Every team has a star player; a face of the franchise. Some teams are lucky enough to have a handful of star players.
Endless arguments can be made regarding where players rank compared to one another, and often it is hard to look past the bias that comes with rooting for your favorite team's players.
With that in mind, here is my take on the top 100 players in the game right now, taking into account their past track record, early season performance in 2012 and whether their career is on the way up or the way down.
*Note: Since this is titled Top 100 players "right now," you will not find on this list guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Victor Martinez, Ryan Howard, Chris Carpenter and others who are either going to miss the entire season or will at least have their season significantly shortened by injury.
Just to clarify something that I thought I made clear in the introduction but apparently did not, "right now" does not mean who has the best stats through 15 games.
It means who are the 100 best players in the game at this moment. Just because someone like Albert Pujols is off to a slow start does not mean he plummets down this list, and on the other side of things just because someone like Josh Willingham is off to a hot start does not make him one of the best in the game.
Based on the comments I have received so far, I thought this could use some clarifying, so hopefully this helps people understand.
Also, I will admit, David Wright was a glaring omission on my part and he deserved a spot on the list. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter on the other hand were not omissions, and I stand by them not being on the Top 100.
Ranked by Baseball America as the No. 1 prospect entering the 2009 season, Wieters scuffled in his first two big-league seasons before breaking out last year with a .262 BA, 22 HR, 68 RBI line that earned him his first All-Star appearance.
He's off to a hot start with four HRs and nine RBI, and he is more than capable of a .300 BA, 25 HR, 80 RBI season in the not-too-distant future.
Incredibly inconsistent throughout his big-league career, Jurrjens' first- and second-half splits last year were baffling, as he went 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA in the first half and just 1-3 with a 5.88 ERA in the second half.
Still, he has the stuff to be a staff ace if he can find some consistency, and while he has not done that so far to open the 2012 season (0-1, 8.10 ERA), he's still just 26 years old and has time to emerge as the staff ace he has looked like at times.
Held to just 85 games last season due to injury, Choo posted back-to-back 20-20 years in 2009 and 2010, and is still only 29 years old—there is no reason to think he won't return to form this season now that he's healthy.
After a .300 BA, 20 HR, 86 RBI, 21 SB season in 2009, his first year as an everyday player, Choo had .300 BA, 22 HR, 90 RBI, 22 SB in 2010 and finished 14th in AL MVP voting.
Axford took over as the Brewers closer midway through the 2010 season, going 24-of-27 on save opportunities. He showed the Brewers enough that the job was his going into the 2011 season, and he went on to win the Rolaids Relief Man award.
He converted 46-of-48 save opportunities with a 1.95 ERA, and dealt with the addition of Francisco Rodriguez at the deadline by simply pitching too well for the team to even consider giving K-Rod any save chances.
He's incredibly streaky at the plate, strikes out a ton and has hands of stone at second base, but at the end of the season you know what you're going to get from Dan Uggla.
Since coming into the league in 2006, his HR/RBI marks have been 27/90, 31/88, 32/92, 31/90, 33/105 and 36/82, as he has power that few second basemen in baseball history have shown. That's enough to earn him a spot on the list, although there is no question he is a one-dimensional player.
After bounding between the rotation and bullpen in 2009 and 2010 and posting a 5.52 ERA in 195.2 innings of work, Holland finally secured a rotation spot last year and went 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA.
He was good enough last year that the Rangers felt okay letting C.J. Wilson walk in free agency and handing over the front-of-the-rotation duties to Holland and Colby Lewis, and so far he has impressed with a 2-0 record and 3.10 ERA through his first three starts.
He's far from flashy, but Garcia has been a very effective starter since joining the Cardinals rotation to open the 2010 season.
He has gone 26-15 with a 3.17 ERA over the past two years and is off to a 2-0 start with a 3.06 ERA this season. With Chris Carpenter shelved and Adam Wainwright struggling as he returns from injury, Garcia will need to carry the rotation along with Kyle Lohse.
After nine productive seasons with the Cubs, Ramirez left for Milwaukee in free agency, as the Brewers signed him to ease the loss of Prince Fielder.
Back problems have nagged him throughout his career, but he showed he was still capable of putting up numbers when healthy with a .306 BA, 26 HR, 93 RBI season last year. Even at 34, he's a great hitter and one of the most productive third basemen in the league.
After an up-and-down six seasons with the Mets after signing a massive free-agent contract, Beltran had a solid contract year with a line of .300 BA, 22 HR, 84 RBI. The Cardinals signed him to help replace some of the production lost with the departure of Albert Pujols.
He's 35 years old and a shell of the five-tool player he once was, but Beltran is still a very good hitter and is off to a great start with a .333 BA, five HR and seven RBI through 12 games.
Buehrle spent his first 12 seasons in the big leagues with the White Sox, going 161-119 with a 3.83 ERA and giving White Sox fans plenty of memorable moments, including a no-hitter and a perfect game.
This offseason he left for Miami, signing a four-year, $58 million deal to bring a veteran presence to a young Marlins rotation.
Despite a 1-2 record, he has a solid 2.66 ERA on the season and he pitched a gem against the Cubs his last time out, going eight innings and allowing just one run.
A 20/20 threat early in his career, Hart stepped up his power game in 2010 with a .283 BA, 31 HR, 102 RBI season, but that was halted last season when he was moved into the leadoff spot.
He still hit 26 home runs, but that resulted in just 63 RBI. He stole just seven bases, leading the Brewers to move him back into a run-production role this season.
And rightfully so, as he could be a 30 HR, 100 RBI guy in the right situation.
Valverde has been one of the game's best closers since his time with the Diamondbacks, and he was a perfect 49-of-49 on save opportunities last season as he led the league in saves for the third time in his career.
He blew a save on Opening Day this season to put an end to that streak, but regardless, he is as close to a sure thing as there is in the ninth inning of games, and is at least deserving of recognition for what he accomplished last season.
Hanson has been consistently solid since joining the Braves rotation as a 22-year-old in 2009, and he has a career line of 33-24, 3.30 ERA, 447 Ks, 477.1 IP.
While those numbers are good, he was thought of as a future ace and Cy Young contender when he was coming through the system—to this point, he has yet to take that next step towards stardom.
Cabrera made a splash as a 21-year-old rookie in 2007, as he impressed enough in a 45-game audition that he won the starting second base job for the Indians' postseason run.
However, that was followed by three subpar seasons, as he was never able to put it all together. However, last season something apparently clicked, as he had a .273 BA, 25 HR, 92 RBI and 17 SB and earned a three-year, $21.05 million contract in the process.
Whether it was a case of a player having a career year or a sign of things to come remains to be seen, but the success of the Indians offense hinges heavily on their 26-year-old shortstop.
Last year's postseason hero, taking home NLCS and World Series MVP honors, Freese has struggled to stay healthy since becoming the Cardinals' starting third baseman in 2010.
Over those two seasons, he's played a combined 167 games, hitting .297 BA, 14 HR, 91 RBI over that span and it is certainly possible for him to put up those kind of numbers over one season if he can stay healthy.
He is off to a great start, with a .375 BA, three HR and 13 RBI, but staying healthy remains a concern until he proves he can.
Billingsley has been a solid pitcher since joining the rotation in 2007, winning double-digit games each season and compiling a 63-48 record with a 3.66 ERA. However, he has yet to take the next step toward being a top-of-the-rotation starter.
That is until this season, and while it has been just three starts, it is hard to ignore his 2-0, 1.33 ERA, 17 Ks line through 20.1 innings of work. This could be a big year for Billingsley, and if he can solidify the No. 2 rotation spot behind Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers could be a dangerous team.
The sample size is a small one, but it is impossible to ignore the .295 BA, 19 HR, 82 RBI season that Avila put together last season in helping the Tigers to the ALCS.
He's only 25, and while that is likely the ceiling as far as his offensive numbers are concerned, he could post numbers in that ballpark for the next five or six years as one of the game's top backstops.
Or, that could have been a matter of everything going right and he could slip back to mediocrity. Time will tell.
Not quite your prototypical slugging DH, Butler is nonetheless a very productive hitter and coming off a career-high 95-RBI campaign in 2011.
He is still only 26, with five full seasons under his belt, and there is certainly the chance that he steps his production up a notch and puts up a .300 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI season—but even if he stays at the same level, an improving lineup around him should help his bottom line.
Always a slick fielder and good base-stealer, Andrus took a big step last season offensively, as he hit for a .279 BA with five HR, 60 RB and 96 R to go along with a career-high 37 steals.
Hitting in the Rangers' stacked lineup, not much is expected of Andrus offensively, so anything he does above his 2010 numbers (.265 BA, 0 HR, 35 RBI) is just icing on the cake.
The Reds mortgaged a good deal of their future to acquire Latos this offseason, as they were well aware of the fact that their rotation was what kept them from competing in the NL Central a year after they won the division.
Latos is only 24, but already has 75 starts under his belt. While he's off to a rough start in Cincinnati (0-2, 8.22 ERA), he has terrific stuff and should help solidify that rotation as the season goes on.
However, you can't undersell the effect that a move from Petco Park to Great American Ballpark will have on his performance.
He'll never hit for high average (.242 career, .236 in 2011), but Young is a consistent 20/20 threat who draws enough walks to offset his average in the on-base percentage department (.322 career, .331 in 2011).
He is capable of a 30/30 season and is in the midst of a terrific opening month, as he has a .410 BA with five HR, 13 RBI and two SB over his first 11 games.
A highly-touted third-base prospect taken with the second overall pick in the 2005 draft, Gordon was viewed as a safe, can't-miss selection and was fast-tracked to the majors, winning the starting third base job out of camp in 2007.
However, he struggled mightily over the first four years of his career, bouncing between the majors and minors and posting an average line of .244 BA, 11 HR, 40 RBI.
The Royals moved him to the outfield in 2010, and gave him the starting left field job last year in what was likely his final chance to secure an everyday job.
He responded with a .303 BA, 23 HR, 87 RBI, 17 SB line, hitting mostly out of the leadoff spot. He also tallied 20 outfield assists and won the Gold Glove. That got him a four-year, $37.5 million extension and some job security for the first time in his career.
After a so-so rookie season in 2009, Cahill broke out with an 18-8, 2.97 ERA sophomore campaign that earned him a four-year, $30 million extension.
However, after a subpar 2011 in which he went 12-14 with a 4.16 ERA, the A's decided to sell high on the 24-year-old and dealt him to the Diamondbacks for a prospect package that included top prospect Jarrod Parker.
He joins a deep Diamondbacks team looking to build off of last season's surprise postseason trip, and he is off to a nice start with a 1.35 ERA through 13.1 innings of work in his first two starts.
A notoriously hot starter, Ethier was ridiculous last year over the season's first month, as he had a .380 BA with three HR and 16 RBI, only to tail off as the season went on and eventually finish with a disappointing .292 BA, 11 HR, 62 RBI line, due in part to injuries.
