Regular-Season Report Cards for MLB's Top 50 Superstars

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2012

Regular-Season Report Cards for MLB's Top 50 Superstars

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    Earlier this season, on April 21, I published an article breaking down who I felt were the 100 best players in Major League Baseball at that moment.

    That did not mean who had the best stats to that point in the season, but based on their career body of work and, specifically, how they performed the previous season, they were who I believed to be the 100 best players in the league.

    Then, at midseason, I published another article looking back at the top 50 from that original list and grading their play over the season's first half.

    Now that the regular season has come to a close, here is one final look at how the game's top 50 players entering the season performed in 2012, complete with final-season grades.

50. LF Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A)

    Through the season's first half, Gonzalez has been every bit the superstar he was when he broke out in 2010, as he has been the lone bright spot on a bad Rockies team.

    His home/road splits indicate that his success is at least due in part to playing half of his games in Coors Field, but either way he is statistically among the most complete offensive players in baseball.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: B-)

    Gonzalez hit just .261 BA, 5 HR, 27 RBI in the second half, as a hamstring injury plagued him; he was unable to match his first-half performance on a struggling Rockies team.

    Still, he proved that, when healthy, he is every bit the dominant offensive force he was during his breakout 2010 season and finished with a solid .303 BA, 22 HR, 85 RBI line.

49. Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: C-)

    Mike Napoli's average has dipped back down to where it's been in the past, as he's hitting .235, and his power has come in waves, resulting in 12 HR and 30 RBI so far.

    He's far from deserving of his status as an All-Star game starter, and it looks as though his 2011 season will mark a career year, not a breakout.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: C-)

    I hit the nail on the head in my midseason assessment, as Napoli's 2011 season was the exception as opposed to the rule, and he has essentially returned to his previous form.

    With a .230 BA, 24 HR, 56 RBI line on the season, he still has plus-power for a catcher hitting in the bottom of a good Rangers lineup, but it's safe to say he has no business being in the top 50 anymore.

48. SP Josh Johnson, Miami Marlins

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: B+)

    Since his above-mentioned slow start, Johnson has gone 5-3 with a 3.36 ERA, and he was nothing short of dominant in June with a 1.87 ERA over five starts.

    Just as importantly, he has stayed healthy this season, and he is once again the unquestioned ace of the Marlins staff.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: B)

    While his 8-14 record does not necessarily reflect it, Johnson was solid this season as he stayed healthy enough to make 31 starts and posted a 3.81 ERA over 191.1 innings of work.

    He was rumored to be available at the deadline and could wind up being traded this offseason; he should bring the now-rebuilding Marlins a solid return if they do opt to deal him. 

47. SP Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A)

    One of the bigger All-Star snubs this season, Bumgarner is having a terrific season with a 10-4 record and 2.85 ERA through 16 starts.

    With Tim Lincecum not pitching like himself, the rest of the Giants staff has taken their games to another level, and thanks in part to the play of Bumgarner, the Giants rank among the top teams in the NL West.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A-)

    Bumgarner was not quite as dominant in the second half, going 6-6 with a 3.50 ERA, but he remains one of the NL's better starters and the Giants' No. 2 arm behind ace Matt Cain.

    He has more postseason experience than most guys his age, as he made four appearances (three starts) for the Giants during their 2010 playoff run. He'll be relied on heavily this time around as the Giants look to return to the Series. 

46. 3B Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

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    My Early-Season Assessment 

    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 six-year, $100 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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: D)

    A shoulder injury landed Zimmerman on the DL in late April, prompting the call-up of Bryce Harper, and the Nationals stand as one of the top teams in the National League right now.

    However, Zimmerman has struggled this season to a .241 BA, 6 HR, 35 RBI line, and if he can turn things around in the second half it would make the Nationals that much better.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (B+)

    Finally healthy in the second half, Zimmerman has led the Nationals offensively since the All-Star break with a line of .319 BA, 16 HR, 54 RBI. 

    When he's right, there are few third basemen better than he is, and he'll look to continue his impressive second-half play during the Nationals' postseason run.

45. CF Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A+)

    The Pirates are once again in the thick of things in the NL Central as we enter July. And while their pitching has been great, their offense has struggled to a .241 average as a team and ranks among the bottom in most categories.

    That is by no fault of McCutchen's, though, as he's hitting .352 BA, 15 HR, 52 RBI, 14 SB and is a legitimate MVP candidate.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A)

    Both the Pirates and McCutchen fell off in the second half, as the team once again finished with a losing record despite its impressive start, and McCutchen hit a less-impressive .289 BA, 13 HR, 36 RBI.

