Welcome to our annual series of ‘best player by position’ per division across all of Major League Baseball. Our goal in this set of articles was to bring to light the player from each position that is the best in the division right now. No weight was given to a player’s glorious or dubious past. These are our opinions as to who is most likely to represent the division in top-tier form in 2013.
As such, we welcome all feedback, criticism, and (gasp!) praise in the comments section below. Enjoy!
Catcher – Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals – Molina is a four-time All-Star and has five Gold Gloves on his mantel. Last season he set new career highs with 22 homers, 76 RBI’s, a .315 batting average, and 12 stolen bases. Molina’s WAR of 6.7 in 2012 was 4th best in the NL.
1B - Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds – The three-time All-Star and 2010 NL MVP had his 2012 season derailed by injury. He played in 111 games, but wasn’t 100% when he came back from his knee injury. He went homer-less in the last 40 games of the the season. However, Votto did lead the National League with a .474 on-base-percentage, but fell 27 plate appearances short of qualifying for the NL batting crown. He finished with a .337 average. When healthy, he is one of the elite hitters in all of baseball and according to all reports, Votto is healthy this spring.
2B – Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati Reds – He is the best second baseman in the National League and he has three Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger Award, and two All-Star appearances to show for it. Phillips is electric with his glove and makes some jaw-dropping plays. He is a career .273 hitter and has averaged 20 home runs per year in his 7 seasons with the Reds.
SS – Starlin Castro, Chicago Cubs – Castro played in all 162 games last season and finished with 646 at-bats, a .283 average, 14 homers, 13 steals and 78 RBI’s. That after he posted a .307 average in his sophomore campaign. The 23-year old Castro is a gifted hitter who will only get better in the coming years. His 529 career hits are fourth-most by any shortstop through his age-22 season. He did commit 27 errors last season which was the most among NL shortstops. He has set his sites on a Gold Glove and put in the work during the off season to improve his defensive prowess.
3B – Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers – Now entering his 16th season, Ramirez is showing no signs of slowing down. He has been a model of consistency throughout his career. He hit an even .300 last year with 27 home runs and 105 RBI’s. Those numbers are right in line with his career averages of 30 homers, 109 RBI and a .285 average. His .540 slugging percentage in 2012 was 5th best in the NL and his .901 OPS was 6th best.
1: Ryan Bruan, Milwaukee Brewers – Braun is one of the top 2 or 3 hitters in all of baseball. He has appeared in 5 straight All-Star games, won 5 consecutive Silver Slugger Awards, and finished in the top three of NL MVP voting three times, winning the coveted award in 2011. Last year he clubbed a career-high 41 home runs to go along with 30 stolen bases, 112 RBI’s, and a .319 batting average. He has led the national league in OPS in each of the last two seasons and his WAR of 6.8 was third best in the NL last year.
2: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates – The MLB 13: The Show cover boy, McCutchen is fresh off an epic 2012 season in which he posted a .327 batting average, swatted 31 homers, swiped 20 bases, and drove in 96 runs. His 7.0 WAR was good for second best in the NL last year and his .533 slugging percentage was third best in the National League. He finished third in NL MVP balloting and at age 26 is just entering his prime.
3: Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds – In his five big league seasons, Bruce has never hit fewer than 21 home runs. In the each of the last two seasons he has eclipsed the 30 homer plateau and knocked in over 97 runs. Bruce is an underrated defensive player who handles his position very well and he has a cannon arm. He set career-highs last season with 35 doubles, 34 home runs, and 99 RBI’s. A career .255 hitter, Bruce has aspirations of pushing his batting average up to .300.
1: Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals – Wainwright missed all of 2011 after Tommy John surgery. He came back last season and posted a 4.56 ERA before the All-Star break in 2012 and a 3.28 ERA after it. He reports that his elbow feels fully recovered. That is bad news for the rest of the NL because Wainwright was dominating before the surgery.
2: Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds – Cueto set career-highs last year in wins (19), innings pitched (217), and strikeouts (170). His walks-per-nine rate has dropped in each of his five big-league seasons from 3.5 in 2008 down to 2.0 last season which was 15th best in baseball among qualified pitchers.
3: Mat Latos Cincinnati Reds – In his first season with the Reds, Latos logged 209.1 innings and posted a 14-4 record with 185 strikeouts and a 3.48 ERA. He also tied for the league-lead with 33 starts. Just 25 years old, Latos is entering his prime and is one of the game’s promising young pitchers.
4: Yovanni Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers – Gallardo has been consistent and durable for the Brewers. In each of the past four seasons he has pitched at least 185 innings, twice going over 200 innings. He has fanned 200 batters in four straight seasons. After Milwaukee traded Zack Greinke, Gallardo responded by finishing the season with an 8-1 record.
5: Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds – Whether he pitches out of the bullpen or is in the starting rotation, there is no denying that Chapman has the most electric arm in all of baseball. Last season he saved 38 games, had a razor thin 1.51 earned run average, and struck out 122 batters in 71 2/3 innings. There still seems to be some debate amongst Cincinnati’s brain trust about what to do with the All-Star pitcher with the 104 mph fastball. One thing they can’t do is keep flip-flopping him, they must make a decision and stick with it.
Setup – Sean Marshall, Cincinnati Reds – The past 3 years there haven’t been many better setup men than Marshall. He made 231 appearances which is more than any other pitcher during that span. His three year totals include a 2.47 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 78 holds, fifth best in baseball.
Closer – Jason Motte, St. Louis Cardinals - This spot belongs to Chapman if he ends up being the Reds closer. Until then Motte gets the nod. He has three consecutive years of sub-3.00 ERA’s and back-to-back campaigns with a WHIP under 1.00. He led the National League with 42 saves last year and struck out 86 batters in 72 innings.
You can follow me on twitter at @isportsRob