April Report Cards for MLB's Top 50 Superstars

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2013

April Report Cards for MLB's Top 50 Superstars

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    Prior to the 2013 season kicking off, ESPN named its Top 500 players currently in MLB, as they do every year.

    There is still a ton of baseball to be played, but as we turn the calendar over to May, now is a good time to take a preliminary look at how the best players in the game have fared to this point.

    So here is a look at how the top 50 players in MLB, based upon the aforementioned ESPN list, have performed over the first month of the season along with a grade for each player.

     

    *Note: If a player has missed more than half of his team's games thus far, he earned an incomplete.

    **All stats are courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

50. SS Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays

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    2013 Stats: .395/.465/.526, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 5 R, 5 SB

    After winning the NL batting title with the Mets in 2011, Jose Reyes signed a huge six-year, $106 million deal to join what was expected to be a contending Marlins team.

    His numbers weren't quite as impressive in Miami, but he still managed to post a 4.2 WAR (h/t FanGraphs) as one of the more productive shortstops in the league.

    He was dealt to the Blue Jays this offseason as part of the Marlins fire sale, and he was one of the few bright spots in the early going before a serious ankle injury landed him on the 60-day disabled list after just 10 games.

    Grade: Incomplete

49. 1B Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    2013 Stats: .333/.398/.473, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 7 R

    After five seasons in San Diego, Adrian Gonzalez joined the Red Sox on a seven-year, $154 million deal prior to the 2011 season and had a fantastic first year in Boston.

    He hit .338/.410/.548, led the AL with 213 hits and looked to be worth every penny. But when his power fell off last season and the Red Sox struggled as a whole, he was shipped to the Dodgers in an August blockbuster.

    Expected to be a key part of the Dodgers' return to contention, Gonzalez is off to a nice start this season, though his 40-home-run power from his days as a Padre is still absent.

    Grade: A

48. LF Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics

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    2013 Stats: .228/.303/.509, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 11 R

    No one was sure of what to expect from Yoenis Cespedes when he signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the A's last offseason, following his defection from Cuba.

    He wound up being the driving force behind the team's offense last year, though, posting an .861 OPS and hitting 23 home runs with 82 RBI to finish second in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

    The slugger got off to a slow start this season, then landed on the 15-day DL with a thumb injury, so he has some work to do in order to get back to the level that he was at last season.

    Grade: C

47. LF Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves

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    2013 Stats: .298/.402/.734, 12 HR, 19 RBI, 22 R

    Rumored to be on the move a number of times over the past few seasons, the Diamondbacks finally pulled the trigger on trading Justin Upton and shipped him to the Braves this offseason.

    There, he joined his brother B.J. as new arrivals in the Atlanta outfield. Both players have flashed top-tier tools throughout their career but have never quite reached stardom.

    The thinking was that both players could benefit from a change of scenery, and that has certainly been the case for Justin to this point, as he leads all of baseball in home runs.

    Grade: A+ 

46. RP Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

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    2013 Stats: 14 G, 6-for-6 SV, 0.68 ERA, 21 K, 13.1 IP

    After kicking around the idea of moving him to the starting rotation this spring, flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman was returned to the closer role where he thrived last season. 

    In his first year pitching in the ninth, he saved 38 games with a 1.51 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 71.2 innings of work as one of the league's most dominant relievers.

    It's been more of the same in the early going this season, as he continues to overpower hitters with his fastball-slider combination.

    Grade: A+

45. SP Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

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    2013 Stats: 6 GS, 4-2, 2.03 ERA, 43 K, 44.1 IP

    There were few pitchers in the game better than Adam Wainwright in 2009 and 2010, as he went a combined 39-19 with a 2.53 ERA and finished in the top three in Cy Young voting in both seasons.

    Tommy John surgery cost him all of the 2011 season, and he was understandably inconsistent last year, going 14-13 with a 3.94 ERA while throwing 198.2 innings.

    His overall numbers weren't impressive, but he was 7-5 with a 3.28 ERA in the second half last season as he began to return to his dominant form. Now, a full season removed from the surgery, he's once again pitching like a bona fide ace.

    Grade: A

44. 3B Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

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    2013 Stats: .226/.311/.358, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 3 R

    Signed to a six-year, $100 million extension in February of 2012, Ryan Zimmerman may no longer be the face of the Nationals franchise with the emergence of Bryce Harper, but he's as important as anyone to the success of the team.

    Relatively healthy last season after missing significant time in 2011, the third baseman hit .282 with 25 home runs and 95 RBI to finish 24th in NL MVP voting.

    Injuries have struck again this season, though, as a strained hamstring landed him on the 15-day DL back on April 18. He's expected back soon, and he'll need to get going after a slow start to the season.

    Grade: C-

43. LF Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals

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    2013 Stats: .276/.382/.437, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 17 R

    Three-plus seasons into the deal, Matt Holliday has proven to be worth every penny of the seven-year, $120 million contract that he signed with the Cardinals prior to the 2010 season.

    Not only does he hit for power and drive in runs, but the 33-year-old also has a great eye at the plate (.383 career OBP) and has been relatively durable throughout his career.

    He historically heats up during the summer monthswith a 1.013 OPS in July for his careerso some improvement over his current numbers can be expected. That said, there's nothing wrong with a .819 OPS and 16 RBI at this point.

    Grade: B

42. 2B Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox

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    2013 Stats: .337/.444/.398, 0 HR, 12 RBI, 16 R, 6 SB

    Aside from the 2010 season, when a fractured foot limited him to just 75 games, Dustin Pedroia has been one of the most consistent producers in all of baseball since he broke into the league in 2007.

    He's a 20/20 threat at the plate and a terrific defensive second baseman, and at 29 years old, he is still in the prime of his career.

    Though he's yet to homer this season, the rest of his numbers are impressive, and his power will no doubt pick up as the season progresses.

    Grade: B+

41. SP Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

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    2013 Stats: 3 GS, 1-0, 2.60 ERA, 18 K, 17.1 IP

    Since breaking into the Reds rotation as a 22-year-old back in 2008, Johnny Cueto had shown flashes of being a frontline starter, but he put it all together last year with a Cy Young-caliber season.

    He was 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA and 170 strikeouts in 217 innings in 2012, finishing fourth in NL Cy Young voting and helping to lead the Reds to a runaway NL Central title.

    Back atop the Cincinnati rotation this year, Cueto was strong throughout his first three starts of the season before a strained lat landed him on the disabled list.

    Grade: Incomplete

40. 3B Chase Headley, San Diego Padres

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    2013 Stats: .261/.364/.478, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 7 R

    Entering last season, Chase Headley was as sure a bet as anyone to be traded. He was by no means a superstar, but he consistently put up a solid on-base percentage and is capable of double-digit home runs and steals.

    After a first half of numbers on par with his career averages, Headley was a man possessed in the second half, hitting .308/.386/.592 with 23 home runs and 73 RBI. He eventually went on to lead the NL with 115 RBI.

    Needless to say, the Padres opted to hang onto him. With a similar season, he could set himself up for a $100 million-plus payday when he hits free agency after the 2014 season. A fractured thumb caused him to miss the first 14 games of the season, and he's off to a slow start as a result.

    Grade: Incomplete

39. LF Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies

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    2013 Stats: .306/.389/.551, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 22 R

    With Troy Tulowitzki sidelined for much of last season, the Rockies relied more than ever on Carlos Gonzalez in the middle of their lineup, and he hit 22 home runs, stole 20 bases and posted an .881 OPS.

    Largely a product of his environmentwith a 1.000 OPS at home and .743 OPS on the road for his careerGonzalez continues to put up impressive numbers nonetheless.

    Though they have fallen back to earth a bit of late, the Rockies have been one of the biggest surprises of the 2013 season so far, and their offense has been the driving force behind that success. Gonzalez is off to a terrific start once again, and he is as big a reason as any for the team's success.

    Grade: A

38. SP Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies

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    2013 Stats: 6 GS, 2-3, 6.75 ERA, 31 K, 32 IP

    Easily one of the top 10 pitchers in the game entering the 2012 season, Roy Halladay finally began to show some signs of age last year, as he went 11-8 with a 4.49 ERA and threw just 156.1 innings as he was limited to 25 starts.

    Those struggles carried over to the spring, where he posted a 6.06 ERA over 16.1 innings of work, but the 35-year-old opened the season as the Phillies' No. 2 starter nonetheless.

    The spring has proven to be more indicative than many thought, however, as he's continued to get shelled in the early going this season. Three of his six starts have been quality starts, but when he's been bad, he's been really bad, as he's already allowed eight home runs in 32 innings.

    Grade: F

37. SP Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

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    2013 Stats: 5 GS, 2-2, 4.09 ERA, 30 K, 33 IP

    After spending the first two seasons of his big league career working as a setup man, Chris Sale was moved to the rotation last season, and he immediately became the White Sox's best pitcher.

    As a 23-year-old, he was 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA and 192 strikeouts in 192 innings. He was not only one of the best young arms in the game last season, but he was one of the very best pitchers in all of baseball.

    The team bought out his arbitration years and first season of free agency with a five-year, $32 million extension. Provided his max effort mechanics don't lead to injury, that could wind up being a major steal.

    Grade: C+

36. RF Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves

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    2013 Stats: .121/.261/.259, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 8 R

    Jason Heyward was the talk of baseball when the Braves handed him the starting right field job coming out of spring training in 2010. He was 20 years old and had zero big league games under his belt, but he proved that he belonged immediately.

    He hit .277/.393/.456 with 18 home runs as a rookie, flashing the potential to quickly become a superstar in the league.

    After a sophomore slump saw his average plummet to .227, thanks in part to a nagging wrist injury, he bounced back last season to hit .269 with 27 home runs and 21 steals while also winning the Gold Glove. Off to a rough start this year, an appendectomy landed him on the DL. He'll look to turn things around upon his return.

    Grade: D-

35. SP Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

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    2013 Stats: 6 GS, 2-2, 5.34 ERA, 36 K, 32 IP

    The Nationals gave up a ton to land Gio Gonzalez in a trade with Oakland last offseason, shipping four of their top prospects to the A's for a young pitcher who had won 31 games over the previous two seasons.

    He proved to be worth the cost and then some, going 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA and 207 strikeouts in 199.1 innings. He finished third in the 2012 NL Cy Young voting and led the Nationals staff all season long.

    Things have not gone quite so smoothly out of the gates this season, as Gonzalez went just four innings while allowing seven hits and five runs against Atlanta his last time out.

    Grade: D

34. SP Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers

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    2013 Stats: 6 GS, 5-1, 2.33 ERA, 58 K, 38.2 IP

    The Rangers shelled out a ton of money to sign Yu Darvish out of Japan last offseason, and he made a smooth transition to the MLB game as a rookie.

    He was 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 191.1 innings last season. That line would have won him AL Rookie of the Year in most seasons, but instead, it led to a third place finish behind Mike Trout and Yoenis Cespedes.

    The right-hander opened his second season by coming within one out of a perfect game, and he's been lights-out all season, emerging as a legitimate staff ace and proving worth his hefty salary.

    Grade: A+

33. C Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

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    2013 Stats: .287/.356/.404, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 11 R

    With three AL batting titles and an AL MVP award under his belt, Joe Mauer is already one of the most prolific offensive catchers in the history of the game.

    However, when knee problems limited him to just 82 games in 2011, people were quick to label that the beginning of the end for the then-28-year-old.

    He proved the doubters wrong last season, hitting .319/.416/.446 and playing in 147 games. Signed through 2018 with an annual salary of $23 million, the Twins are certainly hoping that he can keep producing.

    Grade: C

32. LF Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

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    2013 Stats: .344/.430/.720, 9 HR, 18 RBI, 18 R

    Labeled a baseball prodigy dating back to his high school days, Bryce Harper did not disappoint as a 19-year-old rookie last season.

    Called up at the end of April, he went on to hit .270/.340/.477 with 22 home runs and 18 steals, earning him NL Rookie of the Year honors and laying the groundwork for what could potentially be a Hall of Fame career.

    After a terrific spring, he has taken a major step forward already this season, sliding into the No. 3 spot in the lineup and serving as the team's top run producer in the early going. A sophomore slump does not appear to be a concern with him. Just how good can he get?

    Grade: A+

31. SP Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    2013 Stats: 2 GS, 1-0, 1.59 ERA, 10 K, 11.1 IP

    The top pitcher on the free-agent market this offseason, the Dodgers signed Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million contract, giving them a second ace-caliber arm to slot behind Clayton Kershaw in the rotation.

    Injuries limited him to just 13 innings pitched this spring, but he was back healthy to start the fourth game of the season, throwing 6.1 scoreless innings against the Pirates.

    However, in his second start of the season, he beaned the Padres' Carlos Quentin, and in the ensuing melee, he wound up breaking his collarbone. He's expected to be out until at least June, and the Dodgers' starting pitching depth has been tested early this year.

    Grade: Incomplete

30. SP CC Sabathia, New York Yankees

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    2013 Stats: 6 GS, 4-2, 3.35 ERA, 36 K, 43 IP

    A rock at the top of the Yankees rotation since joining the team in 2009, CC Sabathia went 74-29 with a 3.22 ERA over his first four seasons in the Bronx.

    With the team suffering a myriad of injuries this offseason and in the early going of the regular season, the team is counting on him more than ever to lead the staff and give it a legitimate chance to win every fifth day.

    The 32-year-old has 195 career wins and has long been one of the most durable arms in all of baseball, so it will be interesting to see just how many victories he can pile up before he retires.

    Grade: B+

29. SP R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays

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    2013 Stats: 6 GS, 2-4, 4.50 ERA, 28 K, 36 IP

    After re-inventing himself as a knuckleballer and going 19-22 with a 3.08 ERA for the Mets in 2010 and 2011 combined, everything came together for R.A. Dickey in 2012.

    As a 37-year-old, he went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and 230 strikeouts in 233.2 innings, turning in one of the most dominant seasons ever by a knuckleball pitcher and earning 2012 NL Cy Young honors.

    With an eye on the future, the Mets traded him to the all-in Blue Jays this offseason for a package of prospects. So far this season, though, he's looked more like a 38-year-old journeyman starter than the reigning Cy Young winner.

    Grade: D

28. C Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

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    2013 Stats: .313/.347/.448, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 8 R

    When he first broke into the league, Yadier Molina was a terrific defensive catcher with minimal offensive skill. He has gotten progressively better at the plate throughout his career, however, culminating in a breakout season last year.

    As a 29-year-old, he set career-highs across the board with a .315/.373/.501 line, 22 home runs, 76 RBI and 12 steals. He did it while also winning his fifth-straight Gold Glove.

    He's now as valuable at the plate as he is leading the team's young pitching staff, and while other catchers may put up gaudier numbers, Molina is the best all-around catcher in the game.

    Grade: A-

27. 3B David Wright, New York Mets

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    2013 Stats: .291/.415/.477, 2 HR, 19 RBI, 14 R, 6 SB

    Long the face of the franchise, it appears as though David Wright will play out his career in a Mets uniform after signing a seven-year, $122 million deal this offseason.

    After a rough 2011 season saw him play just 102 games and hit just .254 when he was healthy, Wright bounced back with a fantastic 2012 season and set himself up for the big payday.

    The Mets are a team on the rise, and they have the pieces to be a contender within the next couple seasons. The 30-year-old Wright will be counted on to lead that bounce back, and he is as important to his team as any player in the league.