    That said, McCutchen's season line of .327/.400/.553, 31 HR, 96 RBI, 107 R is still awfully impressive and should only be a sign of things to come for the budding superstar.

44. SP Ricky Romero, Toronto Blue Jays

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: C-)

    I was admittedly very high on Romero entering the season and expected him to take another step forward and become a legitimate superstar atop the Blue Jays rotation.

    His current line of 8-3, 5.35 ERA, 74 Ks, 55 BB, 104.1 IP has put him in position for the worst season of his short career. With the starting rotation hit hard by injuries, the team needs Romero to step up now more than ever, and he'll look to turn things around moving forward.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: D-)

    The 2012 season was a rough one for the Blue Jays in general (unless your name was Edwin Encarnacion), as they were hit as hard by injuries as any team in recent memory.

    One of the few pitchers who managed to stay healthy was their Opening Day starter Romero, but he struggled to the tune of a 9-14 record and 5.77 ERA, including a 1-10 record and 6.62 ERA in the second half. The Blue Jays will badly need him to return to form next season if they hope to push toward contention.

43. RF Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A)

    Stanton has taken a big step towards realizing that vast potential in the first half this season, as he has a .283 BA, 19 HR, 50 RBI batting line and will get a chance to showcase his power in this year's home run derby.

    He's one of the most exciting players in the game today, and it will be interesting to see what he can do on a national stage that highlights his best tool.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A-)

    Shortly after writing my midseason assessment, an injury sidelined Stanton and wound up keeping him out of the All-Star Home Run Derby. He ended the season playing in 122 games with 446 at-bats.

    In 70 fewer at-bats this season, he managed three more home runs (37) and just five fewer hits (130) than last season. That should be a sign of what's to come, as the 22-year-old is only getting better and should have no problem reaching 40 HR and 100 RBI over a full season of at-bats, with potential for significantly more.

42. SP Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: B-)

    After a disastrous April in which he had a 6.08 ERA through five starts, Gallardo has righted the ship and gone 5-4 with a 3.09 ERA in 12 starts since.

    The Brewers have struggled this season, and they could look to sell off some of their major pieces like Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. However, Gallardo will remain a key piece of their present and future as they look to get back into contention sooner rather than later.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A)

    Gallardo put any remnants of his rough start behind him in the second half, with a 9-3 record and 3.57 ERA after the All-Star break.

    That allowed him to finish the season with a 16-9, 3.66 ERA, 204 Ks, 204 IP line, as he is once again the ace of the Brewers' staff and pitched like it for the bulk of 2012.

41. LF Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A)

    While he's not an All-Star this season, the numbers are there once again as he has hit .311 BA, 13 HR, 51 RBI and remained relatively healthy.

    He still has four more guaranteed seasons on his contract, but at 32 he remains a top-tier offensive player and a solid value even with a $17 million salary.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A)

    Holliday remained healthy all season and turned in an impressive .295 BA, 27 HR, 102 RBI season with an .877 OPS anchoring the middle of the Cardinals lineup.

    Now he'll look to carry that over into the postseason, as the Cardinals used another late-season push to make the playoffs and certainly have experience on their side.

40. RP Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment: (Grade: F)

    A freak injury shagging balls during batting practice left Rivera with a torn ACL, and after undergoing surgery he will more than likely miss the rest of the season.

    The 42-year-old intends on coming back next season, and there is no reason to bet against him doing so, but the 2012 season has been a wash. Luckily for the Yankees, Rafael Soriano has stepped up in his absence.

    My End-of-Season Assessment: (Grade: Incomplete)

    Nothing changed from midseason, as Mo missed the entire year. He is set to hit free agency and will no doubt either return to the Yankees on a one-year deal or hang it up.

39. 3B Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A+)

    While I was correct in saying Beltre likely won't ever reach his peak-season numbers again, he is well on his way to the best season since that year. 

    A .323 BA, 14 HR, 52 RBI line has earned him his second straight All-Star start, and he has served as the ideal protection for Josh Hamilton in the Rangers' potent lineup.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (A+)

    While Josh Hamilton has the gaudier numbers, a good case can be made that Beltre has been the Rangers' best hitter this season with a .318 BA, 36 HR, 101 RBI line.

    He's been far more consistent than Hamilton, and his .916 OPS combined with stellar defense puts him into the upper echelon of third basemen in the game today.

38: 1B Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: C)

    Teixeira is notorious for heating up as the weather gets warmer, and as it is his numbers are decent, as he's hitting .246 BA, 13 HR, 45 RBI on the season.

