The 25 Most Exciting Players in the Game of Baseball

Benjamin Klein@BenjaminJKleinContributor IIIMay 8, 2013

The 25 Most Exciting Players in the Game of Baseball

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    Major League Baseball fans are lucky to have so many players bringing a special spark to the stadium each and every day of the season.

    Teams aim to draft and develop, sign and trade for these players, because they put people in the seats and money into the pockets of ownership—not to mention these are usually top-tier players who lead teams into and through the postseason with the hopes of winning a World Series.

    Through research and some help from followers on Twitter, I narrowed the large number of players in today’s game to 25 that best exemplify what it means to be exciting.

    So, what does it mean to be exciting? Well, in my opinion, it means that a player is a difference-maker on the mound or at the plate and plays the game the right way. He has the potential to smack a much-needed home run, steal a base late in the game, drive in the game-winning run or strike out the batter who has the potential to tie or win the game.

    So, who made the cut? Let’s take a look.

    *All statistics in this article were obtained via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. The table on each slide represents the player’s statistics through Monday, May 6 games. All contract information was obtained via Cot’s Contracts. All injury information was obtained via Baseball Prospectus.

Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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    The Washington Nationals have found their ace for the next 10 years in Stephen Strasburg. Despite missing a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Strasburg is still one of the most electrifying pitchers in baseball.

    Last season, Strasburg had his innings capped but still went 15-6 and posted a 3.16 ERA. He has a career K/9 rate of 10.9, and that’s mainly because he has a fastball that travels 96 miles per hour, a knee-buckling curveball and a changeup that stymies opposing batters.

    It’s relatively safe to say that as long as Strasburg is healthy, he’s going to pitch well and help the Nationals win a lot of games. He hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts this season, but he has only pitched poorly in one of his six starts.

    G W-L SV IP K/9 BB/9 ERA WAR
    7 1-4 0 44.1 8.93 2.64 3.45 0.6

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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    This kid has superstar status written all over him, and he’s only been in the majors for a little over a year. That year-plus, though, has said a lot about what he’s capable of and what could come down the road.

    Mike Trout is an animal.

    In Trout’s first full season with the Los Angeles Angels, he hit .326/.399/.564 with 30 home runs, 83 RBI, 129 runs and 49 stolen bases. He finished second place in the AL MVP award voting behind Miguel Cabrera, but he easily took home the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

    Trout hasn’t really picked up where he left off, as he’s slumped through the early portion of the 2013 season. Slumped may be a strong word to use, but he hasn’t come close to level he played at in 2012. Trout did gain some weight over the offseason, but I think he just needs a little more time before he gets going again.

    31 .275 .340 .504 5 22 1.4

Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

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    The Miami Marlins are lucky to have Giancarlo Stanton, because without him there wouldn’t be any reason for fans to go to their games. Stanton is one of the most feared hitters in baseball, mainly because he has the ability to annihilate pitches.

    Stanton has gotten better and better since making his debut with the Marlins back in 2010. In 100 games that season, he hit 22 home runs. In 150 games in 2011, he hit 34 out of the park. Last season, he launched 37.

    Clearly, there’s a trend here: Stanton is a top-tier power hitter.

    And no matter where you sit in the outfield stands, you better be awake when Stanton comes up to the plate. Last season, he hit a ball 494 feet, according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, which was the longest all season.

    20 .227 .341 .387 3 9 -0.4

Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

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    If you want to watch a guy who hustles on every play and has already had a lot of success throughout the first year-plus of his career, take a look at Bryce Harper. Harper is the future of the Washington Nationals and potentially of the game in general.

    Making his major league debut last season, Harper was as hot as can be. In 139 games, he hit .270/.340/.477 with 22 home runs, 59 RBI and 98 runs. He easily took home the NL Rookie of the Year award while helping the Nationals make the playoffs.

    This season, Harper is off to a fantastic start. He hasn’t missed a beat since last season and is already building on his success from a year ago. If Harper continues to improve with time, he’ll definitely be an MVP candidate each year until he retires in around two decades.

    31 .312 .400 .633 9 18 1.3

Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics

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    Not many knew exactly how Yoenis Cespedes would transition to the major leagues after playing in Cuba, but the Oakland Athletics were willing to give him a shot. Over a year later, Oakland is happy with its decision to do so.

    Cespedes played in 129 games for the AL West champion A’s last season, hitting .292/.356/.505 with 23 home runs and 82 RBI. He’s arguably one of the few five-tool players in the game right now, and he hasn’t even played his 150th game yet. Imagine what we could be saying about him in the next five years or so.

    The only thing keeping Cespedes from having an even better year in 2013 is his left thumb, which has kept him sidelined for most of this season. He’s now off the disabled list, though, and is looking to make it two straight playoff trips for the A’s.

    19 .243 .330 .541 6 18 0.9

Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

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    Even though Craig Kimbrel only has a couple of years of experience under his belt, he’s already establishing himself as the game’s most dominant closer and could quickly become the game’s best overall once Mariano Rivera retires at the end of the year.

    In Kimbrel’s first full season in the big leagues two years ago, he saved 46 games and stranded 80.7 percent of baserunners. Last season, he saved 42 games while leaving 92.8 percent of base runners on base. But that’s not even the most impressive aspect of his game.

    Kimbrel strikes out opponents like it’s nobody’s business. Last season, he averaged 16.6 strikeouts per nine innings. For those needing a little help with the math, that means that he nearly struck out two batters each time he pitched an inning. That was the highest mark in all of baseball in 2012.

    G W-L SV IP K/9 BB/9 ERA WAR
    13 0-1 10 13.1 14.2 2.0 3.38 0.1

Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    It was somewhat bold of the Arizona Diamondbacks to call up Paul Goldschmidt in 2011 after just 103 games in Double-A. One year-and-a-half later, Goldschmidt is quickly turning into one of the more fun players to watch.

    Last season, Goldschmidt played 145 games and hit .286/.359/.490 with 20 home runs and 82 RBI. He’s not a bad fielder by any means, and with Justin Upton gone, he’s arguably the best offensive player that the Diamondbacks have on their roster.

    Goldschmidt is already having a good year in 2013, and if he can continue the current pace he’s on, he could hit the 30-home run mark and potentially make it to his first All-Star Game. He appears to be a very likeable player on a likeable team. You can’t beat that.

    33 .314 .411 .545 7 27 1.4

Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves

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    What the Arizona Diamondbacks didn’t like about Justin Upton I’ll never fully understand. But if it had anything to do without his inability to be a star, that’s just silly. Arizona won’t regret the move this year, but down the line, it will realize it made a mistake.

    Upton is one of the most talented and exciting players in baseball, and now he is leading them to a possible postseason berth. He’s been incredible this year and should be an MVP candidate by the end of the season should he keep it up.

    Upton hit .280/.355/.430 in 2012 with 17 home runs and 67 RBI, and then Arizona shipped him off in exchange for a mix of veterans and prospects. He can pretty much do it all, which makes the trade that much more of a head-scratcher.

    He is a difference-maker, to say the least. Just ask the Braves.

    32 .278 .384 .635 12 21 2.0

Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants

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    Pablo Sandoval is one of the most underrated players in baseball. He continues to put up great numbers year after year and has proven himself to be one of the best third basemen in the game—not to mention he has two rings to back that claim up.

    Despite being a big guy, Sandoval is light on his feet and able to make a bunch of great plays. He’s a very sound third baseman and has no problem diving to his left or right and throwing a batter out at first base. Not everyone can handle the pressures of the hot corner, but he can.

    Don’t expect Sandoval to be legging out any triples or stealing many bases, but he hustles each time, which makes him an easy player to root for. Don’t ever count him out, because as we saw last postseason, he can do it all. He did hit three bombs in Game 1 of the World Series, two off the best pitcher in baseball, Justin Verlander.

    32 .320 .355 .461 4 24 0.7

Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

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    All Jose Bautista does is crush pitches into the upper deck. It’s how he's spent most of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays. He has unreal power that can come out at any time during an at-bat or a game. His bat could be considered a weapon.

    Bautista has nearly 200 career home runs, but many of them have come in just the last couple of seasons. In 2010, he hit 54 long balls, 20 of which were no doubts, according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker. Two years ago, he launched 43 over the fence, 18 of which were no doubts.

    Last season, Bautista didn’t even play in 100 games and still managed to hit 27 home runs. That’s what power hitters do. Even when they don’t play a full season, they still hit home run after home run. It’s extremely exciting to watch Bautista at the plate when he’s healthy.

    27 .240 .359 .521 7 15 0.6

Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

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    There is no question that Miguel Cabrera is the most offensively gifted player in baseball. If you didn’t know, he did the unthinkable last season, winning the AL Triple Crown by leading the league in batting, home runs and RBI. That’s not something that happens each year.

    Missing just one game last season, Cabrera hit .330/.393/.606 with 44 home runs and 139 RBI. Prior to 2012, he had never hit more than 38 long balls in a season or drove in more than 127 runs. He has, however, hit at least 30 home runs in all but one of his full major leagues seasons. Impressive, right?

    When it comes to Cabrera, opposing pitchers have to be extremely careful. If a pitcher makes a mistake, he absolutely will make him pay for it—not just to see if he can put it in play. The ball will be a souvenir for a young fan in the stands.

    30 .385 .465 .615 6 36 1.8

Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers

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    It’s a little crazy to think that 2013 is just Yu Darvish’s second season in the United States. He was very impressive in his rookie campaign, going 16-9 in 29 starts with a 3.90 ERA across 191.1 innings of work.

    Despite the small sample size, Darvish is already the leader of Texas’ starting rotation and is arguably in the conversation with some of the most dominant pitchers in the game. He has a ton of great pitches and can put each of them wherever he wants.

    Darvish has been on fire and already looks to be one of the Cy Young Award candidates at the end of the season. He’s inducing more ground balls than last season and is averaging more strikeouts and fewer walks. The Rangers can’t complain about that. 

    G W-L SV IP K/9 BB/9 ERA WAR
    7 5-1 0 45.2 14.19 2.96 2.56 1.5

Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds

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    Brandon Phillips is a stud for the Cincinnati Reds, and it’s about time fans everywhere start recognizing him as one of the best the game has to offer. He’s been as consistent as anyone in baseball since 2006, which speaks to the caliber of his play.

    Phillips has hit at least 18 home runs in each of the last six seasons while scoring at least 78 runs per year over that same span. He has pretty good speed and a great glove at second base as well. He plays hard each and every day and truly cares about winning, unlike some other players in the league.

    While Phillips is exciting to watch on the field, he could be deemed a human highlight reel—he also takes his talents off the field and onto the Internet. If you’re going to follow one player on Twitter, it should be Phillips (@DatDudeBP). Trust me, you won’t regret it.

    32 .281 .324 .461 5 29 1.0

Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    Arguably the best pitcher in the game, Justin Verlander knows how to get things accomplished on the mound. Pitching for the Detroit Tigers his entire career, Verlander has only won fewer than 17 games once in seven full seasons.

    Two seasons ago, Verlander won the AL Cy Young and the league MVP after going 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts across 251 innings of work. All four of his pitches are nearly unhittable and are a main component of why he’s been so successful over the years.

    If you’re going to buy a ticket to watch any pitcher in baseball, it should be Verlander. He has the potential to do something special every time he takes the field. Throwing a gem is nearly a guarantee, and it’s only a matter of time before he throws his third no-hitter or his first perfect game.

    G W-L SV IP K/9 BB/9 ERA WAR
    7 4-2 0 46.1 9.71 2.53 1.55 2.0

Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

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    The Tampa Bay Rays don’t have a lot of big-name players in the organization, but Evan Longoria is certainly one of them. Arguably the top third baseman in baseball, Longoria has been the perfect fit for the Rays. He hits, fields and wins.

    When healthy, Longoria can be an unreal hitter. Although he hasn’t always been very consistent at the plate, he still has great power and a knack for driving in runners on base. Last season, in 74 games, he hit .289/.369/.527 with 17 home runs and 55 RBI.

    While I don’t like using the word “clutch,” you could certainly put Longoria into the category of players who tend to hit better when the game is on the line. Remember when he hit those pair of home runs in Game 162 in 2011 to send the Rays to the playoffs? That’s what I’m talking about. 

    32 .306 .375 .545 7 19 1.7

Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Matt Kemp is an overall great role model for kids hoping to do what he does: play baseball for a living. He makes spectacular plays in the outfield and does quite a bit of hitting, too. He brings another dynamic to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    Last season, Kemp battled injuries but still managed to hit .303/.367/538 with 23 home runs and 69 RBI. The year prior, though, we really saw what he was capable of. In 161 games, Kemp hit .324/.399/.586 with 39 home runs, 126 RBI, 115 runs and 40 stolen bases.

    For those who don’t know, that’s called being productive at the plate. But even off the field, Kemp is a great player to like because you never know what he’s going to do.

    Take a week or so ago for example, when this happened. Kemp is one of the good guys in baseball and one of the more exciting players to watch.

    32 .273 .326 .355 1 14 -0.1

Robinson Cano, New York Yankees

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    If you’ve been breathing for the last couple of years, you obviously have heard of Robinson Cano, second baseman for the New York Yankees and one of the best players in baseball. Just ask any pitcher who’s faced him.

    Quickly emerging as a yearly MVP candidate, Cano can do it all with his bat and his glove. He has become a perennial power hitter, slugging 33 home runs last season, and he makes defensive plays look as smooth as anyone. He can turn any ground ball into an out and make it look easy.

    Despite the Bronx Bombers being very banged up to start the 2013 season, Cano has been a major reason why they’ve been able to stay afloat. He is a game-changer to say the least, and without him, the Yankees would be considerably worse. Expect him to get “exciting” money this offseason, too.

    31 .315 .363 .583 8 19 1.5

Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

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    Buster Posey is still getting acclimated with the major leagues, yet he has already taken the game by storm. He’s arguably the best catcher in baseball in the batter’s box and behind the plate. The San Francisco Giants have a franchise player in Posey.

    Last season was his first full one in the big leagues after breaking his ankle the year prior, and Posey hit .336/.408/.549 with 24 home runs and 103 RBI. He easily defeated Ryan Braun as the NL MVP, which I’m assuming he put next to the Rookie of the Year award he won in 2010.

    Posey is the type of player every guy in the league should strive to be. He has great work ethic, plays the game the right way and has had a lot of success doing so. He can make nearly any play defensively and swings the bat like a champ, too. 

    30 .283 .392 .505 4 19 1.1

David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

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    David Price is a winner no matter where the Tampa Bay Rays finish at the end of the season. Price, arguably the top left-hander in the game, has been very successful since making his debut back in 2008. Coming into 2013, Price already had 61 wins.

    Last season, Price took home AL Cy Young honors after going 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA across 211 innings of work. His 20 victories were a new career high, as was his ERA. He has very good command, walking fewer than three batters on average per nine innings while mowing down an average of eight over the course of his career.

    Price hasn’t gotten off to a very good start this season, getting roughed up in a trio of starts. But he’ll soon prove that the previous years weren’t a fluke and should get back on track before you know it.

    G W-L SV IP K/9 BB/9 ERA WAR
    7 1-3 0 44.2 8.06 2.42 6.25 0.2

Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Ryan Braun has already had quite the career, and he’s only been in the league for six years—2013 being his seventh. He won the NL Rookie of the Year in 2007 and has finished in the top three of the league MVP voting three times since, winning it back in 2011.

    That year, Braun hit .332/.397/.597 with 33 home runs and 111 RBI. Last season, Braun hit .319/.391/.595 with 41 long balls and 112 RBI. He’s stayed consistent in all aspects of the game through his entire career and could be considered one of the few five-tool players in the game.

    Braun is already off to another great start this season, looking to potentially add some more hardware to his collection. Although it will be tough, he has the potential to get the Milwaukee Brewers into the playoffs for a deep run that could lead to a ring on his finger.

    27 .311 .398 .573 7 23 1.2

Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox

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    Dustin Pedroia is the type of second baseman every team should want in its lineup. He’s a great hitter who has fair power for his position, good speed and a great glove. Don’t forget he’s also a hustler and a leader.

    Last season, Pedroia hit .290/.347/.449 with 15 home runs and 65 RBI for the Boston Red Sox, the team he’s spent his entire career with. While Boston hasn’t always been a contending team, Pedroia has remained consistent at the plate and on the field.

    Pedroia is a former AL Rookie of the Year and also won the league MVP back in 2008, just his second season in the league. Despite being one of the smaller players in baseball, his determination and love for the game is huge, and he's extremely easy to root for—even if he’s your team’s rival.

    32 .306 .403 .379 1 13 1.0

Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies

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    For several years, Todd Helton was the guy for the Colorado Rockies. Now, it’s Troy Tulowitzki. One of the best two-way shortstops in baseball, Tulowitzki can do pretty much whatever he wants with a bat if he’s healthy.

    If Tulowitzki ran a little more often, he’d easily be a five-tool player. He did steal 20 bases back in 2009, but has only swiped 22 in the last three seasons combined. Still, he has a great bat and a fantastic glove. He only managed to play in 47 games last season due to injury, but it doesn’t seem to be taking a toll on him this season.

    Tulowitzki has been a good power-hitting shortstop over the course of his career, hitting more than 24 home runs in a season four times. With seven already through the first 28 games of the season, it seems likely that he’ll reach that plateau again. If he stays hot, he could lead the Rockies to the postseason.

    28 .348 .435 .663 7 28 1.6

B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves

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    The Tampa Bay Rays lost a franchise player this past offseason when B.J. Upton left to sign with the Atlanta Braves. Upton left the Rays after eight seasons and finished his career there in the top five of several all-time offensive categories including hits and runs.

    Upton would be a five-tool player if he hit a little more consistently. For now, he’s a four-tool player, which is still nothing to scoff at. He did hit .300 in one season, but that was back in 2007 when Tampa Bay was still the Devil Rays. He hasn’t topped .250 since 2008.

    He hasn’t gotten off on the right foot with the Braves this season, but it shouldn’t be long until he starts to hit like his brother, Justin. But don’t get me wrong, Upton is still a very fun player to watch. He’s a spectacular talent that doesn’t come around too often.

    29 .148 .231 .269 3 5 -0.1

Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds

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    If you blink, you’re definitely going to miss what Aroldis Chapman, closer for the Cincinnati Reds, is doing on the mound. Since coming to the United States, all Chapman has done is impress, especially with his blazing fastball.

    When Chapman broke into the league with the Reds in 2010, his fastball went an average of 99.6 miles per hour each time. It’s gotten marginally slower the last few years, but still comes in at around 97 miles per hour on an average day, give or take a mile per hour or two.

    Chapman only throws his fastball and a nasty slider, but that’s more than enough to confuse opposing batters. He has a career K/9 rate of 14.04 and a 2.34 ERA across 150 innings of work. Chapman saved 38 games for Cincinnati last season and will likely come close to that total again this year.

    G W-L SV IP K/9 BB/9 ERA WAR
    16 2-1 7 15.0 13.2 3.6 2.40 0.5

Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    A clear-cut five-tool player, Andrew McCutchen is one of the young rising stars in Major League Baseball. The Pittsburgh Pirates are very lucky to have him, considering that nearly every team would welcome him with open arms.

    But with the Pirates, McCutchen has gone from an above-average center fielder to an MVP candidate in just a couple of years. Flaunting his offensive prowess, defensive abilities and speed, McCutchen has really made a name for himself. Just last season, he hit .327/.400/.553 with 31 home runs, 96 RBI, 107 runs and 20 stolen bases.

    While the Pirates have gotten off to a good start to the 2013 season, McCutchen hasn’t been much of a factor. Over the course of his career, though, he’s never been a great hitter in April. May and June is really when he starts to get hot. Give him some more time.

    30 .250 .309 .429 4 17 0.7