Posts Tagged ‘Carlos Gonzalez’

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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).

Stanton

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.

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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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Last summer, the National League West was the scene of the most drastic 180 in all baseball. Coming into the year, it was fully expected that the Dodgers would grab it early on for themselves and not let up, however that was far from the case. As a matter of fact, due to a mix of injuries and uncertain day-to-day lineup production, LA found itself in the cellar of the division in early May, and no other club really stepped and away either. The defending World Series champs in San Francisco were dealing with a host of injuries and down seasons, and the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Padres didn’t make the opportunistic push that they could have. Soon enough, they would grow to regret this.

2013 Finish

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)

2. Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81)

3. San Diego Padres (76-86)

4. San Francisco Giants (76-86)

5. Colorado Rockies (74-88)

In mid-May, the Dodgers came around and ran away with the West. Sparked by the promotion of Yasiel Puig and returns of Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez and (briefly) Matt Kemp, they ran away with the division, finishing with the biggest divisional margin of victory in the Majors. Pulling ahead to this summer, they will enter with the same expectations. However, the division enters in a much better place overall that won’t allow for any temporary slips that the last time around allowed.

The Diamondbacks showed the most growth of any team that did not make the postseason last year, sparked by the coming of age of MVP runner up Paul Goldschmidt, and they made some smart additions to continue the process. The Giants never stay down for long, and with a strong core and a few additions to mend their fall of last year, they project well again too. And the Padres and Rockies both are the type of teams that can rock a boat while keeping their hand on it as well.

What does this all mean? And can it continue to be the aggressive mix of a division that has not had a repeat champ since 2009?

All-Division Team

1. Yasiel Puig -RF—Dodgers

2. Carlos Gonzalez-LF—Rockies

3. Troy Tulowitzki-SS—Rockies

4. Buster Posey-C—Giants

5. Paul Goldschmidt-1B—Diamondbacks

6. Matt Kemp-CF—Dodgers

7. Chase Headley-3B—Padres

8. Marco Scutaro-2B—Giants

Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw—Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Zack Greinke—Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Madison Bumgarner—Giants

Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain—Giants

Right Handed Reliever: Joaquin Benoit—Padres

Lefty Handed Reliever: Rex Brothers—Rockies

Closer: Kenley Jansen—Dodgers

Lineup

1. Dodgers

2. Rockies

3. Diamondbacks

4. Giants

5. Padres

With five current or former All-Stars comprising their everyday lineup, without accounting for Puig, the Dodgers have a undeniably balanced offering that still could do even more than it has to date if they can get a better shake regarding health. Following their addition of Mark Trumbo, the D’Backs are the only NL team running out two 30-home run hitters from a year ago, with Goldschmidt as well. The Rockies always produce, but if Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki can join NL-batting champ Michael Cuddyer and new addition Justin Morneau with some regularity, they should lead the NL in runs scored again.

The Rockies potential is greatly improved when it has its former batting champ in Gonzalez available. He has cleared .300 three of each of the last four years and 20 homers in each campaign.

The Rockies potential is greatly improved when it has its former batting champ in Gonzalez available. He has cleared .300 three of each of the last four years.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Dodgers

2. Rockies

3. Diamondbacks

4. Giants

5. Padres

The Hanley Ramirez/Adrian Gonzalez/Matt Kemp trio that the Dodgers could yield is a pure terror, as is the Gonzalez/Tulowitzki/Cuddyer mix in Colorado. However, the Giants could see a big upswing around Buster Posey if Pablo Sandoval’s re-conditioned approach pays out, Brandon Belt continues to develop and Michael Morse can rediscover his 2011-12 form, where he hit .297 with 49 homers over the run.

Table Setters

1. Dodgers

2. Padres

3. Giants

4. Rockies

5. Diamondbacks

The decision to put Puig at the top of the lineup by Don Mattingly is partially due to a lack of a true leadoff hitter, but it is also a case of getting his most diverse talent as many at-bats as possible. If he develops more patience, he could be among the best leadoff options in the NL (.391 on-base % in 2013). The Padres are a throwback of an attack, that has plenty of dash and run options. Before he lost the end of his season due to a Biogenesis-related suspension, Everth Cabrera was on pace to lead the NL in stolen bases again, and still managed to swipe 37. He is backed up by the chronically underrated Will Venable.

