Ranking the Best 50 MLB Players at the Start of 2020 Spring Training
Now that spring training is finally here, let's catch up with all the best players that Major League Baseball has to offer.
Though the list is sure to change as the 2020 season moves along, we've subjectively ranked the top 50 players in MLB as of right now. Our ground rules included:
- Track Records: What players did in 2019 takes precedence, but what came before also had relevance. And while we didn't ignore the postseason, we focused primarily on the regular season.
- Upside and Downside: We tried to identify players with the potential to improve or regress. Players' peripherals and ages were instructive in this regard.
- Health: It's difficult to count injured players among the league's best.
- No Prospects: It's also hard to count players with limited or no major league experience among the league's best.
We'll begin with some honorable mentions and then start counting down the top 50.
And now for some guys who came oh-so-close to making the cut before they ultimately had to be left behind to make room for everyone else.
- Ozzie Albies, 2B, Atlanta Braves
- Tim Anderson, SS, Chicago White Sox
- Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros
- Michael Brantley, LF, Houston Astros
- Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Chicago Cubs
- Max Kepler, RF, Minnesota Twins
- J.D. Martinez, DH/OF, Boston Red Sox
- Eugenio Suarez, 3B, Cincinnati Reds
- Trea Turner, SS, Washington Nationals
- Jose Berrios, RHP, Minnesota Twins
- Shane Bieber, RHP, Cleveland Indians
- Luis Castillo, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
- Zack Greinke, RHP, Houston Astros
- Kyle Hendricks, RHP, Chicago Cubs
- Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, Toronto Blue Jays
- Chris Sale, LHP, Boston Red Sox
- Mike Soroka, RHP, Atlanta Braves
- Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets
- Shohei Ohtani, DH/RHP, Los Angeles Angels
50-41: Mike Clevinger-Nelson Cruz
50. Mike Clevinger, RHP, Cleveland Indians
2019 WAR: 4.2
After being held to only 21 starts by back and ankle injuries in 2019, Mike Clevinger is looking for a healthier season in 2020. Otherwise, it's hard to ask for more from a guy who has a 2.96 ERA since 2017 and has quietly fit among MLB's top hurlers with a .264 xwOBA in 2019.
49. Blake Snell, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
2019 WAR: 1.4
Blake Snell's follow-up to his Cy Young Award-winning 2018 season didn't go so great, as he finished 2019 with a 4.29 ERA in just 23 starts. But because he maintained electric stuff and eye-popping peripherals—he also had a .264 xwOBA—he should be in for a turnaround in 2020.
48. Lance Lynn, RHP, Texas Rangers
2019 WAR: 7.6
There's something a tad fishy about Lance Lynn finishing 2019 with a higher WAR than Gerrit Cole. But to give credit where it's due, there's nothing wrong with a 3.67 ERA and a 4.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 208.1 innings. Lynn can regress from that and still be an outstanding starter.
47. Sonny Gray, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
2019 WAR: 5.6
Last winter, the Cincinnati Reds made a big bet that Sonny Gray wasn't finished as a star. He proved them right by spinning the hell out of the ball and posting a 2.87 ERA last season, mainly by way of a career-best strikeout rate and a top-10 ground-ball percentage. More of that will keep him on course.
46. Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
2019 WAR: 2.9
Carlos Correa has played in only 294 games since 2017, and his production has been hit-or-miss for his entire career. He's still only 25, however, and he's done better than a .900 OPS in two of the last three years. Throw in potentially better-than-advertised defense, and you get a player worth believing in.
45. Jose Ramirez, 3B, Cleveland Indians
2019 WAR: 3.3
Jose Ramirez ranked third among position players with 14.7 WAR between 2017 and 2018, so last season was obviously a major disappointment. But since he snapped out of it with a 1.105 OPS in the second half, he at least finished on a strong note that could carry over into 2020.
44. Joey Gallo, OF, Texas Rangers
2019 WAR: 3.0
Joey Gallo was at or near the top of the leaderboard for pretty much every contact-quality metric in 2019. He also boosted his walk rate to 17.5 percent and played potentially his best outfield defense. As long as he more than doubles the 70 games he played in last year, he's a low-key MVP candidate for 2020.
43. Gleyber Torres, SS, New York Yankees
2019 WAR: 3.9
Nits to pick with Gleyber Torres include his modest offensive peripherals and poor defense at second base. However, he's shifting back over to his natural shortstop for 2020. Even if his defense is merely passable, he'll be one of the position's elite players if he repeats his .871 OPS and 38 homers from 2019.
42. Yordan Alvarez, DH, Houston Astros
2019 WAR: 3.7
In 2019, Yordan Alvarez needed only 87 games to establish himself as one of baseball's top hitters. He hit .313/.412/.655 with a 173 OPS+ that ranked behind only Mike Trout and Christian Yelich, and with a .410 xwOBA to match. If only he offered value on the bases or on defense, he'd rank a lot higher.
41. Nelson Cruz, DH, Minnesota Twins
2019 WAR: 4.3
Nelson Cruz is more or less the offensive threat that Alvarez aspires to be. The 39-year-old hits the ball about as hard as anyone, and he's put that talent to use by averaging a .916 OPS and 41 homers per year since 2014. He was especially dominant in 2019 with a 1.031 OPS and 41 long balls in only 120 games.
40-31: Pete Alonso-Rafael Devers
40. Pete Alonso, 1B, New York Mets
2019 WAR: 5.0
The 53 home runs that Pete Alonso blasted in 2019 set a new rookie record and led all of his peers for the season. But since he might also have been baseball's worst defensive first baseman, he'll need to keep the power coming in 2020. Fortunately, his propensity for barrels suggests that won't be an issue.
39. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
2019 WAR: 4.4
There are only two hitters who've taken at least 400 plate appearances and done better than a 130 OPS+ in each of the last seven seasons. One is Mike Trout. The other is Freddie Freeman. He's also a Gold Glove first baseman whose metrics generally support the hype. That's reliability, folks.
38. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Chicago White Sox
2019 WAR: 5.6
Lucas Giolito was the worst pitcher in baseball in 2018. Last year, he made himself one of the best by finishing with a 3.41 ERA over 176.2 innings. Though he isn't immune to hard contact, that won't matter much in 2020 if he repeats or even improves on his elite 11.6 strikeouts-per-nine rate from 2019.
37. Mike Minor, LHP, Texas Rangers
2019 WAR: 7.8
Though he only finished eighth in the American League Cy Young Award voting, Mike Minor actually co-led MLB in WAR with Justin Verlander. He wasn't necessarily overpowering, yet his 86.4 mph exit velocity captured how difficult he was to square up. He should be reasonably regression-proof.
36. Patrick Corbin, LHP, Washington Nationals
2019 WAR: 5.7
Has Patrick Corbin overperformed his peripherals over the last two seasons? Yes. Has he nonetheless dominated with a 3.20 ERA and 484 strikeouts over 402 innings? Also, yes. That's reason enough to buy into the notion that he knows what he's doing with his deadly fastball/slider combination.
35. Charlie Morton, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
2019 WAR: 5.1
Charlie Morton is 36 years old and yet also in the thick of his prime. He's put up a 3.09 ERA and struck out 441 batters across 361.2 innings over the last two seasons. He was especially nasty in 2019, during which his expected slugging percentage (.340) was comparable to that of Stephen Strasburg (.339).
34. Jeff McNeil, INF/OF, New York Mets
2019 WAR: 5.0
Jeff McNeil wasn't on many radars when he debuted in 2018, yet he's since put together a .321/.383/.513 slash line while playing mostly good defense at multiple positions. Because this is over 196 games, the 27-year-old is likely more of a late bloomer than a total fluke.
