Ranking the Top 10 MLB Stars at Each Position 1 Month into the 2021 Season

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2021

Ranking the Top 10 MLB Stars at Each Position 1 Month into the 2021 Season

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Who are MLB's 10 best players at each position one month into the 2021 season?

    That's the simple question we set out to answer, and it required casting aside preconceived notions and long-term projections.

    That means established stars such as Francisco Lindor, Manny Machado, DJ LeMahieu, Luis Castillo, Matt Chapman and Lucas Giolito are nowhere to be found in this article.

    In their places, early standouts such as Yermin Mercedes, Cedric Mullins, Nick Solak, Carlos Rodon, Carson Kelly and Danny Duffy are all prominently featured.

    To put it simply, this is an overview of the top players at each spot based solely on what they have accomplished this season. Past performances and future expectations did not play a part.

    Let's get to it.

Catchers

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    Carson Kelly
    Carson KellyDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Top 10

    1. Carson Kelly, ARI
    2. Omar Narvaez, MIL
    3. Buster Posey, SF
    4. J.T. Realmuto, PHI
    5. Yadier Molina, STL
    6. Will Smith, LAD
    7. Tucker Barnhart, CIN
    8. Mike Zunino, TB
    9. Salvador Perez, KC
    10. Willson Contreras, CHC

         

    Position Overview

    After taking a step backward last year, Carson Kelly is once again playing like the catcher of the present and future for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The 26-year-old is hitting .327 with a National League-leading .507 on-base percentage, and he has already eclipsed last year's home run total with six long balls in 69 plate appearances.

    Omar Narvaez trails only the glove-first Jose Trevino of the Texas Rangers in total defensive value, and he's hitting .369/.447/.538 with three home runs to boot.

    Veterans Buster Posey (.351/.413/.667, 5 HR), Yadier Molina (.323/.366/.631, 5 HR) and Tucker Barnhart (.302/.383/.509, 7 XBH) are all swinging it well while providing their usual leadership on and off the field. Mike Zunino returned to the Tampa Bay Rays on a one-year, $3 million deal and sports a .583 slugging percentage with five home runs to go along with his always strong receiving skills.

    J.T. Realmuto remains arguably the best two-way catcher in baseball as he embarks on the first season of a five-year, $115.5 million contract, Salvador Perez cashed in with his own four-year, $82 million extension and is off to a solid start, and Willson Contreras leads all catchers with seven home runs.

    Could Will Smith (.382 OBP, 135 OPS+) make a run at the No. 1 spot in these rankings in the near future?

First Basemen

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    Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
    Vladimir Guerrero Jr.Mike Carlson/Associated Press

    Top 10

    1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., TOR
    2. Yuli Gurriel, HOU
    3. Matt Olson, OAK
    4. Jesus Aguilar, MIA
    5. Nate Lowe, TEX
    6. Max Muncy, LAD
    7. Freddie Freeman, ATL
    8. Carlos Santana, KC
    9. C.J. Cron, COL
    10. Eric Hosmer, SD

        

    Position Overview

    The nonsensical days of calling Vladimir Guerrero Jr. overhyped are in the past. The 22-year-old is hitting .346/.474/.667 with seven home runs and 19 RBI, and he's looking very much like the elite hitter everyone expected him to be.

    Yuli Gurriel is quietly hitting .344/.443/.556 with seven doubles, four home runs and 16 RBI in 106 plate appearances, and he has moved into the No. 5 spot in the Houston Astros lineup as a result.

    Two-time Gold Glove Award winner Matt Olson remains the best two-way player at the position, and he's off to an excellent start at the plate with a .296/.363/.580 line and six home runs while tallying nine multihit performances in 22 games.

    Jesus Aguilar (154 OPS+, 5 HR) and Nate Lowe (144 OPS+, 6 HR) are tied for the MLB lead with 22 RBI, and they are leading their respective lineups in the early going.

    Newcomers Carlos Santana (135 OPS+, .364 OBP, 5 HR) and C.J. Cron (122 OPS+, .371 OBP, 4 HR) have been productive offseason additions for the Kansas City Royals and Colorado Rockies.

