MLB Position-by-Position Player Rankings, Mid-April Edition

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistApril 17, 2014

MLB Position-by-Position Player Rankings, Mid-April Edition

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    Chase Utley
    Chase UtleyAssociated Press

    Last season, I wrote a handful of articles breaking down my position-by-position rankings, and I will do that on a regular basis once again this year.

    My preseason rankings were put out March 7, and with nearly three weeks of the 2014 season in the books, it's time for an updated look at where everyone stands.

    So what follows is a look at the 10 (or 15 in the case of outfielders) best players at each position based on the numbers they have put up to this point. While my preseason rankings were based on production last season and projections for the year ahead, now that the regular season has begun, these rankings will be based entirely on 2014 performance.

    I've taken into account players' all-around offensive abilities, their defensive contributions and what they have meant to the success of their respective teams.

    Also included in my statistics is each player's Baseball-Reference WAR or rWAR. While WAR is a useful stat in gauging a player's value, it's not the be-all, end-all stat that some view it as. As such, don't expect this to simply be a list of the top 10 in WAR at each position.

    So with that, here is an early season look at the top players at each position. Expect these rankings to be drastically different from my preseason picks, and there's a good chance they'll again look drastically different the next time I put this together. Gotta love early season baseball.

Catchers

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    Yadier Molina
    Yadier MolinaAssociated Press

    Top 10 Catchers

    NameABBAOPS2BHRRBIRWAR
    1. Yadier Molina, STL 54.352.960339100.7
    2. Matt Wieters, BAL 44.341.95823980.5
    3. Evan Gattis, ATL 37.3781.13524760.6
    4. Yan Gomes, CLE 41.293.87412670.9
    5. Tyler Flowers, CWS 40.375.88011650.5
    6. Buster Posey, SF50.280.84813880.8
    7. Salvador Perez, KC46.304.84260430.5
    8. Jonathan Lucroy, MIL53.302.84561470.7
    9. Devin Mesoraco, CIN 22.5001.56533940.6
    10. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, MIA47.277.80741480.5

     

    Position Overview

    No surprise here at the top. Yadier Molina was widely considered to be the top catcher in baseball entering the season, and he has lived up to that lofty billing here in the early going.

    With his power and game-calling abilities, Matt Wieters has a chance to be one of the best catchers in the AL if he can keep his average at or near .300. He's off to a great start as well.

    Evan Gattis has been terrific in taking over for Brian McCann as the Atlanta Braves' everyday catcher so far, and he has the best offensive numbers of any backstop. His defense and the fact that he has about 20 fewer at-bats keeps him behind Molina and Wieters for the time being, though.

    Add Buster Posey, Salvador Perez, Jonathan Lucroy and Yan Gomes to the list of guys expected to make the cut here entering the season, as they have all performed at or near expectations to this point.

    Before the season started, I pointed to Devin Mesoraco as a potential breakout candidate. While he comes in at No. 9 due to starting the season on the DL and playing roughly half the games the other guys have, he's off to a fantastic start nonetheless.

    On the flip side, I also picked Jarrod Saltalamacchia to be a bust after turning in the best season of his career last year and signing a three-year, $21 million contract with the Marlins, but he is putting up numbers right around where he was at last season.

    Finally, there is Tyler Flowers, who hit all of .195/.247/.355 over 256 at-bats last season. His ridiculous .636 BABIP (via FanGraphs) suggests he'll come crashing back to earth at some point, but he's earned mention here regardless with his impressive numbers.

First Basemen

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    Freddie Freeman
    Freddie FreemanAssociated Press

    Top 10 First Basemen

    NameABBAOPS2BHRRBIRWAR
    1. Freddie Freeman, ATL 51.3921.1814410120.8
    2. Joey Votto, CIN 52.3271.062349110.9
    3. Paul Goldschmidt, ARI71.338.9708310120.7
    4. Adrian Gonzalez, LAD59.271.9445514110.6
    5. Matt Adams, STL 58.362.91161240.3
    6. Justin Morneau, COL48.354.93832550.4
    7. Anthony Rizzo, CHC 54.333.92222890.4
    8. Adam LaRoche, WAS51.294.9202310110.5
    9. Brandon Belt, SF60.300.917251090.4
    10. Mike Napoli, BOS 53.302.90323960.7

     

    Position Overview

    The top four on this list are no big surprise, though I had Miguel Cabrera pegged as my No. 1 first baseman entering the season. But he has gotten off to a slow start that keeps him off this list for the time being.

