Posts Tagged ‘Bryce Harper’

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The right field position traditionally has one job, and one job amongst all others: to rake. Some of the most potent power threats in the history of the game have called the right corner of the outfield home, including Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Mel Ott and none other than Babe Ruth himself.

In today’s game, the tradition of the spot being home to some of the most prodigious hitters of the day has stayed true. Today, it is home to a trio of bats that have made 40 homers look like child’s play over the past few years, as well as another group behind them that ceaselessly chases 30 long balls with minimal effort. It is a competitive position that has seen a different player be ranked as the top gun at the spot in each of year that this list has been compiled as well. And if all things remain constant, it should continue to be a difficult one to keep a hold on at the top.

This is due to the fact that beyond just the pure power of the spot, it is also rapidly becoming a position that is home to players that would more traditionally make left or center field their home, due to their mixture of speed, on-base talents and glove work. Remember, right field was also where Tony Gwynn and Ichiro made their names as well, so this is nothing new.

So how does this all shake out headed into 2016? And can the new #1 hold his spot for another year? Let’s see who he is, as well as what the competition looks like along the way.

To review last year’s list, click here.

 

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10. Carlos Beltran, Yankees (Not ranked in 2015)

2015: .276/.337/.471, 19 HR, 67 RBI, 57 runs scored, 34 doubles, 0 Stolen Bases, .808 OPS

Last 3 Years: .272/.327/.459 19 HR, 67 RBI, 61 runs scored, 29 doubles, 2 stolen bases, .787 OPS

The ageless Beltran put to bed any notions that he was over the hill at age 38 last year. After a 2014 debut in pinstripes that saw him be both ineffective at the plate and oft-injured, Beltran picked his numbers back up across the board last season and remained the club’s everyday right fielder. His average improved by over 40 points, and his contact rate improved significantly as well.

While he would be better suited for a DH role at this point in his career and could see more platoon work this year (his dWAR came in a full -2 games impact), Beltran’s offensive offering allows him to remain an asset for the Yanks. He is on pace to surpass 400 career home runs and 2,500 career hits this season, and has indicated that it will not be his last one, despite it being the final year of his Yankee deal.

 

9. Kole Calhoun, Angels (NR in ’15)

2015: .256/.308/.422 26 HR, 83 RBI, 78 runs scored, 23 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .731 OPS

Last 3 Years: .266/.321/.439 17 HR, 58 RBI, 66 runs scored, 20 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .759 OPS

Calhoun followed up his breakout 2014 with another strong campaign last season, firmly settling himself in as one of the more underrated overall corner outfielders in the American League. The 28-year-old has hit 43 home runs over the past two years since getting an opportunity at regular playing time, and has done so while only playing over 150 games once.

What rounds him off most however is his defensive capabilities, which earned him the nod for the AL Gold Glove. Calhoun was good for six defensive runs saved, 11 outfield assists and a 2.30 range factor defending the area, which qualified for the best mark in the league.

 

8. Matt Kemp, Padres (#6 in ’15)

2015: .265/.312/.443 23 HR, 100 RBI, 80 runs scored, 31 doubles, 12 stolen bases, .755 OPS

Last 3 Years: .274/.328/.459 18 HR, 74 RBI, 64 runs scored, 28 doubles, 10 stolen bases, .786 OPS

Kemp found his stride in the bat-only, corner outfielder portion of his career in his first season as a Padre. He put to bed the concerns about his durability that had plagued him a few years ago, playing in 150 games for the second time in as many years. And one thing that is indisputable about Kemp: when he is healthy, he hits.

Kemp met the 100 RBI mark for the first time since 2011, while topping 20 home runs, 30 doubles and 150 hits for the second consecutive year. He even had a slight re-emergence of speed on the base paths as well, reaching double digits steals for the first time in 5 years as well. Entering only his age-31 season, Kemp stands to continue on the path of being a steady middle of the order bat that is short of being the superstar he once was, but being more than just a role player as well.

Apr 13, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Mookie Betts (50) is safe at second base then steals third base against the Washington Nationals in the first inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

7. Mookie Betts, Red Sox (NR in ’15)

2015: .291/.341/.479 18 HR, 77 RBI, 92 runs scored, 42 doubles, 21 stolen bases, .820 OPS

Last 2 Years: .291/.348/.471 12 HR, 48 RBI, 63 runs scored, 27 doubles, 14 stolen bases, .818 OPS

Betts has been a man on the move in regards to where his every day position will be. He rose through the system as a second baseman, but also displayed a clear athleticism that related well to centerfield duties as well. And now a year after proving himself in the heart of the outfield, he will move over to the right corner –for now at least.

But regardless of where he take he takes his glove, Betts proved himself to be one of the most exciting young players in the game. In his first full season, he made an impact everywhere possible, saving nine defensive runs in the field (often of the highlight variety), while also living up to the sizeable hype at the plate. In his first full season, he finished with 68 extra base hits, by way of 42 doubles, 8 triples and 18 home runs—good for a .820 OPS. He is on a crash course with being a perennial 20/20 threat.

