Ranking the Top 50 MLB Players from 2012

Doug MeadCorrespondent IDecember 21, 2012

Ranking the Top 50 MLB Players from 2012

0 of 51

    Back in October, I gave my take on the top 50 MLB players of the 2012 season.

    Now over three months later, it's time to look back at those selections and see if anything has changed.

    A re-ordering of sorts could be in the cards for some—the October ranking did not take into account postseason performances. In some cases, players have been added and dropped as well.

    Each player's previous ranking will be listed along with their review.

    Everyone's opinion varies on what constitutes the best, so no doubt a spirited and lively discussion based on each player's merits will ensue.

    In any event, here is a year-end look at the top 50 MLB players in 2012.

Honorable Mention: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

1 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 47

    October Review:

    The Washington Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman has long been considered one of the top third basemen in the National League.

    This year, he reinforced that belief.

    Providing stellar play in the field and at the plate, Zimmerman hit .282 with 25 HR and 95 RBI, helping to lead his Nationals to their first-ever NL East Division title and bringing postseason baseball to the nation's capital for the first time in 79 years.

    While Zimmerman dropped out of the current top 50, his leadership in helping the Nationals bring playoff baseball back to Washington for the first time since 1933 simply can't be ignored.

50. Aaron Hill: Arizona Diamondbacks

2 of 51

    Previous Rank: N/A

    With the current list, Arizona Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill cracks the top 50.

    After a couple of rough seasons, Hill re-asserted himself offensively, hitting .302 with 26 home runs and 85 RBI. He earned the second Silver Slugger Award of his career as well.

    Hill was one of the most consistent contributors for the Diamondbacks offense all season and looks to continue an upward trend in 2013.

49. Kris Medlen: Atlanta Braves

3 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 46

    October Review:

    With the second half put together by Atlanta Braves starter Kris Medlen, he has emerged as one of the bright young pitchers in the National League.

    The Braves brought Medlen along slowly this year after he underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2010. The Braves monitored Medlen's progress by working him out of the bullpen before inserting him into the starting rotation on July 31.

    The results were staggering—Medlen was 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 12 starts, and he and the Braves set an all-time MLB record by registering wins in his last 23 starts dating back to 2010.

    Medlen will start for the Braves in Friday's Wild Card Game with the St. Louis Cardinals, and he will be counted on in the playoffs if he can continue his torrid pace on Friday.

    Arguments against Medlen's inclusion on this list brought up the fact that he essentially only contributed in the second half of the season.

    While that may be true in terms of his role as a starter, Medlen also had a solid impact in the bullpen as well, making 38 relief appearances with a solid 2.48 ERA before his transition to the starting rotation.

48. Yovani Gallardo: Milwaukee Brewers

4 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 45

    October Review:

    The beginning of the 2012 season certainly didn't provide the kind of start originally envisioned by Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo.

    However, he rebounded quite nicely.

    Gallardo bounced back from a horrible April (1-2, 6.08 ERA) to put together another solid season, posting a 16-9 record, 3.66 ERA, 9.0 K/9 rate and over 200 innings for the second consecutive season.

    Gallardo took hold of the reins as the ace of the Brewers staff following the trade of Zack Greinke, posting a 5-0 record and 2.02 ERA in the month of August.

    Gallardo clearly re-established himself as the ace of the Brewers staff upon Greinke's departure. In addition, Gallardo will be only 27 years of age when the 2013 season begins, so the best very well could be yet to come.

47. Allen Craig: St. Louis Cardinals

5 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 44

    October Review:

    The way the 2012 season started for St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig, it looked as though it might be one of disappointment and despair.

    After missing the first four weeks of the season following November knee surgery, Craig was hitting .373 through his first 13 games before a hamstring injury put him back on the disabled list.

    Craig returned again on June 1 and never let his foot off the gas, finishing the season with a .307 batting average, 22 HR, 92 RBI and an .876 OPS.

    Craig has emerged from under the radar as a star.

    Craig's potential is now being realized and he could well be one of the top right-handed hitters in the National League for years to come.

    In addition, his versatility gives Cardinals manager Mike Matheny plenty of options. If prospect Matt Adams emerges as a force, Craig could be utilized in right field or even at second base as well as at first.

    Good health is the key for Craig. If he can manage to stay off the disabled list, the bat is a huge weapon in the Cardinals offense.

46. Alex Rios: Chicago White Sox

6 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 43

    October Review:

    The 2011 Chicago White Sox finished a disappointing 79-83 and saw subpar seasons from three key players—Jake Peavy, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios.

    Rios hit only .227 with 13 HR and 44 RBI, and fans across the South Side railed against GM Kenny Williams for giving Rios a contract extension worth eight figures per season.

    Rios silenced those critics this year.

    A definite candidate for AL Comeback Player of the Year, Rios bounced back in big way, hitting .304 with 25 HR, 91 RBI and 23 stolen bases.

