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!
C – Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies – Chooch made his first All-Star appearance last year and finished the season with a .325 batting average, 16 home runs, and 68 RBI. He is outstanding defensively and handles the Phillies staff like a maestro. Due to a 25 game suspension for testing positive for Adderall, Ruiz won’t be eligible to join the Phillies until April 28th.
1B – Adam LaRoche, Washington Nationals – LaRoche is coming off a career year in which he hit 33 homers, drove in 100 runs and posted a .271 batting average. He also was awarded a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award for his outstanding season. He’s found a home in Washington and it will be interesting to see how he performs this season.
2B – Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies – The oft-injured Utley, edges out Dan Uggla for the top spot here. He appeared in 83 games last year, hit 11 homers, drove in 45 runs, stole 11 bases and finished with a .793 OPS. The five-time All-Star is now entering his 11th season and told reporters that he is feeling great.
SS – Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals – Desmond belted 25 home runs, stole 21 bases and posted a triple slash line of .292/.335/.511 in his breakout season last year. He also led all major league shortstops in home runs and OPS. Desmond made his first All-Star appearance last year and took home a Silver Slugger Award.
3B – Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals – Zimmerman enjoyed a strong 2012 campaign with a .282 batting average, 25 homers, 95 RBI. He hit .319 with 17 homers after the All-Star break last year. Zimmerman is expected to bat clean up in the Nationals loaded line up.
1: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins – He is the game’s best young power hitter. Just 23 years old, Stanton smashed 37 homers last year and 34 in 2011. He led the majors with a .608 slugging percentage last season and was third in the NL with a .969 OPS. The sky is the limit for Stanton and he is expected to surpass the 40 home run threshold this season. Only four players in the history of baseball have hit more home runs before their 23rd birthday than the 93 Stanton has; Met Ott, Eddie Mathews, Tony Conigliaro and Alex Rodriguez.
2: Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves – Heyward was one of just 10 players to hit 20 homers and steal 2o bases last season. He finished the year with a .269 average, 27 homers, 82 RBI, and 21 steals. He played in 158 games last season and was awarded a Gold Glove for his outstanding defense. Heyward is one of the game’s bright young stars.
3: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals – Harper gets the nod here over Justin Upton. Last season, Harper recorded the most bases (254) and extra-base hits (57) of any teenager,ever. He also had the second-most walks (56), home runs (22), stolen bases (18) and runs (98) of any teenager, ever. He finished the season on an absolute tear. Over the last 41 games, Harper hit .327 with 12 homers, 37 runs and an absurd OPS of 1.045. They sky is the limit for the 20 year old sensation.
1: Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals – Last season Strasburg was spectacular posting a 15-6 record with a 3.16 ERA and the highest strikeouts-per-inning rate in baseball among starters. Despite being shutdown after 193 innings pitched, Strasburg finished 2012 behind only Justin Verlander with 234 strike outs. He can also hit. Strasburg went 13-for-47 (.277) with a home run and seven RBIs last season and that earned him a Silver Slugger award.
2: Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals – Last year, Gonzalez finished 2/3 of an inning shy of posting his third consecutive season of 200 innings pitched. Gonzalez did record a career-high 207 strike outs to go along with a sparkling 21-8 record, 2.89 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. Gonzalez made his second All-Star appearance last year and finished third in the balloting for the national league Cy Young Award.
3: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies – Hamels has started at least 31 games in each of the past five seasons. He’s logged over 200 innings 4 times during that span. Hamels set career-highs last season in wins (17) and strike outs (216). He has surpassed Roy Halladay and become the ace of the Phillies staff.
4: Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies – Lee had a historical season last year as he logged 211 innings, struck out 207 batters, had a 3.16 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and finished the season with a 6-9 record. Lee led the majors with both 11 quality start no-decisions and 15 non-win quality starts. Lee has incredible command, his 7.16 K’s per walk the past three seasons combined is the best in all of baseball.
5: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies – Halladay battled shoulder problems last season and pitched just 156 innings, the fewest he has thrown since 2005. His usual sub-3.00 ERA ballooned up to 4.49. Throughout his career, Halladay has been durable and consistent. Prior to last season he had four consecutive 200 strike out campaigns and his ERA was no higher than 2.79. If his shoulder is healthy, he should be in line for a nice bounce back season in 2013.
Setup – Drew Storen, Washington Nationals – After reclaiming the closer role late in the season, Storen lost the job when he couldn’t close out the Cardinals in game 5 of the NLDS. The Nationals went out and signed a new closer in the winter (see below) and will once again use Storen in a set up role. Storen is still a tremendous young pitcher. His career ERA is 2.96 and he has 150 career strike outs in 161 innings pitched.
Closer – Rafael Soriano, Washington Nationals – He was signed to give the World Series contending Nationals an experienced and reliable option to close out games. Soriano was brilliant last year with the Yankees. He stepped in after Mariano Rivera was lost for the season and notched 42 saves with 69 strike outs in 67.2 innings.