B/R's 'Face of MLB' Rankings Entering the 2017 Season

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMarch 8, 2017

B/R's 'Face of MLB' Rankings Entering the 2017 Season

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    Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.
    Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.G Fiume/Getty Images

    What does it mean to be the face of Major League Baseball?

    For starters, you have to play baseball and possess a face. Seriously, though, it's an intriguing question with many possible answers. Let's break it down into a few sub-categoriesthe "four P's," if you will:

    • Performance: This isn't going to be a list of the top players by WAR. But statistics matter, as do awards and All-Star appearances.
    • Potential: Track record is important, but bonus points are awarded to players just entering or in the midst of their prime.
    • Popularity: How many jerseys do you sell? How many Twitter and Instagram followers do you have? How much, in other words, do fans and the media respond to you? The face of the league has got to have the "it" factor.
    • Personality: Speaking of which, it pays to be charismatic, interesting and perhaps even occasionally controversial. The play-it-safe, cliche-spewing athlete is an outmoded relic in this social media age.

    With our ground rules defined, here are the top 10 candidates for B/R's face of MLB honors. And yes, we double-checked—they all have faces.

Honorable Mentions

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    Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera.
    Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera.Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

    Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants

    Madison Bumgarner has won three World Series rings, made four All-Star teams and had three top-six National League Cy Young Award finishes, and he's still just 27 years old.

    Add the growing legend surrounding his hitting prowess and his temperamental, snot-rocket-blasting edge and you have the makings of a character who's both integral to and bigger than the game.

    Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers

    A few years ago, Miguel Cabrera would have been near the top of this list.

    He's an 11-time All-Star, two-time MVP and Triple Crown winner, after all. The resume is unimpeachable.

    He's also a high-level player at age 33. He's exiting his prime, however, along with the aging Detroit Tigers and has ceded top billing to his younger, emerging MLB colleagues. 

    Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros

    After winning American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2015, Carlos Correa had an uneven season in 2016. The Houston Astros missed the postseason, and his OPS dropped from .857 to .811.

    Still, the 22-year-old Puerto Rican is at the forefront of MLB's burgeoning shortstop revolution. 

    "What makes Correa particularly marketable," USA Today's Jorge L. Ortiz opined, "is the multicultural dimension he brings, along with a willingness to play the role."

    Other notables: Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros; Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays; Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies; Yoenis Cespedes, OF, New York Mets; Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks; Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals; Max Scherzer, RHP, Washington Nationals; Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers; Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins; Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers.

No. 10: Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians

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    Rob Tringali/Getty Images

    2016 Stats: .301/.358/.435 slash line, 15 HR, 19 SB, 6.3 WAR

    Number of Twitter/Instagram followers: 234,200

    Rank on MLB.com's List of Top 20 Jerseys Sold (via Forbes.com): N/A

    After finishing second to Correa in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, Francisco Lindor leaped ahead of his Puerto Rican countryman last season.

    The 23-year-old won a Gold Glove, made the All-Star team, finished ninth in MVP voting and led the Cleveland Indians to the brink of World Series glory.

    The Tribe didn't bust its six-decade-plus title drought, but Lindor shone on the October stage, hitting .310 with an .820 OPS in 15 postseason games. 

    You could put Correa and Seager ahead of him in terms of star wattage. Lindor has that quality, though, that undefinable something

    "I think for a guy who is still so young, and has only been around so long, he's just so calm, cool, and collected," Indians reliever and fellow playoff hero Andrew Miller said, per CBS Sports' Mike Axisa. "He's such a threat when he's at the plate. He obviously plays great defense. He's a star."

No. 9: Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    2016 Stats: 183.2 IP, 218 SO, 2.60 ERA, 1.149 WHIP, 6.5 WAR

    Number of Twitter/Instagram followers: 665,000

    Rank on MLB.com's List of Top 20 Jerseys Sold (via Forbes.com): No. 10

    When you're named after a Norse god/Marvel superhero and you earn it, that's a good sign.

    Noah Syndergaard took the leap from promising rookie to full-blown stud in 2016. Now, he's added 17 pounds of muscle to his already-imposing frame with the goal of increasing his workload and adding juice to his triple-digit fastball. 