    Matt Adams has made the most of his chance to be an everyday guy and has provided surprisingly good defense at first base, though his power and run production numbers are not very impressive.

    Veteran Justin Morneau, signed to a two-year, $12.5 million deal with the Colorado Rockies to replace Todd Helton this offseason, looks like he could wind up being one of the bigger steals of the winter.

    Anthony Rizzo and Brandon Belt are both clearly on the upswing of what looks to be promising careers, and both could be on their way to breakout seasons in 2014.

    Mike Napoli has been solid once again in the middle of the Boston Red Sox order, though a dislocated finger could cost him some time.

    Finally, there is Adam LaRoche, who hit a disappointing .237/.332/.403 last season after a 33-homer, 100-RBI season in 2012, but looks to be back on track now.

    Honorable mentions to Chris Colabello and Jose Abreu, who are both off to nice starts but did not quite crack the list here.

Second Basemen

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    Chase Utley leads all second basemen in rWAR.
    Chase Utley leads all second basemen in rWAR.Associated Press

    Top 10 Second Basemen

    NameABBAOPS2BHRRBIRWAR
    1. Chase Utley, PHI49.4491.285731091.2
    2. Dee Gordon, LAD47.4041.00621650.6
    3. Anthony Rendon, WAS59.339.9745212100.8
    4. Ben Zobrist, TB53.283.86913690.7
    5. Neil Walker, PIT58.259.847259100.2
    6. Ian Kinsler, DET 47.319.81541490.5
    7. Emilio Bonifacio, CHI59.339.77130290.5
    8. Brandon Phillips, CIN 62.306.71521330.2
    9. Omar Infante, KC43.279.70301550.6
    10. Brian Dozier, MIN50.180.773146140.7

     

    Position Overview

    Notably absent from the above list is $240 million man Robinson Cano, who's hitting just .278 on the season with two doubles, zero home runs and five RBI. Needless to say he will have to pick it up to justify his salary.

    Chase Utley has been your NL MVP to this point in the season, as he leads the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The 35-year-old is proving he still has something left in the tank.

    Speedy Dee Gordon has run with the opportunity to be the Los Angeles Dodgers' everyday second baseman after essentially being a forgotten man last year. On top of his above numbers, he is also 10-of-11 on stolen base attempts.

    Anthony Rendon will be primarily playing third base now with Ryan Zimmerman sidelined, but for the sake of these rankings, we'll still call him a second baseman for the time being. After an up-and-down rookie season, he looked like a prime candidate to break out out in his first full year in the bigs.

    No big surprise to see the likes of Ben Zobrist, Neil Walker, Ian Kinsler, Brandon Phillips and Omar Infante on this list, as they were all expected to crack the top 10 entering the year and have performed up to expectations to this point.

    Emilio Bonifacio has cooled off considerably after a red-hot start, but he still earns a spot on this list, as he has been a terrific find for the still-rebuilding Chicago Cubs.

    The number that jumps out at you here is the .180 batting average for Brian Dozier. But thanks to a good eye at the plate (11 BB), plus pop and a terrific glove, he remains one of the more valuable players at the position despite his low average.

Third Basemen

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    Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

    Top 10 Third Basemen

    NameABBAOPS2BHRRBIRWAR
    1. Juan Uribe, LAD61.377.98482671.2
    2. Aramis Ramirez, MIL61.377.905221360.6
    3. Trevor Plouffe, MIN51.314.877419100.4
    4. Casey McGehee, MIA59.305.797501330.3
    5. Todd Frazier, CIN55.236.78414880.5
    6. Evan Longoria, TB56.286.74831650.3
    7. Matt Carpenter, STL51.275.733019110.5
    8. Ryan Zimmerman, WAS33.3641.04232640.3
    9. Yangervis Solarte, NYY46.348.91260740.0
    10. Conor Gillaspie, CWS51.314.75440950.0

     

    Position Overview

    Remember when the third base position was absolutely stacked last season? Not so much the case here in the early going this year.

