Posts Tagged ‘Miguel Cabrera’

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Annually, one of the toughest positions to put in tiers is the first base slot. This is largely due to it being the home to many of the game’s greatest all-time bats. Jimmie Foxx, Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray and the great Lou Gehrig have all added to the legend of the position, providing quite a standard to keep for the premier first sackers in the game today.

This a group with multiple MVP winners and a pair of sure fire Hall of Famers. It is a group where there is an already inducted member of the 500 home run club, and whom is joined by the game’s preeminent home run hitter of today. There is a Triple Crown winner, a newly crowned World Series champion and one of the game’s most emergent stars as well.

The first base position truly has something for everyone, and endures as the most toughly debated position in the game yet again.

Before beginning this list allow me to mention an organizational note for these rankings moving forward. I rank players at the position that they played the majority of their games at the previous season. So Edwin Encarnacion and Prince Fielder, both of whom were All-Stars last season and appeared in 2015’s top 10 list of 1B here, have been moved over to designated hitter.

To review last year’s Top 10 First Basemen, click here.

 

10. Albert Pujols, Angels (#10 in 2015)

2015: .244/.307/.480, 40 HR, 95 RBI, 22 doubles, 85 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .258/.319/.464, 28 HR, 88 RBI, 26 doubles, 74 runs scored

2015 was a renaissance of sorts for Pujols. He met the 40 home runs plateau for the first time since his St. Louis days and for seventh season in his career. He also made his first All-Star appearance as an American Leaguer in the process. He finished 5th in the AL in homers and 10th in RBI as well, before a re-occurrence of a previous foot injury that slowed his year tremendously and will see him likely miss all of spring training this season.

Regardless of this though, Pujols has remained an elite run producer, having driven in 200 runs since the beginning of 2014. And while he will never meet the previous standard that will see him reach the Hall of Fame one day, when even mostly healthy, he remains potentially one of the most dangerous hitters in the game.

 

9. Eric Hosmer, Royals (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .297/.363/.459, 18 HR, 93 RBI, 33 doubles, 98 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .291/.347/.437, 15 HR, 77 RBI, 34 doubles, 79 runs scored, .784 OPS

Hosmer is the anomaly in the rankings here, as he brings more finesse than brute impact at the position. He has been a three-time Gold Glove winner in the past three seasons, while regularly staying north of 30 doubles, twice topping 175 hits and a driving in north of 85 runs, including a career-best 93 a year ago. He’s a run producing, on-base threat that plays a hug role in the non-stop machine that is the Royals offensive effort.

What works against him is that he has struggled for both consistency (he has been an every other year contributor thus far…with history saying 2016 could be rough) and lacks true power production at a position that is heavily populated by them (he is yet to reach 20 home runs in any of his six seasons). Yet, he plays a vital role in the Royals ‘One for all’ approach to offensive production, where he is the perfect mixture of a high on-base percentage, gap hitting threat in the heart of their order.

 

8. Freddie Freeman, Braves (#8 in ’15)

2015: .276/.370/.471, 18 HR, 66 RBI, 27 doubles, 62 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .296/.385/.478, 20 HR, 84 RBI, 32 doubles, 81 runs scored, .863 OPS

The usually durable Freeman battled wrist injuries last season and played in a career-low 118 games, just a year removed from suiting up for all 162 in 2014. He still turned in some solid totals despite being limited to 481 plate appearances, and played at a pace that would have placed him close to his 2014 totals of 43 doubles and 175 hits.

If anything, Freeman showed a clear improvement in his raw power numbers in the jump from his age-24 and 25 seasons. Freeman matched his 2014 home run total in 44 less games (he homered once every 23 AB’s, up from every 33 in ’14) while still keeping his overall extra base hit ratio steady (9.4% of his total hits). Despite playing in an even more diminished Braves lineup, Freeman appears to be prone to be an independently successful batter, regardless of the lack of true protection around him.

 

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7. Chris Davis, Orioles (Not ranked in ’15)

2015: .262/.361/.562, 47 HR, 117 RBI, 31 doubles, 100 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .252/.347/.544, 42 HR, 109 RBI, 30 doubles, 89 runs scored, .891 OPS

No one has hit more home runs over the past four years than Davis has, and due to this rarefied (and electrified) air around him, the O’s decided to make him the highest paid player in franchise history this offseason. This is based on the expectation that “Crush” continues to mash the ball at the explosive rate he has since reaching Baltimore(6.5% of ), when he led the MLB in home runs for the second time in three seasons. In addition, he has accounted for a phenomenal 14 Wins Above Replacement in just 2013 and 2015 alone.

Davis is also an underrated fielder and athlete, who can help at multiple positions, having spent an increasing amount of time as a corner outfielder as well. He is a classic slugger, whose batting average is marginal (.255 for his career) and who carries a prolific strikeout rate (MLB-worst 208 a year ago). His status is also compounded by the struggles he faced in 2014, as he was suspended for non-approved (but non-PED) prescription drugs and stumbled into a .196 average. However, there are few players as capable of having the instant impact that Davis creates.

 

6. Jose Abreu, White Sox (#4 in ’15)

2015: .290/.347/.502, 30 HR, 101 RBI, 34 doubles, 88 runs scored

Last 2 Years: .303/.364/.540, 33 HR, 104 RBI, 34 doubles, 84 runs scored, .904 OPS

What a start it has been for Abreu in his MLB career. Back-to-back seasons of 30 HR, 30 doubles, 80 runs scored and 100 RBI. At $7 million per year, he is firmly in line as baseball’s greatest value going currently.