    Max Muncy leads the majors with 26 walks and has a .439 on-base percentage, Freddie Freeman (133 OPS+) has not met his standards but is still one of the best at the position, and Eric Hosmer earned the final spot by a narrow margin over Rhys Hoskins, Pete Alonso and Colin Moran.

Second Basemen

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    Nick Solak
    Nick SolakRoger Steinman/Associated Press

    Top 10

    1. Nick Solak, TEX
    2. Jazz Chisholm Jr., MIA
    3. Ryan McMahon, COL
    4. Eduardo Escobar, ARI
    5. Luis Arraez, MIN
    6. Jed Lowrie, OAK
    7. Whit Merrifield, KC
    8. Adam Frazier, PIT
    9. Kolten Wong, MIL
    10. Jose Altuve, HOU

        

    Position Overview

    The Texas Rangers' youth movement kicked into high gear when they cut ties with Rougned Odor and turned to Nick Solak as the everyday second baseman. Traded twice before he made his MLB debut, Solak has found a home and is hitting .305/.389/.558 with seven home runs and 1.4 WAR through 26 games.

    After looking overmatched in his first season last year, Jazz Chisholm Jr. has a 154 OPS+ with four doubles, four home runs and seven stolen bases in 21 games. Don't sleep on the 23-year-old as a bona fide NL Rookie of the Year candidate.

    Ryan McMahon (127 OPS+, 8 HR) and Eduardo Escobar (127 OPS+, 7 HR) are off to strong starts in the power department, while Luis Arraez is showing a newfound willingness to work a walk (+6.2 BB%) with his usual elite bat-to-ball skills.

    Veteran Jed Lowrie (125 OPS+, 9 XBH) is back after playing just nine games over the past two seasons, and he has plugged a glaring hole up the middle for a the Oakland Athletics, who lost Tommy La Stella and Marcus Semien in free agency.

    Keep an eye on Adam Frazier as a potential hot commodity at this year's trade deadline. The 29-year-old can play all over the field and is hitting .301/.371/.419 with nine extra-base hits in what is shaping up to be a career year.

    Whit Merrifield (112 OPS+, MLB-high-tying 8 SB) has been his usual dynamic self at the top of the Kansas City lineup, while Kolten Wong (14 G, 160 OPS+) and Jose Altuve (15 G, 110 OPS+) would likely rank higher if they had not spent time on the injured list.

Third Basemen

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    Justin Turner
    Justin TurnerDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Top 10

    1. Justin Turner, LAD
    2. Kris Bryant, CHC
    3. Rafael Devers, BOS
    4. Evan Longoria, SF
    5. Yoan Moncada, CWS
    6. Joey Wendle, TB
    7. Jose Ramirez, CLE
    8. Kyle Seager, SEA
    9. Alex Bregman, HOU
    10. Austin Riley, ATL

        

    Position Overview

    Unable to land the four-year deal he was seeking in free agency, Justin Turner returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a two-year, $34 million pact. That already looks like money well spent, as the 36-year-old is hitting .344/.425/.622 with seven doubles, six home runs and an NL-leading 31 hits.

    Looking to cash in himself this offseason, Kris Bryant is enjoying a bounce-back year. After suffering injuries in recent years, he again looks like a dangerous power threat with a 180 OPS+ and 14 extra-base hits in 97 plate appearances.

    Rafael Devers continues to rake with a 160 OPS+ that includes six doubles, six home runs and 20 RBI in 24 games, and he has graded out better defensively in the early going with a 6.4 UZR/150.

    Evan Longoria (183 OPS+, 9 XBH) has found the fountain of youth, Yoan Moncada has a 131 OPS+ and the most defensive value of any third baseman, Joey Wendle (159 OPS+, 11 XBH) continues to be a quietly effective option for the Rays, and Jose Ramirez (142 OPS+, 6 HR) is shouldering the offensive load for Cleveland.

    American League West rivals Alex Bregman (129 OPS+, 3 HR) and Kyle Seager (129 OPS+, 14 XBH) are important leaders on the field and in the clubhouse, while Austin Riley has at least temporarily stopped Atlanta Braves fans from clamoring for his replacement with a .301/.416/.452 line and three home runs in 25 games.

