Ranking the Top 50 MLB Players at the Start of the 2017 Regular Season
There are 30 Major League Baseball teams, each with a 25-man roster. That's 750 players donning MLB uniforms at any given time.
Our task today? Narrow that down to the top 50.
Was it easy? No. Was it fun? You bet. Will it inevitably spark spirited debate and/or "What were you thinking?!" rebuttals? No doubt.
In compiling this list, we considered a few key factors:
- 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) were left off 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.
All that said, it's a largely subjective exercise, which is what makes it so dang fun.
Andrew Miller, LHP, Cleveland Indians
You won't find any relievers on this list, because they simply don't throw enough innings to stack up against the game's top-tier starting pitchers. There were a number of elite closers who could have made the cut (Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Zach Britton) but Andrew Miller stands out as the prototype for the new "super-reliever," able to throw multiple high-leverage innings when needed. His legendary performance in the 2016 postseason doesn't hurt, either.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
A year ago, Andrew McCutchen would have rated a top-10 spot. He's plummeted into the honorable mentions section after a 2016 season that saw him post career lows in batting average (.256) and OPS (.766). Add declining defensive skills that forced the Bucs to move him from center to right field, and the 30-year-old former National League MVP is suddenly looking like a star in decline.
Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals
Yadier Molina had his string of eight consecutive Gold Gloves snapped last season but still rated as the second-best pitch-framer in either league, per StatCorner. In addition, Molina posted a .307/.360/.427 slash line, his best offensive showing since 2013. At age 34, it's worth asking how much longer he can take the punishment behind the plate, but he remains one of the game's elite receivers until further notice.
Addison Russell, SS, Chicago Cubs
In his second full big league season, Addison Russell hit 21 homers and checked in as the game's fourth-best defensive shortstop. His .240/.314/.404 career slash line keeps him outside the top 50 for now, but he could easily vault into the upper echelon in his age-23 season.
No. 50: Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
After a slow start in 2016, Freddie Freeman finished with career highs in home runs (34), batting average (.302) and OPS (.968), led all first basemen with 6.1 WAR and earned the second top-10 MVP finish of his career. At age 27, he's got a few peak years remaining as the Braves get ready to move into their shiny new stadium.
No. 49: 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. He's pitched well this spring and appears healthy, making him an early contender for AL Comeback Player of the Year honors.
No. 48: 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 by a wide margin, so it's worth asking if the 31-year-old two-time All-Star is due for a regression. At the same time, he's a .296 lifetime hitter, so it's not as if his success came from nowhere.
No. 47: Justin Turner, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers
This is something of 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. He had a career year in 2016, hitting .275 with 27 home runs and 90 RBI, and earned a four-year, $64 million contract.
No. 46: Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins
Even with the home run making a comeback in today's MLB, a second baseman who clears the fence 42 times deserves recognition. In addition, Brian Dozier tallied 99 RBI and posted an .886 OPS. Lest you think his 2016 was an anomaly, consider this: Since 2014, his 93 homers are tops among keystone sackers.
No. 45: Brandon Crawford, SS, San Francisco Giants
Once an unheralded prospect, Brandon Crawford has evolved into one of the best two-way shortstops in baseball, which is saying something. He's won two straight Gold Gloves while posting double-digit home run totals and driving in 84 runs in both 2015 and 2016.
No. 44: Kevin Kiermaier, CF, Tampa Bay Rays
Long regarded as 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). Still, it's mostly his dazzling, highlight-reel leather that earns him a spot here.
No. 43: Jose Quintana, LHP, Chicago White Sox
One of the most unheralded aces in the game, Jose Quintana has posted four consecutive 200-plus-inning seasons with ERAs of 3.51 or lower, yet made his first All-Star team in 2016. He was the subject of persistent trade rumors over the winter and could fetch a hefty return at the trade deadline for the rebuilding Chicago White Sox.