He is capable of much more, as evidenced by his .272 BA, 31 HR, 106 RBI season
If he can stay healthy, playing in a contract year, he could be in line for huge numbers.
Just two years removed from a season in which he was the talk of the baseball world with a 15-1 record, 2.20 ERA and 113 Ks first half of the season, Jimenez has been unable to duplicate that magical run.
After a messy parting of ways from Colorado in a trade deadline deal last year, the Indians are now counting on Jimenez to regain his ace form and help carry a young team that made an impressive run last season to the next level.
Somewhere in there is the pitcher from 2010, and that potential is enough to earn him a spot at this point on the list.
A late bloomer, Cruz was not an everyday major leaguer until 2009 when he was 28 years old, but he was a beast right off the bat, hitting .260 BA, 33 HR, 76 RBI, 20 SB.
In his three years as a starter, he has an average line of .278 BA, 28 HR, 80 RBI, 15 SB, but he has also averaged just 120 games per season, as he has had trouble staying healthy.
The important thing is that he is healthy for October, as he was out of his mind in hitting for a .364 BA with six HR and 13 RBI over six games in the ALCS last year.
One of the most versatile players in all of baseball, Zobrist played six different positions in 2010 before settling in as the Rays' everyday second baseman last season.
Now he is back in the outfield, playing regularly in right field. Regardless of where he plays in the field, he continues to put up impressive offensive numbers, as he hit for a .269 BA with 20 HR, 91 RBI and 19 SB last season to finish 16th in AL MVP voting.
A top prospect as a starter in the Rangers organization, Feliz was converted to closer in 2010 and won the AL Rookie of the Year with a 40-save season. He followed that with another dominant season closing games in 2011, but was moved to the rotation to open the 2012 season.
He has continued to dominate in a starting role, with a 2.25 ERA over 12 innings of work, although his strikeout numbers are way down. In the end, it appears that Feliz has the pure stuff to succeed in any role.
After a terrible 2010 season that saw him hit just .268 with 13 HR and 63 RBI and then lose his starting job during the team's postseason run to Juan Uribe, Sandoval recommitted himself to baseball and came back with a terrific 2011 season.
Not only was he back to his productive self offensively, hitting .315 BA, 23 HR, 70 RBI, but he was also a vastly improved defender at third base, posting a 1.5 dWAR and ranking as one of the three finalists for the Gold Glove.
Victorino is the baseball version of a player who fills up the box score, as he does a little bit of everything and ends the season with an impressive stat line. Last year, he had 27 doubles, 16 triples, 17 home runs, 61 RBI, 95 runs and 19 steals.
That, coupled with his plus-defense, gave him a 5.1 WAR, the best of his career. As Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins have aged, Victorino has become more and more relied upon in the Phillies lineup, hitting everywhere from first to fifth.
Ignoring for a moment his .239 batting average last season, Santana hit 27 HR and had 79 RBI with a .351 on-base percentage in his first full season in the majors.
If his minor-league track record (.290 BA) keeps up, he won't hit that low again. While he may not be a .300 hitter, his power and run production ability is for real.
Something in the neighborhood of a .280 BA, 30 HR, 90 RBI season is by no means out of reach in 2012. He could be one who climbs a ton between now and next season.
Acquired from the A's for four prospects, Gonzalez has quietly become one of the best left-handers in all of baseball, going 31-21 with a 3.17 ERA over the past two seasons in Oakland.
After a rocky first start this season in which he went just 3.2 innings and allowed four runs, he has gone seven innings and allowed no runs in back-to-back starts. The 26-year-old was signed to a five-year, $42 million contract this offseason and is just part of a terrific Nationals staff.
The third-overall pick in the 2008 draft, Hosmer entered the 2011 season as the No. 8 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. After a .439 BA, three HR, 15 RBI start over his first 26 games at Triple-A, he forced the Royals' hand and earned an early call-up.
He went on to hit .293 BA, 19 HR, 78 RBI, 11 SB to finish third in AL Rookie of the Year voting.
He is now the cornerstone of the Royals' continuing rebuilding efforts, as he should regularly hit .300 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI within a couple of seasons.
It isn't always pretty, but Pence has produced at a high level since entering the league back in 2007, as he is a career .293 hitter with 162-game averages of 25 HR and 91 RBI.
The Phillies traded four prospects, including first-base prospect Jonathan Singleton, to the Astros at the deadline last year to get him. Pence gave the team an immediate jolt, hitting .324 BA, 11 HR, 35 RBI in 54 games after being acquired.
This may be a bit generous of a ranking, considering Kimbrel is in just his second full season as the Braves closer, but his career line is absolutely ridiculous and there is no question he has the best stuff of any closer in baseball.
Over 104 career appearances, he has 51 saves, a 1.68 ERA and an absolutely ridiculous 15.3 K/9 mark.
He has not just closed games, he's completely dominated hitters.
The key acquisition in the trade that sent Erik Bedard to the Mariners, Jones has gotten progressively better over his four seasons as the Orioles' starting center fielder.
Last year, he hit .280 BA, 25 HR, 83 RBI, 12 SB—at 26 years old, he is just entering his prime. Hitting in the middle of the order for an improved Orioles team, he could be one of the breakout stars of 2012 if everything goes right.
The Brewers' starting second baseman since 2005, Weeks finally turned a corner in 2010, as he stayed healthy and hit .269 BA, 29 HR, 83 RBI, earning a four-year, $38.5 million extension in the process.
