Ranking the Top 50 MLB Players at the Start of Spring Training Games

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 19, 2019

Ranking the Top 50 MLB Players at the Start of Spring Training Games

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    Mookie Betts was the best of 2018, but is he the best of 2019?
    Mookie Betts was the best of 2018, but is he the best of 2019?Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    For the first time in 2019, Major League Baseball players will begin playing in actual baseball games this week. You might want to keep an eye on the league's best players.

    Need a list? Very well, then.

    We've ranked the top 50 players in MLB as of the start of spring training games. In so doing, we considered:

    • Track Records: What players did in 2018 takes precedence, but their overall major league track records count, too. And with respect to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and other uber-talented prospects, major league experience is indeed necessary.
    • Upside and Downside: We tried to identify players with the potential to improve or regress. Typically, younger players do the former and older players do the latter.
    • Health: It's difficult to count injured players among MLB's best. Shohei Ohtani, in particular, won't appear here. His recovery from Tommy John surgery will keep him from pitching in 2019, and he might not return to hitting until May.

    Let's start with some honorable mentions and then dive into the top 50.

Honorable Mentions

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    Khris Davis
    Khris DavisDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Edwin Diaz, RP, New York Mets

    2018 WAR: 3.2

    Edwin Diaz was the only relief pitcher considered for the top 50. He teased sky-high potential back in 2016, and he realized it in 2018 with a 1.96 ERA and 15.2 strikeouts per nine innings for the Seattle Mariners. He shouldn't be any less unhittable in the National League than he was in the American League.


    Khris Davis, DH, Oakland Athletics

    2018 WAR: 2.9

    As bat-only players go, Khris Davis is no J.D. Martinez. But he sure can hit for power. He's set a new personal high for home runs in each of his six major league seasons, and he led MLB last year with 48 long balls.


    Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs

    2018 WAR: 2.7

    Once he put a slow April behind him, Anthony Rizzo finished 2018 with a .905 OPS and 24 homers over his final 135 games. He also won his second Gold Glove. Yet the way his power is trending isn't so great.


    Aaron Hicks, CF, New York Yankees

    2018 WAR: 4.7

    Aaron Hicks made good on his 2017 breakout with an .833 OPS and 27 home runs in 2018. He also boasts good speed and arguably the best throwing arm of any outfielder. All he needs to do is prove he can play a full season's worth of games.


    George Springer, CF, Houston Astros

    2018 WAR: 2.7

    George Springer was an undeniable top-50 talent in 2016 and 2017, but he slipped a bit in 2018. He posted a career-low .780 OPS alongside his usual less-than-stellar defense. The 29-year-old should bounce back in 2019, but it's tough to elevate him over more deserving outfielders.


    Patrick Corbin, SP, Washington Nationals

    2018 WAR: 4.6

    Patrick Corbin earned his six-year, $140 million contract largely on the strength of his 2018 season, which he finished with a 3.15 ERA and 246 strikeouts in 200 innings. Yet his track record is a bit of a mixed bag, and there's nary an advantage he didn't have pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks a year ago.


    Zack Greinke, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks

    2018 WAR: 4.2

    Zack Greinke's fastball velocity is diminishing bit by bit, but that hasn't stopped him from putting up a 3.20 ERA over 410 innings since 2017. The dude can pitch. But relative to some of the other ace types across MLB, he's more reliable than dominant.

50-41: Eugenio Suarez-Bryce Harper

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    Bryce Harper
    Bryce HarperAssociated Press

    50. Eugenio Suarez, 3B, Cincinnati Reds

    2018 WAR: 4.2

    Eugenio Suarez isn't much of a baserunner, and he's likely no more than a solid defensive third baseman. Still, he's fresh off posting the quietest .892 OPS and 34 homers anyone could imagine. With his power on the rise, it wouldn't be all that surprising if his next act was a 40-homer season.


    49. Juan Soto, LF, Washington Nationals

    2018 WAR: 3.0

    Though his other abilities aren't much to speak of, Juan Soto's bat made history in 2018. His .923 OPS translated to a 142 OPS+, which took the record for the best ever by a teenager from the clutches of Mel Ott. The now-20-year-old already has elite patience, and he should grow into more power.


    48. Mitch Haniger, RF, Seattle Mariners

    2018 WAR: 6.1

    Albeit in between injuries, Mitch Haniger quietly teased star potential in 2017. He made good on it amid better health in 2018, playing in 157 games and finishing with an .859 OPS and 26 home runs while playing a good right field. Even if that's the best he's got, it's darn good.


