These are my favorite players to watch so far in 2012. I didn’t say these are the best players so far in 2012. That can be far too subjective and besides, everyone and their dog have that list. Such a list is good for letters to the editor and circulation perhaps but I like to stay far away from that sort of thing. Good for business but bad for baseball writers. Anyway, without further delay, here is my list for 2012 at the one quarter mark of the season.
Stephen Strasburg. Man oh man is this guy fun to watch pitch. Most watch and marvel at his fastball and rightly so but it’s even more fun to watch his changeup buckle knees and make even an umpire’s head shake. If the changeup gets over the plate, you’re done. Sometimes even his homeruns given up are fun to watch. The redirection of an upper 90’s heater equals long distance and gets into the stands so quickly and with such velocity that fans in the general direction seem reluctant to grab for a major league souvenir. As with all great starting pitchers, usually the first inning or two can be shaky and then watch out.
Bryce Harper. No, I’m not a Washington National fan but they have two of the most fun guys to watch. He’s only 19 years old and seems to have a swagger which few players ever have. He hasn’t begun to hit as forecast but he often hits laser beams and has thrown runners out at the plate and stolen home. He also incurred the wrath of Philadelphia star pitcher Cole Hamels who admitted he was aiming for him. Harper has also given new meaning to the use of shoe polish under the eye. As with the pitching of teammate Stephen Strasburg, there is electricity in the air whenever he steps up to the plate. Already the accusations have started that umpires are giving him the close calls.
Aroldis Chapman. Yea, I’m a National League fan because I love great pitching and defense. Chapman will finally be inserted in the closer role for Cincinnati and it’s about time. The youngster from Cuba has a nice easy motion which explodes on hitters. His off speed stuff is low to mid 90’s. His 106 mph fastball when over the plate (much more often than not this year) is barely catchable never mind hittable. As batters were heard to say during the career of the great Nolan Ryan, “Gee ump, that pitch sounded a bit low.” Fans aren’t looking for outs, they are looking for strikeouts. Fielders can relax. Fielders don’t really need to be out on the field. My knees buckle when I watch him on television. Chapman is separating the men from the men.
Jose Bautista. The best hitter in baseball has finally begun to hit. He was the best hitter the last two seasons and he has found his stroke. It was only a matter of time for this most under rated player in baseball. Most of his outs in April were hard hit and bad luck. He hits everything hard and seems to always be due up with the game on the line. Although teammate Edwin Encarnacion has overshadowed him thus far, that shouldn’t last much longer. Oh yeah, he has one of the best arms in baseball as well. I love his quiet swagger and I love watching him in the dugout. He is one of those players who can delay a beer run or a trip to the washroom. Or a honey do list.
Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz has now taken over the mantle as best catcher in baseball. That’s not the only reason I love watching him. He runs the best starting staff in baseball with authority and knows just who needs what and when. Like rival Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals, Ruiz will throw to any base at anytime. He chatters to umpires, batters, groundskeepers, fans, coaches and anyone who is within talking distance. In a lineup which would normally include Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and a productive Jimmy Rollins, Ruiz has become the big offensive player. Major league baseball is tough. Catching in major league baseball is tougher. Hitting while being a major league catcher is impossible. Ruiz does it all with a flair and an obvious love of the game.
These guys sure have been fun to watch so far this season. I expect the fun will continue.