Grading the Top 50 MLB Players After 2 Months of Baseball

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2014

Grading the Top 50 MLB Players After 2 Months of Baseball

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    Attention: This is not a list of the 50 best players of 2014, or everyone's grade would simply be an "A" and this entire exercise would be pointless. Instead, this is a list grading the performance of who I viewed as the MLB's top 50 players back in March, based on an article I wrote prior to the season starting.

    With two months of baseball nearly in the books, we are already roughly one-third of the way through the 2014 MLB season.

    With more and more advanced stats available these days, predicting player performance has become a science of sorts, but it is still far from a sure thing, as baseball has a funny way of being wildly unpredictable.

    As with any season, there have been a number of out-of-nowhere surprises, as well as several disappointing starts from guys who were expected to be stars.

    In the article that follows, the top 50 players in baseball entering the season have been graded on their performances so far.

    Injuries are a part of the game, and unavoidable in many cases, but a player does not simply get a pass for being sidelined. If you simply don't show up for class, you fail. If you are not on the field for your team, you are not producing and helping it win games, simple as that.

    The grading scale is as follows:

    • A: Player has produced at an elite level once again.
    • B: Player has produced at a star level and is in good position to be elite, or player is producing at an elite level but has missed some time.
    • C: Player has produced below expectations and/or has missed some time.
    • D: Player has produced well below expectations or has missed significant time.
    • F: Player has produced well below expectations and has no chance of improving.

    So with explanations out of the way, here are your two-month grades for the top 50 players in the game.

50. SP Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers

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    More than a few people questioned the Detroit Tigers' decision to re-sign Anibal Sanchez to a big five-year, $80 million deal prior to last season. He silenced the critics by winning the AL ERA title, as he gave the Tigers another ace-caliber arm.

    He missed 17 games with a finger laceration earlier this season but has pitched well when he's been on the field. His injury also allowed Robbie Ray to get his feet wet with a few starts, which could be big in the second half.

    Grade: A-

49. 1B Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers

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    After averaging 40 home runs and 113 RBI per season from 2007 to 2011, Prince Fielder saw his production dip a bit with the move to Detroit, as those averages fell to 28 home runs and 107 RBI over the past two years.

    An offensive resurgence was expected with the move to the Texas Rangers and hitter-friendly Globe Life Park in Arlington, but Fielder instead stumbled out of the box. Things then went from bad to worse when he went on the shelf with a neck injury, and he's expected to miss the rest of the season following surgery, according to Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas.

    Grade: F

48. 3B Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Matt Carpenter was a revelation in his first full season in 2013, as he led the National League in hits, doubles and runs scored while providing the St. Louis Cardinals with a huge spark atop the lineup.

    He made the move to third base this season after David Freese was traded to the Los Angeles Angels, and while his offense is not as valuable at the hot corner as it was at second and his numbers are down across the board, he is still providing a nice on-base percentage out of the leadoff spot.

    Grade: B-

47. 3B Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles

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    Manny Machado suffered a gruesome knee injury in the final weeks of the 2013 season, and he was still recovering from the subsequent surgery when Opening Day rolled around this year. It ended up costing him the first 24 games of the season, and he has yet to hit his stride at the plate since returning.

    It's easy to forget that Machado is still just 21 years old, as he has already established himself as one of the game's premier defensive players while taking a big step forward at the plate last year. The results have not been great so far, but he gets the benefit of the doubt as he is still shaking off some rust.

    Grade: D

46. SP Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners

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    The Seattle Mariners' decision to re-sign Hisashi Iwakuma to a two-year, $14 million deal after the 2012 season didn't grab many headlines, but it proved to be a brilliant decision by the front office.

    He wound up finishing third in AL Cy Young voting last year, and while a strained finger tendon cost him the first 26 games of this season, he has picked up right where he left off since returning. His splitter is among the best pitches in the game today, and with him and Felix Hernandez, the Mariners have a dynamic one-two punch atop their rotation.

    Grade: B+

45. 1B Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels

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    Slowed and eventually sidelined for the year with a foot injury, Albert Pujols failed to reach the 30-home run mark for the first time in his storied career last season. He may never again be the dominant force he was in St. Louis, but he's having a nice bounce-back season here in 2014.

    He launched career home run No. 500 back on April 22, and he has the power strike working once again this season. The Angels are off to a great start, and with Josh Hamilton landing on the disabled list after a hot start, Pujols' production has been that much more important.

    Grade: B

44. SP Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Zack Greinke in hopes that he could provide them a second ace behind Clayton Kershaw, and after an inauspicious start that saw him sidelined for a month after fracturing his collarbone in an April brawl, he returned and gave them just that.

    He was 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 14 starts after the All-Star break last year, and he's been the Dodgers' best starter in the early parts of this season. With the ever-climbing price of pitching, that six-year, $147 million deal he signed is looking better and better.

    Grade: A

43. SP Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox

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    After posting the worst numbers of his career in 2012, Jon Lester bounced back with a solid regular season last year before taking his game to another level once October rolled around. He finished the postseason 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in six starts, including 2-0 with just one run allowed in 14.4 innings during the World Series.

    He's pitched better than his numbers indicate this season, as his ERA and WHIP are inflated by a rough start against the Toronto Blue Jays, where he allowed 10 hits and seven earned runs in 6.1 innings. He has seven quality starts in 11 games.

    Grade: B-

42. 1B Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Edwin Encarnacion has emerged as one of the game's most productive sluggers over the past two-plus seasons. In fact, since the start of the 2012 season, only Miguel Cabrera (96) has more long balls than the 94 that Encarnacion has launched.

    There were some concerns about his production when he ended April with a .775 OPS and just two home runs, but he has exploded for a team-record 14 home runs here in May, and he is a big reason why the Toronto Blue Jays sit atop the AL East standings.

    Grade: A

41. SP Mat Latos, Cincinnati Reds

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    When Johnny Cueto landed on the DL for an extended period of time last season, Mat Latos stepped into the role of staff ace for the Cincinnati Reds and more than held his own as one of the top arms in the National League.

    Originally sidelined following offseason knee surgery, the 26-year-old then suffered a flexor mass strain in his elbow. He just made his first rehab start on Sunday and will make at least two more before potentially rejoining the big league club.

    Grade: F

40. CF Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers

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    The 2012 season looked like a breakout year for Carlos Gomez, as he hit .260 with a .768 OPS, 19 home runs and 51 RBI for a 2.3 WAR. That wound up being just the tip of the iceberg, as he took his game to another level last season.

    He raised his triple-slash numbers across the board with a .284/.338/.506 line to go along with career highs of 27 doubles, 10 triples, 24 home runs, 73 RBI and 40 steals for an 8.9 WAR. The scary thing is, he's been even better this season, as there is no question he is one of the game's elite power/speed threats.

    Grade: A+

39. 1B Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    He has not reached the 30-home run mark since his final season in San Diego back in 2010, but Adrian Gonzalez remains one of the game's most consistent run producers, and he's off to another nice start in the middle of the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup.

    Add to that the fact that he's as durable as they come, having played at least 155 games each of the past eight seasons, and he is one of the best defensive first basemen in the game. There is no question he is a legitimate star on a roster full of them.

    Grade: B+

38. SP Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Sidelined for the first 20 games of the season with shoulder tendinitis, Cole Hamels is not off to the best of starts since returning, though he has thrown the ball better than his ERA might indicate.

    After a rocky first few starts, he has a 2.89 ERA over his last four outings, with 30 strikeouts in 28 innings of work, but the team has gone just 1-3 in those starts. He does not have the best supporting cast around him, so his win-loss record could be ugly once again, but expect his peripheral numbers to fall into place as the season goes on.

    Grade: C+

37. LF Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

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    Last season, the Washington Nationals were 65-53 when Bryce Harper was in the lineup, compared to just 21-23 when he was sidelined with various injuries. He's been bit by the injury bug once again this season, as thumb surgery will sideline him until at least July.

    Still just 21 years old, the pieces are all there for him to be one of the game's legitimate superstars, but his all-out style of play has already cost him a ton of games. He needs to shake the dreaded "injury-prone" label if he is ever going to reach his full potential.

    Grade: D

36. RP Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

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    Undoubtedly the most dominant closer in baseball since taking over the job full time in 2011, Craig Kimbrel has converted 151 of 168 save chances over that span with a 1.52 ERA and a ridiculous 377 strikeouts in 225.1 innings.

    His stuff is downright filthy, as his fastball/slider combination is as good as any in baseball and perfectly suited for the ninth inning. The Braves locked him up with a four-year, $42 million extension, which is big money for a reliever, but he's earned it.

    Grade: A

35. SP Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

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    Though teammate Jordan Zimmermann won an NL-best 19 games last season, Stephen Strasburg had better peripheral numbers with a 3.00 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 1.049 WHIP and 9.4 K/9. However, he finished 2013 just 8-9 in 30 starts, as he has yet to put together that truly dominant campaign everyone is waiting for.

    It's been more of the same this year, as he leads the NL with a 10.7 K/9 mark and sits fourth in the league with a 2.60 FIP but is just 3-4 on the season. The 25-year-old still has the stuff to be one of the game's elite pitchers, and in his third season since Tommy John surgery, injuries are no longer a factor.

    Grade: B

34. RF Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

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    Injuries have curtailed his production the past two seasons, but Giancarlo Stanton has flashed some of the best raw power in the game when he has been on the field, launching 117 home runs prior to his 25th birthday.

    He's finally been healthy this season, and the results have been staggering, as he leads the NL in home runs and RBI while hitting .318/.413/.621 in the process for the fourth-best OPS in the league at 1.034. As long as he stays healthy, he could have a monster 2014.

    Grade: A+

33. CF Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles

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    Adam Jones has steadily improved each season since joining the Baltimore Orioles, and he has emerged as a legitimate star over the past few years. He set new career highs last year with 33 home runs and 108 RBI while also winning his third Gold Glove.

    He is never going to have a high on-base percentage, but a solid batting average and plus power make up for that. He is not off to the best of starts here in 2014, but a few more home runs would put his triple-slash numbers right in line with last season.

    Grade: C

32. SP Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

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    Still only 24 years old, Madison Bumgarner may be the most underrated pitcher in the game today. He has established himself as a legitimate ace over the past three-plus seasons, and he still has room to improve moving forward.

    He finished ninth in NL Cy Young voting last season while posting the best numbers of his career across the board, and with the staff as a whole pitching better around him this year, there is far less pressure on him to shoulder the load. His WHIP is way up this year, as his H/9 has climbed from 6.5 to 9.6, but that should level off once his .354 BABIP regresses back toward the norm.

    Grade: B+

31. LF Shin-Soo Choo, Texas Rangers

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    Not much has gone according to plan for the Texas Rangers so far this season, but the decision to sign Shin-Soo Choo to a seven-year, $130 million deal in the offseason looks like a good one to this point.

    One of the game's premier on-base threats throughout his career, Choo posted a career-best .423 OBP in his lone season with the Cincinnati Reds last year while recording his third 20/20 performance. He's been a dynamic table-setter once again this season and sits second in the AL in OBP.

    Grade: A

30. LF Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies

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    For as good as the Colorado Rockies have been this season offensively, Carlos Gonzalez has actually been one of their weaker hitters so far. Troy Tulowitzki, Charlie Blackmon, Justin Morneau and Nolan Arenado have all put up better numbers to this point, and Gonzalez's .767 OPS is down nearly 200 points from the .958 mark he put up last year.

    Injuries have always been an issue for CarGo, and he is currently sidelined with a calf contusion after a relatively healthy start to the year. He is still a dangerous hitter with a great mix of power and speed, but so far this year, his production has been below average.

    Grade: C-

29. SP Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins

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    Through his first eight starts in 2014, Jose Fernandez was probably the best pitcher in all of baseball, as any thoughts of a sophomore slump were thrown out the window. He had the Miami Marlins looking like legitimate contenders a year after the team lost 100 games.

    An arm injury derailed his terrific start, though, as he joined the ever-growing list of pitchers to undergo Tommy John surgery. Whether or not you are a fan of the Marlins, his starts were must-see TV, and losing him for the season was a blow not only to the team, but the baseball world as a whole.

    Grade: D

    The grade would be an F, but those eight starts were phenomenal and a big reason why the Marlins were able to build some much-needed early momentum.

28. DH David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox

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    It's easy to forget that David Ortiz was all but written off after he hit just .238 back in 2009, but that proved to be just a bump in the road for the slugger, who has continued to make a significant impact in the middle of the Red Sox lineup in the years since.

    He'll make a serious run at Edgar Martinez for the title of best designated hitter of all time before all is said and done, and his postseason heroics may be enough for a ticket to Cooperstown. His numbers are down a bit so far this year, but at 38 years old, he is still a dangerous hitter.

    Grade: B

27. RF Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

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    The Milwaukee Brewers were a different team without Ryan Braun in the lineup last year, as they slipped from first in the National League in runs scored in 2012 to eighth and found themselves in fourth place in the NL Central as a result.

    He has already dealt with some injuries this season, but when he has been on the field, his production has once again been at an elite level. As far as overall production, teammate Carlos Gomez might be the more valuable player right now, but no one may be more important to the success of the team than Braun.

