Designated hitter may be the clearest job description in all of the work force: hit the ball, every time. And hard. You have no other job or responsibility, just go up and rake every time. But at the same time, such a clear job comes with some fairly heavy expectations as well. And those that do it better than most usually find themselves among the very best hitters in the game.

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That rings true with the best of the AL’s top specialty bats headed into this year. Among the best of the current group of DH’s includes a runner up for MVP honors, the league’s reigning top home run producer, the active (and returning) home run king and arguably the greatest player to ever frequent the position as well. The competition is thick, but the elite is still somewhat easy to pull apart.

With that said, here is the finale of the year’s Top 10 rankings headed into the spring, as well as the best in the game today to put a “particular set of skills” on display nightly.

 

1. Victor Martinez, Tigers: He narrowly avoided what could have been yet another serious knee injury this offseason, but is likely to be ready for Opening Day now. And considering the way that he stepped up last year, which is a godsend for the retooling Tigers. V-Mart finished second in the American League MVP vote after posting career bests in batting average (.335) home runs (32) and hits (188). Most remarkably however is that he was so efficient in his production that he joined none other than Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Barry Bonds as the only players ever aged 35 or later to hit .300 with 30 home runs, while striking out 45 times or less (42) – all in 641 plate appearances.

2-year average: .317 average/.876 OPS, 23 home runs/94 RBI/185 hits/78 runs scored/34 doubles

2. David Ortiz, Red Sox: The ageless Papi continued to be a top-tier run producer a year ago. He reached the 35 home run plateau for the first time in seven years –and eighth time overall – while also posting the sixth most RBI in the AL. With the retooled Red Sox lineup surrounding him this year, yet another high productivity year should be on deck for Ortiz as he creeps closer and closer to 500 home runs.

2-year average: .286 average/.916 OPS/32 home runs/104 RBI/148 hits/72 runs scored/32 doubles

3. Nelson Cruz, Mariners: He made the absolute most of his one-year redemption deal in Baltimore, making a huge impact by leading the Majors with 40 home runs. He also tacked on a career-best 108 RBI as well, and parlayed it all into being the Mariners’ major addition this offseason. He will return to an AL West where he averaged 27 long balls a year from 2009 thru 2013 for the Rangers.

2-year average: .269 average/.848 OPS/34 home runs/92 RBI/138 hits/68 runs scored/25 doubles

4. Adam LaRoche, White Sox: Steady as ever, LaRoche ran up over 80 home runs in his four year stint with the Nationals and in the process became one of the most dependable middle of the lineup options in the National League. Now as he takes his game to the American League, he should be fed a healthy diet of fastballs to allow him to transition nicely into his bat-only capacity on the South Side.

2-year average: .248 average/.776 OPS/23 home runs/77 RBI/124 hits/72 runs scored/19 doubles

5. Steve Pearce, Orioles: He was the biggest unsung contributor in the Oriole offense a year ago, whose emergence made it possible for the club’s offense to thrive in light of some of the serious injuries it had to endure. Pierce made the most of his first crack as a full-time option, connecting for 21 home runs and sporting a superb .373 on-base percentage as well.

2-year average: .284 average/.891 OPS/12 home runs/31 RBI/65 hits/32 runs scored/16 doubles

 

Runners Up: Alex Rodriguez, Billy Butler, Evan Gattis

 

To catch up on the entire Top 10 rankings series, stay locked here at CSP. To get the words in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

The relief pitcher game is a varied and tough world. From overpowering closers, to strategically placed match up artists, to the jacks of all trades that get the tough outs whenever they come up, there are all sorts of impacts that are requested out of the modern day bullpen.

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With all of those elements considered, 2014 was a year where it seemed that the redefinition of a true impact arm out of the pen took a further step in a new direction. Gone are the days when a big save total and a flashy one-inning arm alone makes for the cream of the relief crop. Now the seventh and eighth innings are arguably just as important and are also manned by some of the most dominant relievers in the game as well. In order to make an elite bullpen today, it takes at the minimum of what could be considered two closer caliber arms. The old adage of an elite reliever making it an “eight inning game” is getting earlier and earlier.

And with that, here are the best in the world at bringing a game to screeching halt today—regardless of when the cease fire may be needed.

 

1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves (#1 in 2014): He is the easy answer to a comprehensive question. No closer has been more efficiently dominant than Kimbrel has been since he debuted four years ago. In 2014 he kept to his usual ways, which included taking at least a share of the National League saves lead for the fourth straight year with 47, and posting a sub-2.00 ERA while holding batters to an average against beneath .200 (1.61 and .142, respectively) yet again.

2-year average: 1.40 ERA, 0.894 WHIP, 48 Saves, 57 Games Finished, 13.5 K’s per nine, .142 avg. against

2. Greg Holland, Royals (#5 in ’14): The final nail among KC’s deadly bullpen toolbox is Holland, who affirmed the fact that he is among the game’s most dominant mound presences a year ago. He nearly replicated his outstanding 2013 performance, finishing in the top 3 in the American League in saves and games finished, while limiting opponents to a .170 average against him.