He built off of that with a .269 BA, 20 HR, 49 RBI season last year that earned him his first All-Star appearance. Now, the Brewers are counting on him to pick up some of the run production that left along with Prince Fielder.
Now the ace of the Reds staff, Cueto was dominant over 24 starts last season, going 9-6 with a 2.31 ERA which would have been good for second in the NL had he qualified, but he threw just 156 innings.
He is off to a great start in 2012, with a 1-0 record and 1.89 ERA over his first three starts. If the Reds hope to return to the postseason, they will need their rotation to step up, starting with Cueto.
The fantastic career of David Ortiz looked to be wrapping up when he hit .238 over 541 at-bats in 2009, but that was simply a bump in the road, as he is back to top-tier production the past couple of seasons.
A .309 BA, 29 HR, 96 RBI line was enough for the Red Sox to bring him back on a one-year, $14.58 million contract for the 2012 season, and he is roping to the tune of a .383 BA with one HR and 10 RBI in the early going.
When the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre last offseason, that meant Michael Young would be pushed off of third base and moved into a DH/UT role.
While he did not take to that move right away, he eventually accepted it—and good thing for the Rangers he did, as he had a line of .338 BA, 11 HR, 106 RBI hitting in the middle of their potent lineup.
He's once again in a utility role this season, and off to a roaring start with a .400 BA, two HR and 12 RBI. When the term "professional hitter" is thrown around, Michael Young is the first guy who comes to mind.
Last season's AL Rookie of the Year, Hellickson made the transition from minors to majors seamlessly, posting a 13-10 record and 2.95 ERA.
The Rays are loaded with talented young pitchers, including this year's Rookie of the Year hopeful Matt Moore, but Hellickson has proven he can be dominant and is off to a good start again this season with a 2-0 record and 3.26 ERA over his first three starts.
Perhaps the most unappreciated player of the past 15 years, Konerko has done nothing but produce every year since joining the White Sox back in 1999.
He hit a rough patch from 2007-2009, putting up an average season of .260 BA, 27 HR, 80 RBI, but he bounced back in a big way, and over the past two seasons he has averaged .306 BA, 35 HR, 108 RBI.
At 36 years old, he is once again off to a hot start with a .370 BA, one HR, nine RBI start through 12 games.
As recently as 2009, Mauer likely would have cracked the top 10 of this list. Even in 2010, he would have been a shoo-in for the top 50, but injuries have left his future production level in question.
Mauer won three batting titles over a four-year span from 2006-2009, and even when he saw his home run total drop from 28 to nine in 2010, he still hit .327 and finished eighth in AL MVP voting.
He claims to be at 100 percent, and he is currently hitting .280 with one HR and seven RBI, so he is producing. Time will tell if he can return to his elite level.
Called up and handed the Cubs' everyday shortstop job at the age of 20 in 2010, Castro hit .300 with three HR, 41 RBI and 10 SB that season, and he has been a constant source of hope for Cubs fans ever since.
In his first full season last year, he hit .307 BA, 10 HR, 66 RBI, 22 SB and led the NL with 207 hits. His defense still needs work and he's not finished developing as far as his power game is concerned, but he is already one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball at age 22.
Beckett has been incredibly inconsistent since joining the Red Sox, as he's been as good as a 20-7, 3.27 ERA, 194 Ks line in 2007 and as bad as a 6-6, 5.78 ERA, 116 Ks line in 2010.
However, he was very good last season in going 13-7 with a career-best 2.89 ERA, and he is still one of the best postseason pitchers of all time. So while he is not the most reliable guy, the talent is certainly there and he is still just 32 years old.
Ranked as the No. 1 prospect by Baseball America heading into the 2008 season, Bruce has progressed slowly, but he took a big step forward last season and made his first All-Star appearance because of it.
With a line of .256 BA, 32 HR, 97 RBI, he provided another big bat along with Joey Votto in the middle of the Reds order. While he struck out 158 times, he also walked a career-high 71 times and posted a respectable .341 on-base percentage.
Still only 25, he should continue to improve his plate discipline in the years to come.
Posey was called up in 2010 to bolster a weak Giants offense, and he wound up carrying them all the way to a World Series title as he hit .305 BA, 18 HR, 67 RBI to win NL Rookie of the Year and finish 11th in NL MVP voting.
He was off to a nice start to open last season before he suffered a broken ankle on a collision at home plate that ended his season. The Giants offense struggled mightily without him, but is playing well to open the 2012 season with him back in the lineup, as he is hitting .361 so far.
The Cubs dealt a five-player package to the Rays last offseason to acquire Garza, and he responded with the best season of his career, going 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA and 197 Ks to set career highs in ERA and Ks.
There was a good deal of talk about the team moving Garza this offseason, as the Cubs continue to rebuild, but it is looking more and more like he will be a big part of their future plans. He is off to a great start in 2012, with a 1-1 record and 3.66 ERA to go along with 21 strikeouts in 19.2 innings of work.
McCann announced himself as one of the league's premier catchers as a 22-year-old rookie back in 2006, when he hit .333 with 24 HR and 93 RBI. While that still ranks as his best season to date, he has been the league's most consistent offensive backstop since that time.
With an average line of .287 BA, 22 HR, 86 RBI over that span and proven durability having caught at least 128 games in each of those seasons, he is without question a premier catcher.
Few second basemen have been as productive for as long as Phillips, who was once a failed Indians prospect after coming over from the Expos in the infamous Bartolo Colon trade.
