Ranking the Top 50 MLB Players at the Start of the 2016 Regular Season
The 2016 MLB season starts Sunday with a triple-header of games capped by a rematch of last fall's World Series meeting between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals on Sunday Night Baseball.
After an offseason of exciting wheeling and dealing, ongoing arguments about which team will reign supreme in 2016 and the always prevalent overreaction to spring training performances, what really matters is finally about to begin.
So before Opening Day arrives, let's set the stage with a rundown of the game's 50 best players heading into the season.
For position players, offensive production, defensive metrics such as defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rate per 150 games and track record of success were taken into account with an eye on potential indicators of regression such as batting average on balls in play.
For pitchers, performance, pure stuff, durability and track record of success were factored into the equation, with fielding independent pitching and the aforementioned BABIP making up the two biggest potential indicators of regression.
That being said, a certain level of subjectivity always goes into a list like this.
The simple question "Would I rather have Player A or Player B if I were building a team?" also played a part in determining where each of the following players landed in the rankings.
Let's kick things off with a few guys who just missed the cut before diving into the best 50 players in the game at the start of the 2016 regular season.
Trimming 30 teams' worth of players down to the top 50 was no easy task, and a strong case can be made for a number of guys who were excluded. Here's a quick look at five who were among the toughest to leave off:
SS Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
After a disappointing rookie season, Xander Bogaerts hit .320 last year while also making significant strides defensively. If he can improve his power production (.421 SLG, 7 HR), he'll earn a spot in the top 50 by season's end.
CF Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays
There wasn't a better defensive player in the game last season than Kevin Kiermaier, who had 42 DRS and a 40.7 UZR/150. He was no slouch offensively, posting a .718 OPS with 47 extra-base hits and 18 stolen bases, but he'll need to improve on his .263 average and .298 on-base percentage to pull into the top 50.
RF J.D. Martinez, Detroit Tigers
Plucked from the scrap heap after he was released by the Houston Astros early in the 2014 season, J.D. Martinez turned in a huge first full season with the Detroit Tigers last year. The 28-year-old posted an .879 OPS with 38 home runs and 102 RBI and added 15 outfield assists for a 5.0 WAR.
C Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
In terms of offensive production, Yadier Molina is not the player he was in the prime of his career. However, he's still an elite defender, and a strong case can be made that no single player in the game today means more to the success of his team than Molina. The St. Louis Cardinals are 150-96 (.610) with Molina in the lineup the past two seasons, compared to 40-38 (.513) without him.
SP Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
The only thing keeping Noah Syndergaard out of the top 50 at this point is experience, as he has just 150 big league innings under his belt. Those 24 starts he made as a rookie were awfully impressive, though, as he went 9-7 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.047 WHIP and 166 strikeouts. It would be more of a surprise if he's not in the top 50 by season's end.
50. RP Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals
Considering most late-inning relievers throw only 70-some odd innings per year, it's often hard to justify including them in lists such as this.
But Wade Davis has been too dominant to ignore.
Over the past two seasons, he's appeared in 140 games and posted a 0.97 ERA and 0.818 WHIP. He also struck out 12.1 batters per nine innings while recording 20 saves and 51 holds.
That dominance has continued into the postseason, where he's 3-0 with four saves, three holds and a 0.36 ERA, allowing just one earned run in 25 innings of work.
With Greg Holland gone, Davis is now the unquestioned closer in Kansas City, and the 30-year-old should be in for another terrific season.
49. CF Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles
Adam Jones has been one of the game's most consistent performers since joining the Baltimore Orioles in an ill-advised trade by the Seattle Mariners for Erik Bedard prior to the 2008 season.
Over the past five seasons he's hit .281/.318/.482 while averaging 31 doubles, 29 home runs, 90 RBI and 87 runs scored and piling up a 19.5 WAR.
The 30-year-old is also a solid defensive center fielder, winning four Gold Glove Awards in his career and ranking fifth among active players with 86 career outfield assists.
His one shortcoming is a lack of plate discipline, as he carries a .319 on-base percentage and 4.3 percent walk rate for his career. That will always keep him from being a truly elite player, but his all-around game is enough to earn him a spot here just inside the top 50.
48. 2B Dee Gordon, Miami Marlins
Something of a forgotten man heading into 2014 after back-to-back disappointing seasons, Dee Gordon moved over to second base and his career took off.
The Los Angeles Dodgers shipped him to Miami last winter, and his breakout continued as he led the National League in hits (205) and stolen bases (58) and won the batting title with a .333 average.
All of that earned him a five-year, $50 million extension, and he should once again be one of the most dangerous table-setters in the majors.
Even with his speed, a .383 BABIP will be tough to duplicate, so some regression in the batting average department is to be expected. A .300 average with 50-plus steals and 100 runs scored is well within reach, though.
47. 1B Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
Jose Abreu exploded onto the scene in 2014 after defecting from Cuba, hitting .317/.383/.581 with 36 home runs and 107 RBI to finish fourth in American League MVP voting and earn unanimous AL Rookie of the Year honors.
