Sunday, July 3, 2022

MLB’s 2022 All-Fun Team: Jazz Chisholm, Aaron Judge, José Ramírez among most enjoyable players to watch

The time for an annual tradition in these parts is now: It’s my All-Fun team. Sports are fun, that’s why we watch. Certain players are more fun than others and it’s always a subjective matter, which is a nice way of pointing out that this is my team, not yours. Feel free to create your own. If you disagree, that’s OK, but you certainly don’t get to tell me I’m wrong. 

Now, it should be noted that, for me, “most fun” doesn’t necessarily mean “best,” but there is an intersection point somewhere. Mike Trout wouldn’t necessarily be so fun to watch if he wasn’t so immensely talented, but since he is it’s very fun to watch him. By the same token, it’s not very fun to watch bad play, which is why you won’t find more poor 2022 players below. 

The over-arching criterion is I enjoy watching these guys play, but do note that this is a 2022 list, so those who haven’t played yet (Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Jacob deGrom come to mind) don’t qualify. 

(Note: These aren’t in any particular order)

Catcher

Willson Contreras, Cubs – The back pick attempts, the feistiness, the slugging and now a leadership role — notably with an entry at second base below — keep the elder Contreras firmly entrenched on this list. 

William Contreras, Braves – The Contreras brothers both play with their emotions on their sleeves in such an endearing way. And you can’t say enough about the offensive boost William has given the Braves since being recalled. 

Daulton Varsho, Diamondbacks – An important rule of the All-Fun team is too simply be yourself. For some players, it’s outwardly showing your emotions like the Contreras clan. For someone like Varsho, he could hit a game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth and run the bases as if he’s barely even pleased with himself. What makes Varsho fun is that he came up a catcher, is built like one, but also runs very well and plays outfield (even center!) capably. He has the tools to be a star. What a fun weapon. 

First base

Pete Alonso, Mets – When he gets all of one for a no-doubt homer, it’s a sight to behold. Plus, the Home Run Derby becoming his thing has been really fun to watch. Will he make it three straight? 

Joey Votto, Reds – It remains a joy to watch him work his way through a plate appearance. Sometimes you feel like you can see the wheels turning in his head. 

Vladimir Guerrero, Blue Jays – Baseball isn’t necessarily a violent game. Then again, have you ever seen the way this swing contuses a poor, unsuspecting baseball? 

Rowdy Tellez, Brewers – A large man who crushes baseballs and goes by “Rowdy.” He was tailor-made for this team. 

Second base

Jazz Chisholm, Marlins – If there’s a team captain here, it’s Jazz. He’s taken over the mantle from the mightily struggling Javier Báez. Chisholm checks so many boxes. He’s an extra-base machine of all varieties (seven doubles, four triples, 13 homers). He’s a power-speed combo when you look at just the home runs and steals. He’ll make things happen on the bases other than steals, including how good he is at bunting for a hit. He’ll make exciting defensive plays. He’s always outwardly amped up and his home run trots are something to behold. The different colors in his hair are just a bonus. All hail our captain. 

Jose Altuve, Astros – He’s forever negatively branded in many circles of baseball fans. For me, he’s still the 5-foot-6 dude who crushes baseballs and is a joy to watch. 

Ozzie Albies, Braves – Same ballpark, but without the negative reactions from the masses. It’s a shame he’s out for a while now. I’ll miss him and I won’t be alone. 

Christopher Morel, Cubs – Ever since he homered in his first career at-bat, it’s been evident he’s having the time of his life. In terms of stuffing the stat sheet, he’s similar to Chisholm, too. 

Shortstop 

Tim Anderson, White Sox – As noted, there’s room for every type of player and Anderson is a throwback at the plate (low walks, high average). His swagger has made him a mainstay on this list and he’s not likely to leave for a bit. 

Trea Turner, Dodgers – Speed is always going to be fun and few can fly like Trea. He’s an all-around fun player, of course, that’s just the best feature. 

Bobby Witt, Jr., Royals – One component of the fun here is dreaming on the future potential. Witt shows flashes of future superstardom at just 22 years old (he turned 22 on Tuesday, actually). He’s also a stat-sheet filler, with 14 doubles, four triples, eight homers and 10 steals. 

Wander Franco, Rays – This one doesn’t turn 22 until next March and there’s probably more to dream on. He’s also already started to meet some of that potential. Only some, though. There’s a lot more to come. 

Javier Báez, Tigers – Yeah, he’s struggling, badly, at the plate, but I still can’t quit him. Not yet.   

Third base

Manny Machado, Padres – He’s always been fun due to his range, picking ability and cannon at third, not to mention his power at the plate. This season he’s playing like an MVP, though, so the fun is enhanced. By August, they’ll have the most fun left side of the infield in baseball. 

Rafael Devers, Red Sox – I very much appreciate a stocky lefty being such a skilled batsmith. It’s a pleasing aesthetic. And man, does he ever have skills in that box. 

José Ramírez, Guardians – Many players here were easy inclusions. This might’ve been the easiest. Watching him play on a daily basis is such a joy. Viewing his stat sheet matches that joy. The Guardians haven’t even played 60 games yet, but he has 18 doubles, four triples, 16 homers, 62(!) RBI, 38 runs and 10 stolen bases. Oh, and he’s walked 34 times compared to only 17 strikeouts. Are you kidding me? 

Nolan Arenado, Cardinals – The glove is as smooth as ever, the arm is still a bazooka and did you see this play? He still hits for plenty of power, too. 

Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pirates – A mostly defensive entry, Hayes is the next generation’s stellar defender at third, carrying the tradition of Machado and Arenado on to the next wave. He can hit and run, too. 

Outfielder

Aaron Judge, Yankees – He’s on pace for 60-plus homers. No further explanation needed. 

Mookie Betts, Dodgers – Do we really need to explain this one? 

Mike Trout, Angels – Or this one? 

Juan Soto, Nationals – Just a friendly reminder that he doesn’t turn 24 until late October. He’s younger than Adley Rutschman

Byron Buxton, Twins – I’ll confess to missing the full display of the speed element from his toolkit this season (zero triples, though he hasn’t had any since 2019, and just one stolen base attempt). Perhaps it’s keeping him on the field, though, so we’ll take it. He’s still an exceptional defender in center and that kind of other-worldly power he has from that spindly frame is exceptionally fun. 

Julio Rodríguez, Mariners – The MLB leader with 17 stolen bases, the rookie is spectacular in center and crushes the ball. We mentioned the “dream” factor on others above, but he’s already starting to scratch that surface, as he’s been a great hitter since roughly two bad weeks to start the season. 

Ronald Acuña, Jr., Braves – Tearing his ACL before his teammates went on an improbable World Series run made him totally under-appreciated. This is a top-five fun player to watch and probably top-five overall player in the game. He’s just now starting to play back to pre-injury form, so watch out. There’s an MVP in his future. I should note that Michael Harris made a late charge here, too, among Braves outfielders.  

Cedric Mullins, Orioles – The full magic of last season didn’t carry over, but Mullins is a still a good power-speed combo I enjoy watching. 

Luis Robert, White Sox – He’s still only 24, so we can keep dreaming on the upside of a fully healthy season in which he goes 30-30 and continues to cover acres of ground in the outfield. 

Starling Marte, Mets – He still has the wheels and the cannon and he might end up having his best power season. He’s long been a favorite here due to not really ever getting his full credit. He was over-shadowed by Andrew McCutchen when the Pirates were good then played on less-relevant teams for a stretch. He led the majors with 47 steals last season and also had eight outfield assists. 

Connor Joe, Rockies – There’s something about a person who is always smiling, right? I don’t think I’ve ever turned to a Rockies game and seen Joe when he wasn’t smiling. There’s probably a reason for that

George Springer, Blue Jays – The power from the leadoff spot has been part of the reason I’ve long been a fan of Springer’s. With 50 in his career, he’s only a handful of leadoff homers from passing Craig Biggio (53) and Alfonso Soriano (54) for second all-time behind Rickey Henderson (81). That’s fun in and of itself. 

