Posts Tagged ‘Troy Tulowitzki’

Houston Astros' Carlos Correa throws before a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox Monday, June 8, 2015 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Without a doubt, no position in baseball underwent a more drastic face lift over the past year than shortstop did. The youth movement of the past two years has been aggressive focused at the infield’s most vital position, and as a result, many of the game’s most exciting young talents find themselves battling out for supremacy at the spot, some still yet to even see their first Opening Day as a Major Leaguer.

That is the mark of some substantial talent to be able to make such an impact in such a quick fashion. And the majority of it has been focused in the American League, where no less than seven of the players to come call home. However, do not write off the veterans at the position, many of which are still producing at an elite level at the spot and some of which are continuing to ascend the ladder, in spite of all of the young bloods making their mark.

This is a position that is a virtual certain to create a plethora of All-Star ‘snubs’ over the next few seasons, but the level of competition should be as good as it has been in nearly two decades. All of this, and the game’s top prospect calls the position home and is primed to begin his full-time assault on National League pitching this upcoming year.

Shortstop is once again one of the most exciting positions in the game, and here is how the spot pulls apart when pitted against each other.

To review last year’s rankings, click here.

 

10. Jose Iglesias, Tigers

2015: .300/.347/.370, 2 HR, 23 RBI, 17 doubles, 44 runs scored, 11 stolen bases, .717 OPS

Last 3 Years: .287/.336/.362, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 12 doubles, 29 runs scored, 6 stolen bases, .698 OPS

After missing the entire 2014 season due to a stress fractures in both shins, Iglesias returned to the field better than he left it in 2013. The runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year that season, he took his game to the next level in his second full season, making the American League All-Star team after hitting .314 and stealing 9 bases in the first half of the season.

Injuries again impacted his ability to stay on the field in the second half of the season, as a stress fracture in his middle finger cut his season short after 120 games. Iglesias would likely be higher on this list if not for the constant occurrence of freakish injuries in his young career. But as the owner of an impressive 4.22 range factor for his career, the dual threat Iglesias is poised to do nothing but rise in years to come.

 

9. Elvis Andrus, Rangers

2015: .258/.309/.357, 7 HR, 62 RBI, 34 doubles, 69 runs scored, 25 stolen bases, .667 OPS

Last 3 Years: .264/.317/.340, 4 HR, 57 RBI, 29 doubles, 77 runs scored, 31 stolen bases, .657 OPS

It has been an interesting ride for Andrus over the past few years, as his career has gone on a ride in a number of different ways. For a few years, his output slid overall, seeing his batting average, stolen bases and even fielding metrics take a dive.

However, Andrus made a turnaround of sorts last year. While his offensive metrics continued to slide overall, most noticeably in his defensive impact yet again.

 

8. Ian Desmond, Free Agent

2015: .233/.290/.384, 19 HR, 62 RBI, 27 doubles, 69 runs scored, 13 stolen bases, .674 OPS

Last 3 Years: .256/.311/.423, 21 HR, 78 RBI, 30 doubles, 73 runs scored, 19 stolen bases, .734 OPS

Desmond had established himself as the offensive standard at shortstop over the past few years, winning three consecutive Silver Slugger awards coming into 2015. This came on the back of three straight years north of 20 home runs and driving in 80+ in each of the previous two years, while also stealing 20 bases in each year as well.

However, 2015 was a brutal year for Desmond, seeing his average dip by 22 points and his on-base percentage fall beneath .300. Toss in the fact that his errors continued to climb higher in the 20’s for the third straight year to a MLB-high 27, and Desmond had a rough year. And while a position change could be in store for him, Desmond remains one of the most dangerous bats at the position in all of the game.

Jun 14, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Cleveland Indians designated hitter Francisco Lindor (12) reacts to tripping over first base after he hits a single in the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

7. Francisco Lindor, Indians

2015: .313/.350/.482, 12 HR, 51 RBI, 22 doubles, 50 runs scored, 12 stolen bases, .835 OPS

The Indians’ top prospect entering the year, Lindor made good on that tag once he got his opportunity in the big leagues, and did so in a way that was rather unexpected.