His performance leveled out a bit last season, as was to be expected after he put up a .356 BABIP and a 26.9 HR/FB rate—both unsustainable numbers—but he was still one of the most feared sluggers in the AL.
Adding Todd Frazier to the mix this winter should give Abreu some sorely needed protection, so a slight uptick in production could come with more pitches to hit.
His 5.8 percent walk rate keeps him out of the top tier of sluggers, but another 30-homer, 100-RBI season with a respectable batting average seems like a safe bet for the 29-year-old.
46. SP Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians
Corey Kluber gets the bulk of the attention as a 2014 Cy Young Award winner and the ace of the Cleveland Indians staff, but fellow right-hander Carlos Carrasco has emerged as an elite starter in his own right.
Once the centerpiece of the trade that sent Cliff Lee from Cleveland to Philadelphia at the deadline in 2009, Carrasco had yet to live up to lofty expectations heading into the 2014 season with a career 5.29 ERA in 238.1 total innings.
Four rough starts to kick off 2014 got him bumped to the bullpen, but he returned to the rotation in August and went 5-3 with a 1.30 ERA, 0.812 WHIP and 10.2 K/9 in 10 starts to close out the year.
That strong finish carried over to last season when he ranked among American League leaders in WHIP (1.073, fourth), strikeouts (216, tied for fifth) and FIP (2.84, third).
The 29-year-old has less mileage on his arm then most pitchers his age, and based on his peripheral numbers, there's no reason to think he won't be in for an equally impressive season in 2016.
45. DH Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
A late bloomer, Edwin Encarnacion has been one of the most dangerous power hitters in the majors since breaking out during the 2012 season with the Toronto Blue Jays.
To that point, he ranks second in the majors in home runs (151), second in RBI (423) and eighth in OPS (.919) during that four-year span.
The 33-year-old was used primarily as a designated hitter last season after Chris Colabello emerged as the starting first baseman, so he doesn't really provide anything in the way of defensive value.
What he does provide is a powerful bat and solid protection for Jose Bautista in the middle of a stacked Toronto lineup, and you can expect another 30-homer, 100-RBI season before hitting free agency next offseason.
44. DH/OF Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners
Nelson Cruz was forced to settle for a one-year, $8 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles when he hit free agency following a PED suspension in 2013.
That proved to be an absolute steal, as he posted an .859 OPS with 40 home runs and 108 RBI. When he hit the open market again last offseason, he scored a four-year, $57 million contract from the Seattle Mariners.
Despite moving to spacious Safeco Field, the home runs kept coming, as he launched 44 in his first season with the team. The bigger surprise was his .302 average, his best mark since 2010.
A .350 BABIP means that average is likely headed for some regression, but another 40-homer season in the middle of an improved Mariners lineup is a very real possibility for the 35-year-old.
43. 1B Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
It's been a roller coaster of production for Chris Davis the past three seasons:
- 2013: .286 BA, 1.004 OPS, 53 HR, 138 RBI
- 2014: .196 BA, .704 OPS, 26 HR, 72 RBI
- 2015: .262 BA, .923 OPS, 47 HR, 117 RBI
Good thing he wasn't a free agent last winter, or his disappointing 2014 season likely would have cost him a ton of money.
Instead, he returned to form with an American League-best 47 home runs, and after testing the free-agent waters, he wound up re-signing with the Baltimore Orioles on a seven-year, $161 million deal.
He strikes out a ton, evidenced by his AL-high 208 whiffs and 31 percent strikeout rate last season.
Fortunately, he also possesses strong on-base skills with a 12.5 percent walk rate, and there's no doubt he's as dangerous as any hitter in the game when dialed in.
42. SP Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers
The Philadelphia Phillies finally pulled the trigger on trading Cole Hamels at the deadline last year, shipping him to the Texas Rangers for a six-player package that included a trio of top-100 prospects.
Hamels went 7-1 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.195 WHIP in 12 starts after the trade, and now he's set to anchor the Rangers staff to begin the 2016 season while Yu Darvish continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
On top of his impressive regular-season track record, the 32-year-old has also gone 7-5 with a 3.03 ERA and 1.032 WHIP in 95 career postseason innings. The Rangers will be hoping for more of the same as they eye another playoff run.
Given the ever-climbing price of quality starting pitching, the $70.5 million owed to Hamels over the next three years looks like a relative bargain.
41. LF Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates
Starling Marte was one of just three players last year—Paul Goldschmidt and Lorenzo Cain being the others—to tally 15 home runs, 15 stolen bases and 15 DRS, a nice mix of numbers that paints a picture of a well-rounded player.
The 27-year-old set new career highs last season in hits (166), doubles (30), home runs (19), RBI (81) and runs scored (84) while stealing at least 30 bases for the third consecutive season.
He'll be asked to become one of the Pittsburgh Pirates' primary run producers this coming season, as Andrew McCutchen moves to the No. 2 spot in the lineup and both Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker have moved on to other teams.
Marte may never be a 30-homer threat, but he's one of the most complete players in the game today and a budding superstar for the Pirates.
40. 2B Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
At 25 years old, Jose Altuve is not your average franchise staple, but having debuted with the Houston Astros in 2011, he's one of the few holdovers from the 100-loss days.
Altuve won the American League batting title with a .341 average in 2014, setting a franchise single-season record in the process with 225 hits and also leading the league with 56 stolen bases.
His batting average dropped to .313 last year, still good for third in the AL, and he once again led the league in hits (200) and stolen bases (38).
The big difference came in his power and defense.
After hitting just 21 home runs in his first four seasons, he slugged a career-high 15 last year. He also tallied 3 DRS and a 4.8 UZR/150 at second base in 2015 after checking in with -7 DRS and a -14.7 UZR/150 the previous year.
39. LF Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians
Originally expected to begin the year on the disabled list following offseason shoulder surgery, Michael Brantley has returned to action sooner than expected and now looks to be on pace to play Opening Day.
The 28-year-old broke out during the 2014 season, hitting .327/.385/.506 with 45 doubles, 20 home runs, 97 RBI and 23 stolen bases to finish third in American League MVP voting.
The shoulder issues sapped some of his power last year, but he still ranked among the AL leaders in batting average (.310, fourth) and on-base percentage (.379, third) while leading the majors in doubles (45).
That four-year, $25 million extension he signed prior to the 2014 season that includes an $11 million team option for 2018 now looks like one of the best contracts in baseball.
38. CF Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets
Yoenis Cespedes was an absolute monster for the New York Mets after being acquired at the deadline, posting a .942 OPS with 17 home runs and 44 RBI in 57 games.
There was little hope he'd be re-signed in the offseason, but after the outfield market was slow to develop this winter, he wound up back in a Mets uniform on a three-year, $75 million deal.
That contract includes an opt-out after this upcoming season that he'll almost certainly exercise, meaning he'll once again be playing for a big-money deal this year.
On top of his big-time power and run production skills, Cespedes also has an absolute cannon in the outfield, and he won his first Gold Glove last season.
He's moving to center field full time after spending the bulk of his career in left field, but even if he's no longer a Gold Glove-caliber defender, his bat is still worthy of a spot here.
37. SP Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays acquired Chris Archer as part of a five-player package for starter Matt Garza prior to the 2011 season, and he's steadily improved since joining the franchise to emerge as the ace of the staff.
A strong rookie season in 2013 earned him a six-year, $25.5 million extension that includes a pair of option years that could keep him in a Tampa Bay uniform through the 2021 season, exactly the kind of deal the small-market Rays need to survive.
After going 10-9 with a 3.33 ERA and 1.279 WHIP in 194.2 innings of work in 2014, he took his game to another level last year thanks to notable improvements in his strikeout rate (8.0 to 10.7 K/9) and walk rate (3.3 to 2.8 BB/9).
At this point, he's become the face of the franchise in Tampa Bay, and the best may be yet to come from the 27-year-old right-hander.
36. RF Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs
He's never quite lived up to expectations offensively, but Jason Heyward has still emerged as a star thanks to his unique set of tools.
At the forefront of that toolbox is his glove, and there is little debate he's the best defensive right fielder in the game.
In fact, over the past three seasons, only Andrelton Simmons (94) and Nolan Arenado (64) have more defensive runs saved than the 61 recorded by Heyward, per FanGraphs.
Heyward also possesses plus plate discipline with a .353 career on-base percentage, good wheels with 20-plus steals in three of the past four seasons and 20-homer potential if everything goes well.
The Chicago Cubs gave the 26-year-old an eight-year, $184 million deal, and after he hit .318/.397/.469 in the second half last year, there is still reason to believe a breakout offensive season could be coming.
35. SP Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
If you're looking for an example of why win-loss records are a terrible gauge of a pitcher's abilities, look no further than Corey Kluber and his American League-high 16 losses last season.
Despite his poor record, Kluber was once again one of the league's best starters. He ranked among the league leaders in WHIP (1.054, third), strikeouts (245, third) and FIP (2.97, sixth).
He racked up double-digit strikeouts eight times last year, including a brilliant performance against the St. Louis Cardinals, where he tied the Cleveland Indians franchise record with 18 strikeouts over eight innings of one-hit ball.
So while his overall numbers may not have been quite as good as his Cy Young Award-winning season in 2014—when he went 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA, 1.095 WHIP and 269 strikeouts—there is little doubt he's still among the game's elite starters.
34. 3B Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
Kris Bryant led all rookies in home runs (26), RBI (99), runs scored (87) and WAR (5.9) last season, and the 24-year-old is just scratching the surface of his tremendous offensive potential.
He also proved to be better than expected defensively at the hot corner, and it no longer looks like a move to the outfield will be a necessity.
His 199 strikeouts led the National League, but he paired it with an 11.8 percent walk rate. As he gets more experience under his belt, he should be able to trim that 30.6 percent strikeout rate down to a respectable level.
As good as his rookie numbers were, they would have been even better had Bryant not struggled through an awful month of July that saw him hit .168/.270/.368 in 111 plate appearances.
Outside of Giancarlo Stanton, there's probably no one in the majors with more raw power than Bryant, and a 40-homer, 100-RBI performance in his sophomore season is not out of the question.
33. 2B Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners
It's fair to say that Robinson Cano has been something of a disappointment two years into the massive 10-year, $240 million deal he signed with the Seattle Mariners.
Here's how the average stat lines stack up in his final five seasons with the New York Yankees compared to his first two in Seattle:
- 2009-13: .314/.369/.530, 45 2B, 28 HR, 103 RBI, 99 R
- 2014-15: .300/.358/.450, 36 2B, 18 HR, 81 RBI, 80 R
Those are still terrific numbers at the second base position, but more is expected of Cano given his price tag.
After he hit .331/.387/.540 with 15 home runs in the second half last year, there's reason to believe we may see the Cano of old in 2016.
32. 3B Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
This may seem a bit high for a 36-year-old coming off a down season offensively, but Adrian Beltre still deserves to be mentioned among the game's elite.
A big reason for the diminished production last year was a torn ligament in his thumb, an injury that Beltre suffered in May but opted to play through for the remainder of the season.
Even with the injury, he managed to hit .328/.379/.540 with 10 home runs and 56 RBI after July 31 to help lead the Texas Rangers' push to the American League West crown.
Throw in his usual fantastic defense at the hot corner, and Beltre is more than deserving of a spot among the 50 best players in the game.
Despite his age, Beltre has indicated he'll be seeking a three-year deal once his current contract expires at the end of this season, and there's no reason to think he can't continue to produce at a high level as he pushes toward age 40.
31. SP Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
Felix Hernandez was not quite his usual King Felix self last year, but are you going to bet against the 29-year-old bouncing back with another Cy Young Award-caliber season?
Rough months of June (6 GS, 5.51 ERA) and August (5 GS, 6.60 ERA) left him with his worst ERA since 2007, but the rest of his numbers were still ace level, as he posted a 1.180 WHIP, 191 strikeouts and eclipsed the 200-inning mark for the eighth year in a row.
It's hard to believe he's still only 29, considering he's set to begin his 12th big league season and will almost certainly be making a ninth career Opening Day start in the process.
His 2,262.1 career innings do rank fifth among active pitchers, so he has significantly more mileage on his arm than most pitchers his age. But one substandard season isn't nearly enough to exclude him from this list.
30. RF Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
As the careers of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz begin to wind down, Mookie Betts is set to take over as the face of the franchise for the Boston Red Sox, and it's a role that looks to be in good hands.
The 23-year-old debuted with an .812 OPS, 18 extra-base hits and a 2.1 WAR in 52 games in 2014, and in his first full season in the majors he was a bona fide star.
He racked up 68 extra-base hits, 21 stolen bases, 77 RBI and 92 runs scored while also playing fantastic defense in center field despite coming though the minors as primarily a second baseman.
In terms of the complete package of power, speed and defense, few players rival Betts, and it's reasonable to think he'll only get better as he continues to settle in at the big league level.
29. CF A.J. Pollock, Arizona Diamondbacks
A.J. Pollock was on his way to a breakout season in 2014 when a fractured hand cost him roughly three months, but he picked up right where he left off with a huge 2015 season.
Pollock was one of just three players—the other two being teammate Paul Goldschmidt and Oriole Manny Machado—with 30 doubles, 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases last season.
His breakout performance stretched well beyond those three categories, though.
The 28-year-old ranked in the top 10 in the National League in batting average (.315, fifth), OPS (.865, ninth), hits (192, second), doubles (39, fourth), triples (six, eighth) and stolen bases (39, fourth). And his 7.4 WAR was fourth among position players.
His first career Gold Glove Award was the cherry on top, as the Arizona Diamondbacks now look to have a legitimate second superstar in their lineup.
28. SP Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins
Jose Fernandez followed up his brilliant rookie season with just eight starts in 2014 before he was lost for the year to Tommy John surgery, but he looked strong in his midseason return to the mound last year.
The 23-year-old has just 289 career innings under his belt, but that's been enough for him to clearly establish himself as one of the most electric arms in baseball and a potential Cy Young Award contender for years to come.
He's also must-see TV when he takes the mound at Marlins Park, going 17-0 with a 1.40 ERA, 0.901 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 in 26 career starts at home.
Heck, he's even entertaining when he steps into the batter's box, as he's a .190 career hitter who has slugged a pair of home runs in his 98 career plate appearances.
27. SP Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Matt Harvey quickly answered any questions about the condition of his prized right arm in his return from Tommy John surgery last year, and it's reasonable to believe that being another year removed from the procedure could yield even better results.
It's debatable whether or not Harvey is even the best pitcher on his own team with the continued emergence of Jacob deGrom, but there is little question he deserves to be ranked among the best pitchers in the game.
The 27-year-old still has just 65 career starts under his belt, roughly two full seasons' worth of action, during which time he's gone 25-18 with a 2.53 ERA, 1.000 WHIP and 449 strikeouts in 427 innings.
