Giving thanks and props to the top 15 African-American players in MLB this season.
With the way Black participation in MLB has dwindled since the 90s, we have to be thankful for any progress in diversifying the game and in 2018, there was a rise in African-American participation from 7.1 percent in 2017 to nearly 8 percent (7.7).
It’s a sign that all of MLB’s diversity initiatives are slowly making headway.
While the majority of the 68 Black MLB players (6 more than in 2017) that were on opening day rosters in 2018 were outfielders, it’s a pleasure to see two starting African-American shortstops this season in Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox and Marcus Semien of the Oakland A’s.
Colorado’s Ian Desmond and Baltimore’s Tim Beckham were primarily shortstops in the past, but now split time at other positions. Black pitchers, shortstops and especially catchers are endangered species in MLB. Some would just say they are extinct.
Jimmy Rollins of the Philadelphia Phillies is the last great Black shortstop in baseball. He was an MVP in 2007 and World Series champion in 2008.
So let’s be appreciative during this Thanksgiving holiday for the two Black starting shortstops in MLB and the fact that they make my “Top 15 MLB Black Knights of 2018″ list, which undoubtedly kicks off with Mookie Betts, the World Series champion and American League MVP for 2018.
- Mookie Betts (OF Boston Red Sox): The 26-year-old is the first African-American AL MVP since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997 and led MLB in WAR (10.9). The Gold Glove outfielder brings the swag and all-around drama to the game. He went 30-30, joining Jacoby Ellsbury as the only Red Sox player in history to join the illustrious club. To top it off, homie won the AL batting title and a World Series.
- Khris Davis (OF Oakland A’s): Led all of MLB in homers with 48 and had a 2.9 WAR. The 30-year-old super slugger had his third-straight 40-home run, 100 RBI season becoming the first MLB player since Ryan Howard (2006-09) to accomplish the feat.
- Aaron Judge (OF Yankees): After a rookie record 52 home runs in 2017, a broken wrist late in the season limited the 26-year-old instant icon to just 112 games. He still managed 27 homers and a 5.5 WAR. When he was hurt, the Yankees suffered without him. Expect baseball’s Paul Bunyan to rebound with a monster 2019.
- Giancarlo Stanton (OF Yankees): Carried the Yankees in Judge’s absence and led team to a 100-win season with 38 home runs 100 RBI in his first year after being traded from Miami. The 29-year-old brown bomber had a WAR of 4.0.
- George Springer (Of Houston Astros): The 29-year-old 2017 World Series MVP had a down year, but still managed a 2.7 WAR, scored 102 runs and hit 22 homers for an Astros team that had 103 wins.
- David Price (P Red Sox): Price had the highest WAR among pitchers on the list (4.4). His 16-7 record and team-low ERA (3.58) was most effective in the playoffs as Price redeemed past postseason failures with clutch ALCS and World Series pitching. In the World Series, he threw 13.2 innings and gave up only 3 earned runs.
- Lorenzo Cain (OF Milwaukee Brewers): The Milwaukee outfielder had the second-highest WAR (6.9) of any Top 15 player. The 2015 World Series champ hit .308, had a .395 OBP, swiped 30 bases and was the catalyst for a strong Milwaukee Brewers playoff team. His glovework also rings bells throughout the league.
8. Justin Upton (OF LA Angels): MLB’s remaining Upton Brother is quietly putting together a huge career. Jus had a 3.8 WAR and his third 30-HR season in his last four full seasons. Upton is just 30 years of age and the 12-year veteran already has 286 career homers.
- Michael Brantley (OF Cleveland Indians): is a consistent, throwback hitter, who swatted .309 this season and made the All-Star team for the third time. The 31-year-old collected 176 hits this season.
- Jeremy Jeffress (RP Milwaukee Brewers): One of a handful of notable Black pitchers in MLB, Jeffress had one of the best seasons by a relief pitcher in MLB history going 8-1 with 15 saves and a 1.29 ERA as the main vein of Milwaukee’s 5th-ranked bullpen.
- Aaron Hicks (OF Yankees): The former platoon player earned a starting spot in a crowded Yankees outfield. Had a breakout season cut short by injury, but still finished with a 4.7 WAR. Hicks, once known for his defensive wizardry, hit 27 homers and finished 22nd in the MVP voting.
- Tim Anderson (SS Chicago White Sox): Anderson is in his third season and he’s improving each year. The 25-year-old shortstop hit 20 homers with 26 steals this season for Chi-Town.
13. Tommy Pham (OF Tampa Bay Rays): Pham is a late bloomer with a 2.6 WAR this season. At 30-years old, Pham is averaging 22 homers and 20 steals in his last two seasons. He finished 11th in AL MVP voting in 2017.
14.Mallex Smith (OF Seattle Mariners): The 25-year-old sultan of swat hit .296 with 40 steals and a .367 OBP in 2018. Smith is a retro party starter with a 3.5 WAR. An old school base wrecker with new school speed.
14. (TIE) Marcus Semien ( SS Oakland A’s): had an impressive 4.3 WAR and finished fifth in MLB in Defensive WAR (2.0) as MLB’s 10th-ranked SS by Fantagraphics. Semien had career highs in doubles and hits in 2018.
- Matt Kemp (OF LA Dodgers): Kemp’s no stranger to rankings and this was a comeback season for the 33-year-old injury-prone slugger. Kemp had his first All-Star appearance since 2012 and smacked 21 HRs in 146 games.
The Next 5 Live Black Knights
Andrew McCutchen (OF Free Agent): The 32-year-old OG and former NL MVP is still good for 20 homers, 70 RBI and an OBP close to .400.
Jackie Bradley Jr. (OF Boston Red Sox): His unforeseen hitting outburst in winning ALCS MVP ( 2 HR, 9 RBI) only enhanced his ranking because his glove is the best the sport has to offer. He’s the Ozzie Smith of outfielders.
Dee Gordon (OF Seattle Mariners): His legs compensate for his inconsistent bat. The former NL batting champion is still a weapon. His 30 steals indicate that he still has the wheels and he remains a damn good player.
Billy Hamilton (OF Cincinnati Reds): If Billy The Slid could hit a lick, the 28-year-old speed demon would easily get 70 steals per season. His 34 swipes were fifth highest in MLB, but the lowest of his career, ending a streak of four seasons with 55 or more steals.
Ian Desmond (INF/OF Colorado Rockies): The 33-year-old vet was an All-Star shortstop with the Nationals, who made the conversion to an All-Star center fielder with the Rangers and played some first base with the Rockies in 2017. The versatile Black Knight had his fifth season of 20 homers and 20 steals in the last seven seasons. He continues to be an underrated MLB baller.