Depth

1. Diamondbacks

2. Giants

3. Dodgers

4. Rockies

5. Padres

Kirk Gibson has a very deep offering, with the enviable option of alternating between Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and will eventually have the versatile Cody Ross available as well. San Francisco’s Gregor Blanco is one of the better 4th outfielders in the game, and Andre Ethier is currently the best 4th outfielder in baseball—for as long as he lasts in LA.

Bumgarner has steadily risen up both the Giants rotation and the ranks of NL pitchers, reaching his first All-Star Game last summer.

Bumgarner has steadily risen up both the Giants rotation and the ranks of NL pitchers, reaching his first All-Star Game last summer in route to a 13-win, 199 strikeout campaign.

Rotation

1. Dodgers

2. Giants

3. Diamondbacks

4. Padres

5. Rockies

For all of the depth of their everyday lineup, it is rotational depth that is the real strength of the Dodgers. Behind their big two, they have a rotation and a half, with a mix of Hyun Jin-Ryu, Dan Haren and options of Paul Maholm, Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley as well. However, the Giants are not far behind them, with Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogel song providing a solid supporting group.

1-2 Punch

1. Dodgers

2. Giants

3. Diamondbacks

4. Padres

5. Rockies

The West is home to two of the elite starting duos in the game, in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Grienke and Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Kershaw and Greinke combined for a  31-13 record with a 2.23 ERA and 380 strikeouts  last year, with Kershaw winning his second Cy Young in three years. In SF, Cain had a down year, before rebounding with a superb second half, while Bumgarner posted a 2.77 ERA in route to earning this year’s Opening Day nod. Arizona suffered a huge loss in their top guy Patrick Corbin being lost to Tommy John surgery this spring, while the Padres have a blooming star in Andrew Cashner atop their order.

Bullpen

1. Dodgers

2. Diamondbacks

3. Padres

4. Giants

5. Rockies

LA boasts a dominant Kenley Jansen at the end of their pen, with two former closers on one-year deals auditioning for a return to the role in Chris Perez and Brian Wilson setting up for him. That’s a mix that leads to some very short games behind their already potent starting staff. The D’Backs have a similar mix, with J.J. Putz, David Hernandez and Brad Ziegler all capable of shutting the door in front of Addison Reed. The Padres annually have a superb pen, and saw to it that it continues to be so by making a big commitment to former Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit to setup for Huston Street.

While his winning two-thirds of the NL Triple Crown got the headlines, Goldschmidt also turned in an excellent defensive campaign in route to winning the National League first base Gold Glove.

While his winning two-thirds of the NL Triple Crown got the headlines, Goldschmidt also turned in an excellent defensive campaign in route to winning the National League first base Gold Glove.

Defense

1. Diamondbacks

2. Padres

3. Rockies

4. Giants

5. Dodgers

Led by all-universe defender Gerardo Parra and the Gold Glover Goldschmidt, the D’Backs can pick it, especially with a healthy Miguel Montero captaining it all behind the plate. The athletic Padres are built to make cover the spacious grounds in Petco Park, with Chase Headley a former Gold Glover and Venable, Chris Denorfia, Yonder Alonso and Cabrera all very good defenders as well. In Colorado, Carlos Gonzalez is the best defensive outfielder in the NL, as is Hunter Pence in right for the Giants.

Manager

1. Giants

2. Padres

3. Diamondbacks

4. Dodgers

5. Rockies

Bruce Bochy has played a major role in the regular success of the Giants, and with two World Series titles under his belt in the last four years, he’ll have them ready for a rebound. Bud Black doesn’t get enough credit for the job he does in getting the cash strapped, young Padres to a respectable finish each year either. Don Mattingly also proved his chops last year, by corralling the spiraling Dodgers back into the race—and saving his job in real-time as well.

Finances

1. Dodgers

2. Giants

3. Diamondbacks

4. Rockies

5. Padres

The Dodgers can have whatever they want, it is just a reality of the game that everybody in the market has to adjust to. They are squarely in ‘win now’ mode and will acquire whatever they can to make that a reality. The other teams in the division are more modest with their resources, so what is in tow now is likely to be close to what they compete with, although the D’Backs do have some attractive young prospects they could bargain with.

