MLB: Top 10 Triple Crown Contenders For 2013 And Beyond

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MLB: Top 10 Triple Crown Candidates For 2013 And Beyond

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H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

Triple Crown winners are obviously very rare in baseball, with Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera becoming the first player to accomplish the feat since 1967 with his MVP campaign in 2012.

Without the lofty home run totals of the "Steroid Era", it is now easier for a hitter to lead his league in all three Triple Crown categories (home runs, RBI, batting average). In the case of Cabrera, his 44 home runs led all of baseball last season and he was one of just six players to hit 40 or more home runs. So the days of having to hit 50 or even 60 home runs to lead a league in that category are long gone, perhaps never to return.

It may be awhile before another Triple Crown winner in baseball is seen, if only because it is among the rarest accomplishments in any sport. But there are plenty of potential candidates around that could put together such a season, ranging from players in their prime to rising young stars across every position on the diamond.

When thinking about potential Triple Crown contenders for the coming season and beyond, I purposely left Cabrera off my list even though he still young enough (30 on April 18) to put together another season or two like 2012 before his career is over. Quite simply, attaining a Triple Crown once in a career is tough enough and doing so twice would be next to impossible.

So here are my top 10 Triple Crown contenders for 2013 and beyond. Who makes your list?

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10. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Oakland Athletics

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Cespedes had a solid rookie season in 2012, as he hit .292 with 23 home runs and 82 RBI. After a slow start and a disabled list stint in May, he hit .304 with 18 home runs and 61 RBI from June 1 through the end of the season. He dealt with multiple nagging injuries even during that good stretch, which cost him some games, so a return to full health and improvement from the rest of Oakland’s lineup creates a lot of upside here. I don’t necessarily expect Cespedes to contend for a Triple Crown in 2013, but beyond that I think he has a good chance to be among the league leaders in the required categories.

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9. Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels

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Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Pujols is certainly no longer in his prime at age 33, and his decline in numbers over the last couple seasons serve as the biggest evidence. It seems surprising he has just one batting title (.359-2003) on his resume and led the National League in home runs just twice (2009, 2010) during his time with the St. Louis Cardinals. A run at a Triple Crown is unlikely here since he would have to recapture the production of the past, but if Pujols can remain healthy over the next couple seasons nothing is out of the question.

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8. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants

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Posey returned to health last season after suffering a broken leg in 2011, and earned a batting title (.336) on his way to being named National League MVP. Playing catcher is obviously not always a recipe for offensive success, and a pitcher-friendly home park won’t help his production either. But Posey may just be entering his offensive peak, and continued progress this coming season and going forward stands to put him among the league leaders in home runs and RBI in short order.

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7. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The overriding concern with Tulowitzki is health, as he only played 47 games last season due to a groin injury and has only reached 150 games played twice in six full big league seasons. But few players at his position have his offensive upside, and he is still in his prime at 28 years old. A solid lineup around him and a hitter-friendly home park in Coors Field creates big potential for Tulowitzki, but only if he can find a way to stay on the field.

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6. Robinson Cano, 2B, New York Yankees

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Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Cano set a career-high in home runs (33) last season, and he finished in the top 10 in the American League in batting average (.313) for the fourth time in his career. He is still in his prime at age 30, and may have some upside left if he can become more consistent at the plate and avoid long cold streaks. Winning a batting title has long been considered inevitable for Cano, but a boost in home runs and RBI with the good circumstances surrounding him in New York is not out of the question.

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5. Justin Upton, RF, Arizona Diamondbacks

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Upton had a dismal 2012 season, hitting .280 with just 17 home runs and 67 RBI over 628 plate appearances. Injuries did not appear to be a major factor in his struggles, and he may still be scratching the surface of his potential at age 25. The Diamondbacks have reportedly been fielding trade offers for him this winter, so it’s possible he will be elsewhere by the time the season starts. Upton will need to make more contact and raise his batting average to seriously contend for a Triple Crown, but I think he will be a league leader in home runs and RBI at some point over the next few seasons.

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4. Josh Hamilton, OF, Los Angeles Angels

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Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Hamilton stayed in the American League West by signing with the Angels this offseason, and hit 43 home runs last season with the Texas Rangers despite hitting just eight home runs in June and July combined. Durability and age (32 in May) are big factors in Hamilton maintaining the success he has had in recent years, with one batting title (.359-2010) and one league-leading RBI total (130 in 2008) on his resume. Hamilton’s history with substance abuse and the potential physical breakdown that could bring puts him tenuously on this list, but I think the upside he has is simply too much to ignore.

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3. Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins

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Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Stanton is one of the best young power hitters in all of baseball, and he is coming off his best season in 2012. Despite being limited to 123 games by knee and oblique injuries, he finished second in the National League in home runs (37) and drove in 86 runs along with a .290 batting average and a league-leading .608 slugging percentage. Stanton looks like the last man standing in Miami after their offseason fire sale, which may lead to opposing pitchers avoiding him in key situations and limit his opportunity to drive in runs. But at age 23 the sky is the limit for him in 2013 and for many years to come.

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2. Ryan Braun, LF, Milwaukee Brewers

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Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Rumors of Braun’s demise heading into last season with a failed drug test and the departure of Prince Fielder turned out to be great exaggerated. He led the National League in home runs with 41, while also finished in the top five in RBI (112-second) and batting average (.319-third). Durability has not been an issue for him to this point, but if he continues to run like he has the past two seasons (63 combined stolen bases) it’s fair to think leg issues may come up at some point. Even with that and the possibility of being largely overlooked, Braun belongs in this spot on this list.

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1. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

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Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Votto played just 111 games in 2012 due to a knee issue, which helped lead to a dismal his home run total (14), but he did post a career-best batting average of .337. A return to full health should bring a rebound to his previous power production, and if more of the 84 doubles he has over the past two seasons clear the fence a return to his career-high home run total (37 in 2010) or beyond is possible. As one of the best all-around hitters in all of baseball, Votto gets the top spot on this list.

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