There are some players that are just fun to watch. Maybe it’s the way they go about their business. Maybe it’s the quirky things they do. Maybe it’s their skill level that has me in awe.
Whatever it is, these guys rarely go through a game without putting a smile on my face. Yes, there are more than these I have chosen, but in no particular order, these guys are exciting for me to watch in today’s game.
Once I started compiling my list it dawned on me that many of the players I have chosen for this short list were in the Arizona Fall League. In many cases, that’s where I first saw some of them.
I don’t include terrific players on this list like Mike Trout or Christian Yelich, the type of players I love to watch. The players below are here because I love their energy and the excitement and quirks they bring to their games. And again, this is a mere snapshot of guys I love to watch play the game of baseball. Trout and Yelich and many others like them belong here, for sure.
TREVOR BAUER-RHP-CLEVELAND INDIANS
Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole pitched together on the same UCLA baseball team. They were probably more competitors pitching on the same team than teammates working to the same goal. In the 2011 First Year Player Draft, Cole was the first person taken, getting a signing bonus of $8 million from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Keep in mind the “slot” for the No. 1 overall pick that year was $4 MM. That shows how much the Pirates regarded Cole.
Bauer was the No. 3 player taken in the same draft. He went to the Arizona Diamondbacks for $3.4 MM, or $400,00 above slot. It was quite a difference from what Cole took home.
Bauer and Cole still have an edge about their relationship. Both are having fantastic seasons. To be fair, if both continue as they have been pitching so far this year, both can be in Cy Young conversations in their respective leagues.
The less than traditional training and preparation methods of Bauer have been well chronicled. He’s different. He is beyond unconventional. He does things in his own unique way. Early in his career, Bauer had a repertoire well beyond the traditional fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. He had variations of each, making his arsenal about seven or eight pitches. He has since streamlined his offerings. What is most intriguing about Bauer is the way he competes on the mound. He wants to strike out every hitter. He doesn’t care how many pitches he throws. He wants to strikeout everyone in the batter’s box with a bat in his hand. But it isn’t enough that he’s striking out hitters. He’s winning games in the process. He’s a bulldog on the mound.
What is fascinating to me is how young Indians starter Mike Clevinger has listened to Bauer and how they have become close friends. Clevinger, not yet at the level of Bauer, is well on his way to a terrific Indians future.
When the Diamondbacks differed with Bauer’s training habits and the way he went about his preparation, they chose to move on from him. They traded Bauer to the Indians, where manager Terry Francona has seemingly left him alone to attack life on the mound at his own pace. Francona’s trust in Bauer has paid dividends.
A rotation that includes Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Bauer, Clevinger and either rookie Shane Bieber or rookie Adam Plutko is formidable, to say the least. Bauer is learning from Kluber, as is Carrasco. Clevinger is learning from Bauer. And Bieber and Plutko are learning from all four.
So even though Bauer pitches to his own unique style, he is extremely exciting to watch. Don’t try to take food off Bauer’s table. He won’t allow it. At least not without a fight.
MIGUEL CABRERA-1B-DETROIT TIGERS (DISABLED)
How great a hitter is Miguel Cabrera? For me, I hold him in the same regard as right-handed slugger Manny Ramirez. In his prime, Albert Pujols was a fantastic right-handed slugger. Some of the bloom is off the rose as age has nipped at Pujols’ heels. Of course, Ramirez is no longer in the game. Cabrera is currently out for the year and his career is in jeopardy. Back in the day I used to watch the ball come hammering off the bat of Dick Allen of Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago White Sox fame. Man, Allen could cream a baseball. That’s the type of damaging impact Cabrera has or should I say had, as well.
In the days when the Tigers had Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez and Cabrera in their prime, Cabrera was a wrecking crew. When he was in his best physical condition, Cabrera could drive the ball over the center field wall. He had the perfect swing. He used his strong body to pound the ball off the barrel. He could hit home runs in bunches, including several in a given week. He and Martinez piled on whenever they played the Cleveland Indians game after game, year after year. The Tribe could not get them out. Especially Cabrera.
In one of their many times the Florida Marlins tore apart their team, they traded a young, 24-year-old Cabrera and LHP Dontrelle Willis to the Detroit Tigers for OF Cameron Maybin, LHP Andrew Miller, C Mike Rabelo, RHP Dallas Trahern, RHP Frankie De La Cruz and RHP Burke Badenhop. How about that for a steal of a deal! Cabrera has won two Most Valuable Player Awards, in 2012 and 2013. Cabrera won the Triple Crown in 2012. It had not been done since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. It hasn’t been done since.
Hats off to Miguel Cabrera, one of the most exciting players I have ever seen play the game.