And he is also in line to hit at the core of the best lineup that has surrounded him in his young career this upcoming season. Although his average dipped down 27 points from his phenomenal rookie season, he still turned in a very strong .290 mark and should see better pitches than he did a year ago as he will be flanked by the powerful Todd Frazier now. So it reasons to believe that an even bigger year could be on the way from the powerful Cuban.

 

5. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers (#3 in ’15)

2015: .275/.350/.480, 28 HR, 90 RBI, 33 doubles, 76 runs

Last 3 Years: .281/.342/.474, 26 HR, 102 RBI, 35 doubles, 76 runs, .817 OPS

Mr. Consistency. Gonzalez has been one of the steadiest, yet most underrated run producers in the game over his career. While Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Joc Pederson and Hanley Ramirez have taken the lion’s share of credit for fueling the Dodger offense over the past few seasons, it has been Gonzo that has been the proverbial “straw that stirs the drink”.

His penchant for driving runs in has been so consistent that the 90 RBI he finished with in 2015 was his lowest output since 2007. His consistency also carries over in the fact that he has played at 156 games in each season since 2006, has only once posted an on-base percentage south of .340 in the last 10 years and has stayed in the top 20 in MVP voting in seven of the past eight years, regardless of league played in.

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4. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs (#6 in ’15)

2015: .278/.387/.512, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 38 doubles, 94 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .265/.365/.484, 29 HR, 86 RBI, 35 doubles, 85 runs scored, .848 OPS

Rizzo is one of the fastest rising stars in the game today, and as he sits at the heart of the emergent Cub lineup, 2016 could prove to be his true breakout year as a superstar in the game. Over the past two years, no National League first baseman has hit more home runs than Rizzo’s 63, and as a result, he has twice finished in the top 10 in NL MVP voting the past two seasons.

In the mold of a classical power conduit at first base, Rizzo is already the best at what he does in the game. But beyond that, he is one of the more well-rounded players in the game between the lines as well. He offsets high strikeout rate by reaching base at a .386 rate and working the count very well. An athletic and durable player (he led the NL in both games played and plate appearances last year), Rizzo also added in 17 stolen bases last season as well, the second most for a first baseman in baseball.

Rizzo is rounding into one of the best all-around players in the game. And considering this is a guy that was traded twice before turning 23, that’s not too bad of a feat.

 

3. Joey Votto, Reds (#7 in ’15)

2015: .314/.459/.541, 29 HR, 80 RBI, 33 doubles, 95 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .300/.438/.498, 20 HR, 59 RBI, 26 doubles, 76 runs scored, .935 OPS

The on-base animal played the best baseball of his career in the second half of 2015, and that is quite a feat to pull off, considering he has a National League MVP in his trophy case as is. But his phenomenal post-June body of work, which saw him hit .405, .315 and .337 in consecutive months, while reaching base at a ridiculous .535 clip over that same time span. To put that in context, if he maintained that clip for a full year, it would be the fifth best season of all-time, behind only some of the finest campaigns from Barry Bond, Babe Ruth, Ted William and John McGraw.

Votto put to bed any questions about if injuries had begun put his day of top-level production behind him. His .459 overall on-base percentage was the second highest of his career (he has led the NL in the category in four other seasons), and hit 29 home runs as well, which should service as a silence notice to those that say he “could” or “should” hit for more power.

At the end of the day, he finished third in NL MVP voting, despite the Reds being far afterthought in the NL Central race by even the All-Star break. And he confirmed he will continue to apply his craft on the Cincinnati Riverfront for the foreseeable future, refusing to wave his no-trade clause even amid the deconstruction of the Reds’ roster around him.

 

2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (#1 in ’15)

2015: .338/.440/.534, 18 HR, 76 RBI, 28 doubles, 64 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .332/.415/.566, 29 HR, 107 RBI, 35 doubles, 89 runs scored

To put the excellence of Miguel Cabrera with a bat in his into proper context is a rather difficult task. He is the premier hitter in the game and is gaining a seat in the conversation for Top 10 ever. After all, this is a man that has won a pair of MVP’s, achieved the long-elusive Triple Crown, drove in 100 runs a year for 11 straight seasons—all before turning 33.

So snap shotting his impact is difficult, but not impossible. His 2015 season, for example, provides a specifically strong chance to appreciate his impact. It was a season where he went to the disabled list for the first time in his 12 year career, missing the majority of the month of July and still fought to return in just over a month. And what did he do on the other end of that? Only win his fourth batting title in the last five years.

It was a mark that he did not stumble into either, as he hit .393 upon returning in August from the DL, hitting like a man that had to prove himself. Instead, he is a man that has hit .334 since that first batting title in 2011 and hit his 400th home run and 1,400th RBI a year ago. He carries the highest active batting average in the game and turns 33 in April, so those counting stats stand a pretty good chance of getting some substantial upgrades as well.

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1. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (#2 in ’15)

2015: .321/.435/.570, 33 HR, 110 RBI, 38 doubles, 103 runs scored

Last 3 Years: .309/.412/.556, 29 HR, 101 RBI, 38 doubles, 94 runs, .968 OPS

There is no better overall infielder in the game today than Goldschmidt. Over the past three seasons, he has transformed himself into a perennial MVP contender, having more finishes in the top two in MVP voting than any other National Leaguer, albeit without winning one yet.

He had his best campaign to date, and the one he had the best opportunity of taking home the hardware, ended early by a stray fastball to the back of his hand in 2014.

