Josh Hamilton has gained a reputation as one of the most naturally talented players in the MLB, and it's easy to see why. His smooth swing and his natural hitting ability are among the best in the league.
Each sport has its own set of athletes that were born to perform on the professional stage. For whatever reason, when the athletic gene pool was divided up, they got the largest share.
These are the athletes that consistently produce, year in and year out. The guys who constantly defy the athletic norm and can be counted on for a big performance even if they are struggling.
These are 16 men who were born to play the sport of baseball.
Josh Hamilton, who won the American League MVP last season, possesses one of the smoothest left-handed hitting strokes in the game.
His ability to hit for power and for average is a deadly combination. He followed an injury-filled 2009 with his best year yet in 2010 and has shown resiliency in bouncing back from injury.
He also is a capable fielder with a plus arm. He's one of the most gifted players in the majors today.
Is there anything that the little guy can’t do?
Generously listed at 5’9" (more like 5’6") and 180 lbs, Pedroia remains one of the best second basemen and all-around players in the game today.
Pedroia doesn’t fit the normal baseball mold, but that hasn’t stopped him from producing. Since 2007, Pedroia has captured a Rookie of the Year award, an American League MVP award, a Gold Glove, three All-Star appearances and a World Series ring.
Last season, at the age of 26, he was on pace to set career-highs in numerous offensive categories before an ankle injury ended his season.
Pedroia remains one of the best defensive infielders in the league, as well as one of the toughest outs. His tenacity at the plate is a wear on even the toughest of opponents.
Mariano Rivera has been the elite closer in baseball for nearly 15 years. You don’t dominate such a volatile position like closer for so long without having any natural talent.
What makes Rivera’s hall of fame career even more impressive is the fact that he’s relied almost entirely on one pitch—the cutter—to achieve success.
Rivera has faced over 4600 batters in his career. They all knew what was coming. But, they just couldn’t hit it.
At age 25, Felix Hernandez might have the best pure stuff of any starter in baseball. His strong frame is also the prototype of an ace pitcher.
He also possesses a superior pitching theory mind, the ability to strike batters out and the ability to eat up innings (pitched 689.0 innings from 2008-2010).
Add up all of these characteristics and what do you get? One of the most talented players in the game.
If Carl Crawford wasn’t a baseball player, he’d probably be playing another sport professionally.
In high school, Crawford was a varsity letterman in basketball, football and baseball. Crawford was offered a basketball scholarship to UCLA but committed to the university of Nebraska to play football…before he was drafted and signed by the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999.
Athletics are in Crawford’s blood. He’s one of the most naturally gifted players in all of professional sports, not just baseball.
By now, there’s little left to discover about Doc. Simply put, he’s a great choice for best overall pitcher in the major leagues.
Flawless pitching mechanics and a superior pitching theory make him one of the most dominating players in the game. His career 3.29 ERA is the fourth-best among active starters.
Doc has been one of the game’s best for about 10 seasons now. He’s had success in both the AL and the NL, and he’s still going strong at the age of 34.
Before Bryce Harper made being a baseball phenom popular, there was Joe Mauer.
Good ‘ol Joe was a three-sport star in high school before he was taken by the Minnesota Twins with the first overall pick of the 2001 amateur draft.
In August of 2006, just Mauer’s second full season in the big leagues, Sports Illustrated featured Mauer on the cover, writing “He [Mauer] has the tools to be the best catcher ever.”
Well, Mauer certainly hasn’t disappointed. He finished the 2006 season with a league best .347 batting average. Despite facing injury in 2007, Mauer went on to appear in three All-Star games, win three Gold Gloves and win an MVP from 2008-2010.
His career batting average (.326) is the second highest of any MLB catcher in history. His OPS (.885) is third all-time among catchers.
Despite the physical toll that catching takes, Mauer has remained a stud both offensively and defensively. He has certainly lived up to the hype, and his natural, athletic talent is clearly visible.
Albert Pujols was born to hit a baseball. That’s just all there is to it.
In an era where offense has reigned free, Pujols is the undeniable king. In 11 major league seasons, Pujols has compiled a .329/.422/.618 career batting line, along with 423 HR and three MVP awards.
Pujols puts new meaning into the phrase, “See the ball and hit it,” but he’s also a very talented fielder and a two-time Gold Glove award winner.
The son of former major league slugger Cecil Fielder, Prince Fielder was literally born to hit a baseball.
Despite his large girth, Fielder remains relatively athletic for his size. Despite the fact that he plays in the National League and doesn’t get the opportunity to DH, he’s been a games-played machine.
From 2006-2010, Fielder averaged 159.4 games per season, including a streak of 327 consecutive games played.
A-Rod might not be quite the same hitter that he once was, but such an even-keeled career deserves recognition.
A-Rod was one of the game’s original young stars, anointed as the next big thing before he even hit the big leagues.
At the young age of 17, Rodriguez was drafted by the Seattle Mariners with the first overall pick in the 1993 amateur draft.
A-Rod more than lived up to his potential, putting in one of the best career’s of any baseball player in history.
Rodriguez was an All-Star by the time he was 21. Now, at the age of 35, he still remains one of the more dangerous hitters in the game.
You don’t get a nickname like “the Freak” without being a talented player.
Listed at 5’11", 165 lbs, Lincecum is a wiry pitcher with an incredibly unorthodox pitching motion, which could cause bodily harm to even those much bigger than him.
And yet, Lincecum is one of the best starters in the game. He throws incredibly hard for a pitcher of his size, and from 2008-2010, Lincecum led the NL in strikeouts each season, capturing the NL Cy Young in 2008 and 2009.
Lincecum reminds me of Pedro Martinez ever so slightly. While it would be hard to compare anyone to Martinez, they are both undersized fireballers with an aloof personality. Anyone who deserves to be in the same sentence as Pedro Martinez deserves a spot on this list.
Pineda is a bit of a dark-horse pick. At just 22 years of age and with just 82.2 innings of major league work, he certainly doesn't have the same pedigree as the other players on this list.
But when assessing something that can be as ambiguous as a players natural gifts, Pineda scores at the top of the charts in a few concrete categories.
At 6'7", 260 lbs, Pineda is a scouts dream. His large frame allows him to throw hard and create a great deal of movement on his pitches.
While Felix Hernandez is the King of Seattle, Pineda has been getting all the attention. After winning a starting job this spring, Pineda has gone 6-4 with a 2.72 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and 8.7 SO/9.
While Pineda is still relatively unproven and likely headed for an innings shutdown sometime this season, his natural ability has shown through.
Justin Verlander has established himself as one of the league's best starting pitchers.
He's thrown over 200 innings in each of the last four seasons, no small physical feat. He's currently 8-3 with a 2.66 ERA. His WHIP (0.88), his strikeouts (105) and his innings pitched (111.2) are all a league best.
Verlander is in an elite class when it comes to ace starters. His large frame, his ability to hit triple digit heat late in games, and his ability to eat up innings makes him one of the more remarkable athletes in baseball.
You can talk about things like plate discipline, and I wouldn't debate you; Mike Stanton is still very raw offensively.
But, that doesn't change the fact that Stanton is one of the most athletic freaks that the game has seen in a long time.
Stanton is just 21 years of age, a second-round draft pick out of high school in 2007. Stanton was a multi-sport athlete growing up, and baseball often played second or third fiddle to other sports.
What little experience Stanton has had learning the sport of baseball (in comparison to other athletes of his age) hasn't stopped him from producing. In 657 major league AB's, Stanton has hit 38 home runs.
Evan Longoria is only 25, and he has just about three seasons worth of games under his belts. But, he's already established a reputation as one of the best third baseman in the league.
Longoria is the prototypical middle-of-the-lineup hitter who can lead an offense. He's capable of hitting for both power and average. He's big and strong and possesses a smooth right-handed stroke.
Defensively, Longoria has been one of the best third baseman since his rookie season in 2008.
It's easy to see why Longoria is so highly thought of. And, we probably haven't seen him at his best yet.
Let's forget for a second that Jose Bautista was a run of the mill player just two years ago. Whether you're suspicious of his production or not, the run that he's been on over the last two seasons has been nearly unprecedented.
Bautista has led the American League in home runs for each of the last five months, a feat which hasn't been duplicated since Jimmie Foxx accomplished it in 1934.
Jose Bautista's OBP currently sits at .489. Four-freakin'-eighty-nine. That's a video game number, 67 points higher than Albert Pujols' career OBP.
Bautista has grown into the best hitter in the American League and very possibly all of baseball. His transformation should be recognized.