B/R's MLB 20 for '20: Projecting Top 20 Third Basemen in 2020

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMay 22, 2018

B/R's MLB 20 for '20: Projecting Top 20 Third Basemen in 2020

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Baseball is a tough sport to predict day in and day out, and it becomes exponentially more difficult to project when looking years into the future. But that's exactly what we're going to be doing here.

    Back in the summer of 2015, I wrote a series dubbed B/R's MLB 20 for '20, wherein I predicted who the top 20 players would be at each position when the 2020 season rolled around.

    Three years later, it's time for an update.

    In this edition, we look at the third base position, where rising prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will look to join the likes of Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado as superstars at the position.

    Before we dive into the top 20, we'll take a look back at that original list with the benefit of hindsight and also shine a light on a few prospects who could be making waves two years from now.

    Enjoy.

                   

    Previous 20 for '20 series entries: Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen, Shortstops

The Original List (Published: July 17, 2015)

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    Richie Shaffer
    Richie ShafferMitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Original Top 20 Third Basemen List

    1. Kris Bryant, CHC
    2. Manny Machado, BAL
    3. Nolan Arenado, COL
    4. Anthony Rendon, WAS
    5. Miguel Sano, MIN
    6. Ryan McMahon, COL
    7. Kyle Seager, SEA
    8. Maikel Franco, PHI
    9. Joey Gallo, TEX
    10. Josh Donaldson, TOR
    11. Todd Frazier, CIN
    12. Rafael Devers, BOS
    13. Mike Moustakas, KC
    14. Matt Carpenter, STL
    15. Matt Chapman, OAK
    16. Richie Shaffer, TB
    17. Colin Moran, HOU
    18. Jake Lamb, ARI
    19. Eric Jagielo, NYY
    20. Matt Duffy, SF

          

    Hindsight Breakdown

    All in all, these predictions look pretty decent, at least relative to other positions.

    Of the 20 players featured on our original list, 11 appear on the updated version ahead. And three of the nine players who didn't make the cut—Manny Machado (SS), Ryan McMahon (1B) and Matt Carpenter (1B) now have a new primary position to call home.

    Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado have predictably remained at the top of the heap among hot corner standouts, while Anthony Rendon is also part of that upper tier.

    Prospects at the time of the first article, Miguel Sano, Joey Gallo, Rafael Devers, Matt Chapman and Jake Lamb have since ascended to the big leagues and played well enough to earn a place on the list once again.

    On the flip side, Richie Shaffer and Eric Jagielo were the big whiffs here.

    Shaffer, the No. 25 pick in the 2012 draft, has bounced around the waiver-wire and is currently playing for the Cleveland Indians' Triple-A affiliate.

    Jagielo, who went No. 26 overall the following year, was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in the deal that brought Aroldis Chapman to the New York Yankees, and he's now a member of the Miami Marlins organization.

    Others like Maikel Franco, Colin Moran and Todd Frazier are still occupying starting roles and could conceivably be part of the top 20 two years from now.

Projected Top 10 Third Base Prospects for 2020

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    Hudson Potts
    Hudson PottsAndy Hayt/Getty Images

    Before we get into predicting the top 20 third basemen at the MLB level in 2020, let's take a look at who might top the position's prospect lists two years from now.

         

    1. Nolan Jones, Cleveland Indians (2020 Age: 22)

    Signed for a $2.25 million bonus as a second-round pick in 2016 after slipping because of concerns over signability. Hit .317/.430/.482 with 25 extra-base hits in 265 plate appearances at Low-A last year. Plenty of room to add strength to 6'4", 185-pound frame. Prototypical power-hitting third baseman profile.

         

    2. Colton Welker, Colorado Rockies (2020 Age: 22)

    Already looking like a steal as a fourth-round pick in 2016. Advanced approach and polished hit tool with the raw power to be a consistent 20-plus home run threat. Hit .350/.401/.500 with 25 extra-base hits at Single-A last year.

         

    3. Lucas Erceg, Milwaukee Brewers (2020 Age: 25)

    Enjoyed a huge junior season at Menlo College after starting his college career at the University of California. Plus raw power and a rocket arm at the hot corner after also serving as team's closer at Menlo. Slow start in Double-A but still on the fast track.

         

    4. Ke'Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates (2020 Age: 23)

    Plus athlete who profiles as a high-average bat and Gold Glove-caliber defender. Advanced approach has put him on the fast track, as he's already playing at Double-A. MLB.com gave his power tool a 45 grade, which is his biggest question mark. Should still provide enough value in other areas to be an everyday player.

