The key to becoming a consistently above-average, elite player in baseball begins with the very foundation of the game: Fundamentals.
Fundamentals cover a wide variety of individual aspects of hitting, pitching and fielding which often makes the whole package difficult to achieve on a productive and consistent basis, especially throughout a career.
In today's game, fundamentals seem to have been cast aside for frivolous, lazy and even superfluous play. The good news, however, is there are still plenty of players left in the game who are fundamentally sound, and today I want to discuss 15 of them.
Since this slide is only meant to be that long, be sure to mention who you feel is an example of a fundamentally sound player and why below.
Whether you are talking about his skills at the plate or his skills on the outfield, Ichiro is one of the most fundamentally sound players in the game.
Each year, Ichiro makes this game look easy, and he does it with sound play defensively with a solid combination of knowing where to hit the ball, and having the patience and sight to do so.
Another grand example for all you young aspiring second basemen out there, Chase Utley is about as fundamental as it gets.
Utley is a player who will often look off a pitch when he knows it isn't the right pitch, put the ball in play through the gap or utilize his power if the right throw comes his way.
Defensively, however, Utley stands out not only because of his glove, but for his decision-making skills when the ball is in play and in his glove, which isn't always easy to do.
There aren't too many true power hitters that you would readily call fundamentally sound, simply because there is always an aspect lacking.
Not Albert Pujols.
Pujols is every bit as good of a hitter as he is a slugger, and he is one of the better hot corner defensemen in the game.
In addition to the aforementioned, Pujols also keeps his strikes to a minimum and his errors to a minimum, which is all a part of being a fundamentally sound player.
When talking about fundamentals, it's a little difficult to find pitchers, simply because I am not a pitching coach—ergo, I can't always see the fundamentals that make an efficient pitcher.
But there are a few out there that are easy to pinpoint, and I will highlight a few of them within this slide.
Fundamentals in a pitcher creates efficiency, and the more efficiency a pitcher has, the more fundamentally sound he has to be, which brings us to Mr. Halladay.
Halladay knows what pitch to throw and when, and more importantly, he is very keen on in-game adjustments.
In addition, Halladay is exceptional at mixing up his repertoire while knowing how to keep his stamina out of the danger zone.
Pitch management, personal management, proper grip and execution on a consistent basis and in-game adjustments are just a few of the many fundamentals that every pitcher needs to accomplish, and Halladay has not only accomplished these feats, but he masters them.
Sometimes a fundamentally sound player takes a few years to develop, such is the case with Tampa Bay's James Shields.
Shields was beat up the two years prior to last season, but the change in him just this past year was remarkable to say the least.
Shields was able to last longer in games while throwing more efficiently through each inning.
Shields was also able to offer a wide variety of pitches that made things easier to manage than in prior years.
If Shields can continue on with this, he'll become a force to be reckoned with.
Aside from being able to locate the ball with your eye and bat while effectively fielding the ball, baserunning is also an important aspect of fundamentals.
Enter Dustin Pedroia.
Pedroia is a keen eye at the plate and knows exactly how to hit.
Pedroia is also one of the better second basemen in the league, and his baserunning skills are just as effective as they are intelligent.
Pedroia is not the kind of guy who makes many mistakes or tries too hard to do the wrong thing. Rather, he plays as fundamentally as a player can, which is the reason for his continued success.
I don't think there's a better example—especially at shortstop—than Derek Jeter.
Jeter will undoubtedly go down as one of the all-time greats, and a lot of that has to do with his fundamentally sound play.
Whether it's at the plate, in the field, on the basepaths or just simply his decision making, Jeter definitely ranks up there with the best of them fundamentally.
For as young as the kid is, Carlos Gonzalez is not only what of the most dynamic players in baseball, but also one of the most fundamentally sound.
Gonzalez can hurt you with his unexpected power, or kill you with his ability to exploit the gaps as a hitter.
Gonzalez's hitting ability, however, is just a portion of his identity.
Gonzalez has tremendous ranges as an outfielder with a solid sense of how to play the ball before it comes back down to Earth, and as a base runner, he is even more opportunistic and clever.
The Rockies not only have a five-tooler in Gonzalez, but they have an incredibly fundamental player as well.
He has speed, size, power and range, and Kemp is a solid decision-maker who consistently performs at an above-average level each year.
It is all based on the fundamentals of the game.
Kemp can burn you with the long-ball, but putting the ball in play between the gap to set up a better scenario is also his specialty, and he isn't the kind of outfielder that you are going to get over on too many times.
Kemp's fundamentals allow him to progress each and every year.
In just four short years as an MLB player, Longoria has already been named the 2008 AL Rookie of the Year, earned two Golden Gloves, earned a Silver Slugger Award and is a three-time All-Star.
All by-products of sound fundamentals.
Longoria utilizes his base fundamentals alongside his natural skill-sets each year and gets better with every passing season.
No surprise here, eh?
Since entering the league in 2004, Mauer has been one of the best catchers in the game today and is fast becoming one of the best catchers in baseball history.
It's easy for many to pick out some of the fundamentals that go into being a catcher.
There's the synchronization with the pitcher aspect and the ability to be a proper signal-caller, the ability to thwart an attempted steal and, of course, the ability to provide some effective offense as a hitter.
But what some may forget are the other fundamentals, such as fielding bunts properly, catch-blocking and throwing positions, which are all fundamental skill-sets Mauer has mastered above and beyond the rest.
What's interesting about the catcher position is there are actually quite a few catchers that are some of the most fundamentally sound players in baseball.
But I only have so much room, so I am going to highlight one of the rising superstars in the league: Buster Posey.
Again, this kid pretty much does it all when it comes to defense, offense and the other fundamental skill-sets that make a great catcher who he is.
Last season was derailed by a nasty injury, but you can expect Posey to be right on top again this season, and it will be those sound fundamentals that make that so.
He has one of the smoothest deliveries as a reliever, and he's one of the most fundamental relievers in all of baseball, which is why Rivera is so darn successful.
The "old man" is going to go down in history as one of the greatest relievers on the mound and one of the best in Yankees history.
Cabrera is definitely known for his power at the plate, but what many don't realize is just how fundamentally Cabrera plays, making him one of the most solid in all the game.
Cabrera has made a living off of fundamentally sound playing, and the Tigers have been the benefactor of such an attribute.
Cabrera is only 28 years of age, which is wonderful when you think of how many players well under 30 are showing quality fundamental skills.
Another young rising superstar who is one of the best fundamental players in the league today is Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen.
McCutchen is just as much of a threat at the plate as he is on the basepaths, and his overall defense and defensive range are just as fundamentally sound.
McCutchen has consistently played at an above-average level in regard to fundamentals as well, which bodes well for his overall development as a player and Pirates fans everywhere.
So there ya have it!
Now remember, before everyone goes running to the keyboard to write one of those "I can't believe you left THIS GUY out" comments, this is only 15 players long, so be sure to chime in and leave your own mention and perhaps a reason why, to get the conversation going.