    Those are numbers more worthy of eight figures.

    Rios didn't win Comeback Player of the Year honors, but he was certainly a worthy candidate.

    If Rios can replicate his performance in 2013, it will likely silence critics who believe he wasn't worthy of his lofty contract. 

45. Billy Butler: Kansas City Royals

7 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 42

    October Review:

    Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler continues to develop as a hitter each year, and this year he could have some hardware to add to his mantel as a result.

    Butler hit .313 with 29 HR and 107 RBI and could well earn this year's Silver Slugger Award along with the first All-Star selection earned earlier in the year.

    Butler did in fact capture his first Silver Slugger Award and has established himself as one of the premier designated hitters in the game today.

     

44. Ian Desmond: Washington Nationals

8 of 51

    Previous Rank: N/A

    Upon further review, it was clear that Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond deserved inclusion on this list.

    Despite missing nearly a month with an oblique injury, Desmond hit .292 with 25 home runs and 73 RBI. His .845 OPS was second in the majors among shortstops and his 5.4 WAR was second as well.

    Desmond also captured his first-ever Silver Slugger Award along with his first All-Star selection.

43. Rafael Soriano: New York Yankees

9 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 40

    October Review:

    When New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera went down for the season with a torn ACL on May 3, reliever Rafael Soriano came to the rescue.

    It's not like Soriano didn't know what he was getting himself into—he led the majors with 45 saves in 2010 while with the Tampa Bay Rays.

    Soriano solidified the back end following Rivera's injury, posting 42 saves and a 2.26 ERA. Yankees fans came to look forward to Soriano ripping the jersey out his pants after each save.

    Soriano may not be ripping the jersey out of his pants at Yankee Stadium next season, choosing to opt out of the final year of his contract.

    It's unclear where Soriano will pitch next season, but for the Yankees in 2012 he was indeed special.

42. Kyle Lohse: St. Louis Cardinals

10 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 39

    October Review:

    The St. Louis Cardinals entered the 2012 regular season with question marks regarding their starting rotation.

    Veteran Adam Wainwright was returning from Tommy John surgery the previous spring, and Chris Carpenter was shut down with weakness in his right shoulder that led to surgery in July.

    Kyle Lohse stepped up and asserted himself.

    Lohse put together a 16-3 record, and his 2.86 ERA and 1.09 WHIP were the lowest of his career.

    Lohse may not be a member of the Cardinals after this season, but he certainly didn't hurt his free-agent status.

    Lohse is still unsigned and one of the top pitchers available on the market right now.

    With a 30-11 record and 3.11 ERA over his past two seasons, he likely won't be available much longer.

41. Aroldis Chapman: Cincinnati Reds

11 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 38

    October Review:

    The man known as the Cuban Missile put an extra bit of jet fuel into his mix this season. Opposing hitters flailed aimlessly all year long.

    Cincinnati Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman took hold of the closer role this season and threw nothing but gas. He struck out an amazing 122 batters in just 71.2 innings.

    Chapman struck out 44.2 percent of batters faced (second to Craig Kimbrel), and opposing batters hit just .141 against him.

    Just goes to show what a 100-105 mph fastball can do.

    Chapman and his 100 MPH-plus fastball could be moving to the starting rotation next season.

    But in 2012, Chapman's heater provided many positive results for the Reds in the ninth inning.

40. Yoenis Cespedes: Oakland Athletics

12 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 35

    October Review:

    When the Oakland Athletics signed Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million contract, they really weren't sure what they were ready to receive in return.

    Cespedes had never played professional baseball and had only been seen playing for Cuba in the World Baseball Classic and in workouts in the Dominican Republic.

    It's safe to say the A's have received a good return on their investment thus far.

    Cespedes shined in his first season, hitting .292 with 23 HR, 82 RBI, 16 stolen bases and an .861 OPS.

    Once Cespedes and Coco Crisp traded places in the outfield, the A's completely gelled as a unit; Crisp started hitting much better at the top of the lineup, and Cespedes thrived in the middle.

    Cespedes finished runner-up to Mike Trout in voting for the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

    Considering how well he performed in his first full year of organized baseball outside of Cubs, he figures to continue developing into a potent offensive threat for the A's.

39. Austin Jackson: Detroit Tigers

13 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 36

    October Review:

    The Detroit Tigers offense featured a pretty decent pair of sluggers in Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabera. However, the contributions of center fielder Austin Jackson at the top of the order can't be understated.

    Jackson was terrific all season long, hitting an even .300 with 16 HR, 66 RBI, a league-leading 10 triples and an .856 OPS.

    At 25 years of age, Jackson is becoming a solid all-around leadoff hitter, and the Tigers will be counting on his table-setting skills during the upcoming postseason.

    Jackson did nothing to embarrass himself in the postseason, hitting a respectable .280, including a .353 average in the ALCS against the New York Yankees.

