MLB Position Power Rankings: Predicting Top 10 Stars at Each Position for 2019
Who are MLB's best players at each position heading into the 2019 season?
It's a simple question, yet you could ask 1,000 different people and you'd get 1,000 different answers.
With unexpected breakouts, unforeseen injuries and inevitable regression, it's virtually impossible to predict what will happen over the course of a 162-game season.
That didn't stop us from trying.
Ahead you'll find a position-by-position breakdown of the top 10 players at each spot, along with a 2019 WAR prediction for each player. Offensive and defensive abilities were taken into account when assembling the lists. Simple enough, right?
Let's get started.
Note: We did not do a top designated hitters list, but J.D. Martinez (BOS), Giancarlo Stanton (NYY), Nelson Cruz (MIN), Khris Davis (OAK) and Tyler White (HOU) would have made up our top five in that order.
Top 10 Catchers
1. J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies—5.1 WAR
2. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants—3.7 WAR
3. Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs—3.6 WAR
4. Yasmani Grandal, Milwaukee Brewers—3.2 WAR
5. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals—2.6 WAR
6. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees—2.6 WAR
7. Wilson Ramos, New York Mets—2.3 WAR
8. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals—2.2 WAR
9. Danny Jansen, Toronto Blue Jays—2.0 WAR
10. Francisco Cervelli, Pittsburgh Pirates—1.9 WAR
The Phillies added the best catcher in baseball when they acquired J.T. Realmuto in a blockbuster deal with the Marlins. The 27-year-old led all catchers in WAR (4.3) last season. Moving from cavernous Marlins Park to a more hitter-friendly environment in Philly should unlock more over-the-fence production after he hit a career-high 21 home runs in 2018.
Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos also joined new teams this offseason, and they'll both provide a significant boost over the incumbent situation. Playing on a one-year, $16 million deal that has a matching $16 million mutual option for 2020, Grandal will be motivated to boost his stock.
A healthy season from Buster Posey (105 games in 2018) could result in a return to top-tier production. Meanwhile, Willson Contreras would benefit greatly from some additional rest after he caught an MLB-high 1,109.2 innings last season and ran out of gas.
Salvador Perez and Yadier Molina are two of the best around at handling a pitching staff, and both still have plenty left in the tank. That said, a sub-.300 on-base percentage will continue to cut into Perez's overall value, while Molina could cede playing time to prospect Andrew Knizner as the team tries to keep him fresh.
The big question mark here is Gary Sanchez. He was a 1.2 WAR player despite a brutal .186 batting average. Even landing somewhere between his 2017 and 2018 numbers would make him one of the best at the position.
The trade of Russell Martin made it clear the Blue Jays are ready to turn starting duties over to rookie Danny Jansen, and he has the offensive tools to develop into an All-Star. MLB.com gave him a 55-grade hit tool while ranking him as the No. 5 catching prospect and No. 65 overall prospect.
Veteran Francisco Cervelli rounds out the top 10 coming off the best offensive season of his career, though he'll need to hold off Elias Diaz.
Top 10 First Basemen
1. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves—5.9 WAR
2. Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals—5.7 WAR
3. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds—4.6 WAR
4. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs—4.2 WAR
5. Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics—4.1 WAR
6. Rhys Hoskins, Philadelphia Phillies—3.8 WAR
7. Pete Alonso, New York Mets—3.5 WAR
8. Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers—3.2 WAR
9. Jesus Aguilar, Milwaukee Brewers—2.9 WAR
10. Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates—2.8 WAR
The foursome of Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo remain the cream of the crop at first base, and all four bring something different to the table.
Freeman and Votto lack prototypical power for the position but make up for it with elite on-base skills. Rizzo is a standout defender and perennial 30-homer threat whose numbers took a hit last year as the result of a slow start. Goldschmidt stole just seven bases last season, but he has a pair of 20/20 seasons to his credit, and he'll be playing for a big payday. All four are capable of an OPS over .900.
Matt Olson and Rhys Hoskins both burst onto the scene during the second half of the 2017 season, and both backed that up with strong first full seasons in the majors. Olson (14 defensive runs saved, 9.3 UZR/150) is a Gold Glove defender and a 30-homer threat. Hoskins was miscast in left field and could make a run at 40 home runs in a stacked Philly lineup.