But Goldy bounced back without a step lost last season, remaining as one of the elite overall players in the game. He finished in the top three of all NL Triple Crown categories, with a .321 average (3rd), 33 home runs (5th) and 110 RBI (2nd). In addition to this, he tied career-bests in hits (182) and runs scored (103), posted career-bests in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, which all combined into a 1.005 OPS, second to only Bryce Harper in the National League. Add in that he swiped a personal high of 21 bases as well and won his second Gold Glove in three years, and it forfifies the fact that he is one of the top 5 overall talents in the game today.

 

Left on Deck: Brandon Belt, Giants; Mark Teixeira, Yankees; Lucas Duda, Mets.

To catch up on last year’s picks for top first baseman, 

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Picking the top first baseman in the game is always a tough equation, simply due to the fact that there are so many of them that a team’s lineup is built around. Ideally, it is the prime source of power on a club, but in many cases it is also the home of a team’s top overall bat.

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That is the case here again, as the group that falls in as my selections for the top 10 1B’s in the game is so deep that in couldn’t include winners of a Gold Glove or batting title at the position just a year ago. With the exception of starting pitcher, there is no position where the standard is higher to be considered an elite, top 10 level performer. The average return among the upper half of this list alone is a season of turning in a .300 average, with 31 home runs, 107 RBI and a .921 OPS, which is a stunning level of production to be regularly tied to in more than one category.

Yet that is what it takes to walk among the best at the position, which puts less of a premium on anything other than raw production than any other place that requires a glove in the game. So with no further delay, CSP’s selections for the top 10 first baseman in the game headed in the spring of 2015.

 

1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (#1 in 2014): Miggy’s average is far above what most anybody else alive—or dead—is capable of reaching in their best years. And it turns out that even his down years are also a cut above what most others are capable of. He battled a bone spurs and a fracture in his foot all year, but still made it to the field 159 times. And in the course of it all he led the American League in doubles with 52, while finishing in the top ten in 11 different categories and second in extra base hits with 78. The game’s best bat has proven itself slump proof.

2-year average: .329 average/.983 OPS/34 HR/123 RBI/192 hits/73 extra-base hits

2. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (#2 in ’14): A freak hand injury ended his 2014, but in just over 100 games he was on pace to shatter what he had achieved the year before when he finished second in the National League Most Valuable Player vote. There is no better overall first baseman in the game than Goldschmidt, who is capable of swiping a bag and is a Gold Glove fielder as well. If he can string together a few more full years at the level he is at now, he’ll be the quick answer to best first baseman in the game.

2-year average: .302 average/.946 OPS/28 HR/97 RBI/152 hits/68 extra-base hits

3. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers (#9 in ’14): Gonzalez quietly is one of the most regularly productive run producers in the game. He has topped 100 RBI in five consecutive years and led the NL for the first time in the category a year ago. Add in the deft fielding that brought him a fourth Gold Glove as well last year, and he is one of the game’s most complete properties.

2-year average: .284 average/.810 OPS/24 HR/108 RBI/167 hits/64 extra-base hits

4. Jose Abreu, White Sox (Not Ranked): He blew up on the scene as a rookie, becoming an All-Star, Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger winner and the AL leader in slugging percentage in his first go around. Abreu checked in among the top five in all of the Triple Crown categories and set quite a high expectation for his curtain call this year.

5. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays (#8 in ’14): No one has averaged more home runs over the past two years than Encarnacion has. The 32-year-old Dominican has kept his on-base + slugging figure north of .900 each of the past three years and has also stayed in the top three of home runs-per-at bat since 2012.

2-year average: .270 average/.903 OPS/35 HR/101 RBI/136 hits/65 extra-base hits

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6. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs (Not Ranked): No player made a stronger statement of arriving on the scene than Rizzo did a year ago. He pulled his average up by 50 points and hit a career-best 32 home runs, figures which were impressive enough to net him a top 10 finish among NL MVP voting. He also covers a stunning amount of ground in the field, making him one of the rare first basemen that can impact the game with his legs, glove and arm as well. All of this and he does not turn 26 until August.

2-year average: .258 average/.822 OPS/28 HR/79 RBI/146 hits/64 extra-base hits

7. Joey Votto, Reds (#2 in ’14): He is coming in off of a down year where he only made it to the field 62 times due to a quadriceps injury, and it is the second time in three years his season has been clipped. But when he is healthy he is one of the most productive batters in the game, having been the most frequent baserunner in the National League from 2010-13, sporting a .434 OBP during the stretch.

2-year average: .291 average/.891 OPS/15 HR/48 RBI/116 hits/40 extra base hits

8. Freddie Freeman, Braves (#7 in ’14): He took a step back from the huge step forward he took in 2013, but Freeman still is one of the most productive young hitters in the game and the now clear cornerstone of the Braves franchise. He finished second in the NL in doubles (43) and has reached 175 hits each of the past two years.

2-year average: .303 average/.871 OPS/20 HR/94 RBI/176 hits/58 extra base hits

9. Prince Fielder, Rangers (#6 in ’14): It is a turning point season for Fielder, who never got off the ground in his first year in Arlington. He was one of the many Rangers who lived on the disabled list, and on the heels of a severe downturn towards the end of his Detroit tenure, it is reasonable to wonder if he is more name than performance value now. But considering he has never had a full season where he did not hit at least 25 home runs, he has earned a bit more benefit of doubt.

