Best Of Arizona Sports:
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Shortstop: J.J. Hardy
J.J. Hardy, another Tucson native, starred in high school for Sabino Canyon and was a three-time all-state selection and one time all-american. While in high school, Hardy played for the U.S.A. Junior National Team and was a part of the squad that won a silver medal in Edmonton, B.C.
The Milwaukee Brewers liked the promise shown by Hardy’s high school exploits and drafted the shortstop in the second round of the 2001 draft, with Hardy making his big league debut four years later. He enjoyed a breakout season in 2007 in which he hit .277 with 26 home runs and 80 RBI and made his first All-Star game appearance (he became an all-star again in 2013 with Baltimore).
While Hardy’s bat has been inconsistent throughout his career, he has stood out as one of the best defensive shortstops in the league and has three gold gloves to prove it. Overall, Hardy has batted .257 with 183 home runs and 654 RBI in 12 seasons with the Brewers, Twins and Orioles.
Outfield: Tim Salmon
Before Mike Trout, Tim Salmon was the original King Fish in the Angels outfield. In fact, Salmon was the only Angel to win Rookie of the Year honors before Trout took home the award in 2012. Before lighting up the big leagues, Salmon played for Greenway High School in Phoenix and then for Grand Canyon University.
Much like Trout, Salmon was also the best player on many terrible Angels teams. Over the course of his career, he averaged .282, 29 home runs and 98 RBI to go with solid defense in right field. Salmon’s career appeared to be over following a dismal 2001 season, but he put together a resurgent year in 2002 and was a key member of the Angels surprising World Series championship squad that year. He hit .286 with 22 home runs and 88 RBI en route to winning the 2002 Comeback Player of the Year award.
While he was never selected as an all star during his 13 year career, that says more about the selection process than Salmon’s credentials. As a star player in a small market playing for a terrible team, Salmon simply had little chance to make the Mid-Summer Classic in the era before every team had at least one representative.
The former big leaguer now coaches at Scottsdale Christian Academy, where his children go to school.
Outfield: Andre Ethier
In the pantheon of standout ASU outfielders, Andre Ethier doesn’t exactly stand out but that’s not his fault. When his peers include the likes of Reggie Jackson and Barry Bonds, standing out isn’t easy. However, when it comes homegrown outfielders, Ethier rises to the top. The St. Mary’s High School grad hit .527 during his senior year and earned first team all-region and second-team all-state honors.
Ethier had an on-again, off-again relationship with ASU. After playing for the school as a freshman, he transferred to Chandler-Gilbert Community College for a year and had a breakout season before heading back to Tempe and playing well alongside fellow Arizonan Ian Kinsler.
The Oakland A’s drafted Ethier in the 2nd round of the 2003 draft, though he never suited up in Oakland. In 2005, Oakland traded him to Los Angeles for Milton Bradley. Ethier quickly became a top-notch player for the Dodgers, finishing fifth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2006. Despite wildly inconsistent power numbers, Ethier has developed into a solid outfielder for the Dodgers. The two-time all-star’s best season came in 2009 when he hit .272 with 31 home runs and 106 RBI.
Outfield: Kole Calhoun
Calhoun, another ASU outfielder, attended Buckeye High School and played for Yavapai College before moving on to Tempe. The Angels then drafted Calhoun in the eighth round of the 2010 draft.
He quickly rose through the ranks, making his MLB debut for the club in 2012 and becoming a regular in 2013. Despite putting up a solid numbers in 2013 (.282/.347/.462) in a part time role, Calhoun’s exploits were overshadowed by fellow outfielder Mike Trout’s MVP season. Still, the Angels brass took notice and Calhoun has been the team’s starting right fielder since 2013. Over the course of his career, he has a slash line of .265/.327/.462. He also won a gold glove in 2015.
Pitcher: Curt Schilling
No baseball player more embodies Arizona than Curt Schilling. First off, the Shadow Mountain High School graduate and former Yavapai Community College helped bring Arizona its only World Series championship when he played little brother to Randy Johnson in one of the most dominant pitching duos of all time. Plus, between his brashness, affinity for racist Facebook memes and ability to waste tens of millions of dollars of public money, Schilling is practically Arizona incarnate.
But, that’s enough about his winning personality. The real reason Schilling is on this list is because he was a damn fine baseball player. He was the guy you wanted on the mound when you needed a win. Following the World Series win in Arizona, he also helped break the Curse of the Bambino and brought a World Series to Boston in 2004 (and again in 2008). Overall, Schilling went 216-146 with 3.46 ERA over his 20 year career predominantly with Philadelphia, Arizona and Boston.
Despite all of that success, Schilling probably won’t make the Hall of Fame. He simply doesn’t have the win totals to get there due to many inconsistent seasons in Philadelphia before he came to Arizona. And, like the ugly guy at the dance who also happens to drown puppies, Schilling doesn’t have the personality to win anyone over.
So, there you have it folks. That is definitive list of the best ball players Arizona has produced at every position. You can find my take on where they’d slot in the batting order below.
Ian Kinsler, 2B
Paul Lo Duca, C
Tim Salmon, RF
Paul Konerko, 1B
Bob Horner, 3B
J.J. Hardy, SS Kole Calhoun, LF Andre Ethier, CF
Curt Schilling, P