No. 42: Jonathan Lucroy, C, Texas Rangers
Jonathan Lucroy moved from the Milwaukee Brewers to the Texas Rangers at the deadline last season. In either league, he's one of the top backstops in the game. A .284 lifetime hitter who finished fourth in NL MVP balloting in 2014, the 30-year-old Lucroy remains the best catcher in baseball, non-Buster Posey division.
No. 41: Jackie Bradley Jr., CF, Boston Red Sox
Jackie Bradley Jr.'s bat finally caught up to his glove in 2016, as he belted 26 home runs with 87 RBI and an .835 OPS while playing a typically superlative center field. It'll take another season of high-level production to fully buy Bradley as a changed player, but for now it looks like he's ready to blossom into a perennial All-Star at age 26.
No. 40: Nelson Cruz, DH, Seattle Mariners
Players who spend the bulk of their time at designated hitter have to rake to atone for their lack of defensive value. Fortunately for Nelson Cruz, he rakes. The 36-year-old has eclipsed 40 home runs in each of the last three seasons, made five All-Star teams and had two top-10 AL MVP finishes. The decline may begin in a couple of years, but for now he's one of the game's elite power hitters.
No. 39: Jon Lester, LHP, Chicago Cubs
A playoff-tested stud before he arrived in Chicago, Jon Lester cemented his legacy by helping the Cubs win their first World Series since 1908. He's no slouch in the regular season, either, as the 2.44 ERA he posted in 202.2 innings last season attests.
No. 38: Cole Hamels, LHP, Texas Rangers
Speaking of ace lefties, Cole Hamels has played the part admirably for over a decade. Last season, at age 32, he had a typical Cole Hamels year, posting a 3.32 ERA with 200 strikeouts in 200.2 innings. Pencil him in for more of the same in 2017.
No. 37: Edwin Encarnacion, DH, Cleveland Indians
The same things we said about Cruz apply to Encarnacion: He hits enough to make up for his lack of fielding. The 34-year-old has hit 34 or more homers every season since 2012, and last season he paced the Junior Circuit with 127 RBI. He's moving out of the hitter-happy AL East, but expect him to keep slugging for the defending AL champion Indians.
No. 36: Felix Hernandez, RHP, Seattle Mariners
A borderline Hall of Famer if he retired tomorrow, Felix Hernandez drops this far because of a disappointing 2016, which saw him post his worst ERA (3.82) since 2012 and throw his fewest innings (153.1) since 2005. The six-time All-Star 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner showed signs of life this spring, and could make a kingly comeback in his age-31 season.
No. 35: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
After teasing ace potential in a breakout 2015 season, Gerrit Cole battled elbow and triceps issues last season. In the exhibition slate, he looked like the guy who eclipsed 200 innings and 200 strikeouts two seasons ago and finished fifth in NL Cy Young Award voting.
No. 34: Jacob deGrom, RHP, New York Mets
One of multiple injury casualties 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. Like Cole, the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year and 2015 All-Star looks healthy this spring and primed for a big season.
No. 33: Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins
It's tempting to call Christian Yelich a 2017 breakout candidate, but he already broke out in 2016. The 25-year outfielder bashed 21 homers with 98 RBI and an .859 OPS. With all the tragedy and dysfunction that has defined the Miami Marlins in recent years, here's a dose of unfiltered sunshine in South Beach.
No. 32: Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
Xander Bogaerts took a leap with the lumber in 2016, hitting .294 with 21 homers and 89 RBI and making his first All-Star team. His defense remains a work in progress, as evidenced by his minus-18 career defensive runs saved. He's a key piece in the potent Boston attack, however, and at 24 years old, he's got room to improve.
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. The 30-year-old three-time All-Star is entering a contract year, so expect ace-like results.
No. 30: Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
On the surface, the 9-19 record and 4.02 ERA Chris Archer posted last season aren't a good look. Scratch beneath the surface and you'll see a 3.81 FIP that belies some bad luck and an impressive 233 strikeouts in 201.1 innings. Still just 28 years old, Archer is a top-shelf arm and a potential blockbuster trade chip for the small-market Rays.
