Ranking the Top 100 MLB Players at the Start of Spring Training Games
With spring training in full swing, there's no time like the present to get caught up with the best players Major League Baseball has to offer for 2017.
Or the best of the best, for that matter.
So, let's rank the top 100 MLB players at the start of exhibition play. Here are the ground rules for determining the rankings:
- No Prospects: With respect to Andrew Benintendi, Dansby Swanson and others, this list is restricted to established major leaguers.
- Track Records Count: This list favors players who have cemented themselves as healthy, productive stars. The more recent their health and productivity, the better. However...
- Upside Also Counts: Some players figure to get even better than they already are. An effort has been made to weed them out based on their ages and various performance cues.
- So Does Downside: A solid track record is a good thing to have, but sometimes there are regression indicators in a player's age, injury history or performance.
In a nutshell, this top 100 seeks to strike a balance between each player's past performance and projected performance.
We'll start with honorable mentions and a list of players who just missed the cut. After that, it'll be 25 players to a slide for Nos. 100-26, and individual slides for the top 25.
Honorable Mentions and Just Missed
Catchers: Salvador Perez (KCR), Russell Martin (TOR), Willson Contreras (CHC), J.T. Realmuto (MIA)
Corner Infielders: Jose Abreu (CHW), Hanley Ramirez (BOS), Adrian Gonzalez (LAD), Ian Desmond (COL), Eric Hosmer (KCR), Todd Frazier (CHW), Jung Ho Kang (PIT), Martin Prado (MIA), Maikel Franco (PHI), Miguel Sano (MIN)
Middle Infielders: Logan Forsythe (LAD), Devon Travis (TOR), Rougned Odor (TEX), Neil Walker (NYM), Troy Tulowitzki (TOR), Aledmys Diaz (STL)
Outfielders: Jose Bautista (TOR), Lorenzo Cain (KCR), Kevin Pillar (TOR), Stephen Piscotty (STL), Justin Upton (DET), Adam Jones (BAL), Carlos Gonzalez (COL), Billy Hamilton (CIN), Khris Davis (OAK), Byron Buxton (MIN)
Starting Pitchers: Dallas Keuchel (HOU), Gerrit Cole (PIT), J.A. Happ (TOR), Michael Fulmer (DET) Danny Duffy (KCR), Julio Teheran (ATL), Robbie Ray (ARI), Kenta Maeda (LAD), Danny Salazar (CLE), Collin McHugh (HOU), Aaron Nola (PHI), Felix Hernandez (SEA), Lance McCullers (HOU), Marco Estrada (TOR), Sonny Gray (OAK), Adam Wainwright (STL), Jeremy Hellickson (PHI)
Relief Pitchers: Roberto Osuna (TOR), Jeurys Familia (NYM), Mark Melancon (SFG), Edwin Diaz (SEA), Ken Giles (HOU), Seung Hwan Oh (STL)
Mark Trumbo, OF/DH, Baltimore Orioles
It's hard to miss the league-leading 47 bombs that Mark Trumbo hit last year. It's also hard to miss his second-half slump (.214/.284/.470), as well as his lack of defensive and baserunning talents.
Rich Hill, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Rich Hill has been tons of fun to watch as he's carved out a 2.00 ERA since 2015. But he's done so in only 24 starts, and he comes with real durability questions going into his age-37 season.
Zack Greinke, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Zack Greinke's 2016 was disastrous, as he posted a 4.37 ERA and had injuries limit him to 26 starts. Even if he is just a year removed from a 1.66 ERA, a season like that is hard to forgive at his age (33).
Jose Ramirez, 3B, Cleveland Indians
Jose Ramirez was a tough guy to omit in the wake of a season in which he hit .312 and had extra value on the bases and defense. Sadly, the smell test gives him a 2014 Josh Harrison aroma.
Andrelton Simmons, SS, Los Angeles Angels
Andrelton Simmons is still a wizard on defense, but he now has real competition for the best glove work at shortstop from Brandon Crawford and Addison Russell. His bat, meanwhile, remains below average.
Kyle Schwarber, C/OF, Chicago Cubs
Nobody needs to sell yours truly on the upside of Kyle Schwarber's bat. But there is the question of whether he can be of any use outside the batter's box, much less where and how much he'll play.
Aroldis Chapman, RP, New York Yankees
Too many relievers made it onto the initial list. Aroldis Chapman's southbound strikeout rate was an excuse to give him the boot.
100. Kenley Jansen, RP, Los Angeles Dodgers
All Kenley Jansen does is throw cutters. Oh, and get hitters out. The .203 on-base percentage against him over the last two years is the lowest among relievers who've appeared in more than 100 games. And this is just the peak of dominance that's been ongoing for a while now.
99. Carlos Santana, 1B/DH, Cleveland Indians
Carlos Santana is only useful at the plate, so it's a good thing he has two abilities that keep his value up. His career 15.5 walk percentage is a testament to his tremendous eye for the strike zone, and he's coming off a year in which his power peaked with 34 homers.
98. Kole Calhoun, RF, Los Angeles Angels
Poor Kole Calhoun doesn't get to spend much time in the spotlight thanks to the guy who flanks him in the Angels outfield. But he's as solid as they come. His last three years have consisted of a .763 OPS, 61 homers and solid defense in right field.
