This column is the second in a new off-season series in which I explore who the “bosses” were of MLB in hitting, pitching and defense in 2016.

So far, I took a look at who I thought were the best hitters in the National League last season.

Now I dig deeper into the American League batters that stood out to me.

Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros

Yet another second baseman who swings a big stick.  This one plays for the Houston Astros since 2011.

Nicknamed “Gigante” by his peers, this 5’6, 165 lb. Venezuelan may technically be the shortest active player in MLB, but he sure doesn’t act like it.

During his 6-year career, Altuve has been selected to 4 All Star Games, earned 3 Silver Slugger Awards, 1 Gold Glove, and has been in the running for the MVP Award 3 times.

In 2014, he became the first player in over 80 years to reach 130 hits and 40 stolen bases before the All-Star Game. That same year, he became the first Astro to win the batting title (.341 BA).

In 2016, he had the league leading 216 hits, and earned his 2nd AL Batting Title with a .338 BA.  He also hit 24 HRs, stole 30 bases, and brought in 96 RBIs.

Not bad for a guy who had once been cut from the Houston Astros facility in Venezuela for being too vertically challenged.

Some say the 26-year old is the league’s “most underrated player”, but his consistent excellence at the plate makes him one of the best hitters in the business.

In this case, size clearly doesn’t matter.

David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox

The 41-year-old baseball veteran may now be retired, but his 2016 achievements have not been forgotten.

Last year, the south paw led the league in doubles (48), RBIs (127), SLG % (.620) and OPS (1.021).  He also had a .315 BA, 169 Hits, and 38 HRs.

It was his best season in a long time.

That says a great deal for the all-time leader among DHs in hits, home runs and RBIs.

It makes me wonder why he decided to walk away when he proved he can still do some major damage at the plate.

According to a 2016 Sports Illustrated article with Tom Verducci, Ortiz admitted he was tired of traveling but basically, his body was telling him the excellence would not last.

He also said he tried to go out on a high note for the fans and prepared himself to have his last season be a big one.

I’ve said this before:  As a Yankees fan, I never appreciated Ortiz’s baseball skills because I was always rooting against him.

But even if he decided to come back out of retirement and continue to try and foil my team, he’s earned my respect big-time.

Sure, I was impressed with what he did last year at his age, but as a baseball fan I am in awe of his overall record.

It’s no wonder he is one of the most beloved Red Sox in history.

He earned that right.

In the future, there may be another hurdle for him and that will be the Hall of Fame, which he so clearly belongs in.

However, that dirtiest of all words in the baseball industry looms large over his head – steroids.

People have wondered: Did he or didn’t he?

In an article he wrote for The Player’s Tribune in March 2015, he denies it and says he doesn’t care if he gets into the Hall.

But, I think he does care.

It’s the highest achievement a Major League Baseball player can have.

When the current Red Sox fans are dead and buried, he’ll want to be remembered by more than just his kids.

Again, he certainly earned that right.

Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Just how good is this guy anyway?

It’s the question baseball experts have been pondering since he won the Rookie of the Year Award in 2012.

Trout’s stats have knocked the socks off the industry since then and some are already claiming that he may be the GOAT.

Here’s a sampling:

  • 5 time All Star (2012-6)
  • 2 time All Star MVP (2014, 2015)
  • 2 time MVP (2014, 2016)
  • 5 time Silver Slugger Award (2012-6)
  • AL Hank Aaron Award (2014)
  • AL Rookie of the Year (2012)
  • Member of 30-30 Club (2012)
  • 5 time WAR Leader (2012-6)
  • AL OBP Leader (2016)
  • AL SLG Leader (2015)
  • AL Runs Scored Leader (2012-4, 2016)
  • AL RBI Leader (2014)
  • AL Stolen Base Leader (2012)
  • AL Walks Leader (2013, 2016)
  • AL Leader Fielding % as OF (2015)

In 2016, Trout finished the season with a .315 BA, .441 OBP, .550 SLG, 116 BBs, 30 SB, 29 HRs, 100 RBIs, 173 Hits and 123 Runs.  He also was an All Star, won a Silver Slugger Award and won the AL MVP.

To sum, Trout is the 6th player to win 2 MVP Awards before his 26th birthday and the other 5 are in the Hall of Fame.  He is also the 1st to finish first or second in MVP voting in his first 5 seasons.

Oh, and he’s only 25 years old…

But, perhaps the best part about Trout as a ballplayer, is that he just loves to play the sport and keep a low profile.

It’s refreshing that we don’t hear about him in the news outside of baseball.  There’s no controversies, rants, trouble with the law, weird behaviors.

Broadcasters have even called him “boring” and “uninteresting”.

I’ll bet he’s ok with that.  Trout earns his reputation by what he does with his uniform on.

And, to an athlete, shouldn’t that be the number 1 priority?

Honorable Mention 1 – Mookie Betts, OF/2B, Boston Red Sox

In only his 3rd year in the league, this 24-year-old Boston outfielder has been outstanding and continues to improve.

Last season, Betts batted .318, .363 OBP, .534 SLG and .897 OPS.  He also had 31 HRs, 214 Hits, 122 Runs, and brought in 113 RBIs.

The Tennessee native was also an All Star in 2016, earned a Gold Glove & Silver Slugger Award and came in 2nd in the MVP Voting behind Trout who said recently about Betts, “I talked to a bunch of guys on the Red Sox that play with him and they say he’s one of the best they’ve been around. He’s a special talent, and it’s going to be a fun battle hopefully the next 10 to 15 years.”

Weird to think Betts only earned a pre-arbitration salary of $566,000 in 2016.

Given the year he had, the Red Sox should reward him before reaching arbitration next year.

Honorable Mention 2 – Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays

He was drafted by the Cubs in 2007, but after spending some time in the minors and making the transition from catcher to a third baseman, Donaldson didn’t get to play his first full year as a pro until 2013.

Right away, the Florida native started making noise with the bat and was in MVP contention every year since.

He really started coming into his own in 2014 when he was traded from the Athletics to the Blue Jays and in 2015 he won the AL MVP.

In 2016, the now 31-year-old looked mighty impressive by scoring the 3rd most runs (122), getting the 3rd most walks (109), 5th best OBP (.404) and 7th best OPS (.953).

The most impressive stat he garnered last season, though, is ranking 3rd in Offensive WAR (7.24) in the league only behind Trout & Altuve.  That means his total contribution to the team was good for at least 7 wins.  Incredible.


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