    "I've always wanted to throw harder and continue to make the game easier," Syndergaard said, per James Wagner of the New York Times. "Last year, from my rookie season, my velocity jumped up. I'm always going to try to raise that kind of bar."

    It's not simply radar-gun readings. With his flowing locks and affable personality, Syndergaard has become, at least temporarily, the brightest baseball star in New York City.

No. 8: Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    2016 Stats: .284/.404/.549 slash line, 37 HR, 99 RBI, 7.6 WAR

    Number of Twitter/Instagram followers: 1,059,000

    Rank on MLB.com's List of Top 20 Jerseys Sold (via Forbes.com): No. 19

    Josh Donaldson has finished among the top four in AL MVP voting three of the last four years and won the award in 2015.

    He's also the best player on MLB's only Canada-based team, which earns him points despite the fact he was born in Pensacola, Florida. 

    Last May, Donaldson graced the cover of the MLB '16 The Show video game after his Toronto Blue Jays teammate Jose Bautista did the honors in 2012 and 2013.

    "I think it just says something about our team," Donaldson said at the time, per Neil Davidson of 680News.com. "We have a lot of guys who A) are pretty good at what they do and B) some guys have some personality and are willing to do these kind of things."

    The Jays made the playoffs in 2015 and 2016 but haven't advanced to the World Series since 1993. If their 31-year-old third baseman makes it happen in 2017, he'll flutter up these rankings.

No. 7: Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants

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    Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    2016 Stats: .288/.362/.434 slash line, 14 HR, 80 RBI, 4.0 WAR

    Number of Twitter/Instagram followers: 755,000

    Rank on MLB.com's List of Top 20 Jerseys Sold (via Forbes.com): No. 6

    Buster Posey won MLB's flawed-but-intriguing face of the league contest in February 2015. It wasn't unwarranted.

    Posey has a National League Rookie of the Year Award and MVP trophy in his case. He's won a batting title. He was the cherubic, Buster-hugging backbone of the San Francisco Giants' championship troika. 

    His numbers diminished last season as the Giants' even-year magic ran out. He turns 30 March 27. It's possible Posey's days as the game's best catcher are numbered.

    At some point, San Francisco will have to move him out from behind the dish to save his legs.

    For now, he's the top performer at a premium position. And despite his aw-shucks demeanor, he's sneakily interesting, as his telenovela skills attest.

No. 6: Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    2016 Stats: 149 IP, 172 SO, 1.69 ERA, 0.725 WHIP, 6.5 WAR

    Number of Twitter followers: 341,000

    Rank on MLB.com's List of Top 20 Jerseys Sold (via Forbes.com): No. 3

    Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet. Despite missing two calendar months to a back injury in 2016, he tied Syndergaard for the WAR lead among pitchers by FanGraphs' measure. 

    He's won three NL Cy Young Awards and an MVP. He plays for the game's biggest-spending squad in a massive market, and he's entering his age-29 season. 

    The only feather missing from Kershaw's decorated cap is a World Series trophy. If he pitches the Los Angeles Dodgers to their first title since 1988, he'll make a case for No. 1 billing here.

    "I think we can all say we have never seen a player like Clayton both physically and mentally," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, per ESPN.com's Doug Padilla.

No. 5: Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    2016 Stats: .294/.343/.533 slash line, 37 HR, 96 RBI, 6.5 WAR

    Number of Instagram followers: 67,000

    Rank on MLB.com's List of Top 20 Jerseys Sold (via Forbes.com): N/A

       

    A three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner, Manny Machado is on every radar. Still, the 24-year-old Baltimore Orioles third baseman gets overlooked despite his enviable skill set.

    That might not change until Machado hits free agency after the 2018 season, assuming he doesn't re-up with the O's first.

    It's easy to imagine him in a larger market (cough, New York), but even without that exposure he's a special player.

    Machado has drawn comparisons to Alex Rodriguez, who he grew up idolizing. However, as FanRag Sports' Paul Lebowitz noted, "Unlike A-Rod, he's not perpetually sitting in a bubbling cauldron of controversy in which he lit the fire and slowly immersed himself of his own volition."

No. 4: Bryce Harper, RF, Washington Nationals

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    2016 Stats: .243/.373/.441 slash line, 24 HR, 21 SB, 3.5 WAR

    Number of Twitter/Instagram followers: 1,792,000

    Rank on MLB.com's List of Top 20 Jerseys Sold (via Forbes.com): No. 9

       

    After winning the NL MVP Award and leaving the doubters in his dust in 2015, it seemed like Bryce Harper was on an unstoppable upward trajectory.

    He didn't disappear last season. His stat line would sit well with most players. Harper isn't most players, though.

    His OPS tumbled from 1.109 to .814. That's the difference between good and great.

    Superagent Scott Boras, who represents Harper, said his client dealt with "nagging injuries," per Howard Fendrich of the Associated Press (via Cnsnews.com).

    Let's assume that's true and that Harper rebounds.

    If so, he has the trappings of a face-of-the-game star, including the outsized personality and "make baseball fun again" antics.

    Like Machado, he's set to hit free agency after the 2018 season and is a prime candidate to don pinstripes.

    That's the future. In the here and now, Harper is a brilliant, polarizing, unmissable force of nature.

No. 3: Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels

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    Matt Brown/Getty Images

    2016 Stats: .315/.441/.550 slash line, 29 HR, 100 RBI, 30 SB, 9.4 WAR

    Number of Twitter/Instagram followers: 3,400,000

    Rank on MLB.com's List of Top 20 Jerseys Sold (via Forbes.com): No. 5

       

    By the numbers, Mike Trout is the game's best player.

    He wins the WAR battle. He's brought home two MVP Awards and been the runner up every other year since 2012. 

    If you created a Platonic baseball player in a lab, he'd be it.

    So why isn't Trout No. 1? He gets dinged for two reasons: one he can't control, the other he can.

    The one he can is his personality. There's nothing wrong with it per se, but he's not an especially intriguing dude. His interviews, often, are the equivalent of unbuttered bread with the crust cut off.

    The one he can't is the Los Angeles Angels, the only team he's ever known. The Halos play in the Southern California market, but they do so under the Dodgers' long shadow. 

    Los Angeles stumbled to a sub-.500 finish in 2016 and, while Trout took home MVP honors, it dimmed his star overall.

    The Angels made improvements over the winter. They could reach the playoffs and allow Trout to remind everyone why he's a demigod among us. 

    Until then, however, he's a milquetoast personality on a substandard team buoyed by his otherworldly talent.

No. 2: Mookie Betts, RF, Boston Red Sox

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    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    2016 Stats: .318/.363/.534 slash line, 31 HR, 113 RBI, 26 SB, 7.8 WAR

    Number of Twitter/Instagram followers: 272,700

    Rank on MLB.com's List of Top 20 Jerseys Sold (via Forbes.com): N/A

    Recently, I suggested Mookie Betts may supplant Trout as the game's best all-around player.

    Before you scoff: The 24-year-old Boston Red Sox star came close to matching Trout's offensive stat line in 2016 and posted an incredible 32 defensive runs saved in right field.

    Defensive stats fluctuate year to year, but Betts is clearly an elite two-way player.

    He plays his home games at historic Fenway Park, for a club with its sights set on a championship run. In a post-David Ortiz world, he can assume the mantle of Beantown's Ballplayer, with two capital B's. 

    In February, MLB Network named him the top right fielder, ahead of Harper.

    "He reminds me of [Hall of Famer] Dave Winfield so much, and I think we have not even seen the best of Mookie Betts," analyst Carlos Pena said, per MassLive.com's Christopher Smith. "A lot more to come."

No. 1: Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    2016 Stats: .292/.385/.554 slash line, 39 HR, 102 RBI, 8.4 WAR

    Number of Twitter/Instagram followers: 1,366,000

    Rank on MLB.com's List of Top 20 Jerseys Sold (via Forbes.com): No. 2

       

    Two seasons into his big league career, Kris Bryant has a Rookie of the Year award, an NL MVP and a curse-busting world championship under his belt. 

    You could say the 25-year-old lacks the experience to assume face-of-MLB status. 

    Given what he's already accomplished for the most exciting team in the game, however, he's my pick.

    He helped record the final out of the Chicago Cubs' first World Series win in 108 years, creating a GIF-tastic moment. He has a winning smile and the skills to suggest grand things. 

    If the Cubbies repeat and he wins another MVP, this will seem obvious. For now, it's defensible with a little forward gazing.

      

    All statistics courtesy of MLB.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.