    Jackson will be only 26 years of age when next season starts, so expect him to continue growing and developing into an even better all-around player for the Tigers for years to come.

38. Albert Pujols: Los Angeles Angels

14 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 32

    October Review:

    First baseman Albert Pujols will probably end up taking his share of flak for not delivering the Los Angeles Angels to the postseason in his first year with the team.

    Considering his $240 million contract, it's slightly understandable.

    However, Pujols did put together a pretty solid season after a very rough start. The three-time MVP was hitting just .197 with one homer and 12 RBI on May 14. Pujols rebounded to hit .285 with 30 HR and 105 RBI.

    He also collected 50 doubles, becoming only the third player in MLB history with three 50-double seasons and the first player ever to reach 500 doubles within his first 12 seasons.

    That won't soothe the disappointment of Angels fans, but it does make for some pretty heady stats.

    Even with the heady stats, Pujols was a no-show for much of the first six weeks of the season. He didn't close out the season strongly either, hitting just .269 with one home run in the final month of the season.

    Upon further review, that prompted a descent of six spots on this particular list.

37. Josh Reddick: Oakland Athletics

15 of 51

    Previous Rank: N/A

    The Boston Red Sox traded outfielder Josh Reddick to the Oakland A's last offseason for closer Andrew Bailey and reserve outfielder Mark Sweeney.

    They likely now rue that transaction.

    Reddick came alive for Oakland, leading the way offensively with 32 home runs and 85 RBI. Reddick also showed off a powerful arm from right field, picking up 15 assists along with his first-ever Gold Glove Award.

    Reddick was not included in the original top 50. Hindsight being 20/20 and all, it was clear he belonged.

36. Adam LaRoche: Washington Nationals

16 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 41

    October Review:

    The Washington Nationals first baseman toughed it out through 43 games last year before finally ending his season with surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder.

    Now, LaRoche could well be the National League's Comeback Player of the Year.

    LaRoche proved that when healthy, he can still be an offensive force. He hit .271 with 33 HR and 100 RBI, missing only eight games all season.

    With the Nationals losing Michael Morse, Jayson Werth and Ian Desmond for significant portions of the season, LaRoche was a constant and steady presence in the middle of the order.

    The Nationals are still working to bring LaRoche back into the fold with the two sides currently at an impasse.

    It was clear that LaRoche's impact on the Nationals last season was reason enough to move him up five spots on this list.

35. Stephen Strasburg: Washington Nationals

17 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 34

    October Review:

    Considering he was just 18 months removed from Tommy John surgery, Washington Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg put together a pretty special season.

    Strasburg posted a 15-6 record and 3.18 ERA in 28 starts with a 1.155 WHIP and 11.1 K/9 rate, and he held opposing batters to a .230 average.

    Strasburg will be a cheerleader this postseason due to a team-imposed innings limit, but he certainly made the most of what was given to him.

    Strasburg will certainly be well-rested when he returns for the Nationals next spring. He'll also be expected to continue to carry the load along with Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and the newly-acquired Dan Haren in the Nats' rotation.

34. Cole Hamels: Philadelphia Phillies

18 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 31

    October Review:

    It may have been a lost season for the Philadelphia Phillies, but for starting pitcher Cole Hamels, it was both rewarding and successful.

    Hamels signed a six-year, $144 million contract in late July, the second-richest contract ever signed by a pitcher.

    Hamels was pretty good on the field as well, posting a 17-6 record and 3.05 ERA, striking out 216 batters in 215.1 innings. His 24.9 strikeout percentage was fourth in the league behind Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw and Gio Gonzalez.

    Not much changed in terms of where Hamels belongs on this list. He lost a couple of spots only because of players not originally included in the top 50 in October.

    Hamels in no way is playing second fiddle to Roy Halladay and/or Cliff Lee in the Phillies rotation. His numbers last season and throughout his career thus far clearly displays a history of dominance and excellence.

33. Edwin Encarnacion: Toronto Blue Jays

19 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 30

    October Review:

    The Toronto Blue Jays stumbled through a 73-89 season in 2012, suffering major injuries to Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Sergio Santos and star slugger Jose Bautista.

    But Blue Jays fans did see an offensive explosion from designated hitter/first baseman Edwin Encarnacion.

    Encarnacion caught fire this year, hitting .280 with 42 HR, 110 RBI and a .941 OPS. For his efforts, the Jays signed him to a three-year, $27 million extension in July.

    Next season, Encarnacion is going to have some pretty heady table-setters to provide him with more run-scoring opportunities.

    Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera figure to help out both Encarnacion and Bautista to form a very potent top four in the batting order for the Blue Jays.

32. Chris Sale: Chicago White Sox

20 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 28

    October Review:

    The Chicago White Sox fell short in their effort to win the American League Central Division title this year, but it wasn't for a lack of effort from starting pitcher Chris Sale.