2-year average: 1.32 ERA, 0.889 WHIP, 46 saves, 60 games finished, 13.4 K’s per nine, .170 avg. against

3. Aroldis Chapman, Reds (#2 in ’14): The game’s most overpowering presence issued over 400 pitches that were at least 100 miles per hour a year ago. He rode this regular abuse of power to a stunning 106 strikeouts in just 54 innings, a rate that would play out to 17.7 per nine innings. Over the course, he set a MLB-record for consecutive appearance with a K, at 49 and struck out 52% of his total batters faced.

2-year average: 2.29 ERA, 0.943 WHIP, 37 saves, 50 games finished, 16.7 K’s per nine, .121 avg. against

4. Wade Davis, Royals (Not Ranked): Dominance was not in short supply out of the Royals pen a year ago. Davis was the second stage of hell in the Royals pen, between Kelvin Herrera and Holland, and was arguably the toughest part of the equation. He allowed just eight earned runs over 72 innings in 2014, while striking out 109 and allowing only 64 base runners.

2-year (in relief) average: 0.98 ERA, 0.829 WHIP, 3 saves, 13 games finished, 9 K’s per nine, .151 avg. against

5. Dellin Betances, Yankees (Not Ranked): During his rookie year, he simmered behind closer David Robertson despite being the clear best arm in the Yankee pen, but now the slow burn is nearly done. Betances is still not the sole owner of the Yank’s ninth inning duties –the newly signed Andrew Miller is in the mix as well – but his 2014 effort (135 strikeouts in 90 innings, a 1.40 ERA) proved that he has the type of stuff that makes an easy translation into the role with Joe Girardi is ready.

2-year average: 1.89 ERA, 0.853 WHIP, 1 save, 6 games finished, 13.7 K’s per nine, .149 avg. against

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6. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers (#6 in ’14): He got off to a slow start with the rest of the Dodgers’ pen, but he turned back into the standard shutdown machine he is beginning to regularly be in the second half. Jansen ran up 101 strikeouts against only 19 walks on the year, in route to a career-best 44 saves and solidifying himself as one of the preeminent power arms in the game.

2-year average: 2.28 ERA, 0.976 WHIP, 36 saves, 51 games finished, 13.4 K’s per nine, .224 avg. against

7. Sean Doolittle, Athletics (Not Ranked): It is tough to beat what you simply cannot reach base against, and regardless of whether he was a situational arm, setup man or closer –all roles he worked in last year— Doolittle was epically stingy. He held batters to a .169 average against him, while walking only eight batters over 62 innings and striking out 89. He followed a 30 game run without issuing a walk by seamlessly sliding into the closer role, converting 22-of-26 situations.

2-year average: 2.94 ERA, 0.851 WHIP, 12 saves, 26 games finished, 10.2 K’s per nine, .169 avg. against

8. Koji Uehara, Red Sox (#3 in ’14): He was bound to come back to Earth some after his once-in-a-lifetime 2013, but Uehara was still his usual very efficient self a year later. He used his pinpoint control and confounding change-up to convert 26 saves and keep a 10-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio (80-to-8). Uehara reaffirmed the fact that he is one of the most efficient final inning options in the game, albeit in a far more finesse way than any of his contemporaries.

2-year average: 1.75 ERA, 0.728 WHIP, 24 saves, 45 games finished, 11.7 K’s per nine, .216 avg. against

9. Mark Melancon, Pirates (Not Ranked): He was one of the NL’s best setup men before becoming one of its best closers, all in the same year. Melancon notched 14 holds before taking over for an injured Jason Grilli in the ninth, when he then ran up 33 saves as well. Armed with a hard turning slider, impressive control and an ability to take the ball as often as asked, he is one of the most versatile relievers in the game.

2-year average: 1.65 ERA, 0.915 WHIP, 24 saves, 36 games finished, 8.9 K’s per nine, .195 avg. against

10. Huston Street, Angels (Not Ranked): He put forth his usual uber-proficient effort between San Diego and Anaheim, posting a sub-2.00 ERA in over 25 innings in both leagues. His overall 1.37 ERA was a personal low and the second time in three years he posted an ERA figure sub 1.90, and he converted a career-high 41 saves overall in the process.

2-year average: 2.02 ERA, 0.983 WHIP, 37 saves, 52 games finished, 8.0 K’s per nine, .196 avg. against

 

Runners Up: Jonathan Papelbon, Jake McGee, Zack Britton, Drew Storen

 

Pulling apart the ten best starting pitchers in baseball is almost certain to create a stir at any point in history. But attempting to do so right now is an even more confounding process, because this is quickly becoming an epic era for arms. The offensive era of Major League Baseball has come to a screeching halt in recent years due to the quality of pitching that has confronted it.

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Despite the fact that there is a clear cut top guy on the mound today, the distinction between number two and even number 10 can be subject to debate….and even much further than that. Take for example that this offseason, the race to acquire one of the three big name arms on the market between Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields was the talk of the winter— but only one of those legitimate frontline cornerstones could even make this list. Needless to say, it’s a tough crowd.

But as there is with everything else, the cream has to rise to the top. And in past years while I have made this list separately as a right-handed and left-handed countdown, I am upping the ante and throwing both together. So, here is the best crack I could take a taking at least 20 deserving pitchers and trimming them to ten.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (#1 LHP in 2014): Every year it becomes more and more difficult to imagine Kershaw taking his game to another level, but he did yet again last year. He added both the National League Most Valuable Player and a third Cy Young Award to his resume, as he finished with a 21-3 record, 239 strikeouts and a career-low 1.77 ERA. Overall he led his league in over 10 separate categories despite missing the first month of the season and became the first pitcher ever to lead the league in ERA four consecutive years.

2-year average: 18-6, 1.80 ERA, 236 strikeouts, 217 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts

2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (#1 RHP in ’14): The King is coming off the second best year of his career and one where he finished as runner up in the American League Cy Young balloting. He won 15 games for the M’s and led the AL with a 2.14 ERA and held batters to a .200 average against. His 248 strikeout were a new career-best as well. In addition, for the third time in his career Hernandez allowed the least hits per nine innings in the game.

2-year average: 14-8, 2.55 ERA, 232 strikeouts, 220 innings pitched, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts

3. Chris Sale, White Sox (#4 LHP in ’14): Far and away the AL’s top lefty, Sale had yet another brilliant campaign in 2014. While injuries interrupted a portion of his season, the 25-year-old was oft-dominant every other time out. He lowered his era nearly a full run, to microscopic 2.17 figure over 174 innings, while leading the AL in strikeouts-per-nine innings at 10.8. He made his third straight All-Star appearance and climbed the Cy Young charts for a third straight year as well, a sign of things that could be come.

2-year average: 12-9, 2.67 ERA, 217 strikeouts, 194 innings pitched, 3 complete games, 0 shutouts

4. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (#3 RHP in ’14): The Redbird’s warhorse ace put up another magnificent season, despite battling through some tough arm troubles for most of the year. He reached 20 wins for the second time in his career, while posting a career-low 2.38 ERA. It was the fourth time in his past five years he won at least 19 games while making it to the mound for at least 220 innings.

2-year average: 20-9, 2.67 ERA, 199 strikeouts, 234 innings pitched, 5 complete games, 2 shutouts

5. Max Scherzer, Nationals (#4 RHP in ’14): The newest Nat’s free agent voyage was the most notable thing attached his name this year, but earned it with another dominant year on the mound. In his final season in Detroit, the 2013 AL Cy Young winner led the AL in wins for the second straight year and topped 250 strikeouts. Over the past two years, he has posted a remarkable 39-8 record, good for 83% win percentage.

2-year average: 20-4, 3.02 ERA, 246 strikeouts, 217 innings pitched, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts

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6. Madison Bumgarner, Giants (#5 LHP in ’14): No player in the game’s stock rose more than Bumgarner’s did last year, and it was well deserved. Even before his unbelievably awesome postseason (a 1.03 ERA over 52.2 innings and four wins), he had taken a step forward in asserting himself as one of the game’s best arms. He posted career-bests in wins (18), strikeouts (219), innings pitched (217.1) and complete games (4), amongst other categories.

2-year average: 16-10, 2.88 ERA, 209 strikeouts, 209 innings pitched, 2 complete games, 1 shutout

7. Johnny Cueto , Reds (Not Ranked): Cueto jumped from the ranks of underappreciated to unavoidably superb last year. He was more dominant, more often than any other pitcher not named Kershaw. Cueto pitched the most innings in the National League, but still held batters to the lowest average against in NL (.197). Along the way he also won 20 games for the first time, led his circuit in strikeouts and finished with the league’s lowest hits against per nine figure as well.

2-year average: 12-6, 2.82 ERA, 146 strikeouts, 152 innings pitched, 2 complete games, 1 shutout

8. Zack Greinke, Dodgers (#7 RHP in ’14): The ever-efficient, best #2 (by default) in the game had a quietly record-breaking output in 2014. Greinke ran up a streak of 22 straight starts of allow two or fewer earned runs, which dated back into 2013. All-in-all, he won 17 games, with top 10 figures in both ERA and strikeouts, while tacking a Gold Glove on as well.

2-year average: 16-6, 2.68 ERA, 178 strikeouts, 190 innings pitched, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts

9. David Price, Tigers (#3 LHP in ’14): It was an odd year for Price between Tampa and Detroit, and one where he got off to a rugged start. But once he settled in, he was arguably as dominant as he has ever been. Price went on a strikeout spree in June where he ran up 54 strikeouts against only five walks in 39.2 innings. From there he led the Majors in missing bats with 271 strikeouts and innings pitched with 248.1.

2-year average: 12-10, 3.29 ERA, 211 strikeouts, 218 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 0 shutouts

10. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals (Not Ranked): I will admit to being slow to the appreciation train for Zimmermann, but his results have become too regularly impactful to deny at this point. He has been in the top 10 in NL ERA for the past two years, and led the senior circuit in wins two years ago. The consummate control specialist has struck a balance between accuracy on the plate and power as well, has he struck out over 180 batters for the third straight year.

