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Best guesses from the projection room

By Nick Cafardo
April 5, 2009
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As the 2009 season gets underway, we look at our individual projections for the year:

American League MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit. Cabrera's offensive talents are bound to produce an MVP season provided the Tigers can remain competitive in the AL Central. Cabrera, who will turn 26 April 18, has hit 175 homers and knocked in 650 runs in 5 1/2 seasons in the majors. He owns a .309 career batting average, a .381 career on-base percentage, and a .541 career slugging percentage. The feeling among scouts is that Cabrera, who in 2008 had his lowest OBP in five years (.349), will slowly but surely grow accustomed to the AL.

National League MVP: Manny Ramírez, Los Angeles. In a league where you could almost retire the award for Albert Pujols, Ramírez has a one-year deal with an option, which means he is still playing for a contract and will continue to be motivated. Which means he'll put up ginormous numbers and lead the Dodgers to the NL West title and beyond.

AL Cy Young: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston. Three years into his major league career, this could be when Matsuzaka puts it all together. Matsuzaka has won 33 games in two seasons and was superb this spring in winning his second World Baseball Classic MVP award. If he takes the next step and economizes with his pitches, he could win 20-plus games with a low ERA.

NL Cy Young: Johan Santana, New York. If his elbow holds up, the Mets lefthander is still considered the best pitcher in the league. With his stuff, he should continue to dominate lineups inferior to the ones he used to face in the AL. His competition? The Giants' Tim Lincecum, last year's winner, is an event every time he pitches. We're also looking for a big year from Jake Peavy, who will likely be dealt by the Padres at the trading deadline to a contender.

AL Rookie of the Year: David Price, Tampa Bay. He should get out of Triple A in time to pitch 150 innings and make a run at this. He'll likely compete tooth-and-nail with Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who could be up by mid May. Keep an eye on 20-year-old Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus and Chicago second baseman Chris Getz.

NL Rookie of the Year: Tommy Hanson, Atlanta. The 22-year-old righthander will start the year in Triple A but should get his chance, because Bobby Cox loves him. "Reminds me of a young John Smoltz," said Cox. High praise. He throws 97-98 miles per hour with movement.

AL Manager of the Year: Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota. Gets the max for the minimum. If he can stretch out some starting pitchers into the seventh inning, and if his lineup scores enough runs to augment a decent rotation and super closer Joe Nathan, Gardenhire could win the division and cruise to this award.

NL Manager of the Year: Fredi Gonzalez, Florida. He has done a nice job teaching his young players the game and would deserve recognition for keeping the Marlins, with a skimpy $33 million payroll, in contention in the tough NL East.

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Jorge Posada, New York. Posada looks healthy and he's still quite a hitter. He looked OK behind the plate this spring and threw the ball well, a sign that he's recovered from shoulder surgery.

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Todd Helton, Colorado. After an excellent spring, Helton has his power back and his back seems healthy. This guy can still hit.

AL breakout player: B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay.

NL breakout player: Justin Upton, Arizona.

The diversity count

The University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports will likely release its annual racial and gender report later this month, telling us how Major League Baseball graded in diversity issues in 2008. The institute's report last year showed that African-Americans constituted 8.2 percent of major league rosters in 2007 - a 20-year low and a growing concern for MLB.

Barring last-minute changes, the numbers don't appear to have changed much in 2009. By our count, there will be 73 African-American major leaguers on Opening Day - about 9 percent of rosters. The breakdown:

Seven - Los Angeles Dodgers: C Russell Martin, RHP James McDonald, RHP Cory Wade, 1B James Loney, 2B Orlando Hudson, OF Matt Kemp, OF Juan Pierre.

Five - Los Angeles Angels: OF Torii Hunter, OF Chone Figgins, 2B Howie Kendrick, LHP Darren Oliver, OF Gary Matthews Jr.

Four - Milwaukee: 1B Prince Fielder, 2B Rickie Weeks, 3B Bill Hall, CF Mike Cameron; Pittsburgh: LHP Donnie Veal, RHP Ian Snell, OF Craig Monroe, OF Nyjer Morgan; Arizona: 1B Tony Clark, RP Tom Gordon (DL), OF Justin Upton, OF Chris Young; Washington: OF Lastings Milledge, OF Elijah Dukes, OF Willie Harris, 1B Dmitri Young (DL); Detroit: RHP Edwin Jackson, DH Marcus Thames, CF Curtis Granderson, LHP Dontrelle Willis (DL); Cincinnati: 2B Brandon Phillips, LHP Arthur Rhodes, INF Jerry Hairston Jr., OF Chris Dickerson.

