The other day my son asked me to name my 10 favorite active baseball players (besides him, of course). I thought it was a good exercise, as I watch a lot of baseball, and who I enjoy watching most changes over time. My all-time favorites are Ken Griffey, Jr. and Eric Davis, but who do I most enjoy now?
You can listen to my podcast on this topic here.
Of course, my list of favorite players is skewed by my watching habits: I mostly watch the Cincinnati Reds, so most of my favorite players are in the National League where they play. Also, remember that this is not who I think are the 10 best players in baseball, but my favorites to watch play.
First, some honorable mentions – players I like but didn’t make the Top 10 cut: Ichiro, Kevin Kiermaier, Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber, and Andrelton Simmons.
Also, I have to mention Jose Fernandez, who died in a boating accident last September. If he were still alive, he would easily crack this list, most likely making the top 3. But unfortunately he passed all too soon.
Now, for the Top 10:
10) Anthony Rizzo
Rizzo was the anchor of last year’s World Champion Cubs, and his popularity rose in light of the Cubs’ historic run. I’m careful to remember that we don’t really know what public celebrities are like in private, but Rizzo projects a nice-guy image that makes him fun to watch.
9) Clayton Kershaw
The best pitcher on the planet – and probably the universe, Kershaw has become so dominant that he’s a bit boring now. But watching one of the best pitchers ever in his prime is a treat for all us mortals.
8) Madison Bumgarner
I could write about Bumgarner’s cool arm delivery, or his playoff awesomeness, but let’s be honest: what makes MadBum really awesome is the dingers. Lots and lots of pitcher dingers. If chicks dig the long ball, they surely really dig it when pitchers hit the long ball.
7) Joey Votto
It’s a mystery to me why some Cincinnatians don’t like Joey Votto (although I suspect it’s related to a certain Reds broadcasting father-son duo). He is one of the best hitters in baseball, and far and away the smartest. When he gets going at the plate, you just assume he’ll get on-base more than he won’t. He’d be ranked higher here except for the fact that his defense and base-running are as bad as his hitting is good.
6) Kris Bryant
We really are living in a privileged time to be a baseball fan. So many young stars beginning to make their mark on the game. Four of my top six favorite players are 25 or under. Kris Bryant is one of the brightest of those young stars, and the image of him smiling while fielding the last play of the World Series last year is an indelible one.
5) Francisco Lindor
Other than a few years in the late 90’s and early 00’s, shortstops traditionally are prized for their fielding, not their hitting. But today we are seeing the rise of the do-everything shortstop, and Francisco Lindor is the best example. He’s another young player who is clearly having fun out there, and his enthusiasm is contagious.
4) Mike Trout
Best player on the planet. Period.
3) Billy Hamilton
Billy Hamilton is probably the worst player on this list, but he’s also the most exciting. He can do things that no one else can do. Sometimes you feel like he fell out of a comic book into a Reds uniform. Just recently, he scored from 1st base on a single that landed in front of the left fielder. Let that sink in for a moment.
2) Johnny Cueto
Johnny Beisbol has long been my favorite pitcher, since his days as a Cincinnati Red. I love the different delivery motions – the quick-pitch, the rocker, the Tiant. While it’s fun to watch, it also reveals Cueto’s high baseball IQ. He knows the primary job of a pitcher is to keep the batter off-balance, and his various deliveries help him to do just that. why more pitchers don’t imitate him is beyond me.
1) Bryce Harper
I know some people don’t like Harper’s attitude, but I’ve been a fan since I was living in the DC area when he was first drafted. I love his aggressive style of play (although I’m not a huge fan of charging the mound, even when the pitcher is clearly thowing a 98mph fastball at his hip), and most especially I love his swing – it’s a thing of violence and beauty. When I was first teaching my son to hit, it was Harper’s swing that I tried to have him emulate: super-aggressive in the upper body while maintaining balance in the lower body. Harper’s swing is my favorite since Ken Griffey, Jr’s.
That’s my list – what’s yours?