MOOKIE BETTS-OF-BOSTON RED SOX
My first look at outfielder Mookie Betts was in the 2013 Arizona Fall League. He played for Surprise that year on a team that featured catcher Jorge Alfaro (Phillies) OF Mitch Haniger (Mariners) OF Tyler Naquin (Indians) 2B Jonathan Schoop (Orioles) pitchers Keone Kela (Rangers) Eduardo Rodriguez (Red Sox) and corner infielder Travis Shaw (Brewers). Kris Bryant (Cubs) Byron Buxton (Twins) Corey Seager (Dodgers) Eddie Rosario (Twins) and Addison Russell (Cubs) were all in the league that year.
At the beginning of the AFL sesaon, Albert Almora of the Cubs was considered by many to be the hottest prospect. Something happened that fall. The baseball world was introduced to a 5-foot-9 inch, right handed hitter with tremendous athletic ability. For me, Mookie Betts emerged as the best overall athlete in the league. And he played second base, not the outfield. I remember it vividly.
Betts hit .271 and stole 8 bases in 10 attempts. That was a big deal in a short-season.
He went to the plate 68 times in 16 games. Every at bat was a struggle for the opposing pitcher. Betts was young, but his bat speed, his reflexes, his foot speed, his wrists, his arm and everything I saw in front of me got my juices flowing.
A professional scout is trained to look for tools and assess the upside of a player. Here is the player now, but what will he become? That’s the question asked in the Fall League. When I saw Betts, I thought maybe I was overvaluing what I had seen on the field. I check with other scouts all the time. Clearly, Betts had impressed the group. The evaluations weren’t incorrect. To date, Betts has a .297 career batting average in parts of five major-league seasons. This year, not unlike 2016, his best with the parent club, Betts is tearing up pitching. He has All-Star quality offensive numbers, he plays terrific defense, he steals bunches of bases with terrific instincts and excellent speed, and he has arm strength to play stellar right-field. What more can a team ask than what Betts is delivering this year?
Last year was a bit off for Betts when one looks at pure numbers. When I saw him this past spring in Florida, he had gone a number of at-bats without a hit. Red Sox followers were nervous. Many thought they may be seeing a Mookie Betts that would continue to scuffle as he did in 2017. So far in half a season, that hasn’t happened.
Yes, a scout can tell a great deal about a player by watching multiple games, multiple at-bats and seeing multiple plays in the field. Remember, in 2013 we were evaluating Betts as a second baseman in the Fall League. And now, five seasons later, Mookie Betts has probably even surpassed the expectations of most scouts. And he’s one exciting guy to watch play.
Just seeing Betts chase down fly balls in another area code from the one in which he is playing, or seeing him power the ball over any fence in major-league baseball or watching him steal a base with a terrific jump and way above average speed is worth the price of admission.
Yes, Mookie Betts gets me to the edge of my chair when I watch him play. He easily made my list.
ELOY JIMENEZ-OF-CHICAGO WHITE SOX (PROSPECT)
My list of exciting players would not be complete without Eloy Jimenez. White Sox fans, you are in for a treat when Jimenez graduates to the big leagues. It may take him three seasons to come close to his true skills, but they are very obvious and they will emerge over time against major-league pitching.
Jimenez played for the Mesa club in the 2016 Arizona Fall League. He was on a team with Ian Happ (Cubs) Franklin Barreto (Athletics) Kyle Schwarber (Cubs) Bradley Zimmer (Indians) pitcher Frankie Montas (Athletics) and Brian Anderson (Marlins). Yoan Moncada (White Sox)
Austin Meadows (Pirates) Ozzie Albies (Braves) Gleyber Torres (Yankees) Cody Bellinger (Dodgers) and countless other fabulous prospects were on rosters that fall. It was clearly Jimenez that got my scout radar going. He brought his 6-foot-4 frame with a potent right-handed bat to 62 plate appearances and 15 games played. He hit .255 with three home runs. He didn’t overwhelm the league with any one statistic. What he did, however, was show a tool box that included excellent presence on both offense and defense. He showed an outstanding arm in both right field and left field. He had a big swing at the time, but the results were loud off the barrel of the bat. For a big guy, he struck out only 11 times.
In his five minor league seasons, Jimenez has hit .304. He is now playing at Triple-A Charlotte after his promotion earlier in June this year. He is hitting very well in Triple-A, improving upon his very bright days this season at Double-A Birmingham where he hit ten home runs, drove in 42 hit .317 over 228 plate appearances in 53 games.
A native of the Dominican Republic, Jimenez was signed by the Chicago Cubs in the 2013-2014 international signing period. He was traded by the Cubs when they acquired lefty Jose Quintana in 2017.
Teams got a snapshot of Jimenez in 2016 when he was named the MVP of the Midwest League while still playing for the Cubs.