Since his first season in Cincinnati back in 2006, he has posted an average line of .280 BA, 21 HR, 81 RBI, 22 SB and won three Gold Glove awards. He's as complete a second baseman as there is in the league, and that earned him a 10-year, $98 million extension this offseason.
The 2012 season will be when we find out which Carlos Gonzalez is the real one: the guy who hit .336 with 34 HR and 117 RBI in 2010 or the one who hit .295 with 26 HR and 92 RBI last season.
Injuries were a big reason for his drop-off last season, as he played 18 fewer games and was not at 100 percent much of the time. My guess is that he winds up closer to his 2010 numbers when all is said and done, although the .336 batting average may be expecting a little too much.
Napoli has always had plus power, but he took his game to another level last season, as he hit .320 BA, 30 HR, 75 RBI in his first season with the Rangers.
He can be wildly inconsistent, but when he gets hot he is as dangerous as any hitter in baseball. You need look no further than his last four games, over which he has hit .500 with five HR and 10 RBI—that after starting the season 2-for-20 with two RBI.
The combination of a rocky start to the 2012 season (0-2, 5.94 ERA) and an overall inability to stay healthy throughout his career, knocks Johnson down this list quite a bit, as the 28-year-old has been a huge disappointment over the past year-plus.
However, all it takes is a look at his 2010 numbers (11-6, 2.30 ERA, 186 Ks) to see why he is still ranked this high, as he has proven to be among the best in all of baseball when he's right. Here's hoping he turns things around fast, because he is fun to watch when he is on top of his game.
Just 22 years old, Bumgarner is only beginning to tap into his tremendous potential, and he already has one fantastic season under his belt.
After impressing in the 2010 postseason in helping the Giants to a World Series title, Bumgarner was in the rotation full-time last season and went 13-13, 3.21 ERA, 191 Ks to finish 11th in NL Cy Young voting. He's one to watch, as he'll likely climb this list significantly on a yearly basis.
It is hard to believe that Zimmerman has never had a .300 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI season so far in his career, although he has reached each of those milestones in separate seasons.
Regardless, it is clear that the Nationals view him as their franchise cornerstone after signing him to an 11-year, $135 million extension this offseason. If he can stay healthy, there is no reason to think he won't put up numbers in the Evan Longoria ballpark—it's just a matter of staying on the field.
After thrilling with his speed over the first two seasons of his career, McCutchen was relied upon to be more of a run producer last season. He finished with a line of .259 BA, 23 HR, 89 RBI, 23 SB, hitting in the three-hole in the lineup.
Only 25, McCutchen is a rare talent. While he will likely continue to sacrifice average for power, McCutchen should produce more than enough to rank among the game's premier outfielders—not to mention being one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball.
No pitcher has improved more over the past three seasons than Romero, as he went from passable starter during his rookie season in 2009 to staff ace in 2011.
His ERA has dropped from 4.30 to 3.73 to 2.92 over the past three seasons, and his strikeouts have increased from 141 to 174 to 178. Now at 27, he is one of the best left-handers in the game and perhaps the most underrated starter in all of baseball.
There may be no current MLB player (see how I eliminated Bryce Harper there) with more offensive potential than Stanton, as he has seemingly infinite power.
Last year, at the age of 21, he hit .262 BA, 34 HR, 87 RBI. While he doesn't rank any higher than this at his current level of production, there is no reason to think he'll be anywhere but the top 10 once he begins to realize his vast potential.
Gallardo assumed the role of Brewers staff ace in 2009 as the Ben Sheets era came to an end in Milwaukee, and he immediately became one of the NL's best pitchers.
Since then, he has gone 44-29 with a 3.69 ERA, and last season he set career highs across the board with a 17-10, 3.52 ERA, 207 Ks line that earned him a seventh-place finish in NL Cy Young voting.
Signed to a seven-year, $120 million deal back in 2010 to protect Albert Pujols in the Cardinals lineup, Holliday is now the man alongside David Freese, Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran.
He has been an All-Star in both his full seasons in St. Louis, and while his bloated stat lines from his time with the Rockies are likely behind him, he is a near lock for .295 BA, 25 HR, 90 RBI with potential for more if he can stay healthy for a full season.
Without question the greatest reliever in baseball history, Rivera has a whopping 606 career saves and a 2.22 ERA over his 18-year career.
He is 42 years old, but there is little question he is still the most trusted reliever in all of baseball, and his cutter is no less dominant a pitch now than it was 10 years ago.
Simply the best there ever was at what he does.
A big-league regular at the age of 20, Beltre put it all together at the age of 25 and hit .334 BA, 48 HR, 121 RBI for the Dodgers in a contract year.
That earned him a big deal with the Mariners, but he was never able to match that production, although he averaged a line of .266 BA, 21 HR, 79 RBI and played Gold Glove defense.
After performing well (.321 BA, 28 HR, 102 RBI) on a one-year deal with the Red Sox in 2010, he signed a five-year, $80 million deal with the Rangers and was terrific last season with a .296 BA, 32 HR and 105 RBI, as he also won his third Gold Glove.
He won't reach his peak season numbers again, but he is among the best third basemen in all of baseball with the numbers he is putting up.
Going all the way back to 2004, Teixeira has had at least 30 HR and 100 RBI every season. In three full seasons with the Yankees, he has posted an average line of .266 BA, 37 HR, 114 RBI.
His average has plummeted over the past two seasons, as he hit .256 and .248, which knocks him down the list a bit, but he is a consistent force in the middle of a good lineup and one of the better defensive first basemen in baseball.