    Grade: B+

26. SS Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies

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    2013 Stats: .308/.394/.603, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 14 R

    Entering the 2012 season, Troy Tulowitzki was the consensus best all-around shortstop in baseball. He had averaged a .304 BA, 30 HR, 97 RBI line over the previous three seasons, and he had also won back-to-back Gold Glove awards.

    However, a nagging groin injury landed him on the disabled list at the end of May, and it wound up ending his 2012 season after he played just 47 games.

    Now that he is healthy this year, the 28-year-old is in his prime and has been one of the biggest contributors for a potent Rockies offense.

    Grade: A+

25. SP Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

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    2013 Stats: 5 GS, 2-1, 3.03 ERA, 30 K, 35.2 IP

    The 2012 season was an odd one for Cliff Lee, as he finished the season with a 3.16 ERA and 207 strikeouts in 211 innings, but went just 6-9 and didn't record his first win of the season until July 4.

    The 34-year-old remains one of the best left-handed starters in all of baseball, and he's part of an aging Phillies core that may have already seen its window for contention close.

    Signed through 2015 with an option for 2016 that includes a $12.5 million buyout, it will be interesting to see if the Phillies shop Lee at the deadline this season, provided they're not in contention. Despite his high price tag, he's still pitching well, and his postseason track record speaks for itself.

    Grade: B

24. RF Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

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    2013 Stats: .200/.302/.533, 7 HR, 12 RBI, 14 R

    The Blue Jays have been baseball's biggest disappointment through the first month of the season, and no one is immune from blame at this point, including Jose Bautista hitting in the middle of the lineup.

    After hitting a combined 97 home runs in 2010 and 2011leading the league in this category during both seasonsBautista was limited to just 92 games last year, though he still managed 27 home runs in 332 at-bats.

    Healthy once again, the power has been there and he continues to draw walks at a terrific rate, but his batting average is far from where it needs to be as the team's top offensive weapon.

    Grade: B-

23. SP Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

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    2013 Stats: 2 GS, 0-1, 4.91 ERA, 6 K, 11 IP

    With three-straight top-five Cy Young finishes, it is safe to say that Jered Weaver has emerged as one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball

    He's become less reliant on the strikeout as his career has progressed, as he posted a 6.8 K/9 last season but still went 20-5 with a 2.81 ERA to finish third in Cy Young voting.

    The right-hander is currently on the DL with a fractured non-throwing elbow—sustained trying to avoid a liner back at him—and the Angels are anxiously awaiting his return at some point in May.

    Grade: Incomplete

22. 3B Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers

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    2013 Stats: .222/.280/.424, 5 HR, 11 RBI, 13 R

    A legitimate MVP candidate last season, Adrian Beltre posted a .921 OPS with 36 home runs and 102 RBI to finish third in voting.

    With Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli departing this offseason, the Rangers will be even more reliant on his offensive production out of the cleanup spot, though he's off to a slow start this season.

    The 34-year-old has quietly put together a fantastic career, with a .279/.330/.475 line, 351 home runs, 1,226 RBI and 2,249 hits to go along with Gold Glove defense. If he can turn in two or three more solid seasons, his Hall of Fame case will be a compelling one.

    Grade: C+

21. SP Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

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    2013 Stats: 6 GS, 1-3, 4.78 ERA, 34 K, 37.2 IP

    After playing second (or sometimes even fourth) fiddle to the other pitchers on the Phillies staff for the past several seasons, Cole Hamels put together the best year of his career in 2012.

    The left-hander went 17-6 with a 3.05 ERA and 216 strikeouts in 215.1 innings. That earned him a massive six-year, $144 million extension, the second-highest contract ever for a pitcher at the time.

    Hamels earned the Opening Day nod this season, reinforcing his status as the Phillies ace. After getting shelled for 13 runs in 10.2 innings over his first two starts, he has a 2.33 ERA over his last four.

    Grade: C

20. RF Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels

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    2013 Stats: .204/.252/.296, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 10 R

    A year after shelling out some serious money to sign Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, the Angels were at it again after failing to make the postseason, inking Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million deal.

    The slugger hit a career-high 43 home runs last season while also adding a .930 OPS and 128 RBI. With numbers like that, there is little question as to why he is one of the most feared hitters in all of baseball.

    However, much like Pujols last season, Hamilton has struggled out of the gate in Los Angeles, opening the season 1-for-20 and struggling to get back on track.

    Grade: F

19. SP Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

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    2013 Stats: 6 GS, 0-2, 6.49 ERA, 32 K, 34.2 IP

    Even without Tim Lincecum struggling, Matt Cain likely would have been considered the ace of the Giants staff last season, as he went 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA, earning the All-Star game start and also throwing a perfect game.

    The Giants rewarded him with a five-year, $112.5 million extension this offseason, and the 28-year-old was expected to once again be the team's top arm and a driving force behind their attempts to defend their title.

    However, he's been hit hard in the early going, with 35 hits and nine home runs allowed in 34.2 innings of work. A good portion of the damage has been done over two starts and it's too early to panic just yet, but it has not been a promising start to the year for Cain.

    Grade: F

18. 1B Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels

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    2013 Stats: .252/.344/.417, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 12 R

    For all that was made of his early-season struggles, Albert Pujols still finished the 2012 season with a line most players would kill for, hitting .285 with 30 home runs and 105 RBI.

    Still, there is no question that the Angels were expecting a bit more when they signed him to a 10-year, $240 million deal. Even with the pressure of debuting with a new team, he was expected to do more.

    He's not been nearly as bad this season as he was to start the 2012 season, but he hasn't exactly been a juggernaut at the plate to this point either. He generally heats up once the weather gets warmer, so expect him to step his game up moving forward.

    Grade: B-

17. 1B Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers

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    2013 Stats: .301/.417/.591, 7 HR, 27 RBI, 15 R

    After losing DH Victor Martinez for the season to a torn ACL, the Tigers made a bold move last offseason and signed Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million deal.

    His production was understandably masked by teammate Miguel Cabrera winning the Triple Crown, but Fielder was great in his own right, with a .940 OPS, 30 home runs and 108 RBI.

    That said, the 30 home runs represented his lowest total since his rookie season, and he's capable of plenty more. If the first month of this season is any indication, though, it may be Cabrera who is playing in Fielder's shadow this time around.

    Grade: A+

16. RF Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

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    2013 Stats: .227/.341/.387, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 8 R

    There may be no player in baseball with more raw power than Giancarlo Stanton, and it seems to be a matter of "when" the 23-year-old will surpass 50 home runs rather than "if."

    Injuries limited him to just 449 at-bats last season, but he still managed to hit a career-high 37 home runs and lead the league with a .608 slugging percentage.

    Off to a slow start this season, he finally appeared to be getting on track with three home runs over the weekend, but a strained hamstring on Monday landed him on the DL.

    Grade: D-

15. 3B Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

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    2013 Stats: .292/.361/.521, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 15 R

    Never has it been more evident what a player means to his team than it was with Evan Longoria and the Rays in 2012. The team was 47-27 with its star in the lineup, compared to just 43-45 when he was hurt.

    Longoria is an MVP candidate when he's healthy, and on a Rays team that is thin offensively, his production in the middle of the order is crucial to the team's chances of making the postseason.

    So far, so good for the 27-year-old in 2013, though his teammates need to pick it up if the team is going to hit enough to earn a playoff spot out of the AL East.

    Grade: A

14. RP Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

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    2013 Stats: 11 G, 9-for-10 SV, 1.69 ERA, 15 K, 10.2 IP

    There's been no more dominant reliever than Craig Kimbrel since his first full season in the big leagues in 2011 ended with NL Rookie of the Year honors.

    Since the start of that season, the hard-throwing right-hander has saved 97 games with a 1.62 ERA and a ridiculous 258 strikeouts in 150.1 innings.

    The Braves bullpen is filthy and one of the team's biggest strengths. Kimbrel is as close to automatic as it gets among closers these days.

    Grade: B+

13. CF Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    2013 Stats: .260/.318/.344, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 11 R, 4 SB

    With a 2011 season that saw him hit .324/.399/.586 with 39 home runs and 40 steals, Matt Kemp emerged as a bona fide superstar heading into last season.

    After hitting .417/.490/.893 with 12 home runs in the first month of the season, injuries cut into his production, and he missed roughly two months from mid-May to mid-July.

    Healthy once again, he's still as good of a power/speed threat as there is in MLB today, but it's been a slow going to start this season.

    Grade: C

12. CF Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    2013 Stats: .247/.308/.423, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 17 R, 6 SB

    Last season, Andrew McCutchen single-handedly carried the Pirates offense in the first half, hitting .362 with 18 home runs, 60 RBI and 14 steals prior to the All-Star break.

    This year, the team has won thanks in large part to its pitching, as McCutchen has yet to get his offensive game firing on all cylinders.

    The 26-year-old is one of the game's best young stars, and if the Pirates are ever going to make it over the .500 hump, he'll no doubt have a big hand in them doing so.

    Grade: C

11. SP Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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    2013 Stats: 6 GS, 1-4, 3.13 ERA, 36 K, 37.1 IP

    The Nationals made the controversial move to shut down Stephen Strasburg in September last season, opting to protect their future.

    In his first season back from Tommy John surgery, the right-hander went 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 159.1 innings. He made his last start of the season on September 7, and he watched as his team was eliminated from the postseason in the NLDS.

    Of the leash this year, many expect Strasburg to make a serious run at the NL Cy Young, but he has been by no means dominant so far.

    Grade: B-

10. SP David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

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    2013 Stats: 6 GS, 1-2, 5.21 ERA, 35 K, 38 IP

    The No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft, David Price quickly became one of the game's top pitchers, winning 19 games and finishing second in Cy Young voting as a 24-year-old in 2010.

    He took things to the next level last season, going 20-5 with an AL-best 2.56 ERA to edge out Justin Verlander for Cy Young honors, and he is just entering his prime.

    Perhaps it is the distraction of knowing his days in Tampa Bay are likely numbered, but Price has not been nearly as sharp this season. In fairness, most of the damage was done when he allowed 10 hits and eight runs to the Indians in his second start of the season.

    Grade: D

9. 1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

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    2013 Stats: .291/.439/.456, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 17 R

    Had it not been for knee surgery costing him nearly two months in the second half, Joey Votto may have very well won his second NL MVP last season.

    As it was, he still managed to lead the league with 94 walks and a .474 on-base percentage, and he helped lead the Reds to the NL Central title.

    The 29-year-old is one of the game's best pure hitters, and he may have the best plate discipline in all of baseball. He's never going to hit 50 home runs, or even 40 for that matter, but it would not be surprising at all to see him capture a few more MVP awards.

    Grade: B+

8. SP Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    2013 Stats: 6 GS, 3-2, 1.90 ERA, 44 K, 42.2 IP

    Though he's been out-pitched by teammate Hisashi Iwakuma (2-1, 1.67 ERA, 0.69 WHIP) in the early going this season, Felix Hernandez has been terrific once again as one of the game's true aces.

    It's a crime that he only has 101 career wins, but that is the price that he's had to pay for pitching in Seattle for his entire career. As a franchise on the way up, that may no longer be a hindrance in a couple years.

    Either way, Hernandez will be around for the long haul after signing a seven-year, $175 million extension in February.

    Grade: A+

7. 2B Robinson Cano, New York Yankees

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    2013 Stats: .327/.379/.598, 7 HR, 17 RBI, 18 R

    The Yankees lineup was decimated by injuries this spring, but Robinson Cano is still there as one of the premier offensive players in the game.

    Over the past four seasons, the sweet-swinging second baseman has average a line of .314/.365/.534 with 29 home runs and 102 RBI, and he hit a career-high 33 home runs last season.

    A free agent at the end of the season, Cano is heading toward a huge payday, and it is hard to imagine it coming from anyone but the Yankees, as he may be their most important player at this point.

    Grade: A+

6. C Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

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    2013 Stats: .280/.388/.488, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 9 R

    The Giants are 2-for-2 in winning the World Series when they have a healthy Buster Posey. That's a fact Giants fans often point to, and while there is certainly more that goes into it than that, there is no downplaying how much Posey means to the team.

    The reigning NL MVP bounced back from a broken leg in 2011 to capture the NL batting title with a .336 average to go along with 24 home runs and 103 RBI.

    He's gotten hot of late, hitting .367/.486/.733 with three home runs and eight RBI over his last nine games. On a Giants team that is thin on run producers, he'll need to keep it up.

    Grade: B+

5. LF Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

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    2013 Stats: .286/.381/.583, 7 HR, 21 RBI, 14 R

    After an offseason filled with questions about PEDs following some controversy regarding a positive test being thrown out, Ryan Braun managed to turn his focus back to baseball once the 2012 season started. He turned in another fantastic year.

    He reached the 30/30 mark for the second-straight season, leading the NL with a career-high 41 home runs and stealing 30 bases. He also hit .319 and finished second in NL MVP voting.

    Braun has been without Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez hitting behind him for most of the season this year, and Rickie Weeks (.191 BA) has not encouraged pitchers to give anything to hit while batting in the cleanup spot.

    Grade: A-

4. SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    2013 Stats: 6 GS, 3-2, 1.73 ERA, 47 K, 41.2 IP

    Undoubtedly the next pitcher in line for a big extension, Clayton Kershaw could become baseball's first $200 million pitcher whenever the Dodgers decide to lock him up.

    After winning the NL Cy Young in 2011 by capturing the pitching Triple Crown, Kershaw again led the National League in ERA last season and very well could have repeated as Cy Young winner.

    It's unfathomable that he is only 25 years old, and it is scary to think that he could actually get better over the next couple seasons. 

    Grade: A+

3. LF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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    2013 Stats: .261/.333/.432, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 15 R, 4 SB

    Baseball fans got to witness history last year, as Mike Trout turned in arguably the best rookie season in the history of the sport, hitting .326 with 30 home runs and 49 steals as a 20-year-old for an MLB-best 10.0 WAR (h/t FanGraphs).

    Considering most players would still be in the low minors at his age, a sophomore slump would not be all that shocking, though his idea of a slump at this point would likely be a terrific season for 99.9 percent of guys his age.

    Then again, he's hit .284/.367/.493 over his past 16 games after a .227/.277/.341 start to the season, so he may just be slow out of the box on his way to another big season.

    Grade: C+

2. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    2013 Stats: 6 GS, 3-2, 1.83 ERA, 41 K, 39.1 IP

    The consensus best pitcher in baseballthough a strong case can be made for Clayton Kershaw and Felix HernandezJustin Verlander has been an absolute horse for the Tigers throughout his career.

    Following up his 2011 season in which he went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts to win AL Cy Young and MVP honors, he was dominant once again last year and could very well have won the Cy Young for a second-straight season.

    The Tigers gave him a record seven-year, $180 million deal just before the season started, as he will continue to build his Hall of Fame resume in a Tigers uniform.

    Grade: A+

1. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

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    2013 Stats: .363/.436/.559, 4 HR, 28 RBI, 21 R

    Miguel Cabrera turned in a season for the ages in 2012, hitting .330 to win his second-straight batting title, adding 44 home runs and 139 RBI to win the first Triple Crown since 1967.

    In 10 big league seasons entering the 2013 campaign, he has put together a .318/.395/.561 line with 321 home runs and 1,123 RBI.

    Still just 30 years old, he's off to another fantastic start this year, as he leads the AL in RBI and ranks third in batting average. No one has ever won back-to-back Triple Crowns, though—just saying.

    Grade: A+