The Cubs needed a starting pitcher the quality of Jose Quintana when they made the trade with the White Sox and gave up Jimenez. It may be a trade that haunts them someday, as Jimenez has tremendous game-changing power.
As a scout I projected Jimenez to have 70 power. That’s among consistent All-Star appearance quality players. He is well above average as an overall player, with only his lack of speed keeping him from being a 70 overall player. Because his speed tool is weak, my overall grade for Jimenez sits at a 65. He has done nothing in his minor-league days since I first saw him in the Fall League to change my overall thinking.
Big, strong, athletic and dangerous at the plate, Jimenez has earned my No. 2 overall rating as a prospect. To my way of thinking, he is only behind the Blue Jays Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. among prospect players not already on a major-league roster.
I envision a White Sox outfield of Jimenez in right field, Luis Robert in center, (another fabulous White Sox prospect further behind Jimenez in development) and Blake Rutherford in left field. By the time Robert and Rutherford join Jimenez with the parent club, it will probably be in the 2020 season.
Depending upon how much Jimenez progresses at Birmingham the rest of the season, we may see him in Chicago in September. At that time he may get a taste of major-league baseball to carry him over to 2019, when I think he will join the White Sox outfield at some point.
Just as it has taken Yoan Moncada time to learn and digest all that pitchers are trying to do to get him out at the major-league level, so it will take Jimenez time to adjust once he graduates and arrives on the South side of Chicago. But patience will be rewarded. Jimenez is a very, very exciting player with a big, strong body that will produce home run power.
Another White Sox prospect, pitcher Michael Kopech could have made my list today. He is a star in the making and he’s just going to get better and better.
Note: Vlad Guerrero, Jr. is not listed in this article today because I want to see him live more than I have already. That chance may come this fall, when he may be assigned to the Arizona Fall League to make up for missed at-bats while he is hurt and disabled this season.
AARON JUDGE-OF-NEW YORK YANKEES
I was sure hoping Brandon Drury would have stayed with the Yankees, just so I could use the phrase “Here comes the Yankees with their own Judge and Drury.” Yep, that really is awful, and I apologize.
So I continue my list with the inclusion of Aaron Judge, a huge man with power to all fields. He too, is a Fall League Alum.
When I was young I got to see the Washington Senators Frank Howard. He was a monster of a man at 6-foot-7, 255 pounds. The bat looked like a toothpick in Howard’s hands. He hit some towering home runs in his 16 years as a major-league player. In 1970 Howard hit 44 home runs while driving in 126, a tremendous season. But I guess I hadn’t seen anything yet. The baseball world and the New York Yankees have given us Aaron Judge.
Aaron Judge is 6-foot-7, 282 pounds. He towers over people. One of the funniest moments I saw with Judge is when he stood next to 5-foot-6 inch Jose Altuve at the All-Star Game. They play the same game, are both great at their craft and Altuve is more than a foot shorter. It goes to show how diverse the frames of major-league baseball players can be.
My first glimpse of Judge was in the 2014 Arizona Fall League when he played for Scottsdale in the Arizona desert. At the time, Judge came away as a huge, free-swinger with little plate discipline and little patience. He was swinging at bad pitches and had trouble recognizing the ball out of the hand of the pitcher. Judge struck out 22 times in 106 fall plate appearances. He did, in fact, hit four home runs and drove in 15 runs. The power was evident. He made most scouts think ahead about what would happen if and when-more when-Judge could figure out his swing, timing, patience and pitch recognition.
Well, it really didn’t take long. By the time Judge made it to the parent Yankees in the 2016 season he was a somewhat improved hitter. He had more self confidence because he had made it to the big leagues after spending the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. His arrival wasn’t pretty. He struck out 42 times in 95 plate appearances, but scouts could see he was working hard to a) shorten his swing and b) be more selective at the plate. He had to learn to lay off breaking balls down and away and wait for a pitch more in his wheelhouse. He was learning how to take a pitch in the direction it was thrown.
Last year was the turning point for Aaron Judge. The excitement scouts had seen back in the Fall League and during his time in the minor leagues was well deserved. Judge hit an amazing 52 home runs and drove in 114 runs in his first full major-league season. 44 of his home runs came against right-handed pitching. The name Aaron Judge was on the lips of Yankees fans and baseball fans who love to watch power-hitters. People like me. Judge changed games. Judge won games with one swing. Judge became a more disciplined hitter.
This year Judge is still striking out. He is still hitting home runs. He is still exciting fans and using his size and strength to torment pitchers. Along with Giancarlo Stanton, Judge is forming a dynamic duo that has many Yankees fans comparing them to Mantle and Maris. For good reason.
