Joe Mauer is far and away the best Catcher regardless of if you are talking about the league or the AL Central. It's a toss-up between Pierzynski and Santana. While Santana has the highest ceiling (he is one of the hottest prospects his Minor League numbers equate to pretty solid MLB numbers but he's still an unsure thing as he's yet to play in the bigs)......at the same time, there's no way he could be any worse than Laird and Kendall.
A side note about announcers and baseball players with the same name as musicians. The one pet peeve I have after watching nationally televised Brewers games is goes as follows: Yes, I am aware the Brewers regular right fielder's name is Corey Hart. Yes, I am aware he has the same name as that guy from the 80's who sang about Wearing his sunglasses at night. No, I do not need to hear announcers make lame jokes about Corey Hart wearing his sunglasses at night. This rant has been several years in the making. Which brings me to my main point, I am already cringing at the Carlos Santana references that are inevitably going to be made (fortunately the Indians aren't going to be very good and not be on TV very often). Point being I don't want to hear about how "smooth" is swing is or how we can say "oye como va" to a ball after he hits a home run (2 cliches that took me about 5 seconds each to make up). There's about at least a dozen cheesy Sports Center made for Stuart Scott cliches that are inevitable going to be unleashed upon the public if the high expectations set aside for Santana turn out to be fulfilled.
If Gerald Laird was half as good at getting arrested at Phoenix Suns games as he was at playing baseball, he may be higher on this list. However, his career to this point indicates that this is not the case. If being a Brewer fan has taught me anything, it's that Jason Kendall just isn't that good.....in fact he's a pretty terrible ball-player. Luckily for him, the Royals have a thing for making bad baseball decisions, are one of the dumbest teams in baseball and somehow made a conscious decision to sign him to a 2-year deal to a player who hasn't even been a league average hitter since 2004. These two were made for each other.
This division is LOADED from top to bottom at 1st. Unlike the Catcher rankings which are relatively easy, the Top 3 here was fairly difficult. While there are concerns regarding how last season ended with Cabrera, the reality is he is an elite-class player. If he can get past his drinking-related problems, he looks destined to be one of the greatest hitters of this generation.
The Konerko versus Morneau was a tough decision to make. More of a hunch than anything else, I think Morneau will come back strong from his injury problems from last year but I think that Konerko is going to have a monster season in '10. Even the back end players are pretty solid, Billy Butler was one of the few bright spots not named Zack Greinke in 2009 and I see that being repeated in 2010. Just like the Catcher rankings, the last spot is taken by someone who has connections to the Brewers (while he was traded before seeing Major League action, he was a major reason why the Brewers were able to land C.C. Sabathia in 2008 and is thus made his own contribution to getting the Brewers their first playoff appearance in 26 years). Anyways, LaPorta is definitely a can't-miss prospect he looks headed in the right direction of having a long and productive career and he's going to have a solid 2010, it's just that Cabrera, Konerko, Morneau and Butler are all happen to be really, really good at baseball.
Fairly weak at second. Beckham seems poised for a breakout season. Valbuena, while not having the high profile like Beckham is a sleeper candidate for a breakout season. O-Hud is likely to give his typical .280 average and 10 homers.....may not be exciting or stand out but it's a lot more than they would have gotten out of Punto.
Toss-up between whether Ramirez or Hardy will have a better season. Ramirez has had a more consistent last couple years and a higher upside. J.J Hardy, was more unlucky than bad last year. Last year, it seemed like about every other day, someone was robbing J.J. Hardy of an extra base hit. Didn't really think too much beyond until I saw that his BABIP was significantly lower for him in 2009. Despite this, the Brewers still sold him for 50 cents on the dollar for Carlos Gomez. Asdrubal Cabrera is still young at this point he's Orlando Cabrera version 2 at the plate.
A fairly close but fairly weak crop. Gordon and Peralta are probably going to produce similar numbers but Gordon gets the nod since his ceiling is higher. Nothing special about the other three.
Another close call. Young and Raburn are both solid candidates for breakout seasons. Young has the disadvantage of not living up to his potential (yet) Raburn has the disadvantage of being five years older. Juan Pierre has the disadvantage of it being illegal to steal first in baseball......almost put Brantley above Pierre on the sole basis of him being the Player To Be Named Later in the Sabathia deal and thus his minor part of letting me see the Brewers make the playoffs.
This field is middle-heavy. Sizemore may have struggled with injuries last year but he should bounce back in 2010. Damon and Span are fairly interchangeable. Damon is the bigger name and still has at least a couple solid seasons in him (but don't expect a 2009-esque power burst....well unless the bring in the fences and turn Comerica park into a little league field). Span might not be the most exciting player but he can be penciled in for a .300 average 10 homers 20 steals and being more valuable to a real team than a fantasy team (or what I refer to as the Orlando Cabrera All-Stars). The only thing big about Alex Rios' game is that monster $77.5 million contract he somehow got.
Pretty solid group from 1 to 4. It was a toss-up between Quentin and Cuddyer. Quentin has a question mark around him due to dealing with injuries pretty much every year of his career (even costing him the 2008 AL MVP).
Cuddyer also has a pretty good case for the top spot but Quentin got the slight nod as has demonstrated the ability to carry his team on his back for longer (5 months ) than Cuddyer (although his September was pretty sweet).
A random Mike Cuddyer story/anecdote/me being weird. I was rocking out to "Holy Diver" by Dio earlier today and I mentally started coming up with alternate lyrics about Mike Cuddyer's epic September.
Kubel gets the nod as the question marks surrounding him are relatively smaller. For how the rest of these rankings actually go down, it will be a war of attrition of whoever gets hurt last wins.
On pure talent level, Hafner is the best of the rest but staying healthy has been a problem for him. For Andruw Jones, the problem is it isn't 2005 anymore and his peak has come and gone (though he still should be good for about a .260 average and 20 homers).
Exhibit 234 of the Royals being one of the dumbest teams in baseball: They are actually paying Jose Guillen $12 million a year......didn't realize that hitters with an OPS+ of 90 over the last two years were that expensive.
Standings at the End of Part One:
Well, the top of the division looks like a re-enactment of the 2008 AL Central. The Indians are closer than I expected them to be and the Royals are exactly where I expected them to be.