As the Call to the Pen NL East correspondent, I will be bringing you all the coverage this season for one of the most exciting divisions in baseball. The all-NL East team was voted on by members of the CTTP staff ranking the players at each position within the division.
Evan Gattis of the Atlanta Braves came away as the all-NL East catcher award. He narrowly beat out Philadelphia’s Carlos Ruiz. Gattis is coming off a season in which he split time between catching duties with Brian McCann and left field. He will take over behind the dish with McCann signing with the New York Yankees in the off-season. Gattis had 21 home runs last year in only 354 at-bats. His power will be a force in the Atlanta lineup, although his defense could be improved before the season starts. “El Oso Blanco” could be a sleeper to watch this season as he will get a more consistent workload catching.
Voting: Gattis, ATL; Ruiz, PHI; Saltalamacchia, MIA; Ramos, WAS; d’Anaud, NYM
Freddie Freeman was a unanimous choice as the best first baseman in the NL East. Freeman finished last season fifth in the National League MVP voting and signed a contract extension a few weeks ago worth $135 million over eight years. He is the future of the franchise and will be a mainstay within the division. After hitting .319 a year ago, Freeman looks to continue his dominance and built upon his first all-star season.
Voting: Freeman, ATL; LaRoche, WAS; Howard, PHI; Jones, MIA; Davis, NYM
The all-NL East second baseman is Chase Utley. Although entering his 12th season at the Major League level, Utley continues to be a solid hitter and defender for a Phillies team looking to rebound in 2014. He posted a .284 average with 18 home runs a season ago, very productive for a position not normally known for producing power hitters. In 476 ab-bats, Utley managed only 69 RBI, a number that could increase with help from his teammates getting on base more often.
Voting: Utley, PHI; Murphy, NYM; Rendon, WAS; Furcal, MIA; Uggla, ATL
Another Atlanta Brave secured a spot on the all-NL East team, as Andrelton Simmons was the leading vote getter coming in right ahead of Ian Desmond. Simmons won a Gold Glove in 2013 and showed signs of power by belting 17 home runs. His defense is top of the line, and his offense will undoubtedly get better as he enters his second full season in the Majors. The Braves had a Spring Training battle last year between Simmons and Tyler Pastornicky, and it looks like they chose the right man as Simmons also signed a long-term deal for seven years and $58 million.
Voting: Simmons, ATL; Desmond, WAS; Rollins, PHI; Hechavarria, MIA; Tejada, NYM
The New York Mets’ lone representative on the team was David Wright. He was one of three unanimous selections by the CTTP staff and rightfully so. A 2-time Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award winner, Wright was also an all-star selection in 2013. He hit .307 with 18 home runs on a Mets team that has struggled recently and is looking to the face of its franchise for even more help. Wright has had mediocre power numbers compared to his stats in the mid 2000’s, but it also has come at the cost of lesser talent around him.
Voting: Wright, NYM; Zimmerman, WAS; Johnson, ATL; Asche, PHI; McGehee, MIA
Bryce Harper is the youngest member of the all-NL East team and has perhaps the brightest future. The first overall pick of the 2011 draft, Harper has 42 career home runs in two seasons with the Washington Nationals. His hustle and effort is evident on the field and may be a burden as well as a blessing for the team as he more prone to injury with the intensity he plays with. Harper has made the all-star team in both of his Major League seasons, and there is no reason to think that 2014 will be any different for the young phenomenon from Las Vegas.
Voting: Harper, WAS; J. Upton, ATL; Granderson, NYM; Brown, PHI; Yellich, MIA
Denard Span had a solid 2013 campaign as he batted .279 with 20 stolen bases in his first season with the Washington Nationals. Along with Harper and Jayson Werth, Span is part of a formidable Washington outfield that boasts talent at all three positions. After hitting 38 doubles in 2012, Span followed that up with 28 doubles in 2013. He has solid defense and can be relied on to score when he gets on base. Span scored 75 runs last season.
Voting: Span, WAS; Revere, PHI; B. Upton, ATL; Lugares, NYM; Ozuna, MIA
Giancarlo Stanton was the only member of the Miami Marlins voted to the all-NL East team. After making the all-star team in 2012 as a rookie, Stanton missed some time in 2013 due to an injury but was still able to hit 24 home runs. His average dropped from .290 in 2012 to .249 in 2013, and there is no guarantee that will go back up. The Marlins are not appearing to be a strong competitor this season, and Stanton is one of the few bright spots on the roster. He is signed to a 1-year deal but could find himself on a new team later in the season as the Marlins are well-known for cutting payroll and constantly trading their highest paid players for younger talent. Stanton would be a tough player to lose with the tools he possesses.
Voting: Stanton, MIA; Heyward, ATL; Werth, WAS; Young, NYM; Byrd, PHI
Tyler Clippard was Washington’s closer in 2012 but was regulated to the setup man in 2013 with the presence of Rafael Soriano. He posted a 2.41 ERA in 71 innings pitched and is a more than reliable option for the Nationals out of the bullpen. He has the mentality and ability of a closer and could take on that role again if needed. Clippard posted a 0.86 WHIP and was first in the National League with 33 holds in 2013, something that is devastating given Washington’s ability to score every inning and add to leads. He was an all-star in 2011 and has the potential to be one again.
Voting: Clippard, WAS; Carpenter, ATL; Bastardo, PHI; Dunn, MIA; Farnsworth, NYM
The third unanimous all-NL East member was Craig Kimbrel. There is no doubting Kimbrel is the best closer in the NL and perhaps all of baseball, as he has led the league in saves the past three seasons. He posted 46 saves in 2011, 42 saves in 2012, and 50 saves in 2013. Kimbrel has made the past three all-star teams and will be a Braves representative should he make it again, as he signed a 4-year extension this off-season. Atlanta counts on Kimbrel very heavily and would be a tough closer to replace. His fastball clocks in the high 90s and has a nasty slider to get hitters out in the 9th inning.
Voting: Kimbrel, ATL; Soriano, WAS; Cishek, MIA; Papelbon, PHI; Parnell, NYM
Four pitchers made every ballot of the top pitchers in the division. Jose Fernandez, Stephen Strasburg, and Cliff Lee all received three first place votes. Cole Hamels received one first place vote. Gio Gonzalez and Mike Minor also made the list on nine out of ten ballots but did not have any first place votes.
The takeaway from the list of starting pitchers is that Washington had three players. Strasburg and Gonzalez are both number one rotation caliber players while Jordan Zimmerman would be a number one on many lower tier teams. Lee and Hamels give the Phillies a threatening 1-2 punch and seem to feed off of each other’s success. Fernandez is entering just his second Major League season and already has a no-hitter under his belt. He will be a dominating pitcher in Miami for at least a few more seasons. Minor leads a slew of above-average Braves’ starters that does not have a clear-cut go-to for big games.
Voting: Fernandez, MIA; Strasburg, WAS; Lee, PHI; Zimmerman, WAS; Hamels, PHI; Gonzalez, WAS; Minor, ATL
The all-NL East team:
Atlanta Braves: Gattis, Freeman, Simmons, Kimbrel, Minor
Miami Marlins: Stanton, Fernandez
New York Mets: Wright
Philadelphia Phillies: Utley, Lee, Hamels
Washington Nationals: Harper, Span, Clippard, Strasburg, Zimmerman, Gonzalez