Ranking MLB's Most Deadly 3-4-5 Combos as Spring Training Approaches

Luke Strickland@LSTRICK21Contributor IIIJanuary 28, 2015

Ranking MLB's Most Deadly 3-4-5 Combos as Spring Training Approaches

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    While MLB is going through a pitching renaissance, there still remain some pretty potent offensive players in the game today. Players like Jose Bautista, David Ortiz, Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera and Giancarlo Stanton buoy some of the more dangerous and productive lineups in baseball. 

    Last week, I ranked the top pitching staffs in MLB, so it's only fair to do the same to the studs trying to hit those rotations. Instead of looking at lineups from top to bottom, these rankings will focus on the most explosive 3-4-5 combos in the game today. 

    We'll stick to a similar rating scale, ranking the following criteria on a 1 to 5 scale:

    • Power: Every notable heart of the order in baseball history has put up monster home run totals
    • Plate Discipline: Power hitters can often rack up the K's, but if they are able to draw their share of walks too, then we can look past an ugly whiff rate
    • Fear Factor: This one is kind of subjective, but do a team's sluggers strike fear into opposing pitchers and fanbases?
    • Durability: Even the greatest hitters don't accomplish anything if they can't stay healthy
    • Track Record: It's nice to be able to rely on hitters who have a history of producing in the middle of a lineup 

    As you'll see as you read on, there isn't too much separating the teams at the top of the list. In the case of a tie, I'll go with the more durable trio of the two to settle the score.

    This list is just a primer to stir conversation while we all eagerly await the start of the season. There's a high chance that these rankings will look dramatically different by year's end. Make sure to let me know what you think in the comments section below, so we can keep the dialogue going with solid opinions and viewpoints. 

    Let's get started with a few teams that aren't quite good enough to make the list but deserve a quick mention nonetheless.

Honorable Mentions

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Texas Rangers

    Why They Deserve Mention

    Adrian Beltre continues to age like a fine wine, Prince Fielder should be healthy and ready to go and Leonys Martin has immense upside.

    Why They Can't Crack the Top 10

    Fielder's health and Martin's youth keep the Rangers just outside the top 10, but healthy and productive campaigns from the duo could have the club comfortably in the top 10 by the end of the season.

    New York Yankees

    Why They Deserve Mention

    This was tough due to the many different variations of 3-4-5 combos manager Joe Girardi could use, but a trio of Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira would bring a wealth of hitting knowledge to the middle of the New York lineup.

    Why They Can't Crack the Top 10

    That trio would have likely given the Yankees the top spot on this list in 2009, but in 2015, the club will have to rely on three creaky veterans to be able to stay on the field. 

    Milwaukee Brewers

    Why They Deserve Mention

    One of the truly great hitters of the last 10 to 15 years is Aramis Ramirez. Meanwhile, Jonathan Lucroy put together an MVP-caliber season, and Ryan Braun is a former MVP himself. 

    Why They Cant Crack the Top 10

    Braun has looked pedestrian since his performance-enhancing drug bust, and Ramirez has developed a contact-driven approach at 36. 

No. 10: Colorado Rockies

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Projected 3-4-5

    • Troy Tulowitzki
    • Carlos Gonzalez
    • Justin Morneau

    Power: 4

    Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Justin Morneau are all capable of incorporating the long ball into their arsenal. All three players rank in the top 40 of active players in at-bats per home run.

    Despite missing extended time in multiple seasons in his career, Tulowitzki has mashed 20-plus homers six times. Colorado's star shortstop hit 21 in just 91 games last year before missing a majority of the season with a hip injury.

    Gonzalez has destroyed opposing pitching at an equally impressive mark, going deep 20 or more times in four straight seasons from 2010-2013. During that stretch, he ranked ninth in baseball in isolated power. 

    And while Morneau doesn't hit as many dingers as he did while with the Minnesota Twins, the left-handed-hitting first baseman has 238 career homers to his name. 