 

6. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (#9 in ’15)

2015: .271/.325/.540, 40 HR, 97 RBI, 87 runs scored, 25 doubles, 2 stolen bases, .864 OPS

Last 3 Years: .274/.332/.540 26 HR, 68 RBI, 65 runs scored, 21 doubles, 9 stolen bases, .864 OPS

As is always the case, when CarGo is healthy, CarGo is among the most impactful players in the game. Gonzalez finished a season for the first time since 2010, playing a career-best 153 contests and as a result, he finished second in the NL in home runs.

He got off to the worst start of his career throughout April and May, before strapping a rocket to his back mid-summer. He hit 36 home runs from June-September, while topping 20 RBI per month after the All-Star Break. While no longer the speed threat or high average producer he formerly was, Gonzalez settled in nicely as the second hammer to join Nolan Arenado at the heart of the Rockies lineup, although he is likely to be heavily shopped this summer as they continue to retool.

 

5. J.D. Martinez, Tigers (#8 in ’15)

2015: .282/.344/.535 38 HR, 102 RBI, 93 runs scored, 33 doubles, 3 stolen bases, .879 OPS

Last 3 Years: .286/.333/.506 23 HR, 71 RBI, 58 runs scored, 27 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .840 OPS

If anyone had doubts about if the breakout player of the year from 2014 keeping up his out of the blue pace he found once he relocated from Houston, it is safe to say they have been put to bed now permanently. Martinez entrenched himself among the elite power hitters in all of the game last season, running his two-year total for long balls up to 61, the 11th best combined total in baseball over that time.

Since coming to Detroit, Martinez has carried at .296/.350/.543 split line, and drove in a career-best 102 runs ago as well. And despite what he has already established, it stands to reason that Martinez is line to put up even more potent numbers than he did in his Silver Slugger/All-Star 2015, with Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera hitting in front of him, along with Victor Martinez watching his back. Martinez could be on a collision course with another 20+ RBI total increase this year.

 

4. Jason Heyward, Cubs (#5 in ’15)

2015: .293/.359/.797 13 HR, 60 RBI, 79 runs scored, 33 doubles, 23 stolen bases, .797 OPS

Last 3 Years: .274/.353/.415 13 HR, 52 RBI, 73 runs scored, 27 doubles, 15 stolen bases, .768 OPS

Perhaps the game’s premier outfield defender, Heyward alters the game from right field in a way that few players can from a corner defensive position. He took home his third Gold Glove in his only season in St. Louis, contributing a second consecutive year of a posting at least two Wins Above Replacement defensively. He posted a fielding percentage of .990+ for the third straight year as well, while still leading the game in right fielder range factor. Toss in his 10 outfield assists –which brought his two year total to 19— and Jey Hey is one of the most dangerous defenders in the game.

This norm continued while he stayed the course of rounding himself into a much more complete player at the plate as well. He achieved new career-highs in batting average, doubles, on-base percentage and stolen bases, all which contributed to a new personal high WAR of 6.5. And by relocating to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, his long-awaited power surge could finally be sparked as well.

 

3. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays (#2 in ’15)

2015: .250/.377/.536 40 HR, 114 RBI, 108 runs scored, 29 doubles, 8 stolen bases, .913 OPS

Last 3 Years: .266/.381/.521 34 HR, 97 RBI, 97 runs scored, 27 doubles, 7 stolen bases, .902 OPS

The most epic bat flip of the decade provided a fantastic cap to a year that deserved it from Joey Bats. It came on the heels of yet another season of being the preeminent power hitter in the American League, as Bautista topped 40 home runs for the third time in his career.  In route to making his sixth consecutive All-Star appearance, Bautista also topped the AL in walks and finished in the AL top 10 in home runs, RBI, runs scored, slugging % and on-base + slugging % as well.

Yet while he has remained a superior power threat, he has also rounded into one of the most balanced hitters in the game as well. 2015 marked the second straight year where he hit at least 35 home runs and drove in 100 runs, while still working more than 100 walks, and still getting more free passes than he strike outs (214 walks compared to 202 K’s).

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2. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins (#1 in ’15)

2015: .265/.346/.606 27 HR, 67 RBI, 47 runs scored, 12 doubles, 4 stolen bases, .952 OPS

Last 3 Years: .270/.374/.541 29 HR, 78 RBI, 66 runs scored, 23 doubles, 6 stolen bases, .915 OPS

If only he could have avoided yet another freakish injury last season, Stanton could have put on one of the best power displays seen in many years. In only 76 games, he hit 27 home runs, which worked out to a homer every 10 at-bats. If he had stayed at that clip and played a full second half, he would have reached 50 easily with some time to go still in September.

From a pure ability standpoint, there is no one at his level in regards to hitting the long ball today. Stanton is 26 years old and in line to top 200 career homers already this season, all while only playing 150 games in a season once. As his 2014 season showed, he is capable of doing prodigious numbers, even if surrounded by less talent than many other superstars are afforded. The only trick is to keep him on the field, because if he does, there will not be an MVP race in which his name is not mentioned.