    Converted from the bullpen at the beginning of the season, Sale posted a 17-8 record, a 3.05 ERA, a 9.0 K/9 rate, a .235 BAA and a 24.9 strikeout percentage.

    Pretty darn impressive for his first year in the rotation. While the White Sox may have fallen short of their goal, they likely found a new ace in the process.

    At just 23 years of age, Sale emerged as a force in the rotation for the White Sox. Cy Young Award voters thought so as well as Sale garnered enough votes to place him sixth in balloting.

    Sale dropped four spots in the rankings, mainly due to the inclusion and re-ranking of other players, not so much for a re-thinking of his placement.

31. Johnny Cueto: Cincinnati Reds

21 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 27

    October Review:

    Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto may have failed in his attempt to reach 20 wins in his final start of the season, but the 2012 season overall certainly wasn't a failure in any way.

    Cueto ended up with a 19-9 record, a 2.78 ERA and an NL-leading ERA+ of 151. Cueto led a rotation that saw each starter log at least 30 starts—a pretty remarkable feat in today's day and age.

    Cueto left his only start in the postseason after just eight pitches due to an oblique injury, putting a damper on an otherwise stellar season.

    Still, Cueto has earned his entry onto this list with his performance overall.

30. David Wright: New York Mets

22 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 26

    October Review:

    New York Mets third baseman David Wright suffered a stress fracture in his back last season that limited him to just 102 games. He also endured season-long questions about the Mets' financial problems and whether he would be signed long-term.

    Wright dealt with those questions this year as well, but with a healthy back, he excelled on the field.

    He hit .306 on the season with 21 HR, 93 RBI, an .883 OPS and stellar defense at third base that could earn him a third Gold Glove Award.

    Wright may have lost out on the Gold Glove Award, but he is armed with a new eight-year, $138 million contract extension.

    Wright was one of the few bright spots offensively for the Mets and will now anchor an offense that also features Ike Davis and the newly-acquired hot hitting prospect Travis D'Arnaud.

    The Mets finally did the right thing in keeping Wright in New York for what looks like the rest of his career.

29. Giancarlo Stanton: Miami Marlins

23 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 25

    October Review:

    The Miami Marlins added close to $200 million to their payroll coffers this offseason with the signings of Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Heath Bell.

    The additions made didn't help, as the Marlins suffered through a 69-93 campaign. However, they have to be buoyed by the continuing development and promise of 22-year-old Giancarlo Stanton.

    Stanton led the National League with a .608 slugging percentage, hitting .290 with 37 HR and 86 RBI.

    Arthroscopic knee surgery robbed Stanton of a month of playing time. Imagine what those numbers could have been.

    Stanton is now alone on an island after the transactions made by the Marlins in recent weeks and months. It may be difficult for him to get sufficient run-scoring opportunities next season.

    But there's no questioning his talents and his impact on the offense for sure.

28. Jim Johnson: Baltimore Orioles

24 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 24

    October Review:

    The Baltimore Orioles bullpen was one of the best in the American League in 2012 with a 3.00 ERA. Only the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A's were better.

    The back end of the bullpen was anchored by Jim Johnson, who prior to this season only had 21 saves to his credit in six seasons.

    Johnson showed how much of a savior he can be.

    Johnson led the majors with 51 saves, helping to lead his Orioles to the postseason for the first time in 15 years.

    Johnson is not a flame-thrower, only registering a 5.4 K/9 rate, but he sure missed a lot of bats all season.

    Johnson had a bit of a rough time of things in his first taste of the playoffs, posting a 10.38 ERA in four appearances against the New York Yankees in the ALDS.

    Still, Johnson's value to the Orioles was apparent during the regular season and he was without question a key contributor that helped O's gain a postseason berth for the first time in 15 years.

27. Aramis Ramirez: Milwaukee Brewers

25 of 51

    Previous Rank: N/A

    Milwaukee Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez was left off the original top 50 ranking in October.

    That oversight has been corrected.

    Ramirez was brilliant in his first season for the Brewers. Adding another potent bat to the offense, Ramirez delivered with a .300 average, 27 home runs and 105 RBI.

    He led the National League with 50 doubles and posted an impressive .901 OPS. National League MVP Award voters showed Ramirez some love as well, giving him enough votes to place ninth overall.

26. Joey Votto: Cincinnati Reds

26 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 23

    October Review:

    Ordinarily, a guy who misses two months of the season due to injury might not necessarily warrant a spot on this list. But in the case of Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto, one has to make an exception.

    Votto underwent arthroscopic surgery in mid-July to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, putting him out of the lineup for over six weeks.

    Votto still managed to lead the National League in walks (94) and led the majors in on-base percentage (.474), accumulating a 1.041 OPS along the way. Votto also hit 44 doubles despite missing 51 games.

    In response to previous commenters who felt that Votto was too low on this list, consider the fact that Votto is the only person on this entire list who missed a significant portion of time yet still warranted consideration.