2-year average: 16-7, 2.96 ERA, 172 strikeouts, 206 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts

Runners Up: Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Corey Kluber

 

To catch up on the countdown, scroll back a few days. To keep up with it in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Coming into 2015, “rebound field” may be the better way to view the group that inherits this list, as much of its population is in flux in one way or another. Whether it be an injury rehab, a positional relocation or simply reestablishing some stock that had taken a shift over the past few years, the position is far from solid in terms of determining its hierarchy.

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But with so many different factors weighing in, how does a true ranking really get determined? There are some clear impact players that register on any board, such as the NL’s MVP runner up, a pair that finished 1-2 in a prior MVP race that are now retooling their respective games, the game’s most brimming potential talent, and finally, the biggest defensive difference maker in the game. But each has a caution flag and point to prove entering the year as well, making it as difficult to decipher group as there is in the game.

But all things considered, it is an enticingly talented group that IF most of its inhabitants can perform up to their billing; it will be a complexity of a much different type to readdress around this time next year.

 

1. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins (#8 in 2014): He unleashed nearly his full potential a year ago, in route to establishing himself as the game’s top power threat. His 37 home runs led the National League, as did his .555 slugging percentage and 299 total bases. Stanton’s unfortunate run in with a Mike Fiers’ fastball to his face stopped him short of running his output even higher, but that did not stop the Marlins from rewarding their 25-year-old cornerstone with the largest contract in sports history.

2-year average: .271 average/.904 OPS/30 home runs/84 RBI/28 doubles/7 stolen bases/.975 Fld%

2. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (#5 in ’14): For the first time in three years, Bautista was truly back to full strength in 2014, and he returned to stand among the top of the American League hitter’s food chain. His 35 home runs were the fifth most in the league and he took home his third career Silver Slugger as a result. One of the underrated parts of his game is the impact his arm makes as well, as his 12 outfield assists were tops among all MLB right fielders.

2-year average: .274 average/.896 OPS/32 home runs/88 RBI/26 doubles/6 stolen bases/.981 Fld%

3. Bryce Harper, Nationals (#4 in left field in ’14): Again plagued by injuries throughout the regular season, Harper played a career-low 100 games a year ago. As a result his numbers dipped across the board and even made a few people question his still sky high potential. But the then 21-year-old was one of the few live wires in the Nats Division Series versus the Giants, clubbing three huge home runs and instantly reminding everyone of why he carries the rep he does. And he’s only 22 and settling into a new position—while finding his way.

2-year average: .273 average/.815 OPS/16 home runs/45 RBI/17 doubles/6 stolen bases/.987 Fld%

4. Hunter Pence, Giants (#9 in ’14): As well, due to his quirky mannerisms and awkward style, Pence’s play is one of the most underrated parts of what sets the Giants apart. His 106 runs scored were the second most in the NL, while his 180 hits were the third most in the league. Pence turned in a .444 World Series average to top it all off as well. He has also been stunningly consistent—and therefore regularly agitating for opponents and rival fans alike—playing in all 162 games each of the past two seasons.

2-year average: .280 average/.799 OPS/24 home runs/86 RBI/32 doubles/18 stolen bases/.983 Fld%

5. Jason Heyward, Cardinals (Not Ranked): The multi-talented corner outfielder has spun between heart of the lineup presence and back up to patient table setter over the past few years while looking to develop an offensive identity. But one thing that has remained intact is that he arguably makes the biggest defensive outfield impact in the game. In route to winning his second Gold Glove, he counted for 30 runs saved in the field and cut down nine base runners from right as well.

2-year average: .264 average/.752 OPS/12 home runs/48 RBI/24 doubles/11 stolen bases/.998 Fld%

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6. Matt Kemp, Padres (#6 in center field in ’14): There was so much discussion about how long he would stay in LA last year, as well as how long he could stay healthy, that it was lost in the mix that he put up his best season in years along the way. Kemp made the transition to the corner outfield and hit 25 home runs, drove in 89 runs and tied a career-high with 38 doubles. Now his encore season will be cast as the the center attraction in the Padres aggressive facelift effort.

2-year average: .281 average/.810 OPS/16 home runs/61 RBI/26 doubles/8 stolen bases/.971 Fld%

7. Ryan Braun, Brewers (#1 in ’14): Braun slipped to career-low levels for a majority season’s work during his return to the field from the despicable season-ending suspension. But considering what he was before his two injury and suspension filled 2013-14 campaigns, along with some solid, yet unspectacular numbers a year ago (19 home runs, 81 RBI, 30 doubles) he still deserves some benefit of the doubt for a revival.

2-year average: .275 average/.805 OPS/14 home runs/60 RBI/22 doubles/8 stolen bases/.993 Fld%

8. J.D. Martinez, Tigers (Not Ranked): He figured it all out in a major way after making it to Detroit last year, hitting 23 home runs, turning in a .315 average and filling a much needed void in offense in the evolving Tiger lineup. His rapid ascension could cause some skepticism, but Martinez only hit south of .340 during one of the year’s final four months, when he turned in a .265 August mark….only to return with a season-high .354 in September. So he passes the smell test for now.