97. Jon Gray, SP, Colorado Rockies
Jon Gray owns a 4.79 career ERA, so believing in this ranking requires a leap of faith. How about a career 9.7 strikeout-per-nine-innings rate and the stuff to keep pushing that number northward as reasons to take it? Although Coors Field won't do him any favors, he can be the first legit Rockies ace since Ubaldo Jimenez.
96. Jean Segura, SS, Seattle Mariners
Jean Segura's defense will be hurt by his move to shortstop from second base, his main position with Arizona last year. He can make up for that with his offense. The .867 OPS doesn't look too fluky under the hood. He also has the speed for another 30-steal season.
95. Ender Inciarte, CF, Atlanta Braves
With 13 home runs in 1,586 plate appearances, Ender Inciarte is no power hitter. But, he'll hit near .300 with an OBP in the mid-.300s and is an excellent baserunner and even excellenter defender in center field. That's a good player.
94. Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies
It's easy to see Trevor Story as a whiff-happy hitter (31.3 K%) whose power is boosted by Coors Field. But you don't hit 27 home runs in 97 games as a rookie on luck alone. He has the swing and pop to hit 40 homers. He's not a bad defender either.
93. Carlos Rodon, SP, Chicago White Sox
Carlos Rodon has only shown flashes of top-of-the-rotation ability, yet his 9.1 career K/9 is testament to his stuff. And if a second half from 2016 in which he improved his walk, strikeout and home run rates is any indication, he's close to making the most of it.
92. Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros
Alex Bregman was arguably the sport's No. 1 prospect when he joined the Astros last July. After a slow start, he then hit .313 with a .931 OPS in his final 39 games. With surprising power and athleticism fit for shortstop, he deserves more attention as a breakout candidate.
91. Javier Baez, 2B, Chicago Cubs
There are times when Javier Baez looks like a superstar. These times should start becoming more frequent. With his strikeout rate coming down, he's ready to build on last year's .737 OPS and provide power, speed and spectacular defense.
90. Jonathan Villar, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers
Jonathan Villar was a big surprise last season, popping up to post an .826 OPS and lead MLB with 62 stolen bases. He also showed impressive power in the second half that should carry over into 2017. And he should fit better at second base than he did at short or third.
89. Zach Britton, RP, Baltimore Orioles
Don't ask Zach Britton to repeat last year's 0.54 ERA. That'll be tough. It's hard to doubt much else, though. All he's done the last three years is limit walks (2.4 BB/9), gather strikeouts (9.3 K/9) and induce a patently absurd amount of ground balls (77.9 GB%).
88. Dellin Betances, RP, New York Yankees
Dellin Betances isn't worth $5 million, eh? That's actually true. With a 1.93 ERA and 14.3 K/9 in 247 innings out of the bullpen over the last three seasons, he's worth much more.
87. Kevin Gausman, SP, Baltimore Orioles
Kevin Gausman had a minor breakout last year, putting up a 3.61 ERA in 179.2 innings. With mid-90s gas and the best swing-and-miss splitter since at least 2007 at his disposal, he ought to do even better.
86. Gregory Polanco, LF, Pittsburgh Pirates
The .786 OPS Gregory Polanco put up in 2016 was the latest stop in an upward climb. He also hit 22 homers with 17 steals. Up next should be a 20-20 season with an OPS over .800 and solid defense in left field.
85. Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles
Chris Davis' overall value goes as his roller-coaster BABIP goes. But with an average of 41 homers since 2013, he's always good for power. He also keeps the walks coming and is a good baserunner and defender.
84. Andrew McCutchen, RF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Following the worst season of his career, Andrew McCutchen is arguably lucky to be here. But, there's hope. The dude was an MVP candidate every year between 2012 and 2015. He also finished 2016 with an .852 OPS in August and September and should fit well in right field.
83. Carlos Carrasco, SP, Cleveland Indians
Carlos Carrasco has averaged just 155 innings over the last three seasons. He needs to do better than that to be labeled a workhorse. He's one of the best when he does pitch, however. That shows in his 3.22 ERA, 9.8 K/9 and .637 opponent OPS (an elite AL mark) since 2014.
82. Andrew Miller, RP, Cleveland Indians
Andrew Miller started finding himself as a reliever in 2012 and 2013 and has since become the best in the business. His 2016 season was especially absurd. He posted a 1.45 ERA and struck out 114 more batters than he walked in 74.1 innings. And who can count how many slider GIFs he produced?
81. Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals
It's shocking that Yadier Molina threw out only 21 percent of base stealers last season. But with a .787 OPS, he had his best offensive season since 2013. And despite his throwing issues, he remained strong at framing and blocking. His down 2015 season suddenly looks like an anomaly.
80. Dexter Fowler, CF, St. Louis Cardinals
Between his batting eye and his solid blend of power and speed, Dexter Fowler has been a well-rounded offensive player his entire career. And now that he knows about his ideal positioning, he should carry over his defensive improvement.
79. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF, Boston Red Sox
Jackie Bradley Jr. ran out of gas toward the end of 2016 but has produced an .849 OPS with 35 homers in his last 856 major league plate appearances. Turns out he has a knack for hard contact. Meanwhile, he remains an excellent defender.
78. Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees
After posting a 1.032 OPS and hitting 20 homers in only 53 games as a rookie last year, Gary Sanchez can only come down in 2017. Yet there's no denying his ability to barrel the ball. He also has a laser throwing arm and has been seen working on his framing. He won't come down too far.
77. Trea Turner, SS, Washington Nationals
After hitting .342 with a .937 OPS, 13 homers and 33 steals in only 73 games last year, Trea Turner can also only come down from 2016. Nonetheless, anyone can dig a player with blinding speed who also has good pop. It's for the best that he's now back at his natural spot, shortstop.
76. DJ LeMahieu, 2B, Colorado Rockies
DJ LeMahieu put himself on the map with a Gold Glove in 2014. He's since become a pretty good hitter as well, batting .301 in 2015 and a league-best .348 last year. Yes, Coors Field shares the credit. But his approach and feel for hard contact have become legitimately good.
75. Matt Carpenter, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are still trying to find the right place for Matt Carpenter on defense, so it's a good thing he can hit. His no-swing approach has helped him establish a .378 OBP since 2013. And he's tallied 138 extra-base hits since 2015, including 49 homers.
74. Ben Zobrist, 2B/LF, Chicago Cubs
Wins above replacement no longer paints Ben Zobrist as an elite player. But his bat is eternally above average and is coming off a renaissance year highlighted by a .386 OBP. Throw in some power, some lingering baserunning talent and a versatile glove, and presto: a quality player.
73. Wil Myers, 1B, San Diego Padres
Wil Myers struggled with a .697 OPS after the break in 2016 but still secured a .797 OPS and 28 homers and 28 steals. That's well-rounded offense by first base standards, and he even threw in good defense. The former Rookie of the Year has found his calling.
72. Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants
Brandon Belt isn't the kind of hulking slugger generally found at first base. Yet he's been one of the best hitters at the position for five years, and he finds himself coming off a career-best .868 OPS. That came complete with his usual quality defense.
71. Yasmani Grandal, C, Los Angeles Dodgers
Yasmani Grandal has always hit and is coming off a high-water mark with an .816 OPS and 27 homers in 2016. He's also one of the best strike framers in the sport. That's two major sources of value at the most important position on the diamond.
70. Cole Hamels, SP, Texas Rangers
Cole Hamels' trusty changeup hasn't been fooling as many hitters in recent years. But with a 3.32 ERA and 200.2 innings in 2016, he kept up a longstanding habit of providing over 200 quality innings. He's as reliable as they come.
69. Marcus Stroman, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
Although Marcus Stroman only had a 4.37 ERA in 2016, his peripherals painted him as elite. And he looked more like the part with a 3.68 ERA after the break. The adjustments he made along the way make him a legit Cy Young candidate.
68. Yu Darvish, SP, Texas Rangers
Now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Yu Darvish should at least be his usual self in 2017—see his career 3.29 ERA and 11.3 K/9. He'll be even better if he keeps pushing his walk rate south and carries over his newfound efficiency against lefty batters.
67. A.J. Pollock, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks
A.J. Pollock was a quiet star in 2013 and 2014 and a criminally overlooked superstar in 2015. He put up an .865 OPS with 20 homers and 39 steals and won a well-deserved Gold Glove. Sadly, injuries sidelined him for almost all of 2016. On the bright side, he's still only 29 this season.
66. Odubel Herrera, CF, Philadelphia Phillies
Odubel Herrera is a solid two-way center fielder. In two years, he's averaged a .773 OPS with 12 homers and 20 steals while playing quality defense. And after improving his walk and strikeout rates in 2016, his next step is worth anticipating.
65. Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington Nationals
As usual, Stephen Strasburg's durability is a question mark. He's turned a corner with his pitching ability, however, posting a 3.07 ERA with an 11.6 K/9 in 34 starts dating back to the end of 2015. He's discovered the best way to use his electric stuff.
64. Jacob deGrom, SP, New York Mets
Jacob deGrom has a durability question mark of his own after undergoing season-ending elbow surgery last September. But there's plenty to like about the 2.74 ERA he has in his 76 major league starts. Same goes for his 9.2 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and elite .620 opponent OPS.
63. Carlos Martinez, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
Over the last two years, Carlos Martinez has put up a 3.02 ERA with an 8.6 K/9 in 375 innings. Plenty good enough, but he has the stuff (namely a mid-90s heater and a sick slider and changeup) to do better. And based on how he looked down the stretch last year, better is coming.
62. Chris Archer, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
Chris Archer rose fast with a 3.26 ERA between 2013 and 2015, but seemed to fall hard in posting a 4.02 ERA last year. Well, he didn't. Archer continued to be elite at whiffing batters with a 10.4 K/9, and really settled down with a 3.25 ERA in the second half. He'll be a star again in no time.
61. J.D. Martinez, RF, Detroit Tigers
Injury limited J.D. Martinez to 120 games, and he put up some ugly defensive metrics in 2016. But with a .908 OPS and 22 homers, he kept right on hitting. That's been the case for the last three years, in which he's been one of the 10 best hitters in the league.
60. Masahiro Tanaka, SP, New York Yankees
Masahiro Tanaka's fame peaked in 2014, but his ability didn't peak with it. After strong seasons in 2014 and 2015, he had his best campaign yet with a 3.07 ERA in 199.2 innings in 2016. He doesn't collect strikeouts like he used to but still has excellent command and movement.
59. David Price, SP, Boston Red Sox
It looks bad that David Price lost velocity and finished with a 3.99 ERA last season. But he did post a 3.39 ERA in his final 28 outings and generally had strong peripherals. He also led the league with 230 innings. The former Cy Young winner and two-time ERA champ isn't finished as an ace.
58. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B/DH, Cleveland Indians
Since he's a bat-only player, it's a red flag that Edwin Encarnacion's once superb strikeout rate is trending toward the league average. He still has his batting eye and power, though. After clubbing 42 homers in 2016, Encarnacion now owns 193 dingers in his last five seasons.
57. Nelson Cruz, RF/DH, Seattle Mariners
Nelson Cruz is also a bat-only player, but his bat is a tad better than Encarnacion's. Cruz leads all hitters with 127 homers since 2014 and has put up a .925 OPS in the last two seasons. Not many hitters have been as productive.
56. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Ryan Braun's body isn't as sturdy as it used to be, and the quality of his defense varies, depending on which metric you prefer. However, he's enjoyed an offensive rebirth with an .879 OPS, 55 homers and 40 steals since 2015. He's not finished as a well-rounded producer.
55. Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay Rays
Evan Longoria's defense at third base has gotten shaky, and that's probably not changing now that he's on the wrong side of 30. But in averaging 160 games since 2013, Longoria has shown he'll be there every day. And his .840 OPS and 36 homers from 2016 prove he can still hit.
54. Joc Pederson, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
It looks good enough that Joc Pederson has managed an .801 OPS and 51 homers while playing a premium position over the last two seasons. Even better is the eye-opening .900 OPS he had down the stretch in 2016. He's ready for the next step.
53. Charlie Blackmon, CF, Colorado Rockies
Charlie Blackmon was solid in 2014 and 2015 but too reliant on Coors Field. That changed in 2016. He raked more than ever on the road en route to a .933 OPS with 29 homers and 17 steals. His defense is nothing special, but his offensive profile is enough to forgive that.
52. Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians
Jason Kipnis had a rough 2014. But otherwise, a typical year for him has included an OPS north of .800 with a solid mix of power and speed and good defense on the side. There's no more upside for him to explore, but his two-way reliability deserves more respect.
51. Justin Turner, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers
Justin Turner is up there among the game's most overlooked stars. His three years in Los Angeles have consisted of an .856 OPS and 50 home runs, including a peak of 27 homers last year. He's also settled in as a capable defender at third base.
50. Addison Russell, SS, Chicago Cubs
Addison Russell is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, and his best offense is coming soon. He improved his OPS by 42 points from 2015 to 2016 and teased higher potential in producing more contact and power after July. He's an emerging superstar.
49. Aaron Sanchez, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
Aaron Sanchez figured out how to throw strikes in 2016, and the result was an AL-best 3.00 ERA in 192 innings. A bigger workload should be in store for him in 2017. And while a scan of his peripherals raises questions about how much upside he has left, his heavy sinker should protect him from regression.
48. Kyle Hendricks, SP, Chicago Cubs
Kyle Hendricks made the leap from average starter in 2015 to ace in 2016, leading baseball with a 2.13 ERA in 190 innings. It'll be tough to repeat that, but he won't fall too far. He can baffle hitters with his command and feel for sequencing and is positioned to miss more bats in 2017.
47. Jake Arrieta, SP, Chicago Cubs
Jake Arrieta hit a wall midway through 2016 and finished with a 4.44 ERA in his last 16 starts. But before that, he had a 2.01 ERA in his previous 73 starts, with 510 strikeouts and only 325 hits allowed in 483.2 innings. That stretch of excellence isn't far enough in the past to be disregarded.
46. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals
Anthony Rendon came with durability concerns even before played just 80 games in 2015. But before that came an MVP-caliber season in 2014, and after it came a return to form in 2016. Although he's not great at any one thing, he can hit, hit for power, run the bases and play defense.
45. Brandon Crawford, SS, San Francisco Giants
A good defensive shortstop to begin with, Brandon Crawford has elevated his defensive game to a new level the last two seasons. He's also been an above-average hitter for several years now, compiling a .757 OPS with decent power since 2014.
44. Kevin Kiermaier, CF, Tampa Bay Rays
You're looking at possibly the best defensive player in baseball right now. No catch or throw is too tough for Kevin Kiermaier. He's also a halfway decent offensive player, compiling a .738 OPS with 32 homers and 44 steals over the last three years.
43. Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins
Giancarlo Stanton's upside is far beyond what this ranking indicates. But injuries have tended to find him, and he recently looked lost at the plate for a large chunk of 2016. But if nothing else, he has his good eye and the booming power that's produced 208 homers in seven years.
42. George Springer, CF, Houston Astros
George Springer may only hold his own in center field after playing a solid right field the last couple of years. There aren't many at his new position with his offensive upside, however. In three campaigns, he's posted an .816 OPS with 65 homers and 30 steals and could tap into additional upside in his age-27 season.
41. Rick Porcello, SP, Boston Red Sox
Rick Porcello wasn't the most dominant Cy Young winner ever last year. But he did crank out solid start after solid start in posting a 3.15 ERA and MLB-best 5.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 223 innings. That makes it two years out of three he's been an easily above-average starter for 200-plus innings.
40. Jonathan Lucroy, C, Texas Rangers
Jonathan Lucroy was an underrated gem before becoming an MVP candidate in 2014. After a down year in 2015, he re-emerged with an .855 OPS and 24 homers in 2016. Elsewhere, he's become quite good at controlling the running game and is still a solid strike framer.
39. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Boston Red Sox
Dustin Pedroia has occasionally appeared on the verge of declining, but it hasn't happened yet. He turned in a vintage year in 2016, hitting .318 with an .825 OPS and 15 homers while playing his usual excellent defense. He's been one of the best at second base for a decade now.
38. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
Xander Bogaerts isn't much of a defender at shortstop, so he must hit to earn his keep. Fortunately, he hit for average (.320) in 2015 and then for power (21 homers) in 2016. The logical next step for 2017 is the best of both worlds. Elsewhere, he's quietly a superb baserunner.
37. Daniel Murphy, 2B, Washington Nationals
The downside of Daniel Murphy's game is his defense, which isn't good. But man, is he on a tear at the plate. He led the National League with a .985 OPS in 2016. Go back to August of 2015, and his OPS only drops to .950. And this isn't even counting what he did in the postseason that year.
36. Adam Eaton, CF, Washington Nationals
There's reason to worry about Adam Eaton's move from right field, where he was good, back to center field, where he was not. His offense will be there regardless, however. In the last three years, that's consisted of a .783 OPS, 29 homers and strong baserunning.
35. Christian Yelich, CF, Miami Marlins
With a .293 career average, Christian Yelich can rake. He also has the athleticism and instincts to handle his move from left field to center field. Most exciting, however, is his power potential. He launched 21 homers in 2016, and that was just the beginning of his tapping into his sneaky-good raw pop.
34. Yoenis Cespedes, LF, New York Mets
Despite some obligatory health issues, Yoenis Cespedes proved his 2015 breakout was no fluke in 2016. He owns an .876 OPS and 66 homers over the last two seasons. And now he doesn't have to worry about playing center field in 2017. He'll play mostly in left, where he's among the best defenders.
33. Jon Lester, SP, Chicago Cubs
Jon Lester has posted ERAs in the mid-2.00s in two of the last three seasons and strong peripherals in the one exception (2015). All told, the lefty ace has a 2.74 ERA with a 9.0 K/9 over 627.1 innings since 2014. The one question mark: How will he fare without personal catcher/button-pusher David Ross?
32. Jose Quintana, SP, Chicago White Sox
Jose Quintana was an All-Star and a top-10 Cy Young finisher in 2016, so it's safe to stop calling him underrated. Indeed, it's hard not to appreciate a dude with a 3.35 ERA in 814.2 innings over the last four years. It's unlikely he'll get any better, but his best is plenty good enough.
31. Johnny Cueto, SP, San Francisco Giants
Johnny Cueto has had his ups and downs, and simply explaining how he operates is an undertaking unto itself. As for how good he can be, one need only point to his three Cy Young-caliber seasons since 2012. The most recent came last year, when he managed a 2.79 ERA in 219.2 innings.
30. Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners
Robinson Cano went through some hard times in 2014 and 2015, notably battling a bad stomach that held him back. He came roaring back to life last year, posting an .882 OPS and hitting a career-high 39 homers. His power surge is suspect, but the 34-year-old deserves some faith based on his track record.
29. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Detroit Tigers
Now 34, Ian Kinsler should be in the twilight of his career. But he's done some of his best work in the last four seasons. That includes 2016, in which he had an .831 OPS with 28 homers alongside strong baserunning and defense. In all, he's defying the notion that second basemen burn out quickly.
28. Starling Marte, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Starling Marte has been one of the league's most well-rounded weapons since 2013, hitting .292 with a .797 OPS, 53 homers and 148 stolen bases. He's also been an elite defender in left field, which explains why the Pirates are comfortable moving him to center.
27. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers
You'd never know Adrian Beltre was about to enter his age-38 season. He's become a more consistent star in old age. His most recent effort was a ho-hum year in 2016 in which he played great defense with an .879 OPS and 32 homers.
26. Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers
The amazing run Justin Verlander went on between 2006 and 2012 seemed to be in the past by 2014 and 2015. But he showed signs of life at the end of 2015 and bounced all the way back with a 3.04 ERA and 10.0 K/9 in 227.2 innings last year. He narrowly missed a Cy Young that he arguably should have won.
25. Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins
Brian Dozier's very existence might seem like an impossibility. Second basemen who stand at just 5'11" aren't supposed to have such mighty power.
It's true that Dozier doesn't pack nearly as much raw pop as Big Papi did. His power is more about efficiency. The best way to clear the fence is to get the ball in the air and to pull it. In the last two years, Dozier has been elite at one and the elite at the other.
24. Kyle Seager, 3B, Seattle Mariners
There are better Seagers out there, but Kyle Seager's none too shabby.
In fact, the 29-year-old's career is a good case study for gradual improvements. He started out as a subpar hitter and iffy defender. He's since become quite good at both and is coming off his best season.
Last year saw Seager post a career-high .859 OPS and hit a career-high 30 home runs, with a career-best hard-hit rate on the side. And despite 22 errors, he rated as somewhere between a good and great defender at the hot corner.
If this ranking seems too high, it's only because Seager doesn't have the biggest name at a star-studded position. But rest assured, he has the numbers.
23. Chris Sale, SP, Boston Red Sox
Combine wicked stuff with strong command and pack it into a body fit for a Slenderman cosplayer, and Chris Sale is what you get.
Sale, 27, became a Cy Young-caliber pitcher immediately after transitioning from the Chicago White Sox's bullpen to their rotation in 2012. Since then, his achievements include five All-Star selections to go with a 3.04 ERA and 10.0 K/9.
Last season was different. Sale intentionally curtailed his velocity for the sake of being more efficient. His dominance paid the price, as his K/9 fell to 9.3 from 11.8 the year before.
The fact that Sale still managed a 3.34 ERA in 226.2 innings goes to show he's more than just a powerful arm. His stuff is filthy at any speed, and he knows how to use it.
22. Corey Kluber, SP, Cleveland Indians
When he's not thumbing through phone books looking for people named Sarah Connor as his alter ego, Corey Kluber is quite a good pitcher.
That first became apparent in 2013 when he broke out with a 3.85 ERA in 147.1 innings. Then came his Cy Young season in 2014, in which he dominated from start to finish with a 2.44 ERA in 235.2 innings.
The 30-year-old may never hit that high again, but he kept going strong in 2015 and 2016 with a 3.32 ERA and 9.7 K/9 in 437 innings. Such is life when you have command of an arsenal of heat with varying movements and one of the league's nastiest sliders for finishing off hitters.
The 249.1 total innings Kluber pitched last season raises some concern. However, it's not enough to remove him from from the conversation of baseball's best pitchers.
21. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
The guy who plays across the diamond from Anthony Rizzo has become a much bigger star, but the first baseman still deserves as much credit as he can get.
There's been little variation in Rizzo's performance over the last three years. When you're averaging a .913 OPS and 32 homers per season, that's a good thing. He keeps it simple: work counts, make contact and hit the ball hard.
Rizzo, 27, isn't just of use in the batter's box. He's also one of the game's best defensive first basemen. he often looks the part, scooping balls with the best of 'em and making the occasional highlight reel catch.
Other first basemen have more upside than Rizzo, but even they must be jealous of his consistency. In the last three years, he's the only one at the position with three five-WAR seasons.
20. Madison Bumgarner, SP, San Francisco Giants
If you want to talk postseason pitching, then we can have a conversation about Madison Bumgarner as one of the best pitchers ever.
For the most part, he's only one of the best pitchers of his time. The 27-year-old lefty is the only hurler to do better than a 3.00 ERA and 200 innings in each of the last four seasons. AT&T Park or no AT&T Park, that's impressive.
It's not overpowering stuff that makes Bumgarner so effective. It's more a combination of things. His delivery makes it hard for hitters to track the ball, and he has the command to work in and out, up and down. Even without overpowering stuff, his strikeout rate is on the rise.
One more thing that doesn't hurt: The dude can hit.
19. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers
Kneel before one of the greatest hitters to ever come through Major League Baseball.
Miguel Cabrera is the active leader with his .321 career batting average, and his .961 OPS equates to a 155 OPS+. Among hitters with at least 9,000 plate appearances, that ties him with a fellow named Hank Aaron.
The 33-year-old seemed to be moving past his peak in 2014 and 2015, but came back with a .956 OPS and 38 home runs last season. That included a 1.057 OPS and 20 homers in the second half, indicating that he was finally clear of the health woes that had been plaguing him.
18. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
Regarding pure hitting ability, Joey Votto is the only player in baseball on Miguel Cabrera's level.
It's a different style of hitting, of course. Whereas Cabrera prefers to swing, a pitcher needs to throw a good offering to get Votto's bat off his shoulder. His batting eye is legendary and has allowed him to draw walks at a higher rate than anyone during his career.
That's partially where Votto's career .425 OBP comes from, and he's only pushed it higher with .459 and .434 marks in the last two seasons. And as the 58 homers he's hit in 2015-16 prove, the 33-year-old still has some pop in his bat.
Votto's bat has been slightly more productive than Cabrera's the last two seasons. He's also been more durable and less terrible on the bases and on defense. So, here he is.
17. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
And then there's Freddie Freeman, who was last seen hitting the daylights out of everything.
The 27-year-old actually got off to a slow start in 2016 with just a .757 OPS through the season's first two months. Then everything clicked, resulting in a 1.068 OPS and 26 homers in the season's final four months. He finished with a career-best .968 OPS and 34 homers.
It would be doing Freeman a disservice to say that came out of nowhere. He had put up an .863 OPS and hit 59 homers in the three prior seasons. And when looking at his short-yet-powerful swing, it was easy to imagine that greater things could be in store for him.
Freeman took his first steps onto that greener grass last year. To boot, he did it while continuing to play a good first base. He's on the up and up going into 2017.
16. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
There's no point ignoring the boost that Nolan Arenado gets from Coors Field. His career OPS at home is 175 points higher than it is on the road.
It's not by accident that Arenado has become a good road hitter in the last two seasons, however. He's improved his approach and tailored his swing to do damage anywhere, pushing his fly-ball, pull and hard-hit percentages ever northward.
His overall numbers, meanwhile, have been astounding. The 25-year-old has compiled a .915 OPS in the last two seasons and led the National League in home runs, RBI and total bases both years.
15. Noah Syndergaard, SP, New York Mets
After a promising breakthrough in 2015, it's safe to say Noah Syndergaard's first full season in the majors was a success.
The 24-year-old was limited to 183.2 innings in 2016, but in those he had a 2.60 ERA with a 10.7 K/9 and only a 2.1 BB/9. Even balls in play against him tended to be mere moral victories, as he was among the best in the business at avoiding the barrel.
It's possible we've never seen an arm like this. Syndergaard is the hardest-throwing starting pitcher on record, averaging 97.1 mph on his fastball in 2015 and 98.0 mph in 2016. And after gaining 17 pounds over the offseason, he plans on throwing even harder this year.
On the one hand, this sounds risky. On the other hand, why not? Everything we have says Syndergaard is a freak of nature.
14. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
Francisco Lindor has lived up to the hype to one extent: He's an amazing defensive shortstop.
Baseball America had him rated as a 70-grade defender going into 2015. He's made good on that by placing among the elite defensive shortstops in the game in both defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating the last two seasons. He can make plays even when he's falling down.
Elsewhere, Lindor has far surpassed the modest offensive hype he came with. He's a .306 hitter with an .810 OPS in 257 major league games, with some power (27 homers) and speed (31 steals) on the side.
There wouldn't seem to be any more upside for Lindor to realize in 2017. But as is, he already has a case for being called baseball's best shortstop.
13. Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Speaking of hype, Corey Seager was tasked with living up to arguably too much of it when he entered 2016 as everyone's No. 1 prospect.
And yet, he somehow surpassed the hype by hitting .308 with an .877 OPS and 26 homers. He was the runaway winner in the NL Rookie of the Year race and finished third in the MVP voting.
Add in what he did at the end of 2015, and Seager is a .312 hitter with an .892 OPS as a major leaguer. That's impressive stuff by any standard and extra impressive for a hitter who has to contend with Dodger Stadium's big dimensions and marine layer.
12. Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
Everyone was aboard the Carlos Correa hype train when he won the Rookie of the Year in 2015, as he did so on the strength of an .857 OPS with 22 homers and 14 steals in only 99 games.
As an encore, Correa managed "only" an .811 OPS, 20 homers and 13 steals in 2016. But even those numbers helped place him among the league's elite shortstops, and he can get better.
Indeed, Correa will only be 22 in 2017. He's only a couple tweaks away from tapping his full offensive potential, and his athleticism and arm strength are reasons to believe he hasn't yet tapped his full defensive potential.
Somewhere in Correa is a 30-30 season with strong defense on the side. He can realize it as soon as this year, which would leave nobody feeling disappointed.
11. Bryce Harper, RF, Washington Nationals
After winning a unanimous MVP in 2015, Bryce Harper claims to know "exactly why" he plummeted back to earth in 2016, per the Associated Press (via USA Today).
He wouldn't share details, but the theories are out there. ESPN.com's Eddie Matz wrote about how the Chicago Cubs may have broken Harper when they refused to pitch to him in a May series. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated has written about a mysterious shoulder ailment.
Regardless, nobody should give up on Harper.
The 1.109 OPS and 42 homers he produced in 2015 are testament to his enormous upside. And in general, any player who owns a career .883 OPS and 121 homers going into his age-24 season is not to be underestimated.
10. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros
Believe it or not, Jose Altuve's 5'6" frame actually does come with disadvantages. Mostly on defense, where he can't make all the plays or all the throws.
Otherwise, his size makes no difference.
Altuve won his second batting title in three years last season and is a .331 hitter overall since 2014. And by putting more balls in the air and upping his hard-hit rate, he's been infusing his game with more power. It's not impossible to think he'll repeat last year's 24 homers or .531 slugging percentage.
The 26-year-old can also run, having stolen at least 30 bases in each of the last five seasons. The total package is one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the league, and one of the most productive players in general.
9. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
We found out in 2016 what a down year from Paul Goldschmidt looks like. It apparently features an .899 OPS with 24 homers and 32 stolen bases.
That obviously only looks bad relative to his three prior campaigns. The 29-year-old averaged a .968 OPS with 29 homers and 15 steals per year, establishing himself as one of the top offensive forces in baseball.
Goldschmidt should get back on that track in 2017. While his numbers went backward last season, he maintained a strong approach and an ability to make hard contact. All he has to do is pick up where he left off, and his numbers should improve accordingly.