    Had Votto played an entire season, we would easily be talking top five.

25. Matt Holliday: St. Louis Cardinals

27 of 51

    Previous Rank: N/A

    St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday was another player left off the original top 50 list published in October.

    That was another omission that has been corrected.

    Holliday was outstanding in his third full season with the Cardinals, hitting .295 with 27 home runs, 102 RBI and an .877 OPS.

    Holliday garnered his third All-Star selection in as many seasons and continues to provide consistent production in the middle of the Cardinals batting order.

24. Prince Fielder: Detroit Tigers

28 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 22

    October Review:

    Much of the focus in Detroit these days is on Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera and his Triple Crown achievement—and deservedly so.

    However, the first season in Detroit for first baseman Prince Fielder wasn't too shabby either.

    Fielder hit .313—a career high—with 30 HR and 108 RBI. It was the fifth time in six seasons that Fielder has reached the 30 HR/100 RBI plateau. His 182 hits was a career high as well and the third season in the past four that Fielder has played every single game.

    Fielder clearly showed in his first season in Motown that he will be a force in the American League as much as he was previously in the senior circuit.

    Expect even bigger and better things from Fielder in the 2013 season now that he's more familiar with AL pitchers.

23. Felix Hernandez: Seattle Mariners

29 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 21

    October Review:

    The Seattle Mariners starting pitcher may not end up winning the American League Cy Young Award, but he certainly made a case for it throughout much of the season.

    Felix Hernandez finished the year with a 13-9 record, 3.06 ERA and 223 strikeouts in 232.0 innings. Hernandez faded to an 0-4 finish and 6.62 ERA in September and October, likely taking him out of the Cy Young conversation.

    It was only the final month of the season that kept Hernandez from climbing higher on this list.

    Seattle thinks so highly of their prized pitcher that they're currently working on a long-term extension to keep Hernandez pitching in the Northwest for many years to come.

     

22. Adam Jones: Baltimore Orioles

30 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 12

    October Review:

    Often, teams can actually take on the characteristics of their on-field leader. In the case of the Baltimore Orioles, they transformed into a team that feeds off its leader—center fielder Adam Jones.

    Jones continues to put his stamp on the Orioles, hitting .287 with 32 HR and 82 RBI and making highlight-reel defensive plays in center.

    The Orioles have had a cavalcade of stars that left their mark on the franchise, such as Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer and Cal Ripken Jr. Jones' mark on the Orioles is not only being left; it's rubbing off on his teammates too.

    Jones dropped 10 spots in the new ranking. While he has definitely shown he has the ability to be a team leader, he was simply ranked too highly.

    Jones did capture a Gold Glove Award and a sixth-place finish in AL MVP Award balloting. But it was hard to justify him being higher on the list than players like Clayton Kershaw, Matt Cain and Craig Kimbrel.

21. Jered Weaver: Los Angeles Angels

31 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 20

    October Review:

    Los Angeles Angels starter Jered Weaver certainly gave his all in trying to get his team to the postseason.

    Despite a 20-5 record, a 2.81 ERA and a league-leading 1.018 WHIP and 7.0 hits per nine innings, Weaver fell short of his ultimate goal.

    That doesn't take away from a stellar season, and it doesn't take away from his consideration for the AL Cy Young Award either.

    Weaver ended up finishing a distant third in Cy Young Award balloting behind David Price and Justin Verlander.

    However, Weaver fought through a bout of triceps tendinitis and still delivered quality starts regardless. In today's day and age where players end up on the disabled list for hangnails, it's a testament to Weaver's tenacity. 

20. Joe Mauer: Minnesota Twins

32 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 18

    October Review:

    Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer was relatively healthy throughout the entire season—and the results showed.

    The Twins brought in free-agent catcher Ryan Doumit to help give Mauer a break behind the plate, and he spent time at designated hitter and at first base along with 72 games starts at catcher.

    Mauer finished the season with a .319 average, fourth-highest in the American League. His .416 on-base percentage was tops in the AL, and he actually stole eight bases, his highest total since 2006.

    Mauer was clearly aided by the addition of catcher Ryan Doumit, allowing to spend less time on his balky knees.

    If Mauer transitions full-time to first base and takes at-bats as a designated hitter, Mauer can continue to be productive and a major contributor in the Twins offense.

19. Fernando Rodney: Tampa Bay Rays

33 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 19

    October Review:

    When it comes to the Cy Young Award conversation in the American League, the name of Fernando Rodney will definitely be a hot topic of conversation.

    After two lost seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Rodney reinvented himself this year with the Tampa Bay Rays.

    Rodney was about as automatic as one can be—48 saves, a 0.60 ERA, only five earned runs given up in 76 appearances, a 0.777 WHIP, a 5.2 H/9 rate and a 5.07 K/BB rate.

    David Price, Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver all warrant consideration for the Cy Young, but Rodney's name should absolutely be included in that conversation as well.

