Ranking MLB's Top 50 Players, May Edition
We're one calendar month into the 2017 season, which seems like as good a time as any to update our list of the top 50 MLB players.
The rankings haven't been completely upended since the last time, but injuries and early performances have led to some movement, including in the top 10.
To refresh your memory, here are the criteria:
- Track record: To earn a spot, a player needs to have compiled a big league resume. You'll find plenty of relative youngsters, but no prospects. Even some hyper-talented players who exceeded their rookie limits in 2016 (Gary Sanchez and Trea Turner, for example) don't quite make the cut because their samples are simply too small.
- Potential: That said, this isn't all about past stats. Players climbing toward or in the midst of their prime get credit for what they've accomplished and what they're likely to do going forward.
- Star wattage: You can't sneak into the top 50 on charisma and a witty Twitter account alone, but guys with big-time name recognition who sell a lot of jerseys tend to also be the league's top performers.
Andrew Miller, LHP, Cleveland Indians
There are no relievers on this list, because they don't compile enough innings to compete with the game's elite starters. You could make a case for top-shelf closers such as the Los Angeles Dodgers' Kenley Jansen or the New York Yankees' Aroldis Chapman. Andrew Miller, though, was the toughest to leave off. A prototype for the new "super-reliever" who is able to throw multiple high-leverage innings when needed, Miller is unscored upon through his first 10 appearances this season.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Andrew McCutchen finished in the top five in National League MVP voting every year between 2012 and 2015 and won the award in 2013. His performance plummeted last season, as he posted career lows in batting average (.256) and OPS (.766) and betrayed diminished defensive skills. The early returns in 2017 haven't been disastrous, and McCutchen is seeing time in center field again after Starling Marte's 80-game performance-enhancing drug suspension. Cutch, however, hasn't done enough to slip back into the top 50.
Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals
Yadier Molina posted a .307/.360/.427 slash line last season, his best offensive showing since 2013, and rated as the second-best pitch-framer in either league, per StatCorner. He'll turn 35 in July, which means a decline is coming at some point. For now, though, he remains one of the game's elite receivers and an unquestioned leader on the perennially contending St. Louis Cardinals.
Addison Russell, SS, Chicago Cubs
Addison Russell is tantalizingly close to the top 50 after hitting 21 home runs last season and rating as the game's fourth-best defensive shortstop. A scalding start would have gotten him there, but he'll have to wait a little longer after posting a .703 OPS in April.
No. 50: Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins
Brian Dozier enjoyed a career year last season, clubbing 42 home runs with 99 RBI and an .886 OPS. Between 2014 and 2016, he leads all second basemen with 93 home runs. The 29-year-old managed just two homers in April, but his power profile over the past few years is top-notch for a middle infielder.
No. 49: Jackie Bradley Jr., CF, Boston Red Sox
Jackie Bradley Jr.'s bat caught up to his leather in 2016, as he belted 26 home runs with 87 RBI and an .835 OPS while playing a typically stellar center field. The 27-year-old hit .209 with two extra base hits in April, raising concerns about a regression, but he deserves more time before any panic buttons are pushed.
No. 48: Kevin Kiermaier, CF, Tampa Bay Rays
Already considered one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, Kevin Kiermaier raised his offensive game in 2016, posting career highs in home runs (12) and on-base percentage (.331). He put up an anemic .210/.295/.290 slash line in April, but his dazzling glove work keeps him in the top 50.
No. 47: Justin Turner, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers
It's a golden era for third basemen (see our top 10), so it's easy to overlook Justin Turner. Since 2014, however, he's compiled the sixth-highest WAR (12.8) in baseball at the hot corner and had a career year in 2016, hitting .275 with 27 home runs and 90 RBI. He kept it up in April, hitting .404 with a 1.026 OPS.
No. 46: Brandon Crawford, SS, San Francisco Giants
A groin strain landed Brandon Crawford on the disabled list Saturday, per Curtis Pashelka of the Mercury News. He was off to a solid start with the San Francisco Giants, though, and has evolved into one of the best two-way shortstops in baseball. Once an unheralded prospect, Crawford won two straight Gold Gloves while posting double-digit home run totals and driving in 84 runs in both 2015 and 2016.
No. 45: Jose Quintana, LHP, Chicago White Sox
Jose Quintana has posted four consecutive 200-plus-inning seasons with ERAs of 3.51 or lower, yet he made his first All-Star team in 2016. He's the ace on the South Side with Chris Sale now plying his trade in Boston, and he earned his first win April 26 with a 10-strikeout performance.
