There aren't many human beings that can hit towering home runs in the major leagues. There are probably fewer with the athletic ability to corral 135 mph line drives with only 90 feet to react, and then fire a strike across the diamond to first base. One man can do both, and better than anyone else on the planet.
His name is Adrian Beltre, and he plays third base for the Texas Rangers.
In 2011, when the Rangers signed a 31 year-old third baseman to a six-year $96 million deal, many fans were a little upset. Local talk radio was abound with armchair GMs second guessing the move. "Michael Young is our third baseman!" they shouted. "We should have spent that money on Cliff Lee," they lamented.
Coming off a disappointing World Series loss, where the Rangers learned that pitching is what wins you championships, it's not hard to see why fans had to raise an eyebrow. But what they overlooked was the fact that the Rangers had somewhat quietly signed the best third baseman in baseball today.
In case anyone was still unaware of that fact, Beltre let the world know on this last home stand.
Beltre entered the home stand batting .302 with 19 home runs and 68 RBI. Although any player would kill for these numbers, critics claimed Beltre was amidst a slump because he had managed only one home run through the first 20 days of the month.
The night of August 22, Beltre's bat woke up from its catnap. He crushed three home runs in that game, including two in the same inning.
He wouldn't stop there either. Over the next five games, Beltre would add three more bombs and eight more RBI. In that six-game span Beltre compiled six home runs and 13 RBI. He also peppered in three doubles and a triple.
Did I mention he hit for the cycle August 24 against the Twins? And oh yeah, it was the second one of his career.
Although his offense stole the show this past week, Beltre's glove is what makes him truly great.
Most of the time Beltre's defense is taken for granted because he plays the position so effortlessly at times. But that raises another great point about Beltre: he makes almost every play look routine. The amount of hits he takes away from hitters, including likely doubles, is immeasurable. But the value that adds is well known by his teammates, especially the pitching staff.
Pitchers love Beltre because, in addition to the runs he produces for them, they can turn to his defense when they're in a jam. Say a pitcher is down in the count 2-0 with a runner on first. He'll throw a pitch that has a good chance of being hit hard on the ground. If it's hit at Beltre, it's a double play 10 out of 10 times. Any other third baseman and that percentage is going to drop. Quite the luxury for the Texas hurlers.
But Beltre's glove work doesn't stop with his mastery of the routine. On a nightly basis you can see him making highlight reel plays. It might be an off balance laser throw after charging and bare-handing a soft tapper. Or a maybe a Willie Mays over-the-shoulder basket catch in shallow left.
Watching Adrian Beltre play third base is like watching a magician at times. You simply do not see anyone else in the league making those plays today. Maybe some here and there. But none with the consistency and effortless aura of Beltre.
He may have fell short of making history on August 22 with a fourth home run, but that won't keep him out of the baseball history books. With 335 career home runs, 1194 RBI, and 3 Gold Gloves (and counting), Beltre should be a first ballot Hall of Famer when it's all said and done. And he'll be considered one of the top five third baseman to have ever played the game. Likely fourth behind Stan Musial, George Brett, and Frank Robinson. Nice company.
Even with five forgettable seasons in Seattle's Safeco Field (where bats go to die), Beltre still managed three 25 home runs seasons. He hit 103 home runs while there. If Beltre had spent those five prime years elsewhere, who knows what his career numbers might look like.
But what we do know is that Adrian Beltre is undoubtedly the best third baseman in the game today. He'll likely retain that title for the foreseeable future and be a fixture at third base for the next several seasons. Rangers fans can sleep well at night knowing the hot corner is safe and sound.