    Plate Discipline: 4

    Despite that power, it's the trio's plate discipline that makes these guys such a dangerous unit. Here are some career numbers, courtesy of FanGraphs:

    • Tulowitzki—15.8 percent strikeout rate, 10.1 percent walk rate
    • Gonzalez—22.3 percent strikeout rate, 7.9 percent walk rate
    • Morneau—15.2 percent strikeout rate, 9.1 percent walk rate

    Gonzalez is the most likely of the three to fan, but he's still been able to walk at a respectable clip. Meanwhile, Tulowitzki and Morneau have made consistent contact throughout their careers and have coaxed pitchers into plenty of free passes. 

    Fear Factor: 3

    As I stated in the intro, it can be hard to find statistical evidence to justify a fear factor score. But the heart of the Rockies order can't be too much fun to pitch to. 

    Tulowitzki and Gonzalez both boast career BABIPs of well over .300, while Morneau's .296 mark isn't too shabby itself. These guys hit the ball as hard as anybody in the league. 

    Durability: 1

    Rockies fans will probably just gloss over this section, because it has got to be a touchy subject. 

    The downfall of this explosive trio and the reason the three aren't higher on the list is year after year of injuries and ailments that cost them playing time. 

    Tulowitzki's first year as a full-time starter was in 2007, when he played in 155 games. Since that year, Tulo has participated in at least 140 contests only twice. Most baseball fans are well aware of his well-documented injury history, but that stat remains truly unbelievable. 

    Gonzalez has endured his share of injury woes as well, playing over 140 games only once in his career. He's only suited up 180 times over the last two seasons. 

    Morneau too has missed significant time in his career, but he's actually been the most reliable of the three over the past few seasons.

    Track Record: 3

    This was another difficult grade due to the injury issues mentioned in the section above.

    But when Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and Morneau are healthy, they produce at a high level. The fact that Colorado's sluggers can even be mentioned on this list, despite finding themselves on the bench a majority of the time, is a testament to their talent.  

    Total Score—15 out of 25: The only way for this group to climb up the ranks is by staying on the field in the upcoming season. 

No. 9: Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Projected 3-4-5

    • Andrew McCutchen
    • Neil Walker
    • Starling Marte

    Power: 3

    The middle of Pittsburgh's order isn't overly reliant on home runs, but it is capable of taking any pitcher deep if given the right pitch. 

    McCutchen is the most likely of the three to go deep. The 28-year-old has hit over 20 bombs in four straight seasons and reached double digits in six consecutive campaigns. He also finished fifth out of all outfielders in isolated power with a .228 mark. 

    In the cleanup spot, Walker should provide the great McCutchen with the appropriate protection. He led all second basemen in homers and isolated power last season while ranking third in wRC+. 

    Even the speedy Starling Marte has flashed some pop from the right side, hitting 25 homers, 55 doubles and 16 triples over the last two seasons. 

    Plate Discipline: 3

    This group's plate discipline spans from great to average to horrific between the three players. 

    We all know McCutchen gets on base at one of the highest clips in baseball. His .410 OBP was tops in the league this past season. The outfielder was able to overcome an increase in K's by walking 13 percent of the time. 

    Walker's strikeout rate dropped to a career-low 15.4 percent in 2014, and he also walked less than he normally has in his career.  

    On the other hand, Marte's free-swinging mentality landed him in the top 20 in strikeout rate and in the bottom 40 in walk rate. 

    When you add it all up, the trio's plate discipline grade is pretty average.  

    Fear Factor: 4

    With one of the best players in the league looming in the middle of the lineup, opposing pitchers will always be wary of No. 22. McCutchen finished in the top 10 in walk rate and BABIP in 2014.

    While opposing hurlers would much rather take their chances with Walker and Marte, that particular duo shouldn't be taken lightly. Marte's high K's may make him seem like the weak link, but the outfielder actually led all of baseball with a .373 BABIP. 

    Meanwhile, Walker finished with 23 homers and 76 RBI, proving he's more than just a high-contact hitter. 