No. 44: Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
Freddie Freeman finished with career highs in home runs (34), batting average (.302) and OPS (.968) in 2016, led all first basemen with 6.1 WAR and earned the second top-10 MVP finish of his career. He's hitting like he may win the award in 2017, as he posted a 1.283 OPS with nine home runs in April.
No. 43: Daniel Murphy, 2B, Washington Nationals
Daniel Murphy led the NL in doubles (47) and OPS (.985) in 2016 to go along with 25 homers, a .347 average and 104 RBI. Those were all career highs, but Murphy has showed no signs of slowing down in 2017, as he hit .343 with five home runs in April.
No. 42: Dallas Keuchel, LHP, Houston Astros
After winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2015, Dallas Keuchel's ERA ballooned to 4.55 and his innings pitched dropped to 168 before he was shut down with a balky shoulder. So far in 2017, he looks reborn with a 5-0 record and 1.21 ERA. He needs to prove it's more than a blip, but all signs are pointing skyward for Houston's ace.
No. 41: Jonathan Lucroy, C, Texas Rangers
A two-time All-Star and top-five NL MVP finisher in 2014, Jonathan Lucroy slashed .292/.355/.500 with 24 home runs between the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers. He hit a scant .206 in April, but the 30-year-old remains the top catcher in baseball, non-Buster Posey division.
No. 40: Felix Hernandez, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Felix Hernandez tumbled from his throne in 2016, posting his worst ERA (3.82) since 2012 and throwing his fewest innings (153.1) since 2005. The six-time All-Star and 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner showed signs of life this spring, but he landed on the disabled list with right-shoulder inflammation in late April. He's a borderline Hall of Famer and has earned the benefit of the doubt, but it's worth wondering if his dominant days are behind him.
No. 39: Nelson Cruz, DH, Seattle Mariners
Designated hitters need to rake to atone for their lack of defensive value; Nelson Cruz rakes. He's eclipsed 40 home runs in each of the last three seasons, made five All-Star teams and had two top-10 AL MVP finishes. He also turns 37 in July but posted a 1.025 OPS with seven home runs and 23 RBI in April, strongly suggesting the decline isn't here yet.
No. 38: Edwin Encarnacion, DH, Cleveland Indians
Stop us if you've heard this before, but designated hitters need to rake to atone for their lack of defensive value. Edwin Encarnacion has hit 34 or more homers every season since 2012, and last season he paced the AL with 127 RBI. He's gotten off to a slow start with his new team, the Cleveland Indians. Then again, slow Aprils are nothing new for Encarnacion, as MLB.com's Jordan Bastian noted.
No. 37: Jon Lester, LHP, Chicago Cubs
At age 33, Jon Lester is entering the latter stage of his MLB career. On the other hand, he's a postseason-tested stud who has won rings with the formerly cursed Red Sox and Cubs and posted a 2.44 ERA in 202.2 innings last season.
No. 36: Cole Hamels, LHP, Texas Rangers
Another stud lefty approaching his mid-30s, Cole Hamels has eclipsed 200 innings in eight of the last nine seasons and went 2-0 with a 3.03 ERA in April. FanGraphs' Paul Swydan waved a red flag recently, noting the steep dip in Hamels' swinging strike rate. That's worth watching going forward, but for now his results speak for themselves.
No. 35: Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
Xander Bogaerts hit .294 with 21 homers and 89 RBI last season, and he made his first All-Star team. His defense remains a work in progress, as evidenced by his minus-18 career defensive runs saved, and he managed just two extra base hits in April. Still, at age 24, he's an emerging piece of Boston's young, exciting offensive attack.
No. 34: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Gerrit Cole surpassed 200 innings and 200 strikeouts in 2015 and finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting. Last season, he battled elbow and triceps problems. That makes 2017 a key year for the 26-year-old. He's responded, rebounding from a couple of rough early starts to post a 3.60 April ERA.
No. 33: Jacob deGrom, RHP, New York Mets
One of multiple injury victims in the New York Mets rotation last season, Jacob deGrom was good while he pitched, posting a 3.04 ERA in 148 innings with 143 strikeouts. The Mets have been bitten by the disabled-list bug again in 2017, but deGrom stayed healthy and posted 2.84 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 31.2 April frames.