    Grade: B+

26. SP Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

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    After an up-and-down 2013 season, Justin Verlander finally seemed to figure things out over his final two regular-season starts and into the postseason. He followed that up with 20 scoreless innings in spring training, as he looked ready to again join the ranks of the game's best starters.

    He was 4-2 with a 2.67 ERA through his first eight starts but has gone off the tracks since with an 8.31 ERA in his last three starts. His velocity is down a tick across the board, according to FanGraphs, and there will likely be more bumps ahead as he makes the transition to pitching without his once overpowering stuff.

    Grade: C-

25. SP David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Viewed by many as a sure thing to be traded, David Price wound up staying put this offseason, and the Tampa Bay Rays entered the year with lofty aspirations as a result. It's fair to say things have not gone according to plan, as the team has been hit hard by injuries to the pitching staff and stumbled out of the gates as a result.

    Price has been far from an ace so far, turning in just five quality starts in 11 games, though he does lead the AL with a ridiculous 10.5 K/BB ratio. He'll still be a hot commodity if the Rays decide to make him available, and it's worth noting that he got off to a similarly slow start in 2013, but he's struggled, no matter how you slice it.

    Grade: C-

24. SS Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies

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    A healthy Troy Tulowitzki currently leads the MLB in all three triple-slash categories and runs scored, as he has shown once again why he is the best all-around shortstop and one of the top overall players in the game when he can avoid injury.

    He is the leading vote-getter on the National League side of things in the first All-Star balloting update, and rightfully so, as he has been the best offensive player in baseball so far this year.

    Grade: A+

23. 1B Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

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    After he missed the final month of the 2013 season following a concussion, the Twins made the decision to move Joe Mauer to first base full time this season, as they look to get the most out of the five years and $115 million remaining on his contract.

    Many predicted an uptick in his power numbers with the grind of catching no longer taking its toll, but that has not been the case so far, as he has managed just nine extra-base hits in his first 177 at-bats. He remains one of the game's best pure hitters and an on-base machine, but the lack of power and move out from behind the plate make him far less valuable.

    Grade: C+

22. 3B David Wright, New York Mets

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    An eight-year, $138 million extension made David Wright the centerpiece of the Mets' rebuilding efforts and assured that the face of the franchise would not depart in free agency like Jose Reyes had done just a year earlier.

    A hamstring injury cost him 45 games last year, but when he was on the field, no third baseman was more productive at the plate. His power has been slow to come around this year, but he is still hitting for a solid average and driving in runs, so he's managed to stay productive.

    Grade: B

21. 3B Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

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    One of the faces of the MLB and a bona fide superstar, Evan Longoria bounced back from an injury-plagued 2012 season to play 160 games last year, and he helped lead the Tampa Bay Rays to their fourth postseason appearance in the past six seasons.

    He has struggled to find his power stroke in 2014, and his OPS is down 140 points as a result. Like many of the Rays, he has disappointed so far. That said, there is no reason to think he won't catch fire at some point, as his 6.3 HR/FB% is well below his 12.5 career mark entering the year.

    Grade: C+

20. C Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

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    After winning the NL batting title and taking home NL MVP honors in 2012, Buster Posey took a step back at the plate last year, but he was still the most productive offensive catcher in the league outside of Yadier Molina.

    With a vastly improved lineup around him this year, he won't be asked to carry the offensive load like he had been in years past. While that has not resulted in big numbers to this point, it should bode well for his season as a whole as he looks to lead the Giants to the postseason once again.

    Grade: C

19. 2B Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox

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    A thumb injury sapped Dustin Pedroia of his power last year, as he failed to reach double digits in home runs for the first time since his rookie season, but he was still a driving force behind the Boston Red Sox's unlikely run to the World Series.

    His production has been down this year, like many of the Red Sox hitters, and he has been asked to hit leadoff more than normal following the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury. He could have his work cut out for him in making the All-Star team, with a deep crop of AL second basemen this season.

    Grade: B-

18. SP Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Since the start of the 2008 season, Cliff Lee has gone 85-50 with a 2.89 ERA and averaged 31 starts and 222 innings per year. He is undoubtedly one of the top arms in the game today.

    The 35-year-old has been sidelined recently with a forearm strain, but he was pitching at a high level once again before hitting the disabled list. Provided he can come back healthy, he could be one of the most sought-after trade chips at the deadline, but the arm injury is a concern.

    Grade: C

17. 3B Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers

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    An absolute beast since joining the Texas Rangers in 2011, Adrian Beltre has quietly put together a fantastic MLB career, and his 71.9 WAR ranks seventh all-time among third basemen and ahead of Hall of Famers like Ron Santo, Home Run Baker and George Kell.

    A strained quad cost him 14 games at the beginning of the season, and he posted a .686 OPS with zero home runs in April, but he has turned things on this month with a .856 OPS, five home runs and 15 RBI. He is again showing why he is one of the most feared hitters in the American League.

    Grade: B-

16. SS Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Had he played a full season, Hanley Ramirez may have walked away from 2013 as the NL MVP. Thumb and hamstring injuries limited him to 86 games, but he still managed 25 doubles, 20 home runs and 5.4 WAR while sporting a hefty 1.040 OPS.

    A free agent at the end of the season, he is playing for a big payday this year, though the 30-year-old is off to a relatively slow start. He is as important as anyone to the Dodgers' success, and they will be counting on him to get things going at the plate in the months ahead.

    Grade: C

15. 1B Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

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    The Atlanta Braves batted just .249 as a team last year, but they also finished fourth in the NL with 688 runs scored, as they were as streaky at the plate as any team in baseball. Their average is low once again this year at .237, but they rank 29th in the MLB at 3.37 runs per game.

    Through all of these ups and downs, first baseman Freddie Freeman has been the one bat they have been able to count on day in and day out. After finishing fifth in NL MVP voting last year, he has looked like a strong candidate once again, as he continues to establish himself as one of the best hitters in the game.

    Grade: A

14. SP Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

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    For my money, there are few cooler nicknames in baseball today than "The Condor," though those same funky mechanics that earned Chris Sale that nickname have already landed him on the disabled list this season with an elbow strain.

    After missing 32 games, he showed no lingering effects of the injury when he allowed just one hit and struck out 10 over six shutout innings in his first start back. There are certainly some long-term questions as to whether or not his arm can hold up, but he's been nothing short of dominant to this point in his career. Until a serious injury strikes, he belongs among the game's elite.

    Grade: B+

13. 1B Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles

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    Just as no one expected Chris Davis to explode for 53 home runs and 138 RBI last season, few, if anyone, expected him to duplicate those numbers in 2014. That being said, his power is for real, and he was expected to be very much among the leaders in those categories once again this season.

    A three-homer, five-RBI game on May 20 against Pittsburgh helped boost his season numbers, but for the most part he has been slow out of the gate in 2014. It's worth noting that he has improved his walk rate (10.7 to 14.3 percent) and decreased his strikeout rate (29.6 to 27.3 percent), and that should show up significantly in his on-base percentage before the season is over.

    Grade: B-

12. SP Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers

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    Always a promising pitcher with plus-plus stuff, Max Scherzer turned a corner at the All-Star break in 2012 and has not looked back since. After going 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 90.1 innings in the second half that season, he had 13 straight wins to kick off 2013 before finally losing a game.

    The reigning AL Cy Young winner, Scherzer has been the Detroit Tigers' best pitcher once again this season and is well on his way to another Cy Young-caliber performance. The free-agent-to-be turned down a six-year, $144 million extension offer in the offseason, and there's a good chance he winds up with a lot more money as a result.

    Grade: A-

11. 2B Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners

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    Certain expectations come with signing a 10-year, $240 million deal, especially when it's not someone like the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox handing out that kind of money, and Robinson Cano has his work cut out for him living up to that deal in Seattle.

    He is currently tied for third in the American League with a .327 batting average but has managed just two home runs on the season, leaving him with an OPS short of the .800 mark. He has improved the Mariners' offensive attack, but until he starts hitting a few more long balls, fans are going to be asking for more than what he's giving them. 

    Grade: B+

10. SP Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers

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    Relative to the seven-year, $155 million deal that Masahiro Tanaka got from the New York Yankees, Yu Darvish was a bargain at six years and $60 million. Even when you factor in posting fees, Darvish was $67.3 million cheaper.

    After a solid debut season, he took a huge step forward last season, lowering his ERA from 3.90 to 2.83 and leading all of baseball with 277 strikeouts in 209.2 innings. He's had more than one start pushed back this season and is currently dealing with neck stiffness, but he's been great in the nine starts he has made.

    Grade: A-

9. 1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

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    His penchant for taking a walk has led some to dub him as overly patient, but Joey Votto remains as valuable an offensive weapon as anyone in baseball. He has led the NL in on-base percentage each of the past four seasons, and he walked a career-high 135 times last year.

    Even with his average down this year, he is still getting on base more than 40 percent of the time, and the team wisely moved him to the No. 2 spot in the order prior to a quad strain landing him on the disabled list. He's producing below expectations, like the Reds offense as a whole, but he's not having a bad season by any means.

    Grade: B-

8. SP Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

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    All due respect to Clayton Kershaw and a handful of others, Adam Wainwright is the best pitcher in baseball at this particular moment in time.

    His 1.67 ERA is tops in all of baseball, and he was the first NL pitcher to reach the eight-win mark on the year. Wainwright is an absolute horse, as he worked a ridiculous 276.2 innings last year, including the playoffs, and he already has a pair of complete-game shutouts on the season.

    Really, there's not much more you could ask for out of him at this point, except maybe to pitch better against the lowly Cubs. He's 7-1 with a 0.43 ERA in eight starts against everyone else so far this year.

    Grade: A+

7. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    If not for the fact that he was suiting up for the 81-81 Arizona Diamondbacks last year, Paul Goldschmidt likely would have run away with NL MVP honors, as he led the Senior Circuit with 36 home runs, 125 RBI and a .952 OPS.

    He's off to another great start this season, though his walk rate has dipped (13.9 to 7.5 percent) and his on-base percentage has gone with it. He's currently leading the National League in hits and doubles and looks well on his way to another MVP-caliber season.

    Grade: A

6. CF Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    The reigning NL MVP, Andrew McCutchen played a huge part in leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to their first playoff appearance since 1992 last year, and he has been asked to shoulder the offensive load for the past several seasons.

    A true five-tool talent and one of the most exciting players in the game today, the 27-year-old would be that much better if he had some help around him in the Pittsburgh lineup. That said, his numbers are still fantastic this season, though the Pirates have not enjoyed the same level of success as a team.

    Grade: A

5. C Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

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    In my humble opinion, no player in baseball means more to the success of his team than Yadier Molina does to the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Not only is he the top defensive catcher in the game, but he's essentially a second manager on the field at this point. The fact that only 46 runners attempted to steal on him last year (20 were caught) illustrates the impact he has on the running game simply by taking the field.

    Add to that the fact that he has turned himself into a perennial .300 hitter with gap power, and he is without question the best all-around catcher in the game.

    Grade: A

4. SP Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    A staple in the Seattle Mariners rotation since he was 19 years old, Felix Hernandez will likely surpass the 2,000-inning mark for his career this year, as he has been the definition of a workhorse for years now.

    He has not posted an ERA under 3.00 since he led the league with a 2.27 mark and won AL Cy Young honors back in 2010, but he's off to a great start this year. With an AL-best 2.21 FIP, there is no reason to think he can't keep pitching like he has through his first 12 starts and once again put himself in the Cy Young conversation.

    Grade: A+

3. 1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

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    With just one home run and seven RBI last September, and a .735 OPS and two home runs over the first month of the season this year, Miguel Cabrera was starting to look downright human heading into the month of May.

    All is right with the world again though, as he has hit .367/.409/.663 with six home runs and 29 RBI so far this month and is again looking like the best hitter on the planet. That's exactly what he'll need to be for the next several years to justify the eight-year, $248 million extension he was handed this offseason.

    Grade: A

2. CF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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    Yes, Mike Trout is currently tied for the AL lead with 60 strikeouts on the season, and that is something of a concern as his strikeout rate has climbed from 19.0 to 25.9 percent. When you set the bar as high as he has over his first two seasons, there is bound to be a letdown at some point, but he remains one of the best all-around players in the game.

    Keep in mind this guy is still only 22 years old, and while most guys are knocking on the big league door at that age, he has already smashed it down and made history in the process. Even with his "struggles," he still ranks ninth in the AL with a .901 OPS and is putting up numbers that would be praised if they were coming from almost anyone else.

    He's going to be just fine, and if I were starting a franchise from scratch today, he'd be No. 1 on my big board.

    Grade: B

1. SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    It was admittedly ambitious to rank a pitcher as the top player in the game heading into the season, but that was how big of a gap there was between Clayton Kershaw and everyone else when the year began.

    That gap has since closed, due in large part to a back injury that cost the left-hander the first 31 games of the season, but there is no reason to think he can't once again be the best in the game by the time the season wraps up.

    Let's put it this way: If I have one game to start tomorrow, I'm taking Adam Wainwright, but if I can pick one pitcher to build a team around, it would still be Kershaw.

    Grade: B-


    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted. All injury information via MLBDepthCharts team pages.

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