Which players will make the biggest difference in the NL East in 2011?
Athlon continues its in-depth preview of the 2011 MLB season. This week, we single out some important names that should be key difference makers for every team. Today, we look at the NL East.
Atlanta Braves: Dan Uggla, 2B
The Braves have gone four seasons without a 30-home run hitter. Not since Andruw Jones hit 41 and Adam LaRoche hit 32 in 2006 have they had a noted big bopper. They’re counting on that to change this year with the acquisition of Uggla, who hit more than 30 home runs each of the past four seasons for the Marlins. In recent years, the Braves’ main power sources have been Chipper Jones, who turns 39 in April, and Brian McCann, who’s dealing with the wear-and-tear of catching every day. They’re counting on Uggla to drive in their high on-base percentage guys like Martin Prado and Jones.
Florida Marlins: Chris Coghlan, OF
Already in his brief professional career, Coghlan has shown the ability to adapt. He was drafted as a third baseman, moved to second in the minors and broke in as a left fielder in 2009, winning NL Rookie of the Year honors along the way. Now, after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee last August, Coghlan will be asked to learn a new position: center field. His ability to make himself into at least an average defender at that position will go a long way toward determining whether the outfield defense can become an overall asset to a pitching-driven organization.
New York Mets: Carlos Beltran, OF
Most Mets fans have seen enough of Beltran, who has never lived down his called strike three to end the 2006 NLCS. But if Beltran’s right knee is sound, he could be an asset for the Mets, probably in right field instead of his customary center. He turns 34 years old in April, still young enough to be productive, and as a free agent after the season, he will have added incentive to perform. A strong Beltran could help the Mets win now or bring back talent at the trading deadline. But it’s all predicated on his health, which is always a major question.
Philadelphia Phillies: Jimmy Rollins, SS
Despite finishing second in the NL with 772 runs, the Phils were held to two or fewer runs 51 times in 2010. The team hopes a healthy Rollins can bring consistency to the offense. Leg injuries cost Rollins 74 games in 2010, and he hit a career-low .243. Club officials have urged the 32-year-old leadoff man to come into camp in better physical condition, and Rollins has indicated he will. Even after 10 seasons, Rollins is a top defensive shortstop, but he has plenty to prove at the plate as he enters his free agent year. “We need him to have a Jimmy Rollins year,” Charlie Manuel says. “He’s not a .240 hitter.”
Washington Nationals: Jordan Zimmermann, SP
The Nationals regard righthander Zimmermann as their No. 2 starter of the future, and he showed glimpses of that potential in 2009, when he struck out a team-high 92 batters in 16 starts and flashed two impressive breaking balls to go with a mid-90s fastball. But Zimmermann tore his ulnar collateral ligament in August 2009, and needed Tommy John surgery that kept him out of the majors until September. He showed more flashes of his potential last September, but with a full season (and full health), the 24-year-old needs to prove he can excel on a consistent basis.
2011 Difference Makers:
AL East | AL Central | AL West
NL East | NL Central | NL West