Players facing make-or-break seasons

Hanley Ramirez, Jon Lester and Colby Rasmus must live up to their potential in 2013. USA TODAY Sports

Chris Davis had 1,005 plate appearances in his first four seasons in the big leagues, and so he was at a crossroads in his career in 2012. He had just turned 26 years old and had 441 strikeouts and 253 hits, and if he had struggled again, he may have cemented a reputation for being a not-quite-ready for prime time player.

But Davis stepped up and had a good season, posting an .827 OPS and hitting 33 homers among 53 extra-base hits; he had some big moments to help the Orioles make the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

Every year, there are always players facing a similar challenge, of defining themselves -- or redefining.
Here are nine players in that position in 2013, among others:


Hanley Ramirez | SS/3B, Los Angeles Dodgers

Everybody remembers the days of Hanley Ramirez as one of the sport's most dynamic, well-rounded stars, because they weren't that long ago. In 2007, Ramirez -- then 23 years old -- hit .332, with a .386 on-base percentage, 29 homers and 51 stolen bases.

But his OPS has declined:

2007: .948

2008: .940

2009: .953

2010: .853

2011: .712

2012: .759

There are major questions about Ramirez on defense as well. Some talent evaluators -- including many within the Marlins' organization -- had determined two years ago that Ramirez was no longer suited to be a shortstop, so Miami signed Jose Reyes and shifted to Ramirez to third base. But that transition did not go well, as these FanGraphs numbers show. After being traded to the Dodgers, he eventually was shifted back to shortstop, but didn't really play the position that well, again.

So as spring training opens, there are myriad questions about Ramirez: Can he play shortstop for a playoff contender? Does he need to go back to third base? Does he need to find another position? Can he ever be a high-impact hitter again?

The uncertainty about Ramirez is part of the reason that preseason metrics being run by rival teams don't reflect well on the Dodgers. But Ramirez -- now 29 years old -- has time to change that, and he'll need to soon, because he has two years remaining on his current contract.


Drew Stubbs | CF, Cleveland Indians

The speedy outfielder gets a fresh start with the Indians, a chance to reset and use new voices in attempting some adjustments. Over the past three seasons, Stubbs has 539 strikeouts and a precipitous decline in his OPS:

2009: .762

2010: .773

2011: .685

2012: .610

Stubbs is 28 years old and the athleticism is still there: He has 110 stolen bases in his career, and is a good outfielder. Terry Francona, the Indians' new manager, undoubtedly posed questions about Stubbs to those he knows before Cleveland traded for the outfielder, and Francona will go into spring training with an open mind. Stubbs has the chance to reverse the direction of his career.