Ranking the Players Most Likely to Pass Mike Trout as MLB's Top Dog
Mike Trout is the best baseball player on the planet.
The 29-year-old has been one of the game's elite since exploding on to the scene with 10.5 WAR during his rookie season in 2012. He is having arguably the best season of his career right now as the MLB leader in on-base percentage (.477), slugging (.673) and OPS+ (219) with 2.1 WAR in 32 games.
In the middle of his prime, Trout is showing no signs of slowing down, but there will inevitably be a point in the future when his production starts to decline and someone else takes up the mantle of baseball's best player.
Who will that someone be?
We ranked the 10 most likely candidates to supplant Trout as the best player in the game, based on impact tools, current production and future outlook.
10. SS Jordan Lawlar
Looking for a wild card in the future best player in baseball conversation?
Look no further than Texas prep shortstop Jordan Lawlar, the favorite to be selected No. 1 overall in the 2021 draft.
"Lawlar is a more polished hitter than [Bobby Witt Jr.] was at the same stage with a quick, compact right-handed swing and a mature, patient approach," according to MLB.com.
He still needs to work on slowing the game down when he's in the field, but with 60-grade speed and quick-twitch athleticism, there is no reason to think he won't stick at shortstop.
Andrew McCutchen was a bona fide superstar and squarely in the best player in baseball conversation during his prime, so going No. 1 to the rebuilding Pittsburgh Pirates would not necessarily hinder Lawlar's future.
He could have a major impact on MLB in the not-too-distant future.
9. RF Mookie Betts
Will there be a window for Mookie Betts to be baseball's best player?
The Los Angeles Dodgers star is one year and 61 days younger than Mike Trout, so the outfielders are on similar trajectories.
With one MVP Award, two runner-up finishes and 47.2 WAR in eight MLB seasons, Betts is on a Hall of Fame path and regularly mentioned as one of the game's elite.
It's simply a matter of unfortunate timing that Betts isn't higher on this list, as he will likely share the spotlight with Trout for the entirety of his career.
8. CF Luis Robert
The Chicago White Sox paid $26 million and a matching tax penalty to sign Luis Robert out of Cuba in 2017.
That investment looked like money well spent when he hit .328/.376/.624 with 31 doubles, 11 triples, 32 home runs and 36 steals while reaching Triple-A in 2019, and he took MLB by storm last year.
A late slump cut into his numbers, but he still finished with a 100 OPS+ and 11 home runs in 56 games to finish second in American League Rookie of the Year voting while also taking home a Gold Glove Award in center field.
The five-tool player was showing a more refined approach early this season, trimming his strikeout rate from 32.2 to 27.2 percent while hitting .316/.359/.463 through 25 games before suffering a torn right hip flexor that will keep him sidelined for three to four months.
Robert will lose valuable developmental time, but he still has the chance to become a superstar and the face of a dynamic young roster.
7. 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was saddled with lofty and perhaps unfair expectations when he made his MLB debut in 2019 shortly after his 20th birthday.
He posted a 109 OPS+ with 2.7 WAR over 183 games in his first two seasons, and despite the fact that he's still younger than many of the game's top prospects, some were foolish enough to call him a bust heading into this season.
Now it's all clicking.
Guerrero is hitting .307/.432/.543 for a 176 OPS+ that ranks seventh in the American League, and settling in at first base should give him a chance to focus on the offensive side of his game.
With nearly as many walks (25) as strikeouts (26), Guerrero has displayed the hit tool that earned him a rare 80 grade from MLB.com during his prospect days, and he is still just scratching the surface of his power potential.
He could be this era's Miguel Cabrera.
6. SS Bobby Witt Jr.
A rare five-tool player at shortstop, Bobby Witt Jr. would have been a No. 1 overall pick almost any other year, but instead, he slid to No. 2 in 2019 behind standout two-way catcher Adley Rutschman.
