He's the best defensive third baseman in the game today, and he can also hit a little bit. Zimmerman is looking like a future NL MVP. He's still just 26, so his prime seasons should be just around the bend.
What every team has, even the cellar dwellers, is at least one great player to savor and celebrate. So which players on each team merit the loudest hosannas? Here is a run-down of the very best player all 30 teams have to offer in 2011 ... — Dayn Perry
Arizona Diamondbacks: Justin Upton
Upton has as much upside as any young hitter in the game today, and because he's been around for a handful of seasons it's easy to forget just how young he still is. The right fielder's overall numbers were down a bit last season, but he looked much better in the second half. Don't be surprised if 2011 brings a surge for young Upton.
Atlanta Braves: Jason Heyward
To state the obvious, when, at age 21, you're the best player on a playoff-caliber team, you're something special. And so it is with right fielder Heyward. Exceptional defensive skills, good baserunning, poise and plate discipline far beyond his years, a beautiful left-handed stroke — Heyward has it all. And Sam Perkins should surrender all rights to the nickname "Big Smooth" because it should totally belong to Heyward.
Baltimore Orioles: Nick Markakis
Markakis has hit no fewer than 43 doubles in each of the last four seasons. He's a capable defender in right field, and at the plate he does a solid job of commanding the strike zone. Markakis is also at an age that lends itself to performance spikes. The 2011 season could be his best yet.
Boston Red Sox: Adrian Gonzalez
The Sox's first baseman helms what might be the AL's best team. Gonzalez's merits are abundant. He's a plus glove man, he's exceedingly durable, and he can hit like a house afire. Despite playing his home games in baseball's toughest park for hitters, Gonzalez has produced at a high level throughout recent history. He's adept at using the whole field, so Gonzalez is a nice fit for Fenway.
Chicago Cubs: Starlin Castro
Castro this season is hitting better than .300 despite being the third-youngest player in the majors. His secondary plate skills need some work (i.e., he needs to draw more walks and hit for more power), and his fielding is inconsistent. Still, there's plenty of time to learn on the job, and Castro has the underlying skills to be a genuine superstar. He's about the only thing going right for the Cubs this season.
Chicago White Sox: Paul Konerko
Konerko is wildly popular on the South Side, and with good reason. He's in the midst of another excellent season, and there's a strong chance he'll hit his 400th home run in 2011. Konerko's not a future Hall of Famer, but he's one of the great sluggers in White Sox history, and his recent performances suggest there's more to come.
Cincinnati Reds: Joey Votto
It takes a special player to wrest the NL MVP award from the captive embrace of Albert Pujols. Special player, thy name is Joey Votto. At the plate, he's a complete hitter — power, average, walks, low double-play rates. He's also a solid defender at first base and has deceptive speed on basepaths. The Reds aren't going anywhere, and Votto is a big reason why. Awesome oddity: Votto went the entire 2011 season without hitting an infield pop-up.
Cleveland Indians: Shin-Soo Choo
Until Grady Sizemore proves he can get and stay healthy and return to his 2008 levels of performance, this honor falls to Choo, who combines Gold Glove-caliber skills in right with speed, on-base chops and power. Choo has been uniformly excellent since becoming a regular at the highest level. The right fielder is the most underrated player in the game today.
Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki
Tulo, Car-Go or Ubaldo? The Rox are flush with options, but Tulowitzki is the choice. He's an elite defensive shortstop who hits like an All-Star first baseman. When healthy, Tulo is on the short-list of best players on the planet. He's also a strong bet to win the NL MVP in 2011.
Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera is the American League's best pure hitter (Cabrera's coming off a season in which he led the AL in OBP and park-adjusted OPS.) While the first baseman's defense leaves something to be desired, Cabrera has played no fewer than 157 games in each season since becoming a regular. Given his age and performance trends, he's a good bet to one day reach 3,000 hits and perhaps 500 homers. The numbers suggest he's a future Hall of Famer, but Cabrera's behavior off the field could limit him.
Florida Marlins: Hanley Ramirez
Ramirez, on a park-adjusted basis, might be the best-hitting shortstop in baseball today. He hits for average, takes his walks and has uncommon power for a middle infielder. As well, Ramirez has developed into an average defender at the position.
Houston Astros: Hunter Pence
Right fielder Pence is a perfectly useful player — 25 spanks in each of the last three seasons, capable glovework, some speed on the bases — but when Pence is your top commodity, you are, well, not a contender.