    Rodney did in fact finish fifth in balloting for the American League Cy Young Award. At a salary of $1.75 million, Rodney may have been the most underpaid player in the league as well.

18. Craig Kimbrel: Atlanta Braves

34 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 33

    October Review:

    Atlanta Braves closer Craig Kimbrel won the National League Rookie of the Year Award by a unanimous decision last season, putting a cap on a tremendous freshman year.

    He may have just outdone himself in his sophomore year, however.

    If Kimbrel was considered close to unhittable last year, he was even more so this year. He notched 42 saves, a 1.01 ERA and a 0.654 WHIP and struck out an incredible 50.2 percent of the batters he faced.

    That shattered the record held by former Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne (44.8 percent, 2003).

    Oh, and batters only hit .126 against him, lending even more credence to his absolute dominance.

    Sometimes, it's just right to admit you're wrong.

    Kimbrel's No. 33 ranking in October was clearly far too low. His dominance all season for the Braves was nothing but magical to watch.

    And to think he's 24 years of age.

17. Matt Cain: San Francisco Giants

35 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 17

    October Review:

    For several seasons, San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain played second fiddle in the rotation to Tim Lincecum.

    Now, the tables have turned.

    Cain put together the best season of his career, posting a 16-5 record, a 2.79 ERA and 1.040 WHIP, and became the go-to guy in the rotation while Lincecum faltered.

    A perfect game certainly added some pizazz to his stellar season as well.

    Cain established himself as the ace of the staff for the Giants, and he delivered again in the playoffs.

    Cain's performance in Game 4 of the World Series kept the Giants in lock-step with the Detroit Tigers until Marco Scutaro delivered the game-winning single to win.

     

16. Gio Gonzalez: Washington Nationals

36 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 16

    October Review:

    There will certainly be much discussion in the National League regarding who is worthy of receiving the Cy Young Award. Gio Gonzalez's name will be right in the middle of that conversation.

    Gonzalez was spectacular in his first season in Washington, posting a 21-8 record, a 2.89 ERA and 207 strikeouts in 199.1 innings.

    Gonzalez will be the man the Nationals look towards to lead them as they bring postseason baseball to Washington for the first time since 1933.

    Gonzalez finished third in National League Cy Young Award balloting behind R.A. Dickey and Clayton Kershaw.

    However, Gonzalez's transition to the NL was nothing less than a smashing success.

15. Chase Headley: San Diego Padres

37 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 15

    October Review:

    The 2012 season will become known as the season of maturity for San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley.

    Headley has been the subject of trade speculation for the better part of two seasons. The Padres may now be looking to lock him up long-term after the year he turned in.

    Headley was a force at the plate this season, hitting .286 with 31 HR and 115 RBI. Both production numbers were easily career highs, and his RBI total led the National League.

    Prospect Jedd Gyorko was reportedly the man to take over at third base if Headley were in fact traded. However, Gyorko may now be the man to take over at second base eventually. Headley may just be too good to go anywhere.

    It seems clear now that Headley's future is no longer in doubt.

    While he was bypassed for the All-Star team, Headley earned a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove award and a fifth-place in NL MVP Award balloting.

     

14. Derek Jeter: New York Yankees

38 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 14

    October Review:

    Throughout his first 17 years with the New York Yankees, shortstop Derek Jeter set records, played with class and dignity and won five World Series rings.

    At 38 years old, Jeter has clearly shown he's not quite finished just yet.

    His manager, Joe Girardi, said that Jeter exceeded all expectations in the 2012 season.

    "I think exceeding everyone's expectations, his leadership, his ability to play hurt," Girardi said. "A guy 38 (years old) is not supposed to get 700 plate appearances. It is not supposed to happen, except for maybe a DH.

    "And he played shortstop every day and he played hurt. It is truly remarkable. For me, it is one of the greatest seasons I have ever seen, considering all the factors."

    Jeter's 216 hits led the majors, and he surpassed the 200-hit mark for the eighth time in his career, tying a franchise mark held by Lou Gehrig.

    Girardi had planned in spring training to schedule regular days off for Jeter during the season.

    I'm guessing he's glad that plan was scrapped.

    Jeter once again proved that he is without question one of the great hitters in the league at the age of 38.

    Jeter broke his ankle in the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers, but considering his track record, no one should be betting against him next season.

     

     

13. Clayton Kershaw: Los Angeles Dodgers

39 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 29

    October Review:

    Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw's 14-9 record doesn't accurately reflect the dominance he displayed once again in 2012.

    Kershaw posted league bests in ERA (2.53), WHIP (1.023) and hits per nine innings (6.7) and was second in BAA (.204).

    Kershaw didn't even allow an aching hip to slow him down, shutting down the San Francisco Giants on the final day of the regular season, allowing only one run on three hits with eight strikeouts in eight innings.

