Ranking the Top 25 Players in the NL West
In a National League West oozing with talent, it is only appropriate to offer a ranking of the top 25 players in the division.
Does pitching rule the NL West? Which newcomers will make impacts?
Take a look to find out!
Note: Rankings are based on how well the player has performed in previous seasons and his potential to play well in the future.
Ethier may be the odd man out in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ crowded outfield, but he has still had a very steady career. As a .288 lifetime hitter, he has become the walk-off king in Los Angeles and was awarded in 2012 with a five-year deal worth $85 million.
When the injury carousel made its way around the Dodgers' outfield last season, Ethier filled in to cover all three positions and only had two errors on the year. If the injury bug continues to bite the Dodgers, he will be expected to come to the rescue again.
In the 2012, Pagan was a critical part of the San Francisco Giants’ championship run, as he hit .288, swiped 29 bags and led the National League with 15 triples. Despite his memorable walk-off inside-the-park home run, Pagan had a forgettable 2013, appearing in just 71 games due to a hamstring injury.
If Pagan can return to his 2012 form, he would give the Giants a huge spark at the top of the order and help set the table for Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval.
Martin Prado gives the Arizona Diamondbacks extreme flexibility both in the field and in the batting order. He can hit high or low in the lineup, play the corner outfield spots and play anywhere in the infield.
After seven years with the Atlanta Braves, Prado was traded to the Diamondbacks in January 2013. During his first year in Arizona, he played in 155 games and hit .282 with 14 home runs and 82 RBI. Even more impressively, he had just 53 strikeouts in 603 at-bats.
Finally healthy again, Carl Crawford is poised to right the ship in 2014. The speedy outfielder has struggled to stay off the disabled list the past two seasons but looks ready to go for Opening Day.
With the Tampa Bay Rays from 2002 to 2010, Crawford was a four-time All-Star and four-time American League stolen base leader. While he may not be able to swipe 60 bags again, he is still a very dangerous threat as a leadoff hitter and could make a big impact if he stays healthy.
The power-hitting Carlos Quentin joined the San Diego Padres in 2012 after four seasons with the Chicago White Sox, where he totaled 107 home runs and 320 RBI. He was having a very solid year in 2013 before a knee sprain in late July abruptly ended his season.
While Quentin has only appeared in 168 games in two seasons with the Padres, he has still hit 29 home runs. Not to mention, he is also 1-0 on charging the mound.
Since inking his eight-year, $160 million deal in November 2011, Matt Kemp has had back-to-back injury-riddled seasons. After offseason surgery on his ankle, Kemp hasn’t seen game action yet, but Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is hopeful his return will come soon.
Kemp is a five-tool player and joined the prestigious 30-30 club in 2011 when he smacked 39 home runs and swiped 40 bags. When healthy, he can be one of the best outfielders in the National League, both offensively and defensively. Which Kemp will we see in 2014?
After asserting himself as one of the best power hitters in the American League, Mark Trumbo was traded to the Diamondbacks this offseason. In three full seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, he hit 95 home runs and drove in 284 runs.
Sure, he struck out 457 times in that span, but the Diamondbacks desperately needed another bat to protect Paul Goldschmidt and they got it.
If Trumbo can bring his strikeout numbers down and continue to put up the big power numbers, he and Goldschmidt should make for a great three-four punch in the Diamondbacks order. How many home runs will Trumbo have in 2014?
Not many pitchers in Major League Baseball have been as consistent for as long as Tim Hudson has. In his 15 seasons, he has only had a 4.00-plus ERA twice and has thrown for over 200 innings eight times.
Hudson will now be pitching off the mound at pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, where long fly-ball outs are the norm and home runs come at a premium. Look for Hudson to continue to get outs via the ground ball and eat up a lot of innings in 2014.
Whether or not the Kung Fu Panda will be in shape come Opening Day has been the burning question surrounding Pablo Sandoval every offseason. When he is slimmed down, he has been one of the best hitters in the National League, as he proved in 2011 when he hit .315.
Sandoval hit .364 throughout the 2012 playoffs, highlighted by a three-home run performance in Game 1 of the World Series. If he can take care of his body, he would make a big impact to the Giants lineup in 2014.
After a mediocre rookie campaign in 2012, Patrick Corbin became one of the best pitchers in the National League in 2013. He went 14-8 on the year with a 3.41 ERA and did not even have a loss until July 2.
The second half of the season wasn’t too friendly, though, as he went 3-7 with a 5.19 ERA. Corbin will be on the mound when his Diamondbacks open the season in Australia against the Dodgers March 22. At just 24 years old, he should be the ace of the Arizona staff for years to come.
During his first season as the full-time closer in 2013, Sergio Romo had 38 saves, the third-most in the National League. He doesn’t throw 100 mph like an Aroldis Chapman does, but his slider and ridiculous control have made him an elite closer. In 60.1 innings last year, Romo allowed a mere 12 walks while striking out 58 batters.
When Brian Wilson went down in 2012, he stepped in and helped solidify the back end of the bullpen. During the 2012 playoffs, Romo threw 10.2 innings, allowed just one earned run and froze Miguel Cabrera on an 89 mph fastball to bring home a championship.
In just his first season in the majors, Hyun-Jin Ryu made a big splash, going 14-8 with a 3.00 ERA. From June through August, Ryu went 7-3 and helped the Dodgers run away with the NL West.
He tossed two complete games in 2013 and racked up 190 innings, second on the Dodgers staff behind Clayton Kershaw. In the NLCS, he had the best start of any Dodgers pitcher, throwing seven shutout innings to pick up a Game 3 win against the St. Louis Cardinals.
With one season under his belt, look for Ryu to have another stellar year in 2014.
I think it is fair to say the Colorado Rockies made a great move when they signed Michael Cuddyer back in December 2011. His 2012 season was cut short due to an oblique injury, but he made up for it in 2013 when he hit .331, the highest average in the National League.
Although he is 34 years old, Cuddyer is still hitting for power, driving in runs and taking advantage of the friendly confines of Coors Field. If he can repeat his 2013 performance, he, Troy Tulowitski and Carlos Gonzales could form one of the best No. 3 through No. 5 hitters in the National League.
Since Matt Cain became a full-time starting pitcher in 2006, he has been the bulldog of the Giants rotation. 2013 marked the first time in seven seasons that he failed to reach 200 innings.
Cain has a career full of accolades and is not even 30 years old yet. In eight full seasons in the majors, he has two World Series rings, three All-Star appearances and he threw the only perfect game in San Francisco Giants history.
Although he struggled in the first half of 2013, Cain turned his season around and had a post-All-Star ERA of 2.36. In order for the Giants to return to the postseason, they will need Cain to return to his old form in 2014.
After being traded from the Toronto Blue Jays in 2011, Aaron Hill has provided a huge impact to the Diamondbacks lineup. In his first full season in Arizona in 2012, Hill hit .302 with 26 home runs and 85 RBI, earning him the NL Silver Slugger Award for second basemen.
He broke his hand early last season and only appeared in 87 games. Now, Hill is fully healthy and is expected to be a huge part of getting the Diamondbacks back to postseason baseball.
“He’s obviously been outstanding for us since he came over here from Toronto,” said D-backs manager Kirk Gibson per Adam Green of ArizonaSports.com. “He brings very good defense, he adds to our team offensively, he makes our lineup much stronger.”
Chase Headley had a breakout year for the Padres in 2012 when he hit .286 wiht 31 home runs and 115 RBI. 2013 wasn’t as friendly, as he missed the first 14 games of the season due to a thumb injury and hit .250 the rest of the way.
Entering his contract year, Headley may not be sticking around too much longer on the Padres if they are out of the NL West race by July.
Hunter Pence is about as unorthodox as you can get as a ballplayer, but that is what San Francisco loves about him. Although he struggled mightily during the Giants’ championship run in 2012, Pence has become a fan favorite with his infamous pregame speeches throughout the playoffs.
He had a big year in 2013 to the tune of 27 home runs and 99 RBI. More impressively, he started all 162 games in 2013, something no Giant had done since 1954 according to Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated. At the end of last season, the Giants rewarded Pence with a five-year deal worth $90 million.
In order for the Giants to return to their third World Series in the last five seasons, they will need Pence to pick up where he left off in 2013.
Since Carlos Gonzalez joined the Rockies in 2008, he has won three Gold Gloves, made two All-Star games and won the 2010 NL Silver Slugger award. If the Rockies have any shot of returning to the playoffs in 2014, they will need Gonzales to stay healthy.
CarGo has thrived at the hitter-friendly Coors Field. From 2011 to 2013, he hit .329 at home, including 41 home runs and 160 RBI. Although he only played in 110 games last year due to a finger injury, it appears he is healthy and ready for a bounce-back year.
In a lineup with Troy Tulowitski, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau, CarGo could be poised for another monster season.
Zack Greinke learned in 2013 that he may not be the ideal candidate for a knockout fight when Carlos Quentin charged the mound and broke the pitcher’s collarbone. Despite missing a month of the regular season, he still turned in a 15-4 record and a 2.63 ERA.
Entering his 11th season in the majors, Greinke has asserted himself as one of the most consistent pitchers in the game. Since 2007, he's had an ERA over 4.00 ERA in only one season and took home the 2009 AL Cy Young Award after his career-best 2.16 ERA.
Clayton Kershaw is clearly the ace of the Dodgers rotation but with Greinke eating up big innings on the mound, this one-two punch could be one of the best in baseball.
When healthy, Tulowitzki is one of the best shortstops in the game.
Tulo can hit 30 home runs, drive in 100 runs and make one Web Gem after another. Despite being very injury-prone, he has made three All-Star games, won two Gold Glove awards and won two NL Silver Slugger awards.
With Todd Helton gone, Tulo has become the veteran guy of the Rockies clubhouse and is expected to lead Colorado back to playoffs for the first time since 2009.
“My focus is on being really good mentally and getting the guys to realize how important winning is,” said Tulowitski per Troy Renck of The Denver Post. “Nothing else matters if we don’t win.”
Since he opened up his Dodgers career in 2012 with a three-run homer, Adrian Gonzales has become the club’s best power hitter. In 2013, he had a team-high 22 home runs, 100 RBI and 171 hits.
While Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford all battled injuries, Gonzales remained healthy and appeared in 157 games. Last August, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly called Adrian Gonzales the team’s MVP.
“He quietly doesn’t get the attention,” said Mattingly, per Scott Miller of CBS Sports. “He’s so consistent. He does it day by day. He keeps getting his hits. Nothing dramatic. It’s just the day-by-day stuff.”
Entering his fourth full season in the big leagues, Madison Bumgarner has already become the ace of the Giants starting rotation. In 2013, he made his first All-Star team and went 13-9 with a 2.77 ERA. When the rest of the Giants pitching staff struggled, Bumgarner was Mr. Consistent all season, throwing for 201.1 innings and racking up 199 strikeouts.
Due to his stellar season in 2013, Bumgarner was named the Opening Day starter by skipper Bruce Bochy last month. Even though he is just 24 years old, Bumgarner has thrived on the big stage. In two World Series starts, the young lefty has thrown 15 shutout innings and only given up five hits.
With question marks in their rotation, the Giants will need Bumgarner to come up big again this season. If he can repeat his 2013 performance, he will be in the discussion for the NL Cy Young.
Once Yasiel Puig was called up to the majors June 2 of last season, the Dodgers' season turned on a dime. In games where Puig played, the Dodgers went 66-38 and went on to win the NL West by 11 games.
Puig finished his 2013 campaign with a .319 batting average, 19 home runs and 122 hits in just 104 games. In the field, he was a frequent contributor of SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays, as he made unbelievable catches in the outfield and showed off his cannon of an arm.
The Dodgers saw how valuable Puig was to their club in 2013. He took a team that was under .500 and carried it to the its first NL West title since 2009.
If Puig picks up from where he left off last season, could he be in the running for NL MVP?
After being traded to the Dodgers in 2012, Hanley Ramirez has begun to look like All-Star shortstop we saw a few years ago.
He missed two months of the 2013 season due to injury but still hit .345, including 20 home runs and 57 RBI. He went on to hit .323 in the postseason while leading the Dodgers to the NLCS.
Ramirez was the franchise player for the Miami Marlins but experienced tension with the organization and struggled during his final few years with the team. Han-Ram has found a new home in Los Angeles and become an elite short stop once again.
If he can stay healthy, he has the ability to win his second NL batting title.
Paul Goldschmidt has done it all since he became the full-time first baseman for the Diamondbacks in 2012.
After hitting .286 in 2012, he had an unbelievable year in 2013 where he hit 36 home runs, drove in 125 runs and asserted himself as one of the best power hitters in the National League. Playing indoors at Chase Field, Goldschmidt has the opportunity to continue putting up massive power numbers and become the best hitting first basemen in all of baseball.
He didn’t have much protection in the Diamondbacks lineup last season, but he will now have Trumbo accompanying him in the order this year. Look for Goldschmidt to have another monster year in 2013 and be in the running again for his first NL MVP award.
Buster Posey is the face of the San Francisco Giants franchise. In his first two full seasons in the big leagues, he racked up the accolades, taking home NL Rookie of the Year and NL MVP and winning two World Series titles as well.
Not many catchers can hit for a high average and put up big power numbers, but Posey is the exception. After suffering a devastating leg injury in 2011, he returned stronger than ever in 2012, finishing the year with a .336 average while hitting 24 home runs and driving in 103 runs.
Posey didn’t put up the same massive numbers in 2013, but he still hit .294 and collected 153 hits, second behind only Yadier Molina among all catchers. The Giants understand how special a player Posey, is which is why they have him locked up through at least 2021.
Dodgers Clayton Kershaw ace is not only the best pitcher in the NL West, he is arguably the best pitcher in the major leagues.
Kershaw has two Cy Young awards under his belt in just five full seasons. The lefty has won 51 games for the Dodgers over the past three years, earning a $215 million extension this offseason. In 2013, he had a ridiculous 1.83 ERA and a 7.9 WAR, 0.6 higher than any other pitcher in baseball.
At just 25 years old, Kershaw has accomplished so much in his young career, and his ceiling is only growing higher and higher. Is there a more valuable player in the NL West? I think not.