2-year average (’12-’13): .295 average/.878 OPS/28 HR/107 RBI/178 hits/62 extra base hits

10. Albert Pujols, Angels (Not Ranked): It’s not fair to call it a comeback, but Pujols settled into a groove that showed he far from out of gas in 2014. He hit 28 home runs, 37 doubles and drove in 100 RBI for the 12th time in his 14 year career, while also hitting his 500th home run at age 34. He is not the St. Louis model of himself that assured himself a plaque in Cooperstown, but he is still an impact bat for the Halos.

2-year average: .267 average/.781 OPS/22 HR/84 RBI/136 hits/50 extra base hits

 

Runners Up: Justin Morneau, Eric Hosmer, Adam LaRoche, Joe Mauer

 

The boys came to play in the American League this summer. Plenty of strong cases were made for the league’s top honor, with a mixture of standard bearers, returns to form and breakout campaigns. But in the end It was the coming of age proved to be undeniable in deciding who was the top gun in the junior circuit. And when all things are considered, it really ended up not being that close. Because the unstoppable force simply refused to be denied any longer.

2014 American League Stan Musial Player of the Year—Mike Trout, Anaheim Angels

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The coming of age has come to be. The rise of Mike Trout has been far from a secret; he has been baseball’s hottest commodity for the past three summers. However, before this summer is that there has always been a caveat to his status as the prime property in the game. Whether it was Miguel Cabrera’s undeniable run at the plate or the struggles of the Angels in light of their expectation, there has consistently been something that has stood in the way of crowning the game’s most precociously best talent with its premier prize.

But the summer of 2014 saw the irresistible force breakthrough completely. What Trout has done most remarkably in his young career is answer the task that

His ever maturing game took another turn this year, as he embraced more of the run-producing element of his game this year. Trout muscled up and hit a career-best 36 home runs, the third best total in the AL this year. He added another career-high with 111 RBI, as well as total bases with 338, both ranking as the top totals in the AL. In addition, he paced the league in runs scored for a third straight year with 115 and finished in the top 10 in doubles with 39 and second with 9 triples.

Yet at the cost of power, some of the categories that he had previously dominated took a slight dip. His averaged finished at .287, the first time he posted a full-season total below .300 (although it still finished in the top 15 in the league) and his stolen bases clipped down to 16. Also, his strikeouts jumped up to a league-high 184.

Those factors could be seen as it being a down year of sorts for Trout. Or perhaps a return to the mean after an unbelievably overwhelming start to his career. However, there was still no more important player in all aspects of the game for his team than Trout, as while he dipped in some areas, he morphed his game into exact what the Angels needed most this year.

With Josh Hamilton out of the mix with injuries, the need for a middle of the lineup run producer was needed much more than a table-setting spark plug at the top of the lineup. So when call was made for help there, Trout answered and channeled his talents into fueling one the AL’s most potent offenses. He drove in 20 runs in three separate months and hit at least five home runs in each month. While his overall average slid some, he hit .321 in April and .361 in June.

Measuring him at the plate alone still limits the overall contributions he made. He is still the glue that holds together the Angels outfield, covering the confines of centerfield easily with some athleticism to burn. On the base paths, he puts pitchers on alert and eats extra bases for any ball that either finds a gap or a step too slow outfielder. That is why is he the visual explanation to the mystery of the Wins Above Replacement figure—which he has led the Majors in each full year of his career, including the 7.9 indispensable wins he created this time around—there is simply nothing that is outside of his reach.

He plays the game hard every time out, puts on a the full buffet of talents seemingly on-demand and for the first time, is playing it to win, as the Angels took home the AL’s best record at 98-64. When the most talented player in the game also does all of the small things more consistently than anyone else, there is not much that can be done to stop him. And that is what makes Trout so special.

And the best part about it all: it’s only beginning. Trout Version 3.0 is the MVP, just as Versions 1.0 and 2.0 laid legit claim to, albeit in completely different fashions. It is fairly certain that Version 4.0 will take the same path, but I am already looking forward to how he goes about it.

Runners Up

  1. Victor Martinez, Tigers: He was a hitting machine this year for the Tigers, often being the team’s top bat, which is saying a lot when Miguel Cabrera is a part of your lineup. He led the AL in on-base percentage (.409) and finished second with a .335 batting average, and connected for a career-best 32 home runs. He only struck out in 6% of his 641 plate appearances (42 times).
  2. Jose Altuve, Astros: Houston mighty mite posted the top average in the game at .341 and led the AL with 56 stolen bases. He also ran up a club record 225 hits while becoming the first Astro to win a batting title.
  3. Michael Brantley, Indians: It all came together for Brantley this year, as he posted one of most well-rounded campaigns in the game this year. His .327 average was third in the AL, while he also hit 20 home runs, 45 doubles, stole 23 bases and 200 total hits.
  4. Adam Jones, Orioles: Jones carried the weight both at the plate and in the field for the beat up, yet still division champion O’s. He hit 29 home runs and drove in 96, while playing perhaps the best defensive center field in the league.
  5. Josh Donaldson, Athletics: The intense leader of the A’s played his usual brilliant two-way game, driving in 98 runs and playing a far and away best third base in the game with the glove (2.7 dWAR).
  6. Nelson Cruz, Orioles: He led the AL with 40 home runs during his comeback season, and drove in 108 runs as well.
  7. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Joey Bats health stayed faithful to him, and he got back to destroying baseball to the tone of 35 homers, 103 RBI and scored 101 runs scored.
  8. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: A “down year” for Miggy has basically become one where he doesn’t win at least a batting title, and while he did not reach that mark this year, he did lead the Majors with 52 doubles and crossed 100 RBI for the 11th straight year.
  9. Robinson Cano, Mariners: The home runs weren’t as high, but his Seattle debut was definitely a success. He hit .314 with 82 RBI while reviving competitive baseball in the northwest.