No. 32: Christian Yelich, CF, Miami Marlins
Christian Yelich hit 21 homers with 98 RBI and an .859 OPS in 2016. After making the move to center field, the 25-year-old slashed .289/.324/.423 with four homers in April, and he appears primed to emerge as one of the top outfielders in either league.
No. 31: Yu Darvish, RHP, Texas Rangers
After missing the entire 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery, Yu Darvish came back strong in 2016, striking out 132 in 100.1 innings with a 3.41 ERA. Now in a contract year, the 30-year-old posted a 3.03 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 38.2 innings in April.
No. 30: Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Chris Archer went 9-19 in 2016 with an unsightly 4.02 ERA in 2016. On the other hand, he posted a 3.81 FIP that belied some bad luck and an impressive 233 strikeouts in 201.1 innings. Now in his age-28 season, Archer can cement his No. 1 bona fides and either pitch the Tampa Bay Rays into contention or provide a tantalizing trade chip at the July 31 deadline.
No. 29: Yoenis Cespedes, OF, New York Mets
Before he landed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Yoenis Cespedes had six home runs and a .992 OPS for the Mets. That's in keeping with his typical production, as he hit 31 homers with an .884 OPS in 2016 en route to a top-10 MVP finish. When healthy, the 31-year-old Cuban is simply one of the best pure power hitters in the game.
No. 28: Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Justin Verlander should have won the 2016 AL Cy Young Award after striking out an AL-leading 254 in 227.2 innings with a 3.04 ERA. He's already got a Cy Young, as well as an AL Rookie of the Year and MVP, so we won't cry him a river. The 34-year-old coughed up 28 hits and 15 earned runs in 29.1 April innings for an aging Detroit Tigers club, but he's an ace among Junior Circuit aces.
No. 27: Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners
Robinson Cano had one of his best seasons at the plate in 2016, launching a career-high 39 home runs with 103 RBI. This season, the 34-year-old has a solid shot at 300 homers (he's hit four and sits at 282) and should eventually set the all-time mark for second basemen.
No. 26: Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins
Giancarlo Stanton played in 74 games in 2015 and 119 last season because of various injuries. When he's healthy, there isn't a more potent slugger in baseball, as Bleacher Report's Zachary D. Rymer noted. So far in 2017, Stanton has seven homers. At age 27, it feels like he's due for a 50-dinger outburst one of these years.
No. 25: Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
After winning AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2015, Carlos Correa hit .274 with 20 home runs and 96 RBI in his sophomore season, and it felt like a mild letdown. That speaks to Correa's boundless potential and explains why the 22-year-old rates so high on this list despite posting a .233/.309/.349 slash line in April.
No. 24: Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
Joey Votto had yet another exemplary season in 2016 for the rebuilding Cincinnati Reds, hitting 27 home runs with 97 RBI and leading the NL with a .434 on-base percentage. The four-time All-Star and 2010 NL MVP turned 33 in September, but he hit eight home runs with 19 RBI in April.
No. 23: Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, New York Yankees
After a strong spring, Masahiro Tanaka stumbled early for the New York Yankees and then found his groove, culminating with a complete game shutout against the Red Sox April 28. That follows his best season on U.S. soil in 2016, when the Japanese stud posted a 3.07 ERA in 199.2 innings. At age 28, he's putting the concerns about his elbow behind him and throwing like the rotation anchor the Yanks need him to be.
No. 22: Jake Arrieta, RHP, Chicago Cubs
Jake Arrieta won the NL Cy Young Award in 2015 but regressed a touch last season, as his innings dropped from 229 to 197.1 and his ERA rose from 1.77 to 3.10. He posted a 4.66 ERA in April, yet stuck out 10.6 batters per nine innings and went 3-1. In a contract year, look for the 31-year-old to shine.
No. 21: Johnny Cueto, RHP, San Francisco Giants
Johnny Cueto put up a 2.79 ERA in 219.2 innings in 2016, his first go-round with the San Francisco Giants. The 31-year-old Dominican has now thrown 200 or more innings in four of the last five seasons and has two top-six Cy Young Award finishes. He can opt out of his contract after the season, so expect him to improve dramatically on his 5.10 April ERA.
No. 20: Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
A seasoned veteran in the Cubs' youthful lineup, Anthony Rizzo is still only 27 years old, has made three straight All-Star teams and had his best season in 2016, hitting .292 with a .928 OPS, 32 homers and 109 RBI. With six homers and 17 RBI in April, he's on track for another high-caliber campaign.
No. 19: Chris Sale, LHP, Boston Red Sox
Chris Sale went from Chicago's South Side to Boston this winter. Wherever he pitches, the five-time All-Star is one of the game's top left-handers, a virtual lock for 200 innings and 200 strikeouts. He's made a fine impression in Beantown, posting a 1.19 ERA through five starts with 52 strikeouts in 37.2 innings.
No. 18: Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Corey Seager ran away with NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2016, hitting .308 with 22 homers and 73 RBI and ranking fifth in the game with 7.5 WAR. The lanky 23-year-old posted a .916 OPS with five homers in April. He finished third in MVP balloting last season. Winning the prize this year is in play.
No. 17: Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers
Miguel Cabrera hasn't played since April 21 because of a groin injury, and he was bounced from the World Baseball Classic this spring with back problems. Maybe the 34-year-old is reaching the point in his career where tweaks and twinges impede his performance. At the same time, it's tough to doubt a guy with 11 All-Star appearances, two AL MVPs and a Triple Crown to his name.
No. 16: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Paul Goldschmidt hit 24 homers with 95 RBI and a .297 average in 2016. A fine year by most players' standards, but Goldschmidt isn't most players. Now, in his age-29 season, he seems primed for an MVP-caliber comeback, after slashing .315/.462/.522 in April for the resurgent Arizona Diamondbacks.
No. 15: Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets
Noah Syndergaard's stock plummeted when he landed on the disabled list with a partially torn lat muscle Monday, per the Mets official Twitter feed. The 24-year-old had been pitching like an ace after posting a 2.60 ERA with 218 strikeouts in 183.2 innings in 2016 and tying for the lead among pitchers with 6.5 WAR. Assuming he heals, he remains one of the game's most electrifying arms. For now, though, Thor looks disturbingly mortal.
No. 14: Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants
Speaking of injured studs, Madison Bumgarner was on track for another typically excellent season when an ill-fated dirt bike accident damaged his formerly indestructible left shoulder. The Giants southpaw is an undisputed postseason legend and has thrown 200 or more innings every season since 2011 while making four All-Star teams. Now he needs to mend and stay off anything with two wheels.
No. 13: Corey Kluber, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Corey Kluber elevated his profile with an otherworldly performance in the 2016 postseason. Even before that, however, the Klubot had logged three straight 200-plus-inning, 200-plus-strikeout performances and won the AL Cy Young Award in 2014. Point to his 4.19 April ERA if you must, but in his age-31 season, Kluber is a stud among studs.
No. 12: Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
After finishing second in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, Francisco Lindor hit .301 with 15 homers, 19 stolen bases and Gold Glove defense while leading the Indians to Game 7 of the World Series in 2016. Now, he's apparently added more power to his game with seven April home runs. That's what's known in some circles as patently unfair.
No. 11: Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros
Jose Altuve collected an MLB-leading 216 hits in 2016, won the AL batting title with a .338 average, stole 30 bases and set career highs in home runs (24) and RBI (96). He's tallied more than 200 hits in three straight seasons and stole 30 or more bases in five straight. Oh, and he slashed .326/.402/.472 in April.
No. 10: Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey has an NL Rookie of the Year Award and MVP trophy on his shelf. He's won a batting title and owns three championship rings. He was also the top pitch-framer in baseball last season, per StatCorner, while winning his first career Gold Glove.
He also saw his offensive numbers side, as he posted his lowest home run total (14) and worst batting average (.288) of any full MLB campaign.
Posey turned 30 in March and may need to get out from behind the dish in the near future. Still, he hit .354 in April and is the best catcher in the game until someone takes takes the crown.
No. 9: Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
Hitters get dinged for playing their home games at Coors Field. Nolan Arenado, however, doesn't require a Mile High bump.
The 26-year-old tied for the NL lead with 41 homers and paced baseball with 133 RBI in 2016, all while deploying his trademark brand of brilliant defense. He's won a Gold Glove all four years he's been in the league.
He tallied seven home runs in April for the Colorado Rockies, who look like legitimate playoff contenders out West.
"He's one of the best players in the game," Rockies manager Bud Black said, per MLB.com's Steve Dilbeck. "There's no doubt about it. I'll go on record saying that."
So will we.
No. 8: Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Between 2013 and 2016, Josh Donaldson ranks second in baseball with 30.5 WAR. He's finished among the top 10 in MVP voting in each of those seasons and won the prize in 2015.