The top rookie at the position is Pete Alonso, who shouldn't take long to unseat Todd Frazier as the Mets' starting first baseman. The 24-year-old hit .285/.395/.579 with 31 doubles, 36 home runs and 119 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A.
Max Muncy and Jesus Aguilar likely both played over their heads a bit last season, so some regression is to be expected. They're still capable of being top-10 guys at the position, though. Both have legit power, and Muncy provides added value with his defensive versatility.
Josh Bell earns the final spot as he looks to take a step forward in his third full season. A spike in his walk rate after the All-Star break (11.5 to 16.3 percent) could be a sign of things to come.
Top 10 Second Basemen
1. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros—5.5 WAR
2. Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees—4.8 WAR
3. Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves—4.2 WAR
4. Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals—4.1 WAR
5. Robinson Cano, New York Mets—3.7 WAR
6. Scooter Gennett, Cincinnati Reds—3.5 WAR
7. Brian Dozier, Washington Nationals—3.2 WAR
8. Jurickson Profar, Oakland Athletics—3.0 WAR
9. Luis Urias, San Diego Padres—2.6 WAR
10. Cesar Hernandez, Philadelphia Phillies—2.5 WAR
While the top spot among second basemen still belongs to Jose Altuve, he could soon be pushed by budding stars Gleyber Torres and Ozzie Albies.
Altuve was his usual productive self last season, hitting .316/.386/.451 with 13 home runs and 17 steals. There's no reason to expect anything different in 2019.
Albies slumped in the second half, and Torres did most of his damage hitting near the bottom of the Yankees lineup, but both players are capable of taking the next step.
Whit Merrifield led the majors in hits (192) and steals (45) last year, proving his breakout 2017 season was no fluke. The Royals opted to hold on to him this offseason, and he inked a team-friendly extension, so he'll once again set the table for a weak Kansas City offense.
Robinson Cano, Brian Dozier and Jurickson Profar were all on the move this offseason.
Cano was his usual productive self when he was on the field and not serving an 80-game PED suspension, Dozier was too good for too long to think he won't bounce back from a brutal contract year, and Profar will benefit from some positional stability after breaking out last season in a super-utility role.
There's no reason to doubt Scooter Gennett after back-to-back seasons with at least 20 home runs and an OPS+ north of 120. He's also playing for a contract and for a Cincinnati team that figures to be more competitive this year.
Rookie Luis Urias will likely open the season playing shortstop until top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. gets the call, at which point he'll slide over to second base, where he figures to line up for the next decade. The 21-year-old is a .306/.397/.405 hitter over five minor league seasons, and his glove will provide value as well.
Steady performer Cesar Hernandez quietly had a 15 HR/19 SB season with his usual strong on-base numbers. He takes the final spot over Jonathan Schoop (MIN), Kolten Wong (STL), Starlin Castro (MIA) and Joey Wendle (TB).
Top 10 Shortstops
1. Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians—7.4 WAR
2. Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers—6.7 WAR
3. Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs—5.4 WAR
4. Andrelton Simmons, Los Angeles Angels—5.1 WAR
5. Carlos Correa, Houston Astros—4.5 WAR
6. Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies—4.4 WAR
7. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox—3.9 WAR
8. Trea Turner, Washington Nationals—3.8 WAR
9. Willy Adames, Tampa Bay Rays—3.5 WAR
10. Adalberto Mondesi, Kansas City Royals—3.4 WAR
The shortstop position is loaded, and it's going to be that way for the foreseeable future.
Slick-fielding Andrelton Simmons won't turn 30 until Sept. 4, and he's the elder statesman of the above group by roughly three years.
Even as he nurses a calf injury that could put him on the shelf to start the season, Francisco Lindor is the clear choice for the top spot. He was a 7.9 WAR player last season while posting a 131 OPS+ and slugging a career-high 38 home runs, all while playing elite defense.
Corey Seager (26 games played) and Carlos Correa (110 games) both missed significant time last season but are expected to be back to full health, which should mean a return to elite status.
Breakout seasons from Javier Baez and Trevor Story have elevated them to top-tier standing. Baez was a standout defender and a steady run producer despite his free-swinging approach, while Story hit 37 home runs and played excellent defense in his own right.
Speedster Trea Turner (43 SB) and Red Sox star Xander Bogaerts (71 XBH, 103 RBI) are both strong candidates for long-term extensions. Bogaerts is a free agent after the 2019 season.
