Here's an early look at baseball's awards

Major league baseball kicked off its season last week, so it seems like as good of a time as ever to predict the individual awards given out by the league. Here are my predictions:

Alex Rodriguez, 3B NYY*

Though he didn’t have a typical ARod-type season in 2010 when he hit a career-low .270, Rodriguez was still able to drive in 125 runs thanks to a potent Yankees lineup. Rodriguez’s 125 runs were one run short of American League leader Miguel Cabrera. With this past offseason being the first in two years where he isn’t coming off surgery and was cleared to work out, Rodriguez is in terrific shape and poised to get back to the elite level of offensive production we’ve seen throughout his career. I don’t think 40-45 home runs is out of the question, and we all know the run totals will be there.

*AL Cy Young
Justin Verlander, SP DET*

The answer to the “Who is the best starting pitcher in the AL?” question might still be Seattle right-hander Felix Hernandez, but it does seem like one of these years Verlander is going to put up an insane season and take home the hardware. Why not this year? Verlander’s been wearing a scowl since the beginning of March, and the Tigers need it now.

*AL Rookie
Jeremy Hellickson, SP TB*

It’s a major cliche to talk about a young starter’s polish. At any given time there is someone in the game whom most consider the most polished pitching prospect in all of baseball. For the last two years, that someone has been Hellickson. If you saw one of his four big league starts last year, you know what I’m talking about. If not, you’re in luck because he’s coming soon to a ballpark near you. Hellickson has not only an impressive arsenal of pitches, but he also has the control and wherewithal to execute at a high level. He could already be the Rays’ No. 2 starter. Also, watch for Baltimore lefty Zach Britton, who has one of the best power sinkers around, and if he’s called up in June Royals first basemen Eric Hosmer has the power to challenge for this award.

Jay Bruce, RF CIN*

The Cincinnati Reds are a hot pick for the World Series, and one of the reasons for that is the expected emergence of outfielder Jay Bruce as a superstar. Though Bruce is only 24, he’s spent the majority of his last three seasons at the big league level and shown there is little he can’t do on the field. Bruce is one of the rangiest corner outfielders in the game and sports a plus throwing arm. He hit 25 home runs last year and might be approaching his power ceiling. More impressive than the power he’s displayed, Bruce showed the ability to hit for average (.281) and do damage against left-handed pitching (he hit .277 and slugged .547 versus left-handers in ’10). Of course, Albert Pujols could take home the award any year.

*NL Cy Young
Tim Lincecum, SP SF Giants*

Lincecum already has two Cy Young awards and the run he’s had the last three seasons culminating in last season’s World Series victory has been remarkable. Lincecum is one of the five best pitchers on the planet and won’t flare up in August like he did last year. Another guy to look out for would be the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, who might have the best 12-6 curveball in the league, and there’s the Marlins’ Josh Johnson, who might have the best pure stuff of anyone in the game.

*NL Rookie
Brandon Belt, 1B Giants*

Belt destroyed pitchers in the minor league in his debut in 2010, hitting .352 with a .455 on-base while slugging .620 with 23 homers and 112 RBI across the top three levels of the minors. Even for a first baseman, this kid can really rake. Flame-throwing lefty Aroldis Chapman is another name to watch as he’ll be lighting up radar guns and setting up out of the Reds bullpen as a relief ace.

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