by Matt Whitener
The National League East is a division with plenty of teams in “win now” mode, but also featuring a few that have evolving every day doors as well. Many of the open opportunities for a breakthrough candidate are conditional, but still could have major impacts on the depth that can make a difference in a tight pennant race…or the push to stay relevant. Here’s a candidate for each club that could go from the outside to being the unforeseen difference-maker this summer:
Julio Teheran, SP: It’s easy to underestimate the impact that Teheran can have, just based off the accolades he’s carried for so long. It seems like he’s been a top prospect for a decade now, but the 22 year-old hasn’t been able to relay that promise into Major League results yet. However, with Randall Delgado traded to Arizona and Brandon Beachy still mending from Tommy John surgery, he has a chance to not only solidify his place in Atlanta, but to force a very difficult decision between himself, Mike Minor and Paul Maholm when Beachy returns to live action at some point this summer.
Casey Kotchman, 1B: A non-roster invitee to Marlins camp, Kotchman has a chance to stick in the shifting scene on South Beach. With Logan Morrison working back from offseason knee surgery, this is the perfect spot for Kotchman to crash. A former Gold Glove winner that hit .306 just two years ago over a full season, he has a chance to at least stick with an improved defensive presence off the bench in the long run.
New York Mets
Travis d’Arnaud, C: The centerpiece of the deal that moved R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays, the pressure to not start him from day one is probably tough to resist. With John Buck in tow, there’s experience to play right away, but in a top talent-deficient Mets lineup, getting the future started soon with d’Arnaud surrounded by David Wright and Ike Davis would be easy to justify. He has hit .320 combined with 37 homers between Double and Triple-A in the Blue Jays system the last two years.
Darin Ruf, OF: The Phillies outfield on either side of center fielder Ben Revere is up in the air. A rotation split between Domonic Brown, Laynce Nix, and John Mayberry is most prominent right now, but the 26 year-old Ruf has a chance to insert himself into the equation in a major way. He hit 38 home runs at Double-A Reading a year ago, and added another three in 12 games with the Phillies as well. While he will have to work at the full-time transition from first base to an outfield corner, his big (and more importantly, right-handed) bat could be invaluable every day.
Bill Bray, RP: There’s a lack of left-handed presence anywhere on the Nationals roster, which is a reason why an experienced arm like Bray could easily find his way onto the club. Injuries limited him to 14 games for the Reds in 2012, but a career line that features a .218 batting average against for left-handed batters bodes well for him. It could come at the expense of a talented arm such as Ryan Mattheus or Henry Rodriguez, but might be a solid investment in a division with Jason Heyward, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Ike Davis.
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