5 Baseball Players Who Are Playing Out of Their Minds This Year

  • Bryce Harper

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    Bryce Harper

    It’s easy to take Harper for granted given the hype he entered the league with. He didn’t always live up to the legend, but that would have been hard for anyone.

    In his fourth season, the National League’s resident wunderkind has busted out in a big way, surpassing even the rosiest expectations set for him. As of press time, he leads all players in Wins Above Replacement (4.4), thanks to a best-in-the-majors 1.189 OPS. Harper is in the top 10 in batting average, runs batted in, home runs, and walks–among other categories–and doesn’t look close to slowing down. (Although last night’s injury may have something to say about that.) Step back and appreciate what he’s doing at the ripe age of 22, because guys like this don’t come around often.

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  • Sonny Gray

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    Sonny Gray

    Speaking of young talent, Oakland A’s starting pitcher Sonny Gray deserves your attention. Gray’s in just his second full season in the big leagues, but he’s mowing down hitters like a seasoned veteran.

    Gray has been the best of both worlds for Oakland, throwing the second-most innings league-wide as of press time and minimizing opponent success while doing so. He’s been a stud whether you use basic stats (best ERA in the majors) or advanced (tops in Adjusted ERA+), Gray grades out a shade above his peers. We knew he was good, but this is outright dominance.

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  • Paul Goldschmidt

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    Paul Goldschmidt

    Goldschmidt wasn’t viewed as a young phenom like the preceding names on this list–he was selected in the eighth round of the 2009 amateur draft–but the numbers are every bit as mouthwatering for the Diamondbacks first baseman.

    First basemen are typically thought of as power-hitting run producers, and Goldschmidt has lived up to that label, crushing 15 home runs and knocking in 44 runs through early June. But he’s also no slouch on the base paths, ranking in the top 25 in steals and providing a credible threat that many sluggers can’t match. He fell just short of the MVP in 2013, and you can be sure he’ll be in the mix again this year.

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  • Nelson Cruz

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    Nelson Cruz

    The aging, high-priced slugger has become an archetype many franchises seek to avoid in free agency, after scores of talented hitters tailed off in their 30s. That day may come for first year Seattle Mariners member Nelson Cruz, but it seems far away now.

    Signed to a four-year, $57 million deal in the offseason, Cruz brought the power that it seems Seattle is always seeking in their monstrous ballpark. He’s raking in his new home. As of press time, he leads the majors in total bases and is sitting atop the home run scoreboard with 18 long flies. The Mariners have struggled in a highly-competitive division, but that’s not due to Cruz, the 34-year-old bruiser defying conventional wisdom.

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  • Dallas Keuchel

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    Dallas Keuchel

    Speaking of that division, our final guy is a big reason the Houston Astros sit atop the AL West as of press time. Keuchel broke through last year, registering a snazzy 2.93 ERA across 29 starts, but he’s making opposing hitters look foolish in 2015.

    A big part of Keuchel’s AL-leading win percentage comes down to minimizing hits. That sounds like a “well, duh” observation about a pitcher, but Keuchel has been the best overall pitcher at preventing them, not just the best starter, allowing just 5.8 hits per nine innings. His WHIP–which measures walks and hits per innings pitched–is also best in the AL, showing that he’s not allowing a ton of hitters on via free pass either.

    The Astros have been one of baseball’s best surprises this season, and Keuchel has been a figurehead in their success.

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  • Bryce Harper
  • Sonny Gray
  • Paul Goldschmidt
  • Nelson Cruz
  • Dallas Keuchel

We’re quickly approaching the dog days of summer, which means the award races are starting to crystalize a bit. Too many games have been played to categorize dominance as a “hot streak” or a blip on the radar. If the numbers are looking good into early June, chances are they’re for real.

Major League Baseball is at an interesting point with regards to its leading talent; the familiar faces that a generation of fans grew up with have almost all but moved on. The Derek Jeters of the world are no longer front and center, which gives the next crop of stars their time and space to shine. Even the teams many fans expect to be bad have risen to a higher level–though we told you in the offseason the Cubs were going to go for it!

Not all of this season’s brightest talents followed the same path to success. Some were anointed as the next big thing long before they made MLB debuts, eventually cashing in on that. Others have risen from parts unknown and won fans over with sheer production, rather than preconceived reputation.

Regardless of how they got here, we’re here to shout out the guys who have reached a level the rest of their peers haven’t. When you eventually look back at the 2015 season, these are the guys that will come to mind first. They’ll be the ones duking it out for hardware, a la Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera in years past.

These are 5 Baseball Players Who Are Playing Out of Their Minds This Year.

Follow Kyle on Twitter at @kyleneubeck

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