Lindor never hit higher than .303 as a minor leaguer over a full season, which he did at level A at the age of 19. He seemed more destined to be a light-hitting, glove first guy up the middle with some speed. Lindor’s offensive output got better and better throughout the year, hitting a peak at .370 in August, before coming back to still impressive .325 in September. While this is likely unsustainable, Lindor did not disappoint with ticketed range in the field either, and by showing there’s some impact to be had in his bat as well, he added yet another intriguing young presence at the deepening talent pool of AL shortstops.

 

6. Andrelton Simmons, Angels

2015: .265/.321/.338, 4 HR, 44 RBI, 23 doubles, 60 runs scored, 5 stolen bases, .660 OPS

Last 3 Years: .252/.301/.357, 9 HR, 50 RBI, 23 doubles, 60 runs scored, 5 stolen bases, .658 OPS

The offensive numbers, while improving, will not wow anyone in regards to Simmons. His .265 average in 2015 was a career high and second-best among NL shortstops, but it still is a rather pedestrian number, as are all of his on-base and power metrics.

However, what is not anywhere near average about Simmons is his defensive prowess, where he is unmatched among infielders in the game today. Since entering the league in 2012, he has posted an insane 15.2 defensive WAR figure, far and away the best in the game at the position. In 2015, he had only eight errors in 687 total chances, while having the second best total range factor in the game. In layman’s terms, he gets to more balls without negative outcome than anybody else in the game, which is the equivalent of carrying a Bryce Harper-like impact at the plate, only with his glove.

 

5. Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals

2015: .275/.334/.411, 17 HR, 71 RBI, 26 doubles, 64 runs scored, 1 stolen base, .745 OPS

Last 3 Years: .278/.341/.435, 16 HR, 67 RBI, 31 doubles, 58 runs scored, 2 stolen bases, .776 OPS

Peralta became a National League All-Star for the first time a year ago, as well as three-timer overall. It came on the heels of year where he blazed out of the gates in the first half, hitting for a .298 average with 13 home runs, a .355 on-base % and stellar .828 OPS. He was the most important offensive presence for the Cardinals, as they began their climb towards carrying the best record in baseball throughout the balance of the regular season.

However, his production tailed off in the second half, as fatigue seemed to weigh in (he started 147 games, the third most in his career), but his offensive totals were still strong. He topped 70 RBI for the second consecutive year and finished in the top 3 of all MLB shortstops in average, RBI and on-base percentage.

Tulo__

4. Troy Tulowitzki, Blue Jays

2015: .280/.337/.440, 17 HR, 70 RBI, 27 doubles, 77 runs scored, 1 stolen base, .777 OPS

Last 3 Years: .306/.381/.517, 21 HR, 68 RBI, 24 doubles, 73 runs scored, 1 stolen base, .899 OPS

Tulo is a tricky ranking for a number of reasons. Chief among them all is that he has been so much better than any other shortstop in the game for so long now that it is hard to say if his 2015 season was an aberration or a shift towards a slight decline? And it is not as if he was bad overall last season, but when your average season over the past three years prior to 2015 is was a .316/.399/.551 split line, it is a noticeable decline.

There is also the question of the impact that moving away from Coors Field could have on him. After heading to Toronto, Tulowitzki only carried a .317 on base percentage and managed 13 extra base hits in 183 plate appearances. This is a concerning decline, but too small of a sample size to write him off as having his best days behind him in full. He has earned the benefit of the doubt, and at entering only his age 31 season and being based in a very home run friendly Rogers Centre, Tulo should still produce quite well.

 

3. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox

2015: .320/.355/.421, 7 HR, 81 RBI, 35 doubles, 84 runs scored, 10 stolen bases, .776 OPS

Last 3 Years: .281/.327/.392, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 22 doubles, 50 runs scored, 4 stolen bases, .720 OPS

Bogearts made one of the biggest leaps forward in the game last year, as he made the most of his unquestioned year opportunity as Sox shortstop. Both his 196 hits and .320 average were good for the second best totals in the American League, and helped him net a Silver Slugger award as a result. While his home run total dipped by five from his rookie year, nearly everything else rose exponentially for Bogaerts, most noticeably an 80 point swing in batting average, a slugging % bump from .362 to .421 and 37 less strikeouts.