    Durability: 3

    McCutchen missed just 22 games from 2010 to 2013 before sitting out 16 times this past season. Still, his presence is rarely out of the Pirates lineup. 

    Marte is still relatively young at 26, but he has yet to play more than 135 games in a season, while Walker has only done so once. 

    Again, McCutchen's brilliance helps even out what would otherwise be a subpar score. 

    Track Record: 3

    Walker enjoyed a breakout season in 2014, but he had never been more than an average hitter throughout his career. He's always put the ball in play and posted high averages, but this past year was the first time the 29-year-old had ever hit more than 20 homers in a season. 

    Marte is only 26, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt here. He's shown an electric skill set in his two-plus years with the Pirates, despite high strikeout totals. 

    But McCutchen has posted a WAR of 5.0 or higher in four consecutive seasons, with on-base percentages of higher than .400 in three of those campaigns. He's the epitome of consistent. 

    Tiebreaker: I'll take the more durable Pittsburgh sluggers over the upside/uncertainty of the Colorado trio. 

    Total Score—15 out of 25: If Marte and Walker strike out less and produce at a high level once again this season, there's no reason the Pirates can't continue to rise up the rankings. But for now, there are better units to choose from. 

No. 8: Cleveland Indians

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Projected 3-4-5

    • Michael Brantley
    • Carlos Santana
    • Brandon Moss

    Power: 4

    Among the Cleveland Indians' 3-4-5 trio, there should be plenty of homers this season.

    The 210-pound Santana is a very powerful man. He's reached double digits in homers in four consecutive seasons, including a 27-homer campaign in 2014. The 28-year-old ranked in the top 20 in home-run-to-fly-ball ratio last season. 

    I'm a big fan of the addition of Brandon Moss, as the Indians were in need of another power bat. Moss has gone deep 76 times in the past three years, which is more than any Indians player. The former Oakland A ranks 20th in wRC+ since 2012. 

    Brantley finally reached double digits in long balls in 2013, but he improved that total by 10 more homers to post a career-high 20 bombs last year. The outfielder ranked seventh in baseball in wRC+ last year. 

    Plate Discipline: 3

    Despite Brantley's significant spike in power, he didn't lose his elite pitch recognition and contact skills. He finished fifth in walk-to-strikeout ratio, nearly earning as many walks as strikeouts in 2014. 

    Santana struck out nearly 19 percent of the time last season, but he also walked a league-leading 18.1 percent. 

    Moss is the one player in the trio who has had trouble keeping his K's down in his career. He fanned over 26 percent of the time last season but did manage to record his highest-ever total in walk percentage. 

    Fear Factor: 3

    Cleveland may not have the flashiest names on the lineup card, but its heart of the order should garner more respect this season. 

    Brantley has transformed into a complete hitter, Moss consistently posts isolated power rates of over .200 and nobody has been better at drawing walks over the last few seasons than Santana. 

    Durability: 4

    Brantley doesn't miss too many games, and neither does Santana. 

    Moss has played in over 140 games in consecutive campaigns, but he underwent hip surgery after the season concluded. While he managed to play through the injury, hip issues for a 31-year-old power hitter shouldn't be taken lightly. 

    Track Record: 3

    We know what Santana is going to do: walk, strike out or crush the baseball. He's put together pretty much the same season every year since 2011. 

    Moss is a feast-or-famine-type hitter who should hit close to 30 home runs at the hitter-friendly Progressive Field. 

    Brantley is the most intriguing of the three because we don't know what to make of his sudden increase in power. His BABIP and fly-ball rate weren't significantly higher than his career norm, which bodes well for continued success. Another 20-homer season would go a long way to proving his newfound power is here to stay. 

    Total Score—17 out of 25: I'm very high on Cleveland's 3-4-5 hitters. If Brantley proves he wasn't a one-hit wonder in terms of power, the Indians could have one of the more potent units in the AL. 

