One of the most important characteristics for any baseball player to have is that intestinal fortitude"—the ability to play at 100 percent all the time. Having this trait means the player will hustle, do the right things both on and off the field and will want to be in the game helping his team anyway he can.
From time-to-time, the media will say a particular player is a great "clubhouse" guy, which, to me, is one of the most important characteristics for a baseball player to have. Someone like this can pull a clubhouse together and gives a leader for the rest of the guys to follow. Often, this player is either the star of the team or, even more often, an older veteran who's role on the field has been diminished to coming off the bench. A great example of this would be Alex Cora.
This article looks to find a player on each team that embodies both of these important characteristics; that is to say the player is consistently playing hard and is a leader in the clubhouse.
Although Brian Roberts had a tough 2010 season, because of injuries that made him miss a lot of games, he is still seen as one of the big leaders on the Orioles. Having been with the organization for a number of seasons and being the leadoff hitter in the lineup, Roberts sets the pace offensively, defensively and off the field for the Baltimore Orioles.
If you watch an Orioles' game, you'll see Roberts constantly hustling—from running out ground-balls to chasing balls hit up the middle. Given that he is so fast, he'll often try to turn a single into a double and will, of course, steal a base if a pitcher doesn't pay enough attention to him.
Finally, from 2004-2009, Roberts played in at least 150 games for four of those seasons so consistently being in the lineup is not foreign to him.
When you watch a New York Yankees' game, you're naturally drawn to keep a closer eye on A-Rod, Jeter or Cano, but one of the most enjoyable players to watch is their right-fielder, Nick Swisher.
Swisher has a lot of talent, he's particularly gifted with significant power and very good plate discipline so watching him hit can be a lot of fun. In addition to his offensive skills, Swisher plays the game hard for every inning of every game he is in and does so in a clean way—from breaking up a double play to diving for a ball hit in his direction.
Even though he hurt the Twins' second-baseman earlier in the season trying to break up a double play, it was ultimately a very clean play. And, just to show how good of a person Swisher is, he went and checked on Nishioka after the injury happened.
One of the greatest joys people get from watching young players is how hard they play the game. Because a young player is so excited to actually be on the major league club, and obviously doesn't want to be demoted, they can often be the players who work the hardest.
Tampa Bay Rays' outfielder, Sam Fuld, is one player like this. With the departure of Manny Ramirez, Fuld got an opportunity to play more and has certainly made the most of it.
To prove to the world that he belongs both at the major leagues and in the starting lineup, Fuld is consistently giving every game all he has. The energy he brings not only inspires they young, but it re-energizes vertan players.
You can make a very strong argument that no one in baseball works harder than the Boston Red Sox's second-baseman, Dustin Pedroia. You'd have to try really hard to find an unbiased baseball journalist to say something bad about Pedroia.
He's consistently one of the first guys to arrive and one of the last to leave. From watching videos to taking extra batting and infield practice, Pedroia is always trying to improve his game.
Pedroia equates his work ethic to always being told he was too small to play the game, but without a doubt, his work ethic helped get him to where he is today—one of the premier second-baseman in all of baseball.
He's an excellent player for young ballplayers to model themselves after.
Whether you believe Jose Bautista is the real deal or not, you have to respect what he is doing. From the very beginning of what would be a fantastic 2010 season, Batista has been questioned about his skills. Most baseball people did not believe his power surge would last, but it has. You've got to respect a guy who has been going out there for the past year-and-a-half proving writers and executives wrong.
That type of motivation can be very powerful, and I'm sure, knowing his legitimacy is often being questioned helps push him to get better.
If you had to sum Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Mark Buehrle up in one word, it would have to be "reliable."
Discounting the limited year in 2000, which is when he broke into the big leagues during the season, Buehrle has made, at least, 30 starts in every season! Furthermore, he's logged at least 200 innings pitched in each of those.
Buehrle is obviously a fan-favorite in Chicago and one of the leaders on the White Sox, which is easy to understand given what he brings every time he takes the mound.
Brandon Inge isn't the superstar on the Detroit Tigers, but he is certainly one of the tougher guys on the team, and because of how he plays the game, a lot of the Tiger players will look to him and follow his lead.