 

1. Bryce Harper, Nationals (#3 in ’15)

2015: .330/.460/.649, 42 HR, 99 RBI, 118 runs scored, 38 doubles, 6 stolen bases, 1.109 OPS

Last 3 Years: .296/.401/.534, 25 HR, 63 RBI, 77 runs scored, 24 doubles, 6 stolen bases, .936 OPS

It is asinine to think that it was just last season that Harper was named “Most Overrated Player” in the game in a vote of his peers conducted by ESPN. Because apparently Harper’s ears were wide open for that and he put all of his considerable talents towards creating a coming of age that had to be seen to be believed. With his propensity for running into walls behind him, he launched an all-out assault on everything thrown his way that saw him become the third youngest MVP winner of all-time, behind such substantial company as Johnny Bench and Stan Musial.

At age 22, Harper led the National League in home runs and runs scored, as well as on-base, slugging and on-base + slugging percentages, while finishing second in batting average. His MLB-leading ballpark adjusted OPS+ of 195 showed that he dominated at every park with the same ferocious nature across the board. So complete was Harper’s effort that he hit .335 with 35 homers against righties and .318 against lefties, with only two more strikeouts than walks. Yet, the greatest testament to Harper’s year is that while it was a huge leap from where he was before, at only 23 he has proven that he is the best hitter in the National League already and he is only getting started—he won’t even turn 30 until 2023.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Yasiel Puig, Dodgers; Shin-Soo Choo, Indians; Hunter Pence, Giants; George Springer, Astros.

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

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When you traditionally think of a leftfielder, the first though is most likely overwhelming power. The names of Bonds, Williams and more recently, Belle jump ahead of the pack, however, the today’s game features a more overall balance of producers at the position, more in the vein of Musial or Ramirez from days past. It is a position with some elite line drive hitters, and run creators that do so not just by hitting the ball over the fence, but by destroying outfield alleys as just as much as giving souvenirs away.

The grouping in left is also undergoing a change as well, with two perennials at the position in Ryan Braun and Carlos Gonzalez manning new positions for the upcoming season. Also, there is a new addition to the Rangers lineup that will impact the rankings as well. Regardless, it is a unique mix of producers, that is so balanced across the board that the same ten players could be picked again next season and for the most part, come across in a completely different order, yet still be justified in their standing.

Here are the top 10 players of the day in the outfield corner on the left corner of the field…

10. Mark Trumbo, Diamondbacks: GM Kevin Towers made it a point to add more non-Goldschmidt based pop to his lineup, and he made a solid choice. Trumbo has hit 29, 32 and 34 home runs his first three seasons, while continually climbing his RBI total each campaign as well.

9. Brett Gardner, Yankees: An elite defender and presence on the basepaths, he led the AL in triples a year ago and has stolen 40 bases in two of his last three full seasons. Another centerfielder playing left, he routinely makes the difficult look easy in the outfield.

8. Josh Hamilton, Angels: He had his worst season last summer, seeing his full-season numbers drop across the board. However, he hit 43 home runs just two years ago and in September of last year, the ice finally cracked, as he finished the year with a .323 average.

7. Starling Marte, Pirates: He’s a centerfielder forced into a left fielder’s role due to his MVP counterpart to the side of him. However, the rangy and athletic 25-year-old ran up 41 stolen bases and 10 triples in his first year as a full-time starter.

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6. Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics: He took the Home Run Derby by storm, rapping moonshot after moonshot out of Citi Field, showing the elite power that he uses to make even the massive o.Co Coliseum look small.

5. Justin Upton, Braves: He shot out of a cannon in 2013 like a ‘bat’ out of hell (literally). And while he slowed down considerably, he still finished with 27 home runs and 70 RBI in his Atlanta debut. The talent package keeps coming in flashes, but few are capable of more than he is.

4. Bryce Harper, Nationals: While he has to continue to reel in his effort some to preserve himself, when he’s is all the way there, few are more exciting than Harper. The 21-year-old already has  42 career homers and has topped 20 doubles, 20 home runs and 10 stolen bases in each of his first two seasons—and at ages when most players are in Single or Double A.

3. Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers: He will play his third outfield spot in as many years in his third home in just as many as well. In his one season visit to the National League, he finished second in on-base percentage, where he reached .423% of the time. He versatile Korean has career averages over the past two seasons of 38 doubles, 18 homers, 20 steals and 98 runs scored.

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2. Alex Gordon, Royals: He is by and far the best defensive left-fielder in the game, winner of the past two Gold Gloves for his field exploits, and sporting a gaudy 34 outfield assists since 2012. He is one year removed from an AL-best 51 doubles season and has topped 20 homers and 80 RBI two of the last three seasons.

1. Matt Holliday, Cardinals: He’s been one of the most consistent hitters in the game over his career, and is the hammer in the Cardinals balanced offering. While his defense is taking some noticeable steps back, he makes up for it has a line drive, run producing regular. 2013 marked the eighth straight year he offered at least a .295 average, 30 plus doubles and 20 plus home runs.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Domonic Brown, Curtis Granderson, Daniel Nava

 

For more on the upcoming season, follow me in real time on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I-70 Baseball.

