For part seven of Couch Side’s 12 part series on the best baseball players by position for 2012, I’m going the be showing a lot of love for the National League’s top left fielders. This list was an easy pick before I remembered that Ryan Braun’s suspension had been lifted. So although I don’t agree with his actions, until the man is proven guilty, he’ll lead off Couch Side’s list of the best in L.F.
Like it or not, Ryan Braun was the N.L. MVP last season. And hate it or love it, he will be playing this season despite some faulty handling of his drug test. With that out of the way, let’s focus on how this guy plays. Braun almost won the Triple Crown last season, falling just short in each category by the slimmest of margins. By hitting for power and contact last year, Braun proved that he may just be the best hitter in baseball. And it’s hard not to call a guy who hit 33 bombs, 111 RBIs and carried a .332 batting average just that. You never saw guys like Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire hit for average. That’s why it’s hard for me not to love Ryan Braun just a little. He may have cheated, but at least he didn’t gun for the single season home run record. Instead, he was Mr. Baseball last season. And if he is completely innocent, I feel like he could be one of the best of all time. After all, the guy is an extremely talented outfielder, feared hitter and a threat on the base paths with 33 swipes last season.
If Hamilton can avoid injury and any sort of bad press by “relapsing,” he may just have a breakout season this year. It’s a stretch to say a former MVP is still capable of a breakout season, but Hamilton is due after missing solid stretches of time during the past two summers. We all know he is capable of 30 or even 40 home runs and is a lock to secure 100 RBIs. With a full season, he may just throw his name back into the MVP hat and Hamilton will certainly be looking to improve his numbers, considering this is the final year of his contract.
With the second basemen out of the way, its time to continue moving around the infield, this time stopping at the other middle infield position — shortstop. Here is writer Brett Murdock has to say about the position that is quickly turning into a hot commodity.
Hard to argue with this one, as the Colorado Rockies star is probably the most complete at his position in the big leagues. A powerful offensive weapon, ‘Tulo’ hit .302 last season with 30 long balls and 105 runs batted in, a new career high. For the past three years, he has finished in the Top 10 of MVP voting, finishing fifth twice (2009 and 2010) and has cut down on his strikeout totals tremendously. Injuries have hampered him as he has never played a full 162 games, but nobody really does anymore anyway. Additionally, Tulowitzki is a back-to-back Gold Glove winner and should be a strong MVP candidate again this year.
The Miami Marlins big free agent splash this winter came in the form of the Dominican speedster. Reyes won the National League batting crown last year, topping off at .337 for the season, a full 45 points better than his career average. Never known as a power hitter, Reyes relies on his other weapons, mainly his speed to get by. Injuries have stalled him in recent years but when healthy, he is one of the best base runners in the game. His fielding percentage is lower than what some might expect and his 18 errors last season tied a career high. But, he is a team’s offensive ignition and should be a good fit for the Marlins in a competitive NL East.
We are well into the 2012 spring training season and continuing with our theme of previewing each position in the big leagues, Brett Murdock turns his attention to the second basemen. Here is what he has to say about the spot.
The diminutive player out of Arizona State may be small in stature, but is possibly the Red Sox’s most important player. He does a little bit of everything and plays with a fiery passion. Pedroia won the AL MVP in only his second full year in the bigs and is also a 3-time All-Star. Last year, he finished with a .307 average with a career high 21 home runs and a .990 fielding percentage, committing only seven errors in 722 defensive chances. He is probably the most complete second basemen in the game.
In part three of Couch Side’s 12 part series on the best position players going into 2012, we’ll take a look at what could be the deepest position in the MLB – first base. Although this is my top five, one guy you won’t see on the list is Miguel Cabrera, who is expected to move across the infield to third with the Tigers’ addition of Prince Fielder.
With that said, let’s take a look at my top five first basemen heading into the new season.
When a season consisting of a .299 batting average, 37 home runs and 99 RBIs, is considered a “down season,” you know you’re one of the game’s best. That was Pujols’ line from a year ago and it snapped his 10-year streak of hitting .300 with 30 home runs and driving in 100 runs. This season, Pujols moves out West following 11 seasons with the Cardinals fresh off his second World Series title, but nothing short of a “bounce back” season is expected from him. Pujols is a career .348 hitter in interleague play, so although the jersey may have changed, the colors haven’t and if there’s such a thing as a sure-bet, Pujols is just that. There’s a reason why he’s called The Machine. “El Hombre” or not, the Angels need their new $240 million acquisition to the man if they hope to reclaim their spot atop the AL West.
Until last year, A-Go had spent his previous five seasons in the spacious confines of Petco Park and still managed to knock out 32 dingers a season as a Padre. So expectations were sky-high moving to the American League where he could swat balls over the short right field porch at Fenway with that sweet lefty swing. Well, Gonzalez actually only managed to hit 27 balls out of the park, but in exchange he hit a career-high .338, more than 30 points above his previous career-high, and topped 200 hits for the first time. This year, the batting average might dip a little, but I expect an increase in his home run production between 30-35 in that murderer’s row that is the Red Sox lineup. Oh and he’s also won three Gold Gloves in the last four years, so there won’t be any Bill Buckner moments with this guy.
In part two of Couch Side’s 12 part series on the best position player going into 2012, I’ll examine the MLB’s top backstops. A couple of catchers on my top five missed a big chunk of the 2011 season because of injury, but they’re both still considered two of the best in the game.
Here’s a closer look at the best from behind the dish in 2012:
It’s weird to think a 30-year-old wouldn’t reach his prime until his career was almost halfway over, but it appears that’s the exact case for Mike Napoli. The six-year veteran set career highs in home runs, RBIs and batting average last season for the Texas Rangers and he played a key factor to their American League Championship run. The most impressive of Napoli’s personal highs last year had to have been how he hit for average. Don’t get me wrong, his power numbers were very impressive, but before last season, Napoli never hit higher that .273. In 2011, the Florida native hit an amazing .320. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Napoli yet and that’s saying a lot. It will be tough for him to make a repeat performance after an incredible 2011 season, but now that the Rangers are contenders, he’ll play with that bad taste of losing a World Series lingering in his mouth.