Best Rotation: Oakland A's (Gonzalez, Braden, Anderson, Cahill, McCarthy)
Honorable Mentions: Boston Red Sox (Beckett, Lackey, Lester, Bucholz, Matsusaka); Tampa Bay Rays (Hellickson, Shields, Price, Niemann, Davis)
Billy Beane has done it again. Years after putting together the Mulder-Zito-Hudson three headed monster, Beane has managed to assemble another stellar class of starting pitching talent. The majority of the A's rotation may not be household names just yet, but many of them should be by the end of the season. Cahill, Anderson, and Gonzalez are all incredible young arms, and you may remember Dallas Braden pitching the nineteenth perfect game in MLB history last year. If the A's are going to succeed this year, they will have to lean heavily on their young staff because their offense is gonna be uglier than a sack of assholes.
Best Rookie: Jeremy Hellickson, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
Honorable Mentions: Kyle Drabek, SP, Toronto Blue Jays; Jesus Montero, C, New York Yankees; Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals
It seems like the Rays are the East Coast's answer to the A's in their ability to continue pouring out tremendous starting pitching talent. Hellickson will be another electrifying young arm that will add to the already promising crop of talent in David Price, Jeff Niemann, and James Shields. Hellickson finished with a 12-3 record at AAA Durham last season, striking out 123 batters in 117 innings and a 2.45 ERA to boot. Drabek, who was one of the players returned to the Jays in exchange for Roy Halladay, also has the potential for a strong season north of the border.
Best Chance for a Breakout Year: Kila Ka'aihue, 1B, Kansas City Royals
Honorable Mentions: Ryan Raburn, OF, Detroit Tigers; Brian Matsuz, SP, Baltimore Orioles; Gordon Beckham, 2B, Chicago White Sox
Last year, it was Jose Bautista shocking much of Major League Baseball as he belted out 54 HR. There might not be someone that breaks out quite like Jose did, but I expect big things from Kila Ka'aihue, even if I still am learning how to properly pronounce his name. The 27 year old has had a stellar Spring Training hitting 7 HR and knocking in 20 RBI. The Royals are a good young up and coming team and Ka'aihue will be a big part of their offense this year and into the future. Matsuz finished the 2010 campaign going 7-1 with a 2.11 ERA over his last 11 starts of the year. The only thing that might hold him back is having to pitch night after night in the Murder's Row that is the AL East.
Best Team That Didn't Make the Playoffs Last Year: Boston Red Sox
Honorable Mentions: Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers, Oakland A's
The Red Sox failed to make the post-season and you could definitely tell there was a sense of urgency this offseason to not something like that happen again any time soon. The team made two huge offensive acquisitions in trading for 1B Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres and picking up OF Carl Crawford in free agency. Gonzalez will fall in love with the short porch in right field at Fenway faster than Snooki fell in love with Vinny's sausage and meatballs. Crawford is another tremendous talent that gives the team flexibility and speed at the top of the order. If Beckett, Lackey, and Matsusaka can somehow rebound from down years in 2010, the Red Sox look like they could be a pretty unstoppable force out east.
Best Bet for the Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
Honorable Mentions: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers; Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels, Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins; David Price, Tampa Bay Rays; Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox; C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees; Trevor Cahill, Oakland A's
The American League is at no loss for top end starting pitching prospects. King Felix was flat out dominant last year and I have no reason to believe he shouldn't do exactly the same this year. With literally NO offense to support him, Hernandez managed to put together 13 wins to go with his 232 K's and 2.27 ERA. Weaver, Price, and Cahill are all young guns that just continue to get better and better year after year. Sabathia, Verlander, and Lester are always going to be in the mix and each of them plays with high-octane offenses that will be sure to provide plenty of run support. The field is stacked and this will be one of the most fun races to watch throughout the 2011 campaign.