    Of the above 10 guys, a grand total of three of them cracked my preseason top 10, including no one in the top five. That's the beauty of early season baseball, though—anything can happen.

    Re-signing Juan Uribe has looked like a fantastic move for the Dodgers, while a healthy Aramis Ramirez has been a big reason for the Milwaukee Brewers' early success.

    Then there is the surprise player of 2014 so far, Yangervis Solarte, who has given the New York Yankees a much-needed boost after entering the season as an unknown.

    Casey McGehee spent last season playing in Japan before joining the Miami Marlins on a one-year, $1.1 million deal, and he's been a terrific find as well.

    Evan Longoria, Matt Carpenter and Ryan Zimmerman are the three guys that made my preseason list, and they have all been solid so far, though Zimmerman will miss significant time with a broken thumb.

    Todd Frazier and Trevor Plouffe both took steps backward last year after solid 2012 campaigns and have done a nice job rebounding to this point. And Conor Gillaspie has been one of the many Chicago White Sox hitters off to a hot start.

Shortstop

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Top 10 Shortstops

    NameABBAOPS2BHRRBIRWAR
    1. Alexei Ramirez, CWS 59.3901.0094414131.1
    2. Troy Tulowitzki, COL46.326.922416100.9
    3. Andrelton Simmons, ATL 45.333.92512640.7
    4. Brandon Crawford, SF44.318.95351860.4
    5. Jed Lowrie, OAK47.298.945516100.6
    6. Hanley Ramirez, LAD57.281.888727110.3
    7. Everth Cabrera, SD57.333.78360180.7
    8. Jimmy Rollins, PHI50.280.817121080.3
    9. Adeiny Hechavarria, MIA62.306.75330390.4
    10. Starlin Castro, CHC 57.298.76122840.4 

     

    Position Overview

    A lot of names that were expected to be here are, but it's fair to assume that no one pegged Alexei Ramirez to be the top shortstop in baseball through the first three weeks of the season.

    The trio of Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez and Andrelton Simmons looked to make up tier one of the game's shortstops entering the season, and all three are off to nice starts for their respective teams.

    Veterans Jimmy Rollins and Jed Lowrie are right about where they were expected to be, while speedster Everth Cabrera has shown no ill-effects of missing the final 50 games of last season while serving a PED suspension.

    Starlin Castro was a huge disappointment for the Chicago Cubs last year when he hit just .245, but he is off to a nice start this year as he looks to return to his All-Star form.

    Brandon Crawford started off last season hot at the plate as well, only to wind up hitting .248/.311/.363, so we'll see if he can keep it up this year.

    The biggest surprise here is Adeiny Hechavarria, who was among the least productive everyday players in the game last year, hitting just .227/.267/.298 over 543 at-bats. His glove is what kept him in the lineup, but his bat looks to have finally come around this year.

Outfielders

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    Charlie Blackmon
    Charlie BlackmonAssociated Press

    Top 15 Outfielders

    NameABBAOPS2BHRRBIRWAR
    1. Charlie Blackmon, COL52.4421.09951991.0
    2. Giancarlo Stanton, MIA67.299.9445521120.7
    3. Jose Bautista, TOR45.2891.1422510120.7
    4. Mike Trout, LAA 65.3231.0264511121.0
    5. Carlos Beltran, NYY 52.3271.02564980.7
    6. Justin Upton, ATL 52.3271.013248110.7
    7. Carlos Gomez, MIL61.3281.0144410110.9
    8. Angel Pagan, SF60.383.931411080.6
    9. Jason Kubel, MIN42.3571.00941760.5
    10. Jacoby Ellsbury, NYY 51.353.87250460.6
    11. Michael Cuddyer, COL57.333.9524310110.2
    12. Michael Morse, SF46.326.936421090.4
    13. Carlos Gonzalez, COL60.283.9153413110.4
    14. Melky Cabrera, TOR65.323.90344580.7
    15. Bryce Harper, WAS50.340.90031570.5

     

    Position Overview

    Trimming the list down to 15 outfielders is always hard given that there are 90 starters around the league compared to the 30 we are dealing with at other positions.

    That said, there is no question that Charlie Blackmon deserves the top spot here, as he has been the out-of-nowhere star of 2014 so far. Is he going to regress? Sure, but he's been fantastic to this point.

    Behind him, a healthy Giancarlo Stanton could finally be in for the monster season we've been waiting for the past several years.

    Mike Trout, Carlos Gonzalez, Carlos Gomez and Jose Bautista were all ranked in the top five of my preseason rankings, and they are all off to the big starts that were expected of them.

    Justin Upton has proven once again that when he gets hot, there are not many hitters more productive than him, while Bryce Harper has put together a hot streak of his own after a terrible start to the year.

    The Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury signings are already paying dividends for the New York Yankees, while the San Francisco Giants' decision to take a chance on Michael Morse bouncing back looks like a good gamble as well.

    Reigning NL batting champ Michael Cuddyer completes a clean sweep of the Colorado Rockies outfield on this list, as they again have a loaded offense but lack the pitching to match it.

    Angel Pagan is back to being an impact leadoff hitter after missing significant time last year, while Melky Cabrera is again playing like an All-Star after a rough 2013. The biggest surprise here is Jason Kubel, who had to settle for a minor league deal to return to the Minnesota Twins this offseason but has wound up being a huge steal.

Right-Handed Starting Pitchers

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    Scott Feldman
    Scott FeldmanAssociated Press

    Top 10 Right-Handed Starting Pitchers

    NameIPW-LERAWHIPBAABBKWAR
    1. Scott Feldman, HOU 20.22-00.440.73.106871.4
    2. Andrew Cashner, SD28.12-11.270.95.1848270.9
    3. Yu Darvish, TEX221-00.820.86.1854231.3
    4. Aaron Harang, ATL 18.22-10.960.80.1456170.9
    5. Chris Tillman, BAL 21.11-10.840.84.1883151.1
    6. Yovani Gallardo, MIL18.22-00.961.07.2463131.0
    7. Sonny Gray, OAK192-00.951.21.2257190.7
    8. Johnny Cueto, CIN 301-21.500.80.1518351.4
    9. Felix Hernandez, SEA28.13-01.910.74.1713391.0
    10. Ervin Santana, ATL 141-00.640.64.1492170.8

     

    Position Overview

    That's right, folks, the best right-handed starter in baseball right now is 31-year-old Scott Feldman. The same Scott Feldman who entered the season 51-56 for his career with a 4.62 ERA. That three-year, $30 million deal the Houston Astros gave him is no longer looking like such a bad idea.

    Felix Hernandez and Yu Darvish were both expected to be near the top of this list, while youngsters Andrew Cashner and Sonny Gray both appeared to be primed for breakout seasons and are not much of a surprise here either. Chris Tillman was also an All-Star last year and looks to be building off of that success.

    Yovani Gallardo and Johnny Cueto had previously been top starters, but after a down season from Gallardo and an injury-plagued one from Cueto, there were questions as to how good they would be. They have answered the bell so far, and Cueto earned his spot on the list with a three-hit shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday in which he struck out a career-high 12 batters.

    It looked like Ervin Santana might not have a team to start the year, but injuries forced the Atlanta Braves' hand, and that one-year, $14.1 million deal is looking better and better. His numbers are great, but he's made one less start than the rest of the list, so that's why he comes in at No. 10.

    The shocker here is Aaron Harang, who was released by the Cleveland Indians this spring and scooped up by the injury-plagued Braves. How long he can keep it up remains to be seen, but he has given the Atlanta rotation a huge boost.

    No, Yankees fans, Masahiro Tanaka was not an oversight, and he was also not an easy one to leave off of this list by any means. I fully expect him to be on here next time these rankings are put together.

