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First-timers dominate Silver Slugger Awards

Masters at the art of hitting stepped up to the plate Thursday night with the presentation of the Silver Slugger Awards, and this year's class of the best offensive performers at each position proved once again that baseball's pool of talented batsmen really goes deep.

With half of the 18 awards going to first-timers, the dream lineup cards for the 2015 season included Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson among those earning his first Silver Slugger in the American League, while the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen claimed his fourth straight award in the National League.

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The Silver Slugger Awards, presented by Louisville Slugger, go out each year to the players whose offensive exploits stood out among their position peers and is voted on by Major League managers and coaches. With pitching enjoying an extended renaissance and defense shifting into new prominence, this year's group shows that there are still a lot of guys out there who are very dangerous with a piece of wood in their hands -- and those hitters just keep coming.

After eight first-timers a year ago, the 2015 class included nine first-time winners -- evidence that there is depth to the elite class of hitters in the game today. On top of that, four of this year's recipients matched their offensive prowess with defensive honors, earning a Gold Glove Award to go with their Silver Sluggers: Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford and D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

All 18 of this year's honorees excelled at putting the bat on the ball, and now they've received their curtain call.

Here are the 2015 Louisville Silver Slugger winners:

Catcher: Brian McCann, Yankees (sixthSilver Slugger)
First base: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (sixth)
Second base: Altuve, Astros (second)
Third base: Donaldson, Blue Jays (first)
Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox (first)
Outfielders: Mike Trout, Angels (fourth); Nelson Cruz, Mariners (first); J.D. Martinez, Tigers (first)
Designated hitter: Kendrys Morales, Royals (first)

The battle for AL Most Valuable Player Award is still up in the air, but both Donaldson and Trout earned a Silver Slugger with their outstanding numbers at the plate this year. Donaldson led the AL with 122 runs, 123 RBIs and 84 extra-base hits, while Trout led the AL with a .590 slugging percentage and .991 OPS. Stats aside, anyone could see these were two of the very best hitters in baseball this season.

Donaldson wasn't the only sweet-swinging first-timer in the AL. Cruz did nothing to disappoint as he took his Boomstick to Seattle, going for 44 homers, and Martinez went from being released in March 2014 to owning a coveted piece of hitting hardware in 2015. Bogaerts beat out a field at short that included Rookie of the Year front-runners Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor, and Morales wound up as the only winner among the World Series champion Royals after besting a class that included six-time winner David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez.

En route to winning his sixth award, Cabrera hit .338 and claimed his fourth batting title in five years, although his power numbers paled compared with the Orioles' Chris Davis and his MLB-leading 47 homers. McCann also collected his sixth Silver Slugger, his first in the AL after five with the Braves. And Altuve snagged his second straight Silver Slugger at second base, following up his 225-hit season in 2014 with 200 -- and, even better, a berth in the postseason.

Catcher: Buster Posey, Giants (third)
First base: Goldschmidt, D-backs (second)
Second base: Dee Gordon, Marlins (first)
Third base: Arenado, Rockies (first)
Shortstop: Crawford, Giants (first)
Outfielders: Bryce Harper, Nationals (first); McCutchen, Pirates (fourth); Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (second)
Pitcher: Madison Bumgarner, Giants (second)

Harper, who didn't turn 23 until October, put up a remarkable display of power and patience, recording a 1.109 OPS that was the highest since Albert Pujols' 1.115 in 2008. Harper led the NL in homers (42, tied with Arenado), runs (118), on-base percentage (.460) and slugging percentage (.649), adding 124 walks. It's a performance that will be hard to beat in the NL MVP race, and only one other MVP finalist was able to earn a Silver Slugger: Goldschmidt, the D-backs first baseman who won out over the Reds' Joey Votto and the rest of the field -- leading them all with his 33 homers, 110 RBIs and 1.005 OPS.

Rockies third baseman Arenado announced his presence among the elite players in the game with his 42 homers and a MLB-leading 130 RBIs to go along with his award-winning defense. His teammate Gonzalez simply had a second half for the ages, mashing 27 homers with 62 RBIs to lead the world in those categories after the All-Star Game.

Among the first-timers, Gordon became the first second baseman since Jackie Robinson in 1949 to win the NL batting (.333) and steals (58) title, also leading the Majors in hits (205). Meanwhile, Crawford got his Silver-Gold double thanks to outshining other shortstops in the league with 21 homers, 33 doubles and 84 RBIs.

McCutchen collected another shiny bat with his NL-high fourth straight Silver Slugger, providing the catalyst for the Pirates lineup from the No. 3 spot. Posey is only one behind him with his third honor, leading NL catchers in virtually every offensive category, and his Giants batterymate Bumgarner picked up his second Silver Slugger with five homers and 19 hits to lead all NL pitchers.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for You can follow him on Twitter @JohnSchlegelMLB.