In a sport that exalts eating enthusiast Babe Ruth as the greatest player of all time, it’s clear that staying in good shape isn’t necessarily a requirement in professional baseball. Ruth’s legacy lives on in big sluggers like Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, but now, in a (mainly) post-steroid MLB, several players look to stay ahead of the pack by going hard at the gym—supplementing their daily dose of baseball with strength training, sprints and injury prevention exercises to help them through a long grind of a season.
The intent, of course, is to have the longevity of a guy like Derek Jeter, who just capped off a 20-year career with hit No. 3,465 (6th all time) in Boston on the last day of the season. Diligent off-the-field preparation helped him achieve such an extensive, healthy career, in which he did everything from squats and deadlifts to yoga in order to play a boy’s game past the age of 40.
Like Jeter, the guys on this list are all thoroughly devoted to rigorous workout regimens and have gotten results. Many of them are at the forefront of the sport thanks to all that extra work.
One of the leading hitters for the NL West champion Dodgers, Yasiel Puig completed a successful second MLB season in 2014 by hitting .296/.382/.480 (average/OBP/slugging), maintaining his status as an offensive spark plug while providing occasional outfield highlights. At 6’3”, 235 pounds, Puig is built like a house, with a huge but fully mobile upper body that produces quick, powerful swings, and interval training keeps him quick on the basepaths and in the field. Already a star at 23, Puig has the skill and work ethic to be one of the league’s best for years to come.
This year’s American League MVP favorite is a beast in the batter’s box: In 2014, he solidified his status as a guy who hits for average and power, putting up a .287/.377/.561 slash line while smashing 36 homers and leading the majors in wins above replacement (aka WAR, a metric that measures a player’s overall value). Trout’s exploits led the Angels to the best record in baseball, and much of that can probably be attributed to his hard work off the diamond. He’s an animal in the gym as well, where he regularly completes 50-inch box jumps while holding weight plates along with sprints, core work, and other exercises. His trainer, Dan Richter, recently told SI that Trout completed intense workouts for 90 minutes a day, six days a week during the offseason. At the age of 23, with three historically great seasons already under his belt, Trout is on pace to compile one of baseball’s greatest careers, and he’s working hard to keep it that way.
Reyes had always been praised for his baserunning speed and quick first step at short, but 2011’s ESPN Body Issue was the first time most fans discovered the six-pack underneath his uniform. The 31-year-old was at his peak during his days with the Mets, in which he was a four-time All-Star, leading the National League in batting average once (2011) and in stolen bases three times (2005-07). In 2014, Reyes hit .287 with 94 runs scored in 2014 and stealing 30 bases while only getting caught twice (he’s stolen far more bases in past seasons, but not with such efficiency). With a clear dedication to fitness and a regimented routine, Reyes remains one of the league’s best shortstops.
Even the Yankees weren’t able to outbid the Seattle Mariners this past off-season, as they gave Cano a massive $240 million, 10-year contract. The craziest part about it might be that so far, he’s been worth it. Cano hit .314/.382/.454 this season while bringing his patented smooth fielding to the table as well. Overall, it was another MVP-caliber year for Cano, even if he may never actually win it as long as Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera are in the same league. Although his home run numbers took a bit of a hit this year, from 27 in ’13 to 14 this season, Cano has generally had a great balance of skill throughout his career—agility to get to tough ground balls and power to knock the ball out of the park, as he demonstrated by winning the 2011 Home Run Derby. His structured routine has made him one of the most consistently great players of the last decade.
Another Body Issue model (2012), Bautista’s road to becoming an elite major league slugger was highly unorthodox, slogging through several mediocre seasons before having a breakout 54-home run year as a 29-year-old in 2010. This CrossFit enthusiast made his fifth straight All-Star Game in 2014 while compiling one of his best seasons at the plate, finishing second in the American League in on-base percentage (.403) and seventh in wins above replacement.
Harper was the 19-year-old sensation in 2012 who hit 22 home runs and won the National League Rookie of the Year. Well, he was only able to play in 100 games in 2014, but his future is still promising and, of course, he’s ripped. Harper lifted weights like a boss throughout the off-season and turned up at spring training looking like a superhero, with pictures of him making the rounds on several sports outlets. Baseball is a fickle game, though, and a torn ligament in his thumb sidelined him for more than two months. Regardless, the Nationals won the NL East and Harper will have a second crack at the postseason this October (the Nats lost in the 2012 Division Series).
Journeyman ballplayer Roger Bernadina has been among the most muscular players in (and out) of the majors in recent years. Sporting tree-trunk arms and a broad chest, Bernadina looks like a well-prepared NFL linebacker, or at least a Major League slugger, but that’s not quite the case for this 30-year-old with 28 career home runs. He suffered his second straight tough season in 2014 (.167 average in 53 games) following up what looked to be a promising year in 2012. He’ll be on the cusp for next season, so hopefully his dedication to training can put him over the hump and back onto another pro roster in 2015.
The reigning National League MVP led the Pirates back to the playoffs in 2014, making his case to snag the award for a second straight time by hitting .314/.410/.542, making him the best offensive player in the NL according to WAR. McCutchen stays fit for the entire 162-game season by utilizing proper workout mechanics, avoiding maxing out on weightlifting during the regular season, and making sure to prevent injury through foam rolling and getting plenty of sleep. Clearly, the preparation has gotten results for this four-time All-Star.
Another slugger built like a hard-hitting NFL safety, Pujols’ two-a-day offseason workouts have been well-documented and are a big reason for his ability to remain effective at the plate into his mid-30s. Pujols’ blistering pace finally leveled off a bit after he left St. Louis in 2012—throughout the 2000s, it seemed like he would eventually shatter every record in the book. Even so, Pujols knocked in 105 runs this year while hitting 28 homers, reaching the exclusive 500-home run club (26 members) early in the season. Widely lauded as the best player of his generation, Pujols has always been one of the strongest players in the league with perhaps the most perfect swing in baseball. He’s naturally gifted, obviously, but his work ethic, in the batting cage and the gym, are second to none.
One of a few franchise Phillies remaining from when the team was a perennial World Series contender, Utley still managed a generally effective 2014 season by hitting .270/.339/.407 at the age of 35. The Phils as a whole had another subpar year, but Utley saw more action than he has since 2009, proving the effectiveness of his rehab and ongoing regimen since the 2012-13 offseason after injuries limited him to just 83 games in 2012. Always intense and serious about winning, Utley is the kind of player that gives everything he’s got on and off the field, and he expects the same from each of his teammates.
The should-have-been 2011 NL MVP (he finished second in voting to Ryan Braun, who was later found to be juicing) bounced back from an injury-shortened 2013 season by hitting .287/.346/.506 in 2014, smacking 25 homers with 89 RBIs. Off the field, Kemp keeps a clean diet and relies on plenty of core work, pullups, pushups, wind sprints, stair workouts, and other exercises to stay strong, but also lean enough to take quick cuts at the plate. Flanked by star teammates Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig, Kemp is set for his return to the postseason for the first time since 2009, when the Dodgers got knocked out by the Phillies in the NLCS.
Much like Cano, Pedroia has been one of the best middle infielders on both sides of the ball for several years now, despite a diminutive 5’8”, 165-pound frame (well, average size really—just not in the big leagues). Much like a lot of his Boston teammates, Pedroia’s production leveled off a bit in 2014—he played in 25 fewer games and saw his batting average slip from .301 to .278. Even so, he proved to be one of the few bright spots for a team that went from first to worst in just one year. This ex-MVP keeps pace with his bigger colleagues by doing workouts that include explosive exercises like rotational rows and squat jumps, allowing him to get the proper speed and power behind each swing.
One of 2013’s Body Issue posers, Giancarlo Stanton caught a tough break with only a few weeks left in the season when he took a fastball in the face, ending the best year of his career so far. Stanton smacked 37 homers and knocked in 105 runs this season, leading the league in slugging (.555) and coming second in on-base percentage (.395). A dedicated weightlifter, particularly during the offseason, Stanton changed up his routine last winter after a frustratingly injury-riddled 2013 season (he only hit.249)—a tactic that paid dividends all year. Now that the season’s over for the Marlins, there’s no rush for Stanton to return to baseball, and his face is already looking back to normal after that huge scare. This 24-year-old is likely still shy of his peak.
Not a particularly huge threat at the plate (.250/.292/.355), Billy Hamilton makes up for his lack of power with speed and great defense. Hamilton made several diving catches all year and regularly tossed out runners at the plate. He was also a nightmare on the bases, coming second in the league with 56 stolen bases, and in April, he tagged up and scored on a popup just behind second base. Basically, he’s a speed demon who isn’t afraid to take risks, for better or worse (he also led the league in getting caught stealing).