With the days of him seeing matinee time at third base behind him, Bogaerts rounded into form defensively as well. His .984 fielding % was second base in the AL, as he had one more error in 2015 than he had in 2014—while playing 480 more innings at shortstop than he had the year before.

brandon-crawford-mlb-nlds-san-francisco-giants-washington-nationals-workouts

2. Brandon Crawford, Giants

2015: .256/.321/.462, 21 HR, 84 RBI, 33 doubles, 65 runs scored, 6 stolen bases, .782 OPS

Last 3 Years: .251/.319/.405, 13 HR, 65 RBI, 26 doubles, 57 runs scored, 4 stolen bases, .724 OPS

He was one of baseball’s most underrated presences for years; a defensive wizard in the truest sense of the term. Crawford’s glove was a pivotal part of the last two World Series championships in San Francisco, and his abilities even rivaled that of Andrelton Simmons, whom he finally overtook for his first Gold Glove a year ago.

And while his defensive standard remains superb (Crawford led the NL in total zone runs saved at 19 and totaled the second most assists in the league as well), he also added some legit punch to his presence at the plate as well. Crawford hit 21 home runs and drove in 84 runs a year ago, both finishing as tops among all MLB shortstops. His 33 doubles were the second most at the position, behind Bogaerts’ 35. All in all, he added both an All-Star debut and a Silver Slugger to his impressive 2015, and firmly moved himself into elite overall players at the position.

 

1. Carlos Correa, Astros

2015: .279/.345/.512, 22 HR, 68 RBI, 22 doubles, 52 runs scored, 14 stolen bases, .857

Disclaimer: this may seem like a rush to the crown, and I understand that.

I mean, being rational, there should be no way that a guy with 99 career games should be considered the best in the game at his position. However, Correa has made a habit of proving that the rules do not apply to him. And after a year where he won Rookie of the Year at 20 years old, became the second youngest player to ever have a multi-home run game and simutenously became the catalyst of the Astros’ resurgence, it is safe to say he has earned his keep here.

The top pick in the 2012 Amateur Draft, Correa is the most well-rounded shortstop talent to debut since Alex Rodriguez. And even A-Rod couldn’t match Correa’s output in his first full season (albeit he did it a year earlier as a 19 year old). Correa’s debut, when projected over a full season, would have yielded 36 home runs, 36 doubles 23 stolen bases, 111 RBI and would have seen him reach a grand total of 324 bases, which would have been good for 6th in the Majors and 66 more than any other shortstop.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Alcides Escobar, Royals; Erick Aybar, Braves; Jose Reyes, Rockies.

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

Troy-Tulowitzki-739

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jose-Reyes1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Colorado Rockies vs the San Francisco Giants

Shortstop may be home to the best group of young talent in baseball. Half of the very best players at this packed position are well away from their 30th birthdays, and the push towards the upper reaches of the spot could make this one of the most debated positions in the game in coming years.

In today’s game, there’s a Dominican lock on the position, with the island producing no less than seven high quality shortstops right now. And in the now normal expectation of the role, each has a unique spin on what they bring to the position, between speed threats, power bats and blends of it all. And what is more, is that the names that won’t make the cut this year (such as Erick Aybar, Jed Lowrie and Starlin Castro among others) could still make a push to be included with the top 100 players in the game overall later on this winter, so that speaks to the true value at the spot and why the 10 competitors below truly deserve the spotlight that they’ve earned—and are clinging to.

And with that pomp and circumstance out the way, here’s the best of the day at the six spot…

10. Derek Jeter, Yankees: The old standard bearer is still here, and it is mostly because injury kept him from proving if he repeat at the level he ended 2012: a year where led the AL hits (216) and turned in a .316 average at age 38. 2014 could be the last go around for him, and it is unlikely that he doesn’t try to make it one to remember.

9. Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals: He hit a career-best .303 a year ago, while topping 30 doubles and making his second All-Star Game. He will switch to the National League for the first time and look to keep his number steady coming out of a PED suspension that interrupted his 2013.

