We're nearly halfway through the 2013 season, and with the All-Star Break just three short weeks away, we're beginning to reflect on the first half of the season. There has been lots of wacky stuff that's happened, like the Los Angeles baseball dynasties falling flat on their faces, the NL East completely underwhelming everyone, and the Pittsburgh Pirates looking like one of the top teams in baseball.
So with that in mind, we're going to take a look at 2013's breakout players thusfar by position. Think of it as an All-Star team of people that no one really expected a ton of coming into the season. To be on this list (and make things a little more challenging), you can't have been a top 50 prospect or an All-Star in the past.
C: Evan Gattis, Braves. The Gattitude train has slowed down in recent days due to the masher making his way to the DL with a strained oblique, but the 26-year old's rookie season has been nothing short of amazing. His 14 homers are one behind JP Arencibia of the Blue Jays for the most among all catchers in baseball, and Gattis has done that in 80 fewer plate appearances than Arencibia. Sure, his story is getting beaten so far into the ground that it's beginning to surface somewhere in Asia, but that doesn't dim his accomplishments at all.
1B: Chris Davis, Orioles. Davis is the likely MVP of the American League in the first half after a nice first full season in Baltimore last season. He's smashed a league leading 27 homers (only six fewer than he hit all of last year in nearly 250 more plate appearances), and his .719 slugging percentage is Bonds-esque. But Davis is doing more than just homer, as he's slashed his strikeout rate and boosted his walk rate into the double digits. When the Orioles dealt Koji Uehara to the Rangers two summers ago, I don't think they expected Davis would end up playing like *this*.
2B: Matt Carpenter, Cardinals. The Cardinals knew Carpenter could hit, they just had no idea where to play him in the field. So they just kind of threw him at second base and hoped for the best this season, and all Carpenter has done is put together a .322/.403/.472 line and been an above average defender at the position. Carpenter is having a season that reminds me a little bit of Chase Utley's post-prime years, which still makes for a really good player.
SS: Everth Cabrera, Padres. With massive apologies to Jean Segura, I don't think anyone could have envisioned Cabrera doing what he's done this year. A former Rule 5 pick by the Padres, Cabrera's first four years with the club were essentially centered around a lot of speed, no power, a low batting average, and lots of strikeouts. In other words, he was a pinch runner. This year, Cabrera has hit four homers (nearly doubling his career total of five coming into the season), posted a .305 average (50 points higher than his career line), and he has already stolen 31 bases in just 69 games. No one could have ever imagined this from Cabrera coming into the year.
3B: Josh Donaldson, A's. Donaldson was a former first round pick of the Cubs that was sent to Oakland a year after being drafted in the Rich Harden trade. He primarily caught in the minors and raked at the dish for Oakland, but never could put it together in a couple of brief major league stints. Then, this year happened. Donaldson has doubled his walk rate from a year ago and has smashed ten homers while also putting together a .300 batting average. The sad part is that he might not even make the AL All-Star team because of how absurdly loaded the position is this season in the American League.
OF: Gerardo Parra, Diamondbacks. Parra was the forgotten man in the Diamondbacks' outfielder shuffle this offseason, but after Adam Eaton strained his elbow near the end of the spring, Parra jumped into a starting role and hasn't looked back. Parra has gotten the majority of his playing time in center and right field this season and been an elite defender for the Diamondbacks, collecting 15 DRS in just 655 2/3 innings this year. He's immensely improved at the plate as well, homering seven times and stealing six bases while hitting .315 for the season. It's more than a little bit ironic that after all the talk about Justin Upton, Cody Ross, and Jason Kubel this winter, it's Parra that's been the most productive outfielder.
OF: Carlos Gomez, Brewers. It's a bit of a copout to put Gomez on this list after the season he had in 2012, but he meets the criteria and has taken things to a new level in 2013. While Gomez's strikeout and walk rates are essentially flat compared to a year ago, he's showing more power than he did a year ago by hitting 18 doubles, eight triples, and 12 homers while retaining his speed, stealing 15 bases at an 83% clip. Gomez has also been a freakishly good defender for Milwaukee, and is reminiscent of a rich man's Parra, or a poor man's Jacoby Ellsbury from two years ago.
OF: Shin-Soo Choo, Reds. For years, Choo has been the ultimate underrated player in baseball. However, he's been injury prone in recent years and despite a healthy and productive 2012, he seemingly had been forgotten about. Choo will be 31 in July, and he looks poised to make the first All-Star team of his career thanks to an interesting .274/.424/.466 line. Choo's 53 walks in 74 games are second in baseball behind just teammate Joey Votto, and his 19 hit by pitches are five more than his nearest "competitor", Starling Marte of the Pirates. Sure, his defense in center field has been a disaster (as nearly everyone expected it would be coming into the year), but he's doing exactly what the Reds acquired him to do: shore up the leadoff position and get on base at an elite clip. Finally playing for a contender, people are talking about Choo…imagine that.
SP: Max Scherzer, Tigers. The progression of Max Scherzer's career has been one of the most fascinating things to watch in Detroit outside of Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. After having his best season ever last year, Scherzer has taken another step forward this season and has been the best pitcher in a filthy Tigers rotation. In 103 1/3 innings, Scherzer has struck out 122 and walked just 24. He's averaging a hair under seven innings per start after often having issues getting through six earlier in his career due to pitch count issues. More important to the casual fan is his 11-0 record. The Tigers are 12-3 in his starts, with all three of those losses coming thanks to the opponent scoring the winning run in their final at bat (thanks, bullpen!) This is the guy that could be starting the All-Star game for the American League, and it almost seems like he's the third or fourth most known pitcher in Detroit's rotation.
RP: Jesse Crain, White Sox. I really wanted to go with Jason Grilli, the dominant Pirates closer, here, but he was actually a top 50 prospect in 1999 believe it or not. But anyway, while guys like Grilli and Mark Melancon in Pittsburgh are getting showered with attention, Crain has flown under the radar as the best reliever in baseball. In 34 2/3 innings for an awful White Sox team, Crain has allowed the whopping total of two earned runs, striking out 46 and walking 11. He'll be 32 in July and has just four career saves, but Crain is going to command a lot of attention at the trade deadline from a variety of teams looking for bullpen help, and maybe then will people realize that he's probably a better pickup than a highly paid closer like Jonathan Papelbon.