Philadelphia, PA – Well that didn't take long now did it?
Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine waited a whole week before he took a shot at his new enemy, the New York Yankees. On Tuesday, Valentine indirectly took a swipe at Alex Rodriguez while complimenting the retiring Jason Varitek, then took a shot at Derek Jeter's famous flip play in Oakland back in the 2001 ALDS.
All this a day after saying how he gets paid to do while former Red Sox skipper Terry Francona now gets paid to talk when the latter brought up the fact that Valentine had banned beer in the Boston clubhouse this season.
Yeah, Valentine is going to make things so much fun this season.
So with that said and in continuing with our 2012 Major League Baseball coverage, we take a look at 14 players in the American League who could be critical to their team's success this season. To check out Jeff Saukaitis' NL players to watch, go to http://goo.gl/uBdrH
BALTIMORE - MATT WIETERS: We had heard for years about this catching prodigy in the Orioles' system. Well, after a disappointing 2010, the former fifth overall pick started to flash some of that potential last season, swatting 22 home runs to go along with 68 RBIs and 72 runs scored. More importantly, though, he was a terrific tutor to a very young pitching staff. Buck Showalter may be the manager of this group, but, make no mistake, this is Wieters' team. The Orioles may not be a contender this year, but if Wieters is as good as everyone seems to think he can be, it may not be long before they are.
BOSTON - JOSH BECKETT: Like the entire Red Sox team, Beckett has something to prove this season. The face of the infamous "Beer and Chicken" crew, Beckett struggled down the stretch, as did most of the Red Sox, in one of the more epic collapses in baseball history. Beckett may not be the dominating Justin Verlander type over a 162-game season, but he has stretches during a season when he is that. Beckett's always seemed to pitch better with a chip on his shoulder and this year there may not be anyone who has more to prove than him. If he's healthy, Beckett could be in for a career year, which may translate into the team's first postseason win since 2008.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX - DAYAN VICIEDO: Take a look at that Chicago White Sox's batting order. Aside from Paul Konerko, where is the power coming from? Well, the White Sox seem to think this can be the guy they thought Adam Dunn would be last year. Granted he only has six big league home runs to his credit, but the White Sox believe he could put up Carlos Quentin-type numbers, meaning they expect around 20 home runs and 80 RBIs or so. Now if Viciedo pans out and the White Sox get anything resembling a pulse from Dunn, Robin Ventura's maiden voyage into the managerial ranks may not be as bumpy as most think it will be this season.
CLEVELAND - UBALDO JIMENEZ: One of the more sought after pitchers at last year's trade deadline, Jimenez surprisingly wound up with the Cleveland Indians. After an amazing 2010 season in Colorado, Jimenez struggled in the first half of 2011 and never really got on track. His time in Cleveland was nothing special, either, as he went just 4-4 with a 5.10 ERA in 11 starts, a far cry from the 19 wins and 2.88 ERA he flashed the previous season. The Indians were one of the feel-good stories last season and have a ton of young talent in their lineup. If they are really going to make some noise in the AL Central, though, Jimenez needs to be close to the pitcher he was two years ago in Colorado.
DETROIT - MIGUEL CABRERA: All eyes are on Tigers camp in Lakeland, Fla. Not only because of the $200 million man Prince Fielder, but because Cabrera is shifting over to third base to accommodate him. Unlike Hanley Ramirez in Miami, Cabrera has been all for it from the get-go. The only problem is, he has proven to be a disaster there. During a 14-game stint at third with the Tigers in 2008, Cabrera committed five errors and was quickly moved across the diamond. He's made 48 errors in 387 games for his career at third base. Cabrera is in this league, though, because he can mash at the plate. But will his struggles in the field carry over to the batter's box?
KANSAS CITY - MIKE MOUSTAKAS: Last year, first baseman Eric Hosmer was the Royals' breakout start. This year, it will be their third baseman, Moustakas. The second overall pick in the 2007 draft, Moustakas got his first taste of big league action last season and managed five home runs and 30 RBIs, while hitting .263. The 23-year-old flourished in September, however, hitting .353 with four homers, 12 RBIs and 10 runs scored.