Inge is definitely a tough dude who plays the game really hard. Furthermore, he is always putting the team first; whether it be changing positions or something as simple as sacrificing a runner over.
Leyland, the Tigers' manager, can put Inge in a bunch of different positions and any spot in the line-up and Inge will give it his all. He's a very similar to Nick Swisher in that he will play hard no matter what and will always be there to back up his teammates.
Anyone who can stay in good spirits and applaud the opposing player for a good, clean, play that ended up breaking his leg is one tough player.
As you may recall, Tsuyoshi Nishioka broke his leg when Nick Swisher, on a very clean play, slid into second base hard in order to break up a double play. Upon hearing the news, he would be out for a little while, Nishioka was very upset that he would miss time but also complimented Swisher on his competitive spirit.
Much like the Twins, their fans and many baseball journalists, I expect big things from Nishioka when he returns. I really liked him before he played a single game, but after getting to see him play in a few games, and seeing how he handled the situation with Swisher, my admiration of him has only grown.
Jason Kendall has had a long, and at times, a difficult career. Nonetheless, Kendall continues to give it everything he has every time he is in the lineup.
Kendall is "baseball smart" and often makes the right plays; for example, with a runner on second and no outs, it does not elude Kendall that he needs to hit a groundball to the right side of the infield to get the runner to third. If you see Kendall batting in a situation like this, you are sure to see him swinging to hit the ball on the ground toward the second baseman.
Unfortunately, Kendall is on the DL right now, but when he returns, he's a good player to watch as he is very fundamentally sound.
One thing I love about the Cleveland Indians' infielder, Orlando Cabrera, is how consistent he is. Over the course of his career, no matter which team he is playing for, he's consistely given 140-plus games over the course of the season.
A player that can stay healthy and be on the field for that many games over the course of his career will earn the respect of his fellow teammates, and often, will have young players drawn to him to learn.
Typically, if a starting pitcher strikes out 15 batters in a single game, that pitcher will be very proud of himself and have a huge smile on his face. While I'm sure Jered Weaver was proud he, nonetheless, complained about his lack of command in the post-game interview by saying the few walks he gave up are unacceptable. If that's not dedication what is?
Weaver is a true competitor, and he carries the mentality of an ace. This guy wants to be on the mound, and no matter who he is facing, always believes he is going to win. He's one of those guys that will always be competing and will never give in.
A lot of talk about the potential for the A's rotation has been going around but not enough credit is being given to the A's catcher, Kurt Suzuki. This guy anchors the rotation and has been calling a great game for each and every one of those starting pitchers.
Furthermore, the amount of video available that shows Suzuki sacrificing his body for his team, whether it is blocking home-plate on a close play or taking an extra base when running the bases, is extensive.
Although his image may have been damages this offseason, with reports coming out that he wanted to be traded, Michael Young has always been one of the most well-respected players in all of baseball.
Young is obviously a tremendous talent, and he has been with the Rangers organization for a long time, but he still puts the team first. It's amazing how seniority, or even an ego, has not made Young have a sense of entitlement. He's always doing what's best for the team, which is prevalent in his willingness to change positions twice in the last two years.
As one of the leaders on the Rangers, Young leads by example and is always hustling hits out, talking and mentoring younger players and sharing things he sees with his teammates.
Ichiro Suzuki will do whatever it takes to get on base, and, as the stats show, he's very successful at doing so.
Ichiro has spent 10 full seasons in the major leagues, and in seven of them, he has led the league in hits. Furthermore, none of those seasons has he ever gotten below 200 hits!
Ichiro hustles both on the offensive and defensive side of the plate and has taken on the media fully ever since his arrival from Japan. Even though he struggled with English early on in his career, Ichiro still talked with the media and encouraged his teammates.
One of the things you have to admire most about David Wright is that regardless of how far the Mets have fallen, he has withstood the pressures from the New York media head on. As the face of the franchise, Wright is often the first one reporters go to for an opinion on something, and lately, it's been nothing good for the Mets. Yet, despite all the negative headlines, Wright has not hid from the journalists but has been a leader by answering all the questions and remaining positive about his teammates and the organization.
Furthermore, Wright is another one of those players who plays the game the right way and is constantly trying to get better.