2-year average: .289 average/.808 OPS/15 home runs/56 RBI/24 doubles/4 stolen bases/.985 Fld%

9. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (#5 in center field in ’14): 2014 was a total loss for Cargo, hitting .238 and missing over half of the season’s games after finally succumbing to a bad knee that required August surgery. But he stays relevant simply because of what he is capable of when right, which has included Gold Gloves in two of the last three years and four consecutive years of 20 homer/20 stolen base seasons.

2-year average: .276 average/.864 OPS/18 home runs/54 RBI/19 doubles/12 stolen bases/.986 Fld%

10. Torii Hunter, Twins (Not Ranked): Consistency pays out big after a while, and the recent late career groove that Hunter has been in is a remarkable one to watch. The now 39-year-old has refused to decline, and his offensive production is at nearly the same level it was a decade ago. And now as he returns back to his original home with the Twins, it should not be a surprise that does far more than just be a veteran influence on his young teammates.

2-year average: .295 average/.783 OPS/17 home runs/84 RBI/35 doubles/4 stolen bases/.982 Fld%

 

Runners Up: Michael Cuddyer, Jay Bruce, Carlos Beltran, Kole Calhoun

As it has for as long as the game has existed, center field is the home of some of the best-rounded talents in the game. It takes a blend of being able to do it all to be truly considered one of the elite players at the position, and currently there is an especially gifted group manning the position.

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In each of the past two seasons, a center fielder has won a league Most Valuable Player nod. And it would be fair to say that there are multiple favorites to bring yet another MVP to position this year. Due to this surplus of talent, ten spots are nowhere near enough to capture all of the significant players at the heart of the outfield. Even an All-Star from a year ago that had a downturn in the second half of the season failed to make his way onto the list. Thus is the nature of one of the game’s most competitive spots.

Yet with that being said, let us take a look at the players that did make the cut. Starting with a duo that most likely populates the top five of the best players in the game, regardless of position.

 

1. Mike Trout, Angels (#1 in 2014): He won his elusive MVP –or as elusive as one can be for a 22-year-old – a year ago, and did it by attacking the season in a completely different way than he had in his previous two years. Trout played the part of heart of the order producer instead of all-world table setter that he had in his first two seasons, and the results lead to yet another stunning display of complete dominance. He connected for a career-best 36 home runs and 111 RBI, while leading the AL in runs scored for the third consecutive year. When coupled with his 39 doubles, 9 triples, superb base running and solid outfield play, there is no wonder why he is now firmly entrenched as the game’s top talent.

2-year average: .305 average/.964 OPS/32 home runs/104 RBI/39 doubles/24 stolen bases/.994 Fld%

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (#2 in ’14): He followed up his MVP 2013 year with another comprehensively brilliant year. He led the NL in a varied platter of measures including on-base % (.410), on-base + slugging % (.952), total runs created (130), extra base hits (69) and offensive Wins Above Replacement level (7.8). Toss in the fearless range he shows defensively and the leadership model he puts on, and there is perhaps on one more complete player than him—maybe.

2-year average: .316 average/.931 OPS/23 home runs/84 RBI/38 doubles/22 stolen bases/.981 Fld%

3. Adam Jones, Orioles (#4 in ’14): Mr. Consistency was at his usual high standard again last season, right in the 30 home run, 100 RBI, .280 average neighborhood again (a true split of .281/29/96, to be exact), while playing to a third straight Gold Glove in the field as well. Jones is the understated MVP of the O’s, who drove them towards their American League East Title on the strength of his dependable everyday output.

2-year average: .283 average/.795 OPS/31 home runs/102 RBI/32 doubles/10 stolen bases/.989 Fld%

4. Carlos Gomez, Brewers (#7 in ’14): The ever-excitable Gomez has continued to round into one of the game’s top all-around talents, with a rare blend of power and speed that is unleashed at a moment’s notice. He topped 20 home runs for the second consecutive year, while swiping 30 bases for the third straight campaign. He remains on the short list of best defensive outfielders alive as well, capable of reaching any part of his mid-field terrain with the same ease.

2-year average: .284 average/.838 OPS/24 home runs/73 RBI/30 doubles/37 stolen bases/.987 Fld%

5. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers (#4 in Right Field in ’14): Puig made the shift over from right out of necessity last season, and for the time being he profiles to stay there. But with his freakish athletic gifts, there is really nothing he can’t do, as his diverse offering across the board showed last year. He turned in 37 doubles, 9 triples, 16 home runs and 11 stolen bases, as well as 15 total outfield assists with his cannon of an arm (8 from center). While the process of him finding harmony in using all of his gifts is a work in progress, the talent is undeniably tantalizing.

