Ranking the Top 50 MLB Players at the Start of the 2014 Regular Season

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIIMarch 25, 2014

Ranking the Top 50 MLB Players at the Start of the 2014 Regular Season

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    In the process of ranking the top 50 MLB players heading into the 2014 regular season, there are a ton of ridiculously talented ballplayers who were left off the list. After all, on any given day during the season, there are 750 active players spread across the league.

    The criteria that was used to compile this list is as follows: The most important factor in determining which player earned a spot on the list was 2013 performance. That means that young players on the rise often got the nod over more experienced players whose careers appear to be trending in the wrong direction. However, this was not simply a list of the 50 best players from a season ago.

    A player's larger track record was also part of the equation. That explains the inclusion of a few veterans who experienced down seasons in 2013, but who are primed for bounce-back seasons in the upcoming campaign. 

    Before we get started with the top 50 countdown, let's first take a look at the players who just barely missed the cut.

    Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Honorable Mentions

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    With so many deserving candidates vying for spots on the top 50 list, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a few shoutouts to the players who came up just short. 

    Honorable Mentions

    • Jose Bautista, RF, Toronto Blue Jays
    • Josh Donaldson, 3B, Oakland Athletics 
    • Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, New York Yankees
    • Aroldis Chapman, RP, Cincinnati Reds
    • James Shields, SP, Kansas City Royals 
    • Joe Mauer, 1B, Minnesota Twins
    • Michael Cuddyer, RF, Colorado Rockies
    • Allen Craig, RF, St. Louis Cardinals 
    • Jayson Werth, RF, Washington Nationals
    • Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles 

50. Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels

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    Albert Pujols has endured a rough first two seasons with the Los Angeles Angels. Still, the first baseman's historically impressive track record is simply too much to ignore. In 13 big league seasons, the nine-time All-Star owns a .321/.410/.599 slash line, which is good for a 1.008 OPS.

    If the 34-year-old can finally put his struggles with plantar fasciitis in the past, he should be in line for a vintage Pujols season. 

49. Greg Holland, RP, Kansas City Royals

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    Greg Holland is one of just two relievers to crack the top 50, and it's a well-deserved honor for the Kansas City Royals' dominant closer. 

    2013 was by far the right-hander's best season to date. In 67 games, Holland worked 68 innings and piled up 103 strikeouts, earning a spot on the American League All-Star team and finishing ninth on the AL Cy Young award ballot. 

48. Matt Carpenter, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Last year, Matt Carpenter led all of baseball in doubles and runs and also shared the lead for the most hits. That haul earned the left-handed batter a spot on the National League All-Star team and resulted in him finishing fourth in the NL MVP award voting.

    Carpenter has now transitioned to the hot corner, and it's worth noting that he can't match the glovework of Manny Machado, who was also in consideration for this spot. Then again, Machado can't touch the 143 OPS+* that Carpenter put up a season ago. 

    *Note: According to FanGraphs, OPS+ is OPS adjusted for the league and park where a particular player plays. 100 is defined as league average. That means that Carpenter was 43 percent above league average in 2013. 

47. Jon Lester, SP, Boston Red Sox

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    On four occasions during his eight-year big league career, Jon Lester has recorded a sub-3.50 ERA while delivering an ERA+* of at least 124. 

    Admittedly, the last time that he did so was during the 2011 campaign. However, after going 15-8 with a 3.75 ERA in 2013, Lester is on track to turn in a big season atop the Boston Red Sox's starting rotation. 

    *Note: According to Fox Sports, ERA+ is "ERA adjusted for the effects of a pitcher's home park and league environment." 100 is league average. 

46. Hisashi Iwakuma, SP, Seattle Mariners

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    Hisashi Iwakuma has only pitched in two big league seasons, but the right-hander has been stellar in both. 

    In 2012, his debut campaign, the Japanese import went 9-5 with a 3.16 ERA. He followed that up with an even stronger showing in 2013, going 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA on his way to finishing third in AL Cy Young award voting. 

    The 32-year-old won't likely be ready to go for Opening Day, as he's recovering from a sprained tendon in his right middle finger, but according to Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times, he should rejoin the team in May. When he does return, Iwakuma will once again be one of the most effective starters in the entire AL. 