No. 7: Miami Marlins

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    Ralph Freso/Getty Images

    Projected 3-4-5

    • Giancarlo Stanton
    • Michael Morse
    • Marcell Ozuna

    Power: 5

    Many people may not be ready to throw the Marlins up this high, but I love the potential this group brings to the Miami lineup. 

    It starts with $325 million man Giancarlo Stanton and his prodigious power. Stanton's lowest career home run total is 22 in his rookie year. Since that first year in the big leagues, the outfielder has the highest home-run-to-fly-ball ratio in the league. He homered once every 15 at-bats in 2014.

    The Marlins signed Michael Morse this winter to help take some of the load off of Stanton. Morse hasn't always played every day, but he's been able to carve out a niche in the league due to his immense pop.

    The 24-year-old Ozuna also provided some thump with 23 homers last season. 

    Plate Discipline: 2

    With great power often comes high strikeouts, and that could be the bugaboo of this trio. 

    Stanton has whiffed close to 30 percent of the time in his big league career but has been able to draw enough walks for it not to matter much. 

    Morse hasn't been able to coax as many walks and has fanned over 20 percent of the time to boot. Ozuna's first full year in the majors brought more of the same, as the outfielder struck out four times for every walk last season. 

    Stanton's improved walk rate is the only factor keeping this score from being a one. 

    Fear Factor: 5

    Stanton is downright terrifying, and opposing pitchers proved that in 2014. The 25-year-old posted the third-highest walk percentage in baseball, and he was intentionally walked more than any other player not named Victor Martinez. 

    At 6'5", 245 pounds, Morse is just as physically imposing as his new teammate. Although he hasn't been shown near the same amount of respect as Stanton has, Morse is an extra-base machine when he makes contact. 

    Ozuna has just a little over a year under his belt, but he too flashed impressive isolated power marks in the minor leagues and again in 2014.

    Durability: 2

    Ozuna played in 153 games last season, but he's still young and has yet to prove if he can avoid the injury bug in a 162-game campaign. Morse hasn't been very durable in his career, missing time to injuries in multiple seasons. 

    Stanton was putting together a full season of elite production in 2014 before being sidelined for the remainder of the year after a horrific incident down the stretch. It remains to be seen if the massive slugger can compose back-to-back healthy seasons. 

    Track Record: 3

    Stanton's shown what he's all about so far in his career, and Morse has still been able to supplement his home run totals with a decent average, despite racking up the K's. 

    Ozuna has a very small sample size to analyze, but his numbers in 2014 didn't deviate too much from his minor league statistics. He'll likely continue to be a volatile run producer who needs to improve his on-base percentage.  

    Tiebreaker: Stanton gives the Marlins a slight edge over the Indians.

    Total Score—17 out of 25: I'm equally as high on the Marlins as I am on the Indians. Both teams have the potential to find themselves at the top of this list by the end of the year. For Miami, a big part of that climb will be a full season from a healthy Stanton. 

No. 6: Los Angeles Angels

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    Projected 3-4-5

    • Mike Trout
    • Albert Pujols
    • David Freese

    Power: 4

    Trout is the best player on the planet, and he has everything you want a professional baseball player to have in his arsenal. Hitting for power is one of those traits that Trout does oh, so well. The reigning American League Most Valuable Player set a career high with 36 homers last season and will hit his 100th homer before he turns 24. 

    Pujols is one of the better hitters in the history of baseball, but he stumbled a tad in 2013, hitting only 17 homers and driving in just 64 runs. But he steadied the ship last season, mashing 28 homers and 105 RBI. 

    Freese brings down the ranking just a bit, but even he has hit over 20 home runs in a season before in his career. 

    Plate Discipline: 2

    Trout's kryptonite so far has been the strikeout, as his K percentage rose to over 26 percent this past season. The outfielder's walk rate also dipped from 15.4 percent in 2013 to 11.8 percent last year. Those changes in plate discipline can probably be attributed to Trout's intent on hitting with more pop, but it's something he'll need to address this season. 

    Freese whiffs in bunches too, finishing in the bottom 20 in strikeout percentage last season. The third baseman's O-Swing percentage of 31.1 percent proves that he needs to stop chasing pitches outside of the strike zone to get his K's under control. 