2-year average: .305 average/.888 OPS/18 home runs/56 RBI/29 doubles/11 stolen bases/.949 Fld%

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6. Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees (#3 in ’14): His first year in pinstripes did not necessarily live up to the lofty standards that his contract may have brought on, but at the same time it was far from a lost year as well. He played his usual lockdown center field, leading the AL in range factor at the position. Offensively, his batting average dropped to a personal full-season low, but he still swiped 39 bases, hit 16 home runs, which contributed to his AL-best power x speed ratio (most home runs multiplied by stolen bases).

2-year average: .285 average/.764 OPS/12 home runs/62 RBI/29 doubles/46 stolen bases/.994 Fld%

7. Lorenzo Cain, Royals (Not Ranked): Cain’s defensive contributions played a huge part in the overall success of the Royals, and he was mostly robbed of a Gold Glove by Jones’ reputation this past year. But he made his talents clearer than ever before, topping both .300 and 20 stolen bases for the first time in his career, then revving it up to a sensational .333 postseason average as well. A star may be being born.

2-year average: .278 average/.708 OPS/4 home runs/50 RBI/25 doubles/21 stolen bases/.996 Fld%

8. Marcell Ozuna, Marlins (Not Ranked): The middle portion of the Marlins dynamic young outfield had a powerful first full-season in 2014. He popped 23 home runs and drove in 85 runs, while playing a very solid defensive campaign as well. Ozuna contributed eight outfield assists, and while he is the least decorated of his outfield mates, his potential is just as exciting.

2-year average: .268 average/.746 OPS/13 home runs/58 RBI/22 doubles/4 stolen bases/.988 Fld%

9. Denard Span, Nationals (Not Ranked): The always steady leadoff man and uber-consistent defender had perhaps his most notable season to date a year ago. He turned in a .302 average and 31 stolen bases, as well as a career-best 39 doubles and .416 slugging %. In addition, he tied as the NL leader in hits with 184, although that was the lowest full-season league leading total since 1988.

2-year average: .290 average/.739 OPS/4 home runs/42 RBI/34 doubles/26 stolen bases/.995 Fld%

10. Juan Lagares, Mets (Not Ranked): He is the most exciting outfielder to watch in all of the game and perhaps since Jim Edmonds and Andruw Jones roamed MLB outfields a decade ago. Lagares can flat go get it and has one of the most impressive CF arms the game has seen in years, so the 25-year-old was correctly honored with his first Gold Glove a year ago. While his offensive output is still developing (his on-base% increased by 40 points last year), he is talented enough in his specialty to have made a 5.5 WAR figure based mostly on his defense alone.

2-year average: .262 average/.669 OPS/4 home runs/40 RBI/22 doubles/10 stolen bases/.983 Fld%

 

Runners Up: Charlie Blackmon, Adam Eaton, Jon Jay, A.J. Pollack

Over the past few seasons, left field has been a position that has undergone a lot of overhaul. Former cornerstones of the position such as Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton and Shin-Soo Choo have moved on to other positions, while others who were holding the torch have seen declines in their value. There are also new presences at the position due to further relocations and emergent youngsters as well.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Arizona Diamondbacks

Overall, it is the most varied position in all of the outfield, where there are elements of bat-first presences, defensively-minded contributors, speed threats and then the blend of a bit of them all. But one thing that is for certain is that each of these players play a major part in the balance of their specific club and the potential of their team’s hangs in the balance of their singular play.

No pressure though, huh?

1. Alex Gordon, Royals (#2 in 2014): His impact on the game is more complete than it really appears at first look. First of all, no outfielder makes a bigger defensive impact on the game. A winner of four consecutive Gold Gloves, Gordon saved 25 runs in left last year, nine more than any other player at his position and saved 37 in full over the past two years. He also has 25 outfield assists as well, which is a right field caliber impact that changes the game with right-handed batters at the plate. Add on the fact that he hit 19 home runs and reached base at a .351% clip, and it seals the fact that he is one of the most uniquely impactful players in the game.

2-year average: .266 average/.765 OPS/20 home runs/78 RBI/30 doubles/11 stolen bases/.995 Fld%

2. Michael Brantley, Indians (Not Ranked): He had the biggest everyday breakout of 2014, as he put together all of the tools he had shown in flashes to become one of the best all-around performers in the game. Brantley finished second in the AL with 200 hits, while finishing in the top five in doubles (45), batting average (.327), on-base percentage (.385) and added in a 20 home runs, 23 stolen bases and 97 RBI for good measure as well. This was all good for a 7.0 WAR figure and a heighted expectation of epic proportions for 2015.

2-year average: .307 average/.813 OPS/15 home runs/85 RBI/36 doubles/20 stolen bases/.993 Fld%

3. Starling Marte, Pirates (#7 in ’14): He shook off a dreadfully slow start to pull together a fantastic all-around year. The 26-year-old outfield hawk (who is playing out of position in left due to who is the centerfielder on his team) set career-high marks at the plate nearly across the board. His .291 average, 144 hits, 56 RBI, 13 home runs and .808 on-base + slugging % were all high water marks. And considering he hit .348 after the All-Star break, those totals are far from fairly representative of the level he could be at this summer.