No. 29: Yoenis Cespedes, LF, New York Mets
His defensive skills have eroded a bit—he's no longer even a passable center fielder—but Yoenis Cespedes remains one of the best pure power hitters in baseball. The 31-year-old Cuban showed it again in 2016, keeping the Mets offense afloat with 31 homers and an .884 OPS en route to a well-deserved top-10 MVP finish.
No. 28: Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Justin Verlander was robbed of the 2016 AL Cy Young Award. Just ask Kate Upton. In all seriousness, Verlander had a superlative season, striking out an AL-leading 254 in 227.2 innings with a 3.04 ERA. Fortunately, the 34-year-old has plenty of hardware, having won AL Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP honors. He's another aging piece on a Detroit Tigers team full of creaky veterans, but he also remains one of the game's elite arms.
No. 27: Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins
Giancarlo Stanton can't stay healthy. He played just 74 games in 2015 and 119 last season. But when he plays, oh that power. Not only does Stanton look like a home run hitter created in a super-secret dinger bunker, he plays the part, bashing majestic moonshots and laser-beam liners perfect for the Statcast era. His career-high water mark came in 2014, when he hit 37 homers and finished second in NL MVP voting. At age 27, he's the kind of talent who could get to 50 jacks if he avoids the disabled list.
No. 26: Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners
Like teammate King Felix, Robinson Cano has already built a borderline Hall of Fame resume. The 34-year-old seven-time All-Star had one of his best seasons ever at the plate in 2016, cracking a career-high 39 home runs with 103 RBI. This season, he's got an excellent shot at reaching 300 homers (he's got 278) and should eventually set the all-time mark for second basemen.
No. 25: Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
Toiling in relative anonymity on the lowly Cincinnati Reds, Joey Votto had yet another exemplary season in 2016, 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 his plate discipline and control of the strike zone could allow him to flourish for years.
No. 24: Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, New York Yankees
Masahiro Tanaka had his best season on U.S. soil in 2016, posting a 3.07 ERA in 199.2 innings. All the past talk about his balky elbow and the workload he shouldered in Japan obscure the fact that Tanaka is a 28-year old stud in the midst of his prime. The rest of the Yankees rotation is questionable, but after a lights-out spring, Tanaka is the answer.
No. 23: Johnny Cueto, RHP, San Francisco Giants
In his first season with San Francisco, Johnny Cueto herked and jerked to a 2.79 ERA in 219.2 innings, putting any questions about his health to rest. 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.
No. 22: Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
Carlos Correa hit .274 with 20 home runs and 96 RBI in his second season with the Houston Astros, and it felt like something of a letdown. That tells you all you need to know about the 22-year-old 2015 AL Rookie of the Year winner. In the Lone Star State, everything's bigger, including Correa's nearly limitless ceiling.
No. 21: Jake Arrieta, RHP, Chicago Cubs
Jake Arrieta won the NL Cy Young Award in 2015 but came to earth a touch last season, as his innings dropped from 229 to 197.1 and his ERA rose from 1.77 to 3.10. Still, the hirsute 31-year-old has ace stuff and has the good fortune of pitching in front of the Cubs' stingy defense. He may not get the ERA under 2.00 again, but another All-Star-caliber season is virtually assured if he stays healthy.
No. 20: Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
The guy across the diamond from Anthony Rizzo gets most of the attention (more on him later), but Rizzo is part of the Cubs' enviable offensive backbone. The 27-year-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.
No. 19: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Paul Goldschmidt falls a bit in these rankings thanks to a slight down year (by his lofty standards) in 2016. As with Correa, it says a lot about Goldschmidt that his "down year" featured 24 homers, 95 RBI and a .297 average. Compare it to the 33 homers, 110 RBI and .321 average he posted in 2015, however, and you get where the bar is set. Entering his age-29 season, look for huge things from Goldschmidt and a possible MVP push if the D-backs can slither into contention.
No. 18: Chris Sale, LHP, Boston Red Sox
Chris Sale changed his Sox this winter, going from Chicago's South Side to Boston. Wherever he goes, he'll be one of the game's best left-handers, a virtual lock for 200 innings and 200 strikeouts. His mechanics and slender frame have sparked some concerns about durability, but thus far the 28-year-old and five-time All-Star has laughed in the face of that.
No. 17: Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Some may balk at putting a guy with only one MLB season this high in the rankings. Fair point. Corey Seager, though, isn't just any second-year player. 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 thanks to his polished bat and solid glove work. He even slipped correctly into the MVP conversation. To top it off, he turns 23 in April.
No. 16: Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers
Entering his age-34 season, Miguel Cabrera may begin to see his numbers sag. 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. Like Verlander, Cabrera is part of an aging Tigers core. Also like Verlander, he's one of the best at what he does.
No. 15: Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
After finishing second in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, Francisco Lindor eschewed a sophomore slump and hit .301 with 15 homers, 19 stolen bases and Gold Glove defense while leading the Indians to Game 7 of the World Series. Ranking these incredible young shortstops is tough; you could flip-flop the order and make a good case for it. The 23-year-old Lindor, though, has that special combo of speed, incredible glove work and sneaky power that hints at an all-time great trajectory.
No. 14: Corey Kluber, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Speaking of the Indians' postseason run, it wouldn't have been possible without Corey Kluber and his otherworldly performance. The Klubot has also spun three straight 200 plus-inning, 200-plus-strikeout performances and won the AL Cy Young Award in 2014. Now, in his age-31 season, he'll attempt to pitch the Tribe over the championship hump.
No. 13: Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros
Jose Altuve is diminutive—not sure if you've heard that. There was nothing little about his 2016 output, however, as he rapped out an MLB-leading 216 hits, 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 now collected more than 200 hits in three straight seasons and stole 30 or more bases in five straight.
No. 12: Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants
Madison Bumgarner added another chapter to his playoff legend by besting the Mets in the NL Wild Card Game, though the Giants couldn't keep their even-year mojo going and fell to the Cubs in the division series. If San Francisco gets back to the postseason, it'll be on the left arm of MadBum, who has thrown 200 or more every season since 2011 while making four All-Star teams. Plus, dude can swing it.
No. 11: Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
Hitters always get dinged for playing their home games at Coors Field, but Nolan Arenado would be a top talent wherever he hung his spikes. The 25-year-old tied for the NL lead with 41 homers and paced baseball with 133 RBI in 2016, all while playing his trademark brand of brilliant defense. He's won a Gold Glove all four years he's been in the league, a streak that's unlikely to end anytime soon.
No. 10: Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
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 Buster-hugging backbone of the Giants' championship trifecta.
Yes, his numbers slipped a bit last season, as he posted his skimpiest home run total (14) and lowest average (.288) of any full MLB season.
He's also 30 years old, which is a bit more in catcher years.
That said, he was the best pitch-framer in baseball, per StatCorner, and won his first Gold Glove. Plus, the Giants can save his legs, and possibly up his production, by getting him more reps at first base.
Here's the bottom line: He's still the best player at one of the most important positions on the diamond.
No. 9: Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets
Coming into last season, Noah Syndergaard was a promising, hard-throwing sophomore with 24 starts under his belt.
Now, the 24-year-old with the Norse god nickname is undeniably one of the best pitchers in the game.
In 183.2 innings last season, Syndergaard posted a 2.60 ERA with 218 strikeouts in 183.2 innings. While other members of the Mets' vaunted rotation went down with injuries, Syndergaard tied for the lead among pitchers with 6.5 WAR.
You hear that, big league hitters? You've been warned.
No. 8: 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 five? Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Roy Halladay.
Add that to a resume that includes two no-hitters, a 20-strikeout game and five straight seasons with 200 or more strikeouts.
Mad Max turns 33 in July, but based on last year's output, he's not about to slow down.
Oh, and he did this to Tim Tebow.
No. 7: Bryce Harper, RF, Washington Nationals
After he won NL MVP honors in 2015, it looked like the Bryce Harper freight train had officially left the station.
The brash Nationals outfielder took a step back in 2016, however, as his OPS tumbled from an otherworldly 1.109 to a merely solid .814.