He received a substantial raise to $4.325 million in his first year of arbitration, and with free agency now two years away, the New York Mets may need to start thinking about which members of their juggernaut rotation they view as long-term pieces.
26. RF Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
When you lead the American League in walks (110) and rank fifth in on-base percentage (.377), a mediocre .250 batting average can be overlooked, which is exactly what we do here in the case of Jose Bautista.
One of the greatest late-bloomer stories in baseball history, Bautista turned in a 54-homer season out of nowhere in 2010 at the age of 29, and he's been one of the game's most prolific sluggers in the years that followed.
After injuries limited him in 2012 and 2013, he's played 155 and 153 games the past two seasons, so his inability to stay on the field no longer cuts into his value.
He's still an absolute steal at $14 million this season, but free agency awaits next offseason, and it will be interesting to see how much the Toronto Blue Jays are willing to spend in an effort to keep the face of their franchise.
25. SP Jacob DeGrom, New York Mets
Unlike teammates Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz, scouts never viewed right-hander Jacob deGrom as an elite prospect coming through the minor league ranks.
He ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the New York Mets organization prior to the 2012 season and moved up one spot to No. 10 the following year, according to Baseball America, but his name never appeared on MLB-wide top 100 lists.
That made it all the more surprising when he burst onto the scene in 2014 and walked away with National League Rookie of the Year honors after going 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA, 1.140 WHIP and 144 strikeouts in 140.1 innings.
He followed that up with an even better first full season in the rotation, highlighted by an absolutely dominant performance in the All-Star Game and a terrific showing in three of his four postseason starts.
In terms of pure stuff, the 27-year-old stacks up to any pitcher in the game today.
24. SP Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros
It's debatable whether Dallas Keuchel would have earned a spot in a list of the top 500 players in the game heading into the 2014 season.
Two years later, he's inside the top 25.
After two seasons in the majors, the left-hander was 9-18 with a 5.20 ERA, and he entered spring training in 2014 fighting for a spot on the roster.
By the end of 2014, he was the ace of the Houston Astros staff after going 12-9 with a 2.93 ERA, 1.175 WHIP and an American League-high five complete games.
Without overpowering stuff, many questioned the legitimacy of his breakout performance, but he quickly silenced critics and went on to start the All-Star Game and win the AL Cy Young Award in 2015.
He may not have overpowering stuff, but pinpoint control and an uncanny ability to keep the ball on the ground (61.7 percent ground-ball rate) have made the 28-year-old a bona fide ace.
23. SP Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks
Zack Greinke put together a brilliant season for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015 that would have won him a Cy Young Award in almost any other year, and he turned it into a six-year, $206.5 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The 32-year-old is no doubt one of the best pitchers in the game, and he should age well as a player who relies more on command than power when it comes to getting hitters out.
That being said, some regression from his 2015 level is to be expected, especially considering he's moving from a pitcher-friendly park to one that favors hitters.
- Dodger Stadium: 0.918 Park Factor, eighth-best pitcher's park
- Chase Field: 1.062 Park Factor, eighth-best hitter's park
He may not be as dominant as he was last season, but the Diamondbacks won't regret adding one of the game's best pitchers to a rotation that desperately needed an ace.
22. 1B Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
Four years later, the Chicago Cubs' decision to trade the live arm of Andrew Cashner for a power bat with potential named Anthony Rizzo already looks like one of the best moves in franchise history.
Rizzo was disappointing in his first full season with the Cubs, hitting .233/.323/.419, but he's since taken his game to another level thanks to a more patient approach and vastly improved results against left-handed pitching.
Over the past two seasons, he's hit .282/.386/.519 while averaging 33 doubles, 32 home runs and 90 RBI. And as Chicago's young hitters continue to develop and provide him with better protection, his numbers will only improve.
On top of his solid power and run-production numbers, Rizzo also added 17 stolen bases last year while once again grading out as one of the best defensive first basemen in the majors.
If the Cubs live up to expectations, Rizzo could again be among the National League MVP front-runners after finishing fourth in the voting last year.
21. SP Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics
As a young player with big-time talent and huge trade value, it's fair to assume Sonny Gray's days in Oakland are numbered.
For now, the 26-year-old is far and away the best player on the roster and an emerging superstar after a third-place finish in American League Cy Young Award voting last year.
If not for a rough month of September that saw him post a 6.84 ERA, his season would have looked even better, as he had a 2.13 ERA heading into the season's final month.
Gray may not look like the prototypical ace at 5'10", 190 pounds, but armed with a terrific four-pitch repertoire that includes a plus slider and a plus-plus curveball, he's more than capable of another run at Cy Young honors.
20. SP Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Gerrit Cole flashed front-line potential at times during his first two seasons in the majors before taking a big step forward and breaking out as one of the best young arms in baseball last season.
The 25-year-old finished fourth in Cy Young Award voting, ranking in the top 10 in wins (19, second), ERA (2.60, fifth), WHIP (1.091, eighth), strikeouts (202, 10th), innings (208, seventh) and WAR (4.5, eighth).