The potential breakout stars here are Willy Adames and Adalberto Mondesi. Adames hit .329/.406/.480 over the final two months of the season, while Mondesi posted an .886 OPS with five doubles, eight home runs and 14 steals in September.
While top prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. was a tough omission, it remains to be seen when he'll be called up to the majors, so it was hard to fit him into the top 10. Others who received serious consideration include Paul DeJong, Jorge Polanco, Jean Segura, Didi Gregorius, Brandon Crawford, Marcus Semien, Amed Rosario and Elvis Andrus.
Top 10 Third Basemen
1. Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies—7.5 WAR
2. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians—7.2 WAR
3. Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics—7.0 WAR
4. Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs—6.7 WAR
5. Alex Bregman, Houston Astros—6.5 WAR
6. Manny Machado, San Diego Padres—5.3 WAR
7. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays—4.8 WAR
8. Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals—4.5 WAR
9. Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds—4.2 WAR
10. Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers—4.1 WAR
There's not a deeper position in baseball right now than third base.
Case in point: Matt Carpenter posted a 143 OPS+ with 42 doubles, 36 home runs and 4.9 WAR last season, and he didn't make the cut.
Rockies superstar Nolan Arenado is in the process of finalizing an eight-year, $260 million extension, according to Jeff Passan of ESPN.com. Not many players are a perennial threat to hit 40 home runs and win a Gold Glove award.
Jose Ramirez has logged back-to-back third-place finishes in AL MVP voting, posting a career-high 7.9 WAR with a 150 OPS+, 38 doubles and 39 home runs last year. His ability to slide over to second base when needed further adds to his value.
Even in an injury-marred season where he played just 102 games, Kris Bryant was a 1.9 WAR player. There's not a better candidate for a big, bounce-back season.
A breakout season from Alex Bregman vaults him into the top five at the position, just ahead of $300 million man Manny Machado. Machado will make the full-time move back to the hot corner, where he's been an elite defender throughout his career.
Deciding where to slot rookie phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was tough. It's hard to rank him above the six guys listed ahead of him when he's yet to make his MLB debut, but it also feels like there's a good chance he'll be a top-five player at the position in 2019.
Steady producers Anthony Rendon, Eugenio Suarez and Justin Turner narrowly edge out a potentially healthy Josh Donaldson for the final spot. Still, don't be surprised if the 2015 AL MVP finds his way onto this list.
Top 10 Outfielders
1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels—10.5 WAR
2. Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox—10.1 WAR
3. Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves—7.7 WAR
4. Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers—6.4 WAR
5. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees—6.0 WAR
6. Bryce Harper, Free Agent—5.3 WAR
7. Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox—4.9 WAR
8. Mitch Haniger, Seattle Mariners—4.7 WAR
9. Juan Soto, Washington Nationals—4.5 WAR
10. Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies—4.2 WAR
When it comes to ranking outfielders, there's Mike Trout and Mookie Betts, and then there's everyone else.
Can Ronald Acuna Jr. join that elite duo in 2019?
The 21-year-old phenom hit .322/.403/.625 with 19 home runs and 14 steals in 68 games after the All-Star break. A full season of that level of production would vault him into the top tier of MLB stars.
Speaking of strong finishes, NL MVP Christian Yelich played out of his mind with a .367/.449/.770 line and 25 home runs after the All-Star break. That's probably not a sustainable level of production, so a bit of regression can be expected, but he should again be in the thick of the MVP race.
Aaron Judge backed up his historic rookie season with a rock-solid sophomore campaign. Some level of regression was unavoidable, and even though injuries limited him to 112 games, he didn't disappoint.
The team that finally signs Bryce Harper will get a top-10 outfielder capable of much more than he showed last season.
Rising stars Andrew Benintendi, Mitch Haniger and Juan Soto all look like the real deal. Their respective ages and impressive track records are a good indication that more good things lie ahead.
The final spot went to Rockies spark plug Charlie Blackmon, who should see his value climb with a move away from center field, where defensive metrics (-28 DRS, -12.6 UZR/150) were not a fan of his work.
Narrowing all the outfielders in baseball to a top 10 made for some notable omissions. Some of the toughest included George Springer (HOU), Lorenzo Cain (MIL), Cody Bellinger (LAD), Aaron Hicks (NYY), Brandon Nimmo (NYM), Marcell Ozuna (STL), David Dahl (COL), Michael Conforto (NYM), Kyle Schwarber (CHC), Harrison Bader (STL) and rookies Eloy Jimenez (CWS) and Victor Robles (WAS).
Top 10 Starting Pitchers
1. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals—9.1 WAR
2. Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox—8.7 WAR
3. Justin Verlander, Houston Astros—8.2 WAR
4. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians—7.7 WAR
5. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets—7.2 WAR
6. Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies—7.0 WAR
7. Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers—6.6 WAR
8. Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays—6.3 WAR
9. German Marquez, Colorado Rockies—5.9 WAR
10. Gerrit Cole, Houston Astros—5.8 WAR
Mets ace Jacob deGrom was historically good in 2018.
However, historically good seasons are historically difficult to duplicate. DeGrom belongs in the conversation, but what he did last year doesn't automatically earn him the No. 1 spot.
That instead goes to Max Scherzer, who has been consistently excellent and remarkably durable for six years running. During that span, he's gone 107-40 with a 2.81 ERA and 0.98 WHIP while averaging 270 strikeouts in 219 innings. The scary thing is, he might still be getting better, as he set career bests in strikeouts (300) and strikeouts per nine innings (12.2) last season.
Likewise, Chris Sale, Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber all lost out to Blake Snell for AL Cy Young honors last season, yet all three still rank ahead of him. Remember, we're projecting what's going to happen in 2019, not ranking guys based on 2018 performance. Track record plays a role.
Aaron Nola led all pitchers with 10.5 WAR last season after entering 2018 with just 6.0 WAR for his career. For all the flashy additions the Phillies have made on the offensive side, Nola remains their most important player as the leader of the rotation.
Looking for a pitcher who is ready to take the next step?
NL West foes Walker Buehler and German Marquez both look primed to join the ranks of the game's elite.
Buehler posted a 1.62 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and a .137 opponents' batting average in a dominant month of September that could serve as a springboard to a run at NL Cy Young. Meanwhile, Marquez finished fourth in the NL with 230 strikeouts while posting better peripherals than breakout teammate Kyle Freeland.
The final spot goes to Gerrit Cole, who will once again join Verlander in giving the Astros a pair of AL Cy Young candidates.
Notably absent from this list is Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers ace is already dealing with shoulder inflammation this spring, and he's averaged just 25 starts the past three seasons. When he's on the mound, he's still one of the best around. But he's a reasonable bet to miss 10 or so starts, which makes it hard to project him for an elite-level WAR.
Top 10 Relief Pitchers
1. Edwin Diaz, New York Mets—3.3 WAR
2. Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers—3.2 WAR
3. Blake Treinen, Oakland Athletics—2.8 WAR
4. Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees—2.6 WAR
5. Jose Leclerc, Texas Rangers—2.5 WAR
6. Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers—2.2 WAR
7. Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers—2.1 WAR
8. Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox—1.9 WAR
9. Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres—1.9 WAR
10. A.J. Minter, Atlanta Braves—1.8 WAR
Predicting how relief pitchers will perform on a year-in and year-out basis is a crapshoot.
That said, Edwin Diaz, Blake Treinen, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen were all elite closers last season, so there's no reason to believe they'll take a major step backward in 2019.
The same can't be said for perennial top-tier closer Craig Kimbrel, who had an up-and-down season statistically and remains unsigned in free agency. As a result of both, he didn't crack the list.
The Brewers won an NL Central title largely on the strength of their dominant bullpen, and both Josh Hader (12 SV, 21 HLD, 2.43 ERA, 15.8 K/9) and Corey Knebel (16 SV, 7 HLD, 3.58 ERA, 14.3 K/9) have the lights-out stuff to post elite numbers once again.
While Jose Leclerc went largely unnoticed pitching for a bad Rangers team, he posted dominant numbers across the board with a 1.56 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 13.3 K/9 while tallying 15 holds and 12 saves. He now looks like the unquestioned closer.
Similarly, Kirby Yates (12 SV, 16 HLD, 2.14 ERA, 12.9 K/9) and Matt Barnes (25 HLD, 3.65 ERA, 14.0 K/9) will get their first full-season shots at closing out games with the electric stuff to emerge as lockdown ninth-inning options.
Left-hander A.J. Minter (15 SV, 12 HLD, 3.23 ERA, 10.1 K/9) will have to contend with Arodys Vizcaino to close out games in Atlanta, but he's capable of making a major impact in whatever role he fills as one of the hardest-throwing southpaws in the league.