Lest anyone forget, Goldschmidt is also a two-time Gold Glove winner with strong defensive metrics. Even in a league populated by stud first basemen, he's one of a kind in terms of all-around ability.
8. Max Scherzer, SP, Washington Nationals
Once Max Scherzer learned how to command his sizzling stuff, he became one of the most lethal pitchers in recent memory.
That was sometime late in 2012, when something clicked and he finished the year on a tear. Then came a Cy Young season in 2013, two more dominant years in 2014 and 2015 and another Cy Young season in 2016.
In all, Scherzer owns a 2.95 ERA and 5.0 K/BB ratio in 891.2 innings over the last four seasons. Only Clayton Kershaw has produced more overall value. And in the last two years, Scherzer has two more no-hitters and one more 20-strikeout game than Kershaw.
At 32 years old, Scherzer is getting a little long in the tooth. But since he's showing no signs of slowing down, who are we to assume he will?
7. Mookie Betts, RF, Boston Red Sox
Mookie Betts was a fifth-round draft pick in 2011 who was never widely considered one of baseball's elite prospects.
Now look at him.
Betts opened eyes with his breakthrough in 2014 and established himself as a star in 2015. Last year he established himself as a superstar. He finished with an .897 OPS, 31 homers and 26 stolen bases and won a Gold Glove for his excellent defense in right field.
The only nit to pick is that the power Betts had last season is too good to be true. The 24-year-old is more of a 20-homer guy than a 30-homer guy. But even with lesser power in 2017, Betts will still have an all-around skill set that few in the game can match.
6. Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
The first time Manny Machado tasted superstardom was in 2013, when he was an other-worldly defender who led the league in doubles.
Machado has tasted a different flavor of superstardom in the last two seasons. He's not quite the same defender, but he's still good and is now a much better hitter. He's averaged an .869 OPS and hit 72 home runs since 2015.
The 24-year-old does seem to be finished tapping into his upside. But when you're already one of the best players in baseball, there's no need to push things any further.
5. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey is a former Rookie of the Year and MVP, as well as a three-time World Series champion. And yet he's found a way to become underrated.
This is partially due to his offensive fall, as he followed four fruitful years with a more pedestrian .288 average and .796 OPS in 2016. His performance doesn't look nearly as pedestrian under the hood, though. Posey had nearly as many walks (64) as strikeouts (68) and made good contact in all directions.
Meanwhile, he might be the single most valuable defensive player in baseball. He's always been a well-rounded catcher, and last year he was elite at framing, throwing and blocking. To boot, he plays a good first base when he's not catching.
With his age-30 season due up, it is possible Posey's best days are in the past. But even now, you better believe he's a top-five player.
4. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Despite his MVP and three All-Star selections, it still feels like Josh Donaldson doesn't get enough credit.
With an .893 OPS and 131 homers at the plate and good glove work in the field, Donaldson is the only player in baseball who can hold a candle to Mike Trout in total value since 2013. That in itself is saying a lot, and Donaldson might not be done getting better.
It didn't get the attention of his 2015 season, but Donaldson's 2016 campaign was his best yet at the plate. He earned his career-best .953 OPS, as he struck out only 10 more times than he walked and crushed what he put in play. He was never better at hitting the ball hard.
If the 31-year-old builds on that in 2017, the numbers and the attention will be appropriately big.
3. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
Kris Bryant is already qualified to write the book on one-upmanship, and he may not be done adding to his resume.
Bryant would have continued as an elite player even if he didn't seek to improve on a rookie season in 2015 that featured an .858 OPS and 26 homers. Instead he cut way back on his strikeouts in 2016, and his production ballooned to include a .939 OPS and 39 homers.
And Bryant is more than just a bat. He's checked out as one of the best baserunners in baseball over the last two years. He also plays good defense in left field, right field and first base in addition to his natural third base.
In short, baseball has yet to throw anything at Bryant that he can't handle. And he's still only 25.
2. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
It took until 2014, his seventh season in the majors, for Clayton Kershaw to land on the disabled list. But then it happened again last year, as a bad back limited him to a career-low-tying 21 starts.
But, let's be real. Kershaw will still only be 29 on Opening Day. And apart from the injuries, he's very much been himself in the last couple of years.
His 2014 absence didn't keep him from a career-best 1.77 ERA, much less his third Cy Young and first MVP. And when he was healthy last year, he managed a 1.69 ERA and struck out 161 more batters than he walked in just 149 innings.
This is a pitcher with a 2.37 career ERA and a 159 ERA+, which is the best ever for hurlers with at least 1,500 career innings. In other words: Nobody should doubt him.
1. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels
It would have been bold to suggest that somebody other than Mike Trout is the best player in baseball today.
Bold, but stupid.
Maybe a couple of years ago, when Trout actually had weaknesses. After playing like a god among men in 2012 and 2013, he developed a whiff habit and lost something on the bases and on defense in 2014 and 2015. He looked human.
Last year changed all that. Trout's strikeout problem largely vanished as he tied his career high with a .991 OPS, and he stole 30 bases to go with his 29 home runs. Per defensive runs saved, he also had his best defensive season since his rookie year in 2012.