Most Captivating MLB Players of 2016: Part 3

By Paul Harvey – Last Word On Baseball

As the 2016 calendar year comes to an end, the LWOS MC50 series captures the 50 most captivating athletes from 2016 in each sport. LWOB takes a look at the 50 MLB players who drew headlines this past year, whether it be for on-field accomplishments, off-season drama, or happenings away from the ballpark.

Most Captivating MLB Players of 2016: Part 3

30. Edwin Encarnacion

Encarnacion has been one of baseball’s premier power hitters over the past five seasons. He continued that trend in 2016 with top-five totals in home runs (42) and RBI (127). However, the first baseman saved by far his best moment for the postseason. Encarnacion ended the American League Wild Card game with a walk-off, three-run home run in the bottom of the 11th inning. His entire season was extraordinary, but it is Encarnacion’s postseason heroics that earn him a spot on this list.

29. Manny Machado

Machado has definitely reached stardom after another great year. He has always been a Gold Glove-caliber defender, but consecutive seasons of 35 or more home runs has established Machado as a perennial MVP candidate. Machado is also known for his vibrant personality on the field. One of the most memorable moments of 2016 occurred when Machado and Yordano Ventura began brawling after an encounter at the plate. Brawling should be frowned upon, but it is this kind of intensity that make Machado and others like him a joy to watch.

28. Kyle Schwarber

Schwarber burst onto the scene with an impressive rookie in 2015. The catcher-turned-outfielder slugged five home runs in nine postseason games leading the Chicago Cubs back to the NLCS. Unfortunately, Schwarber appeared in just two regular season games this season before tearing two ligaments in his knee. It did not appear that Schwarber would have an opportunity to help the Cubs this season unless they made a deep playoff run. Luckily, Chicago did just that and added Schwarber to their major league roster for the World Series. Schwarber was able to appear in five games and started all four games in Cleveland as the designated hitter. He did not win World Series MVP, but Schwarber did notch seven hits in 17 at-bats with two RBI in helping the Cubs win the title.

27. Anthony Rizzo

If not for Kris Bryant, Rizzo may have won the MVP award this season. Rizzo was arguably the most important player for Chicago after Bryant. He finished fourth in MVP voting this season while also being named an All-Star and capturing the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award for National League first baseman. Rizzo will also have the honorable distinction of forever being the player to catch the final out in the first Cubs championship since 1908. His defense, however, is not what he will be remembered for this season. Rizzo hit .360 with a home run, five RBI, and seven runs scored in the World Series. The hard-hitting first baseman was definitely a key cog in the Cubs championship machine. Rizzo also remains one of the game’s most captivating players due to his clean cut nature and displays of sportsmanship.

26. Trevor Story

Few fans of baseball knew who Story was prior to the 2016 season. That all changed after an explosive start. The rookie shortstop quickly became one of the biggest “Story”-lines of the season with 10 home runs, 20 RBI, a 1.019 OPS, and 19 runs for the month of April. Story had four multi-home run games including one game against Atlanta that included four hits, two home runs, three runs, and five RBI. Story went on to hit 27 home runs for the season, a National League record for rookie shortstops. He posted a .909 OPS in just 97 games while finishing fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting.  Story is a budding star and hope for the future for a team that recently traded away superstar Troy Tulowitzki.

25. Jose Altuve

The Houston Astros and Altuve had big expectations coming into 2016. Unfortunately, the Astros missed a Wild Card spot by five games, but no one can blame this failure on Altuve. The All-Star second baseman put together his best season to date to finish third in American League MVP voting. Altuve led the AL with a .338 batting average and all of baseball with 216 hits. The biggest spike for Altuve this season was in his power game; he posted career highs with 24 home runs, 96 RBI, a .531 slugging percentage, and a .928 OPS. Altuve erased any doubt about who the premier second baseman in all of baseball is.