    Kershaw was another player ranked far too low in October.

    His dominance was once again on display, even as his team was wrought with change in the final six weeks of the season and struggling to find its way. Kerhaw remained undaunted throughout.

12. Josh Hamilton: Texas Rangers

40 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 13

    October Review:

    In the manner that Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton started out this season, one would have thought that record books might have to be rewritten.

    Hamilton was absolutely on fire for the first two months of the season, hitting .368 with 21 HR and 57 RBI by the end of May.

    The summer months may have sizzled, but Hamilton's bat cooled. He would end the season with more than respectable numbers (.285, 43 HR, 128 RBI), but certainly a disappointment considering the hot start.

    Still, the numbers still put him among the elite hitters in the majors.

    Had Hamilton not slumped through the middle months of the season, he'd easily be among the top three.

    Hamilton will continue thumping away in the American League West with the Los Angeles Angels next season, likely aided by the bats of Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Albert Pujols.

    Not bad protection for any batter to have.

11. Andrew McCutchen: Pittsburgh Pirates

41 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 10

    October Review:

    In just his fourth season, Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen is being discussed as a potential MVP, and it likely won't be the last time either.

    The 25-year-old star put together an even better season than last year, leading the National League with 194 hits and falling just short of the National League batting title with a .327 average.

    McCutchen is a player worth building around. The Pirates apparently think so too, inking him to a six-year, $51.5 million contract.

    McCutchen moved down one spot with David Price moving up on this list.

    Still, McCutchen has clearly shown that he has become one of the elite sluggers in the National League.

10. Yadier Molina: St. Louis Cardinals

42 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 9

    October Review:

    Speaking of MVP candidates...

    It's hard to overlook the performance of Yadier Molina this season for the St. Louis Cardinals. He was sensational, putting up career highs in hits (159), home runs (22), RBI (76), batting average (.315) and OPS (.874).

    Molina is definitely a candidate to win his fifth straight Gold Glove Award and will be called upon to continue his outstanding play as the Cardinals try to defend their World Series championship.

    Molina picked up his fifth straight Gold Glove Award along with a fourth-place finish in NL MVP Award balloting.

    It's clear that the Cardinals are now Molina's team, and he has taken his place as one of the elite players in the majors.

9. Justin Verlander: Detroit Tigers

43 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 8

    October Review:

    Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander may not have been quite as dominant as last year in winning both the Cy Young Award and MVP Award, but he was certainly no slouch in 2012.

    Verlander finished the season 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA, leading the league in innings pitched (238.1) and ERA+ (158).

    When the Tigers needed him to come up big, Verlander delivered. He was 5-1 with a 1.93 ERA in September, helping the Tigers capture their second straight AL Central title.

    Verlander finished second in Cy Young Award balloting to winner David Price in the closest vote since 1969.

    Verlander led the majors in strikeouts for the second straight season and ERA+ as well. His standing as the premier right-handed pitcher in the game was clearly not challenged in 2012.

     

8. David Price: Tampa Bay Rays

44 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 11

    October Review:

    Before the 2012 season started, everyone knew that the Tampa Bay Rays' David Price was becoming one of the elite left-handed starters in the majors.

    The word "becoming" can now be taken out of that phrase—he's already there.

    Price was terrific, posting a 20-5 record, an American League-leading 2.56 ERA, a 1.100 WHIP and 205 strikeouts in 211 innings.

    Price may not be appearing in the playoffs this season, but he could well end up walking away with some hardware at the end of the year.

    With Price's narrow victory in the AL Cy Young Award race, he jumps up three spots in the rankings.

    Price will now be the unquestioned ace of the Rays following the trade of James Shields. He'll no doubt be up for the task.

7. Robinson Cano: New York Yankees

45 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 7

    October Review:

    New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano isn't just making a case for greatness; he's putting together a Hall of Fame career.

    Cano again excelled in 2012, hitting .313 with 33 HR, 94 RBI and a .929 OPS, the highest of his career.

    During the last week of the season, with his Yankees battling the Orioles for the AL East Division title, Cano was absolutely at his best.

    He hit .615 (24-for-39) in his team's final nine games with three HR and 14 RBI, including two homers and six RBI in the final game of the year to clinch the title.

    As great as Cano was during the final week of the regular season, his postseason was indeed disappointing.

    Cano hit just .075 during the playoffs, collecting just one hit in the four-game sweep by the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS.

    Still, one would be hard-pressed to argue against Cano as one of the premier hitters in the majors.

6. R.A. Dickey: New York Mets

46 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 7

    October Review:

    R.A. Dickey for president!

    Well, I won't even get into the happenings of the current presidential campaign, but for knuckleball enthusiasts, New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey should be winning at least one campaign.

    The one for the National League Cy Young Award.

    Dickey's numbers are certainly worthy of the award for sure—a 20-6 record with a 2.73 ERA, a league-leading 230 strikeouts on top of a league-leading 233.2 innings and a 1.053 WHIP.