An anchor in the Rays rotation since 2006, Shields struggled mightily as recently as 2010 when he went 13-15 with a 5.18 ERA and allowed an AL-high 34 home runs.
However, he turned that around last season with a fantastic line of 16-12, 2.82 ERA, 225 Ks, as he set career-highs across the board.
He may not repeat those numbers, but he's off to a hot start (2-0, 3.38 ERA)—something along the lines of 15 wins, 3.25 ERA, 200 Ks is certainly a possibility.
The game's premier leadoff hitter when healthy, Reyes managed to win the NL batting title last season despite playing in just 126 games, hitting .337.
He then cashed that success in and joined the Marlins on a six-year, $106 million contract. While the injury concerns are certainly still there, he is as dynamic a table-setter as there is in baseball when he's on the field.
A converted reliever, Wilson is entering just his third season as a starter despite being 31 years old—meaning, if nothing else, he should have a fresher arm than most 31-year-olds.
The past two seasons in Texas he went a combined 31-15 with a 3.14 ERA, and he's off to a strong start in his first season with the Angels with a 2-1 record and 2.37 ERA—that, after signing a five-year, $77.5 million deal to join a rotation that already included Jered Weaver and Dan Haren.
A former first-round pick of the Yankees, Kennedy joined the Diamondbacks prior to the 2010 season and showed some flashes of being a solid starter with a record of 9-10 and a 3.80 ERA.
However, no one could have predicted the quantum leap he took last season, as he went 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting. He's off to a good start in 2012 with a 2-0 record and 3.86 ERA, and he looks to be the real deal.
Coming off a terrible season in which he hit just .243 BA, 10 HR, 45 RBI and played just 92 games, many have forgotten just how dynamic a player Ramirez was.
In the four seasons prior to 2011, he had an average line of .319 BA, 27 HR, 82 RBI, 36 SB and won the NL batting title in 2009 when he hit .342.
The Brewers gave up a ton to get Greinke last offseason, then watched as he posted a 5.66 ERA over his first 12 starts of the season.
From there, though, he went 9-3 with a 2.61 ERA over his next 16 starts, and went 11-0 with a 3.13 ERA at home on the season, as he absolutely owned Miller Park.
Greinke showed what he is capable of in 2009 when he won the AL Cy Young as a member of the Royals after posting a 2.16 ERA. While he has his rough patches, he is a legitimate staff ace.
Going back to the 2007 season, Granderson has been a dynamic offensive player, as he had 38 doubles, 23 triples, 23 HR and 26 SB that season.
However, last year he became a legitimate slugger, as he hit .262 with 41 HR and 119 RBI to lead the AL in RBI and post a new career-high in HR, eclipsing his previous best by 11.
He will again be counted on as a run producer in the middle of the Yankees order, and he is off to a hot start once again with a league-high six home runs to go along with 10 RBI.
If you can get past the low batting average (.255 last season, .276 career), there is not much that Kinsler does not excel at as the catalyst atop the Rangers lineup.
He has posted 30/30 seasons in two of the past three years, and hit .303 with four HR and 20 RBI over 33 playoff games the past two seasons.
He is a rare offensive force at second base.
Few players have put it all together late in their career the way Bautista has over the past two seasons, as he led the AL in home runs back-to-back years, with 54 and 43, respectively.
Not only does he have light-tower power, but he also raised his average 42 points last season to .302 while drawing an AL-best 132 walks for a .447 on-base percentage.
Impressive numbers across the board, and it is still hard to believe just what a force Bautista has grown into after years as a middling utility man.
The story of Josh Hamilton has been a truly amazing one, and he has settled in as the face of the Rangers franchise and one of the most feared sluggers in all of baseball.
He is a near lock to miss time at some point during the season, as the abuse he did to his body in his early 20s is catching up with him—but when he is on the field, few are more productive.
Just take his 2010 season for instance: He played just 133 games but hit .359 with 32 HR and 100 RBI to take home the AL batting title and AL MVP.
A model of consistency since joining the rotation full-time back in 2008, Lester has had at least 15 wins, an ERA below 3.50 and a WHIP below 1.30 in each of those seasons.
He seems to have reached his ceiling as far as his development is concerned, but that is more than enough to make him the Red Sox's most reliable starter and one of the best left-handers in the game.
Not only does he have solid command, but he has also topped the 200-strikeout mark twice, as he really does everything you could ask from a front-of-the-rotation guy.
Lincecum has been absolutely dominant over the past four seasons, going 62-36 with a 2.81 ERA and 977 strikeouts in 881.2 innings of work, winning a pair of Cy Young awards in the process.
However, he has not looked like himself this season, posting a 5.70 ERA over 23.2 innings of work this spring and then an even more troubling 10.54 ERA through 13.2 innings over three starts to open the 2012 regular season.
He has been so good, it is unclear what to make of his terrible start. While it has certainly knocked him down this list a bit, he is more than capable of turning things around and once again dominating.
Since breaking into the league in 2008, Votto has been a consistent force in the middle of the Reds lineup, and he was rewarded in 2010 with the NL MVP after posting a .324 BA, 37 HR, 113 RBI line and leading the Reds to the NL Central crown.
He does not have top-tier power, but he is as safe a bet as anyone for a .300 BA, 25 HR, 100 RBI season year-in and year-out. He'll be putting up those numbers in a Reds uniform too, after inking a 12-year, $251.5 million extension this month.
