With every new baseball season comes a renewed sense of hope for baseball fans everywhere.
With everyone's record tied at 0-0, every fan of every team can imagine a scenario in which their favorite team finds a way to make it to the playoffs and, with a little luck, the World Series.
Behind these hopes there is oftentimes a prediction of a breakout performance by a young player, a return to form by a veteran, or simply a continued dominance by a team's superstar.
The 2009 season has already seen examples of all of these, and teams like the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers are reaping the rewards. So who are the players behind their teams' success? Here is my breakdown of 2009's best players at the six-week point of the season.
Victor Martinez, Cleveland Indians
Joe Mauer may have something to say about this by the end of the season, but to this point there is no question that Martinez is head and shoulders above the pack when it comes to catchers.
His .401 batting average would be enough to take honors here, but just for good measure I'll mention his seven home runs, 26 RBI, 31 runs, and a minuscule 14 strikeouts in his first 152 at-bats.
Honorable Mention: Bengie Molina, Rod Barajas, and Mike Napoli.
Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
For Pujols, this is just more of the same: a batting average that hovers around .330, a home run every 10 at-bats, one or more RBI per game, and a .672 slugging percent.
If you can still be surprised by anything this guy does, it might be his six stolen bases, which are more a testament to his high baseball IQ than his running ability.
Honorable Mention: Justin Morneau, Miguel Cabrera, and Adrian Gonzalez.
Aaron Hill, Toronto Blue Jays
This was perhaps the most difficult position to rank.
Hill and Ian Kinsler are leading the charge for the "Year of the Second Baseman" with guys like Chase Utley, Orlando Hudson, Brian Roberts, Rickie Weeks, etc., etc., all having great starts to 2009.
Though both Hill and Kinsler are putting up similarly spectacular power numbers (each has 11 home runs and more than 30 RBI), Hill is hitting nearly 30 points higher than Kinsler with his .345 batting average.
Honorable Mention: Ian Kinsler, Orlando Hudson, and Chase Utley, with at least seven other guys deserving consideration.
Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Simply put: the most valuable young player in the league. This guy is already being mentioned among the top defensive third basemen in the league, but defense is just icing when it comes to Longoria.
A Triple Crown candidate, Longoria is hitting for a .347 average with 11 home runs and a league-best 46 RBI, all at the age of 24 years old. Is there anyone in baseball that could be traded straight up for this guy? I say absolutely not.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright, and Michael Young.
Marco Scutaro, Toronto Blue Jays
The shortstop position has been surprisingly thin this season.
Hanley Ramirez has only recently begun to hit and will likely move to the top of this list in the next six weeks, but to this point, no one has been more consistent than Scutaro.
A .286 average along with a .410 OBP, 16 extra base hits, and 20 RBI while hitting leadoff for the league's most winning team are enough to give Scutaro the top spot here.
Honorable Mention: Hanley Ramirez, Jason Bartlett, and Miguel Tejada.
Raul Ibanez, Philadelphia Phillies
An ultimate sleeper in any fantasy league.
Everyone knew that Ibanez would improve on his solid stats from the last two seasons after moving from the Mariners to the Phillies, but not many people saw this start coming.
He's hitting .357, leads all outfielders with 13 home runs and a .714 slugging percentage, and trails only Jason Bay with his 35 RBI. He has sprinkled in four stolen bases without being caught and has struck out only 21 times in his first 140 at-bats.
Honorable Mention: Jason Bay, Johnny Damon, and Adam Lind.
Carlos Beltran, New York Mets
No one has ever questioned this guy's talent or production, but the first six weeks of the 2009 season have seen Beltran outperform anything he has done in the past.
His .378 batting average is almost 100 points above his career average. He has 18 extra base hits, 28 RBI, and 27 runs scored, all while playing his usual Gold Glove defense in Citi Field's cavernous outfield.
Honorable Mention: Adam Jones, Torii Hunter, and Nate McLouth.
Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles
Tucked away in the outfield of the perennial basement-dweller Baltimore Orioles, Markakis has quietly put together a solid three-year career and looks ready for stardom in his fourth season.
A .336 batting average, 19 extra base hits, 34 RBI, 35 runs, and just 18 strikeouts are hard numbers to ignore, but sharing a division with powerhouses like the Red Sox and Yankees—as well as everyone's favorite underdogs, the Rays—does tend to deflect some of Markakis' well-deserved praise.
Honorable Mention: Jayson Werth, Brad Hawpe, and Andre Ethier.
Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals
Seven wins to one loss, a 0.60 era, a 0.83 whip, 65 Ks, 10 walks in 60 innings, and four complete games in eight starts. Simply put—dominating.
Honorable Mention: Roy Halladay, Johan Santana, and Chad Billingsley.
Heath Bell, San Diego Padres
Replacing an all-time great—in this case, Trevor Hoffman—is never an easy task, but Bell has been up to the challenge so far.
Bell is a perfect nine-for-nine in save opportunities and has yet to allow an earned run in his 15 innings of work this season. He's averaging just over a strikeout per inning and is carrying a WHIP of 0.80.
Unfortunately for Bell, the Padres aren't winning many games, and Bell's total number of saves hasn't been and won't be very impressive. However, don't be fooled by his lack of saves; Bell is as good as it gets out of the bullpen right now.
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Broxton, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jonathan Papelbon.