Ranking MLB's Top 25 Players in 2019 After 1 Month

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2019

Ranking MLB's Top 25 Players in 2019 After 1 Month

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Who are baseball's best players after one month of the 2019 season?

    It's a simple question that will generate a wide variety of answers, though there should be no debate over who belongs at No. 1 on the list. (Hint: It's one of those guys pictured above.)

    The following is our take on the 25 best players in 2019 based solely on this season's performance, so there's no need to grab the torches and pitchforks when you don't see reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts or NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom on the following list.

    Yes, they're still great players. No, they have not been among the 25 so far this season.

    The only stipulations for inclusion within the top 25 were that hitters had to have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, which notably excluded Seattle Mariners slugger Daniel Vogelbach and Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Austin Meadows. Pitchers had to have enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, which meant no relievers.

    That said, there were no restrictions for our "next 25" list of honorable mentions, and that's where we'll get things started.

The Next 25

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    Dan Vogelbach
    Dan VogelbachElaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Pitchers

    • Shane Bieber (CLE)
    • Edwin Diaz (NYM)
    • Max Fried (ATL)
    • Shane Greene (DET)
    • Josh Hader (MIL)
    • German Marquez (COL)
    • Charlie Morton (TB)
    • Chris Paddack (SD)
    • Matt Shoemaker (TOR)
    • Kirby Yates (SD)

        

    Hitters

    • Ronald Acuna Jr. (ATL)
    • Matt Chapman (OAK)
    • Shin-Soo Choo (TEX)
    • Willson Contreras (CHC)
    • Freddie Freeman (ATL)
    • Joey Gallo (TEX)
    • Paul Goldschmidt (STL)
    • Rhys Hoskins (PHI)
    • Jeff McNeil (NYM)
    • Austin Meadows (TB)
    • Yoan Moncada (CWS)
    • Marcell Ozuna (STL)
    • Joc Pederson (LAD)
    • Eddie Rosario (MIN)
    • Daniel Vogelbach (SEA)

Nos. 25 to 21

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    Fernando Tatis Jr.
    Fernando Tatis Jr.Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    25. 1B Christian Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks

    109 PA, .316/.385/.633, 17 XBH (7 HR), 15 RBI, 16 R, 1.0 WAR

    Who knew the D-backs would be upgrading when they traded away Paul Goldschmidt and handed the first-base job to Quad-A slugger Christian Walker?

    That's hyperbole, of course, but only to a point.

    Walker has been excellent in his first extended MLB action, and his production in the middle of the Arizona lineup has gone a long way toward replacing Goldschmidt and helping the team to a better-than-expected start (16-13).

                            

    24. SP Mike Minor, Texas Rangers

    6 GS, 2.88 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 12 BB, 39 K, 40.2 IP, .179 BAA, 1.7 WAR

    Mike Minor has one of the two complete-game shutouts thrown so far this season, with the other coming from Colorado Rockies right-hander German Marquez.

    In his second season with the Rangers, Minor has continued to be the team's most reliable arm. He's also been one of the most unhittable starters in baseball with a .179 opponents' batting average that ranks seventh among qualified pitchers.

    While the Rangers (14-13) have played well to this point, Minor could be a valuable trade chip come July if they fall out of the race.

                               

    23. SS Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres

    111 PA, .300/.360/.550, 12 XBH (6 HR), 13 RBI, 14 R, 1.6 WAR

    It's easy to forget sometimes that Fernando Tatis Jr. will not turn 21 years old until Jan. 2.

    Aside from the immediate contributions he's made offensively, including a move into the leadoff spot in the batting order, he's also impressed with his defense at shortstop.

    Blessed with tremendous quick-twitch athleticism and a rocket arm, Tatis has tallied 4 DRS in the early going while making a number of highlight-reel plays.

                                                 

    22. RF Trey Mancini, Baltimore Orioles

    121 PA, .355/.405/.618, 17 XBH (6 HR), 14 RBI, 23 R, 1.0 WAR

    It figures to be another long season for the rebuilding Orioles, who are off to a 10-19 start and have an MLB-worst minus-62 run differential.

    There has been one major bright spot, though, in the form of right fielder Trey Mancini.

    After a disappointing 2018 campaign that saw him regress across the board from his promising rookie season, the 27-year-old has been raking to lead the AL in hits (39) and total bases (68).

    Unfortunately, he continues to be miscast as an outfielder, and his poor defensive metrics (minus-3 DRS, minus-16.2 UZR/150) take a bite out of his overall value.

                                     

    21. SP Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians

    6 GS, 1.99 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 19 BB, 45 K, 40.2 IP, .167 BAA, 1.8 WAR

    With Corey Kluber (5.81 ERA) and Carlos Carrasco (5.86 ERA) both struggling and Mike Clevinger on the injured list, Trevor Bauer has been pushed into the role of staff ace for the Indians.