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Coming off of a holiday weekend, there was plenty of time to catch a lot of baseball. In the period it’s time to start looking forward to the MLB’s mid-summer holiday, the All-Star Game. And for any debates about the All-Star Game, whether it’s about the winner’s stipulation so it “matters” or if it’s the the seemingly 45-man rosters that take to each dugout for it now, it’s still one of the most fun things to debate in the first half of the season.

The first half of the year is for the individual and watching, debating and ultimately being upset about who makes (or doesn’t) the All-Star team. The league format of the MLB still creates a unique tension in all of sports about which side is superior, so in that way, it sort of does matter…even if it’s just for bragging rights.

The National League is the owner of the most recent bragging rights, as they have won the past two summer classics, and are offering another very strong group this year. And at the half way point to the half way point, here’s how I see the NL’s best shaping up. Some will stick, some won’t, but this is the best chance the senior circuit has of pushing their streak out to three years as of today.

Catcher: Yadier Molina (Cardinals), Buster Posey (Giants)

It’s not a tough call, and the names are familiar for a reason. The top two catchers in the game are right back where they would be expected to be. Molina is hitting over .330 for the year, in addition to his all-time great level defense. Posey is having another strong season as well, with an on-base percentage over .402 and a .311 average.

First Base: Joey Votto (Reds), Paul Goldschmidt (D’Backs), Anthony Rizzo (Cubs)

Votto is back to being the on-base machine that he was before his season-slowing injury last year. He’s leading the NL in batting average (.351), on-base percentage (.476) and hits (67) and having another MVP-caliber year. Goldschmidt is also factoring into that MVP picture, sitting in the top 2 in the NL in home runs and RBI. Rizzo is far from the mandatory Cub on the roster, as he’s coming into his own as a prominent power hitter in the league.

Second Base: Brandon Phillips (Reds), Marco Scutaro (Giants)

Phillips is producing runs at an elite clip. His 43 RBI have him atop the NL currently. Behind him, Scutaro has propelled his season on the back of an 18-game hitting streak, and is in the top 5 in the NL in hits.

Third Base: Pablo Sandoval (Giants), David Wright (Mets)

Third base hasn’t been as strong of a position as it usually is in the NL, but Sandoval has carried his hot October into the new year as well. He’s drove in 34 already with 8 home runs. David Wright not representing New York in the ASG would be a huge upset, but he’s playing the part as well, with 16 extra base hits and 11 stolen bases as well.

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies), Jean Segura (Brewers)

With Tulo, it’s always “if” he’s healthy, there’s nobody in his league at shortstop. Well, health has been on his side again, and that is proving to be the case again. His 10 home runs and 39 RBI have propelled the Rockies to being one of baseball’s best clubs. Segura has come into his own in his first full year in Milwaukee, hitting sparking the Brewers with a .347 average and 14 steals.

Harper already is 10 home runs short of where he was a year ago and has raised his average by nearly 20 points.

Harper already is 10 home runs short of where he was a year ago and has raised his average by nearly 20 points.

Outfield: Justin Upton (Braves), Bryce Harper (Nationals), Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies), Ryan Braun (Brewers), Andrew McCutchen (Pirates), Carlos Gomez (Brewers)

The NL outfield is ridiculous this year. Upton has taken Atlanta by storm, leading the league in home runs with 14. Carlos Gonzalez is on his heels with 13, while Harper has continued his precocious assent up the “Best in baseball” ladder. The NL Central is host to dynamic trio of run producers, in Braun (.310, 33 RBI), McCutchen (27 RBI, 14 steals) and Gomez (.331 avg, 10 homers).

Starters: Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers), Jordan Zimmermann (Nationals), Matt Harvey (Mets), Adam Wainwright (Cardinals), Patrick Corbin (D’Backs), Shelby Miller (Cardinals), Jose Fernandez (Marlins), Lance Lynn (Cardinals)

Pitching has been fantastic in both leagues this year, but the NL has offered an amazing assortment of performances. There’s been the youth movement of Harvey, Corbin, Miller  and Fernandez (who have combined for 15 wins and a 3.02 ERA), the continued coming of age of Zimmermann and Lynn (who are 1 & 2 in the league in wins), as well as the continued excellence of Kershaw (77 strikeouts, 1.68 ERA) and Wainwright (seven wins, 74 strikeouts).

Reliever: Jason Grilli (Pirates), Craig Kimbrel (Braves), Aroldis Chapman (Reds), Luke Gregorsen (Padres), Jonathan Papelbon (Phillies)

Kimbrel and Chapman have been their usual overwhelming selves out the pen, while Grilli has been a ninth inning revelation (an NL-best 20 for 20 in saves opportunities). Papelbon (0.96 ERA) and Gregorsen (0.87 ERA) have been nearly untouchable on the season.

