MLB Position Power Rankings: Predicting Top 10 Stars at Each Position for 2020

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMarch 4, 2020

MLB Position Power Rankings: Predicting Top 10 Stars at Each Position for 2020

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    The Dodgers have an embarrassment of riches in their outfield.
    The Dodgers have an embarrassment of riches in their outfield.Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Welcome to March, wherein Major League Baseball will finally get around to Opening Day on the 26th.

    That makes now a good time for a fresh list of must-watch stars, so we put one together by predicting the top 10 players at each position for the 2020 season.

    There's naturally plenty of crossover between this list and our top 50 players at the start of spring training, for which we considered players' track records, upside and downside and health. This time around, though, we allowed ourselves to include prospects and other players who are on the verge of becoming stars.

    We'll begin with the top 10 catchers and end with the top 10 relief pitchers.

Catchers

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    The Rankings

    • 1. J.T. Realmuto, Philadelphia Phillies
    • 2. Yasmani Grandal, Chicago White Sox
    • 3. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
    • 4. Mitch Garver, Minnesota Twins
    • 5. Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
    • 6. Christian Vazquez, Boston Red Sox
    • 7. Carson Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks
    • 8. Roberto Perez, Cleveland Indians
    • 9. Will Smith, Los Angeles Dodgers
    • 10. Sean Murphy, Oakland Athletics

            

    The Breakdown

    J.T. Realmuto and Yasmani Grandal are firmly established as baseball's best two-way catchers. The former leads all catchers with 12.5 rWAR since 2017. The latter is a superb framer who also has an .814 OPS and 101 home runs dating back to 2016.

    Gary Sanchez, Mitch Garver and Willson Contreras, meanwhile, could be the only catchers who top 30 homers this season. Christian Vazquez, Carson Kelly and Roberto Perez are more so defensive standouts, yet each also holds the potential for league-average or better offense.

    After them should arguably come ol' standbys such as Buster Posey or Yadier Molina, but their best days are in the past. Other veterans like Wilson Ramos and Robinson Chirinos may be out of upside to explore.

    That's not the case with Will Smith and Sean Murphy. Though Smith likely overachieved en route to a .907 OPS and 15 homers in 2019, he still profiles as a talented hitter and defender who's ready to break out. Sean Murphy, who's currently MLB.com's No. 33 prospect, is likewise ready to become a two-way star.

First Basemen

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The Rankings

    • 1. Max Muncy, Los Angeles Dodgers
    • 2. Pete Alonso, New York Mets
    • 3. Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics
    • 4. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
    • 5. Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals
    • 6. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
    • 7. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
    • 8. Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates
    • 9. Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins
    • 10. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians

             

    The Breakdown

    First basemen don't come much more reliable than Freddie Freeman, but it's more than a little alarming that his surgically repaired right elbow is already acting up in 2020.

    That's an opening for Max Muncy, Pete Alonso and Matt Olson for the No. 1 spot in this list. We prefer Muncy on account of the 70 homers and 10.0 rWAR he's racked up over the last two years, but Alonso's bat (53 home runs in 2019) and Olson's bat/glove combination certainly give them superstar potential.

    Though the best days of Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo and Jose Abreu are likely behind them, each was still playing at a high level in 2019. And for 2020, Goldschmidt (here) and Abreu (here) are seemingly owed some good luck at the plate.

    Neither Josh Bell nor Miguel Sano has sustained a breakout over a full season, but there's no denying the sheer thunder in their bats. Carlos Santana was a bit too good last season, yet his plate discipline and power should keep him from regressing too far.

Second Basemen

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Rankings

    • 1. Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks
    • 2. DJ LeMahieu, New York Yankees
    • 3. Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves
    • 4. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
    • 5. Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays
    • 6. Mike Moustakas, Cincinnati Reds
    • 7. Keston Hiura, Milwaukee Brewers
    • 8. Kolten Wong, St. Louis Cardinals
    • 9. Cavan Biggio, Toronto Blue Jays
    • 10. Gavin Lux, Los Angeles Dodgers

             

    The Breakdown

    Jose Altuve is still a star, but neither his health nor his production has held up since he won the American League MVP in 2017. To wit, he played in only 124 games and didn't even hit .300 last season.

