- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
The American League Most Valuable Player debate last summer illuminated the significant difference between the way folks in front offices evaluate players and how uniformed personnel view them. For managers, coaches and players, Miguel Cabrera was a no-brainer selection as he became the first hitter in 45 years to win the Triple Crown.
But for many general managers, assistant general managers and scouts -- baseball's talent evaluators -- the whole question seemed ridiculously simple, summed up neatly by the offensive and defensive metrics of Mike Trout.
"Taking a home run away with your glove means the same thing as hitting a home run," one GM said with incredulity.
It was a debate that execs believed wasn't really debatable.
So the results of a poll of 21 talent evaluators shouldn't be a surprise. In conjunction with the "Baseball Tonight" 500 -- the top 10 of which will be unveiled at 10 tonight on ESPN -- I asked those 21 execs to rank the top 10 players in the majors for 2013, 1 through 10, and the votes reflected the way they feel about overall value. The middle-of-the-diamond guys, including pitchers, fared very well.
In tabulating the votes, I gave the players points according to where they were placed on ballots -- 10 for first place, 9 for second place, etc.) .
177 (out of 210 possible) points; 13 first-place votes
"Best player in the game, period," said one front office type. "Special, a freak talent."
164 points; 5 first-place votes
"Elite hitter at a premium position who has led his team to two World Series titles."
"Most dominant pitcher in the game."
130 points; 2 first-place votes
"Probably the best pure hitter in the game."
"Injuries from last year hurt his ranking a little, but he's one of the best."
"For me, he's right there with Verlander -- and he's younger, and left-handed."
65 points; 1 first-place vote
"I think he's headed for a big year at the plate, and he's a good defender."
"He's got the best swing in baseball."
"There are questions about the stuff in Miami, but he performs at an extremely high level every year."
"He may be the most complete player, and does it on bad team."
Other players who got votes: Giancarlo Stanton finished 11th, with 27 points; Matt Kemp 26; Evan Longoria 25; Felix Hernandez 19; Joe Mauer 11; Stephen Strasburg 11; Adrian Beltre 6.5 Bryce Harper 4; Troy Tulowitzki 4; Chase Headley 1.
Bradley's scouting report
A talent evaluator had this scouting report after watching Jackie Bradley Jr. play as an amateur at the University of South Carolina.
"Player carries the 'it' factor. Presidential presence to game. Regal. However, the player has been the most popular man in Columbia, S.C. from the 1st day he walked on campus and he had me glued to the TV last year watching the College World Series. Mesmerizing defender. Jaw-dropping defensive skills. Patrols CF with a determined grace, with flare. Would have happily paid good money just to watch his pregame batting practice and infield. Acrobatic and skilled. Catches every ball with flare. Covers ground like a gladiator. Plus handles the glove in CF like Omar Vizquel would in the infield. Amazing defensive skills. Innate ability to hawk the diamond. Better defender in center field than majority of major leaguers right now... [You] can't teach the things this kid can do defensively.
Made the parallel play coming directly in on a ball ala 1998 Andruw Jones. Sick defender."
If the Red Sox open the season with Bradley, Jr. in the big leagues -- two years after that scouting report was placed -- his defense will be one of the biggest reasons.
Bradley has proven he belongs. Is he one of the best players in Boston's camp? Absolutely.
From a business standpoint, would it make sense to wait until April 12 to promote him and gain an extra year of team control? Absolutely.
Around the league
• Maybe the most notable maneuvering this week has been the Angels' scramble to add pitching. Their bullpen has been something of a puzzle this spring, so GM Jerry Dipoto got a reliever in a deal with the Rays, signed Mark Lowe and traded for Elvin Ramirez from the Mets.
• On Wednesday's podcast, one of the things Jerry Crasnick and I chatted about, in discussing Royals catcher Salvy Perez, was a catcher I covered who had an OCD issue that drove pitchers crazy.
• Evan Gattis made the Braves' roster, the culmination of an incredible comeback story.
Moves, deals and decisions
3. Each time a contract is signed, the deals are assigned average annual values separately by Major League Baseball, and the union assessed Kyle Lohse's deal at about $10.7 million annually. Lohse's deal was first reported at $33 million over three years, and it includes $7 million in deferred money, which is the reason for the difference.
5. The Twins' projected payroll is at $81 million, writes Mike Berardino.
6. Gorkys Hernandez was pulled from a game Wednesday, and it could be that the Marlins are preparing a trade, as Joe Capozzi writes. Total speculation: Arizona has had its outfield depth tested this spring by injuries to Adam Eaton and Jason Kubel.
8. Clayton Kershaw doesn't want to talk about his extension talks.
9. The Padres' Opening Day roster is all but set, writes Bill Center.
Dings and dents
The fight for jobs
3. Nick Tepesch will be the Rangers' No. 5 starter.
7. Some bullpen intrigue remains for the Nationals, writes Amanda Comak.
8. The Phillies have to pick a backup catcher.
2. Bob Melvin yanked a lot of his starters from Oakland's last exhibition in Arizona.
3. Jon Niese finished spring training strong.
• The Rockies' roster is taking shape.
• For the Dodgers, questions remain, as Bill Plunkett writes.
• The Padres know all about the fragility of pitching, writes Tyler Kepner.
• The Cubs are brimming with optimism as they break camp.
• Kyle Lohse is eager to take his turn in the Milwaukee rotation.
• Kevin Sherrington talks about the Rangers' prospect not named Profar or Olt who is the next big thing.
• Chip Bailey writes about the Astros' rotation.
• The Astros got a glimpse of their future.
• The Angels have a star-laden lineup.
• Major League Baseball is not ready to approve padded caps, writes Willie Weinbaum.
• The Cardinals will wear a patch to honor Stan Musial.
• Mike Rizzo relies on scouting and analytics, as Adam Kilgore writes.
• Tim McCarver is set to retire. He has taught us a lot of things, and he has always been honest, a frankness that cost him jobs with the Mets and the Yankees.
And today will be better than yesterday.
With ESPN unveiling the top 10 of the BBTN 500, Buster Olney polled 21 MLB execs to pick their top 10 players for 2013.