It's far too early to make any meaningful projections for the leagues' Most Valuable Player awards, but we can at least sort through the league leaders to find the hitters who seem most capable of extending their hot starts into MVP-worthy seasons. This is similar to the approach that many use when choosing All-Stars, selecting candidates based on a combination of early season numbers and career accomplishments. Though some of the players listed below will disappear from the race completely, many are likely to continue building strong resumes as the weeks go by.
The defending NL MVP is hitting like the winter never happened. He is tied with Shane Victorino and Alex Gordon for the major league lead in hits, with teammate Brandon Phillips for the lead in runs scored, and has also drawn eight walks, none of which have been intentional, against just three strikeouts.
I bumped Votto from
Fielder is in his walk year for a Brewers team that can't afford to resign him but has instead loaded up on starting pitching to try to make one last playoff push with what they expect to be a big season from one of their most popular players. So, far so good, as Fielder, Braun, and second baseman Rickie Weeks are off to strong starts and, despite a short-term injury to Zack Greinke and a .500 record, Milwaukee is tied for second place in the NL Central, only a game and a half behind Votto's division-leading Reds. Fielder leads the majors in RBIs (tied with Ryan Howard and Paul Konerko) and has struck out just twice, not bad for a player who has averaged 130 K's over the last five seasons.
I pegged Kemp as the Dodgers' X-factor in my
Serious doubts about the Phillies' offense arose when Chase Utley was unable to answer the bell for the start of the season, but thus far the Phils -- without Utley, the departed Jayson Werth or injured rookie Domonic Brown -- have been outscored only by the Reds and Rangers and are off to a strong 7-2 start. Howard, the 2006 NL MVP, is far from the sole reason for that, but he's again leading the majors in RBIs and is a perennial favorite of the voters, consistently finishing higher on the ballot than he deserves. If he has a representative season and the Phillies win the NL East again, he should garner another high finish.
Cabrera finished second in last year's voting, but his off-season alcohol-related incident, half-hearted apology, and the Tigers' lack of transparency about how they are addressing Cabrera's alcoholism raised quite a number of red flags this spring. His off-field issues seem to have no bearing on his performance at the plate, however, which either means he and the Tigers are doing a better job handling them than we were led to believe, or it's only a matter of time before Cabrera does something off the field for which he can't apologize.
Cruz is a monster when healthy, but he rarely is. In 2009, his first full major league season, he played through a broken ring finger only to sprain his ankle a month later. Last year, he hit .318/.374/.576, but played just 108 games due to a left hamstring that sent him to the disabled list on three separate occasions. This year, he homered in the Rangers' first four games and stands as the major league leader in both home runs and slugging percentage. In that lineup and that ballpark and on that team, he could stay on this list for as long as he remains healthy.
With his surgically repaired hip finally fully healthy, Rodriguez was able to focus on his swing, as opposed to his physical therapy, for the first time in three years and looked as comfortable at the plate in camp as he has in at least that long. As I
How early is it? On Friday morning, Pedroia was hitting .227/.261/.227. He then went 9-for-13 with three doubles and a home run against the Yankees over the weekend and is now hitting .400/.447/.571. Pedroia is one of the best fielders in the game, at a key position, and was having a season very much like his 2008 AL MVP campaign before he broke his foot late last June.
Like his teammate, Cruz, whom he matched homer-for-homer through the first three games of the season, health will be the key to Kinsler's campaign, as he has only once surpassed 130 games played in a season, and never played in 145. Despite his low batting average (which, could be fixed with a single 4-for-4 game), Kinsler is tied for second in the majors in home runs and has a four-digit OPS.
Next week I'll take my first look at the Cy Young races in both leagues.