    How long will it be before Matt Chapman, Anthony Rendon, Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado play their way onto this list after slow starts?

Shortstops

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    Trea Turner
    Trea TurnerNick Wass/Associated Press

    Top 10

    1. Trea Turner, WAS
    2. Xander Bogaerts, BOS
    3. Fernando Tatis Jr., SD
    4. Carlos Correa, HOU
    5. Corey Seager, LAD
    6. Tim Anderson, CWS
    7. Javier Baez, CHC
    8. Bo Bichette, TOR
    9. Freddy Galvis, BAL
    10. Isiah Kiner-Falefa, TEX

        

    Position Overview

    Trea Turner showed newfound power last season with a career-high .588 slugging percentage, and he has carried those gains over with a .317/.364/.585 line that includes six home runs. He also has five steals and four defensive runs saved at shortstop, giving him a strong case for the title of best all-around shortstop.

    Another year, another stellar batting line for Xander Bogaerts, who has developed into one of the game's elite offensive players. The 28-year-old is hitting .333/.374/.527 with 12 extra-base hits and a 154 OPS+ in the middle of a potent lineup.

    After a slow start and a trip to the injured list, Fernando Tatis Jr. is hitting his stride with a .455 average and five home runs in his last five games. He has already made 10 errors in 16 games, but he has the tools to be a good defender.

    Carlos Correa (124 OPS+, 4 HR), Corey Seager (126 OPS+, 4 HR) and Javier Baez (112 OPS+, 6 HR) are jockeying for position in a deep 2021-22 free-agent class, while Freddy Galvis (122 OPS+, 9 XBH) is making his case as a low-cost alternative on a one-year, $1.5 million deal.

    Chicago White Sox star Tim Anderson (15 G, 135 OPS+) missed some time with a hamstring injury or he would rank even higher, while Bo Bichette (126 OPS+, 5 2B, 6 HR) is just scratching the surface of the potential he's shown since breaking into the majors.

    The final spot went to Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who is hitting a modest .250/.283/.370 for an 87 OPS+ but has graded out as the best defensive shortstop in baseball after winning a Gold Glove at third base last year.

Corner Outfielders

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    Ronald Acuna Jr.
    Ronald Acuna Jr.John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Top 10

    1. Ronald Acuna Jr., ATL
    2. Jesse Winker, CIN
    3. Bryce Harper, PHI
    4. Jared Walsh, LAA
    5. Nick Castellanos, CIN
    6. Alex Verdugo, BOS
    7. Michael Brantley, HOU
    8. Aaron Judge, NYY
    9. Mark Canha, OAK
    10. Corey Dickerson, MIA

         

    Position Overview

    Since left field is considerably thinner than right field in terms of impact talent, and corner outfielders often shuffle between positions, we opted to simply lump the left fielders and right fielders into a single top 10 list of corner outfielders for this first set of rankings.

    Is this the year Ronald Acuna Jr. adds the first of what could be many NL MVP Awards to his trophy case? The 23-year-old leads the NL in home runs (eight, tied), runs (24), total bases (61), slugging (.718), OPS (1.159) and OPS+ (202), and he has trimmed his strikeout rate from 29.7 to 13.7 percent.

    Meanwhile, flying well under-the-radar is Jesse Winker, who is pacing the NL in batting average (.377) while posting a 190 OPS+ with five doubles and six home runs. The 27-year-old flashed breakout potential last year, and it's all coming together.

    Bryce Harper (194 OPS+, 6 HR), Nick Castellanos (152 OPS+, 7 HR) and Aaron Judge (155 OPS+, 5 HR) continue to fit the prototypical right fielder profile, while Alex Verdugo (.314/.371/.523, 11 XBH) is a star on the rise as he plays all over the outfield.

    Slugger Jared Walsh (171 OPS+, 9 XBH) has played more in right field (105.2 innings) than he has at first base (77.0), though he will likely settle in on the dirt once Albert Pujols departs.

    Michael Brantley might be the best pure hitter in baseball, and he has already tallied 10 doubles to go with a .317/.349/.537 line and a smooth transition back to left field after he primarily DHed last year.

    New Oakland leadoff hitter Mark Canha (.393 OBP, 24 R) and quietly productive veteran Corey Dickerson (.320/.400/.453, 7 XBH) rounded out the top 10, though you can expect plenty of shuffling on this list with double the number of candidates in the mix relative to other positions.

Center Fielders

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    Byron Buxton
    Byron BuxtonTony Avelar/Associated Press

    Top 10

    1. Byron Buxton, MIN
    2. Mike Trout, LAA
    3. Cedric Mullins, BAL
    4. Brandon Nimmo, NYM
    5. Trent Grisham, SD
    6. Starling Marte, MIA
    7. Dylan Carlson, STL
    8. Luis Robert, CWS
    9. Tyler Naquin, CIN
    10. Michael A. Taylor, KC

        

    Position Overview

    Let's take a closer look at the Byron Buxton vs. Mike Trout debate for the No. 1 spot among center fielders:

    • Buxton: 17 G, 68 PA, .438/.471/.938, 16 XBH (8 HR), 2.1 WAR
    • Trout: 20 G, 84 PA, .420/.524/.783, 13 XBH (6 HR), 1.8 WAR

    These two have been the best players in baseball this year.

    Meanwhile, Cedric Mullins has been one of the biggest surprises of the first month, hitting .340 with 12 extra-base hits and tying for the MLB lead with 33 hits. Throw in solid defense, and the 26-year-old has a chance to be a long-term piece for the Baltimore Orioles.

    Brandon Nimmo (163 OPS+, .457 OBP) continues to be one of the game's elite on-base threats even if he's miscast as a center fielder, Starling Marte (15 G, .316/.420/.491) was making a major impact before he was sidelined with a fractured rib, and Trent Grisham (142 OPS+, 4 HR, 5 SB) is proving his stellar 2020 numbers were real.

    Luis Robert (132 OPS+, 10 XBH, K rate down 5.6 percentage points) was the hot-shot rookie last season. This year, it's Dylan Carlson (146 OPS+, 10 XBH) who is making a splash in the middle of an order.

    Two of the best low-cost pickups of the offseason have been Tyler Naquin (140 OPS+, 6 HR, 19 RBI) on a one-year, $1.5 million deal, and Michael A. Taylor (97 OPS+, MLB-leading 6 DRS) on a one-year, $1.8 million deal, and they earned the final two spots.

Designated Hitters

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    Yermin Mercedes
    Yermin MercedesSteven Senne/Associated Press

    Top 5

    1. Yermin Mercedes, CWS
    2. J.D. Martinez, BOS
    3. Nelson Cruz, MIN
    4. Shohei Ohtani, LAA
    5. Ty France, SEA

         

    Positional Overview

    Since only half the league has full-time designated hitters, we trimmed this list to five to reflect the smaller field of candidates.

    An injury to Eloy Jimenez opened the door for Yermin Mercedes, who is tied for the MLB lead with 33 hits and is batting .423/.464/.679 with five doubles and five home runs. The 28-year-old rookie does not have the strongest batted-ball metrics, but he has shown no signs of slowing down.

    J.D. Martinez struggled to a .213 average and 81 OPS+ last season, but he has returned to elite offensive form this year with a .333/.417/.678 line while matching his seven home runs from a year ago in less than half as many plate appearances (237 to 103).

    Ageless wonder Nelson Cruz (204 OPS+, 7 HR, 18 RBI) continues to rake, while Ty France (160 OPS+, 11 XBH) is finally getting an opportunity to prove himself in the majors after years of strong production in the San Diego Padres farm system.

    It was hard to properly place Shohei Ohtani (165 OPS+, 15 XBH, 7 HR) in this article. As a DH, he earned the No. 4 spot. As a pitcher, he didn't crack the top 10. But in terms of overall contributions, few have come close to matching the impact he's made over the first month.

