Back after a long time away, the 2014 major league baseball season has already begun. The Dodgers and Diamondbacks kicked things off in Australia over the weekend and now the wait is back on until the season starts back up this Sunday. With that being said, it is time to take a look at what are (or maybe not are) some of the most compelling things to keep an eye on for the upcoming year.
2013: Josh Donaldson and Jose Fernandez, 2014: ??
In 2013, fans saw two players who experienced extreme breakout seasons, one who saw it at a later age, and the other who saw it happen before he was of legal drinking age.
Josh Donaldson was once only thought of as a poor-hitting catcher. The A's turned him into a third baseman once they acquired him and, in 2013, he exploded for a monumental year hitting 24 homers and a stellar slash line of .301/.384/.499 with an OPS+ of 148. His performance saw him finish 4th in the AL MVP vote and helped the A's win another AL West crown.
Fernandez was the Marlins' top prospect entering 2013, until a stellar spring performance led the organization to believe that he was ready for the big leagues. It took a little seasoning, but Fernandez eventually dominated the opposition up until the Marlins decided to limit his innings and shut him down near the end of the season. His 187 K in 172.2 innings, 2.19 ERA, and overpowering stuff landed him the NL Rookie of the Year and a 3rd place finish in the NL Cy Young vote.
So the question is, in 2014, what guys will do what these two did?
Will the Dodgers run away with the NL West?
The Dodgers were a popular pick to win the NL West last season and the year began as a disaster for the organization. The talk began to center around what to do with manager Don Mattingly and whether superstar CF Matt Kemp was done due to injury after injury. That negativity died along with the rest of the NL West team's hopes of winning the division when the Dodgers took off in the middle of the year and never looked back.
They couldn't quite pull off the improbable, eventually losing to the NL champion St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, but the team seems prepared to win the West once again. The question seems to be not if the Dodgers will win the division, but who can really challenge them. The Padres? Giants? Diamondbacks? It will be interesting to say the least.
Can the Royals finally end their long playoff drought?
A popular pick to push for an AL Wild Card spot last season, the Royals failed to do so, falling short of the Rays and Indians. The season was not a complete failure, though, as the team did make strong pushes at different points in the season.
The team had glaring needs in right field and second base and did an excellent job acquiring Norichika Aoki from the Brewers and nabbing Omar Infante in free agency over the winter. Will the young talent the organization has developed along with the gap fillers be able to finally get them into meaningful October baseball?
Expanded Instant Replay and Its Potential Impact
It has been in the discussion for years and it finally has arrived. Instant replay has been expanded in MLB and there should be no doubt that it is going to be better for the game.
If you haven't had the chance to check out the new expanded instant replay rules in baseball, you can do so here.
The question is always going to be how something as large as replay will impact the sport going forward. The biggest debate being how much games will be slowed down as a result of the new replay rules. Even without trying, it is extremely likely that outlets all over the country will be evaluating the impact of replay throughout the season. The hope is that it will only be a positive one.
Who will reign superior in the AL West?
Well, it almost certainly will not be the Astros. The defending champion A's, the new and improved Mariners, the constant presence of the Rangers, and the team that is in ownership of the best player in baseball, the Angels, will almost certainly make this the most interesting division race of 2014.
Injuries and poor performances, as always, will make their impact known, but finding out which team will be able to overcome those obstacles will be rewarded greatly. Be sure to keep an eye on this one.
All statistics in this article were taken from Fangraphs unless otherwise stated.