    But Pujols is a completely different animal. His career walk percentage is higher than his career strikeout percentage, which includes just a 10.2 percent K rate in 2014. His steady approach at the plate will be critical sandwiched between two hitters who have a tendency to whiff. 

    Fear Factor: 4

    Despite his strikeout woes, Trout remains one of the premier hitters in baseball. He finished 2014 with the second-highest isolated power mark in the league, proving he's always a threat to go for extra bases. 

    Although Pujols isn't as intimidating as he once was, the slugger still has 520 home runs on his resume. He also finished in the top 10 in intentional walks last year.

    While Freese is the obvious weak link in the triumvirate, his 25.7 line-drive rate was good enough for the 10th-best mark in baseball. He'll need to continue to make hard contact at that rate, with opposing pitchers likely targeting him in the season ahead.

    Durability: 4

    To the chagrin of the other teams in MLB, Trout is always on the field. He's only missed 10 games over the past two seasons. 

    Pujols was hampered by a foot injury in 2013, but the slugger has played in no fewer than 143 games in every season since 2001. 

    Freese has missed time in each of the last few seasons, keeping the heart of the Los Angeles order from achieving a perfect score in this category. 

    Track Record: 4

    While the Angels third baseman hasn't been terrible, he can't be compared to the consistent production of Trout and Pujols. Freese boasts a .280 career average, but he has been inconsistent at times as a full-time player. 

    Trout has put together three straight MVP-level seasons. Ironically, his MVP season of 2014 may have been the least impressive campaign of his career. 

    And then there's Pujols, one of the greatest hitters of his generation. The 35-year-old hit over 30 homers in every season from 2001-2012 while recording at least a .285 average and 98 RBI. 

    Total Score—18 out of 25: With Trout in the middle of the lineup, the Angels are going to score runs. I'd like to see him strike out less this season, but that's being nit-picky if we're being honest. Freese has shown flashes, but he'll need to improve this year for the Halos to jump into the top five. 

No. 5: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Projected 3-4-5

    • Yasiel Puig
    • Adrian Gonzalez
    • Howie Kendrick

    Power: 3

    The biggest threat to leave the park in this group is Gonzalez, who hit 27 homers last season. The first baseman has recorded 20-plus home runs in eight of the last nine seasons and 30-plus in four of those years. 

    While Puig probably possesses the most raw power on the roster, he's yet to fully tap into that and apply it to in-game situations (which is scary). But at just 24, the outfielder should smash at least 20 dingers for the first time in his career this season. 

    Both Puig and Gonzalez should be fine on the home run front, but that's never been Howie Kendrick's game. The second baseman has never hit more than 18 homers and only went yard seven times in 2014. 

    Plate Discipline: 3

    Gonzalez has been able to keep his strikeout totals down for most of his career. He's posted a 10 percent walk rate as well, proving he's not chasing too many bad offerings. 

    While Kendrick is a career .292 hitter, he's not very patient at the dish. His 4.8 percent career walk rate is alarming, although he's increased that number in recent seasons. 

    Puig struck out over 22 percent of the time in his rookie year, but he decreased that number to a little over 19 percent last season. One would figure that the Cuban phenom would continue to improve in that department as he matures. 

    Fear Factor: 4

    Opposing pitchers are already showing Puig immense respect, despite his tendency to go into strikeout ruts. He's drawing plenty of walks while putting the ball in play with authority. He ranks third over the past two seasons in BABIP.  

    Gonzalez's 23.7 percent line-drive rate and his 14.6 home-run-to-fly-ball ratio rank in the top 30, proving the 32-year-old is as dangerous as ever.

    Kendrick doesn't quite evoke the same apprehension from opposing pitchers when digging into the box, but his career .341 BABIP shows he has a solid chance at creating hard contact.   

    Durability: 5

    There is no more durable player in baseball than Adrian Gonzalez.