45. Zack Greinke, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    After inking a six-year, $147 million deal before the 2013 season, Zack Greinke more than lived up to his hefty price tag in his first campaign with the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

    The right-hander finished the year 15-4 with a 2.63 ERA, earning an All-Star nod for the second time in his career. The starter got even better as the season wore on, posting a 7-2 record with a 1.85 ERA in 14 starts after the All-Star break. 

44. Anibal Sanchez, SP, Detroit Tigers

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    On the Detroit Tigers' loaded starting staff, Anibal Sanchez is merely the No. 3 starter. However, one look at his stat line from 2013 confirms that the right-hander is absolutely an ace. 

    Last season, Sanchez posted the lowest ERA (2.57) and the highest ERA+ (163) in the entire AL while putting up a 10.0 K/9 ratio. He might not get the same level of attention as Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, but that didn't stop him from finishing fourth in AL Cy Young award voting a season ago. 

43. Yasiel Puig, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Yasiel Puig has only appeared in 104 major league games, but his numbers are simply too incredible to ignore. After making his debut last June, Puig batted .319/.391/.534 with 21 doubles, 19 home runs and a 160 OPS+.

    There's always the possibility that the 23-year-old outfielder could tumble into a dreaded sophomore slump. However, I think it's far more likely that he'll match, or even exceed, his output from a season ago. 

42. Bryce Harper, LF, Washington Nationals

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    Despite the fact that he's still just 21 years old, Bryce Harper has already appeared in 257 games for the Washington Nationals in two seasons. During that time, Harper has put up an .834 OPS, and he's eclipsed the 20-home run plateau in both of his seasons in Washington.

    Those are some tremendous numbers considering that most of Harper's peers are still working their way through the low minor leagues. Those stats also suggest that the No. 1 overall selection from the 2010 MLB draft could be in line for a breakout season in 2014. 

41 Brian McCann, C, New York Yankees

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    During his nine-year career, Brian McCann has been one of the most productive catchers in all of baseball, posting a slash line of .277/.350/.473. The new backstop for the New York Yankees has also hit at least 20 home runs in six straight seasons. 

    Of course, it is worth noting that he was less than stellar in his final two years with the Atlanta Braves, as he put up a .698 and .796 OPS in 2012 and 2013, respectively. 

    However, the move to the Bronx, where the left-handed batter will encounter a 314-foot porch in right field, should translate to a huge power surge for McCann. 

40. Matt Holliday, LF, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Over the past decade, Matt Holliday has been one of the most productive hitters in all of baseball. During his 10-year career, the outfielder has batted .311/.387/.531 while spending time with the Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals.

    Having never posted lower than an .877 OPS in parts of five season in St. Louis, the six-time All-Star has provided the club with an excellent return on the seven-year, $120 million megadeal that the sides agreed to prior to the 2010 season. 

39. Cole Hamels, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Having surpassed the 200-innings mark in five of the past six seasons, Cole Hamels has been an absolute workhorse for the Philadelphia Phillies. 

    With a career 3.38 ERA and at least 202 strikeouts in three of the past four seasons, he's also been one of the more dominant left-handed starters in all of baseball. However, the 30-year-old starter will have a difficult time recording 200 strikeouts once again in 2014. Hamels is set to miss the first month of the season as he works his way back from shoulder tendonitis, per Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly

    Due to those injury concerns, the three-time All-Star doesn't rise any higher on the list. 

38. Carlos Gomez, CF, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Carlos Gomez enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2013 during his age-27 season, as his 8.4 bWAR was the second highest in all of baseball. The center fielder batted .284/.338/.506 with 24 home runs, also racking up 40 stolen bases.

    Set to earn just $7 million in the upcoming season, Gomez won't just be one of the most productive players in all of the major leagues in 2014, he'll also be one of the biggest bargains. 

37. Shin-Soo Choo, LF, Texas Rangers

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    There's a lot to like about Shin-Soo Choo's game. The new table-setter for the Texas Rangers is an on-base machine, as he owns a .389 OBP in nine big league seasons. Plus, he provides the potential to steal 20 bases and swat 20 home runs out of the leadoff spot.

    That skill set makes Choo one of the most dangerous leadoff hitters in the major leagues. 

36. Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas Rangers

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    By his own lofty standards, Prince Fielder slumped through a down year in 2013. However, it's worth noting that the five-time All-Star still managed to club 25 home runs and 36 doubles while posting an .819 OPS. 

    Now that he'll be playing his home games in the bandbox that is Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, the powerful first baseman should be due for a monster season in 2014. 

35. Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington Nationals

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    While his 8-9 record from a season ago was underwhelming, the rest of Stephen Strasburg's stats from 2013 were highly impressive. The right-hander set career highs in starts (30) and innings pitched (183) while posting a 3.00 ERA and a 9.4 K/9 ratio. 

    It seems as though the No. 1 overall selection from the 2009 MLB draft has been around forever, but he's still just 25 years old. Remarkably, though, the pitcher who lands just ahead of Strasburg on the list has actually produced even more at a younger age. 

34. Madison Bumgarner, SP, San Francisco Giants

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    Madison Bumgarner is one of the most underrated players in all of baseball.

    Despite the fact that the left-hander is still just 24 years old, Bumgarner has already appeared in parts of five seasons for the San Francisco Giants. In the past three, the starter has surpassed the 200-innings mark and posted an ERA of 3.37 or lower. 

    His best season came in 2013, as Bumgarner went 13-9 with a 2.77 ERA and an 8.9 K/9 ratio. That performance earned the former first-round draft pick what should be the first of many All-Star selections. 

33. Adam Jones, CF, Baltimore Orioles

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    Entering his age-28 season, Adam Jones is due for yet another big year with the Baltimore Orioles. In the past two seasons, the center fielder has hit 32 and 33 home runs, respectively, while snagging Gold Glove honors in back-to-back campaigns.

    There's no reason Jones can't match that prolific home run output in 2014 while grabbing his third straight Glove Glove and fourth overall. 

32. Ryan Braun, RF, Milwaukee Brewers

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    After MLB slapped Ryan Braun with a 65-game ban for PED usage last summer, there's a compelling case to be made for excluding the Milwaukee Brewer from this list altogether. 

    However, to do so would be excessively harsh. One look at Braun's career stats indicates that even if all his numbers are chemically enhanced, he's still a highly talented baseball player. In seven seasons with Milwaukee, Braun has never once posted lower than an .866 OPS. He's also never hit fewer than 25 home runs, aside from his suspension-shortened 2013 campaign.

31. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Boston Red Sox

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    Last year, for the first time since his rookie season in 2007, Dustin Pedroia failed to reach double digits in home runs. 

    Despite the lack of long balls, though, Pedroia still hit .301/.372/.415 while driving in 84 runs, clubbing 42 doubles and stealing 17 bases. The second baseman also picked up his third Gold Glove, earned his fourth All-Star selection and landed seventh in AL MVP voting while helping lead the Boston Red Sox to the World Series title. 

30. David Wright, 3B, New York Mets

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    While languishing on a New York Mets team that has failed to post a winning season since 2008, David Wright has become an often-overlooked superstar. That's quite a shame, as the seven-time All-Star has consistently been one of the most productive hitters in the NL.

    Last year, during a season in which he only played in 112 games due to a hamstring issue, Wright still hit .307 with 18 home runs and a .904 OPS. In 2014, the 31-year-old should once again post an OPS in the neighborhood of .900 and should be one of the top three third basemen in baseball. 

29. Carlos Gonzalez, LF, Colorado Rockies

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    Carlos Gonzalez is one of the most talented players in baseball.

    The problem, though, is that the left fielder for the Colorado Rockies has had an extremely difficult time staying healthy and on the field. In his six big league seasons, the only time that Gonzalez has accumulated 600 plate appearances was back in 2010.

    That year, Gonzalez was a beast, hitting .336/.376/.598 with 34 home runs, 34 doubles, nine triples, 117 RBI and 26 steals. With 351 total bases, he tied Jose Bautista for the most in MLB. Last season, he posted a similarly impressive .302/.367/.591 slash line in just 110 games.

    The two-time All-Star definitely has the tools to climb higher on the list, but, unfortunately, he just can't seem to stay healthy.   

28. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH, Toronto Blue Jays

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    With 78 home runs in the past two seasons, Edwin Encarnacion has surpassed Jose Bautista as the most powerful hitter in the Toronto Blue Jays lineup. The 31-year-old has also cemented his status as one of the most dangerous power hitters in the American League.

    In 2013, Encarnacion tagged 36 home runs, which meant that he trailed only Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis on the home run leaderboard. The nine-year veteran also posted his second straight season with a .900 OPS or higher and locked down his first All-Star honor.