For more on the season as it’s forming and taking shape, follow me in real-time, all the time, on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

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The National League East was the most diverse division in all of baseball a year ago. It was home of the a Cy Young winner on a fourth place team, a former middle reliever that inspired a 23-game winning streak as a starter, the greatest teenage season in baseball history, the farewell of Chipper Jones, two different coming of age stores (that went in two different directions), as well as the most expensive collapse in all of baseball. Yes, the NL East was the scene of five very different stories that left the division looking unlike anything that could have been expected.

The newly minted Miami Marlins entered the year with all the expectations that a complete franchise facelift brings. However, by half way point of the first half, they’d begun to fold already, trading their long-time franchise player and languishing at the bottom of the division. Meanwhile in Philadelphia, the long-time division champs watched their age and injury come together in the worst possible way. Behind David Wright and RA Dickey, the Mets showed some promise, and the Braves continued to be the absolute best second place team imaginable. A place they inhabited because the Washington Nationals rose to power, and never gave it up.

2012 FINISH (*Wild Card winner)

  1. Washington Nationals (98-64)
  2. Atlanta Braves (94-68)*
  3. Philadelphia Phillies (81-81)
  4. New York Mets (74-88)
  5. Miami Marlins (69-93)

Fast forward to now, and things seem a bit more set than they did last summer. Behind a powerhouse lineup and pitching staff, the Nationals have gone from building to win-now status. But the Braves have had as aggressive of an offseason as they’ve had in years to make sure the DC rise isn’t unchallenged. The Phillies, on the other hand, have been in that same “win now” mode for three years, face perhaps the last season where they have a chance to do it. And new eras are coming into play with the Mets and Marlins, and pulling themselves up in a top heavy division will be a challenge of multiple types. But in a division with two teams easily able to represent the NL in October, is the upset even possible?

All Division Team

Catcher: Brian McCann, Braves

First Base: Adam LaRoche, Nationals

Second Base: Chase Utley, Phillies

Third Base: David Wright, Mets

Shortstop: Ian Desmond, Nationals

Left Field: Bryce Harper, Nationals

Center Field: BJ Upton, Braves

Right Field: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

Stanton's prodigous power -to-age ratio is the reason he's the last man standing in Miami.

Stanton’s prodigous power -to-age ratio (40 home run per year average at 23 years old) is the reason he’s the last man standing in Miami.

Starting Pitcher: Stephen Strasberg, Nationals

Starting Pitcher: Gio Gonzalez, Nationals

Starting Pitcher: Cole Hamels, Phillies

Starting Pitcher: Cliff Lee, Phillies

Righty Relief: Tyler Clippard, Nationals

Lefty Relief: Jonny Venters, Braves

Closer: Craig Kimbrel, Braves

Top 10

  1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
  2. David Wright, Mets
  3. Stephen Strasberg, Nationals
  4. Cole Hamels, Phillies
  5. Cliff Lee, Phillies
  6. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
  7. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
  8. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
  9. Bryce Harper, Nationals
  10. Justin Upton, Braves

Lineup

  1. Nationals
  2. Braves
  3. Phillies
  4. Mets
  5. Marlins

Top to bottom, there’s very few NL lineups that can swing with the Nationals. As you’ll see below, there’s no area they are weak in, but the strength is truly in the numbers. They finished in the top five in runs, total bases, team batting average and home runs in the NL. The Phillies haven’t been able to perform at maximum capacity for the past two years, but Ryan Howard and Chase Utley will both enter the season healthy for the first time in that span as well. Atlanta could very well carry six players that top 20 home runs, but could also lead the NL in strikeouts by a wide margin as well.

Wright carried a heavy load in the Mets lineup well a year ago, topping 40 doubles and driving in 93 runs.

Wright carried a heavy load in the Mets lineup well a year ago, topping 40 doubles and driving in 93 runs.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Nationals (Harper/Zimmerman/LaRoche)
  2. Braves (Upton/Freeman/Upton)
  3. Phillies (Utley/Howard/Young)
  4. Mets (Wright/Davis/Duda)
  5. Marlins (Stanton/Brantly/Ruggiano)

The emergence of the Adam LaRoche (33 HRs/100 RBI) pushed the Nationals lineup to a new level last year. With Zimmerman and Harper, the Nats have a chance to get 75 homers from the middle of their lineup alone. The Braves revamped the team with the addition of the Uptons, and Freddie Freeman’s continue growth will make the heart of the ATL attack formidable for years to come.

Table Setters

  1. Nationals (Span/Werth)
  2. Braves (Simmons/Heyward)
  3. Phillies (Rollins/Revere)
  4. Marlins (Pierre/Polanco)
  5. Mets (Tejada/Murphy)

Denard Span is the table setter Washington has been after for the last few years, and when coupled with the do it all Harper, the Nats will jump on pitchers early and often. Ben Revere is the type of regular on-base threat the Phillies need. His .294 average was a 27 point increase from 2011. Juan Pierre is still a steady hitter at age 35 and his consistent effort will be helpful in the sparse Marlin lineup.