Kansas City Royals: Billy Butler
Butler has 96 doubles over the last two seasons, and he's otherwise shown a clear pattern of skills growth. He's a hitting machine, and the first baseman looks very much like a player on the verge of a breakout (although fewer GIDPs would be nice). Believe it or not, the long-suffering Royals could be a darn good team in a couple of years.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Jered Weaver
Weaver made the All-Star team in 2010 with good reason: He went on to rank fifth in the AL in ERA and lead the bigs in whiffs. Also, in five major-league seasons, he's given up just 22 unearned runs.He's entering what should be his prime seasons, so expect more of the same. Right now Weaver looks like the Angels' true ace and their top performer overall.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw
Yes, Kershaw is still just 23 years of age. He's also already achieved certifiable ace-dom. Armed with one of the best fastball-slider combos around, Kershaw must be considered a Cy Young contender for 2011. And beyond.
Milwaukee Brewers: Prince Fielder
Fielder's power dropped off a bit in 2010, and he's very much a DH in waiting. However, the first baseman led the majors in walks and also chipped in 32 bombs. He's still a frontline power and on-base threat, and underlying indicators suggest a rebound in the homer department. Ryan Braun, Zack Greinke and even Rickie Weeks are also in the discussion for the Brewers, who have a real shot at winning the NL Central.
Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer
This one's not difficult. If you're a skilled defensive catcher who's a career .327/.407/.481 hitter and you don't play for the Cardinals, then you're the best player on your team. Even when he doesn't hit for power (as was the case last season), Mauer, because of his broad base of skills, is still one of the most valuable players in the game today. Now he just has to figure out how to stay healthy.
New York Mets: Jose Reyes
For the time being, this one will pass back and forth between Reyes and David Wright. At this moment, it belongs to Reyes. This season, Reyes has been the top shortstop in all of baseball. He's on pace for 52 steals, 27 triples and 49 doubles, and he's batting .337. If he keeps that up, then Reyes deserves to be part of the MVP discussion.
New York Yankees: Robinson Cano
Cano has developed into a capable fielder at the keystone, and his bat is obviously exceptional. He's a middle infielder who last season ranked second in the AL in times on base, third in total bases and sixth in extra-base hits. In 2011, he was essentially Jeff Kent in his prime plus better defense. Expect that to continue going forward.
Oakland A's: Brett Anderson
This choice is partly owing to the fact that Oakland has a miserable offense, but mostly it's because Anderson is an excellent young pitcher. He throws four pitches for strikes, and he features one of the best left-handed sliders around. Anderson battled back, knee and blister problems in 2010, but as long as he stays healthy he'll thrive. The A's have an ace in the making.
Philadelphia Phillies: Roy Halladay
His workloads suggest he was plucked from another era. He leads all active pitchers in complete games and shutouts. In each of the last three seasons, he's posted sub-3.00 ERAs and worked no fewer than 239 frames. Last season, his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 7.3 ranked 19th on the all-time list. He's won the Cy Young in both leagues, and he has a postseason no-hitter in his dossier. Roy Halladay pitches like a force of nature.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew McCutchen
Excellent fly-catcher? Without question. Plays a premium defensive position at center? Yup. Pop to the gaps? Check. OBP chops? Indeed. Speed merchant? Yea, verily. Bright future? You better believe it.
St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols
Shocking choice, no? There's no need to go on at length: Pujols is the best player in baseball, and he'll end his career as one of the 10 best ever to play the game.
San Diego Padres: Chase Headley
Gold-Glove skills at the hot corner? Check. Underrated bat? Yep. The run-suppressing nature of Petco in tandem with the offensive downtick across baseball mean Headley is a much better hitter than you might think. In fact, his park-adjusted OPS this season is 20 percent better than the league average. In other words, he's an all-around ballplayer and the best thing going in San Diego.
San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum
Since injury has removed Buster Posey from the discussion, this honor goes back to Lincecum. There's much to recommend him: two Cy Young awards, three strikeout titles and a World Series ring, to be specific. He's durable and graced with outstanding stuff. Expect more of the same for years to come.
Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez
With all apologies to the luminous Ichiro, King Felix is now the Mariners' MVP. Last season Hernandez was exceptional: loads of innings, an ERA title and the second-most strikeouts in the AL. He is, quite simply, the best pitcher in the American League, and he figures to continue being so for some time.
Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria
Longoria, still just 25 years of age, already has three All-Star appearances and two Gold Gloves at third base. Those totals will only increase in the coming years. The Rays lost a great deal of talent over the winter, and they need Longoria to take the next step from stardom to super-stardom.
Texas Rangers: Josh Hamilton
When it comes to raw tools, few can go toe-to-toe with the reigning AL MVP. Health will always be a concern for Hamilton, and the Rangers, who have legitimate designs on returning to the World Series, will need their left fielder in vintage form. There's no doubting what Hamilton is capable of when his body cooperates.
Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Bautista
Bautista stunned us all by putting up unthinkable power numbers last season, and now it's on him to prove it wasn't a fluke. Can Bautista come close to last year's level of performance all while holding down third base on a regular basis? The Jays' hopes depend upon it.