          

    5. Hudson Potts, San Diego Padres (2020 Age: 21)

    Reaching for Potts at No. 24 overall in 2016 allowed the Padres to sign prep right-hander Reggie Lawson for above-slot in the second round. Showed intriguing power potential with 23 doubles and 20 home runs in Single-A debut. Approach still needs work after posting a 26.8 percent strikeout rate and 4.4 percent walk rate last year.

         

    6. Jake Burger, Chicago White Sox (2020 Age: 24)

    Hit .339/.420/.620 in three seasons at Missouri State, slugging 43 home runs during his final two years on campus. Power is his standout tool, but he does a little bit of everything well. Suffered a torn Achilles during spring training and then re-tore it earlier this month. Will miss entire 2018 season as a result.

         

    7. Mark Vientos, New York Mets (2020 Age: 20)

    Has the bat speed and raw power to hit for both average and power at the next level. Played more shortstop than third base in pro debut, but should make the full time move to the hot corner as his 6'4" frame continues to fill out. Might take some patience, but could be well worth the wait.

         

    8. Jacob Gonzalez, San Francisco Giants (2020 Age: 22)

    Son of five-time All-Star Luis Gonzalez. Will take time to grow into his over-the-fence production. Might fit better defensively at first base or in left field. Offensive game and power in particular will be his carrying tool.

         

    9. Yasel Antuna, Washington Nationals (2020 Age: 20)

    Five-tool potential earned him a $3.9 million bonus as part of 2016 international free-agent class. Will be 18 years old for the entire 2018 season. Will likely begin pro career at shortstop, but looks destined for third base going forward. Higher ceiling than most guys on this list.

         

    10. James Nelson, Miami Marlins (2020 Age: 22)

    Looks destined to outperform draft position as a former 15th-round pick. Hit .309/.354/.456 with 41 extra-base hits in 432 plate appearance at Single-A last year. Physical projection remaining in his 6'2", 180-pound frame. Should be a solid defender who provides a good mix of average and power.

         

    Honorable Mentions

    • Luis Almanzar, SD
    • Andrew Bechtold, MIN
    • Michael Chavis, BOS
    • Danny Diaz, BOS
    • Joe Dunand, MIA
    • Drew Ellis, ARI
    • Dermis Garcia, NYY
    • Sheldon Neuse, OAK
    • Joe Perez, HOU
    • Emmanuel Rivera, KC

Honorable Mentions and Notable Veteran Omissions

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    Maikel Franco
    Maikel FrancoRob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images

    Next Five

    Brian Anderson, MIA
    Jeimer Candelario, DET
    Maikel Franco, PHI
    Jedd Gyorko, STL
    Colin Moran, PIT

          

    Excluded Because of Age or Expected Regression

    Tim Beckham, BAL
    Adrian Beltre, TEX
    Zack Cozart, LAA
    Todd Frazier, NYM
    Evan Longoria, SF
    Justin Turner, LAD
    Christian Villanueva, SD

20. Ryan Mountcastle, Baltimore Orioles

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    2020 Age: 23

    In the wake of Manny Machado moving back to his natural position of shortstop, Baltimore Orioles third basemen are hitting a dismal .235/.304/.401 this season.

    Tim Beckham, Danny Valencia, Jace Peterson and Pedro Alvarez have all seen time at the hot corner.

    None of them will stand in the way of Ryan Mountcastle once he's deemed ready.

    The 2015 first-round pick hit .287/.312/.489 with 48 doubles, 18 home runs and 62 RBI between High-A and Double-A last year, and he's off to a hot start this season at Triple-A after getting a late start recovering from a fractured hand.

    Originally a shortstop, he's since moved to third base and his below-average arm strength actually makes him a better fit at second base or in left field. That said, all signs point to him getting a long look as the third baseman of the future before the 2020 season arrives.

19. Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    2020 Age: 31

    Mike Moustakas hit a Kansas City Royals franchise record 38 home runs last season.

    However, his lack of on-base skills (.314 OBP, 5.7 percent walk rate) and middling defense (-8 DRS, -4.6 UZR/150) was enough for his free-agent market to simply never develop, and he wound up rejoining the Royals on a one-year, $6.5 million deal.

    Not much has changed this season.

    He's still hitting for power (.528 SLG, 10 HR) while walking at a similar clip (5.6 percent) and playing slightly below-average defense (-1 DRS, 2.7 UZR/150).

    At 29 years old, it's reasonable to think he can continue to do much of the same in the immediate future, and that's enough to earn him the No. 19 spot on our list.

18. Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    2020 Age: 26

    Joey Gallo has legitimate 80-grade power.