    At least among those who are still at second base, Ketel Marte, DJ LeMahieu and Ozzie Albies were the class of the position last season. That especially goes for Marte, who exploded for a .981 OPS, 32 home runs and 6.9 rWAR.

    Brandon Lowe might have ridden his two-way talent to the AL Rookie of the Year if his 2019 season hadn't been derailed by injuries. Mike Moustakas and Keston Hiura figure to be among the position's top offensive performers, while Kolten Wong will still have an elite glove even if bad luck catches up to him on offense.

    Cavan Biggio is short on experience, but his Votto-ian eye and generally well-rounded game should boost him to stardom. Lastly, we might actually be underrating Gavin Lux. After hitting .347/.421/.607 in the minors last year, he could be about to take the majors by storm.

Third Basemen

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    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    The Rankings

    • 1. Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
    • 2. Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
    • 3. Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics
    • 4. Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels
    • 5. Josh Donaldson, Minnesota Twins
    • 6. Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox
    • 7. Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox
    • 8. Jeff McNeil, New York Mets
    • 9. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
    • 10. Manny Machado, San Diego Padres

               

    The Breakdown

    Should Eugenio Suarez be on here? Kris Bryant? Justin Turner? Eduardo Escobar? Heck, even Vladimir Guerrero Jr.? Arguably, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Third base is stacked like that.

    But if nothing else, it's hard to argue against Alex Bregman, Nolan Arenado, Matt Chapman, Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson as the best third basemen in baseball. Arenado's 5.7 rWAR was the low point of the bunch in 2019, and that was despite his 41 long balls and seventh straight Gold Glove.

    Though Rafael Devers was worth 5.3 rWAR in his own right, it wouldn't be surprising if he ceded ground to former Salem Red Sox teammate Yoan Moncada. He went off for a .915 OPS, 25 homers and 4.6 rWAR in 2019, and his peripherals point to even greater production still to come.

    After 196 games in the majors, Jeff McNeil's stellar .321/.383/.513 batting line seems believable enough. And given that both were elite performers as recently as 2018, we'll go in on Jose Ramirez and Manny Machado as strong bounceback candidates for 2020.

Shortstops

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Rankings

    • 1. Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
    • 2. Marcus Semien, Oakland Athletics
    • 3. Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
    • 4. Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs
    • 5. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
    • 6. Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees
    • 7. Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
    • 8. Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
    • 9. Trea Turner, Washington Nationals
    • 10. Jorge Polanco, Minnesota Twins

              

    The Breakdown

    Francisco Lindor had perhaps his worst season in 2019. But because he's only 26 and his "worst" consisted of an .854 OPS, 32 homers and a Gold Glove, he's still the king of shortstops until further notice.

    Marcus Semien, Trevor Story and Javier Baez are two-way stars with MVP-caliber upside in their own right. Xander Bogaerts doesn't quite measure up to them or Lindor on defense, but there simply hasn't been a better hitter at the position over the last two years.

    For their part, Gleyber Torres must work on his .338 career on-base percentage, and Carlos Correa must stay healthy after playing in only 294 games over the last three years. But if they can manage these tasks, each has the potential to challenge Lindor for overall supremacy at the position.

    Fernando Tatis Jr., Trea Turner and Jorge Polanco each come with defensive question marks, yet each also has significant offensive potential. That will be especially true of Tatis if he overperforms his peripherals like he did last year, in which he had a .969 OPS and 22 homers in only 84 games.

Left Fielders

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    The Rankings

    • 1. Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
    • 2. Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
    • 3. Michael Brantley, Houston Astros
    • 4. Tommy Pham, San Diego Padres
    • 5. Austin Meadows, San Diego Padres
    • 6. Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers
    • 7. Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox
    • 8. Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs
    • 9. J.D. Davis, New York Mets
    • 10. Bryan Reynolds, Pittsburgh Pirates

             

    The Breakdown

    Christian Yelich is indeed moving back to left field for 2020. By way of his .342/.436/.705 line and 69 home runs since the 2018 All-Star break, he's the position's best player by default.

    Still, Juan Soto shouldn't be mistaken for chopped or any other kind of liver. His career .937 OPS, 56 home runs and 7.6 rWAR are pretty good for a guy who only turned 21 last October.

    Michael Brantley has been both healthy and productive over the last two seasons, while Tommy Pham has likewise been the same for the better part of the last three. Austin Meadows and Joc Pederson have issues against left-handed pitching, but they do more than enough damage against right-handers to compensate.

    Eloy Jimenez and Kyle Schwarber are better hitters than they are defenders, yet nobody will be complaining if they achieve their 40-homer potential in 2020. J.D. Davis is a good candidate to repeat his 2019 breakout. Bryan Reynolds is less of a sure thing in that regard, but any guy who can hit .314 with an .880 OPS deserves to be taken seriously.

Center Fielders

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    Masterpress/Getty Images

    The Rankings

    • 1. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
    • 2. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
    • 3. George Springer, Houston Astros
    • 4. Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers
    • 5. Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates
    • 6. Brett Gardner, New York Yankees
    • 7. Ramon Laureano, Oakland Athletics
    • 8. Whit Merrifield, Kansas City Royals
    • 9. Victor Robles, Washington Nationals
    • 10. Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox

              

    The Breakdown

    Mike Trout is the best baseball player in, oh, maybe ever. Yet Cody Bellinger actually topped him and everyone else with 9.0 rWAR last year. George Springer, meanwhile, put up a .974 OPS, 39 homers and 6.2 rWAR despite playing in only 122 games.

    After them, uncertainty reigns in center field.

    Lorenzo Cain, Starling Marte and Brett Gardner are two-way talents in theory, but they're also 30-somethings whose primes are likely in the past. Ramon Laureano's .853 career OPS is believable enough, yet his defense may not be all it's cracked up to be.

    Whit Merrifield is more of a utility guy than a true center fielder. Victor Robles is probably baseball's best defender, but also a soft-hitting liability on offense. Luis Robert is MLB.com's top outfield prospect, yet his iffy plate discipline could limit his ceiling during his rookie year.

    So while we're not counting on Kevin Kiermaier, Harrison Bader, Byron Buxton and Brandon Nimmo, each definitely has a route to the position's top 10.

Right Fielders

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    The Rankings

    • 1. Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers
    • 2. Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
    • 3. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies
    • 4. Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
    • 5. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
    • 6. Michael Conforto, New York Mets
    • 7. Max Kepler, Minnesota Twins
    • 8. Mark Canha, Oakland Athletics
    • 9. Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds
    • 10. Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies

              

    The Breakdown

    Up top in right field are Mookie Betts, who trails only Mike Trout in rWAR since 2015, and Ronald Acuna Jr., who's already been a Rookie of the Year and an MVP candidate despite being a conspicuously unfinished product in his first two seasons.

    Up next should be super-slugger (and low-key super-defender) Aaron Judge, but he's already ticketed for his third straight injury-shortened season. Otherwise, Bryce Harper is coming into 2020 hot off a torrid finish to 2019, and Joey Gallo is basically a left-handed-hitting clone of Judge.

    Michael Conforto (.856 OPS and 33 homers) and Max Kepler (.855 OPS and 36 homers) were basically the same offensive threat in 2019. Mark Canha hit "only" 26 homers, but with a .913 OPS that arose out of him conquering his platoon split.

    Though his glove will likely remain a source of frustration, an extra-base hit machine like Nick Castellanos should absolutely clean up at Great American Ball Park. Likewise, Coors Field will only help Charlie Blackmon achieve another year with a .900-ish OPS and 30-ish home runs.

Designated Hitters

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    Mark Brown/Getty Images

    The Rankings

    • 1. Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins
    • 2. Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros
    • 3. J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
    • 4. Jorge Soler, Kansas City Royals
    • 5. Edwin Encarnacion, Chicago White Sox
    • 6. Franmil Reyes, Cleveland Indians
    • 7. Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
    • 8. Khris Davis, Oakland Athletics
    • 9. Shin-Soo Choo, Texas Rangers
    • 10. Giancarlo Stanton, New York Yankees

               

    The Breakdown

    The designated hitter position is surprisingly deep and also headlined by four genuinely elite hitters.

