Each and every season, there are always players with something to prove. Whether they’re looking to show that they can play at a competitive level that they’ve never lived up to; looking to show that they can be the dominant player they once were; or simply are looking for a good year for their team to have a good year — there are numerous players that you could categorize as having very important seasons coming up.
With that said, not every player that needs a good season is on the list I put together below. I can think of a few dozen players that arguably need to post solid numbers in 2015, but I couldn’t include them all, and had to make some difficult exclusions. Just the opposite, there could be a few players on my list that you don’t think need a good season. Either way, this is just a list of ten players — not necessarily the “top ten” — that I feel need a good 2015 season for one reason or another:
1.) Justin Verlander
For the majority of his career, Justin Verlander has been an unbelievable pitcher. But for the 2011, 2012 seasons, he was on an entirely different planet. Going 41-13 with a 2.52 ERA over those years, and racking up a Cy Young award and MVP for his efforts in 2011, Verlander was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. Lately, however, he hasn’t been the same player. Since 2013, Verlander has posted a combined 3.99 ERA over the course of 66 starts. Given, some of that may have been due to some injuries — injuries that Verlander claims are completely healed now. Now that Max Scherzer is gone, if the Tigers stand any shot at making the World Series like they play for every year, they need a dominant Justin Verlander each and every start throughout the coming regular season.
2.) Ryan Howard
Injuries have not been kind to Ryan Howard over the past three years or so. The once feared slugger, with MVP caliber numbers year after year after year, hasn’t put up very much production for the Phillies in quite awhile. After hitting 58 home runs in 2006, and putting up 45+ home runs and 136+ RBI’s in the three years following that historic season, Howard has failed to hit more than 23 home runs in a season since. Battling aforementioned injuries, Howard played in less than half the Phillies games in 2012 and 2013, but had a decent season last year, with 23 homers and 95 RBI’s over 153 games played. But those numbers aren’t good enough for the Phillies or their historically verbal fans. If he wants to regain both his stardom and the support of the fans, Ryan Howard needs a healthy, productive 2015.
3.) Jackie Bradley Jr.
Unlike the previous two players on my list, Jackie Bradley Jr. doesn’t make the top ten for me because he has fallen from previously good seasons. Bradley still has something to prove — both to the Red Sox and their fans. Once one of the top prospects in all of baseball, Bradley’s Gold Glove caliber defense has been shown off at the big league level, however, his ability to hit hasn’t yet arrived. It needs to do so in 2015. With so much outfield depth for the Red Sox — including Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo — it may already be too far gone for Bradley to make his all around game appear for the Red Sox. However, if he does in fact get the chance this season, he needs to show the Red Sox that he isn’t just a good outfielder but an all around good baseball player.
4.) Bryce Harper
As with Jackie Bradley Jr., the 2015 season is a crucial one for Bryce Harper. While Harper hasn’t underperformed, he hasn’t lived up the unbelievable hype either. Cranking out just 13 home runs last season, all while battling injuries, Harper needs to have a healthy, breakout year this season. If Harper can stay healthy, and can fully tap into his power, he truly has 40 home run potential. And remember, despite the fact that he’s been in the big leagues for three seasons, Harper is still just 22 years old. There’s still plenty of time for him to develop into the superstar player he was coined when he was drafted first overall in 2010. If the Nationals can perform well as a whole, along with their pitching staff staying healthy, and with Bryce Harper thrown into the mix, the World Series is theirs to lose.
What can I say? Alex Rodriguez could hit 80 home runs this season and people still wouldn’t like him. But while Rodriguez can’t win back the majority of the fans around baseball, he still needs to have a good season, for his sake at least. Coming back from a 162-game suspension in 2014 for further performance enhancing drug use, A-Rod is heading into the season having not produced for the Yankees since 2010, when his streak of thirteen straight seasons with 30+ homers and 100+ RBI’s ended. No one expects him to return to that form this year, but the Yankees need him — even if they don’t want him. Their team is still a big question mark, with all the talent in the world but no guarantee things will go as planned. Alex Rodriguez needs to perform for the Yankees season to have a shot at a great one.
6.) Curtis Granderson
Curtis Granderson has never been a superstar player, but he has been a consistent outfielder over the course of his eleven year career. For six straight seasons (2007-2012), Granderson was able to post upwards of 20 home runs a season, with 2011 and 2012 being his best years by far, with 40+ homers and 100+ RBI’s. Since then, however, Granderson hasn’t been the same. While he hit 20 home runs last season for the Mets, he only batted .227. Though he’s never been a guy that hits for a high average — an all or nothing type hitter — Granderson still needs to hone things in a bit in the coming season. The Mets are getting Matt Harvey back, and if Curtis Granderson can produce along with the rest of the team, the Mets could end up shocking some people.
7.) Melvin Upton Jr.
Formerly known as B.J. Upton, Melvin Upton Jr. definitely needs to have a good season. After losing Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, and Melvin’s brother, Justin Upton, in trades this offseason, the Braves are widely regarded as a much weaker team than they have been recently. While they could still be a playoff team, it will take production from every single player — and that includes Upton Jr. Since leaving the Rays following a 28 homer, 78 RBI 2012 season, Upton Jr. hasn’t been the same, batting a combined .198 over the past two years. He needs to step up his game and bring his totals back to the former standout player he used to be. However, with reports that Melvin Upton Jr. will miss the first month or so with a foot injury, things aren’t starting off too well for his 2015.
Tim Lincecum has picked up two World Series rings over the past three years (he has three rings overall), but he did little in those two seasons to produce for the Giants. After back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009, when Lincecum went a combined 33-12 with a 2.55 ERA, Lincecum hasn’t been anywhere close to that level over the past few seasons. Since 2012, Lincecum is a combined 32-38, with a staggering 4.76 ERA. Those are certainly subpar numbers for ‘The Freak’. For a guy who has gone from a dominant starter to a part time reliever, it truly is unfathomable what has gone wrong with Lincecum and his performance. With so much uncertainty, this is a make or break season in my mind for Tim Lincecum. I’ll certainly be rooting for him.
9.) Joc Pederson
The only rookie on my list, and the second youngest player (Bryce Harper is six months younger than Pederson), Joc Pederson is the player that you don’t really know what to expect, but needs to have a good year anyway. It’s a lot of pressure on Pederson, but with the Dodgers trading away Matt Kemp to the Padres this offseason, they’ve now cleared the spot for phenom prospect Pederson to take over moving forward. After having the first 30 homer, 30 stolen base season in the Pacific Coast League since 1934, Pederson made his major league debut in 2014, but didn’t really live up to the hype, batting just .143 and striking out 11 times in 28 at-bats (admittedly, a small sample size). Even so, there are a lot of people who still believe Joc Pederson will be able to fill Matt Kemp’s shoes.
10.) Ichiro Suzuki
This is an interesting case. Ichiro Suzuki could quit right now and have Hall of Fame worthy numbers. But with him stating that he wants to continue playing for several more years, and not getting a lot of offers this past offseason, he needs to play well. Unlike last year with the Yankees, he should see more playing time with the Marlins in 2015, which should allow his always consistent numbers to be there. But with the Marlins only willing to offer him a one-year contract, he needs to prove that he is worth taking a chance on in the future. Sitting just 156 hits shy of 3,000 for his major league baseball career, Ichiro may not get there in 2015. So if he wants to reach the amazing milestone, it’ll take at least one more season, which will likely come from a good season this year.
*Originally, I had Josh Hamilton on this list, but in light of his current off the field battle, I decided to replace him with Curtis Granderson. I certainly wish Josh Hamilton the best.