He was at his best facing off against the division-rival Chicago Cubs (4 GS, 2-1, 2.13 ERA) and St. Louis Cardinals (4 GS, 3-1, 2.39 ERA), and that's exactly what you look for out of your ace.
More talented young arms are on the way in Pittsburgh, led by Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon, but you can expect Cole to be atop the rotation for the foreseeable future.
19. CF Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals
Lorenzo Cain first saw regular playing time in 2013 as a defensive standout with good wheels, but his offensive game has improved dramatically over the past two years.
His OPS has climbed from .658 to .751 to .838 over the past three seasons, and he added more pop to his game in 2015 with 16 home runs after he managed just 17 long balls over his first 1,369 plate appearances.
He's also an elite defensive center fielder, racking up 49 defensive runs saved with a 17.9 UZR/150 since the start of 2013 and passing the eye test with no shortage of highlight-reel plays.
The 29-year-old may not be the prototypical No. 3 hitter, but he's been an important catalyst in the middle of the Kansas City Royals lineup and a key contributor during its recent run of success.
18. SP David Price, Boston Red Sox
There was a lot wrong with last year's Boston Red Sox team that lost 84 games and finished last in the American League East, but the lack of a front-line starter to anchor their rotation was the most glaring hole on the roster.
That was rectified quickly this offseason when the team added David Price on a seven-year, $217 million deal in free agency.
Price, 30, has long been one of the game's legitimate aces, and over the course of his eight-year career, he's gone 104-56 with a 3.09 ERA, 1.132 WHIP and 1,372 strikeouts in 1,441.2 innings.
The workhorse left-hander went 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA, 1.009 WHIP and 10.5 K/9 in 11 starts with the Toronto Blue Jays after being acquired at the deadline last year, but he's still looking to find success in October.
The Red Sox are hoping he'll get the chance to do just that this season, as they look to go from worst to first.
17. SP Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants
A staple in the San Francisco Giants rotation since he was 20 years old, Madison Bumgarner has followed in the footsteps of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain as homegrown aces.
The left-hander has pitched to an ERA under 3.00 three years in a row, and the workhorse has thrown at least 200 innings in five straight seasons.
His crowning achievement to date has been the 2014 postseason, as he posted a 1.03 ERA in 52.2 innings of work with a pair of shutouts and a five-inning save in Game 7 of the World Series to claim National League Championship Series and World Series MVP honors.
He's also perhaps the best argument for never implementing the designated hitter in the National League, as he's hit .252 with a .749 OPS and nine home runs the past two seasons.
16. SP Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox
Chris Sale rocketed through the Chicago White Sox's minor league ranks after going No. 13 overall in the 2010 draft, making his big league debut less than two months after being selected out of Florida Gulf Coast.
The White Sox used him exclusively as a reliever in his first two seasons in the majors before he moved to the rotation in 2012. Since then, he's gone 53-37 with a 2.95 ERA, 1.068 WHIP and 10.3 K/9.
His 3.41 ERA last season represented a significant increase over his 2.17 mark from the previous season, but much of that had to do with pitching in front of one of the worst defenses in baseball, as his 2.73 FIP was the best in the American League.
Just how dominant can he be?
During one eight-start stretch last season, he struck out at least 10 batters in each game while posting a 1.80 ERA, 0.767 WHIP and 97 total strikeouts in 60 innings.
15. 1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
A pair of quad injuries limited Joey Votto to 62 games in 2014, and even when he was on the field, he wasn't the same offensive force he had been in the past with a .255/.390/.409 line.
Healthy once again last season, he was back to being an on-base machine, as he led the National League with a career-high 143 walks and ranked second in the majors with a .459 on-base percentage.
The argument rages on whether he's perhaps too patient at the plate and not aggressive enough in RBI situations, but it's hard to argue with a 1.000 OPS and career-best 7.6 WAR last year.
The 32-year-old played out of his mind after the All-Star break last year, hitting .362/.535/.617 and finishing third in NL MVP voting despite a 98-loss season by the Cincinnati Reds.
The rebuilding club is still on the hook for $192 million over the next eight years with Votto, but for now, he's still well worth his hefty price tag.
14. 3B Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
On his way to a breakout offensive season in 2014 when a fractured finger sidelined him for over a month, Nolan Arenado exploded as one of the most productive hitters in baseball last season.
His 42 home runs and 130 RBI led the National League, as did his 354 total bases, and he finished eighth in NL MVP voting despite playing for a last-place Colorado Rockies team.
The 24-year-old has won Gold Glove honors in each of his three seasons in the majors, piling up 64 defensive runs saved, which trails only Andrelton Simmons (94) among all players during that span.
His home (.960 OPS, 20 HR, 74 RBI) and road (.835 OPS, 22 HR, 56 RBI) splits are worth pointing out, but he was still a top-tier producer away from Coors Field.
13. SP Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
Max Scherzer has always had electric stuff, and now that he's reined in his control, he's one of the most overpowering pitchers in the majors.
Over the past three seasons, he's 53-20 with a 2.94 ERA, 1.021 WHIP and 10.4 K/9. He won the American League Cy Young Award in 2013 and finished fifth in the voting each of the past two seasons.
For all that was made of his massive seven-year, $210 million contract, he was worth every penny in his first season with the Washington Nationals. With Jordan Zimmermann leaving this winter and Stephen Strasburg perhaps following him out the door next offseason, Scherzer is an integral part of a young rotation.
Trimming his walk rate from 2.6 BB/9 in 2014 to 1.3 BB/9 last season took Scherzer from great pitcher to elite pitcher, and he has to be considered a strong contender for the National League Cy Young Award in 2016.
12. SS Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
Carlos Correa made his big league debut on June 8 last season, hitting in the No. 6 spot in the Houston Astros lineup. Less than a month later, they moved him to No. 3, where he stayed for the remainder of the year.
That's a big responsibility for a 20-year-old. But he proved to be more than up to the challenge, as he posted an .857 OPS with 22 doubles, 22 home runs and 68 RBI while helping lead the Astros to a surprise postseason appearance.
His 22 home runs were a franchise record for a shortstop, and that's a mark he'll likely eclipse more than a few times as his career progresses.
Correa is a legitimate 30-homer, 100-RBI, 20-steal threat. And he already looks like the best shortstop in baseball. That's a scary thought for the rest of the majors considering he's just beginning to tap his immense potential.
11. RF Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
"If he could just stay healthy..."
It's a line we've heard time and again in professional sports, and it's quickly becoming the narrative with Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.
Still just 26 years old and with 181 career home runs already under his belt, Stanton annihilates baseballs like no one else in the game thanks to his chiseled 6'6", 240-pound frame.
He's reached 500 at-bats just once in the past four seasons, however, and while he led the National League with 37 home runs the one year he did reach that mark (2014), even that campaign ended with a trip to the disabled list.
Deciding where Stanton ranks among the game's best players is tough.
If he's firing on all cylinders and healthy, he's more than capable of pushing his way into the top five. Given his injury woes, however, we'll slot him just outside the top 10 as a precaution of sorts.
10. SP Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs
Detractors like to say Jake Arrieta doesn't deserve to be named among the best pitchers in the game because he's had only one good season.
They apparently missed his campaign in 2014, when he went 10-5 with a 2.53 ERA, 0.989 WHIP and 9.6 K/9 to finish ninth in National League Cy Young Award voting despite making just 25 starts.
The 30-year-old has been a different pitcher since joining the Chicago Cubs at the trade deadline in 2013, as he's gotten back to the mechanics and approach that made him such a highly regarded prospect to begin with.
Is he going to repeat his historically good second-half performance over a full season? Probably not, but he's the real deal and more than capable of defending his Cy Young crown.
9. 3B Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
Finally healthy after missing time in back-to-back seasons with knee injuries, Manny Machado went a long way in replacing the departed Nelson Cruz in the middle of the Baltimore Orioles lineup with a breakout campaign at the plate in 2015.
The 23-year-old tallied just 33 home runs and 10 stolen bases through his first three seasons in the majors—289 games' worth of action—but he managed to pass both of those totals in 162 games last season, slugging 35 home runs and swiping 20 bags.
A shortstop by trade, he was slotted at third base out of necessity when he debuted as a 20-year-old in 2012, and he's since been one of the best defensive players in the game.
Given his age and the huge step forward he took last season, it's reasonable to think we've yet to see the best Machado has to offer.
8. 1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Miguel Cabrera is still the best pure hitter on the planet, but diminished power production, injuries and his age leave him outside of the top five in these rankings.
The 32-year-old played only 119 games last season while dealing with a calf strain, but he still managed to win his fourth American League batting title in five years while also leading the league with a .440 on-base percentage.
In the process, he hit just 18 home runs in 429 at-bats, and that came after another uninspired showing in the power department—25 long balls in 611 at-bats in 2014.
To put that into perspective, heading into the 2014 season, Cabrera had gone deep once every 17 at-bats over the course of his career. The past two seasons, that mark has climbed to once every 24.2 at-bats.
We're focusing on the negatives to explain why Cabrera is outside of the top five, but he's still an all-world hitter and more than deserving of the No. 8 spot.
7. CF Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
Andrew McCutchen dug himself a hole last season with a dismal .194/.302/.333 line over the first month of the season, but he was his usual MVP-caliber self the rest of the way.
It appears he'll be moving to the No. 2 spot in the lineup this season, a switch that could put him in more spots to produce after he tallied the second-most at-bats with two outs and no one on base last year, according to Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com.
The 29-year-old has finished no worse than fifth in National League MVP voting each of the past four years, and while Gerrit Cole and Starling Marte also earned spots on this list, McCutchen is still the unquestioned leader and face of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He's one of the few legitimate five-tool players in the game, and while he may not slug 30 home runs or steal 30 bases, he might be the most complete player in the NL.