L.A. ANGELS - VERNON WELLS: Think about this for a second. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim owe Wells $63 million over the next three seasons. Last season, Wells earned $23 million and hit .218 and drove in 66 runs. To make matters worse, the Angels have one of the top-three prospects in all of baseball in Mike Trout ready to go, but is blocked at the moment because of Wells. It's either put-up or shut-up time for Wells because in case you haven't been paying attention, this is an Angels team that is ready to compete now. It won't, though, if Wells continues to be an albatross in left field.
MINNESOTA - JUSTIN MORNEAU: One of the sadder stories in baseball over the past couple of seasons has been the concussion problems of Morneau, the former AL MVP. He appears to be 100 percent this spring and ready to get back to the form that made him a four-time All-Star. Unfortunately, though, he hasn't been anywhere near the same player he was before that fateful day in Toronto in July 2010 when he first got a concussion. Last year, he was only played in 69 games and hit a mere, .227, down over 120 points from the previous year, and managed just four home runs and 30 RBIs. The Twins probably won't contend this year with or without a healthy Morneau, but it would put a lot of people's minds at ease if he could get through a season healthy.
NEW YORK YANKEES - PHIL HUGHES: As crazy as this sounds, 2012 could be a make- or-break season for the 25-year-old Hughes. At one time the top prospect in all of baseball, Hughes won 18 games as a starter for the Yankees in 2010. However, his 2011 campaign never got off the ground as dead arm issues caused him to miss most of the first three months and he ended the year 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA. Because of Hughes' decline, the Yankees had to address their starting pitching this offseason and acquired not only flame-thrower Michael Pineda, but Hiroki Kuroda. Hughes has now been relegated to battling Freddy Garcia for the final spot in the rotation, but the Yankees still believe he is a top-of-the-rotation starter. And if they are right, the Yankees could be real dangerous.
OAKLAND - YOENIS CESPEDES: There is not much to be excited about this season if you are a fan of the Oakland Athletics. Sure, some will buy into the Manny Ramirez stuff, but if you are looking for something to be excited about, look no further than their new center fielder, Cespedes. One of the more sought- after international free agents in recent history, the Cuban defector signed with the A's recently for $36 million over four years with the hope that he would be the face of the franchise by the time the team heads to a new stadium, hopefully by 2015. Cespedes has the goods, though, and set a Cuban National Series record with 33 home runs.
SEATTLE - JESUS MONTERO: How desperate were the Seattle Mariners to add a bat? Well, they had to deal a 23-year-old All-Star right-hander to land one. But, that's how much they believe in Montero. Last year, the Mariners were last in the majors in runs (556) and team batting average (.233). Enter Montero, who hit .328 with four home runs and four doubles in 18 September games for the Yankees. The team can say all they want that he will one day be their catcher, but Montero is in the majors because of his bat and will be the team's everyday designated hitter.
TAMPA BAY - MATT MOORE: Most thought Joe Maddon was out of his mind when he named Matt Moore the team's Game 1 starter in the ALDS after the 22-year-old had made just one big league start. But, Moore showed why Maddon is one of the best managers in the game and responded with an amazing performance that saw him throw seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball. So, it came as no surprise that the Rays locked Moore up this offseason with a five-year, $14 million deal, despite just 9 1/3 big league innings to his credit. Jeremy Hellickson was the team's breakout star last season. There are a lot of people in the Tampa area banking on the fact that Moore is that guy this season.
TEXAS - YU DARVISH: The Texas Rangers have lost their ace in each of the last two offseasons. It is certainly a rotation in flux, especially with closer Neftali Feliz joining the group. But manager Ron Washington is hoping that he has an ace in their Japanese import, Darvish. A two-time Pacific League MVP, the 25-year-old pitched to a sub-2.00 earned run average the past five seasons for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, and signed a six-year deal with the Rangers, who paid over $50 million just for the right to negotiate with him. With last year's ace, C.J. Wilson, pitching in the same division with the Angels, the Rangers will need Darvish to catch on sooner rather than later.
TORONTO - COLBY RASMUS: Away from the disapproving eye of Tony LaRussa in St. Louis, Rasmus is ready to realize the potential that made him a first-round pick. However, in his short time with the Blue Jays, Rasmus showed why La Russa often grew frustrated with him, as he hit just .173 in 35 games after the deal. This is a new year, though, and Rasmus has entered Jays camp with a clear mind and a new leg kick incorporated into his swing, ready to put last year's miserable season behind him.