We are finally rounding third with the top 100 baseball players of 2014, and predictably it's getting tighter and tighter the closer we get to the end. If fantasy baseball was “real,” the clubs would be headed up by the guys left to come. There is no more potential to fill or past glory to lean on. Quite frankly, if a player is mentioned at this point, he is one of the best doing it now and most likely (with a very few exceptions) doing it better than he ever will at any point in his life.
There are still nine former MVPs, seven Cy Young and six former Rookie of the Year winners to go, and none are past their 33rd birthday. We are talking the prime cuts of the game — so let’s get to sorting it all out. Not many intros are required for the guys to come at this point.
25. Joe Mauer, Twins: His days of being the preeminent offensive catcher in the game are now behind, not due to any downturn on his part (his .324 batting average was second best in the AL a year ago), but because he will be moving to first base full time this year. The hope for the Twins is that this keeps Mauer on the field more often and for longer — a smart proposition considering the 30-year-old’s career .323 average is the highest active career mark of any player.
24. Craig Kimbrel, Braves: The top closer in the game by a fair margin. He has converted 90% of his career opportunities and has led the National League in saves in each of his three seasons, turning in 139 already. For his career, batters have managed only a .155 average against him, while striking out 381 times in his 227 lifetime innings.
23. Chris Davis, Orioles: He blew up on the scene in a major, and I mean MAJOR, way last year, leading the Majors in home runs and RBI. He joined Babe Ruth and Albert Belle as the only players to ever hit 50 home runs and 40 doubles in the same year. And before calling him a one-year wonder, take note: He hit 33 homers two years ago and is only approaching his 28th birthday. This is what the beginning of a pretty good prime looks like.
22. Chris Sale, White Sox: He proved the relief-to-starter project had some serious legs in his second year in the rotation and first as the absolute ace of the club. The slender sidearmer held opposing hitters to a .230 average while tossing 214 innings and racking up 226 strikeouts, third best in the AL. All in all, he was best pitcher in the game to finish with a losing record, while still making a second consecutive All-Star appearance as the sole bright spot for the woeful White Sox.
21. Max Scherzer, Tigers: It all came together for the long talented but Verlander-shadowed Scherzer a year ago. He opened up the season 13-0 and became the third pitcher ever to post a 19-1 record in route to finishing 21-3 with 240 strikeouts and the AL Cy Young Award. It is safe to say he’s set himself outside of anybody’s shadow now.
20. David Wright, Mets: The consummate team captain made his seventh All-Star Game in eight years, while hitting over .300 for the second straight season. Captain America has seen his RBI turn down due to being a lone star in the Mets sky the past few years, but with an increase in talent around the club, his career season averages of 41 doubles and 26 home runs should mean much more now.
19. David Price, Rays: The 2012 AL Cy Young winner has a 30-13 record over the past two years and led the American League in complete games last year despite missing nearly a month. He saved his best for last, tossing his fourth compete game in game #163, showing his ace chops by going the whole way while surrendering only two runs against the Rangers to break the tie for the final AL Wild Card spot.
18. Cliff Lee, Phillies: The most precise pitcher in the game picks his spots while leaving few for batters to do the same. His season walk totals in three of the last four years: 18, 28 and 32, all while striking out 185, 238 and 222 in those same years, while winning 43 games in those same campaigns.
17. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: The owner of the game’s best curve used it to indomitable effect a year ago, leading the National League in victories for the second time in his career and leading the NL in five other categories as well. He capped his season with a dominant Division Series effort against his division rivals in Pittsburgh, winning Games 1 and 5, including a one-run, complete-game series clincher.
16. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks: He came into his own in 2013, leading the National League in home runs (36) and RBI (125), while also posting the best slugging percentage and most total bases. Cap that off with the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger nods he received as well, and we’re seeing one of the game’s elite players being born before our eyes.
15. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox: The engine to the Sox played one of his finest seasons and showed why when his health is on his side, he is one of the game’s unique talents — or so it seemed. After he posted 193 hits, 42 doubles, drove in 84 runs, landed his third Gold Glove and second World Series win, it was discovered he had played the entire season (a total of 176 games) with a torn ligament in his hand he suffered on Opening Day. It was a gritty, gamer campaign for the ages.
14. Evan Longoria, Rays: For stretches of the year, it seemed that he was the sole offensive producer for the Rays. He played a career-best 160 games, hitting 32 home runs, driving in 88 and playing his usual game-changing defense from third. It marked the fourth time in his career the 27-year-old topped 25 home runs, and his everyday effort proved why he is the indispensable key to the success of the Rays.
13. Buster Posey, Giants: No MVP, no batting title and no third World Series for Posey in 2013, but the game’s most indomitable player continues his rise among the elite because a) he’s done all of that already after only four years, and b) even in a down year (by his standards) he still hit .294 and called his second career no-hitter — at age 26.
12. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: It’s frightening to think about what he would be if he could stay on the field for a whole season. But considering he is still the game’s unquestioned best shortstop despite being regularly “health challenged,” that’s saying something. Throwing out a 47-game 2012, over the past four years, his average season has been a .309 average, 27 homers, 92 RBI, a .381 on-base percentage — and only 130 games to reach them in.
11. Adrian Beltre, Rangers: He has gone from major supporting player to centerpiece in the Rangers' everyday mix by being stunningly consistent in every part of the game. Since reaching Texas, he has once led the AL in hits, won two Gold Gloves and reached two All-Star Games, while never finishing with less than 30 home runs or doubles. He's also driven in 100 runs twice and hit .318 over the past two years. A more than solid prime for player that is getting close to knocking on the Hall’s door.
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