    It's the last number that impresses me the most. Think about it—a knuckleball has absolutely no spin at all, meaning that its flight to the plate can be changed in the blink of an eye by air currents. Yet Dickey managed to walk only 54 batters all season long.

    Being able to control a pitch that's in many ways uncontrollable is indeed striking.

    Dickey indeed went on to win the NL Cy Young Award in a vote that wasn't as close as many believed.

    And what did he get for his efforts? A trade to the Toronto Blue Jays.

5. Adrian Beltre: Texas Rangers

47 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 5

    October Review:

    When Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton got cold in the summer, third baseman Adrian Beltre was there to pick him up.

    Beltre was excellent in the first half, hitting .326 with 15 HR and 54 RBI. He was just as hot in the second half with even more power, hitting 21 HR with 48 RBI.

    Beltre's final season numbers (.321, 36 HR, 102 RBI, .921 OPS) and outstanding defense at third base were key factors in the Rangers' drive for their third straight postseason appearance.

    Beltre's performance in 2012 was good enough to earn him a third-place finish in American League MVP Award balloting behind Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout.

    Beltre captured his second straight Gold Glove Award and fourth overall as well.

    With Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli now departed, Beltre will be called upon to be the big bat in the Rangers' lineup next season.

     

4. Ryan Braun: Milwaukee Brewers

48 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 3

    October Review:

    Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun put up some pretty darn good numbers last year in winning the National League MVP Award last season.

    He upped the ante this season.

    Braun hit .319 with 41 HR, 112 RBI, a .987 OPS and 356 total bases. All except batting average and OPS were higher than his MVP season.

    Whether Braun repeats as NL MVP remains to be seen. The numbers are there; the sentiment may not be.

    Braun finished second to Buster Posey in NL MVP Award balloting, but there's no question that Braun answered his critics with an outstanding season.

3. Buster Posey: San Francisco Giants

49 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 4

    October Review:

    Not since Ernie Lombardi of the Boston Braves in 1942 had a catcher won a batting title in the National League.

    Until this year, that is.

    San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey capped off an outstanding second half by becoming the first NL catcher in 70 years to lead the league in batting.

    Posey hit .336 with 24 HR and 103 RBI, leading his Giants to their second NL West title in three seasons.

    Posey will be in the running for the NL MVP Award as well and will be looking to collect his second World Series ring when all is said and done.

    Posey accomplished both feats mentioned in the previous sentence. He captured his second World Series ring and won the NL MVP Award.

    Posey jumps one spot on this list, however, because of one important intangible—his leadership.

    There is no question the Giants are Posey's team, and he helped lead his team to another title with his leadership by example.

    Giants manager Bruce Bochy certainly happens to think so.

    “Buster is so professional about how he goes about his business,” Bochy said. “There is a calmness about him, about the way he plays, very well prepared. He has the ability to slow down the game, and I think he leads by example on how he prepares, how he plays and how he handles himself.”

    Sounds like the mark of greatness to me.

2. Mike Trout: Los Angeles Angels

50 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 2

    October Review:

    Twenty years from now, Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout will look back upon his rookie year and say to himself, "Wow! I did pretty good!"

    Yes indeed.

    Trout will no doubt be the unanimous winner of AL Rookie of the Year Award and will likely be in a fight with Miguel Cabrera for the MVP Award as well.

    A .326 average, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 129 runs scored, 49 stolen bases, a .963 OPS and an OPS+ of 171. The numbers are stratospheric, and his WAR of 10.7 rivals that of some of the greatest single seasons in history.

    Is it enough to beat a Triple Crown winner for MVP, however?

    It wasn't quite enough, but it doesn't lessen the magnitude or significance of Trout's historic season, for sure.

     

1. Miguel Cabrera: Detroit Tigers

51 of 51

    Previous Rank: No. 1

    October Review:

    Sorry, but for me, nothing trumps a Triple Crown.

    Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera became the first player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to achieve the rare feat, hitting .330 with 44 HR and 139 RBI.

    Despite others in the media who will attempt to downplay the significance of a Triple Crown, it hasn't been achieved in 45 years.

    With all of the bashing going on in the 1990s and despite several players coming close (most recently Albert Pujols, 2009), it's an achievement even more rare than a perfect game, more rare than hitting four home runs in a single game.

    It's even more rare than an unassisted triple play.

    For me, that trumps everything.

    It still trumps everything.

    Cabrera won the AL MVP Award in rather convincing fashion, capturing 22 of 28 first-place votes. Trout captured the remaining six.

    For all of the talk from sabermetric experts about Trout's superior skills, very few voters were ready to deny Cabrera the award.

    Trout will likely have his day in the sun at some point in the future in terms of hoisting an MVP trophy. But for this season, Cabrera's Triple Crown effort ruled the day, and the year.

     

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.