Impact Additions

1. Mark Trumbo (Diamondbacks via trade)

2. Tim Hudson (Giants via free agency)

3. Addison Reed (Diamondbacks via trade)

4. Dan Haren (Dodgers via free agency)

5. Justin Morneau (Rockies via free agency)

The D’Backs mortgaged away some of their young potential to add slightly more proven young Major Leaguers in Trumbo and Addison this winter, to add much needed power in Trumbo, and late inning depth in Reed.  The Dodgers and Giants both made smart, ready-to –win contributions in Haren and Hudson to offset each other’s addition of the other.

Once he found a place in the starting rotation, Cashner became one of the NL's most dominant starters, especially at home where he sported a 1.95 ERA.

Once he found a place in the starting rotation, Cashner became one of the NL’s most dominant starters, especially at home where he sported a 1.95 ERA.

Leap Forward

1. Nolan Arenado—Rockies

2. Andrew Cashner—Padres

3. Brandon Belt—Giants

4. Jedd Gyorko—Padres

5. Chris Owings—Diamondbacks

Arenado’s rookie year got swept away by the some of the more famous ones around the NL, but he made his own instant impact as well, winning the NL Gold Glove at third base. Look for him to make a more regular impact at the plate this year, as his .311 career minor league average indicates. Cashner could be the breakout starter in the NL this year, as the eccentric, flame throwing righty posted a 2.14 second half ERA, with a .194 average against.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Archie Bradley—Diamondbacks

2. Eddie Butler—Rockies

3. Jonathan Gray—Rockies

4. Chris Owings—Diamondbacks

5. Austin Hedges—Padres

The West is home to a group of the premier pitching prospects in the game, with two oddly enough being headed towards Colorado in Butler and Gray. Gray was the 3rd pick in last spring’s Draft, posting a 1.93 ERA in two stops after signing. Butler started 28 games in the minors last year, and dominated to the tune of a 1.80 ERA and 143 strikeouts. If they can carry over their success to Coors, it could signal a change of tides for the long-suffering Rockies pitching. Bradley is the top pitching prospect in the minors (12-5, 1.97 ERA at Double A in 2013), and should see action in the desert fairly early in the year due to Corbin’s injury.

PREDICTIONS

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

2. San Francisco Giants

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

4. San Diego Padres

5. Colorado Rockies

The prognosis for the West seems to be for it to be much more competitive than it was a year ago, even while it stands to be host to one of baseball’s most dominating clubs, it is also compromised of a few teams that are either growing into postseason form or returning to it. The Diamondbacks look to continue their growth into a postseason contender, and despite the loss of their top arm in Corbin, they still have what it takes to continue their push into the wild card picture. They will need to get help from their on-the-verge prospects throughout the year, and may need to add an arm later in the year, but they are close. The same can be said for the Giants, who are only two years removed from being the best team in baseball, and are at a crossroads with their established core. If it has one more run in it, and a consistent offering from its rotation, they will push for the post season.

The Padres are a wild card in the fact that they have the understated cohesiveness to make a difference in the division, even if they are a few years (and a legit offensive star away) from being a factor in the wild card race. The Rockies are still a one-sided affair; potent offensively, but offer very little in the way vital pitching to compete with their division mates.

But in the end, it is the Dodgers division to negotiate their way through from the very beginning. It is about not winning the West, but getting over the NLCS hump that is their task for the year. After a season where they pushed to the brink of the World Series despite never being healthy, it is definitely within reason to expect them to do better entering the year in markedly better shape than they were at any point last year. Making reality meet what paper shows is a completely different thing however, but their prime competition is not from within the West, but from the top of the other divisions.

It has been four years since a team repeated in the West, but it is time for it to happen again. The Dodgers will once again pull away with the division, although by not the same amount of games, in route to posting the National League’s best record. However, expect the Giants and Diamondbacks to compete for one of the Wild Card spots throughout the year, with the Padres being a surprisingly competitive club as well.

For more on the season to come in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I70 Baseball.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Athletics

There is no position in the history of the game that has more of an illustrious history than center field. Decked out with the likes of Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Ken Griffey Jr, Joe Dimaggio, Tris Speaker and Mickey Mantle, reaching up rungs of the middle of the outfield means nothing less than immortality.