    Since 2006, the fewest amount of games he's played in is 156, and he has played in more games than any other player in baseball since that time. When you combine that with his customary level of production, he may be one of the more valuable sluggers in baseball. 

    Kendrick has stayed relatively healthy in his career, playing in 140-plus games four different times in his career. Puig's career is just getting going, but he's shown an ability to avoid significant injuries in his time with the Dodgers. 

    Track Record: 4

    Gonzalez is as consistent as they come in this league, playing every day and at an extremely high level.

    The lowest average Kendrick has posted in his career was a .279 mark in 2010. He's also notched over 150 hits in four of the last five seasons.

    Puig can only be judged on a season and a half in the big leagues, but in 252 major league games, he boasts a .386 OBP and 152 wRC+. 

    Total Score—19 out of 25: Kendrick was a great pickup for the Dodgers. He may not fully replace Matt Kemp's production, but he'll likely be more dependable. I think Puig is ready to put together a monster year. His potential and the steady hands of Gonzalez and Kendrick give the Dodgers a lethal combination in the middle of their lineup. 

No. 4: Seattle Mariners

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Projected 3-4-5

    • Robinson Cano
    • Nelson Cruz
    • Kyle Seager

    Power: 4

    Nelson Cruz is one of the best power hitters in the game today. He's closing in on 200 career round-trippers, including the 40 bombs he launched last year with the Baltimore Orioles. Cruz ranked fifth in 2014 with a 20.4 percent home-run-to-fly-ball ratio.

    Robinson Cano hit only 14 homers last season, but his power numbers were always expected to slide after leaving Yankee Stadium for Safeco Field. But the second baseman has still reached double digits in dingers in every year of his career. 

    The Mariners will also benefit from Kyle Seager's power production, as the third baseman ranks fifth at the position with 67 home runs since 2012. 

    Plate Discipline: 3

    As you might expect, Cruz strikes out at a high rate.

    He's fanned over 20 percent of the time in each of the last four seasons while also recording walk rates of less than 10 percent. Seager's a little better than Cruz in terms of K's, but the 27-year-old still strikes out over 17 percent of the time. 

    Fortunately for Seattle, Cano provides the middle of the lineup with a steady approach. Last season, he ranked eighth in walk-to-strikeout ratio. 

    Fear Factor: 4

    Cruz can strike out too much at times, but the slugger mashes the ball when he makes contact. He finished the season with the seventh-highest isolated power mark in baseball.

    Cano nearly always squares the ball up, as evidenced by his career 21 percent line-drive rate. His intentional walks have reached double digits in five straight seasons, including 20 in 2014.

    Even Seager is beginning to earn a reputation around the league as a dangerous hitter. His line-drive rate is even better than Cano's, and he posted the highest home-run-to-fly-ball ratio of his career last season. 

    Durability: 5

    Seattle could be at the top of this list by year's end because of this trio's ability to stay healthy. 

    Cano has missed just 19 games in the last eight years, and Seager has played in over 150 ballgames in every season he's been a full-time starter. Cruz missed most of 2013 due to his PED bust, but that was sandwiched in between two 159-game seasons in 2012 and 2014. 

    Track Record: 5

    All three players have shown consistency throughout their careers. 

    Cano may be the best hitter in baseball since 2007. He has hit over .300 in seven of those eight seasons. Cruz saw a spike in his homers this season, but he's always hit plenty of long balls and driven in close to 100 runs. And Seager has gone deep 20 times in three straight seasons. 

    Total Score—21 out of 25: This is my dark-horse trio for the season ahead. With the addition of Cruz, Seattle has the perfect blend of everything you want in the middle of the order. 

No. 3: Boston Red Sox

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Projected 3-4-5

    • David Ortiz
    • Hanley Ramirez
    • Pablo Sandoval

    Power: 4

    David Ortiz is the perfect power hitter. The lefty slugged 35 homers and knocked in 104 runs in 2014. He ranked sixth in isolated power and 11th in slugging percentage last season. 

