Pittsburgh Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen took home the hardware after the 2013 season, posting superstar offensive numbers to pair with his strong defense and baserunning. It didn’t hurt that the Pirates were contenders, but there’s no denying how well McCutchen performed in 2013.
The 2014 race starts with McCutchen, because he’s currently walking around with the title belt, but there are numerous worthy candidates to unseat the 2005 first-round draft pick.
In assessing the top candidates for the award this season, I will ignore the voter aspect in my rankings, since I cannot read the minds of the BBWAA, nor do I recognize them, as a group, as any kind of authority on who the most valuable players truly are in Major League Baseball, despite many of the members clearly being more than competent and qualified to do so.
I will not include pitchers here. They have their own award, which Prospect Insider’s Adam H. Wong covered.
1. Bryce Harper, LF — Washington Nationals
Harper, still just 21, must stay healthy to win the MVP — he played just 118 games a year ago — but he’s solid in the field, an above-average baserunner and may be ready to explode at the plate. Such an explosion could surpass 40 home runs and 40 doubles with strong AVG-OBP numbers to boot. A .290/.390/.600 line in ’14 wouldn’t stun me at all.
2. Andrew McCutchen, CF — Pittsburgh Pirates
For a back-to-back MVP campaign, McCutchen may have to improve upon tremendous numbers, including the .300/.400/.500 triple-slash, which is awfully rare for up-the-middle defenders. Why might the reigning MVP have to be better to repeat? Because I expect the field to better this season.
3. Joey Votto, 1B — Cincinnati Reds
Votto is perennially among the top few hitters in baseball and while his critics picked on him, suggesting he was being too passive and should try to hit more to drive in more runs, those are the morons that don’t understand the game of hitting within Major League Baseball. Votto led the senior circuit in on-base percentage and posted a .400 wOBA. Oh, and there are no signs of the 30-year-old slowing down, either.
4. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B — Arizona Diamondbacks
Goldschmidt finished second in last year’s vote, and deserved such consideration. He’s a legitimate candidate to win it in 2014, too, though for me he’ll have to do a lot more at the plate to make up for the inherent disadvantages of an average defensive first baseman versus the likes of McCutchen and Harper.
5. Troy Tulowitzki, SS — Colorado Rockies
Tulowitzki is among the most valuable players in all of baseball and to win his first MVP he may simply need to stay healthy — and, to win over the dinosaur voting clan — the Rockies may need to contend. He remains a solid-to-plus glove at shortstop, hits for average and power and holds his own away from Coors Field, despite the challenges of having to alter his approach away from his home park.
6. David Wright, 3B — New York Mets
Wright has quietly been one of the best players in the National League the past two years and the 31-year-old may have the lineup support to post a career year. He’s a fine defender and runs the bases well, too — he’s an underrated athlete — and is a sleeper to win the league’s batting title.
7. Yadier Molina, C — St. Louis Cardinals
Molina will be 32 in July, but is coming off his two best season, batting .319/.359/.477 in 2013. There’s always a chance he hits the wall and his production drops off a cliff, but he’s a tireless worker and easily the best all-around catcher in baseball.
8. Matt Carpenter, 3B — St. Louis Cardinals
Carpenter was a top-5 player in the NL in 2013 and will now slider to third base where his bat won’t be as special and his athleticism won’t show up quite as much … unless he performs better at the plate, and that isn’t out of the question. He’s 28 but entering only his second full season in the majors after posting a 7 fWAR in his first one. He does everything well and boasts one of the best sets of instincts in baseball.
9. Carlos Gomez, CF — Milwaukee Brewers
Gomez’s teammate Ryan Braun may hit .300 with 35 homers but Gomez is the best player on the team, thanks to tremendous center-field defense, plus-plus baserunning and the new-found power Gomez has produced with his new-old swing. The track record is thin — he’s posted just one season with an above league-average on-base percentage, but that was a year ago (.338) when he also tallied 61 extra-base hits.
10. Giancarlo Stanton, RF — Miami Marlins
This may be Stanton’s year to break out and post the numbers he’s teased for the past three seasons. He possesses 80-grade power, is selective at the plate and plays a solid right field when healthy. How much time he spends in the lineup at or near 100 percent is a big deal, and when it comes to the actual vote at the end of the year, his chances are slim unless he hits 60 homers. Good thing for Stanton? Not even 60 long balls, albeit a highly unlikely result, isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility.