MLB Franchise Cornerstone Rankings: Who Is Top Player to Build a Team Around?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterJune 26, 2020

MLB Franchise Cornerstone Rankings: Who Is Top Player to Build a Team Around?

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    Does it get any better than Ronald Acuna Jr.?
    Does it get any better than Ronald Acuna Jr.?John Bazemore/Associated Press

    If you had to pick one player to build a team around, who would it be and why?

    Major League Baseball thought experiments don't get much more tried-and-true than this one, so we figured it's about time for a fresh perspective for 2020.

    This primarily involved singling out each team's most exciting 20-something star, though we had to select as-yet-unproven prospects for a few rebuilding clubs. From there, other factors we considered were:

    • Age: Are they just beginning, in the middle or toward the end of their prime?
    • Controllability: How many years do they have left under their current contracts or club control?
    • Present Talent: How good are they now?
    • Future Talent: How much better or worse might they still get?

    The more boxes a player checked, the better. Basically, we aimed to narrow everything down to the one player who's already achieved stardom at a young age, and who still has upside and isn't due for free agency for many years to come.

    Let's count 'em down, starting with the guys who've yet to even establish themselves in the majors.

30. Sixto Sanchez, RHP, Miami Marlins

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    Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

    Age: 21

    B/R Rank: No. 22

    Major League ETA: 2020

    The Miami Marlins were surely hoping that Lewis Brinson would become their cornerstone star when they acquired him in the trade that sent Christian Yelich to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018.

    Alas, he's put up minus-2.9 WAR in two seasons with Miami. And with respect to solid players like Brian Anderson, Jorge Alfaro and Sandy Alcantara, the Marlins don't really have a must-see star in their midst.

    They do, however, have a top-five farm system that's loaded with exciting talent. And of their many prized prospects, none carries as much promise as Sixto Sanchez.

    Despite some lingering concerns over the elbow inflammation that he dealt with in 2018, Sanchez looks like a potential ace by way of his sizzling stuff—including a fastball that's topped out at 102 mph—and sharp command. He might be seen in the majors as soon as this year, and he could be a No. 1 starter by 2021.

29. Joey Bart, C, San Francisco Giants

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    B/R Rank: No. 19

    Major League ETA: 2020

    In Buster Posey, the San Francisco Giants still employ a Rookie of the Year, MVP and six-time All-Star who was the backbone of World Series champions in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

    The trouble is, Posey is 33 years old now and almost certainly finished as a superstar. So it's a good thing that the Giants used the No. 2 pick of the 2018 draft to secure his successor: Joey Bart.

    Though Bart isn't the top catching prospect in the minors—more on that guy in a moment—he packs the kind of power that isn't very common at the position. To wit, he's clubbed 29 home runs in 130 minor league games.

    In the words of, the Georgia Tech alum also has "Gold Glove upside" on defense. If he ultimately realizes his enormous potential, he'll be a regular All-Star and maybe even an MVP candidate.

28. Jarred Kelenic, OF, Seattle Mariners

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Age: 20

    B/R Rank: No. 11

    Major League ETA: 2021

    When the Seattle Mariners traded Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the New York Mets in 2018, they seemed to get a good but maybe not great package of prospects in return.

    Then, Jarred Kelenic's 2019 season happened. He played in 117 games at three levels of the minors, and he excelled all the way through to the tune of a .904 OPS, 23 home runs and 20 stolen bases.

    It's also worth emphasizing that Kelenic is only 20 years old. As he gains experience in professional ball, the more likely he is to hone his skills and become a true five-tool superstar.

    Of course, Kelenic's youth and the reality that he's only played 21 games at the Double-A level mean he indeed still has some developing to do. But in the long run, he should be able to carry a team.

27. Casey Mize, RHP, Detroit Tigers

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    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    Age: 23

    B/R Rank: No. 6

    Major League ETA: 2020

    The Detroit Tigers just used the No. 1 pick of the 2020 draft on third baseman Spencer Torkelson, who immediately became the top bat in their outstanding farm system.

    Two years earlier, however, the Tigers used another No. 1 pick on a right-hander who's wasted little time in becoming their best overall prospect: Casey Mize.

    Last year was Mize's first full season in the minors, and it resulted in him posting a 2.55 ERA with a 4.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That speaks to his strong command, as well as the effectiveness of his fastball, his slider and especially his superb splitter.

    Though he's only made 26 total starts in the minor leagues, Mize doesn't have much more to prove before he's ready for the majors. And given what he could do, he might quickly settle into stardom.

26. Adley Rutschman, C, Baltimore Orioles

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Age: 22

    B/R Ranking: No. 10

    Major League ETA: 2021

    For the Baltimore Orioles, one bright side of the shortened schedule for 2020 is that they can't possibly lose 100 games for a third season in a row.

    Otherwise, this season is little more than an obligatory step in the direction of what's looking like a much brighter future. At the center of it will be their No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, Adley Rutschman.

    As catching prospects go, Rutschman sounds too good to be true. He's a switch-hitter who gets plus grades for both his hitting and power. To boot, he also gets high marks for his mental and physical abilities behind the dish.

    At worst, Rutschman could be the next coming of Matt Wieters. At best, he'll be more like a Buster Posey or a Joe Mauer.

25. Adalberto Mondesi, SS, Kansas City Royals

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Controlled Through: 2023

    2019 WAR: 2.4

    Exactly who ought to be called the Kansas City Royals' franchise player is up for debate.

    One could argue for 48-homer slugger Jorge Soler, but he's already 28 and only under club control through 2021. There's also top prospect Bobby Witt Jr., yet he's likely a couple of years away from his MLB debut.

    Adalberto Mondesi, meanwhile, has youth and four remaining years of club control going for him. He also plays a premium defensive position, and it's fair to think his best work is yet to come.

    Sure, he only boasts a .696 OPS and 3.6 WAR for his career. Yet his speed and defense grade out as well-above-average talents, and his offensive potential is underscored by the .286 average and .835 OPS that he posted in the latter half of 2018. If he puts it all together, he'll be an All-Star.

24. Bryan Reynolds, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    Controlled Through: 2025

    2019 WAR: 4.1

    It was easy to lose Bryan Reynolds in the shadows of Pete Alonso and Fernando Tatis Jr., but he ended up having a superb rookie season for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019.

    Across 134 games, he hit .314 with an .880 OPS and 16 home runs. Notably, his batting average was the highest by a National League rookie since Chris Coghlan hit .321 in 2009.

    It perhaps doesn't bode well for Reynolds that Coghlan never really built on his outstanding rookie season. Further, he did require some good luck to get his average as high as .314.

    In the meantime, though, Reynolds fits a relatively rare bill of a budding star in his mid 20s who can hit for average and some power and hold his own in the outfield. Add in six remaining years of club control, and he's a solid long-term building block.

23. Eugenio Suarez, 3B, Cincinnati Reds

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Signed Through: 2024, with club option for 2025

    2019 WAR: 3.9

    When the Cincinnati Reds first acquired Eugenio Suarez from the Detroit Tigers in 2014, he was a light-hitting shortstop. They promptly moved him to third base and watched him become one of baseball's top sluggers.

    Suarez has increased his home run total every year he's been in the big leagues, peaking with 49 blasts last season. His power is nothing special in its raw form, yet he makes the most of what he has with a high rate of pulled fly balls.

    None of Suarez's other skills really stand out, however. His .345 career on-base percentage is good but not great, and he adds little in terms of baserunning or defensive value. He'll also be 29 on July 18.

    Even still, there aren't many cornerstones in baseball who fit into the same niche as Suarez: an elite home run hitter who's signed for at least five more seasons.

22. Jorge Polanco, SS, Minnesota Twins

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    Signed Through: 2023, with vesting/club options for 2024 and 2025

    2019 WAR: 4.8

    The Minnesota Twins were a difficult case study for this little project.

    They're undeniably a terrific team, but their biggest stars (i.e., Nelson Cruz and Josh Donaldson) are deep into their 30s. Beyond that, their best 20-somethings are more good than great. 

    Our best options were right-hander Jose Berrios, right fielder Max Kepler and shortstop Jorge Polanco. We ultimately gravitated toward Polanco in part because he plays a premium position and because his contract will run for as many as six more seasons.

    Despite his poor defensive ratings, it's also to Polanco's credit that he became a legitimate star last season. He mainly hit his way to that status with a .295 average and .841 OPS. Any more of that, and he might settle into a groove as a regular All-Star.

21. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Toronto Blue Jays

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Age: 21

    Controlled Through: 2025

    2019 WAR: 1.5

    On performance alone, shortstop Bo Bichette or second baseman Cavan Biggio would have been a better pick to represent the Toronto Blue Jays than Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 

    Indeed, Bichette and Biggio tallied more WAR than Guerrero in 2019 despite not even matching his 123 games played. Guerrero didn't have a bad year, but his .772 OPS and 15 homers weren't enough to make up for his alarming struggles on defense.

    In this context, it takes a leap of faith to believe that Guerrero will live up to being the No. 1 prospect in baseball going into last year. Since he ranks this low, we're clearly not ready to take it just yet.

    His potential, though, remains exciting. Even if he doesn't stick at third base, he'll hit enough to be a star anyway if he recaptures the magic that inspired his stellar .331/.414/.531 batting line in the minors.

20. Blake Snell, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Mike Carlson/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Signed Through: 2023

    2019 WAR: 1.4

    The Tampa Bay Rays have baseball's No. 1 prospect, plus a strong collection of young major leaguers that includes Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Willy Adames.

    So why Blake Snell? Well, in part because he's only two years removed from winning the American League Cy Young Award. There's also the reality that he's locked up for four more seasons.

    For the purposes of this exercise, the big knocks against Snell are that he'll be 30 by the end of his deal and that he endured both injuries and ineffectiveness in 2019. All told, he posted a 4.29 ERA in 23 starts.

    Yet the impression left by his stellar 2018 season—in which he had a 1.89 ERA and an MLB-low 5.6 hits per nine innings—is still strong. And while his injuries didn't help, his superior talent remained more intact in 2019 than his final results indicated.

19. Jack Flaherty, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Controlled Through: 2023

    2019 WAR: 5.7

    There's no bigger name on the St. Louis Cardinals roster than Paul Goldschmidt. But since he's 32 and coming off a down year, his days as a franchise cornerstone are surely numbered.

    For the Cardinals, that designation may soon pass to top prospect Dylan Carlson. But until then, the best long-term building block in St. Louis is ace right-hander Jack Flaherty.

    Flaherty quietly teased some high upside amid a 2018 season in which he had a 3.34 ERA. He then realized it with a 2.75 ERA and a 4.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in a star-making 2019 campaign.

    Even better, Flaherty finished the year off red-hot with a 0.93 ERA over his last 16 starts. A sample size that small only says so much, but it certainly suggests he has Cy Young-caliber upside to explore in his four remaining seasons under club control.

18. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Controlled Through: 2021

    2019 WAR: 3.7

    A few years ago, the Chicago Cubs seemed to be built on nothing but controllable young talent. Now, Anthony Rizzo is 30 years old and Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber are two years from free agency.

    This puts us in no-good-choice territory. But either Bryant or Baez would be the best pick, and we leaned toward Bryant because we're not totally convinced his best years are behind him.

    No, he hasn't quite been the same since winning the National League Rookie of the Year in 2015 and MVP in 2016. But only his 2018 season was truly disappointing, and he bounced back nicely from it with a .903 OPS and 31 homers in 2019.

    Because of his age and limited club control, Bryant wouldn't be an ideal star to build a long-term contender around. But if one were hypothetically going for short-term glory, one could do worse than him.

17. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    Controlled Through: 2021

    2019 WAR: 5.0

    One obvious catch here is that Francisco Lindor may not be long for the Cleveland Indians. Unless he softens his position in extension talks, the Indians could trade him as soon as this summer.

    As far as this exercise is concerned, that Lindor is so close to free agency is indeed another catch. But at least relative to Kris Bryant, he'd make for a better short-term cornerstone because of both his youth and his ability.

    Lindor has won Silver Sluggers and Gold Gloves at shortstop since breaking into the league in 2015, and his 27.6 WAR since then is the top mark at the position.

    Despite a late start to 2019 because of injuries, Lindor kept playing defense at a high level and secured his second straight year of at least 30 home runs and 20 stolen bases. In so doing, he arguably reaffirmed his status as the best shortstop in baseball.

16. Joey Gallo, RF, Texas Rangers

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    Controlled Through: 2022

    2019 WAR: 3.1

    Though he reached the 40-homer plateau in 2017 and 2018, the Texas Rangers didn't really get a hint of what Joey Gallo might be until last season.

    He was limited to 70 games because of injuries, but in those he notched new career bests with a .253 average, .389 on-base percentage and .598 slugging percentage. Furthermore, his WAR was also a career high.

    Ideally, Gallo's next step would be to get his strikeout rate down from the high 30s. What his '19 season proved, though, is that he can strike out a ton and still play like a superstar as long as he mixes his extreme power with a high walk rate (17.5 percent) and quality defense.

    The short version is that despite his obvious volatility, Gallo has legitimate MVP-level upside to strive for in his final three seasons under club control.

15. Matt Chapman, 3B, Oakland Athletics

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Controlled Through: 2023

    2019 WAR: 8.3

    Matt Chapman played in only 84 games in his debut season for the Oakland Athletics in 2017. Despite that, his 79 defensive runs saved over the last three seasons are the most of any player at any position.

    Beyond being the best defensive player in baseball, Chapman is also a darn good hitter. He clubbed 24 homers with an .864 OPS in 2018 and then stepped up to 36 bombs with an .848 OPS in 2019.

    Chapman's underlying metrics suggest he might still have some unexplored upside at the plate. Notably, he ended 2019 with a hard-hit rate in the 94th percentile and exit velocity in the 96th percentile.

    Ultimately, Chapman's only downside is that he's already 27 years old. But while that may not indicate he's just starting his prime, he's definitely in the middle of it, and it should last through the end of his club control.

14. Pete Alonso, 1B, New York Mets

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    Controlled Through: 2024

    2019 WAR: 5.2

    If they'd wanted to, the New York Mets could have opened 2019 by sending Pete Alonso to the minors for just long enough to gain an extra year of service time.

    Instead, they put him on their Opening Day roster and were rewarded as he won the National League Rookie of the Year on the strength of a .941 OPS and a rookie-record 53 home runs.

    Despite his lack of experience, Alonso adjusted so well that he never really cooled off at any point during his rookie campaign. That speaks to how his booming raw power comes paired with a real talent for hitting.

    It's a bummer that Alonso is a slow runner who might also be baseball's worst defender at first base. But even despite those lesser qualities, he should only settle further into superstardom in his five remaining years of club control.

13. Yoan Moncada, 3B, Chicago White Sox

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Age: 25

    Signed Through: 2024, with club option for 2025

    2019 WAR: 4.8

    Yoan Moncada was immediately hailed as The Next Big Thing when the Boston Red Sox signed him out of Cuba in 2015. But in his first three major league seasons, he provided only flashes of his potential.

    Then came 2019, in which he finally shined as an up-and-coming superstar.

    He ended up with terrific results, most notably including a .915 OPS and 25 home runs. Defensively, ultimate zone rating and outs above average agreed that he was better than average at the hot corner.

    Ultimately, Moncada did more than enough to make up for how he struck out (154) nearly four times as often as he walked (40) last season. Moreover, his underlying metrics suggest that even better results await him in the five (maybe six) years remaining on his contract.

12. Ketel Marte, 2B/CF, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    Signed Through: 2022, with club options through 2024

    2019 WAR: 7.2

    When the Arizona Diamondbacks extended Ketel Marte in March 2018, they seemed to be making a low-risk investment on a capable role player.

    But then Marte had a quiet breakout in 2018, and he doubled-down on it by launching himself into an MVP-level stratosphere in 2019. He slashed .329/.389/.592 with 32 home runs, all while playing well-rated defense in center field and at second base.

    Naturally, it's fair to wonder if such an extraordinary season might be a fluke. But while some of Marte's defensive readings from 2019 raise red flags, his offensive metrics hit above-average marks across the board.

    In summation, Marte is a switch-hitter with a dangerous bat, good speed and a glove that's at least versatile. Between these things, his age and his contract, he offers a lot to like as a cornerstone player.

11. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Signed Through: 2025, with vesting option for 2026

    2019 WAR: 5.9

    Even though he was mere months from free agency, Xander Bogaerts tied himself to the Boston Red Sox for the foreseeable future when he signed an extension in April 2019. 

    His next move was to have an even better season than the one he had in 2018. In the end, he upped his OPS from .883 to .939, his home runs from 23 to 33 and his WAR from 4.3 to 5.9.

    Altogether, Bogaerts has been the best offensive shortstop in baseball over the last two seasons. The catch is that he'll need to keep that up, as defensive runs saved and outs above average both frown on his defense.

    Fortunately, Bogaerts' underlying metrics raise few doubts about his true offensive ability. Even if his prime ends before his contract does, he should still have a few more years as an elite hitter at a premium position ahead of him.

10. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Age: 29

    Signed Through: 2026

    2019 WAR: 6.7

    Like with Lindor and the Indians, there's an obvious question of how much longer Nolan Arenado will be a member of the Colorado Rockies. After all, he and the club weren't exactly on good terms at last check.

    Because he'll turn 30 in April, another question concerns just how much longer Arenado's prime will last. Still another question has to do with how much he has Coors Field to thank for his stardom.

    But when it comes down to it, this is still one of the game's great players that we're talking about. Arenado has been a Gold Glover in all seven of his major league seasons, and he's averaged a .937 OPS and 40 home runs per year since 2015.

    All told, only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts have compiled more WAR over the last five seasons. So despite his shortcomings, Arenado is a compelling option to build a team around.

9. Bryce Harper, RF, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Signed Through: 2031

    2019 WAR: 4.3

    One thing Bryce Harper has on all other franchise cornerstones is 12 more years under contract. Nobody else is signed or controlled beyond 2030.

    He's only getting closer to 30, however. And as is usually the case, it's hard to know what to make of him right now.

    He proved with his unanimous MVP season in 2015—in which he led the majors in OPS and WAR—that he can be as dominant as anyone in the sport. But he's otherwise mostly been just, well, good. So it went as he posted an .882 OPS and 35 home runs in his first season with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2019.

    But while it might be tempting to see Harper as a disappointment, there should be nothing wrong with a franchise player who's at least good and at best great. If anything, he's a safe pick to lead a team.

8. Gleyber Torres, SS, New York Yankees

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Age: 23

    Controlled Through: 2024

    2019 WAR: 3.1

    As his WAR from last season indicates, Gleyber Torres has been a good but imperfect player for the New York Yankees since making his debut in 2018.

    Through 267 games in the majors, he owns a .338 on-base percentage, which is fine but not befitting of a star. And whether you consult defensive runs saved, ultimate zone rating or outs above average, his defense has been below average.

    Torres' upside, however, is most apparent in his 62 career home runs. Throughout all of baseball history, that's the most ever for a middle infielder in his first two seasons.

    In light of his youth and raw abilities, it's fair to assume that Torres will become more than just a power hitter in his five remaining years under club control. As he does, he'll evolve from a mere All-Star into an MVP candidate.

7. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, San Diego Padres

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    Orlando Ramirez/Associated Press

    Age: 21

    Controlled Through: 2024

    2019 WAR: 4.1

    Though the San Diego Padres have a lot invested in Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer, Fernando Tatis Jr. made it clear in 2019 that he's the guy they need to build around.

    Because he'd never played above the Double-A level, it was a surprise when the Padres tabbed Tatis for their Opening Day roster last spring. But he ultimately needed only 84 games to make an impact, mainly by posting a .969 OPS with 22 home runs and 16 stolen bases.

    Mind you, Tatis didn't rate well on defense and there was a huge gap between his actual production and his expected production on offense. Such things indicate he's not yet a finished product. 

    Even still, it's exciting that he could be so good despite being so imperfect. If he can smooth out his rough edges, he should be an All-Star and maybe even an MVP by the time his club control ends.

6. Juan Soto, LF, Washington Nationals

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Age: 21

    Controlled Through: 2024

    2019 WAR: 4.6

    Since joining the Washington Nationals as a mere 19-year-old in 2018, Juan Soto has done things that haven't been done in many, many years.

    Altogether, he's a .287/.403/.535 hitter with 56 home runs in the regular season. Only he and Mel Ott have ever posted a .400 on-base percentage through their age-20 seasons. Further, Soto's 140 OPS+ is short of only those of Ott, Mickey Mantle and Ty Cobb for hitters at his age.

    It's also very much to Soto's credit that he was wholly unfazed by his first October experience in 2019. He helped drive Washington's World Series run with a .927 OPS and five homers.

    What we have here, then, is a historically great and clutch young hitter who also has good speed and an improving glove. It's a darn shame that he has "only" five more years of club control left.

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

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Age: 24

    Controlled Through: 2023

    2019 WAR: 9.1

    Given that he's older and under club control for fewer years, it might seem counter-intuitive that Cody Bellinger ranks ahead of Torres, Tatis and Soto.

    Yet it's ultimately quite simple: Bellinger is a better player than them right now, and that might not change over the next four seasons.

    Bellinger was an immediate sensation for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017, in which he went off for a .933 OPS and 39 home runs en route to winning the NL Rookie of the Year. Following a reality-check season in 2018, he bounced back to win the NL MVP last year with the help of a 1.035 OPS and 47 home runs.

    Underneath Bellinger's results were peripheral stats that confirmed he really did excel at everything in 2019. Perhaps he has no more upside to tap into, but, well, who needs additional upside when you're arguably already the best player in the National League?

4. Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    Signed Through: 2024

    2019 WAR: 9.1

    The Houston Astros drafted Alex Bregman with the second pick of the 2015 draft. He was in the majors a little over a year later, and all he's done since then is get better and better.

    Specifically, Bregman has improved his average, on-base percentage and OPS every year he's been with the Astros. His latest feat was something of a throwback season in 2019, as he became the first player since Albert Pujols in 2009 to top 40 home runs with fewer than 90 strikeouts and more than 110 walks.

    Last year was also Bregman's best defensive season, as he rated well at third base and also at shortstop when he was called on as an injury replacement for Carlos Correa.

    Though Bregman has arguably aged out of being "young," he shouldn't be close to the end of his prime. It's therefore a good guess that he'll remain an MVP-caliber player in the five seasons remaining on his contract.

3. Christian Yelich, LF, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Signed Through: 2028, with mutual option for 2029

    2019 WAR: 7.0

    Though an obligatory caveat is that a season-and-a-half isn't that big of a sample size, it's truly hard to overstate just how amazing Christian Yelich has been since the 2018 All-Star break.

    He went into the '18 break with an .823 OPS and 11 home runs in his first season with the Milwaukee Brewers. Not bad, but more or less in line with how he had performed for the Miami Marlins.

    Yet all Yelich has done since then is slash .342/.436/.705 with 69 home runs and 40 stolen bases in 195 games. His defense hasn't been especially great, but both his results and his peripherals point to basically the same opinion of him as a hitter: He's the best in the game right now.

    Even if his prime runs out before his contract does, the thought of having such a player for as many as 10 more seasons is obviously tantalizing.

2. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Signed Through: 2030

    2019 WAR: 8.2

    Given that he's accumulated more WAR (by a lot) than anyone since 2012, there isn't much question that Mike Trout is the best player in baseball right now.

    The only real unknown accompanying the Los Angeles Angels' three-time MVP is how much longer he can keep this up. He has many miles on his body, after all, and the age-30 threshold looms in 2021.

    To this end, it's no small comfort that Trout has already positioned himself for life after his peak athleticism. Despite the run that Yelich has been on lately, Trout has still led the majors in OPS+ in each of the last three seasons. He's also coming off hitting a career-high 45 home runs in just 134 games in 2019.

    So while the end of his prime may be nigh, Trout might only need his bat to sustain at a superstar level throughout the 11 seasons remaining on his contract.

1. Ronald Acuna Jr., OF, Atlanta Braves

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Age: 22

    Signed Through: 2026, with club options through 2028

    2019 WAR: 5.7

    To be fair, we're probably not talking about Ronald Acuna Jr. as the best player to build a team around if he hadn't signed a long-term contract with the Atlanta Braves in April 2019.

    He did, though, and that permits us to dream about what he might become over the next nine seasons.

    He's already one of only five players with as many as 50 home runs and 50 stolen bases through his age-21 season. His underlying metrics are also superb, yet he hasn't just been coasting by on athleticism. For instance, he's also displayed a fairly patient approach with a keen eye for the strike zone.

    Acuna already has a Rookie of the Year, a Silver Slugger and an All-Star nod to his name. In the years to come, he should realize his Trout-ian potential as an unstoppable, MVP-winning force.


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.