And while the center fielders of today’s game still have quite a ways to go before they are to be mentioned in that class, it still remains perhaps the most impressive gathering of a talent pool of any in the game. To be in the top 5 of the position is to be among the 1% or so of the best players in the game. In the listing below, there is an impressive selection of both crowned, and in many people’s minds, uncrowned MVPs.

At this position, to be in the handful of the best of the best, “V” is better suited to stand for “versatile” than anything else, because to be among the best requires at least four of the 5 Tools of the complete ballplayer to be put to use, and with at least one being at an elite level.

But that’s enough of the posturing—here are the best of the best in the heart of the outfield today.

10. Coco Crisp, Athletics: He has long been one of the most effective runners in the game, stealing 35 bases on average since arriving in Oakland, as well as being charged with guarding the super spacious center field in the o.Co Coliseum. But he also added a power swing last summer, hitting 22 balls over the fence as well.

9. Gerardo Parra, Diamondbacks: The best outfielder in the game with the glove, he’ll move back from right field this year to line up between Mark Trumbo and AJ Pollack. He was good for 4 defensive wins above replacement a year ago, and took home his second Gold Glove in three years.

8. Austin Jackson, Tigers: The multi-skilled Jackson has been one of the most active run scorers in the game (395 since 2010), reaching base in front of Miguel Cabrera’s historic run. He has twice led the AL in triples within the last three years, and cut his long-plaguing strike out total down to 129 last year.

7. Carlos Gomez, Brewers: He took his game to a new level a year ago, finishing with the highest WAR figure in the NL. This came on a combination of 61 extra base hits and 40 stolen bases, in addition to his nearly unequaled range and ability in the field.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Los Angeles Angels

6. Matt Kemp, Dodgers: Injuries sunk the former Triple Crown threat to career-low in games played a year ago, but he is far too talented to consider a “has been” yet. From 2011-12 when he at 100%-to-mostly healthy, his average effort was a .315/.387/.567 slash line, with 31 home runs, 98 RBI and 24 stolen bases. He’s just got to get out there and do it again.

5. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies: Moving over from left field this season, where he was among the best defenders in all of the game. He won his second consecutive Gold Glove in left, while reaching 26 home runs, 70 RBI and 21 stolen bases, despite having his season cut short to only only 110 games.

4. Adam Jones, Orioles: He has become one of the most impressive all-around players in either league, winning his third Gold Glove a year ago, while hitting a career-best 33 home runs, 108 RBI and 186 hits.

3. Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees: The most dangerous leadoff hitter in the game, he’s both a terror on the bases (52 steals per year in his last four full campaigns) and carries a consistent stick to the plate as well (career .297 hitter). With the generous right field fence in his new home in the Bronx, a return of his power stroke could also be in play.

McCutchen_

2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: The reigning National League MVP does some of everything, and does it all good. He spread his contributions around the board more in 2013 than in 2012, but within the past two seasons he has led the NL in hits once, took home a Gold Glove, two Silver Sluggers and stolen 47 bases—all while resurrecting the D.O.A. Pirates franchise.

1. Mike Trout, Angels: The game’s best all-around talent is easily the class of his position, and that’s saying a lot considering the level McCutchen is at. In his two full pro seasons, he has changed the course of 18.8 games by his impact alone. There was no sophomore slump for Trout, who in year two came within one double, one triple and three RBI of being the only player in history to post a 40 double/10 Triple/20 home run/100 run/30 stolen base season—all while hitting .323 at the reverent old age of 21 years.

Just A Bit Outside: Dexter Fowler, Chris Denorfia, Denard Span

For more on the rankings and the now near sprint to spring in real-time on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I-70 Baseball.

St Louis Cardinals v San Francisco Giants - Game Six

The National League West was a free for all a year ago, as it was a division without a dominant team. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who pulled off a last-to-first coup to win the West in 2011, couldn’t recapture that same spark. The Los Angeles Dodgers made the most aggressive trade deadline push in history, acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford from the Red Sox in an attempt to make a late charge for the division. The San Diego Padres turned in another strong second half behind the MVP-level upturn by Chase Headley, while the Colorado Rockies looked for creative ways to manage a bad pitching staff and a wounded lineup. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants caught a spark inspired by the perfection of Matt Cain and the outstanding, batting championship/MVP-winning Stan Musial Most Valuable Player” href=”https://cheapseatsplease.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/the-cheap-seats-2012-nl-stan-musial-most-valuable-player/”>return of Buster Posey. A spark that ended with a Giants sweep of the World Series, and winning their second championship in three seasons.