Judge may not hit 52 home runs this season. However, if he gets hot for any extended period of time, there is no telling the number of blasts that will come off his bat. Exciting? Seeing a huge man like Aaron Judge at the plate with the barrel of the bat staring down at the pitcher is exciting. And yes, he reminds me a great deal of an even more dangerous Frank Howard, a guy I loved to watch in his day.
I should add that outfielder Giancarlo Stanton could get his own paragraph regarding exciting players. However, I’ve seen much more of Judge in person. While I think Stanton is amazing and among the most powerful human beings I’ve ever seen play the game, I am going to reserve my excitement until he finishes this season in the American League. Stanton is on a huge roll now, and there is no telling how his season will conclude. But for now, he is a game-changer. Pay attention when he comes to the plate. He may well hit a ball 450 feet or more in any at-bat.
JOEY GALLO-OF/1B/3B-TEXAS RANGERS
I was sitting in the press box watching Joey Gallo take batting practice at the 2014 Futures Game in Minnesota. I couldn’t believe what I had seen. Gallo broke the window of a Chevy truck parked on display in the right field concourse. I have no idea how long the home run was, but believe me, that truck was parked at what seemed to be miles away. During the actual Futures Game itself, Gallo hit a Michael Feliz fastball 420 feet for a two-run homer. There it was on display for all to see-Joey Gallo can hit awesome home runs. Or, he can strike out. Even his strikeouts are powerful and generate excitement.
Gallo hit a whopping 152 home runs and drove in 375 runs in his 5 minor league season. He hit 42 homers in 2014. He hit 40 in 2013. So Gallo’s power has been on display a long, long time. Last season Gallo pounded 41 home runs and drove in 80 runs for the Rangers in his first full major-league season. He had tasted a bit of the big leagues before last year, but it was his first sustained season as a regular player. And what a season it was.
Mike Bryant, the father of Kris Bryant and Tony Gallo, the father of Joey Gallo saw their two young sons play baseball together in Las Vegas. The two fathers watched as both their sons developed upper-cut swings from the time they first became interested in baseball as young boys. Both families studied the 1971 book The Science of Hitting by none other than the great Ted Williams.
Joey Gallo is 22 months younger than Bryant. Another Las Vegas player, Bryce Harper was among the youngsters capable of hitting home runs in the Vegas community. Gallo broke Harper’s home run record for a ten-year old boy. They were mashing the ball at the age of 10.
One of the greatest ironies about Bryant and Gallo is that they were both pretty good pitchers as youngsters. Bryant threw in the mid-90’s and Gallo actually could hit triple-digits in high school. Scouts watched them both in disbelief in those prep days.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that Bryant is the better pure hitter between Gallo and Bryant. But Gallo has more pure power. That isn’t to take anything away from Bryant. But Gallo has “light tower” and “window breaking” power to his pull right field side. And Gallo is still learning how to hit. Bryant has mastered that skill.
Gallo clearly fits the mold of “huge”. He’s 6-foot-5, 235 pounds of solid power. He has a big, long swing and he really has seen a pitch he doesn’t like. If he ever gains some patience at the plate, he can threaten annual home run records. The at-bats are exciting to watch. Any pitch can be drilled far beyond the right field wall or fence. He can put a dent in a baseball when he gets a fastball in his wheel house. And yes, Gallo is the poster child for hitting pitcher’s mistakes. Make a mistake on Joey Gallo and pay the price.
While I love to watch Kris Bryant hit, he doesn’t bring the same thrill to his at-bats as does Gallo. People may feel free to visit the restroom or refreshment stand when Bryant hits. With Gallo, most people stay in their seats and watch his at-bats. Anything can happen.
BRYCE HARPER-OF-WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Exciting players? They don’t get more exciting than Bryce Harper. There are fans who love Harper (me) and there are fans who can’t stand Harper (lots of people I know.) How can a person not like a baseball player that will give up his body to make a catch in the outfield? Up until this season, he played like his hair was on fire. Harper ran into walls and got hurt. Harper slid into bases with little care for his body. This season Harper is a bit less willing to put himself in harms way. After all, potentially one of the biggest contracts in baseball history may be awaiting Harper at the end of this season. An injury could derail the plan.
Harper went to Las Vegas High School where he earned a General Educational Development (GED) degree after his sophomore season. He did that to enter the 2010 First Year Player Draft. In 2010 Harper was the No. 1 overall pick by the Washington Nationals. A catcher in high school, Harper was actually drafted as an outfielder, the position he has played with Washington. He had some playing time at the College of Southern Nevada with the goal of being drafted into major-league baseball.
A left-handed hitter, Harper is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds. He isn’t the size of Gallo, but he is very, very powerful. He generates tremendous bat speed, with quick strong wrists and forearms. While I wouldn’t classify him as having a particular big or strong lower body, like all good hitters he does use his legs to get strength behind his swing.
