Last year Freddy Sanchez emerged onto the stage and posted a .344 average in the NL. Likewise, Twins catcher Joe Mauer flirted with .400 for many months and eventually finished with a .347 batting average. Lurking in his rear view mirror was Yankees' captain Derek Jeter who has the chance to take home the award this season.
This season I don't envision many surprise players contending for the batting title, but one player who stands out to me is Blue Jays right fielder Alex Rios. After having his season cut short to a leg infection last year, he is primed to have a breakout year. At 26, Rios has the ability to hit 30 home runs, steal 20 bases and hit for a high average. While I wouldn't be shocked if he won the batting title I still think that it will be Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki who takes home the hardware.
The NL is a lot more convoluted as you have young power hitters like Miguel Cabrera, Garrett Atkins and Matt Holiday, and more established sluggers like Albert Pujols and Derrek Lee. If healthy, Lee can repeat is 2005 dominance and take home the batting title. Still, I like Miguel Cabrera of the Florida Marlins to win the batting title and improve on his .339 average from a year ago.
Comeback player of the year is an interesting subject to discuss because you never know what players are guaranteed to have bounce back season's and what players will re-injure themselves. In the AL, A's pitcher Rich Harden and Indians shortstop Jhonny Peralta are the front runners for the award. I like both players to have solid seasons. but it will be Oakland's Rich Harden winning comeback player of the year.
In the NL, the race for comeback player of the year should come down to the Cubs' Derrek Lee and the Rockies' Todd Helton. Both first baseman need to have productive season's in order for their teams to be competitive. While Helton might be nearing the end of his career, he can still hit for average and has the chance to belt 20-25 home runs.
Derrek Lee's season was cut short last year to due a broken wrist, but if he can continue on his 05' success he has the possibility to be one of the premier sluggers in the NL. A .330 average with 40 home runs and 120 RBI's is not out of reach for him. With that said, I expect Lee to be this year's NL comeback player of the year.
In my next column, I will reveal who will be this year's breakout hitters and pitchers in each league.