Manny Machado, Orioles 3B
Sometimes, the road to superstardom isn't a straight line. For Machado, that first detour came on Sept. 23, 2013. In the 156th game of his first full season -- a season in which he joined Alex Rodriguez as the only 20-year-olds to collect 50 doubles -- he stepped on first base awkwardly and suffered a gruesome injury to his left knee.
Doctors used a hamstring tendon to graft a replacement for a torn ligament and set Machado on a long period of rehabilitation. He missed the first month of the 2014 season, and just when he seemed to be getting comfortable again, he injured his right knee and underwent surgery.
So when this season began, it was fair to wonder about Machado. But at 22, Machado has become the player many thought he would be. His 3.1 Wins Above Replacement (according to Fangraphs) places him fifth among all American League position players. Among AL third basemen, only Josh Donaldson (.899) has a higher OPS than Machado (.884).
Machado's name is dotted across the AL leaderboard -- fifth in runs, 10th in batting average (.305), 13th in home runs (14) and 10th in stolen bases (11). He's also right there with Donaldson and Adrian Beltre in terms of defense.
Kevin Kiermaier, Rays CF
Kiermaier is baseball's best defensive player, and that's difficult to appreciate only if you haven't seen him play. He makes difficult plays look routine.
On Opening Day, Kiermaier had played in just 109 big league games, and so a lot of what the Rays thought about him was based on their internal projections. They knew his defense was on a level that he would contribute without hitting a ton.
But Kiermaier is hitting plenty. He's tied with Rajai Davis for the AL lead in triples (six) and has a .733 OPS. Kiermaier is hitting .358 this month. Given his defensive impact, we may be seeing the emergence of a special player.
Jose Iglesias, Tigers SS
Iglesias had missed the entire 2014 season with stress fractures in his legs, so there were concerns about how his body would hold up. In terms of talent, there weren't many concerns.
First, Iglesias is one of baseball's best defensive shortstops. He makes plays that are as acrobatic and as slick as almost any shortstop this side of Ozzie Smith. According to fangraphs.com, Iglesias is the third-best defensive player in baseball, right behind Kiermaier and Billy Hamilton. Among shortstops, Iglesias is No. 1, scoring higher than Freddy Galvis and Andrelton Simmons.
Iglesias is hitting .325, and while he has just nine extra-base hits and has scored only 15 runs, his .378 on-base percentage is all the Tigers had hoped for. At 25, he seems likely to be the answer at shortstop for the foreseeable future.
A.J. Pollock, D-backs CF
Pollock is hitting above .300 for a second straight season, and his defense in center is tremendous. His .828 OPS is fourth among National League center fielders, trailing only Andrew McCutchen, Randal Grichuk and Joc Pederson. Pollock is one of many reasons the D-backs have hustled their way to a better-than-expected 34-36 record. Besides the defense, he's also double figures in both doubles (14) and stolen bases (14).
Wandy Rodriguez, Rangers LHP
When Rodriguez made just six starts and had a 6.75 ERA last season for the Pirates, his time seemed almost up. He was 35 years old and approaching 1,500 innings. Did that left arm have anything left?
As a matter of fact, it did. At a time when the Rangers had five starting pitchers on the disabled list, Rodriguez, 36, has taken hold of the opportunity. Since being inserted into the rotation in late April, he has made 11 starts and allowed two runs or fewer seven times. The Rangers are 8-3 in Rodriguez's starts. He essentially is a fastball-curveball artist, but he is so good at throwing both pitches at different speeds and to different parts of the strike zone that it has the same impact of having a much larger arsenal.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.