    After posting a 2.21 ERA with 221 strikeouts in 175.1 innings last season, Bauer is clearly capable of filling this role, and he's been excellent once again this year in the early going.

    The only real blip on his statistical radar is a spike in his walk rate from 2.9 to 4.2 BB/9. He's managed to offset that with a .167 opponents' batting average that ranks third among qualified starters, but it could become a problem down the line.

Nos. 20 to 16

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    Patrick Corbin
    Patrick CorbinDustin Bradford/Getty Images

    20. SS Jorge Polanco, Minnesota Twins
    105 PA, .337/.390/.632, 15 XBH (5 HR), 10 RBI, 15 R, 1.6 WAR

    The Twins gave Jorge Polanco a five-year, $25.75 million extension after he finished the 2018 season with a flourish, hitting .310/.361/.460 with 10 extra-base hits in 27 September games.

    That already looks like a stroke of genius, as he has exploded out of the gates to help drive a Minnesota offense that has been among the best in baseball.

    His soft-contact rate is way down (22.2 to 14.8 percent), his hard-contact rate is way up (32.1 to 40.7 percent) and he's striking out less (18.6 to 14.3 percent). That all lends credibility to his breakout performance being more than just a one-month fluke.

          

    19. SP Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays
    5 GS, 2.54 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 6 BB, 39 K, 28.1 IP, .204 BAA, 0.6 WAR

    Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell has picked up right where he left off.

    While his ERA is a bit higher than some of the other pitchers on this list—and is in fact up from the pristine 1.89 mark he posted a year ago—his 6.5 K/BB ratio leads the AL. That represents a stark improvement over the solid 3.45 K/BB rate he posted a year ago.

    The 26-year-old has settled in as one of the game's top starters, and he's avoided a letdown after setting the bar extremely high with last season's performance.

        

    18. SP Patrick Corbin, Washington Nationals
    5 GS, 2.48 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 6 BB, 39 K, 32.2 IP, .200 BAA 1.6 WAR

    The Nationals gave Patrick Corbin a six-year, $140 million deal in free agency after he turned in a career year with the Diamondbacks last season.

    The 29-year-old has looked right at home in his new jersey, giving a rotation that already featured Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg another elite arm.

    So far, he's been the best of the bunch, lowering his walk rate while continuing to punch out batters at a clip north of 10.0 K/9. A legitimate case can be made that he's the best left-handed pitcher in baseball right now given Chris Sale's struggles and the injuries that slowed Clayton Kershaw in the early going.

    He's not the No. 1 southpaw on this list, though.

          

    17. SP Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
    6 GS, 2.61 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 9 BB, 46 K, 38.0 IP, .180 BAA, 1.3 WAR

    Remember when Justin Verlander struggled to a 4.54 ERA in 2014, and many were quick to call it the beginning of the end for the then-31-year-old former MVP?

    That season now looks like little more than an insignificant bump in the road.

    Five years later, Verlander is still going strong as one of the most overpowering pitchers in baseball. His current 0.895 WHIP and 5.9 H/9 rates would both represent career bests over a full season, and his contributions have meant even more to the Astros following the oft-mentioned turnover in their starting rotation.

         

    16. SS Paul DeJong, St. Louis Cardinals
    120 PA, .342/.392/.604, 18 XBH (5 HR), 13 RBI, 24 R, 1.9 WAR

    While Paul DeJong earned 3.8 WAR last year, his offensive production was still somewhat disappointing in the wake of his huge rookie numbers.

    He hit just .241/.313/.433 with 19 home runs for a 102 OPS+ that was down significantly from the 121 OPS+ he posted while finishing second in the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year voting.

    With his batting average up over 100 points and his OPS up nearly 150 points, things are going much better so far in 2019. He has also continued to play a stellar defensive shortstop (3 DRS, 9.6 UZR/150) after he posted similarly impressive metrics (14 DRS, 9.3 UZR/150) a year ago.

Nos. 15 to 11

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    Pete Alonso
    Pete AlonsoMichael B. Thomas/Getty Images

    15. SS Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
    118 PA, .315/.356/.640, 17 XBH (9 HR), 22 RBI, 23 R, 1.7 WAR

    After a runner-up finish in last season's NL MVP voting, Javier Baez has seen an across-the-board uptick in his offensive numbers.

    While his free-swinging approach will always result in a fair amount of strikeouts, he's improved his walk rate (4.5 to 5.9 percent), which has helped his on-base percentage climb from .326 to .356.

    Baez has also played his usual dazzling defense at shortstop, tallying 5 DRS while once again filling up the highlight reel.

       

    14. SP Joe Musgrove, Pittsburgh Pirates
    5 GS, 2.06 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 7 BB, 31 K, 35.0 IP, .198 BAA, 1.2 WAR

    Joe Musgrove showed signs of a breakout last season when he posted a 3.59 FIP and 1.18 WHIP in 115.1 innings over 19 starts.