6. C Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Rookie of the Year...check.
National League batting title...check.
World Series winner...check, check and check.
Buster Posey has already put together an impressive resume to this point in his career, and the 29-year-old is far from finished.
A career .310/.375/.484 hitter who has posted a positive defensive WAR every full year of his career, Posey is the best catcher in the game by a gigantic margin.
That being said, his days of catching full time are rapidly coming to a close. He played a career-high 42 games at first base last year as the San Francisco Giants made an effort to keep him fresh over the course of the long season.
While a permanent move from behind the plate would cut into his value, his bat will play anywhere, and another batting title or two is not out of the question.
5. 3B Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays
For those of you still scratching your heads as to why the Oakland Athletics ever thought trading Josh Donaldson was a good idea, you're not alone.
The 30-year-old put together a huge first season in Toronto after being dealt, posting a .939 OPS with 41 doubles and 41 home runs while leading the majors in runs scored (122) and the American League in RBI (123) on his way to AL MVP honors.
He did it all while earning just $4.3 million in his first year of arbitration, and while that number jumps considerably to $11.65 million this season and $17 million in 2017, Donaldson is still an absolute steal.
4. SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw wasn't even the best pitcher on his own team last season, but he's still the consensus choice for best pitcher in baseball heading into the 2016 season.
That level of respect comes when you've been nothing short of dominant since your first full season in the majors.
Since 2009, the first season in which Kershaw made at least 30 starts, the left-hander is 109-51 with a 2.30 ERA, 1.000 WHIP and 9.9 K/9. He's won four ERA titles, three Cy Young Awards and the National League MVP in 2014.
Even last season, when he finished third in Cy Young voting behind Jake Arrieta and Los Angeles Dodgers teammate Zack Greinke, Kershaw became the first pitcher since 2002 to strike out 300 batters in a season (Randy Johnson). He led the majors in FIP (1.99) and tied for the lead in complete games (four) and shutouts (three).
He also put to rest the storyline that he doesn't show up in October, going 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA and 0.878 WHIP over 13.2 innings in his two playoff starts.
The game has been flooded with ultra-talented young arms over the past few years, but they're all chasing Kershaw for the title of best pitcher in baseball.
3. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
There's not much Paul Goldschmidt can't do on a baseball field, and that's a rare quality in a first baseman.
Here's where he ranked in the majors and at his position in a number of key statistical categories:
- BA: .321 (4th in MLB, 2nd at 1B)
- OBP: .435 (4th, 3rd)
- SLG: .570 (4th, 1st)
- Hits: 182 (9th, 1st)
- 2B: 38 (T13th, T1st)
- HR: 33 (T16th, 3rd)
- RBI: 110 (6th, 2nd)
- R: 103 (6th, 1st)
- SB: 21 (T20th, 1st)
- DRS: 18 (T8th, 1st)
- WAR: 8.8 (T5th, 1st)
That's an impressive variety of categories, and Goldschmidt landed within the top 20 in each of them and no lower than third among first basemen.
This is a drawn-out way of saying the 28-year-old is a special talent, and with the Arizona Diamondbacks expected to be contenders this season, Goldschmidt could win his first MVP Award.
2. RF Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Love him or hate him, the days of calling Bryce Harper overrated are a thing of the past.
At the age of 22, he turned in one of the best offensive seasons in recent memory, posting a ridiculous 1.109 OPS while leading the majors in on-base (.460) and slugging percentages (.649), the National League in home runs (42, tied with Nolan Arenado) and runs scored (118) and just missing out on the batting title.
Improved patience at the plate was the big difference, as Harper increased his walk rate from 9.6 percent in 2014 to 19 percent. When pitchers gave him something to hit, he didn't miss.
Most players are just breaking into the majors at his age, but he's already entering his fifth big league season.
The biggest factor in his long-term success will be his health, as his all-out style has cost him time in the past. He'll need to rein that in and realize he's too valuable to his team to risk missing time.
1. CF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Boy was it tempting to go the "1" and "1A" route with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, but that seemed like a cop-out.
Harper was the best player in baseball last season, but Trout has performed at an elite level since his rookie season. And he was great in his own right in 2015, so he remains on top for the time being.
Trout has continuously refined his offensive game during his times in the majors, leading the American League in a variety of categories as his role in the Los Angeles Angels offense has changed.
He was more of a speed threat as a rookie when he swiped an AL-best 49 bases, then followed that up with an AL-high 110 walks for a .432 on-base percentage in his sophomore season.
His strikeout total spiked to an AL-high 184 in 2014, but he delivered more in the power department in the process with 36 home runs and an AL-best 111 RBI.
That all culminated in arguably his best offensive season to date last year, when he posted a career-best .991 OPS while finishing third in the AL with 41 home runs.
Trout and Harper are both still improving at this point, and considering both players are still short of their 25th birthdays, the game appears to be in good hands.
Regardless of where you land in this debate, it's a fun time to be a baseball fan with those two headliners and an abundance of young talent around the majors.
Sit back and enjoy it, folks.
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