Bench

  1. Nationals
  2. Braves
  3. Phillies
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

The Nationals have the best bench in baseball. Wilson Ramos, Roger Bernadina, Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi start in a lot of other places. The mix of Delmon Young, Lee Mayberry and Freddy Galvis is a promising support group for Charlie Manuel in Philly, as long as they aren’t stretched too thin by being forced into the starting lineup too often due to injury.

Rotation

  1. Nationals
  2. Phillies
  3. Braves
  4. Mets
  5. Marlins

The best rotation in the NL got better when Dan Haren joined Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler in DC. This group won a combined (…) games in 2012. Not to be outdone, the Phillies boast two legitimate aces in Lee and Hamels, but the health of Roy Halladay continues to be questionable. The Mets staff is still without Johan Santana, but has several quality young arms in Dillion Gee, Matt Harvey and Jonathan Niese.

1-2 Punch

  1. Nationals (Strasberg/Gonzalez)
  2. Phillies (Hamels/Lee)
  3. Braves (Hudson/Medlen)
  4. Mets (Santana/Niese)
  5. Marlins (Nolasco/LeBlanc)

Strasberg and Gonzalez could become the first teammates to both win 20 games in a season since 2002. In Atlanta, Kris Medlen was unbelievable down the stretch last season, with the Braves winning 23 of his starts, consecutively. Paired with the always reliable Tim Hudson, they have the firepower to match up with the more hallowed top of the line in-division arms.

With O'Flaherty, Kimbrel and Venters waiting in the wings, if the Braves aren't beat by the seventh, it's probably not happening.

With O’Flaherty, Kimbrel and Venters waiting in the wings, if the Braves aren’t beat by the seventh, it’s probably not happening.

Bullpen

  1. Braves
  2. Nationals
  3. Phillies
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

There’s no better bullpen in baseball than Atlanta’s. The late inning gauntlet includes the often untouchable trio of Johnny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel, and added former All-Star Jordan Walden as well. The Nationals added Rafael Soriano to Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard to form a formidable late game trio of their own. Mike Adams, who has posted an ERA under 2.00 four of the last five years, was added bridge the gap to Jonathan Papelbon.

Defense

  1. Braves
  2. Nationals
  3. Mets
  4. Marlins
  5. Phillies

The addition of both Upton brothers to an outfield with Gold Glove winner Jason Heyward makes the Atlanta outfield the best in the game. The Mets infield is strong unit, led by Wright and Ruben Tejada, while Giancarlo Stanton’s bat gets the headlines, but his athleticism and arm both round him out as a one of the best overall players in the game as well.

Speed

  1. Braves
  2. Nationals
  3. Phillies
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

Once again, it all starts with the outfield in the A. While Michael Bourn is gone, the Braves will get even quicker with the combined efforts of the Uptons (49 steals a year ago), as well as Andrelton Simmons. Revere adds 40 steal speed to the Philly attack, and Span has twice hit 10 triples in a season, as well as topped 20 steals.

Manuel has averaged 90 wins in his eight years in Philly, and his handling could be the x-factor in the Philly year.

Manuel has averaged 90 wins in his eight years in Philly, and his handling could be the x-factor in the Philly year.

Manager

  1. Davey Johnson, Nationals
  2. Charlie Manuel, Phillies
  3. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves
  4. Terry Collins, Mets
  5. Mike Redmond, Marlins

It is Johnson’s last go around in DC (he’s retiring after the season), and the 2012 NL Manager of the Year has the tools at his disposal to make it a memorable departure. Collins has kept the Mets surprisingly afloat the last few years despite the constant turmoil surrounding the Mets the last two years. Rookie manager Redmond will be tasked with a tough task pulling along the stripped down Marlins in his debut year.

Finances

  1. Phillies
  2. Braves
  3. Nationals
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

The Phillies have the funds to make their usual aggressive additions if they find themselves in the chase late in the season. Despite having three four players due $20 million this season, GM Ruben Amaro has the green light to spend if needed. On the flipside, the Marlins and Mets are two of the biggest financial disasters in sports, despite the substantial $138 million commitment made to Wright this winter.

Impact Additions

  1. Justin Upton (Braves via D’Backs)
  2. BJ Upton (Braves via Rays)
  3. Dan Haren (Nationals via Angels)
  4. Rafael Soriano (Nationals via Yankees)
  5. Ben Revere (Phillies via Twins)

After years of being floated in Arizona, the Justin Upton finally was moved to a place where he can freely play with no rumors hanging off his every move. The Braves re-invented themselves by signing him and his older brother BJ. Meanwhile, the Nationals made several “finishing touch” type moves, highlighted picking up a potential steal in Haren, a 4-time All-Star workhorse who’s averaged 14 wins a season.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Bryce Harper, Nationals
  2. Matt Harvey, Mets
  3. Ike Davis, Mets
  4. Julio Teheran, Braves
  5. Ross Detwiler, Nationals