A lot of that can likely be blamed on a nagging shoulder injury. Harper has certainly looked healthy this spring, launching an MLB-leading eight home runs.
Still just 24 years old, Harper could be primed for another explosion. He's already got three All-Star appearances and a Rookie of the Year award, in addition to the aforementioned MVP.
Love him or loathe him, he's undeniably one of the most exciting, must-watch players on the planet. Make baseball fun again, indeed.
No. 6: Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Josh Donaldson may be on the downslope of his prime entering his age-31 season, but what a prime it's been.
Between 2013 and 2016, 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).
Donaldson dealt with a calf injury early in the spring that limited his exhibition at-bats, but he appears healthy and ready to go.
That's excellent news for the Blue Jays as they look to make a third straight postseason appearance and equally good for fans north of the border.
No. 5: Mookie Betts, RF, Boston Red Sox
Mookie Betts made the jump to hyperspace in 2016, hitting .318 with 31 home runs, an .897 OPS and 26 stolen bases.
He was equally impressive in right field, where he posted an eye-popping 32 defensive runs saved.
Betts teased his potential in 2015, his first full season, when he slashed .291/.341/.479 with 18 home runs. Now, after a second-place MVP finish, he's moved into the superstar stratosphere.
According to his manager, he's got it between the lines and between the ears.
"His aptitude is some of the best I've been around in the game," Red Sox skipper John Farrell told reporters. "He's that bright; he's that advanced as far as him processing information and applying it in a moment."
No. 4: Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
Two seasons into his MLB career, Kris Bryant has an NL Rookie of the Year Award, an NL MVP award and has helped the Cubs bust their century-plus World Series drought.
Talk about setting the bar high.
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.
Still, it feels like we've only scratched the surface of his potential.
A second consecutive MVP for Bryant and back-to-back titles for the Cubbies aren't foregone conclusions, but they're safe bets.
As Bryant told reporters Thursday, "It's very addictive, this winning."
No. 3: Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
After injuries derailed two of his first three big league seasons, it was worth wondering if Manny Machado would live up to his limitless potential.
Wonder no more.
Machado 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, if that does anything for you.
At age 24, he's on the outskirts of his prime, meaning this may be a mere preview of coming attractions.
"[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."
That sound you hear is every general manager saving their ducats for the 2019-19 offseason, when Machado is set to hit the open market.
No. 2: Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Some may scoff at a starting pitcher, who plays only about 30 games a year, ranking this high.
The counterargument: Clayton Kershaw.
The Dodgers left-hander isn't simply the best pitcher of the current era. He's one of the very best pitchers of any era, and he's still only 28 years old.
Here, let's go ahead and stack his statistics and accolades through nine seasons next to what Hall of Famer and all-time great Dodgers southpaw Sandy Koufax accomplished in 12 seasons:
- Kershaw: 126-60 record, 2.37 ERA, 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings, three NL Cy Young Awards and one NL MVP.
- Koufax: 165-87 record, 2.76 ERA, 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings, three NL Cy Young Awards, one NL MVP.
The symmetry is as remarkable as the men themselves.
Even last season, when he missed two full calendar months with a back injury, Kershaw tied for the lead among pitchers with 6.5 WAR. Just as importantly, he returned for the stretch run and threw like his dominant self.
Some day, another hurler will supplant Kershaw as the game's best arm. That day is not today.
No. 1: Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels
Who were you hoping for, the ghost of Mickey Mantle?
Mike Trout may not have the most compelling personality in the world—his interviews are often the equivalent of unbuttered toast, and he'd sooner wear a tutu to the plate than flip a bat—but, man, is he good at baseball.
At age 25, the Los Angeles Angels center fielder already owns two AL MVP awards and has finished no lower than second in MVP voting every year since 2012.
He now owns a career WAR of 47.4, easily the best in the majors in the 2011-2016 span. We could keep rattling off stats, but you get it.
He is, quite simply, a generational talent.
As USA Today's Ted Berg put it, "The consistency with which he dominates the sport would be boring if it weren't so spectacular to behold."