Adam Jones–CF–Baltimore Orioles: Unlike his football counterpart who shares the same name, this Adam Jones prefers hitting homeruns to hitting bodyguards and would much rather make the playoffs than make it rain. Jones came to Baltimore last year and started for the Orioles in centerfield as part of the historically bad trade that sent Erik Bedard to Seattle (*Bill Bavasi slaps forehead*). After struggling early in the season Jones came on strong in the second half and showed the exciting combination of speed and power that will make him a cornerstone of Baltimore teams for years to come. He plays centerfield with aplomb and a 20HR-20SB season is not out of the question for Jones in 2009; this kid’s upside is through the roof.
Ian Stewart-2B-Colorado Rockies: Stewart won’t be able to hide out in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains for much longer; this middle-infielder is a legitimate 30-HR threat. One of the Rockies top prospects last year, Stewart justified that title by bashing 10 HRs and driving in 41 runs in only 266 ABs during the 2008 season. Although he still strikes out at an astonishing rate, his power potential and ability to play any spot in the infield make him one to watch in 2009.
Shin-Soo Choo–OF–Cleveland Indians: Not surprisingly, Choo is a former Mariner prospect who flourished once he left Seattle. Choo absolutely tore the cover off the ball once he started getting at-bats last season, hitting .343 after the All-Star break. The South Korean Sultan of Swat should continue his assault on AL pitching in 2009 and coupled with Grady Sizemore give the Indians a potent offense. Look for Choo to hit around .300 with 20-25 HRs and 85-90 RBIs, not bad numbers for a guy that couldn’t stick in the Mariners’ outfield.
Chris Davis–1B-Texas Rangers: Chris “Crush” Davis earned his nickname in the minors because of his repeated tattooing of baseballs; he did nothing to change that reputation after his call-up last season. In just under 300 ABs Davis drilled 17 HRs, 23 2Bs and had 55 RBIs and 51 runs. Playing a full season in the bandbox that is the Ballpark at Arlington gives him a legitimate shot at 40 HRs, no small feat in the post steroid era (only 2 players hit more than 40 HRs last year, Adam Dunn and Ryan Howard). AL West pitchers, handle with caution.
Elijah Dukes–OF-Washington Nationals: Sure he’s got more bats in his belfry than Charles Manson, but this guy knows how to hit a baseball. After being castoff from Tampa Bay for repeated bad behaivor, Dukes found a place to play that has no trouble turning a blind eye to criminals: Washington D.C.! He was an instant asset to the Nationals on both sides of the ball and if he can stay out of trouble, could contend for the coveted position of the one player that the team gets has to send to the All-Star game (sorry Dmitri Young). Dukes has the potential to hit 25 HRs and steal 20 cars bases in 2009.
Matt Cain-SP-San Francisco Giants: Matt Cain has looked ready to break out for the past couple of seasons only to struggle with control issues and poor run support. Last season, he went 8-14 despite a 3.78 ERA and 186 Ks, mainly due to an anemic Giants’ offense that batted Bengie Molina in the cleanup spot (that’s like having a “Best of the ’80s” concert headlined by Banarama). The Giants have made significant strides during the offseason, and if Cain can cut down on his walks he should increase his win total and get some of the recognition that’s given to San Fran’s other ace, Tim Lincecum.
Johnny Cueto–SP–Cincinnati Reds: Although the words “Cincinnati Reds” and “quality pitcher” generally go together about as well as “Mark McGwire” and “honest”, the team has actually managed to assemble a stable of young, talented hurlers. Cueto struggled at times during his rookie year, and was overshadowed by the stellar season of his teammate Edison Volquez, but has some of the best stuff of any pitcher in the NL. Cueto showed flashes of brilliance last season, including striking out nearly a batter an inning after the break, and he should improve considerably in his sophomore campaign. Still just 23-years-old, Cueto has the potential to win 10-12 games and post an ERA under 4.00 with tons of Ks in 2009; buy now while the price is low.