The picture says it all; McCann is one tough dude who will not back down from any challenge. Whether his team is in a close game or a blowout, he is always trying to compete to the best of his ability.
As a catcher, McCann can get banged around pretty good, but, still, he doesn't back down.
Whether you love him or hate him, as a baseball fan, you have to respect the way he plays the game. Another "Dustin Pedroia" types, Shane Victorino is always giving it his all and is always trying to get better; from arriving at the park early for extra time watching video, to taking some extra batting-practice when he is in a slump.
Both offensively and defensively, Victorino is always pushing the envelope by chasing down flyballs and taking an extra base whenever he can.
He's also the type of player, like David Wright, who will stand infront of a camera and praise his teammates when things are going well and take responsibility when something bad happens.
As I've said, regardless of whether you like him or not, you've got to respect him as a player.
At one point, Ivan Rodriguez was the best catcher in baseball. I still remember him throwing bullets down to secondbase, from his knees, to get even the faster runners trying to steal.
What makes Ivan such an asset to the Nationals is not only how he is still a productive catcher, both behind and at the plate, but how he is tutoring the younger players, especially Wilson Ramos.
Ivan is another great example of that older veteran who is almost like an extra coach on the team. This can be one of the most valuable things on any baseball team, and, if I was a baseball executive, I would definitely want a guy like Ivan on my team.
Emilio Bonifacio is the ultimate utility man as he will do whatever the manager needs him to do at any point during the game; whether it is starting and hitting at the top of the order or pinch hitting simply to move a runner over, Bonifacio is extremely versatile.
Another key quality that makes Bonifacio so valuable is he is very "baseball smart." This means he does the little things well that some fans may not even realize he is doing (much like what Jason Kendall does). For example, Bonifacio knows to take a pitch or two when he has a fast runner on first; this allows for that runner to attempt to steal the base.
This can be difficult for hitters because either they don't remember to do this or because they don't want to do it since it could mean batting behind in the count. This not only shows Bonifacio's confidence in his skills but also his desire to do what is best for his team rather than his personal stats.
While Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday get most of the attention when someone talks about the Cardinals, and rightfully so, Yadier Molina can be an unsung hero.
Although his bat is nothing special, Yadier is probably the best defensive catcher in the game; from knowing how to call a game to blocking pitches and throwing runners out, it'll be hard to find a catcher who does any of this better.
Yadier's ability to control his pitching staff, and the confidence they have in him behind the plate, allows for the Cardinals' pitchers to be even better. They know that they can throw an 0-and-2 breaking ball in the dirt, with a runner on third, because Yadier will block it; this type of confidence gives the pitches a massive advantage over other pitchers on different teams. Obviously, it also puts hitters at an enormous disadvantage as well.
Some players in baseball are one-dimensional; they only focus on the offensive or defensive parts of their game. Typically, it is the offensive part of their game because they think that no matter how bad they are in the field, if their hitting is great, they'll be considered great.
Sometimes this works, especially since there is a DH in the American League, but it doesn't always.
Then there are players who take pride in how they perform both offensively and defensively and will work as hard as they can to be the best. This is the type of player Ryan Braun is.
Braun, an outfielder on the Milwaukee Brewers, will play at 100 percent in the field, will try to steal a base when the situation calls for it, and, obviously, hits the ball a ton.
Braun wants to win, and, ultimately, he'll do whatever he has to in order to get his team a "W."
Much like Sam Fuld, Pedro Alvarez is another young player who is trying to prove his worth. Even though Alvarez has been hyped up a lot, he still has to live up to the hype, and that is where his motivation comes from.
Motivation from living up to, and exceeding, the hype for a young player is very valuable and can often lead to great things. With the Pirates organization performing less than desirable for Pirate fans, Alvarez is being watched very closely as fans wonder if he'll be a cornerstone and main piece to turning the franchise around.
And, because he is thought to be so important to the franchise, players, both young and old, will look to him to set an example of what the future holds for the Pirates.
A true leader both on and off the field, Brandon Phillips is another player I would want in my organization if I was a baseball executive.
Although Johnny Gomes was another player that fits this bill vey well, as he will back up his teammates under any circumstances and plays with all his intensity all the time, Phillips was my choice of the Reds because he plays the game the right way.
If you watch a Reds game, you will always see Phillips encouraging his teammates, hustling and doing all the fundamental of the game. Also, and very refreshing, you'll often see Phillips with a big smile, which shows his love of the game. It's always nice to see players enjoying playing the game we all love to watch and play.
The young leader of the Houston Astros, Hunter Pence, certainly has a very bright future ahead of him. Although he is a young player he has, already, gained the respect and trust of his teammates and is often looked to during the toughest times of the season.
You'll always see Pence playing hard, and he will always admit when he makes a mistake.
He's a great guy to have in the clubhouse, and he'll certainly be a big reason when the Astros start turning things around—both for his performance and how he affects his teammates.
He has to be one of the toughest, and fearless, pitchers in all of baseball; Carlos Marmol, the Cubs' closer, will not back down from any hitter.
Unfortunately for the hitter, Marmol does not back down, and more times than not, he'll win the battle. If you watch a Cubs game and Marmol comes into the game, you will see some of the "nastiest" pitches in all of baseball. The amount of moment Marmol has on his pitches, and at the speeds he pitches at, is almost unfair.
To put into perspective how tough Marmol is to his: he had 138 strikeouts in 2010...in 77 innings! He struck out more batters than Derek Lowe did, and Lowe had pitched about 120 innings more. That's just insane!
Speaking of fearless pitches, the eccentric Brian Wilson is certainly a clubhouse leader and one really tough guy.
The San Francisco Giants' closer will, much like Carlos Marmol, go after any hitter—regardless of the situation. You have to respect and admire that type of confidence.
In addition to being one of the biggest competitors in baseball, Wilson also wants nothing more than to be out on the field and helping his team win. Whether it is pitching through injuries or pitching more than most closers, his desire to be in the game cannot be questioned. In 2010, Wilson led all closers with the most four-plus out saves, which shows his dedication to his team and to winning.
This is the type of guy a clubhouse can be built around and the type of player who will have teammates following his example.
You don't get to be as good as Clayton Kershaw is without having some real "intestinal fortitude" to go after hitters, especially at such a young age.
It's rare to find a pitcher who doesn't submit to the "100-pitch count" and who'll compete no matter what the situation is.
Kershaw reminds me of Pedro Martinez sometimes in that, when he's off the field, he knows how to smile and have a good time, but when he's between the white lines, he's as serious as anyone you'll find on that field. That type of charisma is always attractive to other players and will often put a player in a leadership role very fast.
Kelly Johnson, the second baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks, is another classic example of a player who plays the game the right way.
He runs everything out, will sacrifice for the good of the team and will do anything he can to knock a ball down when playing in the field. Also, he'll challenge pitchers to beat him inside, which can be rare these days. A lot of times, hitters won't want pitchers to throw inside, but given where he stands at the plate sometimes, it seems like he is challenging pitchers to beat him with an inside fastball.
That type of confidence can be contagious on a team.
A lot of times, teams will perform as well as their leadoff hitter is performing; when the leadoff hitter is hot the team is winning, but when he goes cold, the team falls apart. For the Colorado Rockies, it isn't true. Instead, the Rockies go as Troy Tulowitzki goes.
It's not a coincidence that last year, when the Rockies were making a push for a playoff spot, Tulo was playing some of the best baseball of his professional career; nor is it a coincidence that both Tulo and the Rockies are playing fantastic baseball to start the 2011 season.
Tulowitzki is the classic case that shows off leading by example, as well as making others around you better. From start to finish, he plays as hard as he can, something which clearly rubs off on the other players, and his offensive prowess definitely makes the other hitters around him better.
If I was a baseball executive, and if it were possible, I would have 25 Orlando Hudsons on my team. Hudson is one of those rare players that is respected by all players both on and off his team, both present and past players.
He's a leader both on his team and in his community; you will often find him mentoring young players, discussing things he sees with his teammates and volunteering for local charities.
Furthermore, he always says the right thing and faces the media, regardless of whether things are going well or not, and he always plays the game as hard as he can.
He's truly the embodiment of what every manager and baseball executive dreams of, and he's one of those players who could be a coach after his playing career is done.
If you're a young baseball player, Orlando Hudson is one of the best players you could watch to learn how to play the game right.