Sleeper MVP candidates: American League

Backed by his strong defense, Matt Wieters could be an MVP if his bat develops a little more. Rick Osentoski/US PRESSWIRE

Earlier, we listed our top five stealth MVP candidates for the National League. As a reminder, MVP winners usually meet these criteria:

1. Be on a playoff team (see Miguel Cabrera over Mike Trout, Ryan Braun over Matt Kemp, etc.)

2. Be an RBI guy.

3. Hit .300 (Jimmy Rollins is the only non-pitcher MVP since 1990 to hit under .300).

Here are my five sleeper MVP choices for the American League. The criteria to qualify as a sleeper is if the player has never finished in the top 15 of an MVP vote. I will say this: It was much harder coming up with five candidates in the AL. I don't know if that means the NL has been producing more young talent in recent years or if the AL voters have done a better job identifying MVP candidates in previous years. I think we're much more likely to see a stealth MVP in the National League.

5. Carlos Santana, C, Indians. Best MVP finish: None. This is a long-shot choice, and not only because the Indians need a lot to go right to contend for the playoffs, let alone reach them. Santana has power (27 home runs in 2011, 18 last year) and draws walks (91 in 2012), but hit just .252 last year. That, however, includes a homerless June in which he hit .162 after suffering a concussion in late May. He's not to going to hit .300, but if he hits in the .280 range, draws 100 walks, posts a .400 OBP, hits 30 home runs and drives in 100 runs as Cleveland wins the wild card, he could be that rare catcher MVP.

4. Austin Jackson, CF, Tigers. Best MVP finish: None. Entering his age-26 season, Jackson is coming off a .300/.377/.479 season, hitting 16 home runs, while missing 25 games. His problems as an MVP candidate are two-fold: He's a leadoff guy, so he isn't going to rack up the RBIs that MVP voters drool over; and he has a couple of teammates named Cabrera and Prince Fielder to steal his thunder. (I mean, if Trout can't beat out Cabrera, how can Jackson?) But if Jackson hits .315, swats 25 home runs, scores 120 runs, plays outstanding defense ... well, maybe the voters will do what they didn't do in 2012.

3. Brett Lawrie, 3B, Blue Jays. Best MVP finish: None. In about a full season's worth of plate appearances, Lawrie has hit .278/.336/.446. His sophomore campaign was disappointing with just 11 home runs in 125 games, but as he enters his age-23 season the talent is there for a breakout. Projected to hit fifth in the lineup behind Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, he's in line to get a lot of RBI opportunities. The defensive metrics love his glove at third, so if he can hit .300 and drive in 100-plus runs, his all-around game could impress.

2. Alex Gordon, LF, Royals. Best MVP finish: 21st in 2011. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Gordon ranks fourth in the AL in WAR among position players over the past two seasons, behind Cabrera, Ben Zobrist and Robinson Cano. If the Royals surprise, maybe Gordon's all-around game gets some recognition. He's won two straight Gold Gloves, led the AL with 51 doubles last year and has hit .303 and .294. Trouble is, he's 29, so he is unlikely to improve much (like hit .330 and win a batting title). If he hits leadoff, like he did half of last season, his RBI total will suffer, as well. And if the Royals do make the playoffs, it may be because Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas or Salvador Perez makes a huge leap.

1. Matt Wieters, C, Orioles. Best MVP finish: 21st in 2012. Wieters' numbers last year were similar to Santana's, so a lot of the same things apply to him. He'll have to hit much better than .249 and drive in 103 instead of 83. At 27 and with three seasons now under his belt, maybe he'll be one of those catchers who develops late with the bat. His edge compared to Santana is he may be the premier defensive catcher in the AL -- he's won the past two Gold Gloves (not that defense helped Trout a year ago). His second edge is that Orioles are probably a better bet to reach the postseason than the Indians. If Wieters improves with the bat and the Orioles return to the playoffs, his perceived leadership skills help make him a perfect stealth MVP candidate.

If you want a pitcher: Felix Hernandez, Mariners (16th in 2010). Seattle is a deep dark horse, but if the Mariners do make it, maybe it's because Felix has a Verlander-like season.

You may have thought they were stealth but they’ve finished in the top 15 of the voting: Zobrist, Yoenis Cespedes, Encarnacion, David Price, Adam Jones, Ian Kinsler.