8. Jean Segura, Brewers: His first season, Milwaukee’s return for Zach Greinke blew up on the scene with 20 doubles, 10 triples, 12 home runs and 44 stolen bases, good for an All-Star Game debut.

andrelton-simmons

7. Andrelton Simmons, Braves: At only 24, he may already be the best defender in all of baseball. He covers space at shortstop like a center fielder and has an arm that could compete with the best CFs as well. His 5.4 dWAR mark led all players, and he added 17 home runs as a bit of a coming attraction feature at the plate as well.

6. Ian Desmond, Nationals: He joined the 20/20 club and won his second straight Silver Slugger. He drove in a career-best 80 runs and set a personal high water mark for hits and doubles for the fourth straight year.

5. J.J. Hardy, Orioles: Many are quick to point out that Hardy doesn’t reach base with enough regularity, however he is the finest defensive shortstop in the AL (winning his second straight Gold Glove—the legit way) and adding a Silver Slugger for his 25 homer/27 double outburst.

4. Elvis Andrus, Rangers: He is the model of consistency, which is saying a lot for a guy that is only 25. He’s topped 160 hits each of the last three years and 60 RBI as well. His 42 stolen bases were a career high as well, playing a major part in his fourth year over 85 runs scored.

3. Jose Reyes, Blue Jays: The injury bug starts to take off here with regularly, but the game’s most dynamic on-base threat still had a solid AL debut, despite making it to the field for only 96 games. He hit .296 with 20 doubles, 10 home runs and stole 15 bags.

Hanley_Ram

2. Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers: He had a career renaissance amid a competitive Dodger campaign a year ago. His on-base + slugging topped the hallowed 1.000 mark a year ago, in the course of him hitting .342, with 20 home runs, 25 doubles and running up 105 hits in only 86 games, due to a pair of limiting injuries.

1. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: Another of those far and away gold standards at his position, it has been a long while since someone other than Tulo has had legit right to call themselves the best at short. While he comes with a pretty substantial injury caveat (he hasn’t played over 150 games since 2009) he’s outperformed the pack annually with a fraction of the availability. In 126 games, he hit 25 homers, drove in 82 and finished with a +5 WAR for the fourth time in his career.

Just A Bit Outside: Jed Lowrie, Stephen Drew, Starlin Castro

For more on this list and the rest of the world at CSP, follow me in real-time on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

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.

David-Price

Here it is: the top 25 players in the game. If a true dream team of baseball was to be put together (not those watered-down versions they run out for the World Baseball Classic), this is what it would most likely look like. To be at this point, you’ve got to be in your prime and playing the best ball of your life. But what exactly is a prime? As this list has shown so far, you can play elite level baseball at age 20 all the way up to 43, so narrowing that down where the best baseball is played is a bit of a task in today’s game.

Of the Top 100 players in baseball today, the breakdown of where the best of the best baseball is played by age, it looks like this:

Age 20-25: 15

26-30: 54

31-35: 26

36 & up: 5

Late 20’s to early 30’s prime is still in control in a major way, and there are a few old veterans that are hanging on as well. But there is a real surge of impact players that are making their presence known in a major way early on. The youth movement produced an MVP last season, the game’s most dominant reliever and potentially a DC-based sensation that will do the same at the beginning of the game as well. Experience always plays, but the youth will be served…as the climb to #1 will show very clearly.

 

25. CC Sabathia-Pitcher-New York Yankees: Nobody carries more of load for a rotation than CC. He’s topped 200 innings for the last six seasons, while averaging 18 wins a year along the way. He also continued his big game flare in 2012, winning both the opening and closing games of the ALDS versus the Orioles last year.

24. Troy Tulowitzki-Shortstop-Colorado Rockies: When he makes it to the field (which he only managed to do 47 times last year), he’s by far the best overall shortstop in the game. He’s a two-time Gold Glove winner that’s topped 27 homers three times. Numbers like these are what make the Rockies refuse offers for him. Risk can kill the reward.

23. Prince Fielder-First Base-Detroit Tigers: He’s become baseball’s most consistent pure power hitter. 2012 marked his sixth consecutive year topping 30 home runs, and he rounded it out by hitting for a career-best .313 average as well. For good measure, he took home a second Home Run Derby championship as well.

22. Adrian Beltre-Third Base-Texas Rangers: He played the best baseball of his life a year ago, hitting .321, with 36 home runs and continued his reign has arguably the best infield defender in baseball. He finished in third in AL MVP voting and is a huge reason why the Rangers will still be strong, post-Josh Hamilton.

21. Stephen Strasburg-Pitcher-Washington Nationals: Before the much-debated early ending to his year was put in place, he was every bit the sensation he has been billed as being. In only 28 starts, he won 15 games and struck out 197 to the tone of an 11.1 average per nine innings. Now with his first true full season upon him, the sky is the limit….

 

How’s this going to end up? It’s close to the time to crown who’s number one, and follow along the rest of the past at The Sports Fan Journal here: http://www.thesportsfanjournal.com/sports/baseball/the-2013-top-100-players-in-baseball-part-4/

 

And for the real time word and rundown, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

 

The National League’s most ever-changing division lived up to its usual standard once again. It was the host to all sorts of arrays of breakout performances and competitive finishes that made it the most closely competed division in the league. The drama kicked off early when the previously cellar dwelling Arizona Diamondacks went on a tear through May, eclipsing the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants for the division lead. This was a lead they would hold on to for the long run, aided by a gruesome season-ending injury to Buster Posey, which kept the Giants from pulling back into the race. Propelled by Justin Upton coming into his own as one of the game’s all-around great talents and Ian Kennedy’s rise to leading the NL in wins, D’Backs became the most unlikely division champions in all of baseball.

Upton’s breakthrough, 31 homer campaign made him an MVP candidate, and catapulted the D’Backs from worst to first.

2010 Finish

  1. Arizona Diamondbacks (94-68)
  2. San Francisco Giants (86-76)
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers (82-79)
  4. Colorado Rockies (73-89)
  5. San Diego Padres (71-91)

All the while, the Los Angeles Dodgers off-field ownership wars nearly took the headlines from two timeless performances on it. Clayton Kershaw won the NL’s pitching Triple Crown and brought a third Cy Young winner in four years to the West and Matt Kemp had one of the great performances in recent history. So what happens this time around in the NL’s grab bag division? Can the D’Backs play with the same urge and intensity they did last summer and still hold down the division crown? Or will the once again full-strength Giants regain their grasp on the division. Can the top heavy Dodgers or Rockies get some stronger efforts from their supporting casts to help their superstars efforts pay off? Or can the Padres young ensemble follow the lead of last year’s D’Backs and pull off this year’s heist of the summer? Time will tell, but you’ll never see it coming out West, that’s for sure.

All-Division Team

Catcher: Buster Posey, Giants

First Base: Yonder Alonso, Padres

Second Base: Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks

Third Base: Pablo Sandoval, Giants

Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies

Left Field: Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies

Center Field: Matt Kemp, Dodgers

Right Field: Justin Upton, Diamondbacks

 

Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Tim Lincecum, Giants

Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain, Giants

Starting Pitcher: Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks

Kershaw led the NL in wins (21), ERA (2.28) and strikeouts (248) to become the first Dodger Cy Young winner since 2003 at 23 years old.

Bullpen Righty: Sergio Romo, Giants

Bullpen Lefty: Rex Brothers, Rockies

Closer: Brian Wilson, Giants

 

Top 10 Players

  1. Matt Kemp, Dodgers
  2. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
  3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  4. Tim Lincecum, Giants
  5. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
  6. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
  7. Matt Cain, Giants
  8. Buster Posey, Giants
  9. Brian Wilson, Giants
  10. Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks

 

Lineup

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

Top to bottom, the D’Backs have a unique mixture of speed, power and both rebound and growth potential. Jason Kubel and Paul Goldschmidt will provide a power axis behind Justin Upton & Chris Young’s balanced attack. The Giants receive a major boost in Posey’s return, which has served as a constant catalyst the to the SF attack. Cargo and Tulo is the NL’s best back-to-back tandem.

