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Coming of Age: Teams Need Their Young Talent to Step Up

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It's nothing new. Every year there are teams relying on a young player or two to come of age and provide the type of production that can contribute to an improved level of success.

Maybe not necessarily a rookie or a player heading into his sophomore campaign, but a young player who has suffered through some growing pains or someone who is on deck for a bigger role with the team.

Even though the improved play from youngsters is a welcome development, perhaps just as important for some organizations is the fact that they're still relatively cheap. Even teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are starting to place more emphasis on developing and using their young talent in order to save money.

Here are a three players to keep an eye on 2012 as they could play an integral role in their teams success in the near future:

  • Phil Hughes, NYY - A lot of fans are down on Phil Hughes, but there is still some hope for him as a starting pitcher. Even if he doesn't evolve into the unquestioned ace that Yankees fans were hoping for, he could provide the Yankees with another chip to use in a trade to address the current and upcoming hole(s) in the offense.
  • Daniel Bard, BOS - We all know the story of what happened to the Boston Red Sox last season. Their pitching fell apart down the stretch and so did their team. Ironically, the team probably got better when John Lackey was lost for the year. I'm confident that Bard will be no worse than Lackey, but can he be a force in the No. 3 or 4 slot in the rotation? He is certainly an intriguing piece of a Red Sox team that is looking for a strong bounce back season.
  • Dexter Fowler, COL - Fowler has always had a lot of talent - although it was raw talent. He has struggled to refine it over the past few years, but he appears to be ready to turn the corner this season. Not only did he make significant improvements in the second half of 2011 (improved K, BB and HR rates), but he's also added seven pounds of muscle this offseason while dropping his body fat. Fowler could be an invaluable contributor to a team that could easily make a run at the NL West crown.
There are certainly several additional players who are in a similar position with their teams heading into 2012. Keep an eye on this particular trio though as their success (or failure) could have a significant impact not only on their teams, but on their divisions as well.