Harper will enter free-agency at the end of this season at the age of 25. He has played parts of seven seasons in Washington. Harper will be able to sign a huge contract this coming offseason and then perhaps sign another contract at some point before he retires. There is speculation he could sign a 10-year deal or agree to fewer years in length and more money initially. Either way, if he stays healthy, Bryce Harper will become a very wealthy man.
Harper hit 49 home runs in 2015. He also scored 118 runs and drove in 99. It was quite a season, and one that he has not come close to matching since. Last season Harper missed considerable time with injuries. This year he has been engaged in a bit of mid-season slump. I’m not sure this slump or his current statistics will negatively impact his next contract. Harper is just one of those players that commands respect at the plate. However, as I write this, he is yet to exceed a .220 batting average. He has half a season to rectify that.
There is lots of buzz that Harper would like to join his buddy Kris Bryant with the Cubs. They played together in Las Vegas, know each other well, their families are close and it makes sense they would be dynamite together. Who gets top billing in that duo, Harper or Bryant? But when it comes down to it, who cares? They are both great players and they make an incredible duo if they play for the same club. Or maybe Harper joins Gallo in Texas to see if he can turn the franchise around as the ultimate challenge. I doubt it.
I believe it would be a mistake to rule out Washington signing Harper to his next contract. Harper’s agent Scott Boras has an excellent relationship with Nationals ownership. The Nationals have stepped up in the past to sign Boras’ clients. So for me, Harper has as good a chance to stay in Washington as anywhere.
The guessing game for the services of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have become food for thought on many, many sites. Earlier this season I wrote a column for BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD about Harper’s future. I still don’t have a clue where he will sign. Don’t rule out Philadelphia or…?
Harper is exciting because he is capable of playing the game with no holds barred on his skill set. He uses everything he has to beat the opposition. He can be fast on the bases and in the outfield. He can barrel pitches over the fence. But for this season, I’m giving him a bit of a pass if he fails to play his usual all out game. He has everything to gain and everything to lose. He has to stay healthy. Period. I haven’t seen the coming attractions yet, but there will be plenty of excitement and energy after he signs that first free-agent contract.
JOSE ALTUVE-2B-HOUSTON ASTROS
If you listened to my podcast with my baseball partner Derek VanRiper, you heard our interview with former Houston Astros general manager, and my former boss, Tim Purpura. Purpura explained how he got a call from scout and special assistant Al Pedrique about a player he saw play in Venezuela. Pedrique had turned Altuve away from the Astros tryout camp in Marycay, Venezuela. Altuve was turned away from the camp due to his short size. Persistent, Altuve persuaded Pedrigue to give him a tryout. Once he showed what he could do, Pedrique called Purpura and asked for a $15,000-to-$30,000 bonus for a player he saw. Purpura wondered why Pedrique was calling? As Purpura tells it, Pedrique had the authority to sign a player for that amount with checking with the general manager. “He’s only 5-foot-5 or 5-foot-6” said Pedrique. “Oh, I see, I get it” was Purpura’s response. Altuve signed. The rest is history. Altuve might be among the best, if not the best baseball players in the game today.
Altuve is great because he does everything, absolutely everything great. He hits for average. He hits for power. He plays tremendous defense. He steals bases. He can bunt. He can execute the hit and run. And he remains humble.
Altuve has played parts of eight seasons in major-league baseball. Now still only 28 and in his prime years, Altuve is signed through 2024 with the Houston Astros. He is listed at 5-foot-6, but there are many scouts that feel he may be an inch shorter.
To date, Altuve has an amazing .319 major-league batting average. In 2016 and in 2017 Altuve hit 24 home runs. In those two seasons he stole 30 and 32 bases, respectively. In 2014 Altuve stole 56, followed by a season with 38. He is amazing. Exciting? Only from the moment he walks on the field with a clean uniform at the start of batting practice until the moment he leaves the field after the last out with a filthy uniform earned by sliding and diving.
So far, Altuve has appeared in five All-Star games. He was the Most Valuable Player in 2017. He has won four Silver Slugger Awards. He won a Gold Glove in 2015. And he is wearing a Championship ring on his hand as a member of the 2017 Houston Astros World Champions.
To my way of thinking this is the part that makes Altuve so valuable. He has hit .338, and .346 the past two seasons. As I write this, Altuve is hitting .345. In 2014 he hit .341. It really is incredible what this man has done and the consistency he has shown.
Consistency is a factor that scouts seek when looking at players. Consistency could be Altuve’s middle name. He just does everything well. It is rare when Altuve doesn’t make contact. And usually, it’s hard contact, right on the barrel. He has never—let me repeat that word-never struck out more than 85 times in any of his eight seasons. His 85 strike out year was 2013 when he hit .283. Last year Altuve whiffed 84 times in a game that has seen strikeouts become a dominant part of the game.
