2005: Willy Taveras
Willy Taveras’ 2005 season in Houston is kind of the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ of this list. I mostly added him to consideration for the top 5 because he had one of those well above average seasons you need out of guys nobody’s heard of (i.e. Jason Lane, Morgan Ensberg) to make a World Series run, as the Houston Astros did, in 2005. That was 10 years ago, guys. Wow.
Anyway, Taveras put up solid numbers in his first full major league season, hitting .291 and swiped 34 bags that season, the sixth most in the N.L. He and Craig Biggio were the key table setters for a National League Champion lineup. Defensively, Taveras used his speed to record 332 putouts in center in ’05, good for fourth in the N.L.
Some of his numbers may have left something to be desired, but Taveras passed the “eye test.” He was a range-y centerfielder who had enough quickness to beat out a bunt even if the entire stadium knew he was squaring. The baseball writers voted him second overall on the N.L. Rookie of the Year ballots only to some guy named Ryan Howard.
Taveras makes the cut for me mostly because 2004 was my first year of Astros fanhood. (Don’t call me a bandwagoner, I was 9). I have fond memories of him gliding across the outfield, displaying ridiculous speed in short bursts and that wild franchise record 30-game hitting streak in ’06. To me, this list would feel incomplete without good ol’ Willy T.
Next: 2009: Michael Bourn