Harper is the easy call, but considering what could be on deck is one of the most exciting things to look forward to in the season. He hit 22 homers and stole 18 bases a year ago, and has a legitimate shot to become the youngest member of the 30 homer/30 steal club this time around. Harvey was at times completely overpowering as a rookie, averaging 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings over 10 starts.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Zach Wheeler (Pitcher-Mets, AAA)
  2. Travis D’Arnaud (Catcher-Mets, AAA)
  3. Anthony Rendon (Third Base-Nationals, AA)
  4. Andrelton Simmons (Shortstop-Braves, MLB)
  5. Adeiny Hechavarria (Shortstop-Marlins, MLB)

The future looks good for the Mets, and it’s most promising of its entire stockpile of young arms. Wheeler has a triple digit fastball, and the stuff to go along with it. Pairing him with D’Arnaud, the former top prospect of the Blue Jays and main return piece for RA Dickey, ensure the Mets will return to relevancy soon enough.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Nationals
  2. Braves
  3. Phillies
  4. Mets
  5. Marlins

Last season was the story of anybody having a chance out in the East, this time around will not be more of the same. The Nationals and Braves are both returning very strong team’s that didn’t lose much over the winter, yet made some substantial additions. On the other hand, the Phillies who have a solid core, made some additions as well, but simply can’t keep up with the younger and more well rounded Nationals and Braves. But they are a veteran laden club with more winning experience than any other team ahead of them and a very good manager, if any team in the NL is capable of spring a surprise heist of a Wild Card spot, it’s them.

The Mets are growing, and have made several moves that have put young talent in their system and Major League staff, but after Wright and Davis, there’s nothing else in their lineup and the East is the wrong division not be able to hit in. The Marlins, after their “everything not named Giancarlo must go” dump are more of a factor in the push for the number spot in the Draft than the division.

So this brings it all back to the same two postseason reps from a year ago. The Braves are getting better in a hurry, and with their entire core under 30, their best days are yet to come. A return to the playoffs should be expected, and not just a one and done this year either. But the Nationals better days are here now. The difference comes down the arms: the Braves have a very good pitching staff; the Nationals have a devastating staff, which has four Cy Young capable starters and three relievers with 30 save capability. Add on the prime of Zimmerman, LaRoche and Werth with the rise of Harper and Ian Desmond all happening at once, and the Nationals aren’t just the best in the East. They’re among the two or three best period.

For more on the upcoming MLB campaign along the East coast in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Bryce-Harper

In day three of the 2013 Top 100 Players in Baseball, we hit the middle of the mountain and start into the Top 50 players in the game today. At this point, the free agency season is nearly at a close (with the exception of the Kyle Lohse rumors), and the teams are what they are. The impact of each player’s performance on his team shows his true value and factors into where each is ranked this week.

Does competition have anything to do with placement? Sure, it has to. Team success is a major marker of if there’s any point to how good a player is. With the exception of a few extreme differences in top player-to-team effort (think David WrightGiancarlo Stanton or Felix Hernandez), most top players compete. Here in the middle of the list, the translation will be started from the really good players to some of the best of the best.

46 of the 100 players were members of teams that made the 2012 postseason, in comparison to over 80 that made the All-Star team, won a Gold Glove or even won an MVP at some point. In today’s list, there’s as diverse a mixture of impacts as there are in the game, or at any other part of the Top 100. But there really is only one goal, and in today’s list there are 17 players that visited the postseason in the last two years … and another seven that have been World Champions at one point, at least one time over.

 

50. Chase Headley – Third Base – San Diego Padres: Here’s a man that had a season’s worth of impact in just one half. After the All-Star break he hit an MLB-best 23 homers, which helped him to 115 RBI on the year, tops in the NL. He also took home a Gold Glove and showed why he is the most discussed trade chip all of baseball.

49. Adam Wainwright – Pitcher – St. Louis Cardinals: Coming back from Tommy John surgery, he won 15 games in his return to the game. While he didn’t always have the form that won him 39 games from 2010-11, he rounded into form behind the league’s best curveball, and from June to July he won 7 games with a 2.75 ERA.

48. R.A. Dickey – Pitcher – Toronto Blue Jays: After his dirty good knuckleball led him to a season highlighted by 20 wins (for the fourh-place Mets), an NL-best 230 strikeouts and three shutouts, he landed the Cy YoungAward. The Blue Jays traded their top prospect to land him to resurrect their long-suffering rotation.

47. Dustin Pedroia – Second Base – Boston Red Sox: The gritty heart of the Red Sox cracked 39 doubles, stole 20 bases and hit .290 on the year despite battling through a broken finger — an injury he played the last game of the season with just to prove there was no less fight at the bottom of the standings as there was at the top.

46. Justin Upton – Left Field – Atlanta Braves: The D’Backs finally pulled the trigger on the long-discussed trade of the 25-year-old outfielder, and now he’ll help to form the most talented young outfield in either league. The do-it-all talent has scored 212 runs the last two seasons, while hitting 48 homers along the way as well.

