Spring training camps are open and exhibition games will begin before you know it. Most of the early at bats and innings on the mound will go to youngsters hoping to catch the manager's eye, or veterans looking to enjoy at least one more summer in the sun by earning a bench role.
The stars will slowly but surely see their workloads increase; starting pitchers will hurl three, then four, then five innings as they stretch their pitch counts out before Opening Day, while position players stay in the lineup for more than just one or two trips to the plate.
Two of those stars will be building towards an MVP season this spring, and that's what we're going to take a look at in this report with a look at the leading candidates. The MLB odds for next season's MVP's are not available quite yet at betting outlets, but it doesn't hurt to get a head start on the sports books in order to be ready to make wagers once the numbers are released.
Last year at this time, neither Miguel Cabrera nor Buster Posey were being talked up as the frontrunners for the 2012 MVP titles they eventually garnered. Cabrera was seen as something of a second-tier candidate in the AL after finishing fifth behind Detroit teammate Justin Verlander in the 2011 voting. Names like Albert Pujols, Jacoby Ellsbury and possibly Verlander repeating were at the top of the list.
Posey was coming off a gruesome ankle injury that knocked him out of the 2011 campaign after playing just 45 games, and it was a complete mystery how he would be able to just handle the rigors of catching, much less enjoy an MVP season. Most of the NL MVP talk last February centered around 2011 winner Ryan Braun's appeal following a suspension for PEDs.
Repeat winners are fairly rare with only 12 different players accomplishing the feat (Barry Bonds did it twice), and there has never been a season that it happened in both the AL and NL. Can Posey and Cabrera become the first?
Find out which players we think are worth adding to your MLB picks for next year's MVP.
American League MVP Candidates
Miguel Cabrera (DET): Anyone coming off a Triple Crown season has to be considered the favorite in his league. Miggy definitely benefited by having Prince Fielder hit behind him, and both of those sluggers should benefit with the return of Victory Martinez to Detroit's lineup. It also helps Cabrera to be playing on a Tigers team that is expected to win 95+ games.
Albert Pujols (LAA): Just as Cabrera got help with Fielder batting behind him last year, Phat Albert should be a bigger threat in 2013 with Josh Hamilton on deck in the Halos' batting order. And let's not forget that Mike Trout will once again be setting the table for both Pujols and Hamilton. That entire trio (Trout, Pujols, Hamilton) should be on your MVP watch list.
Justin Verlander (DET): Pitchers are fighting an uphill battle for MVP, but Verlander has already proven he can win it since he's more than capable of winning the pitcher's Triple Crown.
Robinson Cano (NYY): The Yankees second baseman was fourth in last year's AL voting and is playing for a big free agent payday at the end of 2013. Scott Boras is probably already dreaming of his commission on that deal.
Adrian Beltre (TEX): Has the ability to hit for average and power, and could have more RBI opportunities with Hamilton out of the Texas lineup, not to mention playing in a more hitter-friendly ballpark than Detroit or Anaheim.
National League MVP Candidates
Ryan Braun (MIL): The 2011 NL MVP and runner-up a year ago, Braun is a Triple Crown threat. He'll need some help from his Brewers teammates to put up those numbers, and Milwaukee will also need to contend in the NL Central.
Joey Votto (CIN): The sweet-swinging Redleg took the honors in 2010 and finished sixth in the NL voting in 2011, but is coming off an injury-shortened 2012 campaign. Assuming he's healthy, Votto should put up big numbers for a strong Cincinnati lineup this year.
Jay Bruce (CIN): If not Votto, why not Bruce? The former 1st-round pick turns 26 just after Opening Day and definitely has the power. If he can push his average up to .290 or higher, Bruce should have 35-40 HR and 120 RBI to tantalize the voters.
Clayton Kershaw (LAD): It has been 45 years since a pitcher won the NL MVP, so Kershaw is definitely a dark horse in this race. But like Verlander, Kershaw has the ability to win a pitcher's Triple Crown and should be a favorite to reach the 20-win plateau for the Dodgers.
Jason Heyward (ATL): Hate to leave Posey off my top 5, a case could be made for Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen somewhere on this list and there will also be a lot of talk about Washington's Bryce Harper. But I like Heyward in this discussion as much if not more than those three. There's a lot of talk about the Upton Brothers playing together in Atlanta, and that could take a little more pressure off the Braves' right fielder. Heyward turns 24 in August and could be in for a big year, especially if he can boost his batting average.