Kemp’s monstrous 2011 made him the first player since Hank Aaron to finish in the top two in both homers and steals in the same summer.

Rotation

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

Lincecum and Cain get the big headlines, but Madison Bumgartner and Ryan Vogelsong both tied for the team lead in wins last year with 13 a piece. The Giants provided the least run support to any staff in baseball, but their top four starters each sported ERA’s fewer than 3.20. Trevor Cahill adds a former 18-game winner to the growing Arizona staff.

1-2 Punch

  1. Giants (Lincecum & Cain)
  2. Diamondbacks (Kennedy & Hudson)
  3. Dodgers (Kershaw & Billingsley)
  4. Padres (Stauffer & Richard)
  5. Rockies (Chacin & Guthrie)

Lincecum and Cain combined for only 25 wins a year ago, but it wasn’t for lack of effort on their part: the duo combined for a .219 average against last year. Ian Kennedy broke through last year, with a 21 win performance. Speaking of breaking through, anybody paired with Kershaw is bound to look pretty good, but Billingsley has won in double digits for the last five years, with over 150 strikeouts the last four.

The Giants rotation is anchored by two of the toughest to hit pitchers in the game, which often pitch in the toughest luck as well.

Bullpen

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

The Frisco pen is the game’s best. Headlined by Wilson, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez among others are an extension of the dominance started at the beginning of the game. JJ Putz took a hold of his opportunity as an undisputed closer in Arizona a year ago and turned in a 45 save shutdown performance. Huston Street changes Western addresses for closing down games, taking over for Heath Bell in San Diego.

 

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Rockies (Tulowitzki/Gonzalez/Helton)
  2. Giants (Sandoval/Posey/Huff)
  3. Diamondbacks (Upton/Montero/Young)
  4. Dodgers (Kemp/Ethier/Loney)
  5. Padres (Maybin/Quentin/Alonso)

Tulowitzki and Gonzalez provide nearly all of the punch for the Rockies offering, but their combined effort is nearly enough still. Helton is far from out to the pasture, as he still topped .300 last year. Pablo Sandoval had a strong comeback effort last year, hitting .315, and is over .300 for his career. Upton and Young give the D’Backs two potential 30/30 threat. Kemp has set 50/50 as a goal; don’t laugh at that either.

Tulowitzki’s has become both the most prodigious offensive shortstop since Alex Rodriguez, and a back-to-back Gold Glove winner.

Tablesetters

  1. Giants (Pagan & Cabrera)
  2. Dodgers (Gordon & Ellis)
  3. Rockies (Fowler & Scutaro)
  4. Padres  (Venable & Headley)
  5. Diamondbacks (Bloomquist & Hill)

Pagan and Cabrera could prove to be one of the best hit and run duos in the game, for a team that really needs to emphasize small ball. Dee Gordon is poised to be the breakthrough leadoff hitter in the game, and stole 24 bases after debuting last June.

Bench

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

2011 Gold Glove winner Geraldo Parra will lead the way for a tough D’Backs bench, and Willie Bloomquist will be another boost once Stephen Drew reclaims shortstop. Tyler Colvin and Jason Giambi give the Rockies two real threats to change games late.

Defense

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

The San Francisco pitching staff is backed by a solid defensive offering that keeps them intact. Sandoval is a surprisingly able third bagger and Posey’s presence will better the entire team as well. Tulowitzki and Scutaro will form a potent middle infield combo, while Gonzalez and Fowler can cover acres in the outfield. Kemp and Ethier have lived on reputation over results some in recent years.

Speed

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

Cameron Maybin had a breakout season last year, and finished with 40 steals, while Will Venerable, Orlando Hudson, Jason Barlett and Chase Headley are all plus runners too. Kemp and Gordon will both surpass 30 steals easily in LA, while Pagan and Cabrera will move around the bases in a way the low power Giants desperately need.

After playing for 3 teams before turning 23, Maybin finally lived up to his potential and had a 40 steal breakout year for the Padres.