45. Bryce Harper – Left Field – Washington Nationals: There’s legit claim to call the Nats’ 19-year-old phenom the best teenager to ever play. In route to the NL Rookie of the Year, he popped 22 home runs, nine triples and stole 18 bases. Along the way, he became the youngest position player to ever make an All-Star team, and his 5.0 WAR topped the NL’s best team…

 

For the rest of the list, and what you’ve missed you missed so far, check in at The Sports Fan Journal here

And to follow the upcoming season, and player debate in real time, follow me on Twitter @CheapSeatFan

 

There was a youth movement unlike any other this year across baseball. This has been seen before, but this year was something bigger; it was the year of the phenom. There was no such thing as an average rookie this year, because this class showed up with tower sized hype…and most of them outgrew it in a matter of weeks.

That’s why it’s ironic that this year’s Willie Mays Award, the nod given to the Baseball Bloggers Alliance Rookie of the Year honor, is named as it is. For decades there’s been the rush to compare every multi-skilled youngster that blows up on the scene in hurry to Mays. It’s the loftiest, and most unrealistic, comparison there is. I’m not one to rush to crown any king, especially ones that can barely legally drink, or can’t even. Or especially guys that haven’t been the country long enough to know where all the states are yet, been burned that way many a time.

But this year, something different happened, a group showed up amazed so often, it seemed trivial to look at them as rookies. It was just a minor formality at best. The top six rookies in each league became the best pitcher on a two-time League Champ immediately, made the loss of a former MVP seem inconsequential in Cincinnati, hit Roy Hobbs like homers in Oakland and featured an All-Star that was the only pitcher with a winning record on a division champ from a year ago.

And then there were two that not only shattered the expectations, but became record-setting, age re-defining All-Stars at ages where they should be filling out FAFSA forms, not being penciled into MLB Awards ballots.

 

National League—Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

Harper’s ascent as uber-prospect has been well documented. He’s made it his life’s work of spitting in the face of expectations and arrival dates. He’s been the youngest at so many things it’s going to take a precocious middle schooler with amazing bat speed to break some of his “first to do it” marks. However, the MLB was supposed to be different, but yet again Harper didn’t mind to stop and pay attention to that rule either.

It was seen as too soon when he came up to give the Nats a boost in the lineup when Ryan Zimmerman hit the DL. But he turned what was seen as being a matinee into a full summer show, winning the NL Rookie of the Month his first full 30 days in the league. His feats continued on throughout the summer, becoming the youngest All-Star ever and totaling a .270 batting average, with 22 home runs, 59 RBI and thieving 18 bases as well, finishing the top five in six different categories for rookies.

There’s been much bigger numbers put up by a rookie (as we’ll soon see), but to get the impact of Harper’s debut is deeper than that. He was the most dependable everyday performer on the best team in the National League, at 19. He hit all over the Nationals lineup, carrying them wherever an injury took out the incumbent, a frequent occurrence this summer. He played intensely hard every day, with an unrelenting style both at the plate, in the field and on the bases. Put that over presence in the context of the rise to power of the Nationals and there was no more valuable player in DC this year, rookie be damned.

#2) Todd Frazier, Reds

#3) Wade Miley, D’Backs

 

American League—Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

While Harper was the most valuable rookie in the NL this year, the man that opened the year as his contemporary atop Top 100 Prospects lists is arguably the most valuable player in all of baseball this year. At the very least, he’s the greatest rookie to ever play the game. At the age of 20 for most of the season, he became the first player in Major League history to hit 30 home runs, steal 45 bases and score 125 runs. Trout became the most popular, and best, player on a team featuring the most prolific player of the last decade in Albert Pujols. This is Trout’s time, and there’s really nothing that can be done about it.

In 139 games, starting on April 28th, he built up 182 hits, 30 home runs, 83 RBI, 49 steals in 54 attempts, eight triples, and a .326 batting average. His steals and runs scored totals were the best in either league, and he did this all after missing the first 30 games of the year in the minors. For context, he hit .372 and .394 in his first two full months as an Angel, and only had less than 30 hits in one month. With his 30 home run, he became the youngest member of the 30-30 club in history. He was one steal short of becoming the third player ever to hit 30 homers and steal 50 bases in one year. In the field, he robbed at least three home runs from well over the fence in centerfield, and should become the first rookie to win a Gold Glove in over 10 years.

But the biggest impact a player can make is in the wins column. At the end of April, the Angels were 8-15, 9 games out of first place already. Trout’s phenomenal season netted him a 10.7 Wins Above Replacement, the best in baseball by 2 games over the second biggest difference maker in all of baseball. So take Trout, put in the Opening Day lineup, and you put the Angels in October.

That’s why Rookie of the Year means little in the context of assessing Trout, and it’s why even the a Triple Crown Winner’s validity has the best in the world is questioned next to a guy that redefined what Most Valuable anything looks like.

#2) Yu Darvish, Rangers

#3) Yoenis Cespedes, A’s

 

MLB Awards Season in the CHEAP SEATS Recap & Preview

October 8: Connie Mack/Manager of the Year Award

October 9: Willie Mays/Rookie of the Year Award

October 10: Goose Gossage/Reliever of the Year Award

For more on this ballot, and everything else that kicks up baseball dust, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan