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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    USA TODAY Sports

    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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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    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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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    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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    Scott Kane/Associated Press

    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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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    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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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    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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    Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

    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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    Ron Antonelli/Getty Images

    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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    Jim Cowsert/Associated Press

    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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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    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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    Al Behrman/Associated Press

    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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