As part of our 2014 MLB Preview we rank the best players in each division, by position. This edition focuses on the NL East. The Washington Nationals lead the way with seven players on the list. Meanwhile, the Braves, Phillies, Mets and Marlins each have two players on the list.
Catcher - Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals - Ramos crushed 16 home runs last year in just 287 at bats. If Ramos can finally stay healthy and play a full season for the Nationals, his numbers could be tantalizingly good. He possesses vast power potential and a 30 home run season is within reach.
1B – Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves - Freeman was simply outstanding last year, posting a slash line of .319/.396/.501 with 23 homers and 109 RBI. He also finished second with a .443 average with runners in scoring position. Freeman has also made dramatic improvements defensively and his 5.4 wins above replacement ranked 4th among first basemen last season.
2B – Daniel Murphy, New York Mets - Daniel Murphy quietly had a tremendous 2014 campaign. He hit 13 homers, stole 23 bases, drove in 78 runs, scored 92 runs, all career-highs, and he finished with a strong slash line of .286/.319/.415. Guess who finished second in the NL last year with 188 hits? Yep, Daniel Murphy. He also ranked third in games played (161) and eight in total bases (273).
3B – David Wright, New York Mets - David Wright is a seven-time All-Star and a .301 career hitter. Wright has missed 50 games due to injury in two of the last three seasons. He has however, managed to continue posting productive numbers. Last season, in 112 games, Wright swatted 18 homers and swiped 17 bases. He played a full season in 2012 and notched 21 homers, 41 doubles and 93 RBI. Wright is a tremendous defensive player and has two Gold Gloves to prove it.
SS – Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals - The 28 year old Desmond has established himself as one of the best shortstops in all of baseball. Desmond has posted back-to-back seasons of at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. He set new career-highs last year with 80 RBI and 38 doubles. FanGraphs rates Desmond as the most valuable shortstop in baseball since the start of the 2012 season with a 10.0 WAR. He reportedly turned down a large contract extension in the offseason.
Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals - In an anonymous poll of 143 MLB players, 24% said Bryce Harper is the most overrated player in baseball. Harper had a monster April last year posting a slash line of .344/.430/.720. Then he literally tried running through the outfield wall at Dodgers Stadium in May and was never the same player. He eventually required surgery on his left knee as a result of the collision. Harper may be overrated, but he also possesses vast potential. Though two seasons in the majors he is a career .272 hitter with 42 home runs, 29 stolen bases and 117 RBIs. If this is the season he realizes his potential, then his numbers should go through the roof.
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins - The 24 year old Stanton is one of the most prodigious young sluggers in all of baseball. His ascension has been slowed the past two years by missing a combined 85 games due to injury. In 116 games last season, Stanton still managed to club 24 home runs and 26 doubles. Two years ago, Stanton blasted a career-high 37 homers and led baseball with a .608 slugging percentage. He is healthy and enjoying an outstanding spring. The sky is the limit for Stanton. Perhaps the only question is, will he still be a Marlin when the season is over?
Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals - Werth had a fabulous campaign last season. He hit 25 home runs, drove in 82, posted a career-high .318 batting average which was good for fifth best in the NL. Werth ranked third in the NL in slugging percentage (.532) and fifth in on base percentage (.398). There’s no reason to expect a major decrease in his 2014 production as he will remain a vital cog in the Nationals deep batting order.
Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies - Cliff Lee is a marvel, a man who defies age and continues to dominate. Last season, as a 34 year old, Lee tossed 222.2 innings. He fanned an absurd 222 hitters, recorded a 2.87 ERA and a razor-thin 1.01 WHIP. He has led baseball in walks per 9 innings in each of the last two seasons. Lee has logged over 200 innings pitched for six consecutive seasons and shows no signs of slowing down. He will be at the center of trade rumors all season long and very well may end up pitching for a new team before it is all said and done.
Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins - Fernandez had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all-time last year. The numbers are staggering; a 2.19 ERA, an preposterous 0.97 WHIP, an MLB best .182 opponents batting average, and 187 punch outs in 172.2 innings pitched. Fernandez recorded a 176 ERA+, now you might be wondering what that is. It measures run prevention against league average and adjusts for home ballpark. You might still be confused. What’s important to know is that Fernandez’s 176 ERA+ last season was the second best since 1911. Fernandez has an electric fastball and a devastating curve. He won’t turn 22 until August and he has the potential to be one of the all-time greats.
Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals - Strasburg recorded a career-high 183 innings last season. He finished with a pedestrian 8-9 record, but had a respectable 3.00 ERA, good for 8th best in the NL, with 191 strikeouts. Strasburg also led the senior circuit with four shutouts. Additionally, he posted an impressive 1.04 WHIP which was sixth best in NL. The next step for the 25 year old Strasburg is to become a 200 inning workhorse. If he does that you can be sure that a 200+ strikeout season will be part of the package. Strasburg has all the tools to become one of the greats and this is a big year for the young fireballer.
Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies - Don’t let Hamels’ 8-14 record last season fool you. He remains one of the best pitchers in baseball. Despite the losing record, Hamels notched 202 strikeouts in 220 innings pitched. His ERA was 3.60 and his WHIP was a strong 1.15. The 202 strikeouts were good for sixth best in the NL and in 2012 he ranked third in the NL with 216 punch outs. Hamels has been battling shoulder issues this spring and there is some concern about how soon he will be ready.
Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals - He’s often overshadowed by his cohort Stephen Strasburg and to some extent Gio Gonzalez, however Zimmermann is one of the most promising young arms in all of baseball. He was stellar last season with a 19-9 record, 3.25 ERA, and a 1.08 WHIP which was good for eight best in the NL. The 27 year old Zimmermann is as steady as they come. He’s not a fabulous strikeout artist, but he has an excellent career walk rate of 2.0 per 9 innings.
Set up – Tyler Clippard, Washington Nationals - Clippard led the NL with 33 holds last season. Having appeared in at least 72 games in four straight seasons, Clippard is a workhorse. He posted a strong 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings last year. In 2012, he notched 32 saves for the Nationals and in 2011 he was an All Star.
Closer – Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves - The 25 year old Kimbrel is the premier closer in baseball. He has led the league in saves in each of the past three seasons. He set a new career-high last season with 50 saves. Through four seasons, his career numbers are mind boggling; 1.39 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 381 strikeouts in 227.1 innings. He is the definition of a power closer.
The Best Players in Baseball by Division