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Top 20 New York sports stars going into 2019

From left, the Mets' Noah Syndergaard, the Giants'

From left, the Mets' Noah Syndergaard, the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr., the Jets' Sam Darnold and the Yankees' Aaron Judge are among the top New York sports stars heading into 2019. Photo Credit: Newsday.com composite

These are mostly dark days for New York sports, but some stars still shine, and it is time again to spotlight them with our annual list of top New York-area stars.

The usual grounds rules apply: Players only, and only from east of the Hudson, other than the Giants and Jets.

Also, this is primarily about star power, not a judgment on the best players. The good news is a new generation is poised to take over. Nine of our top 14 are 26 or younger.

20. CC Sabathia, Yankees

Sabathia will turn 39 during the 2019 season, which likely will be his last, but he still has life left in his ageless left arm. He pitched 153 innings in 2018. Two more and he would have earned a $500,000 bonus. Instead he earned teammates’ respect by forgoing the money after getting ejected for intentionally hitting Rays catcher Jesus Sucre with a retaliation pitch. (The Yankees later paid Sabathia that bonus.)

19. Mathew Barzal, Islanders

The reigning Calder Trophy winner as the NHL’s best rookie is poised to succeed the departed free agent John Tavares as the Islanders’ biggest star. He has the flashy game and personality to get there, even as new coach Barry Trotz seeks to channel Barzal’s creative impulses into consistent production. Regardless, watching him play always is a show.

18. Jamal Adams, Jets

While the Jets and their fans keep their fingers crossed that this year’s first-round draft pick, Sam Darnold, develops into a winner and leader, last year’s first-round pick already is one. The safety has been a high-energy force both on the field and in the locker room and wants to be the defensive counterpart to Darnold on offense en route to a new Jets era.

17. Yoenis Cespedes, Mets

When he is on the field, Cespedes remains a powerful force, his at-bats can’t-miss drama. Unfortunately for the Mets, that has not happened enough lately. He has played in only 119 games since signing a four-year, $110 million contract and there is no telling when he will return after undergoing surgery on both heels, one in the summer and one in the fall.

16. Robinson Cano, Mets

The eight-time All-Star might be the single most intriguing New York sports wild card entering 2019 after arriving via a blockbuster trade with the Mariners. On one hand, he still looks good at the plate, having batted .303 just last season. On the other hand, he is 36, and missed half of 2018 because of a violation of MLB’s performance-enhancing drugs policy.

15. Aroldis Chapman, Yankees

Even in an era full of 95-mph-plus pitchers, Chapman still stands out for his velocity and intimidation factor on the mound. But as he turns 31 in February – coming off knee trouble in 2018 – all eyes will be on signs of possible decline. So far, so good, though. He saved 32 games last season, struck out 93 batters in 51 1/3 innings and was named an All-Star.

14: Luis Severino, Yankees

Severino followed up his breakout 2017 – in which he finished third for the AL Cy Young Award – by getting off to a torrid start last season with a 14-2 record and 2.12 ERA that earned him a second All-Star nod. He cooled off in the second half but got the call for the AL wild-card game against the Athletics. He allowed no runs and two hits in four-plus innings.

13. Gleyber Torres, Yankees

Miguel Andujar and Torres gave the Yankees a one-two rookie punch that finished two-three in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Torres was a revelation at age 21, finishing with 24 home runs and 77 RBI, making the Yankees’ 2016 trade that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs and Torres to the Bronx look brilliant – for now and perhaps for another 15 years.

12. Gary Sanchez, Yankees

Having Sanchez behind the plate often is an adventure for the Yankees, given his penchant for passed balls. He also has been accused of lacking hustle at times, in the field and on the bases. But even after a season in which he batted .186, his talent and power ensure that the Yankees will stick with Sanchez for now. He had 18 home runs and 53 RBI in 374 at-bats.

11. Didi Gregorius, Yankees

If it seems like a long time ago people were wondering whether Gregorius was up to being Derek Jeter’s successor, that is because it was a long time ago. In 2018, he was AL Player of the Month for April before finishing the season with 27 home runs and 86 RBI. It is not clear when he will return after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow in October.

10. Noah Syndergaard, Mets

"Thor" has started the past two Opening Days for the Mets and remains an imposing figure, thanks to his physique and flowing locks. After a 2017 season mostly lost to injury, he bounced back in 2018 to go 13-4 with a 3.03 ERA despite losing more than a month to a finger injury. He closed with a complete-game shutout of the Marlins on the season’s final day.

9. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers

Even as the Rangers rebuild, their goaltender remains “King Henrik,” a future Hall of Famer who turns 37 on March 2. Lundqvist mostly has done his part, keeping the Rangers in games as they continue to develop their young players. He also has remained the most visible face of New York-area hockey, a crossover star with a model’s fashion sense, and looks.

8. Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks

The Knicks and Nets continue to play games, as contractually obligated, with Tim Hardaway Jr. leading the Knicks in scoring. But the biggest basketball star in New York is the 7-foot-3 guy in civilian clothes, as Knicks fans await his return from a torn left ACL in February. Whether it happens this season or in autumn of 2019, all eyes will again be on Porzingis.

7. Sam Darnold, Jets

The Jets went all-in on Sam Darnold as their latest potential franchise quarterback with the third pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and despite jagged ups and downs on his development chart – as well as three games lost to a foot injury – the team and most fans believe he is a keeper. The goal is to get the rough stuff out of the way now, so he can be ready to win in 2019.

6. Eli Manning, Giants

There is no debating Manning’s resume after 15 seasons in New York and two Super Bowl MVP Awards. But that has not stopped endless debates over the past two years about whether it is time for the Giants to move on at quarterback. Another erratic season ensures the discussion will carry into winter, but as usual, people cannot resist talking about Eli.

5. Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees

After a trade with Derek Jeter’s Marlins, Stanton arrived as reigning National League MVP and an imposing bookend to Aaron Judge. He hit two home runs on Opening Day but then went cold, with two five-strikeout games in the first week of April. He went on to strike out 211 times, but he had 38 home runs – including several tape-measure ones – and 100 RBI.

4. Odell Beckham Jr., Giants

After being limited to four games in 2017, Beckham signed a new contract, then bounced back and looked like his old self in 2018. He even added wrinkles, twice throwing touchdowns passes. Beckham also made an effort, despite one inflammatory interview, to tone down some of the attention-grabbing words and behavior that got him in trouble earlier in his career.

3. Jacob deGrom, Mets

It was one of the best – and strangest – seasons in recent major league pitching history. DeGrom was consistently excellent, and yet consistently got little to no run support from his Mets teammates, all the while refusing to complain. Net result: a 1.70 ERA, a 10-9 win-loss record and the National League Cy Young Award. He secured all but one first-place vote.

2. Saquon Barkley, Giants

Even those who thought the Giants should have opted for a quarterback with the second overall pick in the draft were wowed by how good the rookie running back is. Barkley blew by the 1,000-yard rushing mark by the Giants’ 13th game, at which point he had four rushes of 50-plus yards for the season. He also flashed his charisma and leadership off the field.

1 . Aaron Judge, Yankees

After being left off our list in 2016, Judge tops it for the second year in a row. His numbers were down in 2018 from his Rookie of the Year season, thanks largely to missing two months with a broken wrist. But he still managed to hit 27 home runs and drive in 67, then hit three more homers in the first three games of the postseason. And he still is very tall.

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