Altuve is probably worth even more than his seven year $163.5MM contract. The Astros have taken him out of free-agency until 2024, and that was a wise decision
How long can Altuve remain an exciting, game-changing player? I don’t see him declining any time soon. I’m excited to see him get his uniform dirty any time I get the chance.
DIDI GREGORIUS-SS-NEW YORK YANKEES
Those who know my work are well aware of my evaluation of Didi Gregorius. He is one of the finest shortstops in the game. He makes plays that are eye-popping. He gets to the hole as quick as anyone. He has a rocket arm. He has soft hands. He turns the double-play beautifully. And he had to live and play shortstop in the shadow of shortstop Derek Jeter immediately after Jeter retired.
And frankly, Didi’s offense may one day be just as great as his defense. It isn’t there yet, but Didi still has some upside remaining in his power game. If given the green light more often, Didi could probably steal 20 bases every year. He’s much faster than his low stolen base record indicates. In fact, this year, he is attempting more stolen bases and having success.
Last year Didi hit 25 home runs. The year before he hit 20. He may well exceed his home run total from last year by the time this season is over.
Gregorius first signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 2008 as an international free agent out of the Netherlands. He was only 18 years old when he first started to play stateside. He was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in December 2012 in this 3-team deal: The Diamondbacks sent P Trevor Bauer, P Matt Albers and P Bryan Shaw to Cleveland, the Reds sent SS Gregorius to the Diamondbacks, the Reds sent OF Drew Stubbs to the Indians, the Indians sent P Lars Anderson and Tony Sipp to the Diamondbacks, the Indians sent Shin-Soo Choo, Jason Donald and cash to the Reds. Whew!
Didi wasn’t finished being on the move. He played terrific baseball for the Diamondbacks and earned rave reviews from scouts and analysts. But in another three-team deal in December 2014 this happened: Didi went to the Yankees from the Diamondbacks, P Shane Greene went to the Tigers from the Yankees and P Robbie Ray came to the Diamondbacks along with infield prospect Domingo Leyba.
Truth told, Gregorius was a bit unsettled when he started with the Yankees. He didn’t immediately show the type of skill we saw with Arizona. Rather, he played hesitantly beneath the shadow of the recently retired Jeter. That didn’t last long. Gregorius returned to his game and kept getting better and better, increasing his power and showing he can become an offensive force. His defense improved to his Dbacks level as well. More confident and more relaxed, the 2018 version of Didi Gregorius is building on the year he had in 2017 when he hit .318/25/87.
Watching Didi go to the hole or come in on a dribbler to shortstop is a real treat. He glides to the ball, sets his feet and makes bullet throws to first. He’s really, really good at a position that is loaded with terrific shortstops in both leagues.
While I don’t see Gregorius ever making people in New York forget Derek Jeter, he can handle the position with outstanding skill. He’s so exciting to watch because when he is “on” offensively, the baseball just jumps off his bat. It seems the right field porch at Yankee Stadium is made for his slight uppercut swing. He is making adjustments. He is growing on the job.
He knows he can play on the highly regarded Yankees club and contribute. He has been so good, he has even hit cleanup often for New York. He does, however, need to show the same skills on the road as we see in Yankee Stadium. But that too shall come.
Gregorius will be a free-agent after this season. His $8.25MM contract remains a bargain. That’s likely to change as his contract expires and he enters the free market. It really is doubtful the Yankees can afford to let him go. However, Gleyber Torres is a shortstop. But if it isn’t broken, why fix it? For the Yankees, the infield isn’t broken. The only decision they should make is to offer Didi Gregorius a long-term contract to stay in New York with the Yankees and help them win and win and win.
JOSE RAMIREZ-3B/2B-CLEVELAND INDIANS
Full disclosure here. I watch a tremendous number of Cleveland Indians games. In fact, I rarely miss a telecast, and I haven’t missed many in years and years. In my wildest dreams I had no idea Jose Ramirez would become an All-Star caliber player. Not only is he All-Star caliber, he may very well be the starting third baseman for the American League this year. Why? Ramirez wields a very dangerous home run power bat from both sides of the plate. Why? Because Jose Ramirez is a master at knowing the strike zone. When he gets called out on strikes, replays show the pitch was very borderline or it was missed by the umpire. And Ramirez doesn’t get fooled very often by pitchers.
Versatile and superuber-athletic-athletic, Even though at first glance, he doesn’t look like a great athlete. Ramirez can play anywhere on the diamond. I believe if needed, he could probably play first base, even though he’s only 5-foot-9 inches tall. But he certainly can be a star performer at second base (probably his best position) third base, shortstop and anywhere in the outfield, but especially left field.
Ramirez, signed by the Cleveland Indians as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic, began his career with Cleveland in the Arizona League in the summer of 2011. He made 208 plate appearances and hit .325. He hit only one home run and drove in 20. But that batting average should have been a clue to his outstanding switch-hitting tool. In five minor league seasons, Ramirez compiled a .304 batting average.
Ramirez got his first taste at the major-league level in 2013 when he played in 15 games and got a meager 14 plate appearances. That brief big league exposure just wet his whistle and gave him a quick taste of what was to come. The following season his playing time increased. But ultimately, he really made his mark on the baseball scene in his age 23 season in 2016. Ramirez went to the plate 565 times and hit .312/11/76. That season he played shortstop, third base, second base, and left field. It was that year when he convinced the Indians Brass that he was a legitimate big league player capable of delivering quality play on both sides of the ball.
In my ideal Baseball World, Ramirez would be the every day second baseman, a position that is clearly his best and most comfortable spot on the field. Currently Jason Kipnis occupies that role, but I believe Ramirez offers the Indians the best defense at the critical second base position. Kipnis has a contract that pays him $52.5MM from when he signed in 2014 until his contract expires in 2020. His contract value and length make it very difficult to either trade Kipnis or use him as a part-time player. He makes the second highest annual dollar value on the club, behind only Edwin Encarnacion. It’s important to note that Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber makes $10.7 MM this year, almost $3MM less than Kipnis.
The Indians are well aware of the value and quality that Jose Ramirez brings to the club. The team signed him to a very team friendly five-year, $26MM contract that runs from 2017 until 2021. Barring injury, an unexpected trade or collapse in skill, Ramirez will be a cornerstone of the club for the foreseeable future.
As I watch Indians games I think it is refreshing how his team rallies around Ramirez in the dugout. He seems to be shy, but he lets his bat and glove do the talking. Ramirez hides his precious lumber in the corner of the dugout that is at the far opposite the bat rack. His bats are his livelihood and he cherishes and guards them closely to himself during games.
Ramirez has the type of swing that has some uppercut but not much length. He repeats his swing consistently as he makes hard contact. In his 2017 season he hit 56 doubles. He also managed six triples to go along with 29 home runs and 89 RBIs. His .318 batting average may have set the expectation for this year. But nobody expects more from Jose Ramirez than Jose Ramirez.
An All-Star and Silver Slugger last season, Ramirez is producing a steady stream of important hits in a lineup that features Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley, Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion as the first four hitters. Recently teams have not given Ramirez many pitches to hit and his walk rate is increasing. It does frustrate him, but he has excellent plate discipline and pitch recognition. He accepts the walks. Teams are being burned when they walk Ramirez, only to have to face Encarnacion. Encarnacion bristles at the fact the pitcher would rather face him than Ramirez, and Encarnacion has made a few of them pay dearly by getting a key hit or smoking a home run.
Ramirez has indicated he would like to participate in the All-Star week Home Run Derby. Frankly, it would be exciting to watch. He may even swing from both sides of the plate if he is a contestant. Selfishly, I wish he wouldn’t participate. I have seen many swings destroyed or slowed down due to the fatigue the Derby brings to most hitters. But if anyone can pull it off, it might just be Ramirez. He repeats his swing well and probably wouldn’t lose his timing or the rhythm if he does participate. He will recover his normal swing quickly.
An intense competitor, Ramirez has made himself into a household name in baseball.
His uniform is usually dirty at the end of the game, he looks exhausted, he gives every ounce of energy he has and he plays to win. Those are the qualities that endear Jose Ramirez to me. He is an incredible talent that brings a spark and highly charged thrills every time he takes the field.
NOLAN ARENADO-3B-COLORADO ROCKIES
Nolan Arenado is the best defensive third baseman I have seen in my life. Nolan Arenado is among the best hitting third baseman I have seen in my life.
Yes, I saw the great Brooks Robinson, a player many people feel is the best defensive third baseman the game has known. He was great. His best play was going to his right, planting and throwing a bullet to first base. His range was off the charts, as was his arm strength. Watching him make that play from behind third base was a thrill every time it happened.
Clete Boyer of the St. Louis Cardinals was in the same class as Robinson. He could make every play look easy. He was virtually flawless at the hot corner. There are probably a number of people that feel Boyer is the equal to, if not better than Robinson. I understand.
Mike Schmidt, Adrian Beltre, George Brett, Eddie Matthews, Chipper Jones, Wade Boggs, Manny Machado and players like them who are too numerous to list were and are outstanding as well. It really is all in the eye of the beholder.
For me, it has to be Nolan Arenado. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched him play so much in the National League West. Arenado is a magician with the glove. Few third baseman make the play with the ball coming in on a dribbler down the third base line like Arenado. He has a cannon for an arm. He has tremendous range to both sides with a quick first step and top of the chart baseball instincts.
Defense is only one half of Arenado’s skill-set and exciting game. He’s a tremendous hitter with power to drive the ball out of any park. He is assisted by playing in hitter-friendly Coors Field for half his games. No humidor at Coors or at Chase Field in Phoenix can hold his line drive or high fly home runs when the ball smacks against the barrel of his bat.
His perfectly athletic 6-foot-2 frame carries 205 pounds of strength and quickness. Using somewhat unorthodox hitting mechanics, he rarely strikes out. He uses his feet and legs to their greatest advantage, using his long stride to generate power. He uses his upper body rather than just his arms in his swing. Unlike lots and lots of hitters, Arenado does not extend his arms out in his swing, rarely rolling his hands over and hitting the ball on the ground. He drives the ball to the outfield. Arenado is a master at repeating his swing mechanics. But it is different watching him swing without really extending his arms.
The Rockies signed Arenado in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft out of El Toro High School in California. He began at rookie ball in 2009 at the age of 18. By 2013, when Arenado was 22 he was playing for the Rockies, getting 514 plate appearances the first year of his promotion. That says it all. For a high school draftee, he flew through the Rockies system.
Now in his sixth major-league season, Arenado has a career .292 batting average. He has hit 166 home runs, including 42, 41, and 37 the past three seasons. And here’s the great part of Nolan Arenado: he has driven in 130, 133, and 130 runs in those past three years as well. To me, that’s what a great offensive player is meant to do-drive in runs.
Nolan Arenado won’t steal many bases. He will hit for a great average, score runs, hit home runs and drive in runs. In bunches.
I don’t know where the Rockies would be without Arenado.
Exciting? What’s more exciting than watching a third baseman make an acrobatic play and nail a runner by a step with a bullet throw to first base? Maybe the only thing more exciting on defense is when he does it over and over and over. That’s Arenado.
Exiting? What’s more exciting than watching a hitter clear the bases with a line-drive shot to left field that clears the wall in the blink of an eye with awesome power and lightning speed?
That’s Arenado hitting his trademark line drive home runs in any stadium in the game.
Now 27, Nolan Arenado is in the prime years of his career. He may or may not match his career best numbers this year. However, he is on his way to another 30 homer season with at least 110 RBI. I would guess he will be at or near the top of the charts when the last game is played in both home runs and RBI. That’s just who he is. And because he is great on both sides of the ball, I love watching him play. To me, Nolan Arenado is a very exciting baseball player.
As I said at the top, of course there are many, many more players that should be on this list. Space doesn’t allow me to include everyone.
Let me ask you-which players do you find the most exciting to watch? Please let me know on Twitter @BerniePleskoff. I would like to include your tweet for all to see.
The Manny Machado sweepstakes is heating up. I still think he will go to the Los Angeles Dodgers for three to four prospects. Why the Dodgers? They have a need at third base. They have quality pitching prospects that include Mitchell White, Yadier Alvarez, Brock Stewart and others. They have outfielder Alex Verdugo who might interest Baltimore. They have the money to retain Machado long-term, making a move more than just a rental.
The Diamondbacks got a huge lift with the return of Robbie Ray from injury. He threw an absolute gem on the road in Miami, showing that he is ready to step up and be the team’s ace.
Shelby Miller also returned from injury and promptly laid an egg. Miller had Tommy John surgery and his first start back was what I had seen of Miller before he got hurt. He didn’t command or control the baseball and he got hit hard. I think he may have a good start upon occasion, but I also believe he is not the type of solid, dependable major-league quality pitcher the Diamondbacks need to fend off the Dodgers and/or the Giants for the rest of the season.
I think their lack of pitching depth dictates the Dbacks find another starter.
The Reds are playing terrific baseball under Jim Riggleman. I said when he got the job that he is an underrated manager. He is.
The Rays have hurt teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. That’s what makes baseball so great. Any team can rise up and bite any other team. Major league baseball teams can get on a roll.
I watched two pitchers this week who really got my attention. Both the Indians Shawn Bieber and the Cardinals John Gant were masterful in their starts. I hope they can keep it up, as the game needs an introduction of new young pitchers to compliment aging stars and supplement injured pitching staffs.
Will Byron Buxton salvage his season after he returns from the disabled list? I wish I knew.
So far Buxton hasn’t shown the upside that was forecast for him by so many analysts. I was not among them. My biggest fear was injury. My second biggest fear was a long swing that would hunt home runs. You be the judge. But I didn’t think so then and I don’t think so now. I don’t think Buxton will be a superstar. Or maybe not even a star.
Again, please let me know which MLB players excite you the most when you watch them. You can tweet your response to me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff