There’s that old adage that certain athletes are “once-in-a-lifetime talents.” And while the phrase may be played out, there are definitely a handful of athletes that actually fit into this category. There are some talents that are just too amazing to not enjoy watching, regardless of what your favorite team may be. Some may be older players that have a limited window of playing time left while some may be young stars that are just too good to miss. The first installment in this series will highlight ten baseball players that fans should watch in person. Keep in mind this list is NOT solely comprised of guys on the verge of retirement. Here is part 2 of 2 (Players are in no particular order). You can check out part one here.
Aroldis Chapman- Pitcher, Cincinnati Reds
Chapman makes this list not for what he’s accomplished as a Big Leaguer, but for what he’s capable of doing. As a baseball fan, how can you not want to see a guy throw 105 MPH? That’s ridiculous. The power that Chapman generates in that left arm is enough for him to make this list. He’s thrown the hardest documented pitch ever in the Majors, so his arm may go down as one of the hardest throwing. As a fan, getting an opportunity to see a pitch get that high is absolutely electrifying. But on top of throwing the ball insanely hard, Chapman has developed into a premier closer. He saved 38 games this season to go along with 122 strikeouts. He was also able to cut down on his walks while pitching more innings than last season (7.4 BB/9 innings in 50 innings in 2011 and 2.9 BB/9 innings in 71.2 innings this year). If you want to see one of the most electric fastballs the game might see, check out the “Cuban Missile.”
Felix Hernandez- SP, Seattle Mariners
“King Felix” continues his world domination by pitching his way onto this list. At only age 26, has been imposing his will on hitters for eight years. He is a three-time All-Star, and won the Cy Young award in 2010 (with a 13-12 record, that’s how good he was). He even threw a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays in August (the Rays seem to be victims of a no-hitter or perfect game every year now). But in addition to Hernandez’s filthy repertoire, he’s become a workhorse for a consistently bad Mariners team. In his 7 full seasons (only 12 starts his rookie year), Hernandez hasn’t pitched less than 190 innings. He also has 23 complete games and nine shutouts in his career. For a team that typically struggles, having an ace like Hernandez is a blessing. The Mariners know what they can expect every five days, and that is a great Hernandez start more often than not. Hernandez has yet to reach the traditional prime of his career, and that’s definitely a scary thought. The biggest upside to seeing a Hernandez start is that perfection may await you. He’s that good.
Ichiro Suzuki- OF, New York Yankees
It is still weird seeing Ichiro in pinstripes. Ichiro has become one of the most prolific hitting machines to ever grace the game of baseball. Before coming to the states in 2001, he spent nine seasons in Japan. In his nine seasons, Ichiro accumulated 1,278 hits. Very good numbers, less than 200 hits per season. That would change once Ichiro came to the Major Leagues. In his rookie season, Ichiro 242 hits and 56 stolen bases. Ichiro would win Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove, and a Silver Slugger, was an All-Star, and won MVP. It was one of the greatest rookie campaigns in history. He would go on to be an All-Star and Gold Glove winner each of the next nine seasons. Now to the present. Following a deadline trade from the Mariners, Ichiro was able to hit .322 with the Yankees, being one of their few bright spots down the stretch. If he were in the Majors his entire career, Ichiro would have a legitimate chance to break Pete Rose’s career hits record (4,256 hits). Ichiro is not the same hitter he was in his youth, but with 2,606 career MLB hits and 452 stolen bases, he is definitely one of the greatest of this generation.
Giancarlo Stanton- OF, Miami Marlins
Stanton is another youngster that makes the list. At only 22, Stanton hasn’t had the time to build a ridiculous resume yet. But what Stanton has shown in his three years earns him a spot on this list. He is arguably the best pure-power hitter. He’s already built a reputation for hitting monstrous home runs. Stanton has even hit the Coke Bottle at the top of the Left Field bleachers at AT&T Park in San Francisco (about 500 feet from home and elevated, click here to see) during batting practice. Stanton is one of the few naturally powerful players in the game (He checks in at 6’4” and 245 lbs), and with the age of the pitcher upon us, Stanton’s tape measure homers are that much more impressive. Stanton has plenty of growing and maturing to go. As he gets more selective, he can capitalize on smashing “his pitches.” With an average of 31 home runs through three years, Stanton absolutely has the potential to become a top five all-time home run guy. Go watch this guy take BP, it’s probably something you’ve never seen before.
Roy Halladay- SP, Philadelphia Phillies
Rounding out the list is good ‘ole ‘Doc’ Halladay. With eight All-Star selections and two Cy Young awards, Halladay has been one of the best in the game over the last ten years. Halladay has been absolutely dominant, averaging 180 strikeouts/season against 48 walks/season. Halladay’s control is impeccable. And it’s hard getting on base against him. Just ask the Miami Marlins and Cincinnati Reds. Halladay threw a perfect game against the Marlins in 2010 and a no-hitter against the Reds in the 2010 NLDS. But what has made Halladay so amazing is his durability. Halladay has 66 career complete games and 20 shutouts. He also averages 234 innings pitched per season. Halladay struggled with injuries this season, so he may be starting to break down. And at age 35, Halladay’s window of dominance may be closing quickly. Go watch while you can.
Honorable Mention- these are another handful of players that would be exciting to watch in person.
Mike Trout- OF, Angels
Matt Kemp- OF, Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers
Buster Posey, C, Giants
Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals
Craig Kimbrel, CP, Braves
David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates
Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees
David Price, SP, Rays
Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays
R.A. Dickey, SP, Mets
Tim Lincecum, SP, Giants
Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays
Billy Hamilton (minor leaguer with amazing wheels) Of, Reds
*Stats provided by baseball-reference.com*