    47. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox

    2018 WAR: 3.8

    By most accounts, Xander Bogaerts isn't a good defensive shortstop. But his glove is at least playable at the position, and his bat is more than good enough for it. He's coming off career highs in OPS (.883) and homers (23) in 2018. He also tends to be a sneaky-good baserunner.


    46. Kyle Freeland, SP, Colorado Rockies

    2018 WAR: 8.4

    Based on WAR, Kyle Freeland's 2018 season was the best ever by a Colorado Rockies pitcher. His lack of overpowering stuff raises some suspicion of regression in 2019, yet his pitch mix and general style are deceptive enough to keep runs at a premium even when he's pitching at Coors Field.


    45. German Marquez, SP, Colorado Rockies

    2018 WAR: 4.7

    Speaking of Rockies pitchers, German Marquez finished 2018 with a 2.47 ERA and 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings over his final 17 starts. The trick was adding a nasty slider to go with his hard fastball/curveball combination. More so than Freeland, we'll wager that Marquez has Cy Young Award-caliber upside in 2019.


    44. Walker Buehler, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

    2018 WAR: 3.4

    Walker Buehler was one of the best pitchers on any team by the end of 2018, which he finished with a 1.55 ERA over his last dozen starts. He comes at hitters with high-octane stuff that's difficult to hit at all, much less hit well. Even if the Dodgers limit his innings, he can still be a Cy Young Award contender.


    43. Noah Syndergaard, SP, New York Mets

    2018 WAR: 4.0

    Noah Syndergaard's durability has come under question over the last two years. It's also alarming that his strikeout rate is dipping. But, come on. The guy's stuff is, well, the stuff of legend, and it's good for both missing bats and suppressing hard contact. If he stays healthy in 2019, he's a Cy Young Award contender.


    42. Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies

    2018 WAR: 5.6

    Trevor Story dramatically reduced his strikeout rate last year, and the result was a season that's impressive even with the Coors Field caveat. He finished with a .914 OPS, 37 homers and 27 stolen bases. Any guy who can do that and play a decent shortstop is a star, full stop.


    41. Bryce Harper, RF, Free Agent

    2018 WAR: 1.3

    Bryce Harper was downright bad in the outfield last year. His season was further marred by a two-month slump between May 5 and July 6. On the bright side, whoever signs him will be getting a player with proven MVP-caliber ability and a bat that mustered an .889 OPS and 34 homers even in a "down" year.

40-31: Carlos Carrasco-Javier Baez

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    Javier Baez
    Javier BaezAssociated Press

    40. Carlos Carrasco, SP, Cleveland Indians

    2018 WAR: 3.9

    Carlos Carrasco's fastball velocity dipped to its lowest point since 2011 last year, yet he still struck out 10.8 batters per nine innings and finished with a 3.38 ERA over 192 total frames. So it goes for a guy who's been the most overlooked great pitcher since late in the 2014 season, and so shall it go in 2019.


    39. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

    2018 WAR: 3.3

    Based on WAR, last year was Clayton Kershaw's worst since his rookie season in 2008. Other not-so-great data points include his diminishing fastball velocity and strikeout rate. Yet it speaks volumes of his pitching ability that he could still muster a 2.73 ERA despite all of this. Even a lesser Kershaw is still great.


    38. Justin Turner, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers

    2018 WAR: 4.5

    Justin Turner is one of only eight hitters who've topped a .900 OPS in each of the last two seasons. He's the most underappreciated hitter on the list, as it takes some real skill to hit for power while collecting roughly as many walks as strikeouts in this day and age. Health permitting, the 34-year-old should once again be a low-key MVP candidate in 2019.


    37. Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

    2018 WAR: 0.4

    Sure, Corey Seager is coming off a 2018 season that featured both Tommy John surgery and a subsequent surgery on his hip. But across 2016 and 2017, he averaged an .867 OPS, 24 homers and 5.8 WAR. Given that he's still only 24 years old, he deserves a little optimism regarding a return to superstardom in 2019.


    36. Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros

    2018 WAR: 1.7

    Like Seager, Carlos Correa is also out to put an injury-marred 2018 season behind him. Also like Seager, his youth and track record are reasons to believe he can do it. Correa averaged an .863 OPS and 22 homers between 2015 and 2017, and he topped 6.0 WAR in both 2016 and 2017.


    35. Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

    2018 WAR: 4.2

    In the wake of his historic rookie season in 2017, Cody Bellinger got a reality check in 2018. Yet he was nothing even close to "bad." He mustered an .814 OPS and 25 homers while playing good defense all over the diamond. If the 23-year-old revives his elite power in 2019, he can make a run at the NL MVP.


    34. Luis Severino, SP, New York Yankees

    2018 WAR: 4.8

    One option is to dwell on the 5.67 ERA that Luis Severino put up over his final 14 starts of 2018. The other is to focus on the 2.60 ERA and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings he posted in his previous 49 starts. We'll side with the latter and trust that Severino's electric right arm will produce ace-like results in 2019.


    33. Gerrit Cole, SP, Houston Astros

    2018 WAR: 5.3

    The Pittsburgh Pirates traded Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros in January 2018. Then some magic happened, and the average spin rate of his pitches went way up. So did his strikeout rate, which soared to an MLB-best 12.4 per nine innings. Any more of that, and another sub-3.00 ERA over 200-plus innings will be his in 2019.


    32. Matt Carpenter, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals

    2018 WAR: 4.9

    Matt Carpenter started slow last year, but he finished with a .984 OPS and 33 long balls over his final 121 games. This allegedly had something to do with salsa, but it also helped that he stopped being so darn passive at the plate. In any case, he should be one of the NL's top hitters again in 2019.


    31. Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs

    2018 WAR: 6.3

    Javier Baez finally turned his potential into reality last season. He was a defensive wizard at multiple positions while racking up an .881 OPS, 34 homers and 21 steals on offense. He swings and whiffs too much to be trusted completely, yet he's too talented for his 2018 breakout to be a one-off.  

30-21: J.T. Realmuto-J.D. Martinez

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    J.D. Martinez
    J.D. MartinezAssociated Press

    30. J.T. Realmuto, C, Philadelphia Phillies

    2018 WAR: 4.3

    After several years as a mere "budding" star, J.T. Realmuto broke out as baseball's best catcher in 2018. He can do a bit of everything, including run faster than all other catchers. And like Christian Yelich before him, Realmuto stands to gain a lot just from escaping Marlins Park.


    29. Trevor Bauer, SP, Cleveland Indians

    2018 WAR: 5.8

    Trevor Bauer thinks he deserved better in the 2018 AL Cy Young Award voting, and he isn't wrong. In addition to a 2.21 ERA, he finished with 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings and the AL's lowest home run rate. His stuff is good and his arsenal is deep, so more of the same should be within reach this year.


    28. Blake Snell, SP, Tampa Bay Rays

    2018 WAR: 7.5

    Blake Snell finished 2017 on a high note. The next thing anyone knew, he was an All-Star and the AL Cy Young Award winner on the strength of a 1.89 ERA in 2018. That goes to show what a guy can do when his strikeout and walk rates suddenly go in opposite directions. Even if Snell regresses in 2019, he'll still be darn good.


    27. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves

    2018 WAR: 6.1

    Go back to the 2016 All-Star break, and Freddie Freeman is a .311/.402/.557 hitter with 69 homers over his last 349 games. As if being one of baseball's best hitters wasn't enough, he's also in the running for the game's best defensive first baseman. Expect a routine MVP run out of him in 2019.


    26. Giancarlo Stanton, OF/DH, New York Yankees

    2018 WAR: 4.0

    No thanks to a major strikeout rate regression, Giancarlo Stanton's first year with the Yankees wasn't what many hoped it would be. Still, an .852 OPS, 38 homers and 4.0 WAR is a darn good "bad" year. Provided he's more comfortable in his second season in New York, he may well return in 2019 to the 59-homer behemoth he once was.


    25. Corey Kluber, SP, Cleveland Indians

    2018 WAR: 5.9

    Like Carrasco, Corey Kluber also dealt with his lowest fastball velocity since 2011 last season. Not so coincidentally, the career-best 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings he achieved in 2017 went up in smoke. Nevertheless, the two-time Cy Young Award winner still managed a 2.89 ERA over 215 innings. That speaks to sharp command and general pitching know-how that should continue to serve him well in 2019.


    24. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Los Angeles Angels

    2018 WAR: 6.2

    Andrelton Simmons is one of only four players who've been worth more than 6.0 WAR in each of the last two seasons. His spectacular defense, uncanny knack for putting the ball in play and improved baserunning are the big reasons why. He's basically a less powerful Francisco Lindor.


    23. Ronald Acuna Jr., OF, Atlanta Braves

    2018 WAR: 4.1

    Ronald Acuna Jr. was almost universally regarded as baseball's best prospect going into 2018, but the majors humbled him initially. Then came changes to his swing that begat a .322/.408/.625 batting line in the second half. That netted him the NL Rookie of the Year. A run at the NL MVP could be next for the 21-year-old.