Past CSP Votes

2013: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

2012: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

2011: Justin Verlander, Tigers

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Nothing was the same in the middle ground point of the American League last year….well sort of. The Tigers did win the division for the third consecutive year, but they were not pushed by their usual rivals in the Chicago White Sox. Instead, it was a mixture of a coming of age revival in Kansas City, as well as a rebuilt and recharged Indians club that made the division quite interesting for the first time in a while.

2013 Finish

1. Detroit Tigers (93-69)

2. Cleveland Indians (92-70)

3. Kansas City Royals (86-76)

4. Minnesota Twins (66-96)

5. Chicago White Sox (63-99)

Looking ahead at this year, and there is perhaps no division with more clubs in “win now” mode than the Central. The Royals are at a boiling point coming off of their progressive 2013 campaign, with their young studs at a complete maturity point and their rotation anchor, that they traded the farm for just last season, likely in his last year in town. Likewise, the Indians have taken a few losses from last year’s surprise Wild Card-winning club, but are still laden with young talent and a manager in Terry Francona that proved he still has the innate ability to get production out of players they failed to see in themselves. Even the bottom feeders in the division have made strides to get back into the mix. The Twins moved their all-universe catcher in Joe Mauer to first base to get more from him more often, while the White Sox had an understated, but clear overhaul on their roster to attempt to reverse the free fall they spun into last summer.

Even the champs have refused to stay pat. While the Central has been the Tigers’ lair, they saw fit to make some stunning changes, shipping out a franchise cornerstone in Prince Fielder after only two years, and moving on All-Star pitcher Doug Fister, all in the name finding some sort of edge that is more than just being a regular division champion, but fizzling out before becoming much more. Will the winter of change be enough to shake things up in the AL Central? Or will it be more of the same when the summer dust settles?

All-Division Team

1. Austin Jackson—Tigers, Center Field

2. Torii Hunter—Tigers, Right Field

3. Jason Kipnis—Indians, Second Base

4. Miguel Cabrera—Tigers, First Base

5. Victor Martinez—Tigers, Designated Hitter

6. Alex Gordon—Royals, Left Field

7. Salvador Perez—Royals, Catcher

8. Trevor Plouffe—Twins, Third Base

9. Astrubal Cabrera—Indians, Shortstop

Mauer's move from behind the plate is the only thing that keeps him from his division's dream team. He has only hit beneath .315 once in the past six years, including finishing 2nd in the AL batting race a year ago.

Mauer’s move from behind the plate is the only thing that keeps him from the division dream team. He has only hit beneath .315 once in the past six years, including finishing 2nd in the AL batting race a year ago.

Starting Pitcher: Justin Verlander—Tigers

Starting Pitcher: Max Scherzer—Tigers

Starting Pitcher: James Shields—Royals

Starting Pitcher: Chris Sale—White Sox

Right Handed Reliever: Aaron Crow—Royals

Lefty Handed Reliever: Tim Collins—Royals

Closer: Greg Holland—Royals

Cleveland's decision to build around the multi-talented Kipnis was a good one. The fourth-year second baseman leads sneaky balanced team with a pennant chase under its belt now.

Cleveland’s decision to build around the multi-talented Kipnis was a good one. The fourth-year second baseman leads sneaky balanced team with a pennant chase under its belt now.

Lineup

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Just taking a look back up at the all-division lineup tells you all you need to know about the potency of the Tigers lineup. Even without Fielder, their 1-6 of Ian Kinsler, Hunter, Cabrera, Martinez, Jackson and Alex Avila is just a gauntlet. However the Royals have a relentless balance of speed and line drive hitters, built around the ability to score in bunches. Likewise, the Indians have a lineup that could be more potent this year than last, as their core continues to develop.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Cabrera is the best hitter alive, and has won the previous three AL batting titles and previous two MVPs. Simply put, he’s better than the heart of a few teams lineups himself. However, KC could see an upswing in production from the heart of its lineup with the decision to move Gordon back into it, just as the White Sox should be more potent with the addition of Cuban first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu.

Table Setters

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

The place that the Tigers get most noticeably better is at the top of their lineup, by adding a bonafide speed/contact/power threat in Kinsler to join the ageless Hunter. But the addition of Norichika Aoki (.356 on-base %) in Kansas City, along with former Tiger Omar Infante (.345 OBP) gives the Royals a hellacious duo to lead off games as well.

Depth

1. Indians

2. White Sox

3. Tigers

4. Royals

5. Twins

Cleveland won with an everyman approach last season, and they return a team that is capable of pulling out all stops for contributions. With Mike Aviles and Ryan Rayburn as versatile weapons at his disposal, Francona can compete even at less than 100% roster availability. An increase in MLB-ready youth as made the White Sox deeper, with players such as Dayan Viciedo and Matt Davidson waiting in the wings, and experienced utility man Jeff Keppinger back in a more suiting support role.

The trio of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give Detroit three All-Star starters that passed 200 strikeouts last summer.

The trio of Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez give Detroit three All-Star starters that passed 200 strikeouts last summer, all before reaching the promise of Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly.

Rotation

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

Detroit boasts the AL’s best rotation, with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander (winners of the 2 of the last 3 AL Cy Youngs) headlining, and the underrated Anibal Sanchez (the 2013 AL ERA champ) coming out behind them. The Twins still have a ways to go, but added a headliner in Ricky Nolasco and solid rebuild project in Phil Hughes to help resurrect the Majors worst starting five from a year ago.

1-2 Punch

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. White Sox

4. Indians

5. Twins

There is no better 1-2 combo in the game than Scherzer and Verlander, who have combined to win 67 games over the past two seasons. James Shields is perhaps the most indispensable member of any rotation that is slated to be in the pennant race this year, as his presence likely guarantees the Royals stay in the division and/or wild card race or if he is shipped out to help another contenders chances. In Chicago, it is tough (if not impossible) to name a better under 25-or-younger hurler than Chris Sale.

Holland ascended to the ninth inning elite a year ago, closing out 47 games while holding batters to a .170 clip against him.

Holland ascended to the ninth inning elite a year ago, closing out 47 games while holding batters to a .170 clip against him.

Bullpen

1. Royals

2. Tigers

3. Twins

4. Indians

5. White Sox

Spearheaded by Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins and Kelvin Herrera, the Royal pen led the AL in relief ERA by nearly half a run at 2.55 and had the lowest average against at .217. It is one of the premier units in all of the game, even with Luke Hochevar lost for the year. The Tigers’ Achilles heel has been locking down games late, but they spent top dollar on Joe Nathan (43 saves, 1.39 ERA) to end those concerns. Glen Perkins is one of the more underrated closers in the game, closing out 52 of the Twins tough earned wins over the past two years.

Defense

1. Royals

2. Indians

3. White Sox

4. Tigers

5. Twins

By a team defense measuring metric, the superb Royals defense saved 93 total runs last year. With Gold Glovers in Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez leading the way, the Royals cover their spacious home in Kaufmann Field exceptionally well. The addition of Adam Eaton to Alejandro De Aza in Chicago gives the Sox two very athletic outfielders to accompany an equally capable middle infield of Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez.

Manager

1. Terry Francona—Indians

2. Ron Gardenhire—Twins

3. Robin Ventura—White Sox

4. Brad Ausmus—Tigers

5. Ned Yost—Royals

Francona proved his worth as one of the game’s best game managers and motivators last year, pulling the Indians into the postseason in his first year in Rock City and becoming the AL Manager of the Year in the process. Ventura and Gardenhire are held in high regard, despite the lacks of talent they have at their command. Ausmus will be asked to fill in some sizable shoes in replacing the retired Jim Leyland.

Finances

1. Tigers

2. White Sox

3. Indians

4. Royals

5. Twins

The Tigers have shown the willingness to spend the extra dollar to add what is needed to win, and they may have to do so sooner than later to address their suddenly empty shortstop position. Conversely, the Royals and Indians are a pair of franchises that are all in financially entering the season, and finding that extra piece late in the year would take some maneuvering.

Abreu is a major part of both the immediate and impending scene with on the South Side. He has plus power and the chance to be built around in the cleanup spot.

Abreu is a major part of both the immediate and impending scene with on the South Side. He has plus power and the chance to be built around in the cleanup spot.

Impact Additions

1. Joe Nathan (Tigers via free agency)

2. Jose Dariel Abreu (White Sox via free agency)

3. Ian Kinsler (Tigers via trade)

4. Omar Infante (Royals via free agency)

5. Norichika Aoki (Royals via trade)

The Royals made a series of moves in the offseason to add quality depth, at reasonable costs. The outcome was Infante, Aoki, Jason Vargas and Danny Valencia. Going in the completely different direction, the White Sox made a leap of faith in giving $60+ million to Abreu to add some needed life to a shiftless lineup.

Leap Forward

1. Danny Salazar—Indians

2. Drew Smyly—Tigers

3. Jose Quintana—White Sox

4. Adam Eaton—White Sox

5. Kyle Gibson—Twins

Salazar played so well down the stretch he was chosen to pitch the AL Wild Card game after only 10 games. The club believes in him enough that it was comfortable with letting Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez leave this winter. A similar belief in Smyly allowed the Tigers to move on from Doug Fister and his impending contract negotiations.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Jose Dariel Abreu—White Sox

2. Nick Castellanos—Tigers

3. Yordano Ventura—Royals

4. Matt Davidson—White Sox

5. Erik Johnson—White Sox

No longer is Castellanos log jammed behind an out of position Cabrera at third base, and he will enter the season as a favorite to push for AL Rookie of the Year. The White Sox youth movement is based around acquiring a handful of quick to play rookies such as Abreu and Davidson, who they will put into the mix immediately this year.

PREDICTIONS

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Kansas City Royals

3. Cleveland Indians

4. Chicago White Sox

5. Minnesota Twins

The AL Central has long been a class struggle of a mix: the bourgeoisie, the proletariat and the impoverished all very clearly separated. But if things play out the way they could this year, it could be a mostly competitive division. The White Sox are better, as are the Royals. It doesn’t seem like it, but the Twins are slowly pulling it together and have one of the game’s best managers to oversee it. The Indians have more fight than any other team, and while some pieces are gone, they are far from has beens.

Then there are the Tigers, and they are….well different than they have been before. But that is a good thing, because what was in place, while good enough to win the division every year, had peaked and needed to be adjusted. They made some stunning moves, but stayed strong where they already were and got more versatile in the process—all while keeping the game’s best hitter and two of its premiere pitchers in two.

But the Royals should not be underestimated. In many ways, they resemble the Pirates of last year in they got a taste of the race, return an improved mix of vets and matured talents and have talent on par with both of the teams that finished ahead of them the previous year. In the end, the Tigers are still the class of the division and will push for the league’s best record as they always do, but the Royals will push them all summer and break into the postseason for the first time in a generation.

