Here are the nine most must-watch Major Leaguers of 2017
There are many ways to rank baseball players: by WAR, MVP Award finish, facial hair. Today, though, we're going to put together a lineup based on watchability.
This doesn't necessarily mean the best player at each position, or the player most important to their team. It's the player that you frantically change over to on MLB.TV every time they come to the plate, or the player whose highlights you'll always watch because you know you're going to see something amazing. These are the players you simply can't take your eyes off.
1B - Joey Votto
Once, when Ted Williams was at the plate, a young catcher complained about some calls to the umpire. The umpire then said, "If Mr. Williams didn't swing at it, it wasn't a strike." Votto is the modern owner of that quip.
Only two players -- Alex Avila and A.J. Ellis -- have swung at a lower percentage of balls since 2012 than Votto, which explains why the first baseman has led the league in on-base percentage five times while still managing to hit for average and sock out dingers.
Somehow he doesn't even hit infield flies. He hasn't popped up in the infield more than twice in a season since 2008 -- never doing it at all in 2016. And no one likes to watch infield flies.
2B - Javier Baez
If you want to be a sad, hollow husk of a human being, you can focus on Baez's biggest flaw: He's willing to swing at just about anything that comes near the plate. But when he's right, he has the kind of game-changing ability you rarely see in, well, any player at any position:
Still, he's so much more than that. Befitting a man that loves baseball enough to get the MLB logo tattooed on his neck (and a World Series ring following the Cubs' win), Baez plays the game with a combination of natural skill and relentless enthusiasm that demands you watch his every move.
With David Blaine-esque quick hands and a spatial awarness that borders on spooky, he laps the rest of the league when doing something as simple as tagging runners out -- whether he's watching or not.
Naturally, he has the inverse ability when running the bases -- whichever appendage he slides in with avoids the glove like two magnets repelling each other:
SS - Francisco Lindor
What do you want most from an up-the-middle face of the franchise? A killer smile? A haircut you desperately want, but will make your hairdresser say "Sorry, you can't pull that off?" Gorgeous stirrup socks?
Lindor's got all that:
Though he was always expected to flash the smoothest of leather, he's recently developed some serious power. No mere slap-hitting middle infielder, Lindor cracked 15 home runs last season (albeit, in a year when everyone was hitting home runs). If the World Baseball Classic was any guide, he'll leave stadiums completely in the near future:
3B - Adrian Beltre
We are in the midst of a great third-base renaissance, with players like Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant alternating between making highlight-reel plays and blasting dingers. But, until he decides to retire from baseball, there is no answer but Beltre.
Beltre's average line since he turned 33 in 2012: .310/.362/.508 with 27 homers and 92 RBIs. Again, that's his average line at an age when most players are taking jobs on the bench or transitioning into coaching.
What seals the deal for Beltre is simply the sheer amount of fun he has on the field. Whether he's swinging with enough torque that he falls to a knee, battling Elvis Andrus for infield flies or fending off his teammates that are desperate to rub his head, Beltre is a must-watch.
LF: Starling Marte
We may be cheating a bit as the Pirates are moving Marte over to center field to start 2017, but Marte has played nearly 90 percent of his Major League innings at the position, so he qualifies ... for now.
Seemingly lacking an ounce of fat anywhere on his body, Marte powers out home runs, while stealing gobs of bases. Though the stolen base may not be as highly valued as it was in the late '70s and '80s, it is arguably one of the most exciting things you can see on the ballfield:
And the reason Marte is moving to center? His defense is sublime.
CF: Kevin Kiermaier
Before you fill the comments with, "You idiots! Where is Mike Trout?!" -- we get it. By virtue of being the greatest player in baseball, he's too obvious. Consider Kiermaier choice 1a.
While most players need to hit at least a little to have value, Kiermaier's glove is so valuable that he could go 0-for-500 and still be worth a roster spot. Though advanced defensive metrics need to be taken with a grain of salt, Kiermaier's +42 DRS (defensive runs saved) in 2015 is the highest number since the metric has been available. Leading the Majors in Catch Probability last year, he also saved the Rays 1.7 runs per game when he was in the lineup.
Of course, those are all just words, and you're here for action. So action you shall have:
It doesn't hurt that Kiermaier actually does offer a little something at the plate. Though an injury caused him to only play 105 games last season, he hit a career-high 12 home runs and went 21-of-24 on the basepaths.
RF: Mookie Betts
You could really list the entire Red Sox outfield if you wanted to, with Andrew Benintendi's powerful swing and Jackie Bradley Jr.'s highlight-reel defense joining Betts. While the combination of all three is nice -- and has made it to the cover of Sports Illustrated's MLB preview issue -- it is Betts that stands apart. Not just an expert bowler, Betts went from a fifth-round Draft pick to a top prospect to ... well, an annual MVP candidate with legit 30/30 ability.
His dance moves are OK, too.
C - Buster Posey
If you haven't thought of Posey as a kind of "Did you just see that?!" player, you've been missing out on a generational talent.
He's a fantastic defensive catcher. According to Baseball Prospectus' framing metrics, he was the very best in the Majors, giving the Giants roughly 2 1/2 extra wins just from behind the plate.
The main attraction, though, is when he steps up to it. His swing is mathematical and beautiful at the same time -- a product of hours of work and amazing raw talent.
P - Bartolo Colon
He's not on here just for his work at the plate -- though that obviously doesn't hurt his case.
We like to think of Colon as the everyman, but he is still a phenomenally gifted athlete -- something we can see any time a difficult comebacker is hit to the mound, yet he still makes the play.
Deep into his 40s, Colon's fastball sits in the mid-80s, but he threw it nearly 90 percent of the time in 2016. That's where his genius is: some are a little harder, some a mite softer, some straight and others move like a rubber band snapping. He's in total control.
Being the biggest and fastest and strongest is usually a help in baseball, but as Colon proves, that's not always the case. He is a master at work and demands your attention.