Baseball season is close enough to taste. Spring Training is in full swing, weird jerseys and all, and teams are drawing closer to finalizing their Opening Day rosters. On this list I’ve included some guys who may not be making the headlines this spring, but can still make an impact for their club this season.
Alexei Ramirez, San Diego Padres
After spending 8 years as the White Sox starting shortstop, Chicago declined his team option for the 2016 season and Ramirez agreed to a $4 million deal with the Padres. Ramirez is filling a significant gap in the San Diego lineup, replacing an ineffective Alexi Amarista who slashed .204/.257/.287 in half a season as the starting shortstop. Ramirez is one of many players on the Padres looking to rebound from a disappointing 2015 campaign. Melvin Upton Jr. is looking to return to his former self and Wil Myers is hoping to finally reach his high ceiling.
I believe that Ramirez will be the breakout performer on this team, in part due to his new surroundings, and also because of his veteran record. He’s proven that he’s capable of being a reliable, everyday player (he’s played over 150 games each of the last 5 seasons) and we’re talking about a guy who was an All-Star just two years ago. Also, 2016 will be of the utmost importance to Ramirez because he’s pretty much playing to save his career. Chicago didn’t want him so he was forced to take a major pay cut of $6 million and head out to the wild, wild west. Certainly he didn’t sign with San Diego because of their playoff chances; he signed because it gives him an opportunity to play everyday and make a case for why he still deserves to play on a winning team.
While his numbers may not be flashy, Ramirez could be a bright spot in San Diego’s rather gloomy lineup. I could see him racking up 70+ RBIs and ranking in the top 6 in WAR among shortstops this year.
Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox really found a gem in this young Aruban infielder. After some experimentation at 3rd base in 2014, Bogaerts blossomed in his natural position of shortstop for the less than stellar BoSox in 2015. You could say that there really isn’t much of a case to be made for his “under-the-radar-ness” since he was so successful last season, but the reason he’s included on this list is because I think Bogaerts can become a top shortstop in the AL this season, second to only Carlos Correa. Basically, he can go from good to great.
Also, I feel that many people overlooked Bogaerts’ 2015 season due to the Red Sox absence from the playoff race. He wasn’t in the spotlight as much as a guy on a competing team, like Troy Tulowitzki in Toronto (who had roughly half the WAR of Bogaerts last year). Bogaerts deserves some recognition. If the Red Sox are going to be contenders this year, I would expect him to be one of the main contributors offensively.
Bogaerts has pretty solid home run power for a shortstop, but only hit 7 last season. If he fine tunes some of that power that he displayed in the minors and keeps driving the ball into the gap, his extra base hit total could skyrocket this season. I’m talking 40 doubles. He’s always hit for a high average, his first full season in the majors being no different (.320). Look for that to continue.
Corey Dickerson, Tampa Bay Rays
The 26-year-old outfielder was dealt away from the Rockies this winter which leaves many questioning whether or not he can produce outside of Coors Field. It’s not that he’s been horrible on the road in his career, but he’s been FANTASTIC at home. In 2014, he hit .363 at home and in 2015 he hit .395 (both partial seasons). While his extra base hit totals and batting average are inflated disproportionately, Dickerson seems to be a great fit for Tampa Bay. They have a few really solid pieces in their organization and Dickerson has the potential to be one of them. If he can avoid the injury bug in 2016, he could produce home run numbers into the 20s, maybe good enough for second on the Rays behind Evan Longoria. Plus, he serves as a major upgrade from Brandon Guyer and the departed David DeJesus who were the main options in left field last year.
Keep in mind, Dickerson is pretty young and maybe a move down to the Sunshine State will do him well. He’s going to have a chance to start a full season for the first time in his career and if he can develop his stealing ability, watch out for him at the top of the lineup.
Dickerson is a guy that could potentially become the biggest threat in the Rays lineup not named Evan Longoria. Along with Tim Beckham (who I happen to be a big fan of), that trio could propel the Rays to a winning season if they stay healthy enough to do it.
Stay tuned for my next article focusing on some potential breakout pitchers.