    Still, the power is down a bit, and his .328 on-base percentage is well below his career average (.370), so he'll really need to pick things up in the second half to reach his standard numbers.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: D)

    Instead of picking things up in the second half, Teixeira struggled to a .257 BA, 9 HR, 29 RBI line through 41 games before a calf injury sidelined him for nearly all of September.

    He's back in the lineup as we approach the playoffs, and he has a chance to give the Yankees a big boost in October, but his regular season was a forgettable one at best.

37. SP James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: C-)

    Shields has been a horse for the Rays this season, ranking fourth in the AL in innings pitched (111.2) but his numbers are nowhere near where they were last season.

    He's 8-5 on the season but has a 4.11 ERA and 1.41 WHIP; in the end, he's not as bad as he was in 2010 and not as good as he was last season. The Rays likely would have been wise to deal him in the offseason when his value was highest.

    My End of Season Assessment (Grade: A-)

    Shields was terrific in the second half, going 7-5 with a 2.81 ERA in helping the Rays make a solid second-half push.

    He finished up the season going 15-10, 3.52 ERA, 223 Ks, 227.2 IP as he was "Big Game James" more times than not this year. It will be interesting to see if the Rays shop him this offseason, as they have a number of holes in their lineup a deal could help fill.

36. SS Jose Reyes, Miami Marlins

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: D)

    No one expected Reyes to contend for the batting title again this season, but a .220 average through the season's first month raised some eyebrows as to what the Marlins had gotten themselves into with that contract.

    He's raised his average to .272 since then, and the Marlins' team as a whole has been a major disappointment, as they played well in early June but have bottomed out. Reyes certainly can't be blamed for that, but he also has not provided the spark the Marlins hoped he would and is currently being outperformed by Omar Infante.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: C)

    While the Marlins completely fell apart in the second half and sold big at the deadline, Reyes played much better after the break with a line .313 BA, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 19 SB.

    He finished the season with a respectable .287 BA, 11 HR, 57 RBI, 39 SB season, but that far from justified the $100 million contract the Marlins inked him to this past offseason. 

35. SP C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A)

    The Rangers were quick to let Wilson depart for greener pastures in the offseason, and with a whopping six key pitchers currently on the DL, they would no doubt like to have the left-hander back.

    His numbers have been dominant once again, with a 9-4 record and 2.33 ERA through his first 17 starts, and after a slow start the Angels have finally played up to expectations of late and are one of the hottest teams in baseball.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: B+)

    Wilson was not quite as dominant in the second half, but he still finished the season with a solid 13-10, 3.83 ERA, 173 Ks, 202.1 IP line.

    The team signed him to a five-year, $77.5 million deal last December, and while the team fell short of the postseason expectations, the Wilson signing has certainly proven to be a good one.

34. SP Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: D+)

    One of the breakout stars of 2012, Kennedy has been the definition of average this season, as his 4.20 ERA gives him an ERA+ of 100, indicating the exact league average.

    He's one of a handful of Diamondbacks players who have underperformed, as the team has fallen short of expectations after a surprise NL West title. If the 27-year-old can return to form in the second half, it would go a long way towards getting Arizona back on track.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: C+)

    Kennedy managed to maintain his league average ERA+ to the end of the year, as he posted a 4.16 ERA and went 15-11 for the disappointing Diamondbacks.

    Both Wade Miley and Trevor Cahill put together better seasons than Kennedy, and the Diamondbacks will look for the 27-year-old Kennedy to return to his ace form of 2011 moving forward.

33. SS/3B Hanley Ramirez, Miami Marlins & Los Angeles Dodgers

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: D)

    Ramirez has settled in at third base, and he's managed to stay healthy to this point, but his offense has still not returned to its previous elite level.

    He's hitting .259 BA, 12 HR, 43 RBI through 78 games, which is a little better than what he put up through 92 games last season, so it's an improvement but still a long way from where he once was.

    My End of Season Assessment (Grade: C)

    Ramirez struggled through 93 games with the Marlins, hitting .246 BA, 14 HR, 48 RBI before being dealt to the Dodgers at the deadline when Miami slid out of contention.

    He played better in L.A., hitting .274 BA, 10 HR, 44 RBI. He'll look to put together a full season at that level with the Dodgers, as he is signed through the end of the 2014 season.

32. SP Zack Greinke, Milwaukee Brewers & Los Angeles Angels

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    "The Brewers gave up a ton to get Greinke last offseason and 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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A)

    The Brewers have struggled mightily this season, and as a result they could opt to blow things up at the deadline and start restocking what is a relatively thin farm system.