    The Red Sox signed both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to lucrative long-term deals this winter, and both will bring significant pop to the Boston lineup. 

    Ramirez has nearly 200 career homers to his name and has posted a lifetime 133 wRC+. Sandoval's power numbers have been hurt playing most of his games at AT&T Park in San Francisco, but he's still gone deep over 100 times in his career. 

    Plate Discipline: 5

    All three players have a fantastic idea of the strike zone and boast above-average on-base percentages because of it. 

    Ortiz has consistently decreased his K rate, posting a 15.8 percent mark last season. His walk-to-strikeout ratio was good for the 11th-best mark in MLB last year. For a slugger known for his power, he is underrated in terms of plate discipline. 

    Ramirez is a career .300 hitter with a solid 0.58 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Sandoval doesn't walk as much as the other two, but his 13.1 career K rate makes up the difference. 

    Ortiz, Sandoval and Ramirez are going to battle you at the dish. They don't give at-bats away, and that's rare for every stick in the middle of a lineup to be able to do. 

    Fear Factor: 5 

    The 39-year-old Ortiz remains one of the most feared hitters in the game. Ortiz has been intentionally walked 49 times over the past two seasons, more than any other hitter in baseball. His career .262 isolated power mark likely has something to do with that.  

    Likewise, both Sandoval and Ramirez have been the focal point of an offense in their careers. 

    Durability: 3

    Ortiz is a 39-year-old DH, but he continues to put up impressive numbers despite his age. He missed some time due to injury in 2012, but he's played over 140 games eight times in his career. 

    Sandoval has remained fairly healthy over the last two seasons but couldn't stay on the field in 2011 and 2012. And Ramirez's health concerns have been magnified after two straight injury-riddled seasons.

    This is the most concerning aspect about the trio. For the Red Sox to be successful in the upcoming season, they'll need all three sluggers to stay on the field.  

    Track Record: 5

    Ramirez has hit over .300 five times in his career while mashing more than 20 homers six times. 

    Sandoval has doubled 20 or more times six times, and Ortiz has gone yard over 20 times in every season since 2002. 

    Total Score—22 out of 25: I'll probably get roasted in the comments section for having the Red Sox this low, but I do have them at No. 3. I am worried about Ramirez's inability to stay healthy. I think Boston has the best overall lineup in baseball, but there are other 3-4-5 combos that strike me as more dangerous. Not by much, however. 

No. 2: Toronto Blue Jays

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Projected 3-4-5

    • Jose Bautista
    • Edwin Encarnacion
    • Josh Donaldson

    Power: 5

    There may not be a team in baseball that can match Toronto's power. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson figure to rough up multiple hurlers in the season ahead. 

    The offense will be led by Bautista, who's coming off of a 35-homer, 100-RBI season in 2014. Encarnacion went deep 34 times in just 128 games, so a healthy 2015 could see the 32-year-old go close to 50. 

    The Jays traded for Donaldson to give their already potent lineup even more thump. The third baseman mashed 29 dingers last year in a much more pitcher-friendly park than he'll play in this season. 

    Plate Discipline: 4

    Despite that power, the Blue Jays trio consistently puts together hard-fought at-bats. 

    Bautista walked more than he struck out in 2014, finishing the year with the second-best walk-to-strikeout ratio in baseball. Encarnacion finished in the top 20 on the same list. 

    Donaldson whiffed nearly 19 percent of the time last year, but he balanced his K's out with a top-30 walk rate

    Fear Factor: 5 

    Joey Bats walked at a higher rate than anybody in the league outside of Carlos Santana this past season. Encarnacion was top 10 in home-run-to-fly-ball ratio and finished second in at-bats per home run.   Meanwhile, Donaldson has increased his walk rate by 5 percentage points since his rookie season. 

    Durability: 3

    A healthy season from all three players will be crucial if the Jays are going to qualify for the postseason. 

    Bautista played in 155 games last year, but he was sidelined for an extensive time during the two seasons prior. Encarnacion still posted gaudy numbers in just 128 games this season, but he'll need to prove his durability again in 2015. 

    Despite those concerns, Donaldson has missed only eight games over the past two seasons. 

    Track Record: 5

    Donaldson has only burst onto the scene over the last two years, but he's hit over 20 home runs and driven in more than 90 runs in both campaigns. 

    Meanwhile, both Bautista and Encarnacion have reached double digits in homers in consecutive seasons. 

    Tiebreaker: Man, this was tough, and I'm still not sure I feel completely OK with it. But the Blue Jays have two of the top five power hitters in baseball when healthy. So I'll go with them over the Red Sox. I guess. 

    Total Score—22 out of 25: As always, health will be the determining factor in this unit's success. Donaldson gives the Blue Jays a more immediate impact over Brett Lawrie, while Encarnacion and Bautista are two of the very best in the game. I see Toronto as slightly better than Boston, but just a notch below the No. 1 team. 

No. 1: Detroit Tigers

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Projected 3-4-5

    • Miguel Cabrera
    • Victor Martinez
    • Yoenis Cespedes

    Power: 5

    Miguel Cabrera's career numbers are just bananas. His 25 homers and 109 RBI were actually subpar for the former AL MVP. But he still posted a slugging percentage of over .500 and an isolated power mark of .211. 

    But unlike many other years, he wasn't the Tigers' best hitter last season. That title would fall to Victor Martinez, who smashed 32 long balls into the bleachers in 2014. 

    Rounding out the trio is the explosive raw power of Yoenis Cespedes, who was traded during the offseason from the Red Sox. Cespedes hit 22 home runs last year, finishing with over 100 RBI for the first time in his career. 

    Plate Discipline: 4

    Cespedes remains ultraagressive at the dish, striking out over 20 percent of the time in his three-year career. His walk rate has actually decreased since his debut, as he ranked in the bottom 25 in that stat this season. 

    V-Mart is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, posting nearly identical career strikeout and walk rates. Martinez led the league in walk-to-strikeout rate, courtesy of the lowest strikeout percentage in baseball. 

    Cabrera lands somewhere in the middle of his two teammates. Before 2014, he normally would finish with similar K and BB rates. But his strikeouts increased, and his walks decreased this past season. 

    Still, Martinez's elite plate discipline combined with Cabrera's track record is enough to balance out the free-swinging Cespedes. 

    Fear Factor: 5

    Guess who led MLB in intentional passes in 2014? That would be Martinez with 28. He also has a career line-drive rate of over 20 percent

    Miggy has been intentionally walked over 10 times in nine of his 12 seasons as a major leaguer. His career marks in BABIP and isolated power prove just how hard he hits the baseball. 

    Cespedes may be easier to fan than Cabrera or Martinez, but he's sporting a high isolated power mark in his brief career, which shows he's hitting lots of pitches for extra-base hits. 

    Durability: 4

    We're dealing with three very reliable players here. 

    Cabrera hasn't played in fewer than 148 games since 2002, and he's suited up for 157 or more in nine of those years. Martinez has been around since the start of the new millennium, but the 36-year-old has played in 145 games or more in each of the last three seasons. 

    Cespedes hasn't been in the league long enough to prove how many games he can play on a year-to-year basis, but his 152 contests in 2014 was a good start. 

    Track Record: 5

    Cabrera and Pujols are likely the two greatest hitters since the year 2000. Miggy once went through a stretch from 2007-2013 where he hit over 30 homers, drove in 100 runs and hit no less than .292. That's getting it done.

    Martinez has enjoyed a fine career as well, hitting over .300 eight times since 2002. And Cespedes has gone deep 20 times or more with at least 80 RBI in each of his first three seasons. 

    Total Score—23 out of 25: The Tigers have the best middle of the lineup in baseball as of right now. Martinez and Cabrera give them an incredible one-two punch, while Cespedes provides the club with immense upside. Both V-Mart and Miggy are inching toward 40, but I still believe this squad is the most dangerous unit in the game. 

    Advances stats courtesy of FanGraphs