Manager

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

Bochy has gotten a ton from some limited resources on his team over the past few years, even in their World Series season. Same goes for Gibson, who took a talented, but directionless club from the cellar to a Division title last year, winning the NL Manager of the Year as a result. Year two for Mattingly should give him a better chance to operate, has the stresses of the sale of the team should subside.

Finances

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

No team in the division has a ton of assets currently, and the Giants have to make a big decision on how to approach the forthcoming free agency of Cain. The Dodgers could potentially be big spenders soon, with whoever ends up buying the club most likely looking to make a big splash once taking control of the team. If they are in the race late, they could be in full on “buy it all” mode at the trade deadline.

Impact Additions

  1. Trevor Cahill (Diamondbacks from A’s)
  2. Melky Cabrera (Giants from Royals)
  3. Angel Pagan (Giants from Mets)
  4. Michael Cuddyer (Rockies from Twins)
  5. Jason Kubel (Diamondbacks from Twins)

Cahill was 6-0 out the gates of 2011 before slowing down. With the switch to the lighter hitting NL (and heavier hitting D’Backs), a return to his 2010 form should be expected. Cuddyer is the game’s most effective utility man, and will provide a huge bonus in Colorado as a right and left fielder, as well as a first, second and third baseman.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Buster Posey, Giants
  2. Dee Gordon, Dodgers
  3. Brandon Belt, Giants
  4. Cory Luebke, Padres
  5. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

Kind of odd to see Posey at the top of the list of break out candidates right? Well remember, we still haven’t seen a full year of him from start to finish in his two professional years. If he can work the magic he’s waved over the Giants’ lineup for a full year, in addition to Belt coming of age, runs will no longer be at a premium for Frisco. Paul Goldschmidt shows the potential to be an outright masher in the desert.

The invaluable Posey returns to both be a field general behind the plate, and the axis the Giants lineup revolves around.

Rookies/Prospects* to Watch

  1. Yonder Alonso (First Base, Padres)
  2. Trevor Bauer (Pitcher, Diamondbacks)
  3. Drew Pomaranz (Pitcher, Rockies)
  4. Nolan Arenado (Third Base, Rockies)
  5. Wilin Rosario (Catcher, Rockies)

Alonso was the key piece of the Padres decision to move ace Mat Latos to Cincinnati this winter, and for good reason. He’ll fit in as the everyday first baseman this year, and should be the team’s premier power hitter as well. Bauer was the third pick in last year’s draft, but already is forcing his way onto the Major League staff, and could have the best stuff of them all.

2012 PREDICTIONS

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

It comes down to depth and details that separates the best from the rest out West. The Giants were the most talented team in the division last year until their offense sputtered out once Posey went on the DL in June. With Posey in or out of the lineup in his career, they have played either eight games better or eight games worst than the competition; a pretty remarkable difference. How his surgically repaired lower leg holds up over the summer will be important, but overall, this is a team that has few flaws. Cabrera and Pagan can reshape the energy for the team, and an ever improving Big Panda Sandoval could be up for an even bigger year with more support around him. Add this to a rotation that, with just two to three more runs a night, could have a pair of 20 game winners, and this is the hardest team to match up with night to night in the West.

Is this a slight against what the Diamondbacks did last year? No, not at all, and actually they should be about as good as they were a year ago this season. Aaron Hill turned the corner once he reached Phoenix last year and if Stephen Drew returns in good condition from the torn ACL that ended his summer early; this team could push the division race to its final days and snag a Wild Card for its efforts. The Rockies always have potential, and should score a good amount of runs, but they have a bad pitching staff in a division where that just won’t work. The Dodgers couldn’t do much to improve their club from where it was last summer, and lost some key pieces in Hiroki Kuroda, Casey Blake and Jonathan Broxton. It’s going to be tough to get better unless a sale goes through soon enough to impact their moves this year. The Padres have re-entered another rebuilding phase, and while they will be the best last place club in the league, it’s still last place all the same.

But buckle up for what will shape up to be the most exciting race for a division crown in all of baseball…with recent king taking the first step to reclaim its throne.

 

For more on where the National League will go this year, check back here in the upcoming days, and also follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.