33. Max Muncy, INF/OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
2019 WAR: 5.7
Max Muncy was likewise an unknown when the Los Angeles Dodgers gave him a shot in 2018. Now, he's an All-Star with a .927 OPS, 70 homers and 10.0 WAR to his name over the last two seasons. And he might still be underrated, as his .389 xwOBA placed him among the league's 10 best hitters for 2019.
32. DJ LeMahieu, 2B, New York Yankees
2019 WAR: 6.0
It turns out that DJ LeMahieu can hit away from Coors Field. He proved as much with a .327/.375/.518 slash line and a career-high 26 homers last year, all of which were aided by a humongous pile of hard-hit balls. By the way, he's also an outstanding defender. So, all aboard his hype train.
31. Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox
2019 WAR: 5.3
Rafael Devers just plain figured it out in 2019. By cutting his strikeout rate by 7.7 percent and collecting more hard-hit balls than anyone, he made his way to a .916 OPS and league-best 90 extra-base hits. By one measure, he also played a mean third base. And he's still only 23 years old.
30-21: Yasmani Grandal-Trevor Story
30. Yasmani Grandal, C, Chicago White Sox
2019 WAR: 2.5
Yasmani Grandal is coming off career bests in OPS (.848) and home runs (28) in 2019, and he's one of only two catchers with more than 100 home runs since 2016. His defense is one-note, yet that one note is an elite framing talent. All told, he's a good case study for how WAR can underrate catchers.
29. J.T. Realmuto, C, Philadelphia Phillies
2019 WAR: 4.4
J.T. Realmuto, meanwhile, is more or less as his catcher-leading 8.6 WAR since 2018 would suggest. He's excelled offensively with an .822 OPS and 46 home runs, and he gets high marks for his framing and especially for his catch-and-throw (i.e., "pop") time. Among his peers, he's truly one of a kind.
28. Walker Buehler, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
2019 WAR: 2.2
How was Walker Buehler only worth 2.2 WAR last season? Good question. He put up a 3.26 ERA with a 5.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 182.1 innings, and he did it with stuff that lit up velocity and spin rate leaderboards. He absolutely has Cy Young Award upside for 2020.
27. Jack Flaherty, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
2019 WAR: 5.9
Jack Flaherty has posted a 3.01 ERA with 413 strikeouts over the last two seasons, yet more telling is what he did in his last 16 starts in 2019. He rode his lethal fastball/slider combination to a 0.93 ERA, 130 strikeouts and 24 walks in 106.1 innings. More of that in 2020 would cement him as a premier ace.
26. Yoan Moncada, 3B, Chicago White Sox
2019 WAR: 4.6
Even though Yoan Moncada broke out with a .915 OPS and 25 home runs in 2019, he almost certainly has another level to explore in 2020. He was basically good at everything last season, and he only had two bad months in May and August. With greater consistency could come MVP candidacy in 2020.
25. Bryce Harper, RF, Philadelphia Phillies
2019 WAR: 4.2
Bryce Harper's MVP-winning turn in 2015 still looks like an anomaly, but don't think he's finished as a superstar. Despite some ups and downs, he's still put up a .919 OPS and 98 homers since 2017. And he ended 2019 on a high note with a .970 OPS, 17 homers and superb peripherals in August and September.
24. Ketel Marte, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks
2019 WAR: 6.9
Ketel Marte found his stride in 2019 by slashing .329/.389/.592 with 32 homers and finished sixth among position players in WAR. Granted, he's since shifted from center field to second base—a lesser position that he didn't play that well last season—and is probably owed some bad luck. But he can regress in 2020 and still be an All-Star.
23. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
2019 WAR: 5.2
The 138 OPS+ that Xander Bogaerts has posted since 2018 is by far the best mark among everyday shortstops. He was especially dangerous last season in producing a .939 OPS and 33 home runs while also adding to his excellent record as a baserunner. Now, if only he could improve his defense.
22. Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
2019 WAR: 4.8
Never mind just the best defensive shortstop. Per Statcast's outs above average metric, Javier Baez is baseball's best defensive infielder, period. And while it would be nice if he took more walks, his aggressive style hasn't kept him from an .865 OPS, 63 homers and 32 stolen bases over the last two years.
21. Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies
2019 WAR: 6.4
Since the start of the 2018 season, Trevor Story has racked up a .916 OPS, 72 homers and 50 steals. Some of that can be explained simply by uttering "Coors," but not enough to undo it altogether. Story is also coming off his magnus opus on defense, as he lit up every major metric (here and here) in 2019.
20-11: George Springer-Max Scherzer
20. George Springer, CF/RF, Houston Astros
2019 WAR: 6.2
For pretty much his whole career, George Springer has been a reliably above-average hitter (.849 career OPS) and outfielder (14 defensive runs saved). Yet he really came into his own in 2019 with a .974 OPS and 39 homers, plus an elite .398 xwOBA. All this leaves his injury-proneness as his only real red flag.
19. Aaron Judge, RF, New York Yankees
2019 WAR: 5.4
Aaron Judge has often been banged up since taking the American League by storm in 2017, yet he's still mustered a .920 OPS, 54 homers and spectacular defensive ratings over the past two seasons. He's now going into 2020 fully operational, so he should be sold short of absolutely nothing.
18. Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Washington Nationals
2019 WAR: 6.3
Stephen Strasburg is now $245 million richer after a 2019 campaign in which he had a 3.32 ERA in the regular season and a 1.98 ERA in the postseason. The .269 xwOBA he posted through it all confirms he was about as good as he looked, so it's fair to anticipate more of the same in 2020.
17. Juan Soto, LF, Washington Nationals
2019 WAR: 4.7
Juan Soto's .287/.403/.535 career line comes out to a 140 OPS+, which puts him in rarefied air among all-time hitters through the age of 20. Per outs above average, he was also a safely above-average defender last year. Any guy who can do these things at such a young age has frankly limitless potential.
16. Ronald Acuna Jr., CF, Atlanta Braves
2019 WAR: 5.5
Ronald Acuna Jr. was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2018 and an MVP candidate in 2019. Yet like Soto, he still has room to grow. His offensive upside goes beyond even the 41 homers and 37 steals he posted last season, and he could stand to be better in center field. A 22-year-old with the amount of experience he already has should be capable of making these improvements.
15. Marcus Semien, SS, Oakland Athletics
2019 WAR: 8.1
The story of Marcus Semien's career is one of steady improvement. In the last two seasons, especially, he's made himself into an outstanding defensive shortstop and one of the position's top offensive threats via an .892 OPS and 33 home runs in 2019. With more of that, he'll be an MVP contender again in 2020.
14. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Minnesota Twins
2019 WAR: 6.1
Josh Donaldson went into 2019 with plenty to prove after injuries chipped away at his MVP reputation in 2017 and 2018. Well, he not only put up a .900 OPS and 37 home runs, but he also enjoyed a surprising renaissance on defense. Until further notice, his former superstar self should be considered alive and well.
13. Anthony Rendon, 3B, Los Angeles Angels
2019 WAR: 6.3
Anthony Rendon was a darn good player even before 2019, yet last year is definitely the biggest reason why he's now worth $245 million. He put up a 1.010 OPS with 34 homers and peripherals to match, and he made the grade as a good defender in terms of outs above average. More of the same is in order for 2020.
12. Matt Chapman, 3B, Oakland Athletics
2019 WAR: 6.7
Matt Chapman ranks fourth among position players in WAR since 2018. He's arguably the best defensive player at any position, and he's found a groove offensively with an .855 OPS and 60 homers over the last two seasons. Even if he's exhausted his upside, he doesn't need to be any better than he already is.
11. Max Scherzer, RHP, Washington Nationals
2019 WAR: 5.8
Max Scherzer outside the top 10? Yeah, it feels wrong. After all, he leads all pitchers in WAR since 2013 and struck out 12.7 batters per nine innings with a 2.92 ERA last year. But he's also 35 and his body began to break down (see here and here) in 2019, so we're erring on the side of caution with our enthusiasm for his 2020 campaign.
10. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
2019 WAR: 5.7
Only three position players have been worth at least 5 WAR annually since 2015: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Nolan Arenado.
Of course, Coors Field has had a hand in the .300 average, .937 OPS and 199 home runs that Arenado has compiled over the last five seasons. Yet the 28-year-old has done better than an .800 OPS on the road in four of the last five seasons, and his 129 OPS+ confirms he is a well-above-average hitter in general.
Arenado has also been the National League's Gold Glove winner at third base in each of his seven seasons. Per outs above average, he beat out his old high school teammate, Matt Chapman, as the best defensive third baseman in the majors last season.
The only question now is whether Arenado will stick with the Colorado Rockies for 2020. But no matter where he ends up, he should carry on as one of baseball's elite players.
9. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
2019 WAR: 4.7
Francisco Lindor didn't debut with the Cleveland Indians until June of his rookie season in 2015. More recently, he got a late start to his 2019 campaign because of an ankle injury.
Yet even despite this lost time, the 26-year-old still ranks fifth among position players with 28.6 WAR over the last five seasons. And as much as last year's 4.7 WAR would seem to suggest he took a turn for the worse, well, he really didn't.
The .854 OPS, 32 home runs and 22 stolen bases that Lindor posted last season were more or less in accordance with what he had done offensively in 2017 and 2018. And while he won only his second Gold Glove at shortstop, he's never been anything other than an outstanding defender.
Like with Arenado, there's a question of whether Lindor will stick with the Indians in 2020. Yet even if he doesn't, he likewise shouldn't have any issues maintaining as an All-Star and MVP candidate.
8. Jacob deGrom, RHP, New York Mets
2019 WAR: 7.3
Jacob deGrom is at least the best pitcher in the National League and arguably all of Major League Baseball.
After all, it's not by accident that he's won consecutive Cy Young Awards. He followed a 1.70 ERA over 217 innings in 2018 with a 2.43 ERA over 204 innings in 2019. His 16.9 WAR and 2.05 ERA over the last two seasons both lead all of his fellow hurlers.
Everything deGrom throws is flat-out electric, and he excels at both disguising and locating his pitches. That's afforded him a 5.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over the last two seasons, not to mention an upper-crust 85.8 mph average exit velocity on balls in play.
All this admittedly leaves little not to like, but the 31-year-old certainly isn't without company in the "Best Pitcher in Baseball" discussion.
7. Justin Verlander, RHP, Houston Astros
2019 WAR: 7.8
As good as deGrom is, Justin Verlander somehow comes across even better.
Verlander won his first Cy Young Award in 2011 and his second just last season. And even though he's due to turn 37 on February 20, he's shown absolutely no signs of slowing down since he joined the Houston Astros late in the 2017 season.
In 73 starts with Houston, Verlander has racked up a 2.45 ERA and a 7.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 471 innings. His best effort came last season, as he won his second Cy Young Award on the strength of a 2.58 ERA, 223 innings and 300 strikeouts.
Altogether, the .245 xwOBA that Verlander has allowed as an Astro trumps all other pitchers within the same time span. And yet there's still room for argument that even he isn't the "Best Pitcher in Baseball."
6. Gerrit Cole, RHP, New York Yankees
2019 WAR: 6.9
It says a lot about Gerrit Cole that his $324 million contract with the New York Yankees doesn't seem doomed to fail.
Cole was an underachiever when the Astros acquired him in 2018, but that changed in a hurry as he posted a 2.88 ERA and 276 strikeouts in only 200.1 innings that year. He found still another gear in 2019 with an AL-best 2.50 ERA and an all-time record rate of 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
Cole's 97.2 mph fastball was but one of several dangerous weapons he had at his disposal last season, and he maintained them into October to the tune of a 1.72 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 36.2 innings. His .241 total xwOBA easily beat out deGrom and Verlander for the year's best.
Given that he's still only 29, Cole should be able to match or even exceed last year's brilliance in 2020.
5. Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros
2019 WAR: 8.4
The 25-year-old pulled off an especially impressive feat in 2019 by walking 36 more times than he struck out across 690 plate appearances. He also often took the easy road to power with a high rate of pulled fly balls and line drives. Hence his 1.015 OPS and 41 home runs.
Did it help that Bregman knew what was coming? Given how much is still coming out about the Astros' sign-stealing schemes, it's plausible. But for now, the official record only accuses the Astros of wrongdoing during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
That's reason enough to believe that Bregman can keep up his offensive domination in 2020. While he's at it, he should also keep up the strong defense he played (see here and here) at the hot corner in 2019.
4. Cody Bellinger, OF/1B, Los Angeles Dodgers
2019 WAR: 9.0
Cody Bellinger had the highest WAR in Major League Baseball last season, and he mostly looked the part of the league's best player to the eye test.
Following a minor stumble in 2018, Bellinger's 2019 season was a case of him making good on the humongous offensiv potential he teased in his record-setting rookie campaign in 2017. As in, he exploded for a .305/.406/.629 slash line, 47 home runs and 15 stolen bases.
The 24-year-old also excelled on defense, where he racked up 22 defensive runs saved as an outfielder in addition to four more as a first baseman. Put together, he might have been the single best defender in baseball.
Bellinger did, however, add to the up-and-down nature of his track record by lowering his OPS on a monthly basis in 2019. Were it not for that, the reigning NL MVP would indeed rank higher.
3. Christian Yelich, RF, Milwaukee Brewers
2019 WAR: 7.1
Christian Yelich's rise as one of baseball's brightest superstars dates back to the 2018 All-Star break.
Before then, he was a good but not quite great everyday outfielder. But then something clicked, and all he's done since then is slash .342/.436/.705 with 69 home runs and 40 stolen bases over 195 games.
Yelich's surge netted him the NL MVP in 2018, and he might have won another last season if he hadn't broken his kneecap in early September. Nevertheless, the 28-year-old still nabbed the MLB leads for slugging percentage (.671) and OPS (1.100).
At the outset of 2020, really the only thing to hold against Yelich are his less-than-stellar defensive metrics. The two-time All-Star would otherwise be a candidate to at least rank at No. 2 on this list.
2. Mookie Betts, RF, Los Angeles Dodgers
2019 WAR: 6.8
The Boston Red Sox's decision to trade Mookie Betts defies easy explanation, but the Los Angeles Dodgers aren't about to complain about that.
When they finally closed the deal for Betts on Monday, they officially added a player who trails only Mike Trout in WAR since the 2015 season. Included within are his 9.7-WAR uprising in 2016 and 10.9-WAR peak in an MVP-winning 2018 campaign.
Per his 98 defensive runs saved since 2016, the 27-year-old is baseball's best defensive outfielder. He also has a case as the game's best baserunner, and the .346/.438/.640 slash line he achieved in 2018 might not be unrepeatable. Bad luck may be to blame for his "regression" to a .295/.391/.524 line in 2019.
In any case, the Red Sox's loss is very much the Dodgers' gain.
1. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels
2019 WAR: 8.3
Apologies for being so predictable, but, well, when was the last time Mike Trout wasn't the best player in Major League Baseball?
He's been a perennial All-Star and MVP contender since 2012, and lately he's been committing himself to being the game's best hitter. He's led MLB in OPS+ in each of the last four seasons, across which he's slashed .307/.445/.610 with 146 home runs and 87 stolen bases.
If one must find fault with Trout, his up-and-down defensive metrics are an easy target. But rather than outright bad, the 28-year-old is no worse than "playable" in center field.
Ultimately, no amount of nitpicking can knock Trout from the special status he currently enjoys. That's as the best player in baseball today and arguably the best the game has ever seen.