Altuve’s signature moment came in August, when he notched the 1,000th hit of his career. In doing so, Altuve became the quickest Astros player to surpass the 1,000 hit threshold. It took Altuve just 786 games to reach the mark, completely shattering the previous record of 889 games set by Cesar Cedeno. At just 26 years old, there is no telling how many hits Altuve can amass over the course of his career.

24. Corey Kluber

After taking a step back in 2015, Kluber returned to his former self who won the 2014 AL Cy Young Award. Kluber finished third in Cy Young voting for 2016, but he anchored a Cleveland Indians rotation that captured the AL Central and won the pennant. He led the team in almost every statistical category, including starts, wins, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched, and strikeouts.

Kluber’s best work came in the postseason. Cleveland lost Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar to injury prior to the playoffs, and the extra workload was assumed by Kluber. Kluber made six starts in the playoffs while going 4-1 with an ERA of 1.83 and 35 strikeouts. He attempted to do something only a handful of pitchers have ever tried: start and pitch effectively in three World Series games. Kluber was effective in Games One and Four, allowing just a lone earned run over 12 solid innings. Unfortunately for Cleveland, the workload caught up to Kluber. He was largely ineffective while giving up four runs in four innings of the Game Seven loss to the Cubs. Kluber cannot be blamed, as he was one of the key reasons that Cleveland made it to seven games, and the storyline was inspiring to all.

23. Adrian Beltre

Beltre had another phenomenal year for the Texas Rangers. He posted a triple-slash line of .300/.358/.521 to go with 32 home runs and 104 RBI. Beltre remained a model of consistency at 37 years old, with his sixth season with a batting average of .300 or better. He was also the MVP for a Rangers team that won the AL West. The third baseman led the team in games played, RBI, slugging percentage, and OPS.

Beltre now sits with 2,942 hits for his career, just 58 shy of 3,000. If he were to reach 3,000, Beltre would be the 31st member of the 3,000 hit club and have a strong case for induction into the Hall of Fame. Regardless of his future performance, Beltre remains one of the most captivating players in baseball due to his infectious laughter, smile, and enthusiasm for the game of baseball.

22. Freddie Freeman

Freeman has been the face of the Atlanta Braves since signing an eight-year, $135 million contract extension in 2014. He followed that contract by posting two sub-par seasons, but he broke out in 2016 in a big way. The first baseman homered on Opening Day, which was a sign of things to come. Freeman finished sixth in MVP voting, but that does not do justice to how well he played for the last-place Braves. His triple-slash line was an unbelievable .302/.400/.569, with an OPS of .968 and 34 home runs. He established career highs in numerous categories and provided many indications that he is the premier first baseman in the National League.

The signature moment for Freeman this season came on June 15 against the Cincinnati Reds. Freeman notched four hits while hitting for the cycle in the Braves extra-innings victory. He was the first Braves player since Mark Kotsay in 2008 to register a cycle. The main goal for all players is a championship, but Freeman proved he can be the big bat Atlanta can lean on while building a contender.

21. Nolan Arenado

Arenado had a breakout season in 2015, and he followed it up with an ever better year in 2016. A Gold Glove defender since he debuted, Arenado has finally taken his offensive game to the superstar level. Arenado posted an impressive triple-slash line of .294/.362/.570, to go with a .932 OPS and 41 home runs. He led all of baseball with 133 RBI and finished second with 354 total bases. He has now posted consecutive seasons of 40+ home runs, 130+ RBI, 350+ total bases, and .570+ slugging. Arenado has clearly established that he must be mentioned alongside Bryant, Machado, and Josh Donaldson as a top-tier third baseman in the league. And at just 25 years old, the sky is the limit for the Colorado Rockies slugger.

Arenado remains a popular guy due to his on-field passion and beautiful defense at third base. In fact, an argument about who the best defender is at the hot corner begins and ends with Arenado and Machado. Both players are also on the rise in terms of offensive production. Arenado won the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year for third baseman this season, and he will be a staple in Colorado for years to come.

If you missed previous installments, find them here:

Part 1

Part 2

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