    This campaign, the 26-year-old has been the best pitcher in a Pittsburgh rotation that leads the NL and ranks third in the majors with a 3.23 ERA.

    He's showing an improved slider and doing a great job keeping the ball in the park, allowing just one home run in 35 innings. That's led to a true breakout performance over the first month of the season, as he's dropped his FIP and WHIP to 2.51 and 0.914, respectively.

          

    13. 1B Pete Alonso, New York Mets
    113 PA, .306/.398/.684, 18 XBH (9 HR), 24 RBI, 20 R, 1.8 WAR

    After a huge season in the upper levels of the minors last year and a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, it was only a matter of time before Pete Alonso would man first base for the Mets.

    His timetable was expedited when he hit .352/.387/.620 with 10 extra-base hits in 75 plate appearances during spring training, and he ended up breaking camp with a spot on the Opening Day roster.

    So far, the 24-year-old has not missed a beat against MLB pitching, showing the middle-of-the-order power and run production that could make him a star in this league for years to come. If the season ended today, he'd be the pick for NL Rookie of the Year.

         

    12. SP Domingo German, New York Yankees
    5 GS, 2.56 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 9 BB, 32 K, 31.2 IP, .157 BAA, 0.8 WAR

    When injuries forced Luis Severino and CC Sabathia to the injured list at the start of the season, Domingo German was able to slide into the Opening Day rotation.

    The 26-year-old saw his first extended MLB action last season when he posted a 5.57 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 85.2 innings spanning 14 starts and seven relief appearances.

    He's been a different pitcher so far this season, leading all qualified pitchers with a .157 opponents' batting average; he's allowed just 18 hits in 31.2 innings. His 2.79 FIP suggests his numbers are legit, and the Yankees would certainly benefit from more of the same going forward.

         

    11. SS Elvis Andrus, Texas Rangers
    115 PA, .365/.426/.596, 13 XBH (5 HR), 20 RBI, 18 R, 1.4 WAR

    Two seasons ago, Elvis Andrus had a career year offensively, hitting .297/.337/.471 with 44 doubles, 20 home runs and 88 RBI.

    Last season, he landed on the disabled list for the first time in his career with a fractured elbow, and he hit just  .256/.308/.367 with 20 doubles and six home runs in the 97 games he did play.

    Needless to say, his current level of offensive production is likely not sustainable, but he's more than capable of returning to his pre-injury form and putting up another career year. He's also back to running and has recorded five steals after he swiped just five bases all of last season.

Nos. 10 to 6

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    Caleb Smith
    Caleb SmithMichael Reaves/Getty Images

    10. 3B Hunter Dozier, Kansas City Royals
    99 PA, .349/.444/.699, 13 XBH (7 HR), 17 RBI, 13 R, 1.5 WAR

    Hunter Dozier's development has required some patience from the Royals, but he's proving well worth the wait.

    The 27-year-old was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2013 draft. While that selection was a bit of a reach—made, in part, to facilitate the signing of Sean Manaea later in the draft—Dozier was still one of the top college bats in the class and expected to move quickly.

    However, that didn't happen. When he hit .229/.278/.395 with 11 home runs in 102 games last season, questions emerged about whether he would ever establish himself at the MLB level.

    Clearly, this season has produced an entirely different story.

         

    9. SP Tyler Glasnow, Tampa Bay Rays
    6 GS, 1.75 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 7 BB, 38 K, .208 BAA, 36.0 IP, 1.3 WAR

    While Chris Archer is having a solid season for the Pirates, the Rays currently look like clear winners in last summer's deal that sent him to Pittsburgh in exchange for right-hander Tyler Glasnow and outfielder Austin Meadows.

    While Meadows is hitting .351/.422/.676 with 11 extra-base hits in 83 plate appearances, Glasnow has been the real prize for the pitching-centric Rays.

    The towering 6'8" right-hander has seemingly rectified the command issues that often plagued him during his time in Pittsburgh, as he currently leads the AL with 1.8 BB/9. That has allowed his electric stuff to reach its full potential, and he's back to looking like a potential long-term ace.

         

    8. SP Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
    6 GS, 1.43 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 14 BB, 36 K, .197 BAA, 37.2 IP, 1.5 WAR

    After he finished among the top 10 in the 2017 AL Cy Young Award voting, Marcus Stroman suffered through a trying 2018 campaign. Injuries limited him to just 19 starts, and he posted a 5.54 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 102.1 innings when he was able to take the mound.

    This year, he's back to serving as the unquestioned ace of the Toronto staff.

    The 27-year-old currently stands at the AL ERA leader (1.43), and his 6.5 H/9 and .197 opponents' batting average are extremely promising signs for a pitcher who has worked around hits and base runners his entire career.