27. David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox

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    Now 38 years old, David Ortiz has shown absolutely no sign of slowing down. Last year, the Red Sox designated hitter batted .309/.395/.564 with 30 home runs, 38 doubles and even a pair of triples.

    During the postseason, the 17-year veteran was simply incredible. During the Red Sox's triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, he posted a video game-like .688/.760/1.188 slash line with two home runs. That works out to a 1.948 OPS. 

26. Craig Kimbrel, RP, Atlanta Braves

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    There is no relief pitcher in the major leagues quite like Craig Kimbrel. 

    In parts of four seasons for the Atlanta Braves, the hard-throwing right-hander has produced a 1.39 ERA and posted a sensational 15.1 K/9 ratio. During the 2013 season, the three-time All-Star locked down a career-high 50 saves and put up a 320 ERA+. I didn't even realize that was possible. 

25. Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins

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    Still just 24 years old, Giancarlo Stanton has already established himself as one of the premier power hitters in the game. 

    In his first full big league season back in 2011, Stanton crushed 34 home runs and batted .262/.356/.537. The Miami Marlins right fielder followed that up by connecting on a career-high 37 long balls in just 501 plate appearances while tallying a .608 slugging percentage in 2012. 

    However, in 2013, he actually took a minor step back, hitting just 24 home runs, despite the fact that he actually totaled three more plate appearances than the season before. That small drop-off keeps the promising slugger from climbing any higher on the list. 

24. Cliff Lee, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Cliff Lee might be entering his age-35 season, but the veteran left-hander definitely doesn't appear to be running out of gas.

    Last year, Lee went 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA, striking out 222 batters in 222.2 innings of work. He also exhibited excellent command, leadding all of baseball with a 1.3 BB/9 ratio. That pinpoint control, paired with his ability to rack up strikeouts, suggests that Lee will be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future.  

23. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies

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    Troy Tulowitzki is a two-time Gold Glove award winner at the most athletically demanding position on the diamond. The three-time All-Star also owns a career slash line of .295/.367/.509 in eight big league seasons. 

    However, like teammate Carlos Gonzalez, durability remains a major issue for the Colorado Rockies shortstop. In four of the past six seasons, the No. 7 overall selection from the 2005 MLB draft has missed at least 36 games. 

    If Tulowitzki can remain healthy enough to accumulate 600 plate appearances in the upcoming season, there's no doubt he'll land in the top 10 of NL MVP voting. The difficulty, of course, is that his track record suggests that doing so is unlikely. 

22. Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox

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    After the Chicago White Sox selected Chris Sale with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft, it took the left-hander just two months before he made his big league debut pitching out of the club's bullpen.

    Sale joined the White Sox rotation in 2012, and in his first season as a starter, he went 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA. In 2013, the lefty posted a 3.07 ERA in 30 starts, surpassing the 200-innings mark for the first time in his career. 

    In both of his seasons in the White Sox rotation, Sale has earned All-Star honors, and there's no reason to think he won't make that three years in a row in 2014. 

21. Adam Wainwright, SP, St. Louis Cardinals

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    In 2013, Adam Wainwright led all of baseball in innings pitched (241.2) and complete games (5) while anchoring the St. Louis Cardinals starting staff.

    The veteran right-hander posted a 2.94 ERA, finishing second in the NL Cy Young award voting. However, Wainwright doesn't climb any higher on the list because his most impressive seasons in terms of ERA and ERA+ came back in 2009 and 2010 before the starter underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011. 

20. Yu Darvish, SP, Texas Rangers

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    Yu Darvish has only pitched two seasons in the major leagues, but the 6'5" right-hander is clearly on the rise. 

    In his first season with the Texas Rangers, Darvish posted a respectable 3.90 ERA while recording 221 strikeouts. Then, in his second season, the starter dropped his ERA to just 2.83, while leading all of baseball with 277 punchouts. That performance earned Darvish the No. 2 spot on the AL Cy Young award ballot. 

    Now entering his age-27 season, the Japanese righty is an early favorite to take home that award in 2014. 

19. Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles

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    After breaking out with 33 home runs in 2012, Chris Davis enjoyed a monster season for the Orioles in 2013. The first baseman hit .286/.370/.634 with 53 home runs and 42 doubles. In addition to leading all of baseball in home runs, he also topped the leaderboard in RBI and total bases.

    One minor shortcoming in Davis' game is his tendency to swing and miss. Last year, the left-handed hitter struck out 199 times. 