Three - San Francisco: OF Randy Winn, OF Fred Lewis, SS Emmanuel Burris; Houston: RHP LaTroy Hawkins, CF Michael Bourn, LHP Wesley Wright; San Diego: OF Cliff Floyd, OF-INF Scott Hairston, OF Jody Gerut; Chicago Cubs: 1B Derrick Lee, OF Joey Gathright, OF Milton Bradley;

Two - Minnesota: OF Delmon Young, OF Denard Span; Chicago White Sox: OF Jermaine Dye, OF Dewayne Wise; Cleveland: OF Ben Francisco, OF Grady Sizemore; Tampa Bay: OF B.J. Upton, OF Carl Crawford; Baltimore: OF Adam Jones, SS Robert Andino, Philadelphia: 1B Ryan Howard, SS Jimmy Rollins; New York Yankees: SS Derek Jeter, LHP CC Sabathia; New York Mets: OF Marlon Anderson, OF Gary Sheffield.

One - Kansas City: OF Coco Crisp; Florida: OF Cameron Maybin; Atlanta: OF Garret Anderson; Colorado: OF Dexter Fowler; Seattle: OF Ken Griffey Jr.; Toronto: OF Vernon Wells; Oakland: OF Rajai Davis; St. Louis: INF Joe Thurston; Texas: OF Marlon Byrd.

None: Boston.

Etc.

Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Hank Aaron always said how embarrassing it was to strike out 100 times. He never did. While it's common nowadays, Albert Pujols hasn't, either; 2. In this economy, I'd be heading to McCoy Stadium a lot; 3. Wonder if Robinson Cano will get that batting title we've been waiting for; 4. Looking forward to the Junichi Tazawa era; 5. I'm calling it: a David Ortiz Opening Day homer.

Updates on seven . . .
1. Dave Roberts, OF, free agent: The 2004 Red Sox hero told me he'll officially announce his retirement in the coming days. He was released by the Giants and needs another knee surgery. "I'm OK with it now," said Roberts. "I'm looking forward to the next phase of my life - either stay in the game and coach or go into broadcasting. I'll never forget Boston and what happened there. It'll always be the fondest memory for me."

2. Gary Sheffield, OF, Mets: They wanted Manny Ramírez, but couldn't afford him, so they settled on Sheffield. They'll pay $400,000 of his $14 million deal. Good pickup for the Mets, who now have a really tough lineup, and good for Sheffield, who is one short of 500 homers and gets to play in the field instead of DHing. Said a scout, "His bat speed isn't that much slower than it was two years ago before the shoulder issues."

3. Dexter Fowler, OF, Rockies: His options out of high school: sign with the Rockies, play baseball at the University of Miami, or play basketball at Harvard. He chose the Rockies. Great arm, speed, and defense. A rookie to watch.

4. Jay Payton, OF, free agent: Two scouts I spoke to were shocked that nobody had picked him up. He is 36 and had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right arm, but he is surely a victim of the times.

5. Nate Robertson, LHP, Tigers: The Tigers are hoping Robertson will at least pitch well out of the bullpen so they can deal him to a team that has a pitching injury. Owner Mike Ilitch has pretty much given president Dave Dombrowski the OK to eat contracts. They did it with Sheffield. Robertson, who has $17 million left over two years, could be next. That's a lot of dough for the Little Caesars pizza empire, but Ilitch, who is up there in years, wants to win.

6. Frank Thomas, DH, free agent: He started working with hitting coach Mike Easler at the On Deck batting facility in Las Vegas three weeks ago. The results? "First, he's in great shape," said Easler. "Second, he's hitting the ball really well. We've tried to get him back to doing what he did in Chicago with Walt Hriniak when he had his greatest years. He could definitely help a team right now as a DH/part-time first baseman. He could also help an NL team because he could be a fine pinch hitter."

7. Kosuke Fukudome, OF, Cubs: For all the criticism he took for his pedestrian .257 average with 10 homers and 58 RBIs in his first season, Fukudome walked 81 times, 11 after falling behind on the count 0-and-2 - best in the majors, according to Stats Inc.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck Files: "Nolan Ryan played for the original four expansion franchises: the Mets, Angels, Astros, and Rangers [once the Senators]. In his last season, he pitched with rookie Darren Oliver, who has joined Ryan as the only players to hold the distinction of playing for those four clubs. BTW: From 1972-74, when Ryan played for the Angels, his teammate was Bob Oliver, Darren's dad." . . . On Opening Day, wish Lou Merloni a happy 38th birthday and Marty Pattin a happy 66th.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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