    That elite home run pop and plus on-base skills were enough to make him a 3.2 WAR player last season, as he slugged 41 home runs and posted a 121 OPS+ despite a .209 batting average.

    This season has been a different story.

    He's hitting just .199/.277/.455, and his walk rate has taken a troubling dip from 14.1 to 8.7 percent, leaving him as a minus-0.3 WAR player, even though he's again among the MLB leaders with 13 home runs.

    In order for Gallo to be a positive performer, he has to offset his gaudy strikeout totals and low batting average with strong on-base numbers, and he's not doing that this season.

    The Texas Rangers are still banking on him to be the long-term replacement for Adrian Beltre—both at third base and in the middle of the lineup—but he's trending in the wrong direction.

17. Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    2020 Age: 32

    Over the past six seasons, Kyle Seager has been one of the most steady performers in the majors.

    During that span, he's hit .264/.333/.450 while averaging 33 doubles, 25 home runs, 85 RBI and 4.4 WAR—thanks in part to his strong defensive work as well.

    The Seattle Mariners gave him a seven-year, $100 million extension prior to the 2015 season, and he's become a cornerstone for a franchise that remains on the fringe of contention.

    His skill set should age fairly well, and while he may never be a face-of-the-franchise type superstar, there's plenty of value in consistency and durability.

    Expect him to still be a key cog in Seattle when 2020 arrives.

16. Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    2020 Age: 34

    How well is Josh Donaldson going to age?

    The 2015 AL MVP averaged 7.8 WAR during the four-year span from 2013 to 2016, emerging as one of the game's elite players after an inauspicious start to his MLB career.

    However, the injury bug has been an issue the past two seasons.

    He was limited to 113 games last year while dealing with a nagging calf injury, and he's already taken a trip to the disabled list this season with shoulder inflammation.

    With free agency awaiting this coming offseason, his health will be a major talking point as teams decide whether to offer up big money for a player who is already 32 years old.

    Donaldson was good enough recently enough that it's impossible to overlook him in these rankings, but expecting him to still be elite in 2020 might be wishful thinking.

15. Jonathan India, MLB Draft Prospect

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    2020 Age: 23

    Few college hitters have been more productive than Jonathan India this season.

    MLB.com wrote: "India has been perhaps the best all-around college hitter this spring, showing the ability to impact the game in a number of ways. He has an advanced approach at the plate, showing excellent plate discipline and the ability to hit for average that should translate. His pitch selection has improved tremendously, which in turn has given him better pitches to drive, something he's doing more consistently this year, with some evaluators seeing at least average power from him in the future. He's a solid runner with excellent instincts and can steal a base. India has played a lot of third, but his athleticism and instincts, not to mention his strong arm, could allow him to play any of a number of infield positions at the next level."

    One of a number of Florida Gators who will hear their name called in the early rounds this June, India is hitting a robust .376/.520/.759 with 16 home runs and 40 RBI while tallying more walks (45) than strikeouts (41) and also going a perfect 11-for-11 on stolen-base attempts.

    Unlike fellow draft prospect Alec Bohm, there's no question India has the defensive chops to play third base at the next level, and that could be enough for him to be a top-10 pick.

14. Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Orlando Ramirez/Associated Press

    2020 Age: 29

    Jake Lamb has been one of the game's most productive third basemen over the past two seasons:

    • 2016: 114 OPS+, 31 2B, 29 HR, 91 RBI
    • 2017: 112 OPS+, 30 2B, 30 HR, 105 RBI

    He also showed an improved approach at the plate last season, raising his walk rate from 10.8 to 13.7 percent while earning a spot on the NL All-Star team for the first time.

    A shoulder strain has limited him to just six games this season, but there's no reason to think it will have any long-term impact on his offensive production.

    Lamb will still be in the prime of his career in 2020, and with Paul Goldschmidt set to reach free agency following the 2019 campaign, his production could become that much more important to the team's success.

13. Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    2020 Age: 25

    Miguel Andujar is never going to be a standout defender.

    The defensive metrics this season have not been pretty (-6 DRS, -29.5 UZR/150) and that could eventually lead to a move across the diamond to first base—especially if Greg Bird can't stay healthy going forward.

    His on-base skills also remain a work in progress.

    He has walked just three times in 152 plate appearances in his first extended MLB action, and his minor league track record gives the impression that he'll always be a player who makes a lot of contact.

    The key for Andujar will be making sure it's hard contact.

    Shortcomings aside, he's batting .286 with 13 doubles, four home runs and 16 RBI in 37 games this season, giving plenty of reason for optimism going forward.

    If his hit tool continues to improve, he could wind up being a Starlin Castro-type hitter with more power.