Left-Handed Starting Pitchers

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    Mark Buehrle
    Mark BuehrleAssociated Press

    Top 10 Left-Handed Starting Pitchers

    NameIPW-LERAWHIPBAABBKWAR
    1. Mark Buehrle, TOR213-00.860.90.2212161.0
    2. Scott Kazmir, OAK19.12-01.400.78.1594190.9
    3. Jason Vargas, KC221-01.640.86.1825120.8
    4. Robbie Ross, TEX181-01.001.22.2198130.8
    5. Chris Sale, CWS20.13-02.660.93.2054190.7
    6. Alex Wood, ATL192-11.891.11.2216170.6
    7. Roenis Elias, SEA16.21-12.161.02.1966100.6
    8. Tony Cingrani, CIN17.11-12.601.10.1699200.6
    9. Hyun-Jin Ryu LAD212-12.571.10.1958220.4
    10. Jose Quintana, CWS191-02.371.16.2117180.4

     

    Position Overview

    Another unexpected veteran tops the list here, as 35-year-old Mark Buehrle has been incredible in the early going for a Toronto Blue Jays team that entered the season with serious questions about its rotation.

    A pair of veterans that changed teams this offseason in Scott Kazmir and Jason Vargas are behind him, as they have both been well worth the mid-level contracts they signed in free agency.

    Robbie Ross spent last season in the bullpen and was slated to be there once again before injuries forced him into the rotation. Alex Wood also spent some time as a reliever in 2013, and he has stepped his game up this season for a Braves team that was hit hard by injury.

    Chris Sale gets the attention atop the Chicago White Sox staff and rightfully so, but No. 2 starter Jose Quintana has quietly emerged as a plus starter as well.

    Tony Cingrani and Hyun-Jin Ryu both pitched great as rookies last season and have carried that over with a strong start to their sophomore campaigns.

    The biggest surprise is Roenis Elias, a 25-year-old rookie who spent all of last season in Double-A. Injuries opened the door for him in Seattle, and he has out-pitched fellow left-hander James Paxton, who is also off to a nice start and got strong consideration for this list.

Relief Pitchers

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    Craig Kimbrel
    Craig KimbrelAssociated Press

    Top 10 Relief Pitchers

    NameIPSVERAWHIPBAABBKWAR
    1. Craig Kimbrel, ATL5.25/51.590.71.1501120.2
    2. Francisco Rodriguez, MIL74/40.000.57.1301120.5
    3. Huston Street, SD65/50.000.67.136160.4
    4. Grant Balfour, TB4.24/40.001.29.071550.3
    5. Sergio Romo, SF74/41.290.57.130190.3
    6. Zach Britton, BAL11.100.000.71.111470.8
    7. Chris Capuano, BOS900.000.67.156180.6
    8. Tyler Thornburg, MIL9.200.930.41.1250120.4
    9. Adam Ottavino, COL7.100.000.41.1250120.5
    10. Santiago Casilla, SF1000.001.13.229450.3

     

    Position Overview

    At this early stage in the season, there are a ton of relievers still carrying a 0.00 ERA on the season. By the same token, a guy can throw one bad pitch and see his ERA quadruple or worse, so it's hard to get a good read on who the top bullpen guys are at this point.

    Atop the list are what have been the five best closers in the league so far, based on the numbers, and it's no surprise to see the dominant Craig Kimbrel atop the list once again.

    Francisco Rodriguez is a bit of a surprise, as it was expected to be Jim Henderson closing games in Milwaukee, but he has been terrific so far in the ninth. Huston Street and Sergio Romo have been lights out so far, and letting Fernando Rodney walk to sign the cheaper Grant Balfour has looked like a wise move for the Tampa Bay Rays.

    Behind them we have five middle relievers, and at this early stage in the season, having a guy who can come in and work multiple innings to take some pressure off the bullpen is a major bonus.

    Zach Britton, Chris Capuano and Tyler Thornburg have all been starters at one point in their careers, and they have each pitched at least a complete game's worth of innings on the season without allowing an earned run.

    Rounding things out are two more relievers that have yet to allow a run and have been frequently used in Adam Ottavino and Santiago Casilla.

    As the season goes on and some guys start to separate themselves from the pack more, we'll return to the previous setup with one slide for the top 10 left-handed relievers and one for the top 10 right-handed relievers, but for now, this is a quick overview of who is doing well out of the bullpen.

     

    Note: All injury notes courtesy of MLBDepthCharts' roster projection pages, and all stats via Baseball-Reference.

     

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