It has become a spring tradition to close out the long, cold affair that is the baseball-less winter with a look at the best of what awaits in the summer to come. And we do that with a comprehensive look at the 100 best players that Major League Baseball has to offer.
While it would seem to be a fairly wide open thing to do, the fact is that taking 750 Major Leaguers and sorting out the top 100 is far from a simple chore. If anything, it is guaranteed to be wrong, most likely as soon as #100 is read.
But all the same, the goal is simple: to determine the best players in the game today, period. Not simply who has the best career thus far or who had the best year last season or even who should have the best one this summer. The effort is based in finding a balance between all of those elements — and more.
The basic outline is to take a blend of statistics, talent, award-winning performances, consistency, potential and decline alike, and even the eyeball test (because you should know a special ballplayer when you see one), then put all of this together and sort out the best of the best in today’s game. All measures of All-Stars, future All-Stars, league-leading hitters, pitchers and fielders of all sorts, pitted head-to-head against each other. Easy enough task, no?
To justify the case made for each player, a breakdown of what qualifies them for such lofty status will accompany their ranking. As well, an overview of the entire process that went into the task of coming to the final decision for the list will be included in each article as well. Basically, there is a method to the madness, and it will be made clear by the time we countdown to number one.
So get ready for the annual entry ride back into baseball season, as we work our way down to the #1 baseball player alive and swinging — or perhaps pitching — today. The top 100 baseball players of 2015 await ...
100. Garrett Richards, Angels: A freakish knee injury brought his tremendous breakout season to an early end and may have done the same to the Angels’ high hopes for 2014. But Richards' overwhelming combo of fastball-slider made him one of the most devastating arms in the game last year, as he ran out to a 13-4 record and held batters to a stingy .201 average.
99. Lance Lynn, Cardinals: Over the past three years, Lynn has quietly been the third winningest pitcher in the National League, with 48 victories since 2012. Yet regardless of result, he took a step forward in the effectiveness category a year ago, finishing in the top 10 in ERA and innings pitched, while showing he has a legit front-end rotation presence for the perennially contending Cardinals.
98. Jose Reyes, Blue Jays: Reyes potentially stands to be one of the most pivotal presences in the game. No, he is not the batting champion caliber player he was with the Mets, yet he finished in the top 10 of the AL in stolen bases at 30 and scored 94 runs as well. Yet, his potential in 2015 is enticing. He finds himself atop a lineup that could lead the American League in runs scored and put his tools to heavy usage.
97. Todd Frazier, Reds: With Joey Votto mostly out due to injury and Jay Bruce amid a career-worst season, Frazier became Cincinnati's primary source of run creation a year ago. He reached personal bests in each of the Triple Crown categories, while also becoming a rare 20/20 club member at third base, stealing 20 bases and hitting 29 home runs, the 4th best total in the National League.
96. Mark Buehrle, Blue Jays: The steadiest pitcher in baseball put on his usual, strikingly effective display yet again. He topped 10 wins and 200 innings for the 13th straight year, while making his fifth All-Star Game as well. The crafty lefty enters 2015 one victory short of his 200th for his career.
95. Josh Harrison, Pirates: Over the past few years, Harrison had entrenched himself as the Bucs' jack of all trades. However last year, he set himself into one position and as one of the National League’s most diverse talents. He notched an All-Star nod and finished second in the league in batting with a .315 average, while becoming the club’s everyday third baseman and leadoff man.
94. Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox: The Panda put on his usual dynamic postseason performance on his way out of the door in San Francisco, running up a 25-game on-base streak and working a .366 October average. It is that sort of prime time production that led the Red Sox to inking him to a $95 million pact to be the axis of their rebuilt lineup. And while there is much debate about what is wrong with Pandoval, the results certainly indicate he’s not broken, so there’s no need to fix him.
93. Nolan Arenado, Rockies: He has established himself as the NL’s best defender at the hot corner and is quickly becoming one of the most well-rounded under 25-year-old talents in the game. Arenado took home his second Gold Glove in as many years of his career and notched a 28-game hit streak as well.
92. Justin Verlander, Tigers: It may very well be the fork in the road season for the 2011 Cy Young and MVP winner. His ERA has risen over two runs from just two years ago, while his once elite level of strikeouts has dropped by nearly 80. Yet while Verlander’s velocity is his calling card, he is also a pitcher capable of unleashing a variety of pitches from his arsenal as well. If he can turn the corner in his approach, he should still stand to remain one of the most effective — albeit no longer dominant — arms in the game.
91. Matt Harvey, Mets: It has been over a year since he took to the mound as one of the elite arms in the game and as the NL’s All-Star starting pitcher, due to the sudden Tommy John surgery. But he has been voracious in efforts to return to the mound, and based on everything he proved before he was sidelined (a 2.39 ERA and .207 average against in 237 career innings), it would be foolish to think Harvey cannot be one of National League’s biggest potential difference makers in a mediocre NL East.
90. Justin Morneau, Rockies: He was tasked with replacing the greatest player in franchise history last season in Todd Helton, and he replied by doing something Helton did himself 14 years before: winning the NL batting title. Morneau's .319 average was tops in the league during his first season in Coors Field, narrowly edging out his league's past two MVP winners in Buster Posey and Andrew McCutchen.
89. Lorenzo Cain, Royals: Cain is in the handful of largest land rovers in center field in the game. His defensive capabilities have been the glue to Kansas City’s top-of-the-line defensive offering for years now, but Cain now carries a middle-of-the-lineup presence with the bat as well. Cain hit .303 a year ago and took it to the next level in the postseason with a .444 mark in the World Series.
88. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners: One of the steadiest and effective arms in the game, Iwakuma struggled with his health some last season but still turned in a 15-win campaign. All in all, he has won 29 games in two years, while being one of the foremost control artists in the game. A return to anything close to his 2014 form could be the difference in the Mariners finding October pay dirt this year.
87. Dellin Betances, Yankees: If one was to say that Betances possesses the filthiest stuff that any reliever wields in the game today, it would be ridiculous to argue it too heavily. That is because the Yankee closer-to-be broke off a nasty 135 strikeouts over 90 innings a year ago, via a high-90’s fastball and a world-pausing mix of both a hard and slow curveball that look the same but vary by at least 10 miles per hour. Good luck with that.
86. J.J. Hardy, Orioles: He has become the standard-bearing glove in the AL at shortstop and has the hardware to prove it (three straight Gold Gloves). Hardy’s power output dipped some, but he’s the middle ground of what it takes to be an above-average shortstop in today’s game: swing a steady bat and put on an exception defensive show with regularity.
85. Koji Uehara, Red Sox: He did not have the same historic result he turned in during 2014 as the Red Sox super-stopper, but Uehara remained an ultra-effective option with a finesse approach that turns in outcomes around 88 mph that others do at 100-plus. Throw his bad second half out; the odds are in Koji’s favor of being dominant once again.
84. Sean Doolittle, Athletics: He became the master of the self-sustained game last year. Between his scoreless innings streak that reached 26.2 consecutive frames and a 30-game run without issuing a walk, he affirmed himself as a master minimalist. His status for 2015 is in question due to a tear in his rotator cuff, but regardless, he has solidified himself as a premier reliever amid Oakland’s deep collection.
83. Prince Fielder, Rangers: This is quite a dip from where Fielder last checked in at coming into last season, when there were already questions about a downturn in his production after an abysmal 2013 postseason and subsequent exile from Detroit. He managed just three home runs over 42 games in his first year in Arlington, but his track record (288 home runs at age 30) says he should not be written off quite yet.
82. Yoenis Cespedes, Tigers: He was perhaps the most surprising player traded last year, when he was a part of the deal that landed Jon Lester in Oakland. Now after a brief stop in Fenway, he finds himself traded for the second time in less than a year to add even more punch to a Tiger lineup that was in need of upgrading its outfield production. Landing the two-time defending Home Run Derby champ is a guaranteed way to do so.
81. Jeff Samardzija, White Sox: His 7-13 record belies how good Samardzija was last season, as he took the final steps toward becoming one of the top power pitchers in the game. Between the Cubs and A’s, he ran up 202 strikeouts and held batters to a .234 average. It is no wonder why the White Sox moved so quickly to bring him aboard their rebuilding process, where he will form one of the top pitching duos in the game with Chris Sale for at least one year.
80. Kyle Seager, Mariners: He is likely the most underrated third baseman in the game today, but Seager took a huge step forward for the reconstructed M’s, driving in 96 runs and hitting 25 home runs. Along the way he also brought in his first Gold Glove and a $100 million extension too, which assured at the very least his value is clear to his employer.
79. Sonny Gray, Athletics: For the A’s emergent young ace, this rank could prove to be laughably low by the end of the summer if he stays on the pace his career has launched on. Gray has quickly become one of the best young hurlers in the game, posting a 2.99 ERA over his first 43 career starts.
78. Wade Davis, Royals: He became a new man when he made the move the bullpen late in 2013, and he took his door-shutting talents to another level over a full season. Davis was the best setup man in the game, yielding only eight runs across 71 games, good for nine victories, and holding batters to a .151 average.
77. Albert Pujols, Angels: While he is not what he was before anymore, if #5 can stay at the level he reached in 2014 he still has a lot to offer the Halos. He was one of only 11 players to hit 25 home runs and drive in 100 runs, while also being good for top 10 finishes in doubles and runs scored as well. In his later years, the former MVP has become quite the protector for the current version.
76. Jason Heyward, Cardinals: He has become a virtuoso with the glove, accounting for an exceptional 30 runs saved in right field, while cutting down nine runners on the bases as well. He remains an enigma offensively, but with him now relieved of the leadoff-hitting responsibilities he carried in Atlanta, the new Cardinal could see a return to the power approach at the plate that helped shape the lofty expectations he carried upon entering the league.
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