Big League Stew - MLB

Big League Stew goes through the quad and into the gymnasium to look at some of the hottest players in baseball and their chances of keeping it going.

Carlos Gonzalez(notes), Colorado Rockies

The Naked Truth: .320/.354/.569, 26 HR, 84 RBI, 20 SB

Having a nice little Saturday: When I wrote about Gonzalez a year ago, I wrote, "A top prospect who eagerly seeks out advice is a coach's dream."

But you know who else is a coach's dream? A guy who puts up the numbers you see up above. Gonzalez isn't perfect — he doesn't walk enough, and he's pretty pedestrian on the road — but when he's in Coors Field, he's nearly unstoppable. The Rockies are a dark horse candidate for the wild card at four games behind the Giants, and if they want to make it to the playoffs, their fortunes will continue to rest on CarGo's shoulders.

You're my boy, Blue!: His skillset is a terrific blend of line drives, power, speed, and good defense: He's third in the league in batting average, seventh in homers, fourth in RBI, and 11th in stolen bases, all while playing good center field defense. With that package, he's sort of a low-rent Josh Hamilton(notes). But because he plays half his games in Coors Field, a little air has to be taken out of his hitting stats. Coors Field helps the free-swinging Gonzalez compensate for the fact that his plate discipline still gives a great deal to be desired. He's struck out more than four times as often as he's walked, and his walk rate is appreciably lower than his league-average walk rate last year. And he turns into a pumpkin on the road: His home OPS this year is 1.156, 459 points higher than his road OPS of .697. (His career road OPS is .701.) That should halt anyone who tries to sneak him an MVP vote.

Think KFC will still be open?: Gonzalez is only starting to enter his prime, and won't turn 25 till October. If he could just improve his walk rate, even to the league-average level he maintained in 2009, he'd easily be one of the best players in the league. Right now, he's two different players: Albert Pujols(notes) at home, and Neifi Perez on the road.

What other players are currently streaking?

Omar Infante(notes), Atlanta Braves .347/.377/.460, 7 HR, 37 RBI
Infante would be leading the National League in batting average, but he's 47 PA short of qualifying. His race to qualify is becoming one of the more interesting subplots of the stretch run, but a number of baseball scholars have discovered a back door: Even if he finishes the year with fewer than the 502 PA necessary to qualify, his at-bats could be augmented by imaginary hitless at-bats until he reached the needed 502. So, writes Atlanta's David O'Brien, "If Infante were to hit .340 in 480 plate appearances, for statistical purposes an 0-for-22 could be added to his totals and his average adjusted down." Will Omar Infante, the worst All-Star selection of 2010, lead the league in hitting and possibly destroy the Triple Crown campaigns of Joey Votto(notes) and Albert Pujols? We'll find out soon!

Robinson Cano(notes), New York Yankees .322/.387/.563, 25 HR, 87 RBI
Cano was absurdly good last year, but he's been even better this year, with more walks and more power. By at least one measure, writes Sean Forman in the New York Times, he's been the best player in the American League, and "has been the Yankees' best player by nearly two and a half wins this year." Sometimes the best players truly are the ones you grow yourself. Don't you agree, A.J. Burnett(notes)?

Ryan Zimmerman(notes), Washington Nationals .301/.387/.530, 24 HR, 72 RBI
On Thursday, Will Carroll tweeted, "Has any player led the league in WAR and not received a single MVP vote? Because I dont think Zimmerman gets any if voted today." Carroll might be right. Zimmerman's team is in the cellar and going south, with today's news about Stephen Strasburg(notes). But he's in the conversation of the best players in baseball, and a week ago Dave Cameron wrote that Zimmerman was an even better franchise building block than Evan Longoria(notes). Like Cano, his 2010 looks a lot like his breakout 2009, only better across the board as he's matured. Today was a bad day for Nationals fans with the news about Stephen Strasburg. But Zimmerman is a human highlight reel himself. This is still an organization on the rise, and he remains the first reason why.

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