The Angels gave up a good deal to acquire Haren from the Diamondbacks at the deadline in 2010, including Joe Saunders and top prospect Tyler Skaggs.
However, he has paired with Jered Weaver to form a lethal 1-2 punch atop the Angels rotation—a rotation that has only gotten better with the addition of C.J. Wilson.
He was seventh in AL Cy Young voting last season with a 16-10, 3.17 ERA, 192 Ks line, and it should be more of the same over the next few seasons as the Angels look to make a run at a title.
When Victor Martinez went down with a season-ending injury before spring training even began, it was clear that the Tigers needed to make a move to add a DH—but few expected that move to be a nine-year, $214 million contract for Prince Fielder.
He and Miguel Cabrera form arguably the best 1-2 punch in all of baseball, and coming off of a season in which they made the ALCS, the Tigers have to be viewed as legitimate World Series contenders with the addition of the big slugger who has averaged 38 HR and 108 RBI over his six full big-league seasons.
A big leaguer at the age of 20 and a full-time rotation member by the following season, Cain already has 206 starts under his belt and is only 27 years old.
He's coming off the best season of his career, as he went 12-11 with a 2.88 ERA and 179 Ks last season, and that has carried over to a good start this year, as he is 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA and a shutout through his first three starts.
The Giants made him the highest-paid right-hander in baseball history this offseason, with a six-year, $127.5 million extension. With Tim Lincecum struggling, Cain could very well be viewed as the ace of the staff.
The Red Sox gave up a package of four players to acquire Gonzalez from the Padres last offseason, then turned around and locked him up with a seven-year, $154 million deal.
He immediately rewarded them with a .338 BA, 27 HR, 117 RBI season that included a .354 BA, 17 HR, 77 RBI first half that had him looking like the MVP favorite.
Finally out of the cavernous Petco Park, and still only 30 years old, Gonzalez is capable of stringing together a full season like his first half and a .320 BA, 40 HR, 120 RBI season is not out of the realm of possibility.
This ranking will undoubtedly draw some skepticism from readers, but the simple fact is Molina is the best catcher in baseball and it's not even close.
He could hit .250 and would still crack the top 100 on his game-calling and defense alone, but after a .305 BA, 14 HR, 65 RBI season last year and a .317 BA, three HR, 10 RBI start to this season, he is now also one of the most productive offensive backstops in the league.
The Cardinals recognized just what he means to the team, locking him up with a five-year, $75 million contract extension that will keep him in St. Louis through 2017.
Taken first overall in the 2007 draft, Price was selected to be the future ace of the Rays. It didn't take him long to move into that role, as he finished second in Cy Young voting in 2010 after a 19-6, 2.72 ERA, 188 Ks season.
His ERA jumped to 3.49 last season, and he went just 12-13, but there is little doubt that given some offensive support, he has the talent to be a perennial 20-game winner and one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.
Pedroia bounced back from an injury-shortened 2010 season in which he played just 75 games with what probably ranks as the best season of his career, as he had a.307 BA, with 21 HR, 91 RBI and 26 SB and won his second Gold Glove, finishing with a 6.8 WAR.
Few players in the league put up the offensive numbers across the board that Pedroia does, and you can count the number of second basemen who do on three fingers. The 28-year-old is undoubtedly the face of one of the most storied franchises in all of baseball, and rightfully so, as he is a fantastic all-around player.
Hamels experienced a tremendous amount of success very early on in his big-league career, leading the Phillies to a World Series in 2008 at the age of 24, as he took home NLCS and World Series MVP honors during the postseason.
Since then, he has continued to grow as a pitcher, and last season he joined the top tier of starters in the game with a 14-9, 2.79 ERA, 194 Ks line that earned him a fifth-place finish in NL Cy Young voting.
He's still only 28 and is currently pitching without a contract for next season, so look out as this could very well be the best season of his career.
Sabathia exercised an opt-out clause in his contract this offseason, then re-upped with the Yankees on a monster eight-year, $182 million contract that will keep him in the Bronx through 2017.
Since joining the Yankees in 2009, Sabathia has gone 59-23 with a 3.18 ERA, topping 230 innings of work each season. He is the definition of a workhorse and gives the Yankees a known commodity at the top of their rotation, as he should be good for 18 wins, 3.25 ERA, 220 IP for years to come.
Still only 24 years old, Upton took a step forward last season, as he set career highs in HR (31), RBI (88) and SB (21) in leading the Diamondbacks to a surprise NL West title.
While most guys would only be starting their big-league careers at 24, Upton already has over 2,000 at-bats under his belt and a pair of All-Star selections.
It is only a matter of time before he is a perennial .300 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI, 20 SB guy, and he still has a seemingly limitless ceiling when it comes to the type of player he will be in his prime.
Weaver put together a season in 2011 that more times than not would have ended with a Cy Young award, as he went 18-8 with a 2.41 ERA and 198 Ks.
However, he happened to be pitching in the same league as AL MVP Justin Verlander, so he had to settle for second.
The Angels locked the 29-year-old up with a five-year, $85 million contract that looks to be a steal for Los Angeles, as he is once again off to a hot start going 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA over his first three starts. He is one of the game's best strikeout pitchers, and he should continue to rank among the game's best hurlers for the next several seasons.
Few players mean more to the success of their team than Longoria does to the Rays, and even though he is coming off of a .244 BA, 31 HR, 99 RBI season in 2011, there is little question that he belongs among the game's elite.
A clutch hitter, terrific run producer and fantastic defender, Longoria is the face of a team that is built on pitching. As good as the Rays staff is, the success of the team in 2012 will rely heavily on their superstar third baseman.
