Power Ranking The Top 10 Early 2014 NL MVP Candidates

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Top 10 Early 2014 NL MVP Candidates

Derick Hingle - USA Today Sports

Every season there are a handful of players that appear they will make a bigger difference for their team than all of the rest. One may even say that they are more valuable to their team than anyone else is to their own respective club. Essentially, that is what each league's Most Valuable Player is supposed to be: The player who is the most important to his team. They are someone who if lost would likely spell disaster for their team.

Last season, the National League's MVP was Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen. Certainly, he was the best player on one of the league's better teams. He also was the only superstar caliber player on the Pirates which is a huge reason why they made the playoffs for the first time in over 20 years.

There were other players deserving of the award last year as well as there always are. A select few players will be in the discussion by year's end, but at the beginning of the season we start with a rather large number of players capable of making a difference for their teams. As the season rolls on, that large number gets dwindled down until there are only two or three realistic candidates for the league MVP by the end of the season.

2014 will not be short on talent in the National League. Some key players looking to bounce back from injury or suspension will be back in the fold, and the overall competition level should be higher because of that. Baseball is very much a team game, but certain individuals transcend that and can personally win a couple of ball games a year for their clubs. Those extra few wins could be the difference between being on a baseball field or being on their couch when October comes.

This year as spring training moves into full swing, there are again many MVP candidates going into the regular season. In particular, there are 10 with a very realistic chance of taking home the hardware at season's end. Here they are.

Jacob Kornhauser is a baseball writer for Add him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or add him to your Google+ network.

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10. Yadier Molina

Yadier Molina
Gary M. Cooper - USA Today Sports

2013 Stats: .319/.359/.477 with 12 home runs and 80 RBI

Everyone realizes what a great fielding catcher Molina is. He's cerebral and great at calling games. His team can rely on him to block almost every ball in the dirt, and opposing base stealers are wary of him because of his rocket right arm. However, not many people realize what a great hitter Molina has become.

Due to his great fielding, former manager Tony LaRussa once said that even if he batted .000 he'd put him in the lineup. No worries anymore; Molina consistently hits .300 nowadays.

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9. Buster Posey

Rick Scuteri - USA Today Sports

2013 Stats: .284/.371/.450 with 15 home runs and 72 RBI

2014 is a huge year for Posey. This is the year that he shows whether he's just a great singles hitter like the Minnesota Twins' Joe Mauer has shown or he can show that he has the power to go with it. Posey had an MVP-caliber season in 2012 when he hit 24 home runs and drove in 103 while batting .336. If he can put up similar numbers in 2014, you better bet he will be in the MVP discussion at year's end.

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8. Clayton Kershaw

Jeff Curry - USA Today Sports

2013 Stats: 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA and 232 strikeouts

It's always hard for a pitcher to win the MVP since they have their own award in the Cy Young. However, Detroit Tigers' ace Justin Verlander showed that it could be done in 2012. With a sub-2.00 ERA in 2013, it could be said that Kershaw was deserving a year ago. Making 75-80 cents per heartbeat under his new contract, Kershaw better at least be in the discussion as the season comes to a close.

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7. Joey Votto

Charles LeClaire - USA Today Sports

2013 Stats: .305/.435/.491 with 24 home runs and 73 RBI

Votto may get even better this season purely out of necessity. The Reds are going to need him to step up even more than usual this season after losing some key pieces including leadoff man Shin-Soo Choo. Some may argue that with the loss of Choo, Votto will have less RBI chances which might be true. If he can channel his clutch instinct, though, Votto should cash in on RBI chances at a higher rate in 2014.

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6. Carlos Gonzalez

Chris Humphreys - USA Today Sports

2013 Stats: .302/.367/.591 with 26 home runs and 70 RBI and 21 steals

CarGo is as close to a five-tool player as there is in the National League as he has the rare combination of power and speed. He is the less injury-prone of the Colorado Rockies' duo that includes slugger Troy Tulowitzki, which is why he gets the nod over his teammate. Playing in the thin air at Coors Field, expect another big season from Gonzalez.

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5. Freddie Freeman

Richard Mackson - USA Today Sports

2013 Stats: .319/.396/.501 with 23 home runs and 109 RBI

Freeman finally had the breakout season that the Braves knew he was capable of in 2013. He was very much in the MVP discussion last season, and he should only build on that this season. It's hard to believe, but Freeman will be just 24 this season and he actually figures to improve. Any improvement from his 2013 season should surely result in the MVP nod this year.

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4. Yasiel Puig

Richard Mackson - USA Today Sports

2013 Stats: .319/.391/.534 with 19 home runs and 42 RBI (in 104 games)

Puig took the league by storm last season as he burst onto the scene in the early summer. While his character and respect for the game was called into question, his skill never was. He is a pure hitter capable of hitting 30 home runs a season, which always puts you in the MVP discussion. However, Puig will have to improve his capability for driving runners in in ways other than the long ball if he wants to be seriously considered.

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3. Andrew McCutchen

Charles LeClaire - USA Today Sports

2013 Stats: .317/.404/.508 with 21 home runs, 84 RBI and 27 steals

The 2013 National League MVP looks to become the back-to-back MVP in 2014. That's extremely difficult to do just because awards like this tend to be spread around. However, if he can improve upon last season and add a little bit to his power potential in 2014, then there's no way that McCutchen can't at least be included in the discussion this season.

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2. Ryan Braun

Benny Sieu - USA Today Sports

2013 Stats: .298/.372/.498 with nine home runs and 38 RBI (in 61 games)

Last season was a turbulent one for Braun to say the least. He missed most of the season split between injuries and his season-ending 65-game suspension for his involvement with the Miami-based Biogenesis clinic. Somehow, that may allow Braun to fly under the radar for the early part of 2014. Like him or not, he's a top talent in the league. He will be looking to put his recent problems behind him and get back on track this season as he tries to win the award that he claimed back in 2011.

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1. Paul Goldschmidt

Gary A. Vasquez - USA Today Sports

2013 Stats: .302/.401/.551 with 36 home runs, 125 RBI and 15 steals

This Arizona Diamondbacks' slugger was absolutely robbed of the MVP last season. While McCutchen had a great season, he won the award for the type of season that his team had as much as he did for his personal performance. Goldschmidt put up absolutely elite power numbers while also stealing 15 bases. Unless someone blows the field away and Goldschmidt is in the discussion, he is the favorite because he was robbed last season. Don't expect Major League Baseball to make the same mistake twice.