For more on the year as it approaches in the Central, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Albert_Pujols

In no other sport do “magic numbers” mean more than in baseball. And while if the validity of such automatic qualifier numbers is still current, or needs to be revised for today’s game is another debate completely, there are still round numbers that prove excellence has been met for a long enough time to take note.

Each new summer brings a chance for a new chance for certain career mile-markers to be met each summer. This summer is no exception, as a few standout marks will be met. On the heels of his recent announcement to retire following the season, Derek Jeter will put the finishing touches on his legacy, which will see him move through the top 10 all-time in hits—and potential reach an awe inspiring cap.

Likewise, Albert Pujols will begin to touch some of the hallowed marks that his effort has long forecasted, as will Miguel Cabrera. More surprisingly however, is what the summer could represent for Adrian Beltre, who is on the cusp of several numbers that will begin to create a completely different connotation for his body of work.

Here are the major career milestones that stand to be met in the 2014 MLB campaign.

HITS

3,500 Hits

3,316—Derek Jeter is 184 hits short of becoming the sixth player ever to reach 3,500 hits. He is 199 hits away from moving ahead of Tris Speaker for fifth place all-time (3,514).

2,500 Hits

2,426—Adrian Beltre will easily surpass the 2,500 level and enters an important year towards making a decisive push towards getting aligned for a shot at 3,000 in his late prime at age 35.

2,000 Hits

1,996—Miguel Cabrera is four hits (or a game and a half for him) away.

1,993—Raul Ibanez is seven hits short of the mark at age 41.

HOME RUNS

500 Home Runs

492—Albert Pujols has hit a home run one per every 14.9 per at-bats in his career, and enters the season eight shy. Not that there was any doubt about his legacy, but this is the first in a line of major posts to be met by the three-time MVP.

450 Home Runs

440—Adam Dunn is ten way, and has hit one per every 14.7 at-bats in his career. It is not certain if he’ll continue after 2014, but he would be safely in range of 500 if he plays through 2015.

438—Paul Konerko is 12 short, and has homered once per every 18.9 at-bats in his career, but will be in a part-time role.

431—David Ortiz is 19 short, and has not had a season with less than 20 in a year since 2001.

400 Home Runs

376—Adrian Beltre, and he has averaged 32 per season over the past four years.

365—Miguel Cabrera is 35 away and has hit not had season total below 44 since 2011.

RUNS BATTED IN

1,500 RBI

1,498—Albert Pujols will meet the mark easily.

1,000 RBI

966—Matt Holliday should meet the mark by the All-Star Break at the latest.

963—Ryan Howard (health abiding) should move past the 1,000 mark. He’s never had a season with fewer than 43 RBI.

500 DOUBLES

495—Adrian Beltre will easily surpass the next milestone in his signature hit in the first month of the year.

200 WINS

189—Bartolo Colon is 11 shy of hitting the 200 mark, due to his late career resurgence in Oakland.

186—Mark Buehrle enters the year 14 victories short of the level. However, if history speaks for the future, he’ll have to wait until next summer—he has won 13 in four of the past five years, and has not topped 13 since 2008.

18yankees-sabathia-articleLarge

2,500 STRIKEOUTS

2,389—CC Sabathia will become the ninth left-hander ever to surpass 2,500 strikeouts this summer, joining Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Mickey Lolich, Frank Tanana, Chuck Finley, Tom Glavine, Warren Spahn and Jerry Koosman.

SAVES

350 Saves

341—Joe Nathan enters the year nine saves shy of becoming the ninth player to ever accumulate 350, and has a shot to reach as high as seventh all-time this summer.

300 Saves

286—Jonathan Papelbon stands to shoot up past the middle-tier of closers historically and into near elite standing this year. With his standard 30+ saves he not only passes 300, but to pass into the top 10 next year.

286—Jose Valverde he was signed by the Mets last week to provide bullpen depth, so there’s no clear road to 300, but if he somehow ends up in the role due to an injury to Bobby Parnell he could meet it.

 

For the moments as they inevitably happen in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to I70 Baseball and The Sports Fan Journal.

Adrian+Beltre+2011+World+Series+Game+5+St+9_pDhh0yTYul

It does not get spoken to very often, but the lay of the land in baseball right now at the hot corner is perhaps the best the position has ever been. There is a deep collection of dual threat bat/glove performers, with many in the middle of their primes right now. There are the perennial great performers that are getting pushed by the up-and-comers….who are in turn getting pushed by a prodigy or two at the spot.

The game’s silent, but deadly collection annually factors in the MVP race, and 2012 was no exception. With the exclusion of Miguel Cabrera, who has collected the last two AL MVPs, but has since moved back to first base, the current collection of third basemen has three members who finished in the top 5 of their league last season, with another who rightfully should have—but will get more than his due at the top of this list later (and no, that is not an excuse to jump ahead. Patience.)

Yet, with that let’s get into it—the top third basemen in the game today (even if a few are just coming and another could be going soon enough)

10. Pedro Alvarez, Pirates: There’s nothing wrong with being a one trick pony if you can do that trick really, really good. Alvarez’s thing is home runs, and he tied for NL-led with 36 last year, albeit while topping strikeouts by himself with 186.

9. Martin Prado, Diamondbacks: He drove in a career-best 82 runs in his first season in the desert, and 36 doubles as well. While he continued to be a slight utility man (notching 25+ starts in left field and second base, respectively), he committed only six errors in 113 games at third.