18. David Price, SP, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Back in 2012, David Price won the AL Cy Young award after going 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA. However, a season ago, the lefty took a step backward in nearly every major statistical category, including wins, ERA, ERA+, innings pitched and strikeouts.

    Price could easily turn things around in 2014, but for now, that drop-off keeps the 28-year-old stationed in the No. 18 spot on the list. 

17. Max Scherzer, SP, Detroit Tigers

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    In 2013, Max Scherzer won the AL Cy Young award after going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA. The right-hander recorded 240 strikeouts as he surged past the 200-innings mark for the first time in his six-year career. 

    It was an incredible season from Scherzer, no doubt. Still, it wasn't enough to push him past the ace who claims the next spot on the list. 

16. Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers

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    Justin Verlander endured a down year in 2013. However, it's worth pointing out just what exactly qualifies as a "down" season for the 2011 AL Cy Young award winner. 

    Last year, the 6'5" right-hander went 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA, a 121 ERA+ and 217 strikeouts in 218.1 innings of work for the Detroit Tigers. That means that Verlander has now pitched at least 201 innings in seven straight seasons and recorded at least 217 strikeouts in five straight campaigns. 

    That's why Verlander retains his job as the Tigers' Opening Day starter and why he edges his teammate, Scherzer, on this list. 

15. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves

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    Freddie Freeman earns the No. 15 spot on the list not simply because of the impressive numbers that he has put up, but because the first baseman has done so at such a young age. 

    Last year, during his age-23 season, Freeman hit .319/.396/.501 with 23 home runs and 109 RBI. That performance prompted the Atlanta Braves to dish out an eight-year, $135 million contract extension. Based on the kind of stats that the left-handed batter has produced to this point in his career, the Braves are set to receive an excellent return on their investment. 

14. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers

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    Over the past four seasons, Adrian Beltre has been one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. During that time, the third baseman has belted at least 28 home runs and batted at least .296 in each season. 

    2013 was arguably his worst seasons during that run, and the Texas Rangers slugger still posted an .880 OPS and finished seventh in AL MVP award voting. 

13. Jose Fernandez, SP, Miami Marlins

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    Jose Fernandez gets the nod over a lot of bigger names and more established starting pitchers—and for good reason. None of the starters who appear on the list before Fernandez have ever turned in a season like the Cuban did in 2013 (albeit in a smaller sample size than Justin Verlander's 2011 Cy Young campaign), let alone during their age-20 season.

    Last year, he went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, a 176 ERA+ and a 9.7 K/9. The only starter with a lower ERA a season ago was Clayton Kershaw. I can only imagine what kind of ridiculous numbers Fernandez will put up in 2014. 

12. Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Since breaking into the big leagues in 2008, Evan Longoria has been one of the most consistently productive hitters in all of baseball. During his six-year career, the Tampa Bay Rays third baseman has never put up lower than an .842 OPS and never posted worse than a .495 slugging percentage. As the owner of a pair of Gold Gloves, he's also a plus defender at the hot corner.

    Considering that the three-time All-Star is only now entering his age-28 season, his best is still ahead of him. 

11. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants

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    With a career slash line of .308/.377/.486 in five big league seasons, Buster Posey would be a major asset for the San Francisco Giants regardless of his defensive home. So, the fact that he is a well-respected catcher only makes him that much more valuable. 

    His best season to date came back in 2012, the year he won the NL MVP. That season, he also snagged the NL batting title, as he hit .336/.408/.549.

    As remarkable as Posey's career has been so far, though, he's still not even the best backstop in the game. 

10. Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners

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    In nine big league seasons, Robinson Cano has batted .309/.355/.504 while earning All-Star honors on five occasions. That run of success with the New York Yankees resulted in Cano inking a 10-year, $240 million megadeal with the Seattle Mariners in the offseason. 

    There's no doubt that Safeco Field is a far less hitter-friendly environment than Yankee Stadium. However, Cano has posted a .937 OPS in 52 at-bats at Safeco over the past three seasons, suggesting he'll be able to handle the switch to his new home ballpark.

    What's troubling, though, is the lack of protection that the second baseman will be provided in Seattle's lineup. That concern is one reason why Cano is behind the infielder who claims the No. 9 spot on the list. 

9. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Hanley Ramirez's stat line from 2013 was simply absurd. The Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop hit .345/.402/.638 with 25 doubles, 20 home runs and 57 RBI in just 86 games.