    Nelson Cruz has been good for a .900 OPS and 40 homers annually since 2014, yet it wouldn't be surprising if Yordan Alvarez, J.D. Martinez and Jorge Soler joined him in the 40-homer club in 2020. And we're potentially underrating Soler, who hit 48 homers last year despite not really catching fire until the second half.

    In the AL Central, Edwin Encarnacion and Franmil Reyes should at least find themselves in the 35-homer range this season. Out in the AL West, meanwhile, reside a young, steady producer (Shohei Ohtani), a prime rebound candidate (Khris Davis) and a generally reliable veteran hitter (Shin-Soo Choo).

    Granted, Giancarlo Stanton will have a better season than any of these guys if he recaptures the form that netted him the National League MVP in 2017. But that'll only happen if he can get the injury bug to loosen its vise-like grip on him.

Starting Pitchers

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The Rankings

    • 1. Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
    • 2. Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
    • 3. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
    • 4. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
    • 5. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
    • 6. Jack Flaherty, St. Louis Cardinals
    • 7. Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers
    • 8. Charlie Morton, Tampa Bay Rays
    • 9. Patrick Corbin, Washington Nationals
    • 10. Mike Minor, Texas Rangers

               

    The Breakdown

    Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom arguably should take precedence over Gerrit Cole, on account of how they won Cy Young Awards and led their respective leagues in rWAR (here and here) in 2019.

    But, hey, only one of these guys was deemed worthy of a $324 million contract over the winter. In this case, it's for an ace who achieved a historic strikeout rate and the majors' best ERA+ last season.

    At least in terms of expected production, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg were right there with Cole, Verlander and deGrom last season. Jack Flaherty and Walker Buehler are less established, but the former was untouchable at last check, and the latter's talent for velocity and spin make him a sleeping giant.

    We could have filled the last three spots on this list with some combination of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Lucas Giolito, Shane Bieber, Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Nola, Mike Soroka, Sonny Gray or Luis Castillo. Each of them has his merits.

    Recently, however, Charlie Morton, Patrick Corbin and Mike Minor have just been so darn reliable. Minor, in particular, has been so rather quietly with a 3.45 ERA in 42 starts since the 2018 All-Star break.

Relief Pitchers

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    Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

    The Rankings

    • 1. Josh Hader, Milwaukee Brewers
    • 2. Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
    • 3. Nick Anderson, Tampa Bay Rays
    • 4. Kirby Yates, San Diego Padres
    • 5. Liam Hendricks, Oakland Athletics
    • 6. Brandon Workman, Boston Red Sox
    • 7. Taylor Rogers, Minnesota Twins
    • 8. Ken Giles, Toronto Blue Jays
    • 9. Emilio Pagan, San Diego Padres
    • 10. Drew Pomeranz, San Diego Padres

                

    The Breakdown

    The year-to-year performances of relief pitchers are notoriously volatile, so go ahead and take this top-10 with a big ol' block of salt.

    Still, Josh Hader is a reliable No. 1 courtesy of his 6.6 rWAR and superb 15.3 strikeouts-per-nine rate over the last three seasons. Aroldis Chapman is a reliable strikeout maestro in his own right, and Nick Anderson is seemingly headed that way after whiffing 41 of the 78 batters he faced as a Tampa Bay Ray in 2019.

    Liam Hendriks and Brandon Workman deserve their spots after ranking first and second, respectively, in rWAR last year. We also like Taylor Rogers coming off a stupendous 8.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and Ken Giles, who had a 4.9 K/BB of his own in tandem with a 1.87 ERA.

    But if there's a key takeaway here, it's that the San Diego Padres bullpen is absolutely loaded. As relievers in 2019, Kirby Yates, Emilio Pagan and Drew Pomeranz would have combined for a 1.81 ERA and a 7.3 K/BB ratio. And per their expected metrics, it would have been legit.

                

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

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