8. Aramis Ramirez, Brewers: Injuries limited him last year, but he just a season removed from a 50 double/27 homer/105 RBI campaign. He’s been one of the most quietly consistent performers in baseball over the past 10 years and his return to full health plays as big a part of the Milwaukee revival as the Ryan Braun’s comeback could.

Ryan Zimmerman

7. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals: Coming off shoulder surgery, he continued to be a steady producer in DC, despite being a part of the across-the-board Nats downturn last year. He’s topped 25 homers in four of the past five years, and a three-homer game in July.

6. Josh Donaldson, Athletics: He became the backbone of Oakland’s second consecutive run to the top of the AL West. After driving in 93 runs, hitting 24 homers and a .301 average, he won the AL Player of the Month in the A’s clinching effort in September—for a fourth place finish in the AL MVP vote.

5. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals: He returns to his native third base for 2014 after slugging his way to a second base Silver Slugger a year ago. He led the NL in hits (199), runs scored (126) and doubles (55) in his first full season as a starter, while hitting .318 overall.

4. David Wright, Mets: The man the Mets have rightfully built their empire around continues to prove why he’s among the faces of the game. Despite missing over a month to injury, he hit .307, hit 18 home runs, stole 17 bases and made his seventh All-Star Game in 10 years.

Manny Machado

3. Manny Machado, Orioles: The lifetime shortstop became a phenom last year, all while playing out of position. While the 20-year-old’s 51 doubles led the AL, it was with the glove where he truly showed some jaw dropping excellence. His defensive WAR reads to a level that says he won nearly 4.5 games with his glove alone for the O’s. And all with the type of ease that has not been seen in B-More since Brooks Robinson.

2. Evan Longoria, Rays: Tampa’s franchise player played in a career-best 160 games a year ago, and knocked out 32 homers, drove in 88 runs and 39 doubles. A perennially good defender as well, he committed the least errors of any full-time AL third baseman, while having the third best range rating.

1. Adrian Beltre, Rangers: He’s been the most productive hitter at the position over the last four years, finishing in the top 10 of the AL MVP three times. Across that span he’s at least .315 three and drove in 100 runs, respectively three times as well. He has the best arm from the hot corner in the game as well, and is among the most underrated all-around talents today—as well as a growing dark horse Hall of Fame candidate.

Just A Bit Outside: Kyle Seager, Pablo Sandoval, Nolan Arenado

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

Joey_Votto

A few years ago, first base was clearly a class system. There were the handful of elites, and then just the rest of the guys, many of which were young up and comers. But the cows have come home to the barn and how the first base spot is the deepest of any in the game, due in part to many of those young talents panning out in a major way.

Of the the top 4 finishers in both league’s Most Valuable Player voting in 2013, the three will man first this summer. Of current starting first basemen, nine have won the league’s MVP at one point or another in their career, and of that group only three will even qualify for this Top 10 list.

That’s the type of depth that is at work right now around the game, and that is why even a surefire Hall of Famer couldn’t crack this list. Here’s what’s in store at a position that is sure to create some frustrated almost All-Star by mid-summer…

10. Eric Hosmer, Royals: He kicked his sophomore slump out of a moving car, hitting over .300, with 188 hits and 34 doubles to boot. He won his first Gold Glove in the process, with his 122 assists being far and away the best total of AL first basemen.

9. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers: One of the most consistent run creators in the game, he’s topped 100 RBI for four straight years, while keeping his average over .293 over the course as well. He has owned the alleys, hitting 124 doubles since 2011 started.

8. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays: He’s hit 78 home runs over the past two seasons, due in part to the discipline he has developed at the plate. He cut his strikeouts by 32 and walked 20 more times than he whiffed.

7. Freddie Freeman, Braves: The axis of the Atlanta lineup raised his average 70 points while keeping his power numbers steady and driving in 100 runs for the first time. Also a superb fielder, he’ll challenge for his share of Gold Gloves moving ahead.

6. Prince Fielder, Rangers: He will move to the perfect ballpark for his prodigious power in Arlington. Until last season he owned a streak of six years of at least 30 home runs, and has driven in 100 RBI in six of the last seven seasons.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Minnesota Twins

5. Joe Mauer, Twins: The move to first could very well extend, and improve, the career and quality of Mauer’s performance. He won the Silver Slugger at catcher a year ago, hitting just a point higher than his career average at .324.

4. Chris Davis, Orioles: Crush was making an assault on history early in the year, cranking out 30 first half homers. He led the Major Leagues with 55 long balls and 138 RBI, and added 42 doubles as well, joining Babe Ruth and Albert Belle as the only players to reach those marks in a single season.

3. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks: It all came together for the first time for Goldy a year ago, and he’s only getting started. He led the NL in RBI, and tied in home runs as well. He finished second in the MVP and won his first Gold Glove as well. He is becoming one of the best all around players in the game, and the type of talent that a winner could be built around.

miguel-cabrera

2. Joey Votto, Reds: The criticism is that he does not drive in enough runs and is overly obsessed with getting on base at the cost of taking more swings. However, he chooses his shots often enough to hit .317 average and to lead couple that by leading the NL on on-base for four consecutive years. So the game’s best line drive hitter continues to make his impact in one way or another.

1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: The move back to first changes nothing about the productivity. One of the great hitters all-time in the middle of his prime. The winner of the of consecutive MVP awards, he has a .338/.417/.620 average split over the last two years, while averaging 44 home runs, 138 RBI and 199 hits per year over the stretch as well.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Albert Pujols, Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss

For more on the game in the real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For further content, find me at I70 Baseball and The Sports Fan Journal.