2-year average: .286 average/.796 OPS/12 home runs/46 RBI/28 doubles/36 stolen bases/.968 Fld%

4. Jayson Werth, Nationals (#10 in right field in ’14): Werth continued his pivotal all-around effort for the Nationals a year ago, topping a .290 average for the third straight year, while driving in 82 runs, scoring another 85 himself and providing some solid pop as well. He will swap spots with Bryce Harper on the corners of the DC outfield for the upcoming year, which will suit each player’s particular skill set even better.

2-year average: .304 average/.887 OPS/20 home runs/82 RBI/30 doubles/10 steals/.986 Fld%

5. Justin Upton, Padres (#5 in ’14): The Padres needed to find someone that could create an offensive spark at the core of their lineup, and Upton fits that bill perfectly. An owner of four seasons of 25 or more home runs and fresh off the heels of a career-best 102 RBI effort, it seems strange that he is still only 27-years-old. But he won his second Silver Slugger in 2014 for his wall banging feats, and is the type of hitter who’s power

2-year average: .267 average/.826 OPS/28 home runs/86 RBI/30 doubles/8 stolen bases/.975 Fld%

6. Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox (#2 at shortstop in ’14): He is one of the toughest players to peg his positional value down to this year, because a) his health is always a factor in his potential impact and b) he has never played outfield before. But all things considered, Hanley remains one of the game’s most impactful talents when he is firing on all cylinders. After resisting permanent change from shortstop for so many years, it became necessary for him to cash in on his total free agent value, which he did with the Red Sox. The Green Monster should vibe well with propensity for line drives, so Hanley could have a huge impact on AL race this year—pending on availability, of course.

2-year average: .308 average/.907 OPS/16 home runs/64 RBI/30 doubles/12 stolen bases/.960 Fld% (SS)

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7. Matt Holliday, Cardinals (#1 in ’14): It was a tale of two halves for Holliday in 2014, who struggled to a very un-Holliday like .263 average during the first three months of the year. He rebounded for a solid finish to the year, and posted some more familiar totals of 20 home runs, 90 RBI and 37 doubles however. While Holliday is showing some signs of decline, he has far from passed his days as an above-average presence in the Cardinal attack.

2-year average: .285 average/.843 OPS/21 home runs/92 RBI/ 34 doubles/5 stolen bases/.983 Fld%

8. Yoenis Cespedes, Tigers (#6 in ’14): He continued to be a source of terrifying power in 2014, winning a second Home Run Derby, while making his All-Star debut. Between Oakland and Boston, Cespedes hit 22 home runs and drove in a career-best 100 runs. He also made a home on highlight reels for some incredible throws from outfield, many of which contributed to the MLB-best 16 outfield assists he totaled as well.

2-year average: .251 average/.744 OPS/24 home runs/90 RBI/28 doubles/7 stolen bases/.978 Fld%

9. Melky Cabrera, White Sox (Not Ranked): He had a statement year in his final one spent north of the border, hitting .300 for the third time in four years. Cabrera also connected for 16 home runs, 73 RBI and 35 doubles, all runner up numbers to previous career bests. He will join the White Sox resurgence this year and be a vital part of a potentially exciting top of the order with Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu.

2-year average: .293 average/.761 OPS/10 home runs/52 RBI/25 doubles/4 stolen bases/.992 Fld%

10. Christian Yelich, Marlins (Not Ranked): The freshly minted 23-year-old began the process of living up to his touted potential in his second season on South Beach. He announced his presence as a fantastic glove wielder, winning the NL left field Gold Glove, working up the most wide-spanning range factor at the position in the league and contributing six outfield assists as well. In addition, he hit .284 and put his speed on display offensively swiping 21 bases while connecting for six triples as the Marlins’ leadoff man.

2-year average: .285 average/.765 OPS/6 home runs/35 RBI/21 doubles/16 stolen bases/.998 Fld%

Runners Up: Corey Dickerson, Brett Gardner, Khris Davis, Evan Gattis

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The shortstop position is undergoing a renaissance of sorts currently. While it is still showing higher levels of offensive potential than it has in many other eras of the past, it has also begun to turn back to defense first position where a limited offensive output is okay in favor of covering acres of land in return.

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The guard is changing in regards to the faces at the position as well. Gone is Derek Jeter to retirement and Hanley Ramirez to left field in Boston. But while the long-time top of the market guys are out, there are more team than not that will run out very strong shortstop play on a day-to-day basis, proving the fact that it is one of the deepest pools to access talent within the game today.

While there are easily 15+ names that could make a legit case to be featured in the top 10, the ones that made it are all excelling at the art of making a high-end contribution at some part of the game. But be wary of the field, because just like there are four new faces in this year’s top 10 six-holers, there could be even more that breakthrough a year from now. It is truly a great time to see some superb shortstop play.

 

1. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies (#1 in 2014): Tulo has this spot on reserve, and for good –but frustrating— reasons. He proved last year that he far above reproach from any other shortstop (and potentially any other position, period) in the game….when he is out there. His ability as an overall contributor is nearly unparrelled in the game today, as his nearly 6 Wins Above Replacement in just 91 games shows. Before his season ended in August due to hip issues, the now 30-year-old was preparing to run away with the National League MVP. But despite the fact he just cannot stay on the field from start to finish, what he does when he is there is both so brilliant and so much better than anybody else at the position today, Tulowitzki remains the easy choice for best in the biz.

2-year average: .323 average/.974 OPS/23 home runs/67 RBI/72 runs scored/1 stolen base/.988 Fld%

2. Ian Desmond, Nationals (#2 in ‘14): Desmond continues to put on a brilliant all-around display of talents for the Nats. He won his third consecutive NL Silver Slugger after hitting 24 home runs and driving in a career-best 91 runs. He added on 24 stolen bases as well and registered his third consecutive 20-20 season. He is entering his walk season and is in great position to cash in in a major way.

2-year average: .267 average/.764 OPS/22 home runs/86 RBI/75 runs scored/22 stolen bases/.967 Fld%

3. Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals (#9 in ’14): He was the most constantly productive bat for the Cardinals a year ago, leading the team in home runs and finishing second among NL shortstops in RBI as well. Peralta also turned in a better than advertised season in the field, which when combined with his expected offensive impact saw him finish with an impressive 5.8 WAR figure.

2-year average: .280 average/.794 OPS/16 home runs/65 RBI/56 runs scored/3 stolen bases/.986 Fld%

4. Andrelton Simmons, Braves (#7 in ’14): He’s an unparalleled defensive maestro up the middle. Long and instinctive presence, blessed with a power arm and uncanny accuracy as well, he can range from third base to well onto the second base side with equal ease. While Simmons’ offensive game took a slight step backwards in 2014, it really is of no effect to his value simply because he is so great of glovesmith. He is the cornerstone of the Braves team going forward and the type of talent that easily holds down a Gold Glove spot for a decade.

2-year average: .246 average/.657 OPS/12 home runs/52 RBI/60 runs scored/5 stolen bases/.979 Fld%

5. J.J. Hardy, Orioles (#5 in ’14): The Orioles knew that they did not want for Hardy to see the free agent market this winter and locked him in early to a $50 million extension smartly. That is because Hardy has been one of the most consistently productive shortstops in the game since reaching B-More in 2011. He took home his third Gold Glove in as many years last summer and is only two years removed from a Silver Slugger as well.

2-year average: .265 average/.712 OPS/17 home runs/64 RBI/61 runs scored/1 stolen base/.980 Fld%

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6. Jose Reyes, Blue Jays (#3 in ’14): It seems like he’s not doing the things he actually is because he is not tearing up the bases for 70 steals or taking home batting titles anymore, but in reality Reyes has remained a very productive player, when healthy. And that was exactly that in 2014, playing 143 games and notching 175 hits, 30 stolen bases and a .287 average.

2-year average: .290 average/.747 OPS/10 home runs/44 RBI/76 runs scored/22 stolen bases/.969 Fld%

7. Alcides Escobar, Royals (Not Ranked): He has been one of the best defenders up the middle for years, but struggled with consistency at the plate. He found that regular, traditional-style of shortstop stroke in 2014, hitting for a .285 average and stealing 30+ bases for the second time as well. His glove work was a major reason for the Royals’ success, and entering his age 28 season, Escober looks primed to rise among the AL’s elite at SS.

2-year average: .259 average/.625 OPS/4 home runs/51 RBI/66 runs scored/26 stolen bases/.977 Fld%

8. Starlin Castro, Cubs (Not Ranked): Castro seemed to rediscover his way last year and played an expectedly vital role in the Cubs uptick in success as a result. The he raised his average up past .290 and made his third All-Star visit in five years as well. While his future at the position could be time sensitive, with the Cubs deep farm system pushing at his back, Castro certainly has reaffirmed his place among the team’s most vital presences for the time being.

2-year average: .265 average/.696 OPS/12 home runs/54 RBI/58 runs scored/6 stolen bases/.970 Fld%

9. Erick Aybar, Angels (Not Ranked): Despite being a past Gold Glove winner and a 2014 All-Star, Aybar has somehow remained regularly underrated. However is contributions to the Halos last year played a major part in the success of the team taking the AL West. He reached double digits in steals and 30 doubles for the fourth straight year, while leading all AL shortstops in WAR at 3.9.

2-year average: .275 average/.692 OPS/6 home runs/61 RBI/72 runs scored/14 stolen bases/.977 Fld%

10. Brandon Crawford, Giants (Not Ranked): He is one of the best rhythm players in the game, meaning that for what his stat line may lack, he makes up for in the bottom line of team productivity. Crawford is a supremely talented defender that is the engine that pushes the Giants’ team-first output across its infield. The 28-year-old became a more diverse offensive presence as well in 2014, driving in 69 runs with 20 doubles, 10 triples and 10 home runs, along with a career-high .304 World Series batting average.

2-year average: .247 average/.693 OPS/10 home runs/56 RBI/53 runs scored/3 stolen bases/.970 Fld%

 

Runners Up: Alexei Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, Elvis Andrus, Jimmy Rollins