The 100 Best Players in Baseball Today (Part 2: #80-61)
100. Heath Bell
99. Brian Roberts
98. Chris Young
97. John Danks
96. Ted Lilly
95. Magglio Ordonez
94. C.J. Wilson
93. Buster Posey
92. David Ortiz
91. Andy Pettitte
90. Chad Billingsley
89. Adrian Beltre
88. Shaun Marcum
87. Joakim Soria
86. Delmon Young
85. Nick Swisher
84. Tommy Hanson
83. Paul Konerko
82. Brandon Phillips
81. Trevor Cahill
Here's Part 2...
#80. Rickie Weeks
After several frustrating seasons, Rickie Weeks looked like he had put it all together in early 2009. Unfortunately, a hand injury in May knocked him out for the rest of his year.
Weeks has picked up right where he left off in 2010, hitting 28 HR (2nd among all 2Bs) with a line of .270/ .364/ .464. He's always been a decent OBP guy and that is finally starting to translate to a solid batting average. I'd rank him higher if he was still getting 20+ steals and were better defensively.
#79. Matt Garza
A hard-throwing righty probably known as much for his antics on the mound as anything, Matt Garza has been at the center of some of the greatest moments in Rays' history since the team acquired him in Minnesota before 2008.
The 2008 ALCS MVP was a crucial part of Tampa's run to the World Series that season. Two years later, after the franchise had been on the wrong end of numerous no-hitters, Garza pitched the first no-no in Rays' history against Detroit. Facing the minimum 27 batters by erasing Brennan Boesch (who had walked) on a double play, Garza was awfully close to perfect that evening.
#78. Manny Ramirez
Since he single-handedly carried the Dodgers to a division title in 2008, Manny has been plagued by off-field distractions. After serving a 50 game suspension for violating MLB's drug policy in 2009, Manny struggled to stay healthy in 2010. After the Dodgers basically gave him to the White Sox, he didn't do much for them either.
Manny isn't having trouble getting on base; his OBP is north of .400 after all. The disappearance of his once legendary power is a little more surprising. He's getting old but I'm not ready to give up on him just yet. In the right situation, I don't think there's any denying Manny has enough left in the tank to have success.
#77. Dan Uggla
Dan Uggla is the subject of trade rumors seemingly each offseason and trading deadline. That has as much to do with his exceptional power for a second baseman as it does with the fact that he's a Florida Marlin.
When he blasted his 30th bomb of the year on September 13, Uggla became the first second baseman in major league history to have four seasons of 30+ home runs. Defense has never been part of Uggla's game, as he consistently is among the 2B leaders in errors commited and near the bottom in range factor. I think it's safe to assume he's driven in quite a few more runs than he's allowed though.
#76. Mat Latos
In a season that has been hailed as one of the greatest pitching seasons in recent memory, few pitchers in either league were better from May to August then Mat Latos. The Padres have managed to shock the baseball world because of their pitching staff, and Latos has been their best pitcher.
From June 10 to September 7, Latos enjoyed a stretch of dominance not often seen from any pitcher, let alone a 22 year old major league sophomore. In each of his 15 starts in that stretch, Latos went at least 5 innings and surrendered no more than 2 earned runs, breaking a record that had been held by Greg Maddux and Mike Scott. There's no way the Padres would be where they are now without him.
#75. Martin Prado
People who'd thought the Braves had errored in getting rid of Kelly Johnson were silenced awfully quick this season. As his playing time has increased the last few years, Martin Prado has just kept getting better and better. For a large part of 2010, the 26 year old Venezuelan was leading MLB in hits.
Injuries have derailed Prado's career season to a degree; he missed the first half of August and the last week of the season with a hip injury. Had he stayed healthy, he easily would've reached 200 hits by now. A solid second baseman and third baseman, he's a big part of the Braves' future.
