The Top Player at Every Position in the NL Central: How Do the Astros Stack Up?
The NL Central carries loads of talent at every position. Are the Houston Astros the best at any of them?
The up-and-coming Astros are in a major rebuilding mode. More than half the field is represented by new faces, most unrecognizable even in Houston.
That doesn't automatically mean they aren't any good though, does it? Of course not!
Good is one thing. But being the best is another.
Here are the best NL Central players at every position:
Catcher: Yadier Molina
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The best catcher in the NL Central is a two-horse race between Yadier Molina and Geovany Soto.
Soto has more power than Molina, hands down. He averages 23 home runs a season to Molina's nine. In seven seasons, Soto has 71 total compared to 55 home runs in Molina's eight-year career.
Soto had a higher slugging percentage and OPS last year than Molina, too.
So why does Yadier Molina get the nod?
He averages almost 20 more hits per season. His career batting average is .274, 16 points higher than Soto's. He may lack power, but he hits and gets on base more often.
Last year Molina hit .331 to Soto's .228.
Efficient at the plate, Molina is also the best defensive catcher in the NL Central.
The six-time All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove winner throws out an impressive 44 percent of potential base stealers.
First Base: Joey Votto
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This one is a no-brainer. Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto is the best in the NL Central and arguably in the top five in baseball.
The 28-year-old stud, entering his sixth season, owns an average of 183 hits, 31 HR and 105 RBI. His career batting reads: .313 BA/.405 OBP/.550 SLG/.955 OPS.
Those are fantastic numbers to maintain.
His glove is valuable, as exemplified by his 2011 Gold Glove Award. Votto possesses a .994 fielding percentage.
Joey Votto was 2010's Most Valuable Player as well.
Second Base: Brandon Phillips
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The two that immediately come to mind for many fans are Rickie Weeks and Brandon Phillips.
One could make a strong case for Weeks.
Weeks averages 156 hits, 23 HR, 67 RBI and a .255 batting average.
In 2011, Weeks hit .269 and 20 home runs while batting in 49 runs total.
However, Phillips tops Weeks in nearly every category in 2011 and in their respective careers.
Last year alone, Phillips hit .300 with 18 home runs and 82 RBI. His efforts won him the Silver Slugger Award for the best hitting second baseman in the National League.
Most know Brandon Phillips for his dazzling defense. On highlights weekly, Phillip earned his second consecutive Gold Glove Award flashing a .987 fielding percentage.
He also was an All-Star for the second time in his career.
Third Base: Aramis Ramirez
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33-year-old third baseman Aramis Ramirez is still top dog at third base, at least in the NL Central.
To unseat Ramirez as the best, they'll need to top his 2011 .284 batting average, 26 home runs and 93 RBI.
He guards the hot corner well too, fielding a percentage of .948. Reds third baseman Scott Rolen blew most of the competition away with a .975 fielding percentage, but didn't produce at the plate.
2012 may be Ramirez' last season to claim the title of best third baseman in the NL Central.
Shortstop: Starlin Castro
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The competition for best shortstop is fierce.
Surprisingly, Alex Gonzalez of the Milwaukee Brewers and Clint Barmes of the Pittsburgh Pirates may have the best glove work of the bunch. Barmes doesn't hit well enough to be considered the best. Gonzalez has some pop, but hitting for average isn't his best attribute.
Rafael Furcal and Starlin Castro are complete packages.
As Furcal continues to get older, injuries follow. He's played an average of 92 games in the last two seasons. After being traded midway through the 2011 season, Furcal increased his batting average but took a huge hit on fielding percentage.
Starlin Castro has maintained similar stats and has the benefit of youth on his side.
In just his second year, Castro hit .307 and raked in 207 hits. He also flashed dazzling leather, locking down a .961 fielding percentage.
Left Field: Ryan Braun
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You can't deny the 2011 NL MVP from consideration for the best left fielder in the NL Central.
Just to put up a fight, Matt Holliday can throw his hat into the ring, but it's still hands down Braun.
187 hits, 33 home runs, 111 runs batted in and 33 stolen bases are just some of his impressive stats from last year.
The rest include: .332 BA/.397 OBP/.597 SLG/.994 OPS.
Not that Braun needs more recognition, but he only committed one error on defense in 2011.
Center Field: Andrew McCutchen
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Between Drew Stubbs, Nyjer Morgan, Jon Jay and Andrew McCutchen, center fielders in the NL Central are incredibly talented.
Stubbs hits decently, flashes some power and fields his position. But he doesn't hit for average or produce runs and move people over well enough.
Morgan raked last season, but the jury is still out whether he'll be consistent in Milwaukee or if his first year was a flash in the pan. In addition to questions of consistency, Morgan has no power at all.
Jon Jay should only continue to get better, but he's not the best of the best yet.
Andrew McCutchen, on the other hand, consistently gets more than 120 hits a season. Likewise, he's a lock for at least 20 stolen bases or more every year.
The 5'10'', 190-pound outfielder produces tons of power for his size. In 2011, he hit 23 home runs.
Though his batting average dipped to .259, his on base percentage remained at a respectable .365.
The combination of hitting, speed and defense nails down the top spot for McCutchen.
Right Field: Carlos Beltran
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In the closest competition of the best positions in the NL Central, Carlos Beltran beats out Corey Hart and Jay Bruce.
For one more year that is.
In a side-by-side comparison of the three right fielders, Beltran tops the others in hits, batting average and fielding percentage.
Beltran produced the second most RBI of the three at 84. His 22 home runs were the "worst," but still very respectable for the soon to be 35-year-old.
Corey Hart is consistent, no doubt about it. But he's second best in nearly every category mentioned.
Jay Bruce owns immense power. If he can hit for average and become better defensively, this category is his.
How Do the Astros Stack Up?
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St. Louis Cardinals, 2
Milwaukee Brewers, 2
Cincinnati Reds, 2
Chicago Cubs, 1
Pittsburgh Pirates, 1
Houston Astros, 0
But while they may not have any of the best positional players in the NL Central yet, there's still hope.
The team is stock full of young talent. Second baseman Jose Altuve could become a premier middle infielder. Fans and management hope Jed Lowrie finds his groove. Jordan Schafer is already on his way to becoming a household name.
Only time will tell.
Sorry Astros fans. 2011 isn't your year.
But hey, there's always next year.