Last week, I started bringing the baseball season with the first section of the top 100 MLB players. Since the first part of the list dropped, pitchers and catchers have started to drop into camps down in Florida & Arizona. Also, keeping with the theme of the offseason, the unexpected has continued to rule as the Oakland Athletics pulled the upset and signed a big name, big money international free agent.
I’m sure that the next 25 players below will continue that theme as well. There were already a few claims of “There’s no way he’s that low!”, as well as a few “Overrated” calls that have started up, and now the gripe is sure to get a bit deeper. It has no choice but to when below there is a former Cy Young winner, a World Series MVP, Rookie of the Year, owner of a 30 game hit streak and the youngest hits king ever, all before I even crack the top 50.
So with no more delay, and no more intro intrigue, here are the 75th through 51st best players in baseball today.
75. Dan Uggla, Braves: Is feast WHILE famine possible? Well Uggla, who knocked out 30 homers for the 5th straight year last summer (the only second baseman to ever have 30 or more in three seasons), would know. He built up a 33-game hitting streak last summer….but didn’t hit .200 during the duration of it.
74. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers: When he finished with 207 strikeouts last summer, he hit the mile marker for the third time before his 25th birthday, becoming only the third pitcher to achieve this in the last 25 years.
73. Carlos Santana, Indians: His tear through the AL his rookie year in 2010 ended when he tore his ACL, but he still didn’t miss a step. He hit 27 home runs in his first complete season, the type of numbers that will make his move from catcher to first base this year seem natural.
72. Alex Avila, Tigers: Speaking of backstops swinging big sticks, Avila took a huge step into the forefront a year ago, hitting .295. With his 2010 mate in catching Victor Martinez out for this summer, another campaign like the breakout he came off of.
71. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks: He’s the run-producing heart of baseball’s fastest risers in Phoenix. A complete bat with 30 double power & a strong arm in the field, he’s the field general for a very talented young pitching staff with arms like…
70. Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks: …the most surprising 20-game winner in the game a year ago. He epitomized the spirit of Arizona club that took down the World Champs and pulled a last-to-first turnaround: 2010 (in 32 starts) 9-10, 3.80 ERA. One year later (in 33 starts) 21-4, 2.80 ERA.
69. Paul Konerko, White Sox: He doesn’t age does he? Either that or he’s drinking that water Ponce De Leon found. Regardless of how his method, Konerko keeps swatting, and at 36 he’s coming off yet another 30 homer/100 RBI year.
68. Shane Victorino, Phillies: In the middle of a star studded Phillies club, he may be the most balanced overall threat they have. There aren’t too many switch hitting, Gold Glove holding, 30 base stealing, double digit triple totaling, All-Star players on any team.
67. Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians: The Indians surprised the baseball world prying the sensational Jimenez out of the Rockies last summer. They paid a high price, but got a dynamic talent back: He threw 1,342 pitches OVER 95 mph, and his 97 mph average is the hardest average in the game.
66. Jose Valverde, Tigers: It was dramatic at times, but results are results. The uber-eccentric Valverde took the ball in 49 save situations and saved 49 games for the Tigers last year. He brings a 51 game streak into 2012.
65. CJ Wilson, Angels: The Angels paid a big price to lure him from the rival Rangers, but they got one of the toughest lefties in the game. In just his second full year starting, Wilson won 16 games and ERA below 3.00. His game is rising right along with his income.
64. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: It’s a bit hidden because he’s showcasing his talents in the longtime baseball Siberia of Pittsburgh, but McCutchen is one of the most dynamic talents in the game, at only 25. Last year, he top 20 homers & 20 steals and the number in front of those zeros could get much higher.
63. Nelson Cruz, Rangers: Nobody has better long ball timing than Nelson. Just last year he became the first player to hit a walk off grand slam in a postseason game. Then two games later, he hit another game winning shot to become the first player to ever hit two game winning, extra inning homers in the same postseason series.
62. Starlin Castro, Cubs: There’s hasn’t been a whole to get excited about around North Chicago baseball recently, outside of their 21 year old shortstop. He’s kicked his career off with a tool set similar to a young Derek Jeter, and led the NL in hits a year ago with 207; becoming youngest hits king in MLB history.
61. Ben Zobrist, Rays: If intangibles had another name, it would probably be Zobrist. Tampa’s ultimate weapon can take a glove to any position, and few players do more to push their team to the next level. Last May, he turned in a 10 RBI double header performance.
60. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox: The Massachusetts on-base machine had his year ended early, but a return back to even part of his usual form makes him one of the most dangerous bats in the game. His 3 year average from 2008-10: .308, 25 homers & 90 RBI, with a robust .404 on-base percentage.
59. Dan Haren, Angels: A workhorse, definitely not the quarter variety. Haren simply throws quality inning on top of quality inning, and when he’s right, there’s little that can be done. He went over 30 starts and 200 innings for the 7th consecutive year in 2011 and tossed a career high three shutouts.
58. Neftali Feliz, Rangers: It looks like he’ll take his dominant stuff to starting games instead of finishing them in 2012. Not that that status quo was a problem; in his first two seasons he saved 74 games with him high 100 mph fastball/low 90’s slider mix.
57. Tim Hudson, Braves: He’s frustrated batters into 33 wins games the last two years, and it’s really no surprise. Wins are what he’s all about: he’s only once not won at least 60% of his games in a season.
56. Elvis Andrus, Rangers: Watch enough Rangers games and you’ll realize that anything not hit straight down the first base line could potentially be Andrus’ property. That same speed he uses to steal hits also gets him over 30 base thefts annually as well.
55. Zack Greinke, Brewers: Zack locked the gates of Miller Park in his debut year in the National League, going 11-0 at home. Overall, he won 72% of his starts, and despite missing the first month of the year, he struck out 200 batters as well. This full year he’s about to get could be scary.
54. Lance Berkman, Cardinals: Please, don’t call it a comeback. The Big Puma finished in the top 10 in the NL in virtually every category that matters after nearly not even getting an invite to join a team headed into the season and having to fit into the outfield. His reward this year: getting to change positions again…and replace Albert Pujols.
53. Craig Kimbrel, Braves: He made being a “rookie” look like a mere formality, because his year one reset the record books. His 46 saves destroyed the former NL rookie record by 10 & passed the MLB mark by six. If this wasn’t enough, he struck out 127 batters in just 77 innings and set the consecutive scoreless innings mark for the season too.
52. David Price, Rays: 41 wins & two All-Star games in three seasons of starting don’t tell the full story of Price. His repertoire is so devastating that he often doesn’t even need to change speeds, because often…it’s really not necessary. He cracked 200 strikeouts for the first time last year, and he’s just getting a hold on this starter thing.
51. Cole Hamels, Phillies: There’s not a better third best starter on any team than Hamels is on the Phillies, because really, there aren’t many 1’s or 2’s better on most other squads. An artist on the mound, moving the ball in and out, he averaged less than one base runner per inning last year.
For more debate as the bottom 50 wraps up and moves into the Top 50 best ballplayers in the world, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatfan.