10 MLB Sluggers Kicking Butt Right Now

Stephen Meyer@@StephenMeyer_BRDeputy MLB EditorJuly 7, 2011

10 MLB Sluggers Kicking Butt Right Now

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    There is a concrete reason why losing a slugger to injury or underperformance like Albert Pujols, Justin Morneau or Adam Dunn is such a big turn of events.

    Some hitters are paid to get on base, set the table and create opportunities. Others are then paid the big bucks to put crooked numbers up on the scoreboard. It is much more difficult to produce big innings without power guys breaking backs with one swing.

    Prince Fielder, for example, has been putting on an absolute clinic in “mashing” over the entire season. It is no coincidence that the Brewers have subsequently been flourishing in 2011 and are sitting atop a crowded NL Central.

    Whether a big fantasy baseball enthusiast or simply a fan hoping his/her favorite team will avoid the most dangerous hitters in the game, this is the place to find out what MLB sluggers are in a league of their own right now.

    The main focus of this list will be the entire month of July, but those who had a great end to the month (like one of Fielder’s own teammates) were also considered.

    Spanning all of baseball’s biggest bashers, this list will highlight MLB’s 10 hottest sluggers in the game today. Feel free to add any additional omissions to the comments thread and speak your mind!

    Note: Some hitters may not be included in the list despite a great July (such as Yunel Escobar, Dexter Fowler and Dan Murphy) because they do not show a legitimate power threat.

    *All stats are up to date as of July 29th, 2011*

Honorable Mention: Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers

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    Hot Streak: 6 HR, 19 RBI, .358 AVG and 1.168 OPS in July

    It is a real shame that Adrian Beltre will miss two weeks with a hamstring strain, because he was absolutely having his best stretch of the entire season at the time.

    In just 67 at bats before going down with the injury on July 22nd, Beltre ranked 5th in MLB with a 1.168 OPS—helping to light a fire under the Rangers in the first half of the month.

    Beltre will not be out long, but I could not in good conscience put him in the Top 10 when he is not able to get on the field and produce currently.

    It is likewise very difficult to maintain a hot streak after having it halted for two or three weeks by inactivity, so Beltre will have to prove that he has not lost his magic upon returning to the diamond.

No. 10: Mike Stanton, Florida Marlins

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    Hot Streak: 8 HR, 18 RBI, .584 SLG and 0.937 OPS in July

    With four home runs in the last week alone, Marlins stud Mike Stanton has been flexing the muscles of his massive 6’5” 235-pound frame.

    It did not take long for Stanton, just 21 years old for the remainder of the 2011 season, to state his claim for “best younger slugger in baseball”.

    None of his blasts are cheap by any means, as most times Continental Airlines passengers have as much chance at grabbing a souvenir as fans beyond the outfield wall.

    The post-steroid era has reinstalled “50” as the premiere home run target of the game’s best power hitters, and few have a better chance than Stanton in reaching that rarefied air in the years to come.

No. 9: Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers

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    Hot Streak: 4 HR, 25 RBI, .323 AVG and .930 OPS in July

    Though his overall OPS is not on the level of other sluggers on this list, it is hard to argue against a player having the best offensive month for MLB’s best statistical offense in the month of July.

    Cruz’s 25 RBI rank only second behind Logan Morrison across the league for the month, and an average above .320 is certainly nothing to scoff at.

    Overall Since June 1st, Cruz has accumulated 12 HR and 44 RBI—making him one of baseball’s best run-producers over that span.

    The Rangers are lucky to have him, and pitchers are frankly afraid to face him.

No. 8: Aramis Ramirez, Chicago Cubs

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    Hot Streak: 9 HR, 23 RBI, .299 AVG and 1.004 OPS in July

    The Chicago Cubs’ horrible first half put all contenders on high alert that a fire sale could always be around the corner.

    Aramis Ramirez’s stellar month of July only cemented teams’ interest in his services—even taking into account his player option for huge money in 2012 if traded.

    His nine home runs leads all of MLB in the month, and that power allowed for an OPS above 1.000 even with a mediocre-at-best OBP over the time period.

    Ramirez is the only hitter in the entire Cubs lineup with the ability to hit for average as well as power, and any team would be lucky to grab him at the deadline—if he ever decided to accept a deal out of town.

No. 7: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Hot Streak: 5 HR, 11 RBI, .367 AVG and 1.188 OPS in July (in just 49 AB)

    As stated above, Ryan Braun only accumulated 49 at bats in the month of the July thus far—explaining the lower RBI total than others in the Top 10.

    Since returning from a nagging calf injury on July 14th, however, Braun has easily been one of baseball’s hottest sluggers. This streak includes five home runs in his past eight games alone.

    Seemingly picking up right where Prince Fielder left off in the month of June, Braun has helped to shrug off the charging Pirates and stable Cardinals.

    Many around baseball circles were shocked when the Brewers signed Braun to an extension through the 2020 season, not because he is not a fantastic player but because he was already signed for four more seasons at the time of the extension.

    Braun does nothing but make that deal appear brilliant, and he may end up being a big bargain as he enters the middle years of that deal.

No. 6: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers

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    Hot Streak: 5 HR, 22 RBI, .340 AVG and 1.001 OPS in July

    Texas Rangers superstar Josh Hamilton has had as mentally exhausting a month of July as any player in MLB.

    While most players have to deal with an 0-for-4, Hamilton had to deal with an unfair internal battle over his role in the death of a fan in a tragic accident involving a tossed baseball.

    Hamilton, a man who has often times found it difficult in the past to deal with mentally taxing situations, responded by having an excellent month at the plate—clearly blocking out all distractions and regret.

    For the first time during the 2011 season, he again looks like the unstoppable offensive force that steamrolled pitching staffs before two broken ribs nearly halted an MVP campaign in 2010.

No. 5: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

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    Hot Streak: 6 HR, 17 RBI, .351 AVG and 1.052 OPS in July

    The Braves needed someone to step up in place of the struggling Dan Uggla (until recently), Jason Heyward and Chipper Jones, and that man has been rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman.

    While Freeman’s overall numbers in 2011 are impressive enough (.292 AVG, .364 OBP, .844 OPS, 15 HR and 51 RBI), his July has been particularly dominant.

    He leads the Braves in HR, RBI, AVG and OPS over that time period, and there are absolutely no signs of slowing down of late—collecting nine hits in his last three games alone.

    It will be difficult to depend on a rookie in the postseason should the Braves make it, so others will have to continue to improve offensively if they hope to battle Philly or San Fran head-to-head.

    That said, Freeman looks mature well beyond his years at the dish, so Atlanta supporters should have nothing to worry about.

No. 4: Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Hot Streak: 7 HR, 18 RBI, .655 SLG and 1.016 OPS in July

    We all saw what happens when you decide to make Justin Upton angry (video), and I think it’s safe to say Corey Luebke will be the last MLB pitcher to attempt this form of trickery on him.

    Luebke certainly is not the only hurler that Upton has punished during the month of July, as his power numbers have absolutely exploded in the last week specifically (4 HR, 13 RBI, .591 AVG, 1.455 SLG and 2.085 OPS.)

    Shockingly those statistics are not courtesy of Xbox 360, but Upton’s excellent season is as much a reason as any that his Diamondbacks are still hanging around in the NL West divisional race.

    With as much raw power as any hitter in baseball, Upton has always had the potential to be a Top 10 offensive player. Still about a month shy of his 24th birthday, it appears inevitable that he will reach that potential before many other prospects even reach the big leagues.

No. 3: Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Hot Streak: 7 HR, 19 RBI, .333 AVG, .435 OBP and 1.145 OPS since July 1

    No list of MLB "sluggers" would be complete without at least highlighting the modern marvel of power Jose Bautista. He is at it again in 2011 after a stunning breakout 2010 campaign, and is currently hitting .327 with 31 HR, 71 RBI and a .463 OBP.

    His June was a little lukewarm for his standards (.258 AVG, 4 HR, 14 RBI, .835 OPS), but Bautista is white in July and is on pace for 48 HR, 110 RBI, 119 R and a 1.133 OPS.

    Bautista’s performance this month, particularly his high OBP and OPS, puts him in the cream of the crop among MLB sluggers.

    Once tagged as a one-hit wonder before the season, Bautista has proven that he not only could do it again, but he could actually somehow improve as a hitter--taking his talents to new heights.

No. 2: Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox

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    Hot Streak: 8 HR, 22 RBI, .406 AVG and 1.224 OPS in July

    Yes, Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is more recognizable for his electric speed and jaw-dropping defense than his ability to slug the baseball.

    With eight home runs and a .771 slugging percentage in the month of July, however, it is virtually impossible not to put him near or at the top of this list.

    Very quietly, Ellsbury is actually on pace for 45 doubles and 25 or more home runs in 2011—transitioning himself from a gap hitter to an extra-base hit machine.

    If I told you that Ellsbury had a virtually identical extra-base hit total as Adrian Gonzalez, would that surprise you? It certainly shocked me, and goes to show how remarkable this breakout season truly is for him.

No. 1: Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox

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    Hot Streak: 8 HR, 19 RBI, .420 AVG and 1.248 OPS in July

    Former AL MVP and Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia started off 2011 hitting an anemic .239 through his first 56 games (222 at bats).

    Since that time, Pedroia has absolutely exploded—returning to that previously referenced MVP form. He is hitting a ridiculous .394 with a .467 OBP, 35 RBI and 1.132 OPS since June 5th.

    Pedroia leads MLB in AVG, OPS, extra-base hits, and runs in the month of July (for all players with 50 or more AB), and he has once again passed Robinson Cano for the title of “best second baseman in the American League”.

    No one else could top this list for the month of July than Pedroia, and he and Ellsbury are at the epicenter of why Boston has MLB’s best July record at 18-5 (1.5 games better than the 17-7 Rangers).

    We all knew that a Red Sox offense firing on all cylinders would be nearly unstoppable, and they seem to get closer and closer to that level every time they trot out onto the field.