With its unveiling of the top 500 players in baseball, ESPN.com is launching Triple Play, a weekday feature that will run throughout the season and include three ESPN contributors answering three topical questions. For now, the feature will focus on the top 500 rankings, but Triple Play's concentration will shift to the daily MLB buzz once the season begins.
Today we'll look at Part 6 of our ESPN 500 series, which focuses on players who rank from 151 to 200. Feel free to chime in on Twitter with the hashtag #ESPN500.
1. Who will be highest on this list in 2013: Jesus Montero (No. 154), Mike Trout (162) or Bryce Harper (190)?
Mark Saxon (@markasaxon), ESPN LA
Montero, but only for 2013. He's the only one of the three with a clear role in the majors, and that can be more than half the battle. As good as Trout and Harper are, people forget they're 20 and 19, respectively. Trout might spend an entire season in Triple-A. My hunch is Harper will have the greatest impact in the long run because he's faster than Montero and more powerful than Trout, but who knows with players this young?
Jon Weisman (@dodgerthoughts), Dodger Thoughts
It could be very close, but give Trout the edge over Montero because of defensive value and over Harper because of experience. Yeah, it seems silly to discuss experience among a trio of players this age, but we're looking for whatever distinction we can get with these three prodigies.
Paul Boye (@Phrontiersman), Crashburn Alley
Montero. In the immediate future, this is a two-horse race between Montero and Harper, and Montero stands to spend far more time hitting at the major league level. True, his defense -- if he even plays the field much -- will likely subtract from his overall value when all is said and done, but I can't help but love the guy's bat. Yes, even with half of his games in Safeco. The guy looks like a bona fide, purebred tater masher, and is most likely to be so in the majors right now. Long term, I think Harper is still the best bet, but Montero's 2012 will be the best of this lot.
2. True or false: Ichiro (No. 167) will never get 200 hits in a season again.
Saxon: True. I'd be shocked if he does. He's 38 and slowing down rapidly, if that's not an oxymoron. There's been chatter for years that he could hit with more power if he wanted to. I'd love to see him change his style late in his career since he clearly isn't going to get the leg hits he used to. If he could adjust, it would only add to his legend.
Weisman: False. It is crazy how many 200-hit seasons Ichiro has had, and that's from someone who grew up in the era of Steve Garvey and Pete Rose. In fact, Ichiro has not only had 10 200-hit seasons, but eight 210-hit seasons, and he missed the double-century by only 16 hits in 2011. At age 38, how does he avoid trending down? Well, let's just say that if Rose could get 208 hits at that age, Ichiro can do it, too. They didn't film "Singles" in Seattle for nothing …
Boye: True. I'm not rooting for that, though, as Ichiro has been a tremendous amount of fun to watch. But the future Hall of Famer is 38 and looked downright human last year, so there isn't much for me to see to believe he'll top 200 again. He'll get the plate appearances if he's healthy, as it seems he'll always be a top-third-of-the-order fixture no matter his age or skills, but I think the automatic 200-hit days are over.
3. ________ is WAY too high.
Saxon: B.J. Upton (No. 152). When you're a huge prospect as a teenager, everyone just
keeps waiting for some switch to get flipped. He hasn't hit above .243
or had a good on-base percentage since 2008. He strikes out a ton.
Maybe he'll figure it out and I'll look like an idiot since he's only
27, but based on what we're looking at, he's ranked too high.
Weisman: Russell Martin (No. 193) fills a key spot behind the plate for the New York Yankees, and his presence helped enable the trade of Montero for pitcher Michael Pineda. But Martin has had three straight below-average offensive seasons and has shed OBP each of the past four years, down to last season's .324. Given that anyone on the list can be a pleasant surprise, it seems about as challenging for Martin to remain at this level as anyone.
Boye: The name that stands out as being the most overrated to me is Upton. In 2007-08, at 22 and 23, Upton was looking like the next absolute superstar center fielder, fulfilling his top-prospect hype. Instead, his last three seasons have played to the rather morose tune of .240/.322/.408 in 1,876 plate appearances. His defense is still quite good, but to be ranked this high tells me he's living off a reputation as a better offensive player more than actual recent performance.