Welcome to our annual series of ‘best player by position’ per division across all of Major League Baseball. Our goal in this set of articles was to set forth the player from each position that is the best in the division right now. No weight was given to a player’s glorious or dubious past. These are our opinions as to who is most likely to represent the division in top-tier form in 2013.
As such, we welcome all feedback, criticism, and (gasp!) praise in the comments section below. Enjoy!
Catcher – Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles – Few catchers ever enter their big league career with as much hype as Wieters did back in 2009. He has delivered to some extent, especially from a power perspective, but O’s fans are hoping there is more in his offensive toolbox. He’s just a .260 hitter lifetime with a weak .328 on-base%. If he could increase those numbers he will be on his way to stardom. Even with some work to be done he is easily the best catcher in this division.
1B – Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays – Mark Teixeira used to keep this spot on lock down and while Encarnacion is inferior to Tex from a defensive standpoint, his offensive production a year ago more than made up for it. It always seemed like there was more in the tank with this guy but nobody expected him to go all Jose Bautista on us with 42 homers and 110 RBI’s like he did in 2012. Clearly he has settled in and at age 30 he figures to wreak substantial havoc for a few more seasons.
2B – Robinson Cano, New York Yankees – You have to be really good to deny Dustin Pedroia a spot on this list but Cano is obviously the real deal. Even after a dreadful start to his 2012 season, Cano ended the year with a .313 average, 33 homers, 48 doubles, and 94 RBI’s. Could this be the year he puts 40 homers on the board? In his contract year, despite missing some of his usual buddies in the lineup, you can certainly expect more brilliance from this guy.
SS – Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays – I hemmed and hawed over this one. In the end, Reyes’ speed and defensive ability won out over Derek Jeter and all that he brings to the table. Reyes will add a dynamic top of the order bat and set of legs to the Jays attack. If he can stay on the diamond for 150+ games he might go off in this lineup. I’m thinking a .280 average, 12 homers, 115 runs, and 45 steals. But he has to stay fully healthy, which is always a question with him.
3B – Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays – Few players are as important to their team’s ultimate success as Longoria is for the Rays. If they consistently struggle in one area it would be in terms of run production. Longo only played in 74 games last year but is ready to go in 2013. If you prorate his production to 160 games he’d have hit nearly 40 homers and driven in about 120 runs. If Longoria can post a season like that in 2013 then Tampa will be right there in the end for the AL East crown.
Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles – The AL East is shockingly void of top-shelf outfielders but that’s not Adam Jones’ fault. Jones certainly didn’t relax after inking his long-term contract last spring. In fact, he set career highs in average (.287), slugging (.505), OPS (.839), doubles (39), homers (32), and steals (16). He also struck out a career-high 126 times to just 34 walks. Despite that poor ratio, the 27-year old Jones is among the elite.
Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays – The versatile Zobrist doesn’t get a ton of hype but there isn’t a manager in the game who wouldn’t love to roster this guy. The guy ripped 66 extra-base hits and drove in 74 runs to go along with his robust .377 on-base % in 2012. This year, perhaps more than any other, Zobrist will be expected to drive in a lot of runs alongside Longoria. If he plays the perfect Robin to Longoria’s Batman, then Tampa will be in great shape.
Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays – 2012’s disappointment aside, few players strike fear into the opposing pitcher when digging into the batter’s box like Bautista does. Everyone in Jays camp is quietly nervous as he recovers from his wrist ailment, and rightfully so, wrists can be tricky. But if he can suit up 150 times he is 40+ homers waiting to happen. With the additions of Reyes and Melky Cabrera ahead of him in the lineup, Bautista has the potential to have a beastly season of power production. 50 homers and 125 RBI’s is on the table.
Evan Longoria & Ben Zobrist
Designated Hitter – David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox – Big Papi can still do big damage when he gets his at-bats. Sadly, his body is starting to show cracks in the foundation as he missed 72 games in 2012 yet still put up 23 homers and 60 RBI’s with a .318 avg. and .415 on-base%. He may not be ready for Opening Day in a few weeks either as he recovers from his Achilles injury. If Boston wants a quick turnaround from last year’s debacle, then having Ortiz in the lineup 140 times would do wonders for that quest.
David Price, Tampa Bay Rays – When you earn a Cy Young award over a great season turned in by Justin Verlander, you are going to head this list from any division in baseball. Price’s last three seasons have been special, culminating with last year’s 20-5 record, 2.56 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 205 K’s in 211 innings. This fella is about to get paid come next offseason. $200M? Let’s hope Tampa can find a way to keep him around and preserve the roots of the franchise.
CC Sabathia, New York Yankees – This big fella just keeps on truckin’. It’s hard to imagine that this will be his 13th big league season and yet he remains so consistently dominant. The Yankees will need everything he has to give this year as their offense is suddenly suspect and the rest of the rotation is potentially solid but definitely a work in progress. How many more years can Sabathia keep this up? The answer is probably: several. He has shown very few signs of slowing down.
RA Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays – Toronto quickly flipped the switch this offseason into a ‘win-now’ mode. To that end, they sent top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud packing in their search for a rotation ace. Enter knuckle-baller RA Dickey. At age 38 and back in the American League, can Dickey keep the knuckler knuckling like he did for 3 seasons in Queens? There is something nagging at me that says he won’t be nearly as dominant but that he can still lead this rotation. Consider that the 230 K’s he posted were 96 more than his previous career-high. That’s a tough act to follow.
Brandon Morrow, Toronto Blue Jays – Some might be surprised to see Morrow, 28, on this list over some of the other options but I think this is the year he makes the leap into elite status. Assuming the oblique problem isn’t a recurring issue then there is no reason to think he can’t continue his 2012 dominance into this season. In 21 starts he was 10-7 with a 2.96 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 108 K’s in 124.2 innings. If he can keep the walk rate down then he might have the goods to be a top 5 finisher in Cy Young voting as soon as this season.
Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees – I give the #5 nod to Kuroda over Tampa’s Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore because of how impressed I was by his seamless transition from the NL West to the AL East. Some questioned his ability to come over and dominate American League hitting but that’s exactly what he did on his way to a 16-11 record, 3.32 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 167 K’s. Now at age 38, can he do it again? New York desperately needs that answer to be a resounding ‘yes’.
Setup –Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox – There are some great setup men in the AL East with Darren O’Day, Joel Peralta, and David Robertson among them. But it’s not just that teams can’t score on Uehara, it’s that they can barely even get on base. His career WHIP is 0.94 and last year it was 0.64 after a 0.78 mark in 2011. And his last two seasons were spent in Baltimore and Texas, not exactly pitching havens. With the addition of Uehara, the Sox have a formidable bullpen heading into 2013, which is nice, because their rotation is shoddy.
Closer – Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays – Rodney went from being a gigantic question mark of an offseason addition by the Rays to simply putting up the best season by a closer in baseball history. The numbers are worth looking at again: 48 saves in 50 chances, 0.60 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, and 76 K’s in 74.2 innings of work. Most impressive of all was that the formerly erratic one walked just 15 batters. A repeat performance is not reasonable to expect but I like his chances to stay hot and be more dominant than Mariano Rivera and Jim Johnson.
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