2012 Finish

1.                   Giants (94-68)
2.                   Dodgers (86-76)
3.                   Diamondbacks (81-81)
4.                   Padres (76-86)
5.                   Rockies (64-98)

Fast forward a year later, and much has changed in the West mostly. Gone is Justin Upton from the D’Backs and back to the Rockies is Troy Tulowitzki. The Padres have continued their Motley Crew mix of young potential and select veterans, looking to maximize their potential. The Dodgers have continued their no ceilings approach to spending, fronting the big bill to add a second top tier arm in Zack Greinke to their rotation. And meanwhile, amid all of this change, set the defending champion Giants: returning intact and healthy. Is this the season that they make everyone believers? That the most slept on success in baseball gets it’s due by holding back the big bank monsters to their south, as well as the rest of the pack in one of the most balanced divisions in baseball? It’s never easy to stay on top, whether they see you coming or not.

All Division Team

Catcher: Buster Posey-Giants

First Base: Adrian Gonzalez-Dodgers

Second Base: Aaron Hill-Diamondbacks

Third Base: Chase Headley-Padres

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki-Rockies

Left Field: Carlos Gonzalez-Rockies

Center Field: Matt Kemp-Dodgers

Right Field: Andre Ethier-Dodgers

Clayton_Kershaw

No other NL pitcher has approached Kershaw the previous two years: a 35-14 record, 477 strikeouts and a MLB-best 2.40 ERA.

Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw-Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain-Giants

Starting Pitcher: Zack Greinke-Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Ian Kennedy-Diamondbacks

Righty Relief: Luke Gregersen-Padres

Lefty Relief: Jeremy Affeldt-Giants

Closer: JJ Putz-Diamondbacks

Top 10

  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  2. Matt Kemp, Dodgers
  3. Buster Posey, Giants
  4. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
  5. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
  6. Matt Cain, Giants
  7. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers
  8. Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
  9. Chase Headley, Padres
  10. Pablo Sandoval, Giants

Lineup

  1. Dodgers
  2. Rockies
  3. Giants
  4. Diamondbacks
  5. Padres

LA has put together (potentially) a powerhouse of an everyday lineup. But injuries are already taking a toll on its early offering, with Carl Crawford still touch and go in his attempt to make his Dodger debut, and Hanley Ramirez out for two months with a broken wrist. Colorado will always kill the ball at home, but health (especially Tulowitzki’s) and road performance limit their full output. Even with these challenges, Colorado as a team finished third in the NL in hits.

The return of Tulowitzki to the join Gonzalez puts potentially two-All Stars back-to-back in the Rockie lineup

The return of Tulowitzki to the join Gonzalez puts potentially two-All Stars back-to-back in the Rockie lineup

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Dodgers (Gonzalez/Kemp/Ramirez)
  2. Giants (Posey/Sandoval/Pence)
  3. Rockies (Gonzalez/Tulowitzki/Cuddyer)
  4. Diamondbacks (Montero/Kubel/Prado)
  5. Padres (Headley/QuentinAlonso)

The potential of Kemp and Gonzalez is staggering; both have had career-high seasons of 39 and 40 homers, respectively, and could be an gauntlet to work through for opposing pitchers. Sandoval really came into his own in the fall last season, and Posey crushed lefties to the tone of an even average a year ago. The last time CarGo and Tulo hit back-to-back for a full season in 2011, they put up a combined 56 home runs, 197 RBI and 173 runs scored.

Table Setters

  1. Giants (Pagan/Scutaro)
  2. Rockies (Fowler/Rutledge)
  3. Dodgers (Crawford/Ellis)
  4. Diamondbacks (Prado/Parra)
  5. Padres (Cabrera/Gyorko)

The strength of the Giants is being able to work timely, extra base hitting. Scutaro put up a .362 average once reaching the Bay a year ago, and Pagan led the NL with 15 triples. Dexter Fowler had a career-high .300 last season for the Rocks, while Crawford has long been one of the most dangerous players on the basepaths in baseball. He has averaged 50 steals per 162 games for his career.

Bench

  1. Diamondbacks
  2. Rockies
  3. Dodgers
  4. Giants
  5. Padres

When completely healthy, Arizona has constructed a very diverse team, which has plenty of capable contributors off the bench, such as Eric Chavez and Willie Bloomquist. The Dodgers have quietly assembled a very capable supporting cast in-between its headline signings, with Skip Schumaker, Aaron Miles and Tony Gwynn, Jr.

Kennedy (36 wins since 2011) anchors a deep Diamondbacks rotation that is needed to hang in the West.

Kennedy (36 wins since 2011) anchors a deep Diamondbacks rotation that is needed to hang in the West.

Rotation

  1. Giants
  2. Dodgers
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Padres
  5. Rockies

The long-standing strength of the Giants attack is starting pitching. Led by Matt Cain, the Giants had big game effort after big game effort from Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito and Madison Bumgartner in-route to winning out last season. Quietly, Arizona has assembled a deep starting five behind former 20-game winner Ian Kennedy. Brandon McCarthy and NL Rookie of the Year runner-up Wade Miley are part of a very solid group.

1-2 Punch

  1. Dodgers (Kershaw/Greinke)
  2. Giants (Cain/Bumgarner)
  3. Diamondbacks (Kennedy/McCarthy)
  4. Padres (Volquez/Richards)
  5. Rockies (De La Rosa/Chacin)

If you’ve got one Cy Young winner, why not add another if you can? That’s exact what the Dodgers paid $158 million to do when they put 2009 AL winner with 2011’s NL winner, adding Greinke to Kershaw atop their rotation. Bumgartner has increased his win total each season, reaching 16 in year three.

Bullpen

  1. Giants
  2. Dodgers
  3. Padres
  4. Diamondbacks
  5. Rockies

Despite losing closer Brian Wilson, the Giant bullpen continued to be a late game roadblock. Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla combined for 39 saves, while Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and George Kontos all round out a great effort. The Padres have a very underrated bullpen collection; Huston Street saved 23 games on 1.85 ERA, and was one of four pitchers to average better than nine strikeouts per nine innings.

Defense

Although it was Headley's bat that made the loudest impact, he landed his first Gold Glove in rise of 2012.

Although it was Headley’s bat that made the loudest impact, he landed his first Gold Glove in rise of 2012.

Giants

  1. Padres
  2. Diamondbacks
  3. Rockies
  4. Dodgers

There is not one subpar defender on the field for the Giants, who just as much depend on pitching, also depend on strong defense to secure their victories. Posey, Scutaro, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Angel Pagan are all plus defenders. Conversely, for the Dodgers, a lack of range behind their pitching staff could cause for some prolonged woes in maximizing their potential.

Speed

  1. Padres
  2. Rockies
  3. Giants
  4. Dodgers
  5. Diamondbacks

The Padres have a huge ballpark, and have added the type of speed to capitalize on it. Cabrera lead the NL is steals with 46 a year ago, while Cameron Maybin and Will Venable both topped 20 as well. If health is their ally, the Dodgers have a chance to have an impressive speed trio in Kemp, Crawford and Ramirez, all of which have swiped at least 40 bases before in their careers.

Manager

  1. Bruce Bochy, Giants
  2. Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks
  3. Bud Black, Padres
  4. Don Mattingly, Dodgers
  5. Walt Weiss, Rockies

Black is quietly putting together a very strong coaching resume, with two World Series titles in the past four years; a stretch he hasn’t won less than 86 games during. Gibson won the NL Manager of the Year as a rookie in 2011, something that Walt Weiss will be pressed to do with the pitching hungry Rockies as a debuting manager this year.

Finances

  1. Dodgers
  2. Giants
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Rockies
  5. Padres

The Dodgers seem to have no ceilings in what they can put out to build the roster of their dreams. The combination of a new management team seeking to make its mark, as well as a $6 billion television deal gives them the capabilities to do as they please. The Giants have the ability to impact the market with the dollar, as Cain’s $127 million extension reflects, but being able to keep up with LA from a spending projects as difficult task for them and the rest of baseball.

Impact Additions

  1. Zack Greinke (Dodgers from Angels)
  2. Martin Prado (D’Backs from Braves)
  3. Cody Ross (Diamondbacks from Red Sox)
  4. Brandon McCarthy (Diamondbacks from Athletics)
  5. Hyunjin Ryu (Dodgers from Japan)

The headline deal was of course Greinke, and rightfully so, but the Diamondbacks were the team that made the most adjustments. Prado came over as the key piece in the Justin Upton to Atlanta deal, while Cody Ross was handed $26 million to solidify the outfield. Brandon McCarthy, who sported a 3.29 ERA in his two years in Oakland is potentially the steal of the winter if he can recapture his form after returning from the brain surgery due to the line drive that ended his 2012.

The addition of Greinke gave the Dodgers an arm that's struck out 200 and pitched 200 innings 3 of the last 4 years.

The addition of Greinke gave the Dodgers an arm that’s struck out 200 and pitched 200 innings 3 of the last 4 years, and devastating duo along with Kershaw.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Tim Lincecum, Giants
  2. Sergio Romo, Giants
  3. Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies
  4. Brandon Crawford, Giants
  5. Luis Cruz, Dodgers

To have two players as accomplished as Lincecum and Romo at the top of this list seems odd, but in their own particular ways they have much to accomplish this season. Lincecum is looking to prove that he can continue to be effective, despite a diminished arsenal. Romo, who became a late inning sensation in the postseason, is looking to prove he can hold the role in a more permanent fashion (18 saves in 19 overall 2012 chances).

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Jedd Gyorko (Infielder-Padres, MLB)
  2. Yaisel Puig (Outfilder-Dodgers, AAA)
  3. Tyler Skaggs (Pitcher-Diamondbacks, AAA)
  4. Nolan Arenado (Third base-Rockies, AAA)
  5. Zach Lee (Pitcher-Dodgers, AA)

Gyorko has hit everywhere he’s been, from the minors (.311 at Double/Triple A in 2012, 3 Spring MLB homers), and has hit his way into the everyday mix in San Diego as well. He will start the season at third base until Headley returns from injury, but will likely move to second base once he’s back. Yaisel Puig and Nolan Arenado have proven to have big bats that are forcing some tough decisions about keeping them in the minors for much longer by their respective clubs.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Giants
  2. Dodgers
  3. Diamondbacks
  4. Rockies
  5. Padres

The West will be a very competitive division. Despite their undeniable success in recent years, the Giants are not the type of team that is an outright dominant club. Mostly because it isn’t an offense that scores in bulk; rather they are a timely one that wins close games. The Diamondbacks have the potential to factor into the wild card picture, if not the division, but a few things will have to go in their favor, starting with some consistency in health. They have strong pitching, and a balanced lineup. Balance is not in favor of the Rockies, who still have a mismatched pitching staff, but could fare better than a year ago with the return of Tulowitzki. The Padres have a steadily improving everyday lineup, but are still young in many areas and don’t have the firepower to keep up with the rest of the clubs in the division.

In the end, the question comes down to either the Dodgers or the Giants. While LA has constructed a formidable club in a short amount of time, there are still shortcomings in the club. Every area of the team is facing injury issues, Matt Kemp has to prove his hamstring woes are behind him, and injuries to Greinke, Ramirez, Crawford and Chad Billingsley have already plagued the team this spring. The Giants great strength is chemistry, and this is a battle tested group that knows how to rely on each other. Until the Dodgers can get fully healthy all at once and learn to play together, that’s a distinct advantage that the Giants have, and combined with the major difference making presence of Posey and a supremely deep pitching staff, the champs keep the edge and should win the West for a third time in four years.

There’s one more preview to go and to get the details on this, that and everything in between as baseball is primed to reset itself in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Justin Verlander

A couple of weeks ago, I broke the Top 100 Players in Baseball coming into 2013. As to be expected, it cause several levels of debate, from the way that such a decision was arrived at, all the way down to the results in the end. As the course of it went along, the players were ranked as a large pool, not by position, and in the end, some players landed interesting places.

But what is does this say about the strength of each position in game? If you go back and take it apart to assess “who’s the best (fill in blank position) in baseball, what does my Top 100 say about that. Well to save the time on that, I’ve done it for you. Today we’ll rank the Top 5 players by position, as well as breakdown what the game looks like at each spot both today, and moving forward.