Adolis García, Rangers – Another glorious power-speed-arm combo. 

Designated hitter

Yordan Alvarez, Astros – There are a few batters where just seeing him dig in makes me a bit giddy. I think Alvarez might top the list right now. Just seeing his imposing presence and thinking of the fear it must instill on the opposition is so fun. 

Bryce Harper, Phillies – An injury forced him to this spot, but not off the field. Maybe someday he’ll be properly appreciated by the masses of casual-fan haters for what he is. In the meantime, all the naysayers are really missing out and depriving themselves of enjoying greatness. 

Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees – There is no one in baseball who hits the ball harder. Now we have the technology to measure it and prove it, too. It’s even funnier — if we can get over how unfair it is to the rest of us — when he barely makes contact off the end of the bat and it still clears the wall. 

Utility

Brendan Donovan, Cardinals – He’s only played in 43 games, but he’s appeared at six different positions. He’s hitting .328 with 12 doubles and more walks than strikeouts. He’s a handful on the bases and has provided the Cardinals with such a spark, whether in the lineup or off the bench. 

Pitchers

Shane McClanahan, Rays – Electric, swing-and-miss stuff on this young lefty. He feels like a no-hit threat every time out. 

Jhoan Durán, Twins – He can hit 103 and he has a pitch they call the “splinker.” Good enough. 

Johnny Cueto, White Sox – It’s the wiggle. Yes, still. I love it and always will. 

Liam Hendriks, White Sox – He’s such a bulldog out there in the ninth. Intensity off the charts. A hell of a great interview, too, for those who enjoy such things. 

Andrew Chafin, Tigers – The Doug Jones throwback is an effective lefty who has worn “failed starter” t-shirts and asked people on Twitter for help finding a cheap “beater” car for in-season use. 

Justin Verlander, Astros – I’ve never had him on the list before, because simply being great in and of itself isn’t necessarily reason for inclusion. After all that time away for Tommy John surgery and his ensuing rehab, however, I’m more appreciative than ever and it’s been so great watching him carve up hitters this year. 

Penn Murfee, Mariners – More than once, I’ve heard people hypothetically ask if a right-hander can be “crafty.” You only hear of a “crafty lefty,” so the saying goes. I submit Mr. Penn Murfee, who is already rocking an 80-grade name — especially when you find out his full name is William Penn Murfee. For real. There’s a little funk in his nearly side-arm delivery (it looks more overhand than what we’d call a sidewinder, but it’s lower than 3/4 to my eyes) and he doesn’t even hit 90. His fastball averages 89 miles per hour and the slider is 79.9. And he’s been great! It’s beautiful. 

Max Scherzer, Mets – It’s hard to see Mad Max being left off this list before he retires. There’s nothing like his intensity — to the point of looking angry. 

Edwin Díaz, Mets – His stint with the Mets has been a bumpy ride overall, but he’s on his way to his best season since his absurd 2018 campaign. The slider is pure filth and if the Mets do make a deep playoff run with him as closer, expect to see lots of stories about his entrance. 

Sandy Alcantara, Marlins – Do you lament the current state of MLB starting pitching, in that they don’t work deep enough into games? Here’s our horse. Let’s rally around him. Alcantara has two nine-inning outings (only one complete game, since the other went to extras), three eight-inning outings and three more that were at least seven. That’s eight of his 13 starts going seven innings or deeper following a shortened spring training. And he has a 1.68 ERA. 

Camilo Doval, Giants – He hasn’t panned out the way I had hoped coming into the season. After watching him last September and then in the NLDS, I was convinced he would be an elite reliever all 2022. He’s merely been good. His slider is nasty and he accompanies it with a cutter that hits triple digits. 

Two-way

Shohei Ohtani, Angels – What, you thought I forgot about him? EASY selection and a fine note on which to end this thing. 

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