    Ramirez didn't rack up enough plate appearances to qualify for the league leaders, but if he had, his average and OPS would have been second only to Miguel Cabrera. Meanwhile, his .638 slugging percentage would have been the best in baseball. 

    Considering that 2014 is the 30-year-old's contract year, I expect his numbers to be even better. 

8. Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle Mariners

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    Felix Hernandez has been dominating AL batters since 2005, yet the Seattle Mariners ace won't even turn 28 until the first week of April.

    The right-hander has pitched at least 200 innings in six straight seasons and has recorded at least 217 strikeouts in each of his past five campaigns. After posting a 3.05 ERA a season ago, the Venezuelan will once again be one of the most devastatingly effective pitchers in 2014. 

7. Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Yadier Molina seems to be getting better with age. 

    The winner of six straight NL Gold Gloves, there's never been any question about Molina's prowess behind the plate. Over the past three seasons, the St. Louis Cardinals backstop has also been a force in the batter's box. Molina has posted an .814 OPS or better in each of the past three seasons, and in both 2012 and 2013 he finished in the top four in NL MVP voting. 

6. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Last year, Paul Goldschmidt enjoyed one of the strongest seasons of any player in the NL. The Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman hit .302/.401/.551 and led the league with 36 home runs and 125 RBI. Those numbers represent a substantial improvement from the 20 home runs and 82 RBI that Goldschmidt totaled back in 2012.

    However, for now, his body of work simply isn't extensive enough for the 26-year-old to overhaul the next player on the list, who maintains his status as the best first baseman in the NL. 

5. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

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    Since breaking into the Cincinnati Reds lineup back in 2007, Joey Votto has been one of the best all-around hitters in the major leagues.

    During his seven-year career, Votto has posted a .314/.419/.541 slash line for the Reds. In each of the past four seasons, the first baseman has led the league in OBP. Aside from an injury-riddled 2012 campaign, he has never hit fewer than 24 home runs in a full season. 

    His discerning eye at the plate, along with his ability to hit for both power and average, earns Votto the No. 5 spot on the list. 

4. Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    In 2013, Andrew McCutchen won the NL MVP award, as he hit .317/.404/.508 with 21 home runs, 38 doubles and 27 steals.

    As impressive as that season was, though, McCutchen was actually even better back in 2012. That year, the Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder hit .327/.400/.553 with 31 home runs, 29 doubles and 20 stolen bases. The No. 11 overall pick from the 2005 MLB draft also scooped up his first Gold Glove award. 

    Entering his age-27 season, McCutchen has an excellent chance of winning a second straight NL MVP trophy in 2014. 

3. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Clayton Kershaw won the NL Cy Young award in 2011 and 2013. In his last three seasons, the left-hander has posted the lowest ERA in the league. During two of those seasons, the 26-year-old also racked up the most strikeouts in the NL. 

    Kershaw isn't just the best pitcher in the NL, though—he's the best pitcher in all of baseball. 

2. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels

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    Mike Trout has posted some astonishing numbers in his brief major league career. 

    In 2012, his first full season, the Los Angeles Angels outfielder hit .326/.399/.564 with 30 home runs, 27 doubles and 49 stolen bases. Last year, he was equally impressive, hitting .323/.432/.557 with 27 home runs, 39 doubles and 33 stolen bases.

    Trout plays a premier defensive position, but there are definitely doubts about just how good of a center fielder he actually is. According to ESPN's range factor, he was right in the middle of the pack at that position a season ago. 

    In both of the past two years, Trout finished as the runner-up in AL MVP voting to the player who claims the top spot on this list. 

1. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Last year, Miguel Cabrera led all of baseball in batting average (.348), OBP (.442), slugging percentage (.636), OPS (1.078) and OPS+ (187). He also clubbed the second-most home runs (44) and drove in the second-most runs (136). 

    What's more, Cabrera accomplished all of that despite the fact that he literally limped through the final months of the season, as he battled an array of injuries, including a back issue and hip flexor/abdominal problem, per Chris Iott of MLive.com.

    The eight-time All-Star has now posted an OPS north of 1.000 in three of the past four seasons. The only time he didn't was 2012 when he finished with a .999 OPS.

    With his switch to first base, I expect Cabrera to have a much easier time staying healthy in 2014 and put up even bigger numbers in the upcoming campaign.

    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.