To refresh on the entire list, head to The Sports Fan Journal, where the full Five Part Series is listed here.

 

Catcher

13. Buster Posey

15. Yadier Molina

38. Joe Mauer

81. Matt Wieters

92. Brian McCann

Catcher was tough at the top, with the margin between Posey and Molina nearly requiring a daily check of the box score to decide who’s better on that day. Overall, only six catchers made the list, with Miguel Montero being the only one missing here.

First Base

8. Joey Votto

9. Albert Pujols

23. Prince Fielder

33. Adrian Gonzalez

39. Mark Teixeira

Votto and Pujols are another pair that can trade off by the day, but overall the entire first base position could be in a different place by next year. Fielder, Gonzalez and Teixeira all had career-low efforts in some of their signature categories last season, which an upswing could pull each of them back to the top 25.

dustin-pedroia

Second Base

5. Robinson Cano

36. Brandon Phillips

47. Dustin Pedroia

58. Ian Kinsler

98. Chase Utley

It’s Cano, and then everybody else. Robby is on the verge of pushing for the best in the game period, but everybody else isn’t so bad overall; but they pale in comparison. The 31 slot difference between Cano and Phillips is easily the largest of any other everyday position.

Third Base

1. Miguel Cabrera

16. Evan Longoria

18. David Wright

22. Adrian Beltre

42. Ryan Zimmerman

Quiet as kept, the current group of third baseman around the league could be the most impressive group of any era in baseball history. This group has multiple MVP-caliber competitors as well as the last two World Series MVPs in Pablo Sandoval and David Freese as well.

Shortstop

24. Troy Tulowitzki

28. Jose Reyes

53. Elvis Andrus

56. Starlin Castro

59. Hanley Ramirez

Shortstop as a whole is a position that’s steady across the board, but is in transition some. Andrus, Castro and Ian Desmond are emerging, and prospect Jurickson Profar could easily force his way into the mix. But Tulowitzki remains the best due to a mixture of potential, and few legit challengers to his class thus far.

Carlos_Gonzalez white classic

Left Field

3. Ryan Braun

4. Mike Trout

19. Carlos Gonzalez

29. Matt Holliday

45. Bryce Harper

With Trout moving over to the left corner, the position has taken a swing upward. The Harper/Trout era will now pit them against each other from the same position, so for comparison’s sake, this is a story that just keeps getting better.

Center Field

7. Matt Kemp

10. Andrew McCutchen

35. Adam Jones

41. Curtis Granderson

61. Jacoby Ellsbury

What fantastically deep group there is roaming the middle of the outfield there is in the game today. Kemp, McCutchen, Jones and Ellsbury have each been major players in each of the last two MVP races. It’s a deep position as well, with Michael Bourn, Austin Jackson and Shin-Soo Choo all representing the diversity that comprises the spot now.

Right Field

12. Josh Hamilton

20. Jose Bautista

32. Giancarlo Stanton

54. Jason Heyward

62. Jay Bruce

No position may have more raw power than right field right now. Stanton is a 50 home run season waiting to happen, and Bautista has already passed the mark. Heyward and Bruce are as well-rounded players as imaginable on the corner, and neither is close to their 30th birthday.

Starting Pitcher

2. Justin Verlander

5. Clayton Kershaw

11. Felix Hernandez

14. David Price

21. Stephen Strasberg

Picking the top 5 pitchers in baseball is a task at best. Especially in the current era of wide spread dominance, staying on top is truly an impressive feat, which Verlander has pulled off in 2011-12. Strasberg appears after giving a glimpse of what could be in only 159 innings last year, but a case could be made for no less than 10 other arms to crack into the top 5 with no real arguments.

Relief Pitcher

17. Craig Kimbrel

37. Mariano Rivera

55. Jonathan Papelbon

78. Fernando Rodney

86. Jim Johnson

Considering that Aroldis Chapman will move to the starting rotation, Kimbrel’s position as the best ninth inning guy in the game is virtually untouched. Rivera and Papelbon have consistency on their side, but an emerging group of closers featuring Johnson, Jason Motte and Sergio Romo are all closing in on overall elite league status as well.

 

That’s what it is for now for the year in looking at the players, but coming up next week it’s time to look at the teams, with the third annual CSP divisional previews. Until then, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan for up the second info on everything I’m up to.