    22. Lorenzo Cain, CF, Milwaukee Brewers

    2018 WAR: 6.9

    If last year wasn't the best Lorenzo Cain has ever been, it was certainly the most visibly great he's ever been. He got into the NL MVP discussion by boosting his on-base percentage and keeping his defense and baserunning on par with his excellent standards. If Cain had more power, he'd basically be Mike Trout.


    21. J.D. Martinez, DH/OF, Boston Red Sox

    2018 WAR: 6.4

    J.D. Martinez needs his bat to carry him, so it's a good thing that his bat is the baseball equivalent of Hafthor Julius Bjornsson. Martinez broke out as an elite hitter back in 2014, and his first season with the Boston Red Sox—punctuated by a 1.031 OPS and 43 homers—was maybe his best yet. More great hitting out of him in 2019 is a given.

20-11: Joey Votto-Justin Verlander

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    Justin Verlander
    Justin VerlanderAssociated Press

    20. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

    2018 WAR: 3.5

    Joey Votto did his usual thing of leading the National League in on-base percentage with a .417 mark last year. He also continued the defensive revival that began in 2017. What was missing was power, as he fell from 36 homers to only 12. In light of how he finished the year with a career-best hard contact rate, however, chances are his power will come roaring right back in 2019.


    19. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals

    2018 WAR: 5.4

    No other National Leaguer has been worth as much WAR as Paul Goldschmidt since 2013. He seemed to be slipping from his superstar perch early in 2018, but then he ripped off a 1.023 OPS and 28 homers over his final 110 games. He should give his new team more of that plus his usual defense at first base, resulting in yet another MVP-caliber season.


    18. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals

    2018 WAR: 4.2

    Though he hasn't done so amid a particularly bright spotlight, Anthony Rendon has been an MVP-caliber player in three of the last five seasons. This includes the last two, across which he's posted a .923 OPS with 137 extra-base hits and mostly strong defensive metrics. Perhaps he doesn't have more upside to explore, but it's difficult to find faults with his current game.


    17. Aaron Nola, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

    2018 WAR: 10.5

    Though he didn't get a Cy Young Award for his efforts, Aaron Nola led all pitchers in WAR last season. Beyond the 2.37 ERA he put up over 212.1 innings, his case was boosted by his 9.5 strikeouts-per-nine rate and MLB-low xwOBA—based on quality of contact—on balls in play. So while it's fair to have some suspicion about whether he was the best starter in baseball, he was unquestionably one of the best. 


    16. Chris Sale, SP, Boston Red Sox

    2018 WAR: 6.9

    When he's on, Chris Sale is as good or better than any pitcher in baseball. He led MLB in strikeouts per nine in 2015 and 2017, and he would have done so again in 2018 if he had backed up his 13.5 K/9 with enough innings. As long as he avoids more trouble with his shoulder (knock on wood) in 2019, he'll once again be a strikeout master and a leading Cy Young Award contender.


    15. Matt Chapman, 3B, Oakland Athletics

    2018 WAR: 8.2

    Based on his metrics and his sweet, sweet highlights, Matt Chapman might be the best defensive third baseman ever. He's also coming off an .864 OPS and 24 homers, and he has the speed to steal bases if he wants to. Even at No. 15, he could prove to be hilariously under-ranked by year's end.


    14. Manny Machado, SS/3B, Free Agent

    2018 WAR: 5.7

    Manny Machado's long stay on the open market is even more baffling than Harper's. He's coming off a career-high .905 OPS and a career-high-tying 37 homers, and he's either a playable shortstop or a well-above-average third baseman on the other side of the ball. And for all of the hubbub over his postseason antics, they didn't keep the Dodgers from the World Series.


    13. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs

    2018 WAR: 1.9

    Early last year, Kris Bryant was on his way to a typical Kris Bryant season with a 1.022 OPS and eight homers through his first 38 games. Then came a left shoulder injury that ruined everything. He claims he's healthy going into 2019, however, so he should return to what he was between 2015 and 2017: an MVP-caliber star who averaged a .915 OPS, 31 homers and 6.6 WAR per season.


    12. Aaron Judge, RF, New York Yankees

    2018 WAR: 5.5

    In addition to missing 50 games with a broken wrist, Aaron Judge generally wasn't as dominant in 2018 as he was in 2017. Still, a .919 OPS with 27 homers and 5.5 WAR in limited action is a heck of a "down" year. It also shouldn't be overlooked that Judge is a terrific right fielder. The only thing keeping him out of the top 10 is the fear of lingering effects from his wrist injury.