12. Travis Shaw, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    2020 Age: 30

    All due respect to Chris Sale, but a strong case can be made that Travis Shaw was the best pickup of the 2017-18 MLB offseason.

    Acquired from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for reliever Tyler Thornburg, Shaw immediately slotted into the middle of the Milwaukee Brewers lineup, where he posted a 120 OPS+ with 34 doubles, 31 home runs and 101 RBI en route to a 3.9 WAR.

    With team control through the 2021 season and still shy of reaching arbitration, he's one of the best bargains in baseball and has immediately become a building block for a young Brewers team on the rise.

    Shaw is also a strong defender and should still be manning third base in 2020, even with rising prospect Lucas Erceg pushing his way toward the majors.

11. Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins

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    Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images

    2020 Age: 27

    After a standout debut in 2015, Miguel Sano has taken his lumps as he has tried to establish himself as a consistent middle-of-the-order threat for the Minnesota Twins.

    An All-Star for the first time last season, he saw a dramatic drop-off in his second-half production:

    • 1st Half: 345 PA, .276/.368/.538, 12 2B, 21 HR, 62 RBI
    • 2nd Half: 138 PA, .236/.312/.431, 3 2B, 7 HR, 15 RBI

    A bum left hamstring and a shin injury contributed to that swoon, and he's battled that same hamstring in the early going this season.

    The fact that he's yet to put together a full season of top-flight production makes it hard to rank him any higher.

    That said, what we saw before the All-Star break last year also makes it easy to envision him ranking significantly higher two years from now.

10. Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    2020 Age: 28

    The Alfredo Simon-for-Eugenio Suarez trade is well on its way to going down as one of the best in Cincinnati Reds history.

    That ill-advised move by the Detroit Tigers has given the rebuilding Reds a cornerstone player, and they locked him up with a seven-year, $66 million extension during the offseason on the heels of a breakout 2017 campaign.

    Suarez hit .260/.367/.461 with 25 doubles, 26 home runs and 82 RBI while also posting strong defensive metrics (5 DRS, 4.8 UZR/150) on his way to a 3.7 WAR.

    In fact, his presence has been enough to push Nick Senzel—one of baseball's top overall prospectsoff the hot corner and over to second base.

    Strong on-base skills, a good glove, 20-plus home run power and a team-friendly contract. What's not to like?

9. Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    2020 Age: 23

    Rafael Devers was part of the same touted 2013 international free-agent class that also included Eloy Jimenez, Gleyber Torres and current Minnesota Twins prospect Lewin Diaz.

    Devers beat all three to the majors when he debuted last season, posting a 110 OPS+ with 14 doubles, 10 home runs and 30 RBI in 58 games.

    He homered 20 times in 358 plate appearances in the minors before getting the call, and he has the power potential to be a perennial 30-homer slugger at the big league level.

    While he may never be a standout defender, he's worked hard to improve in that area and should be able to stick at the hot corner for at least a few more seasons before inevitably sliding over to first base.

    He's making more hard contact (34.5 to 39.5 percent) and hitting more flyballs (35.6 to 38.3 percent) this season, and that should be a recipe for more power production going forward.

    It's easy to forget he's still just 21 years old.

8. Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    2020 Age: 27

    It took Matt Chapman just 84 games last season to run up a 3.6 WAR as a rookie for the Oakland Athletics.

    Power was part of the equation; he slugged 23 doubles and 14 home runs in 326 plate appearances, and with a 36-homer season to his credit in the minors, that doesn't look like a fluke.

    It's his defense that could really make him a star, though.

    In just 727 innings last season, he tallied 19 DRS. That trailed only Nolan Arenado (20 DRS) among third basemen and was good for eighth among all position players.

    He's been brilliant once again with the glove this season, and if he can find a way to cut down his strikeout rate and make more consistent contact, he has a chance to be one of the most dangerous two-way threats in the game.

7. Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves

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    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    2020 Age: 23

    It's only a matter of time before Austin Riley gets the call for the upstart Atlanta Braves this season.

    With the Jose Bautista experiment over before it ever really started, third base remains a glaring hole on the big league roster.

    Some combination of Ryan Flaherty, Charlie Culberson and Johan Camargo will hold down the position for the time being, but none of them will stand in Riley's way once he's deemed ready.

    With a .325/.383/.616 line that includes 11 doubles, nine home runs and 33 RBI in 40 games between Double-A and Triple-A, he's rapidly running out of things to prove at the minor league level.

    Down the line, Riley has the offensive skills to be a true middle-of-the-order producer and the glove to be a plus in the field as well.

    MLB.com compared him to Troy Glaus, and a player of that caliber would be a welcome addition to a team on the rise.

6. Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    2020 Age: 30

    After winning NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2016, Anthony Rendon was the Washington Nationals' most consistent hitter and a legitimate NL MVP candidate last season.

    He wound up finishing sixth in the voting after hitting .301/.403/.533 with 41 doubles, 25 home runs and 100 RBI on his way to an impressive 6.0 WAR.

    Rendon was a candidate to go No. 1 overall in the 2011 draft before an injury-plagued junior season, and the Nationals happily scooped him up with the No. 6 pick.

    Two of the players drafted ahead of him that year—Danny Hultzen (No. 2 to Seattle) and Bubba Starling (No. 5 to Kansas City)—have yet to reach the majors.

    With free agency looming after the 2019 season, it will be interesting to see where he's suiting up in 2020 and beyond.

5. Alex Bregman, Houston Astros

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    Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    2020 Age: 26

    Alex Bregman needed a little over a year from the time he was taken No. 2 overall in the 2015 draft before he made his MLB debut for the Houston Astros.

    A natural shortstop, he wasn't going to displace incumbent Carlos Correa. He's moved over to third base, where he's flashed the tools to be a Gold Glove defender.

    Meanwhile, he began to show his huge offensive upside with a .315/.367/.536 line that included 11 home runs and 44 RBI in 297 plate appearances in the second half last season.

    Bregman is by no means a finished product, but he already has one season with a WAR above four and is capable of far more than he's shown to this point.

    It's not unreasonable to think he'll be part of the same tier as guys like Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado two years from now.

4. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    2020 Age: 27

    By all accounts, 2016 was a breakout season for Jose Ramirez:

    • 2016: 114 OPS+, .312/.363/.462, 60 XBH, 76 RBI, 22 SB, 4.1 WAR

    Turns out he was just getting started, as the versatile infielder was a legitimate AL MVP candidate last season:

    • 2017: 143 OPS+, .318/.374/.583, 91 XBH, 83 RBI, 17 SB, 6.9 WAR

    Those impressive numbers included an otherworldly final month of the season in which he batted .407/.465/.895 with 13 doubles, nine home runs and 21 RBI in 101 plate appearances.

    He could eventually make the full-time move to second base if the Indians decide to cut ties with Jason Kipnis, but Ramirez is a solid defender at either position and has proved capable of carrying a team with his bat.

3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays

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    Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

    2020 Age: 21

    It speaks to the upside of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. that he has yet to make his MLB debut, yet the No. 3 spot here could wind up being a slight.

    Simply put, he's capable of being the best hitter in baseball in short order.

    Given a true 80-grade hit tool by MLB.com, Guerrero batted .323/.425/.485 with 43 extra-base hits while splitting the season between Single-A and High-A as an 18-year-old.

    That was only the beginning.

    Aggressively promoted to Double-A this season, he's off to a ridiculous .421/.472/.697 line with 16 doubles, eight home runs and 45 RBI in 39 games.

    Guys like this just don't come along every year. Or every decade for that matter.

    He'll need to watch his conditioning, but we could be looking at a generational talent.

2. Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    2020 Age: 29

    There was a time when the Coors Field effect could be used as a knock against Nolan Arenado.

    Those days are long gone now, though.

    While his home numbers were still better, Arenado posted an .886 OPS with 18 home runs and 54 RBI away from Coors last season—elite production by any measure.

    Add in the home production and the numbers are staggering.

    Over the past three seasons, he's hit .297/.353/.577 while averaging 40 doubles, 40 home runs and 131 RBI, claiming Silver Slugger honors each year.

    He's also won the Gold Glove in each of his five MLB seasons, racking up 104 DRS. That trails only Andrelton Simmons (144 DRS) among all position players during that time.

    Will the Rockies be able to lock him up long term before he reaches free agency following the 2019 season?

1. Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    2020 Age: 28

    What separates Kris Bryant from Nolan Arenado for the No. 1 spot in these rankings?

    Plate discipline might be the best answer:

    • Bryant (2017): .409 OBP, 95 BB, 14.3 BB%
    • Arenado (2017): .373 OBP, 62 BB, 9.1 BB%

    There's nothing wrong with a .373 on-base percentage, but the 36-point advantage that Bryant holds there is far from insignificant and speaks to his more complete all-around offensive game.

    And while Arenado has a clear advantage in defense at the hot corner, Bryant offsets that with the value of his versatility, as he's capable of playing both corner outfield spots at an above-average level when needed.

    Really, you can't go wrong with either player if you're starting a franchise from scratch.

         

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted, and accurate through May 20's games. A player's 2020 age refers to how old he will be on July 1 of that year—roughly the midway point in the season.