It is hard to believe that as recently as 2007, Lee spent time in Triple-A and posted a 6.29 ERA in 97.1 big-league innings. Now he is among the most reliable starters in the game, not to mention incredibly durable.
Look no further than his last start to see the type of pitcher Lee has become late in his career, when he threw 10 shutout innings, needing just 102 pitches, against the Giants.
Add on his amazing postseason track record, and there are few pitchers a team would rather have. Hard to believe he's not even the best pitcher on his own team.
Few prospects have arrived on the big-league scene with more hype than Strasburg, and he immediately backed it up with a 5-3, 2.91 ERA, 12.2 K/9 line over 12 starts in his rookie season before he was shelved and forced to undergo Tommy John surgery.
He made an astonishingly quick recovery, getting back on the field for five starts at the end of last season and dominating with a 1.50 ERA over 24 innings of work.
Any remaining questions surrounding his health have been put to rest with a 2-0, 1.42 ERA, 9.0 K/9 start to the 2012 season, and he looks every bit the once-in-a-generation talent he was hyped up to be.
As the fantastic careers of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez wind down, Cano has emerged as the Yankees' offensive leader. With a .307 career average and legitimate 30-HR power at a position where that is hard to find, Cano is a bona fide superstar.
Speed is the only tool lacking from the 29-year-old's game, as he plays stellar defense on top of contending for batting average and RBI titles. His current contract is up after the 2013 season, so expect Cano to net a huge payday in the not-too-distant future.
Given the opportunity to build a franchise around one player, there are few guys most people would rather have than Tulo', as he does everything and does it incredibly well.
Over the past three seasons, he's averaged a line of .304 BA, 30 HR, 97 RBI, while winning a pair of Gold Gloves and finishing in the top 10 in NL MVP voting each season.
He's just entering his prime at 27 years old, and expect nothing short of .300 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI production and Gold Glove defense for the next several seasons from the shortstop in Colorado.
King Felix fell into the background a bit last season, overshadowed by the phenomenal seasons of Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw—but the fact remains he's still one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball.
While it did not reflect his Cy Young numbers of 2010, his 2011 season was solid, as he went 14-14 with a 3.47 ERA. If only he were pitching for a contender, it would not only add wins but could also provide some added motivation.
Nonetheless, he's phenomenal and still only 26 years old, so the best could still be ahead.
What started off as a fantastic offseason for Ryan Braun, as he wrapped up the best season of his career (.332 BA, 33 HR, 111 RBI, 33 SB) by winning the NL MVP over Dodgers star Matt Kemp, quickly turned into a rough winter after Braun tested positive for PEDs.
He was able to overturn his 50-game suspension thanks to a technicality, but a shadow of doubt nonetheless hangs over his accomplishments. With that said, he is still one of the most productive players in the game, and even with the loss of Prince Fielder, he could help carry the Brewers to the postseason once again in 2012.
Simply taking into account the season Kershaw had last year, when he went 21-5 with 2.28 ERA and 248 Ks to capture the NL pitching Triple Crown and NL Cy Young, would put him in the top 10 on this list.
However, when you factor in that he is still only 24 years old and could conceivably get better, he is pushed into the game's top tier of players and will play a major role along with Matt Kemp in turning things around in Los Angeles.
Last season, Verlander became the first pitcher to win both the Cy Young award and the MVP since Dennis Eckersley did it with the Athletics in 1992. He achieved the rare feat with a 24-5, 2.40 ERA, 250 Ks line that included a league-best 0.920 WHIP.
The Tigers seemingly went all-in on their current group of players when they signed Prince Fielder this offseason, and if they make a serious postseason run it will be on the back of their 29-year-old ace.
While Albert Pujols has long been regarded as the best hitter in the game, Cabrera has matched him season-for-season since first becoming a full-time regular in 2004 at the age of 21, as he's averaged a line of .320 BA, 33 HR, 115 RBI over that span.
Still only 29, he is coming off the first batting title of his career, as he hit a career-best .344. Now that he has Prince Fielder protecting him in the lineup, he could be in line for the best season of his career.
To put it simply, Pujols is the greatest hitter of his generation and among the greatest to ever play the game. Sure, he had a "down" year last year and is not off to a roaring start in 2012, but he has been too good for too long not to get the benefit of the doubt.
Will the Angels regret his 10-year, $240 million deal five years from now when he's 36 years old and making $25 million?
Probably, but for now he makes them a legitimate World Series contender, and there is little doubt he'll put up numbers by season's end.
Halladay continues to use a vast arsenal of pitches and pinpoint command to dominate hitters as the ace of a fantastic Phillies staff.
Dating back to 2006, he has finished no lower than fifth in Cy Young voting in any season, and has a combined record of 109-49 with a 2.86 ERA and an MLB-best 46 complete games.
He's off to another great start in 2012 with a 3-0 record and 1.17 ERA through his first three starts, and he shows no signs of slowing down or relinquishing his spot as the game's top pitcher, even at the age of 35.
Kemp thrust himself into the game's upper echelon of players last season, with a .324 BA, 39 HR, 126 RBI, 40 SB season that many believed warranted the NL MVP award, despite the Dodgers' poor play.
However, with his ridiculous start to the 2012 season, hitting .451 BA with seven HR and 18 RBI through 51 at-bats, there is little doubt as to who the most talented overall player in the game today is.
Kemp is the true definition of a five-tool player and someone capable of making a legitimate run at the Triple Crown this season.