    11. Justin Verlander, SP, Houston Astros

    2018 WAR: 6.2

    Justin Verlander was dominant before he joined the Houston Astros. But in 39 starts with them, he's become even better with a 2.32 ERA and a 7.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 248 innings. He arguably should have won the AL Cy Young Award last year, just as he arguably deserves a spot in the top 10.

10-1: Jose Altuve-Mike Trout

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    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    10. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

    2018 WAR: 5.2

    No thanks to a right knee injury that required surgery in October, Jose Altuve slipped from his AL MVP-winning 2017 season in 2018. He nonetheless remained an elite hitter with a .316/.386/.451 batting line, and xwOBA suggests his true performance wasn't that far off from 2017. Health permitting, the 28-year-old should be more like his usual self in 2019.


    9. Jacob deGrom, SP, New York Mets

    2018 WAR: 9.6

    As good as he was between 2014 and 2017, it was hard to see Jacob deGrom's 2018 coming. He finished with an MLB-best 1.70 ERA over 217 innings. And while Nola may have finished with more WAR, deGrom had the lowest xwOBA of any NL starter. He likely can't be any better than that, but far be it from us to expect him to regress too much.


    8. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies

    2018 WAR: 5.6

    Nolan Arenado posted a relatively disappointing WAR last year in part because his defensive metrics were suspiciously out of line with his previous ratings. Otherwise, a career-high walk rate helped lead him to a career-best .374 on-base percentage, and he tacked on a .935 OPS and 38 homers. If not for the Coors Field caveat, there would be nothing to hold against Arenado.


    7. Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros

    2018 WAR: 6.9

    Amid Altuve's slight decline, Alex Bregman arose as the Houston Astros' best player in 2018. His evolving power and approach—which led to a career-best .926 OPS and 83 extra-base hits last season—are two reasons to believe he can hold on to that distinction. A third is that he's likely due some better defensive metrics. Altogether, he's a super-duper-star on the rise.


    6. Max Scherzer, SP, Washington Nationals

    2018 WAR: 8.8

    Max Scherzer, now 34, can't pitch like an ace forever. Yet he seems determined to try. He's been a Cy Young-caliber hurler every year since 2013, and he's fresh off a 2.53 ERA and a career-high 300 strikeouts over 220.2 innings in 2018. He can keep doing this until his stuff starts to lose its electricity, which doesn't seem even close to imminent.


    5. Jose Ramirez, 3B, Cleveland Indians

    2018 WAR: 7.9

    Jose Ramirez is a heck of a baseball player when he's not kicking rear ends at Mario Kart. He leads everyone with 172 extra-base hits since 2017. He also plays a solid third base, and he was last seen stealing 34 bases and walking more often than he struck out. If not for a certain shortstop, he'd be far and away the best player on the Cleveland Indians.


    4. Christian Yelich, RF, Milwaukee Brewers

    2018 WAR: 7.6

    Christian Yelich went from a hidden gem with the Miami Marlins to a gem, period, with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018. He went off with1.219 OPS and 25 homers in the second half of 2018, all while mixing in good baserunning and defense. If the 27-year-old picks up from there, he'll go from being the NL's best player to one of the best players in all of MLB.


    3. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians

    2018 WAR: 7.9

    Francisco Lindor is a Gold Glove-caliber defensive shortstop whose offensive prowess peaked with an .871 OPS, 38 homers and 25 steals last year. At 25, he's young enough to possibly still have unexplored upside. There isn't much more to say, other than that the calf strain which will sideline him for the next month-and-a-half is a bummer.


    2. Mookie Betts, RF, Boston Red Sox

    2018 WAR: 10.9

    Last year, Mookie Betts pushed his WAR to a level that not even Mike Trout has reached. And he did it despite playing in only 136 games, which speaks to the overwhelming awesomeness of his .346/.438/.640 batting line, 32 homers, 30 steals and downright pristine defensive metrics. He was a deserving winner of the AL MVP, and he should have another in his sights in his age-26 season.


    1. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels

    2018 WAR: 10.2

    Still, a Mike Trout is a Mike Trout is a Mike Trout. He owns more WAR through the age of 26 than any player in history, and last year was his third 10-WAR season since 2012. His revitalized defense and characteristically excellent baserunning were factors, but Trout deserves more attention for having led MLB in OPS two years in a row. As per usual, he's all anyone could want in a baseball player.


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference (including WAR), FanGraphs, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball.