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.
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%
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