#74. Joe Nathan
Jon Rauch and Matt Capps have filled in valiantly for him this season, but Joe Nathan undoubtedly has been a big part of the Twins' success this decade since acquring him from the Giants in one of the most lopsided deals in recent major league history.
In 6 seasons with the Twins, often with minimal fanfare, Nathan has accumulated 246 saves with a jaw-dropping ERA (1.87) and WHIP (.93) in that span. There are few closers on this guy's level when he's healthy.
#73. Jason Heyward
The 2010 season has had no shortage of memorable moments. Almost six months later, Jason Heyward hitting a 3-run home run on the first swing he ever took in the majors ranks right up there with the best of them. The most memorable first at-bat I've ever seen.
He hasn't stopped hitting in the time since Opening Day, as he is second only to Brian McCann as the Braves' home run and RBI leader. He also ranks in the top 5 in the NL in walks and OBP The odds-on NL Rookie of the Year favorite preseason, he has no shortage of competition in that race (namely the only other rookie on this list, Buster Posey). Whether he wins that award or not, I have a feeling Heyward will collect plenty of hardware over the course of his career.
#72. Corey Hart
After two very impressive seasons in 2007 and 2008, Corey Hart hit a wall in 2009, posting career lows in HR, RBI, and SLG. He's put that season behind him with a career year in 2010.
He is often overshadowed by Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, but in 2010 Hart hit just one less home run than Fielder and posted an OPS a percentage point behind Braun's. Clearly he is as vital a part of the Brewers lineup as anyone. His stock will rise even more if he starts stealing bases again.
#71. Francisco Liriano
Francisco Liriano bursted on the scene in 2006, winning 12 games and posting a 2.16 ERA with 144 K's in 121 innings. Along with ace Johan Santana, the Twins boasted a pair of electric southpaws few teams could match.
He missed all of 2007 recovering from Tommy John surgery. After looking like his old self towards the end of 2008, he struggled mightily in 2009. He's found his old form though, posting career highs in wins and strikeouts. With Santana long gone, Liriano has become the prototypical ace on a staff consisting of mostly control pitchers.
#70. Justin Upton
Since debuting in 2007 at the age of 19, Justin Upton has shown flashes of his tremendous talent. After an up-and-down 2008 campaign, he made major strides in 2009, posting a .300/ .366/ .532 batting line. He might've hit 30 HR and driven in 100 had it not been for an oblique injury in August.
Injuries have hampered him in 2010 as well. In addition to being somewhat injury-prone, Upton also is prone to rather lengthy slumps at the plate (not unusual for such a young player). Few players in the majors today have a more impressive skill set though. Rest assured, we haven't seen the best from him yet; not by a long shot.
#69. Alex Rios
When it comes to Alex Rios, talent has never been the question. He's one of the most potent mixes of power and speed in the game today. For whatever reason, he's been maddeningly inconsistent throughout his career, eventually causing the Blue Jays to pretty much give him away to the White Sox.
Rios proved to be a pretty good find for the Sox in 2010, hitting 21 home runs and swiping 34 bases and playing a solid centerfield. However, he slumped quite a bit in the second half (18 extra base hits, .301 OBP). If he could ever put together a full season like the first half of his 2010 campaign, he might one of the top 50 players in baseball.
#68. Tim Hudson
After frustrating, injury-plagued campaigns in 2008 and 2009, Tim Hudson bounced back to have his best season as a Brave in 2010. The veteran right hander logged 228.2 innings for the Bravos, winning 17 games and posting a 2.83 ERA.
Hudson can still throw in the low 90's, but he mostly relies on mixing his pitches superbly and keeping the ball down. He led all of MLB in ground ball to fly ball ratio in 2010. Hudson is no spring chicken, but it looks like he has what it takes to remain a viable front-end starter into his late 30's.
#67. Michael Young
After years of little to no fanfare, the Rangers' all time hit leader has started getting some recognition as the franchise has returned to relevance. Since coming up with Texas 10 seasons ago, Michael Young has been a bona-fide hitting machine. He collected at least 200 hits every season from 2003 to 2007, and his 186 base knocks in 2010 was good for the 8th best total in the league.
It looks like age is starting to catch up with him. His OPS dropped over 100 points from last season, and he committed 19 errors at third base this season. Even if he's not quite the same player who was named All-Star game MVP back in 2006, Young remains an invaluable part of the Rangers.
#66. Victor Martinez
Few catchers handle the stick better than V-Mart. In a little over 6 years between Cleveland and Boston, he has averaged 21 home runs and 103 RBI a year with a batting line of .300/ .369/ .469. In 2010, his 79 RBI and .493 SLG led all MLB catchers.
His Achilles' heel has always been throwing out base runners. He allowed 99 stolen bases, leading to a miserable .214 caught-stealing percentage. Aside from that, he's actually not that bad a catcher. Bottom line, Martinez earns his paycheck at the plate, and he stands to collect a pretty penny this off season.
#65. Kendry Morales
The casual baseball fan might know Kendry Morales best for being the victim of one of the most unfortunate, stupid injuries in baseball history. That's a shame, because the Cuban slugger had a monster year for the Angels in 2009. As Mark Teixeira departed for New York, Morales put up numbers comparable to Tex's (and was $19.4M cheaper).
After hitting a walkoff grand slam against Seattle this May, Morales fractured his left leg leaping into a mob of teammates at home plate. The Angels were basically a .500 team without him, and had to settle for a 3rd place finish. With this fearsome bat returning to the lineup, look for the Angels to bounce back in 2011.
#64. Clay Buchholz
The subject of trade rumors involving Johan Santana, Adrian Gonzalez, Victor Martinez, and just about every other player the Red Sox have been linked to the past few years, I'm guessing Boston won't be trading this young righty any time soon. After all, all he did in 2010 was finish second in the AL in ERA (2.33) whilst posting career bests in just about every other major category as well.
Buchholz showed immense promise pretty much as soon he made it to the majors, throwing a no-hitter in his second career start. Regardless of what Josh Beckett does next year, the Red Sox appear to be in good hands with a dynamic one-two punch of Jon Lester and Buchholz.
#63. Brian McCann
We've been talking about Brian McCann so long, it's hard to fathom that he's still just 26. As Chipper Jones has gotten older and big bats like Andruw Jones and Mark Teixeira have come and gone, McCann has become the straw that stirs the Braves' drink. He led the team in home runs and RBI in 2010.
Oh yeah, he's a catcher; not a gold-glover but a pretty solid backstop. Given his offensive prowess at such a premium position, McCann surely is one of the most valuable players in the game today. It bears repeating that he's just entering his prime and could keep improving (a scary thought for NL pitchers).
#62. Roy Oswalt
After spending the last few seasons with an Astros club going nowhere, Roy Oswalt obviously was energized getting back into a pennant race. After joining the Phillies at the trade deadline, Oswalt was lights out, going 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA and .90 WHIP. He was a critical part of the team's second half surge that saw them catch the Atlanta Braves to win the NL East yet again.
Oswalt still throws hard in his early 30's and compliments his heat with a very good curveball and a recently added Vulcan changeup. Along with Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, "Rapid Roy" makes up a third of a dominant pitching trio many think make the Phillies the prohibitive favorites this October.
#61. Jose Reyes
Arguably the most exciting player in baseball a few years ago, Reyes' 2009 season was derailed (like many of his teammates) by a series of injuries as he played in just 36 games. To the delight of Mets' fans, he was able to stay relatively healthy in 2010 (though an injury did cost him an appearance in the All-star game).
His 2010 season was solid if unspectacular, collecting 159 hits and 30 stolen bases. His .321 OBP certainly could've been better, but it was a decent season given the difficulty he's had staying healthy lately. At his best, he's one of the most dynamic players in the game and he's still young enough that its not unrealistic to think his best days are ahead of him.