Starting Pitchers

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    Jacob deGrom
    Jacob deGromDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Top 10

    1. Jacob deGrom, NYM
    2. Corbin Burnes, MIL
    3. Tyler Glasnow, TB
    4. Gerrit Cole, NYY
    5. Joe Musgrove, SD
    6. Carlos Rodon, CWS
    7. Brandon Woodruff, MIL
    8. Shane Bieber, CLE
    9. John Means, BAL
    10. Danny Duffy, KC

        

    Position Overview

    Everyone is still chasing Jacob deGrom.

    The two-time Cy Young Award winner continues to get zero run support, which has led him to a 2-2 record through five starts, but he has a 0.51 ERA, 0.57 WHIP and 59 strikeouts in 35 innings. He's also 6-for-13 with a double and two RBI at the plate.

    Not far behind in the early NL Cy Young race is Corbin Burnes, who has an NL-best 0.55 WHIP to go along with a 1.53 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 29.1 innings. His teammate Brandon Woodruff (1.55 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 34 K, 29 IP) has been equally impressive, giving the Milwaukee Brewers the best one-two punch in baseball.

    As expected, Tyler Glasnow (1.67 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 56 K, 37.2 IP), Gerrit Cole (1.71 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 50 K, 31.2 IP), and Shane Bieber (2.48 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 57 K, 36.1) have been the unquestioned aces of their staffs, and that trio could duke it out for AL Cy Young honors.

    Left-hander Carlos Rodon (0.72 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 36 K, 25 IP) threw a no-hitter after being non-tendered in the offseason, while right-hander Joe Musgrove (1.24 ERA, 0.66 WHIP, 41 K, 29 IP) also tossed a no-no following an offseason trade to his hometown Padres.

    Veteran Danny Duffy (0.39 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 27 K, 23 IP) has thrown fewer innings than anyone on this list or he would rank even higher, while the soft-tossing John Means (1.50 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 29 K, 30 IP) continues to befuddle hitters with his changeup.

    Listed alphabetically, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, Kevin Gausman, Kyle Gibson, J.A. Happ, Cristian Javier, Clayton Kershaw, Tyler Mahle, Freddy Peralta and Trevor Rogers make up the next 10.

Relief Pitchers

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    Aroldis Chapman
    Aroldis ChapmanChris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Top 10

    1. Aroldis Chapman, NYY
    2. James Karinchak, CLE
    3. Josh Hader, MIL
    4. Richard Rodriguez, PIT
    5. Kendall Graveman, SEA
    6. Drew Pomeranz, SD
    7. Matt Barnes, BOS
    8. Craig Kimbrel, CHC
    9. Mark Melancon, SD
    10. Tejay Antone, CIN

        

    Position Overview

    With teams carrying eight or nine relievers, there are more than 250 relievers on active rosters at any given time. With that in mind, there were some snubs, but the players listed are all worthy of recognition.

    Flame-thrower Aroldis Chapman has been virtually untouchable, striking out 20 of the 29 batters he has faced while nailing down all four of his save chances. He has a 0.00 ERA and 0.63 WHIP in eight appearances. That's tough to top.

    James Karinchak has been equally overpowering, allowing just two hits and zero earned runs while fanning 20 of the 34 batters he has faced and tallying two saves and three holds in 11 appearances. Kendall Graveman has allowed just two hits in 10.2 scoreless innings en route to a 0.38 WHIP, recording three saves and two holds in a high-leverage role.

    Josh Hader (6/6 SV, 1.04 ERA, 16.6 K/9), Richard Rodriguez (4/4 SV, 0.00 ERA, 0.19 WHIP ), Matt Barnes (6/6 SV, 2.57 ERA, 16.1 K/9), Craig Kimbrel (4/4 SV, 0.00 ERA, 13.5 K/9) and Mark Melancon (8/8 SV, 0.75 ERA, 0.42 WHIP) have all been dominant ninth-inning options.

    In the non-closer category, Drew Pomeranz (10 G, 3 HLD, 0.93 ERA, 16.8 K/9) is baseball's best setup man, while Tejay Antone (7 G, 3 HLD, 0.66 ERA, 13.2 K/9, 13.2 IP) is a lethal multi-inning weapon for the Cincinnati Reds.

    Bullpen success is fickle, but these 10 players have been the best of the best.

       

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs and accurate through Thursday's games.

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