MVP and CY Yound awards that season. He hit .321 with 32 home runs, 105 RBI and 39 stolen bases. He is the only player in Red Sox history to have a 30-30 season. Ellsbury finished 2011 with an 8.0 WAR, which was second only to Ben Zobrist (8.5), and had career-highs in slugging percentage (.552) and OPS (.928).
However, last season was an entirely different story. He played in just 74 games and hit a mere .271 with four home runs and 14 stolen bases. Ellsbury’s OBP dropped to .313 and he slugged .370. He had his second-lowest OPS at .682.
After being injured two of the past three seasons, I expect the pendulum to swing back in favor of Ellsbury and the Red Sox this season. With contract negotiations looming, the speedy center fielder will do his best to stay on the field and will post some gaudy numbers.
Alex Gordon - Kansas City Royals
The 29-year-old is coming off two great seasons where he played all but 12 games and has put together some pretty solid numbers on a young Kansas City Royals squad around him. With the likes of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas surrounding him in the batting order, plan on Gordon to continue his string of terrific play this year.
The great thing about Gordon is his newfound ability to draw a walk. Over the past two seasons, he has averaged 70 walks while posting a .372 OBP – an increase from his career OBP of .348. He combined to hit 37 homers in 2011 and 2012 while driving in 87 and 72 runs, respectively. He even stole 17 bases in 2011, when his WAR was 7.1 - tied for ninth in the league. Gordon took a small step back last year but still posted a respectable 6.2 WAR, good for tenth in the AL.
An added bonus for Gordon is that he can play first base or third base if one of the young players goes down with injury. This means he could possibly qualify for a position other than outfield if he sees some time at first or third in 2013.
Despite being relatively young, Gordon is a veteran on this young Royals squad and will be looked upon for guidance. Kansas City traded away a young slugger in Wil Myers to Tampa Bay in order to acquire James Shields and other prospects. Gordon will need to make more strides offensively if the Royals can become contenders in the AL this year.