Last year, he hit 37 homers with 99 RBI and a higher OPS (.953) than he posted in his MVP campaign (.939).
Now, the bad news: Donaldson is on the DL with a calf injury, and the Jays are dead last in the AL East.
Both things can change, but for now there's an icy wet blanket settling over the squad up north.
No. 7: Max Scherzer, RHP, Washington Nationals
Max Scherzer joined some elite company in 2016 when he became just the sixth pitcher in baseball history to win the Cy Young Award in each league.
The other dudes on the list? Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Roy Halladay.
Mad Max has also twirled a pair of no-hitters, authored a 20-strikeout game and logged five straight seasons with 200 or more strikeouts.
Scherzer posted a sub-3.00 ERA for the Washington Nationals in April and is showing zero signs of decline, even as his 33rd birthday approaches this July.
No. 6: Mookie Betts, RF, Boston Red Sox
Mookie Betts took the superstar leap in 2016, hitting .318 with 31 home runs, an .897 OPS and 26 stolen bases, while posting a cartoonish 32 defensive runs saved.
The Sox right fielder earned a second-place AL MVP finish in the process, and while he posted an .802 OPS with two home runs in April, it's reasonable to assume he can shoulder the load.
"His aptitude is some of the best I've been around in the game," Red Sox skipper John Farrell said, per the Associated Press (h/t USA Today). "He's that bright, he's that advanced as far as him processing information and applying it in a moment."
No. 5: Bryce Harper, RF, Washington Nationals
Bryce Harper was the NL MVP in 2015 thanks to a 1.109 OPS, among other head-spinning stats.
That figure fell to .816 in 2016, as Harper's numbers dipped across the board and the brash Nats outfielder went from great to merely good.
Some of that can be blamed on a nagging shoulder injury, as a clearly healthy Harper has displayed this season.
The hirsute 24-year-old bashed nine home runs with a .391 average and .509 on-base percentage in month one.
He's swinging it like a guy who wants another MVP. He set a a record with 32 runs scored in April, per MLB.com's Oliver Macklin.
As Washington skipper Dusty Baker put it, per Macklin, "That was a Major League record? Well, he was on base enough."
No. 4: Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
Kris Bryant won an NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2015, then grabbed an NL MVP in 2016 and won a title with the Cubs for good measure. What will he do for an encore?
Bryant, who turned 25 in January, posted a .939 OPS with 39 homers and 102 RBI in 2016. He also cut down on his strikeouts, from an NL-leading 199 in 2015 to 154, and ranked second in baseball with 8.4 WAR.
He smacked four home runs with a .907 OPS in April, hinting at another huge season.
If Bryant can find a way to win another MVP and vault Chicago to a repeat, a No. 1 slot in these rankings may follow.
No. 3: Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
Injuries derailed two of his first three big league seasons, but Manny Machado is back on track to say the least.
The Baltimore Orioles infielder had a career year in 2016, setting career highs in home runs (37), RBI (96), average (.294) and OPS (.876). He's now had two straight top-five AL MVP finishes. He's also been the best defensive third baseman in baseball since 2014.
Machado hit .224 in April, but it hardly matters. At age 24, he's flying toward his boundless potential.
"[We] can't say that Manny Machado has become as good as prime [Alex] Rodriguez," FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan wrote in June 2016. "But we can say that Machado is looking about as good as prime Rodriguez."
Set aside the baggage that comparison implies and appreciate the emergence of a genuine superstar.
No. 2: Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw isn't merely the best pitcher of the current era—he's one of the best pitchers of any era, and he's still only 28 years old.
Despite missing two full calendar months in 2016 to a back injury, Kershaw tied for the lead among pitchers with 6.5 WAR.
In his nine seasons prior to 2017, he owns a 126-60 record, 2.37 ERA, 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings, three NL Cy Young Awards and one NL MVP.
He's someone you'll tell your grandchildren you watched. So watch him and start committing those stories to memory.
No. 1: Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels don't deserve Mike Trout. They're hanging around .500 with him, which means they'd be buried without him.
The 25-year-old slashed .364/.443/.707 in April. He owns two AL MVP awards and has finished no lower than second in MVP voting every year since 2012. His 47.4 career WAR between 2011 and 2016 is easily the best in that span.
He has nothing to prove, yet he keeps on proving it anyway. He's the best player in the game by a wide margin—not the most compelling personality, but the most skilled practitioner.
Now, if only he could land on a legitimate World Series contender.