1B | Prince Fielder, Tigers
Almost forgotten on a team featuring Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, Fielder turned in his fourth straight year with at least a .400 OBP. Just 28, he needs 40 homers to reach 300 and is building a serious case for a spot in the Hall of Fame.
2B | Robinson Cano, Yankees
He ruined a perfectly good who's-the-best-second-baseman discussion by burying the other candidates in 2012. Cano set career highs in homers (33), runs (105), walks (61) and slugging (.550) while playing 161 games—his sixth-straight year of at least 159.
April 1, 2013
3B | Evan Longoria, Rays
His 2012 season was ruined in April by a strained left hamstring that cost him more than half the year. Yet Longoria recovered to hit .289/.369/.527 in 74 games. Now healthy, the 27-year-old is one of the early favorites to win the '13 AL MVP.
SS | Jose Reyes, Blue Jays
Lost in the nightmare that was his 2012 with the Marlins: Reyes played in 160 games (his first full year since '08) and was a force with 40 steals, a .347 OBP, and double figures in doubles, triples and homers. Dealt to Toronto, he'll be a catalyst for the AL East contenders.
RHP | Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
His 2012 was more about what he didn't do—pitch a full season, due to management's protecting his right arm—than what he did accomplish: a 15--6 record, 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 159 1/3 innings. That's a shame, because he was a Cy Young candidate before the shutdown. Unleashed, he'll earn some hardware this year.
LHP | Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
His stats jump off the page, but that's only half of Kershaw's story. The smooth lines of his lefthanded delivery, the high leg kick, the way his curve tumbles down—his game is poetry in motion.
LF | Bryce Harper, Nationals
His play at age 19 put him in a class with greats such as Ott, Cobb and Mantle. Those outfielders became MVP-caliber ballplayers at 20, which is a reasonable expectation for Harper this season. He's the best player on the game's best team.
CF | Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
Put him in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago—anyplace where the baseball season doesn't end in August—and he'd be on the cover of video games every year. McCutchen is as complete a player as there is in the NL, and at 26 he hasn't peaked.
RF | Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
His at bats are can't-miss moments in every game—he leads the majors in raw power, rendering him capable of blasting 500-foot bombs. With 93 homers through age 22, he's on the short list of history's best young power hitters.
DH | Billy Butler, Royals
The DH spot isn't just for old guys: The 26-year-old Butler is the best in the game, an iPhone-age replica of Kansas City great Hal McRae. Butler is just learning how to translate his strength into long balls, belting a career-high 29 in 2012.
C | Buster Posey, Giants
The best of a thriving group of young catchers that includes Matt Wieters and Wilin Rosario, he's already an MVP and a two-time world champ—all before turning 26. He's not just a bat, though: Posey has gunned down base stealers at an above-average rate in each of his three seasons.
CLOSER | Craig Kimbrel, Braves
One-hundred-sixteen out of 231—better than one out of every two. Kimbrel whiffed the majority of the batters he faced in 2012, a feat that no previous pitcher had accomplished (and that none are likely to repeat). He's easily the best closer in baseball.
MANAGER | Joe Maddon, Rays
In today's game no one blends game management with people skills the way Maddon does, and it shows: Tampa Bay has finished above .500 each of the past five years because he lets the front-office stats guys procure the players to win, then keeps them loose, focused and happy.