    One player who has not struggled is Greinke (9-2, 3.08 ERA), and he is set to hit the free-agent market at season's end. He could be the biggest trade chip on the market if the Brewers make him available.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A)

    Greinke wound up being the prize of the trade deadline, with the Brewers dealing him to the Angels for a handful of their top prospects, led by shortstop Jean Segura.

    He went 6-2 with a 3.53 ERA in 13 starts with the Angels, and while that was not enough to propel the team into the postseason, he has set himself up for a big payday in this year's free-agent market.

31. CF Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: B)

    Granderson has answered the call as a go-to run producer for the Yankees once again, with a solid line of .244 BA, 23 HR, 48 RBI so far this season.

    His average is low, and he strikes out a lot (93 Ks, fourth in MLB), but he is a reliable power bat in the middle of the Yankees order and a solid defensive player to boot.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: B-)

    Not much has changed since midseason, as Granderson has continued to strike out a lot (193 Ks, second in MLB) and his average is even lower than it was at .230.

    He has also remained a significant power source, with 41 HR and 102 RBI, and though he was dropped in the lineup at one point this season, he will be counted on to produce in the middle of the lineup this postseason.

30. 2B Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: B+)

    Another year, another complete offensive line from Kinsler, as he has a .276 BA, 9 HR, 40 RBI line with AL bests in doubles (26) and runs (61).

    He'll never be a prototypical leadoff hitter, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, as Kinsler brings far more to the table than most second basemen and still serves as a catalyst for the Rangers offense.

    My End of Season Assessment (Grade: B-)

    Kinsler's numbers are down across the board this season, with .257 BA, 19 HR, 72 RBI and 21 SB, even with the second baseman managing to stay healthy all season and play 157 games.

    He remains one of the most dynamic players in baseball at his position, and a key cog atop the Rangers' potent offense. But as far as his production is concerned it has not been his best year. 

29. RF Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: B)

    Bad luck has contributed to a slow start for Bautista, as he has a .208 batting average on balls in play, yet despite that he has an AL-high 27 HR to go along with 64 RBI.

    He's raised his average to .243, and his terrific plate discipline has led to a solid .360 on-base percentage, so given the circumstances it is reasonable to think that Bautista could be even better in the second half. 

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: D)

    It was more bad luck for Bautista in the second half, only this time in the form of wrist injury that limited him to just six games in the second half.

    Wrist injuries are always tricky as far as how a player bounces back, but the thought of a full season with him and Edwin Encarnacion raking in the middle of the Blue Jays lineup will be cause for excitement in Toronto heading into 2013.

28. CF Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A+)

    Yikes, undershot this ranking a bit, didn't I? Hamilton has been phenomenal this season with a .316 BA, 25 HR, 73 RBI line that puts him in the hunt for his second AL MVP award. 

    He's been relatively healthy with 74 games played so far, and if he can avoid a major injury in the second half, he'll put up better numbers than he did in his 2010 MVP season. 

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A)

    Hamilton slumped badly to open the second half, as he hit .188 BA, 2 HR, 15 RBI over the first 21 games after the break.

    However, he managed to right the ship and put up an impressive .285 BA, 43 HR, 128 RBI line on the year. Injuries have limited him down the stretch, but he'll be counted on to power the middle of the Rangers lineup in what is hoped to be an extended postseason stay.

27. SP Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: D)

    Pitching has been a serious sore spot for the Red Sox this season, as no regular starter has an ERA under 4.00, and Lester has been one of the biggest culprits of the struggle.

    The generally reliable left-hander has struggled to a 5-5 record and 4.53 ERA this season, as he has looked far from the staff ace he had emerged as in recent seasons.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: D)

    The Red Sox's 2012 season has been a disaster. Players have underperformed from top to bottom, and Lester was certainly among the bigger culprits as the team's supposed staff ace.

    In 33 starts, he went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA, and his strikeouts were down to 166 after averaging 211 punch-outs over the past three seasons. He, like the Red Sox as a whole, will look to bounce back in 2013.

26. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: D-)

    The struggles have continued for Lincecum, who now has a 3-8 record and a 5.60 ERA through 16 starts on the season. 

    Given how well the rest of the staff has pitched and how much better the offense has been, one has to wonder where the Giants would be right now if Lincecum were pitching like an ace. As it is they rank among the best teams in all of baseball, even with him struggling.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: C)

    He hasn't been "The Freak" this season, but Lincecum has turned things around in the second half with a 7-5 record and 3.83 ERA in 15 starts.

    He'll get the No. 3 spot in the Giants rotation in playoff play, and with a few big starts he could very easily put this subpar season in his rearview mirror. 

25. 1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A+)

    Another massive under-ranking on my part—you could certainly make a case for Votto being one of the game's top 10 players as of right now.

    With Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder gone, he is the unquestioned top first baseman in the National League, and his .350 BA, 14 HR, 47 RBI line made him the runaway selection to start at first base for the NL in the All-Star game.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: B-)

    Votto was sidelined with a knee injury on July 15 and did not return until September 5, with rookie Todd Frazier coming up big to fill the hole in his absence.

    Because of that, he managed just eight RBI and no home runs in 84 second-half at-bats, though he has still hit over .300. He has a chance to come up big in the postseason and make up for missing so much of the Reds' second-half push.

24. SP Dan Haren, Los Angeles Angels

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: D)

    Haren has not kept up with his teammates and fellow aces Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson so far this season, as his 6-7 record and 4.53 ERA put him on par with Jerome Williams and Ervin Santana instead.

    He's been particularly bad of late, with a 7.94 ERA over his last four starts (although he went 3-1 in those outings), and as good as the Angels have been over the past month, they'd be that much better with Haren pitching like he can.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: C-)

    Haren has been better in the second half, going 6-5 with a 3.58 ERA in 13 starts, and he has posted an ERA just 0.02 higher than ace Jered Weaver since the break.

    There is no question that Haren has ace stuff when he's on, but the Angels will need to decide if it is worth picking up his $15.5 million option in hopes he can pitch up to his potential.

23. 1B Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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 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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: B)

    While his power numbers are down slightly, the Tigers can't be unhappy with a .300 BA, 12 HR, 53 RBI line from Fielder so far, as the Fielder-Cabrera duo has been as good as everyone expected.

    As a team, however, the Tigers have been a massive disappointment, and when they invested the money they did in Fielder, it was to make the team a serious World Series contender now.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A)

    It's not hard to be overshadowed by Miguel Cabrera with the season he's having, but Fielder has been solid in his own right this year with a .312 BA, 30 HR, 108 RBI season.

    While what Cabrera has done is amazing and a result of his tremendous offensive skill set, the presence of Fielder hitting behind him has no doubt played at least some role in Miggy's Triple Crown achievement.

22. SP Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A)

    Forget "Cain could very well be viewed as the ace of the staff," he is undoubtedly the ace of the Giants staff now, even if Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner have similar, if not better, numbers so far.

    His perfect game earlier this season ranks among the most dominant single games in baseball history, and he has made the Giants look brilliant for shelling out that money to lock him up.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A+)

    Cain has been fantastic all season, going 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA over 219.1 innings of work atop the Giants' impressive rotation.

    He has a great postseason track record, with zero earned runs allowed in 21.1 innings of work, and he'll look to build on that success starting with Game 1 of the NLDS.

21. 1B Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox & Los Angeles Dodgers

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    The Red Sox gave up a package of four players to acquire Gonzalez from the Padres last offseason and 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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: C)

    He has not approached those ridiculous first-half numbers of last season, as it has been a trying season at times for Gonzalez on his way to a .272 BA, 6 HR, 43 RBI line thus far.

    He should be commended for accepting a brief move to right field prior to the Kevin Youkilis trade with true professionalism, and his numbers are by no means bad, but there is no doubt he's been a bit of a disappointment to this point.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: C)

    At the center of the massive Dodgers-Red Sox blockbuster deal, Gonzalez did not provide the spark the Dodgers hoped he would be, hitting .296 BA, 3 HR, 21 RBI in 35 games in Los Angeles.

    His power was way down this season, as he hit a career-low 18 home runs, but still managed 107 RBI and represents a major upgrade over James Loney moving forward in L.A.

20. C Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A+)

    It's been over two months, and I still stand by my ranking of Molina this high, as he has done nothing to discourage me from calling him the best catcher in baseball by a long shot (with all due respect to the season that Carlos Ruiz is having).

    A .309 BA, 13 HR, 45 RBI line so far has made him not just a premier offensive catcher, but one of the best hitters in baseball, as he's on pace for a monster season for a backstop.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A+)

    Yep, I still stand by my ranking of Molina, who is without question the most complete catcher in all of baseball and trails only Buster Posey as far as offensive production at the position this season.

    His .315 BA, 22 HR, 76 RBI line, .874 OPS and standard stellar defense should result in a fairly high finish in NL MVP voting. He is undoubtedly the most important player on the Cardinals roster.

19. SP David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A)

    Price has bounced back nicely from what could be considered a down year last year, as he is tied for the AL lead with 11 wins and has a 2.92 ERA.

    The Rays have been anemic offensively, and James Shields and Matt Moore are off to less than dominant starts, but the performance of Price has helped keep them among the best in the AL.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A+)

    Price has been phenomenal in the second half, going 9-1 with a 2.27 ERA in 14 starts to pull his season line to 20-5, 2.56 ERA, 205 Ks.

    He's a legitimate AL Cy Young candidate, and there is little question he is part of the upper tier of starters in the game today.

18. 2B Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    Midseason Assessment (Grade: C-)

    Like much of the Red Sox roster, Pedroia has been a disappointment this season with a .268 BA, 6 HR, 33 RBI line through his first 73 games.

    He's on his way to the worst offensive season of his career if he doesn't turn things around. I wouldn't bet against the scrappy 28-year-old, but it's not been good thus far.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (B-)

    Pedroia turned things around in the second half despite a tough situation surrounding him in Boston, with a .312 BA, 9 HR, 32 RBI in the second half.

    With the Red Sox seemingly headed for a rebuild, he'll be a cornerstone moving forward as someone the team can count on and build around.

17. SP Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A)

    While it's not been the best season of his career, Hamels has stood out as one of the few bright spots on a Phillies team that is a shell of what it was just a few years ago.

    Hamels is an All-Star with a 10-4 record and 3.08 ERA to go along with 111 strikeouts in 111 innings of work. If the Phillies continue to struggle, they could become sellers, and Hamels would make for a earth-shattering trade chip.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A)

    Hamels kept it up in the second half, finishing the season with a 17-6 record and 3.05 ERA with 216 strikeouts.

    The Phillies opted against dealing him in July, instead locking him up with a six-year, $144 million deal. He will be a part of the changing face of the Phillies moving forward.

16. SP CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    Sabathia exercised an opt-out clause in his contract this offseason and 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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: B-)

    Currently nursing a groin injury, Sabathia has been one of the few consistent performers in a patchwork Yankees rotation that will likely be addressed at the deadline.

    A 9-3 record and 3.45 ERA have earned the big left-hander an All-Star nod, and the Yankees need him to avoid any further injuries moving forward, as they simply don't have the pitching depth to deal with losing their ace.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: B)

    Sabathia returned well enough from injury and was once again a horse atop the Yankees rotation. He finished the season 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA and still managed 200 innings despite making only 28 starts.

    The Yankees staff is questionable beyond him and Hiroki Kuroda, so they'll need the big leftty to be at his best in the postseason if they hope to make a run.

15. RF Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    "t 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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: D-)

    Upton got off to a very slow start this season, as he was hitting just .221 BA, 3 HR, 10 RBI on May 16, but he's turned things around since with  .310 BA, 4 HR, 24 RBI line. That said, he's still fallen well short of expectations.

    It is slowly becoming an "if" as opposed to a "when" concerning Upton finally taking the next step and becoming one of the game's true superstars. For the sake of the Diamondbacks' success, he at least needs to put up similar numbers to last season.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: C)

    Upton got back on track a bit in the second half, hitting .280 BA, 10 HR, 30 RBI, but he was still far from last season's breakout numbers and far from what he is capable of producing.

    The Diamondbacks made waves when they claimed they were willing to listen to offers on Upton at the deadline, and while he was not dealt, the team could revisit those trade talks this offseason.

14. SP Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: B+)

    He's missed a few starts due to injury, but Weaver has still managed to put up a 9-1 record with a sterling 2.13 ERA over 14 starts on his way to an All-Star nod.

    There's not much more to say, as he has clearly emerged as one of the game's elite starting pitchers and needs only to stay healthy to rank among the best in all of baseball.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A)

    With a 20-4 record and 2.73 ERA to show, Weaver should be right in the thick of things again when it comes time for AL Cy Young voting.

    He's pitching at as high a level as any pitcher in the game right now and, at 30, should have at least a few more top-tier seasons left in him.

13. 3B Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    Few players mean more to the success of their team than Longoria does to the Rays, and even though he is coming off 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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: F)

    An already thin Rays offense has been lost without Longoria, who has played in just 23 games this season and last played on April 30 before going down with a partially torn hamstring. He was in the midst of a terrific start when it happened with a .329 BA, 4 HR, 19 RBI line.

    The team has gotten by with guys like Elliot Johnson and Sean Rodriguez manning the position, but the Rays sorely need their offensive leader back if they hope to return to the postseason. 

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: C+)

    Longoria hit .262 BA, 10 HR, 33 RBI in the second half after finally returning from his hamstring injury, and the Rays were a different team upon his return, as they immediately turned things around and made a serious run at the postseason.

    He is still as important to his team as anyone in the league, and the Rays can't afford to have him miss significant time again moving forward.

12. SP Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: D-)

    If you had told me Lee would be winless through his first 13 starts, I would have called you crazy, but that's exactly where he stands, as the Phillies have struggled mightily.

    In all he's 0-5 with a 4.13 ERA, and he is one of a bevy of disappointments in Philadelphia this season. He's been too good recently to truly be this bad, but could this be the beginning of a decline for the 33-year-old?

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: B)

    Lee's 6-9 record is a deceiving one, as he pitched well enough to post a 3.16 ERA and strike out 207 over 211 innings of work.

    The Phillies had a tough season from top to bottom, but Lee remains one of the best arms in the game and should have no problem getting back on track with the type of performance expected of him next season.

11. SP Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    Few prospects have arrived on the big-league scene with more hype than Stephen 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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A+)

    Any doubts that Strasburg was completely recovered from Tommy John surgery have been put to rest with a fantastic first half in which he has gone 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA and 122 strikeouts in just 93 innings of work.

    The Nationals still say they will shut him down at some point this season, though it's unclear when, and that will be one of the more interesting storylines to follow if the Nationals remain in the thick of things all season. 

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A)

    Strasburg was eventually shut down after 159.1 innings of work over 28 starts, finishing the year with a line of 15-6, 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts.

    Time will tell if the Nationals come to regret not having the flame-throwing right-hander in the playoffs, but it is easy to understand why they'd want to protect an asset like Strasburg.

10. 2B Robinson Cano, New York Yankees

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A+)

    Even with a .267 BA, 1 HR, 4 RBI first month of the season, Cano currently has a .315 BA, 20 HR, 48 RBI line on the season, as he has truly emerged as one of the top offensive talents in the game.

    He is on a tier of his own as far as second basemen are concerned, and he has been as vital to the Yankees' success this season as anyone on the roster.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A+)

    Cano remains the most dynamic second baseman in all of baseball. He should be a lock for a .300 batting average and 30 home runs for the next several seasons and is in line for a huge payday very soon.

    He's on an absolute tear right now, going 20-for-39 with 14 RBI over his past nine games. The Yankees can only hope that carries over into the postseason with him now hitting cleanup.

9. SS Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: F)

    It was business as usual for Troy Tulowitzki until a groin injury put him on the shelf, and while it took doctors a while to figure out what exactly was wrong, he was eventually diagnosed with a nerve issue in his left leg.

    The issue will require surgery, and while the resulting surgery is expected to sideline him for eight weeks, it could wind up ending his season, as the Rockies will have no reason to rush their superstar back.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: Incomplete)

    The surgery did in fact end Tulowitzki's season, but in his absence the team got a long look at prospect Josh Rutledge at shortstop, and Rutledge could factor into the team's long-term plans as the everyday second baseman.

    Tulowitzki, though, remains a key cog in the team's offense, and losing him no doubt played a big part in the team's horrible season. He should be back to 100 percent to open next season to help the Rockies get things back on track.

8. SP Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: B+)

    Oh the numbers Felix Hernandez could have pitching elsewhere, but alas, he's signed with the Mariners through 2014 and is the ace of a team currently in the midst of a rebuild.

    He's the team's lone All-Star representative, and rightfully so, as despite a 6-5 record he has posted a 3.09 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 110.2 innings of work.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A)

    Once again, Hernandez turned in a terrific season in which his record (13-9) was not necessarily indicative of just how good he was on the mound.

    He was a horse, throwing 232 innings and striking out 223, and he continues to be a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing M's squad. With a number of top prospects on the way, the Mariners could turn things around quickly moving forward.

7. LF Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A)

    Braun currently leads the NL with 23 HR, as he is having his usual fantastic season across the board with a .309 BA, 58 RBI and 13 SB.

    However, the offseason controversy appears to still be following him, as he was not voted as a starter to the All-Star season after posting high vote totals in each of the past four seasons.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A+)

    Braun teamed with Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart to form one of the best offensive trios in all of baseball in 2012. As good of a season as those other two had, there is no question Braun was the offensive leader.

    He posted a second straight 30/30 season this year while setting a new career high with 41 home runs to lead the NL. Those numbers gave him a WAR over 7.0 for the second year, and despite the controversy, there is no doubt he still ranks among the game's premier sluggers.

6. SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A)

    His 6-4 record does not tell the story, as Kershaw has been dominant once again this season with a 2.65 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 115.1 innings of work over his first 17 starts.

    The Dodgers should be as active as anyone at the deadline, and while they will benefit from adding some pieces to the mix, they will need Kershaw to stay healthy and continue to anchor the rotation above all else.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A+)

    While his numbers weren't quite as good as his Cy Young stats of 2011, Kershaw still led all of baseball with a 2.53 ERA and struck out 229 hitters in 227.2 innings of work.

    He also led the league with a 1.02 WHIP. While he may not be considered the favorite at this point, he should have an outside shot at winning his second straight Cy Young.

5. SP Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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, along with 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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A)

    The best pitcher in baseball last season, Verlander has been a dominant workhorse once again this season, as he leads all of baseball with 123.2 innings pitched.

    On the season, he's 8-5 with a 2.69 ERA and 121 strikeouts to go along with a dominant 0.98 WHIP. The Tigers rotation could use another reliable starter alongside him at the top of the rotation, because as good as Verlander is, he can't win an AL Central title on his own.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A+)

    The MLB leader in innings (238.1) and strikeouts (239), Verlander didn't quite match his MVP numbers of 2011, but he still had a fantastic season.

    Given the choice of any pitcher in baseball to front my rotation, I'd take Verlander without thinking twice. He'll be relied on heavily by the Tigers throughout the postseason. He's got a real shot at winning his second straight Cy Young as well.

4. 3B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: A+)

    He's not quite on pace for the best season of his career, but a .317 BA, 16 HR, 65 RBI line is nothing to sneeze at, and there is no question he has benefited from having Prince Fielder follow him in the lineup.

    Perhaps more impressively, he's made just eight errors at third base so far this season, and by most statistical metrics, he ranks as an average defensive third baseman.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: A++)

    Cabrera wrapped up the Triple Crown with a line of .330 BA, 44 HR, 139 RBI, becoming the first player to achieve the feat since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

    That should all but assure him of the AL MVP, and he has officially surpassed Albert Pujols as the best hitter in baseball.

3. 1B Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: B)

    May 6. It wasn't until May 6 that Pujols hit his first home run of the season, as he entered play that day with a .194 BA, 0 HR, 5 RBI line through 108 at-bats.

    Since that day, he's hit .315 BA, 12 HR, 43 RBI over 200 at-bats, as he has clearly gotten back on track. The Angels are firing on all cylinders right now, and with Pujols finally dialed in, they can once again be considered legitimate contenders.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: B+)

    With a .305 BA, 16 HR, 54 RBI second half, Pujols showed that his horrendous start to the season was a fluke and not the beginning of the end for the 32-year-old slugger.

    His days of 40 HR and batting-title contention may be behind him, but he should be solid for .300 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI for the foreseeable future. It really is a matter of when, not if, his contract becomes a burden on the Angels, but it doesn't look like 2013 will be the time.

2. SP Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: D)

    A strained lat muscle sideline Halladay on May 29 and put him on the shelf for six to eight weeks, but even before the injury struck he was not the same dominant Roy Halladay.

    A 4-5 record and 3.98 ERA through 11 starts isn't bad, but it was not what we have been accustomed to seeing out of the right-hander for the past several seasons.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: C-)

    Halladay returned healthy in the second half and made 14 starts after the All-Star break. However, he was still far from the Halladay we've come to expect, going 7-3 with a 4.93 ERA.

    It was his worst season since 2004, when he made just 21 starts, and in many ways it was the worst season of his storied career. He'll be 36 next year, and while I expect a better performance, the decline has likely begun for the once-dominant right-hander.

1. CF Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    My Early-Season Assessment

    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.

    My Midseason Assessment (Grade: C-)

    The torrid start continued for Kemp, but injury struck, and a hamstring injury has kept him out of action since June 1.

    Voted to start the All-Star game thanks to a .355 BA, 12 HR, 28 RBI line through 36 games, Kemp won't be back until after the break, and the Dodgers have missed him tremendously.

    My End-of-Season Assessment (Grade: C+)

    Given what he accomplished last season and his incredible start to the 2012 campaign, Kemp's final season line of .303 BA, 23 HR, 69 RBI is nothing short of a disappointment. 

    He didn't run very much at all, with just nine steals in 13 attempts, and shoulder issues could plague him moving forward. Still, as far as tools are concerned, Kemp has as good a chance as any to put up a 40/40 season in 2013—and don't be surprised if he rebounds with an MVP campaign.