         

    7. SP Caleb Smith, Miami Marlins
    5 GS, 2.17 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 7 BB, 37 K, .167 BAA, 29.0 IP, 1.1 WAR

    Who?

    Caleb Smith quietly posted a 4.19 ERA with 88 strikeouts in 77.1 innings over 16 starts last season before his year ended prematurely when he underwent surgery on a lat strain. Since he pitches for a rebuilding Marlins team off to a dreadful 8-20 start, the casual baseball fan can be forgiven if they've never heard of the team's emerging ace.

    He won't continue to fly under the radar for long if he keeps throwing the ball this way. The 27-year-old currently leads all qualified starters with a 0.83 WHIP. He's also tied for fourth in opponents' batting average (.167) and seventh in ERA (2.17).

         

    6. 3B Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
    86 PA, .356/.442/.740, 16 XBH (6 HR), 18 RBI, 21 R, 0.9 WAR

    A hit by pitch that resulted in some nagging elbow swelling has sidelined Anthony Rendon for six of the Nationals' last seven games. Otherwise, he'd likely be pushing for a spot inside the top five.

    After Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado both signed long-term deals during the offseason, Rendon is on track to be the marquee free agent of the 2019-20 MLB offseason.

    The 28-year-old hit .305/.389/.534 while averaging 42 doubles, 24 home runs and 96 RBI the past two seasons, so there's no reason to believe he can't turn in a career year in 2019, provided he gets healthy and stays that way.

Nos. 5 to 1

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    Christian Yelich
    Christian YelichDylan Buell/Getty Images

    5. SP Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds
    6 GS, 1.23 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 14 BB, 43 K, 36.2 IP, .165 BAA, 2.0 WAR

    Pegged by many as a breakout candidate heading into the 2018 season, Luis Castillo entered the month of September with a 5.07 ERA in 26 starts. Then, the switch flipped.

    In five September starts, he posted a 1.09 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 34 strikeouts over 33 innings with a .172 opponents' batting average.

    Late-season performance is not always indicative of future success, but it can be a good way to identify potential future stars. That's exactly what Castillo has been so far this season while emerging as the ace of the Cincinnati staff.

    Through one month, Castillo has been the best pitcher in baseball.

         

    4. SS Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox
    94 PA, .385/.404/.604, 10 XBH (5 HR), 16 RBI, 20 R, 0.8 WAR

    Tim Anderson leads the AL in batting average (.385), steals (10) and amazing bat flips.

    The 25-year-old enjoyed a 20/20 season last year with 20 home runs and 26 steals, but he hit just .240/.281/.406 for an 87 OPS+ in the process.

    He still seems borderline allergic to walks, earning just two free passes in 94 plate appearances after he walked a grand total of 30 times in 606 trips to the dish last year. That puts a lot of pressure on his batting average to drive his offensive value, and he's actually seen a slight downturn in his hard-contact rate (30.3 to 29.2 percent).

    But for now, he's riding high.

          

    3. CF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
    115 PA, .305/.496/.585, 11 XBH (6 HR), 16 RBI, 19 R, 2.3 WAR

    Mike Trout is still the best baseball player on planet Earth. Based solely on 2019 production, though, the Angels superstar slots in at No. 3.

    The 27-year-old leads the majors with 28 walks and has only struck out 13 times. That gives him an eye-popping .496 on-base percentage that trails only Cody Bellinger (.500), who is on an otherworldly tear to start the season.

    On top of his offensive exploits, Trout has also played a stellar center field with 7 DRS and a 31.2 UZR/150.

         

    2. LF Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
    124 PA, .353/.460/.804, 18 XBH (14 HR), 34 RBI, 26 R, 2.2 WAR

    So much for the MVP hangover.

    Christian Yelich put the finishing touches on his award-winning 2018 season by hitting a ridiculous .370/.508/.804 with 10 home runs and 34 RBI in 118 plate appearances over the final month of the campaign.

    Those numbers are strikingly similar to what he's produced so far this year. Is this just the new normal for Yelich?

    Probably not, but he's clearly elevated a ceiling that had already reached lofty heights. 

        

    1. RF Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
    124 PA, .427/.500/.913, 21 XBH (14 HR), 36 RBI, 30 R, 3.3 WAR

    David Schoenfield of ESPN.com recently took a closer look at whether Cody Bellinger is having the best month of April ever.

    His biggest takeaway was that amid all the impressive power production, Bellinger has cut his strikeout rate in half from 23.9 to 11.3 percent. That's scary stuff for the rest of the league.

    "So you have a young star coming into his own as one of the elite power hitters in the game and potentially one of the toughest to strike out. It has been an April for the ages," Schoenfield concluded.

    Indeed it has, and it makes Bellinger the clear-cut choice for the No. 1 spot in these rankings.

        

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.