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Difference Makers

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The ONE single biggest, newest difference maker to watch on each MLB team 
The key word is new to an MLB team for 2012 spring training – and the other key is difference maker. And here’s the final rule: only one candidate per team. Most are players, but not all. Headed to spring training? Here’s my list of who to go see:
Metro Phoenix, Arizona (Cactus League): West Valley teams 
Indians (Goodyear): 1B/DH Casey Kotchman (He isn’t a sexy acquisition, but the Tribe needed veteran depth and they found it in Kotchman).
Reds (Goodyear): RHP Mat Latos (will the Reds be getting the Mat Latos of 2010 who was lights out or the Mat Latos of 2011 that was erratic? The answer could define Cincinnati’s season).
Rangers (Surprise): RHP Yu Darvish (no explanation required!)
Royals (Surprise): LHP Jonathan Sanchez (the southpaw starter will need to recapture what he brought the Giants in 2010 en route to the World Series for Kansas City to snap its playoff drought).
Mariners (Peoria): DH/C Jesus Montero (the Mariners need a slugger of the future. They might have finally found one).
Padres (Peoria): OF Carlos Quentin (if San Diego is to be a sleeper in 2012 like it was a 2010, the outfielder will need a big year at the plate).
Dodgers (Glendale): RHP Aaron Harang (Returning back west in 2011 helped revitalize the Californian who went 14-7 with San Diego a year ago).
White Sox (Glendale): Manager Robin Ventura (the post-Ozzie era begins on the South Side. Will the White Sox contend or cause Ventura gray hairs?)
Brewers (Phoenix): 3B Aramis Ramirez (he isn’t Prince Fielder, but if Ramirez can slam 25 homers and drive in at least 70 runs, the Crew could defend their division crown.)
Metro Phoenix, Arizona (Cactus League): East Valley teams
Cubs (Mesa): General Manager Theo Epstein (I didn’t say the one candidate had to necessarily be a player or manager! The Cubs won’t contend in 2012 because Boy Wonder’s got a plan – for the future. He’s the difference maker – long-term.)
A’s (Phoenix): OF Yoenis Cespedes (the Cuban could be one of the only bright spots in what figures to be a long season for Oakland.)
Angels (Tempe): 1B/DH Albert Pujols (explanation not required!)
Giants (Scottsdale): OF Melky Cabrera (after one solid season in Kansas City, the Melky Way is now by the Bay. If he can put up 15 HR and 70 RBI in the National League, the Giants will be in the thick of the pennant race.)
Diamondbacks (Scottsdale): RHP Trevor Cahill (the Snakes starting rotation only got better with the acquisition of Cahill.)
Rockies (Scottsdale): C Ramon Hernandez (The veteran Venezuelan backstop will be a key mentor to Colorado’s young pitching staff.)
Florida Grapefruit League: teams on Florida’s Gulf (West) Coast
Yankees (Tampa): RHP Michael Pineda (the Bronx Bombers finally have a solid No. 2 behind CC Sabathia.)
Blue Jays (Dunedin): RHP Sergio Santos (Toronto’s new closer saved 30 games for the White Sox in 2011.)
Phillies (Clearwater): RHP Jonathan Papelbon (Bye Bye, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge, hello Papelbon.)
Orioles (Sarasota): LHP Tsuyoshi Wada (the lefty posted a 1.51 ERA a year ago – and no, that’s not a misprint. Wada was 16-5 with that mind-boggling 1.51 ERA last year in Japan.)
Pirates (Bradenton): RHP AJ Burnett (he’ll either be the rock the Bucs need – or he’ll be a mediocre train wreck.)
Rays (Port Charlotte): 1B/DH Carlos Pena (back in Tampa after one year in Chicago, Pena should hit even more bombs back in familiar American League territory.)
Red Sox (Fort Myers): Manager Bobby Valentine (there’s a new sheriff’s on Yawkey Way.)
Twins (Fort Myers): OF Josh Willingham (one of the most underrated hitters in the game, Willingham belted 29 HR and netted 98 RBI a year ago, playing half his games in enormous Oakland Coliseum.)
Florida Grapefruit League: teams on Florida's East Coast and in its Central region
Cardinals (Jupiter): OF Carlos Beltran (no one can replace Albert Pujols but Beltran’s contributions will be essential if the Redbirds are to repeat as title champs.)
Marlins (Jupiter): SS Jose Reyes (the Dominican was the biggest off-season signing for the Fish and he’ll either by the straw that stirs the drink or he’ll be the infirmary that stirs headaches.)
Mets (Port Saint Lucie): RHP Frank Francisco (What, Mets fan, not excited? Well, he’s your closer now.)
Nationals (Viera): LHP Gio Gonzalez (the southpaw will be an integral part of the Nats starting rotation.)
Astros (Kissimmee): SS Jed Lowrie (no longer in Boston, the Stanford alum finally gets a chance to play 162 games.)
Braves (Lake Buena Vista): SS Tyler Pastornicky (while he’s not new to the organization, the prospect is likely finally the man at shortstop even though he hasn’t played a big league game – yet.)
Tigers (Lakeland): 1B/DH Prince Fielder (no explanation required!)

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