The Kansas City Royals happily pounced on their potential future face of the franchise, and while he hit a modest .262/.317/.354 with eight extra-base hits and nine steals in his first pro season in 2019, his superstar potential and off-the-charts intangibles are undeniable.
"Club officials rave about his makeup, instincts and passion for the game as much as his tools, giving him as much chance as anyone to reach his enormous potential," according to MLB.com.
He hit .289/.325/.526 with three home runs in 40 plate appearances during spring training, and while he was sent to the minors at the end of camp, that showing likely pushed up his big league timetable.
With an MLB bloodline, a polished all-around game and five 60-grade tools, he could start a lot of All-Star Games opposite Fernando Tatis Jr.
5. LF Jarred Kelenic
The New York Mets' decision to include Jarred Kelenic in the blockbuster deal in which they acquired Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz after the 2018 season looked ill-advised from the start.
When he hit .291/.364/.540 with 31 doubles, 23 home runs and 20 steals in 117 games over three minor league levels in his first season in the Seattle Mariners organization, it became clear the Mets had made a huge mistake.
With a 65-grade hit tool, 60-grade power, 60-grade speed and a 60-grade arm, Kelenic began this season as a consensus top-10 prospect, and as expected he was one of the first high-profile call-ups to the majors. He made his MLB debut Thursday night.
The future is bright for the Mariners, as they have a lot of exciting young talent rising through their pipeline, but Kelenic has a chance to be the best of the bunch and one of the most dynamic players in the sport.
He hit leadoff and went 0-for-4 with a strikeout in his debut, but don't be surprised if he's a bona fide AL Rookie of the Year contender.
4. SS Wander Franco
Wander Franco has been the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball for more than two years, and after opening the season at Triple-A he is on the cusp of the big leagues.
How good can he be?
"Franco has the physical tools and natural ability needed to become the top switch-hitter of his generation," according to MLB.com. "He creates electric bat speed with his exceptionally strong hands and wrists, and he knows how to manipulate his swing to put barrel to ball and make consistent hard contact to all fields. Franco's approach and plate discipline are just as advanced as his swing."
He made his full-season debut in 2019 at the age of 18 and hit .327/.398/.487 with 43 extra-base hits, 18 steals and more walks (56) than strikeouts (35) in 495 plate appearances between Single-A and High-A.
He might max out at 20 home runs in the majors, and it remains to be seen if he'll stick at shortstop or shift to second base or third base, but his 80-grade hit tool has generational upside.
3. RF Juan Soto
Juan Soto played last season at the age of 21 and hit .351/.490/.695 with 14 doubles, 13 home runs and more walks (41) than strikeouts (28) in 47 games. Shortened schedule or not, it was one of the greatest seasons in MLB history for a player his age.
In 336 big league games, he has a .294/.414/.548 line and 152 OPS+, showcasing plate discipline that belies his age and the power to be a perennial 30-homer, 100-RBI producer. He has already logged a 34-homer, 110-RBI season to help lead the Washington Nationals to a World Series title in 2019.
He has the best offensive foundation of any of the game's young stars, but he will likely never contribute much beyond that.
That's not to say he can't still be a perennial MVP candidate, but the two players ranked ahead of him on this list are also 30-steal threats with the potential to be impact defenders at premium positions on top of their nearly limitless offensive ceilings.
2. SS Fernando Tatis Jr.
It might be more appropriate to pencil in Fernando Tatis Jr. as "1A" on this list.
The San Diego Padres are all in on their young shortstop's ability to continue his ascent as one of the game's best players, having signed him to an unprecedented 14-year, $340 million extension before he reached arbitration eligibility.
In roughly one season's worth of games (169) over the past three years, he's hit .292/.365/.578 for a 154 OPS+ with 48 home runs, 112 RBI, 34 steals and 7.8 WAR.
He's hitting just .240 with a .315 on-base percentage and has made 11 errors in 26 games this season, but he still sports a 145 OPS+ with nine home runs and a National League-leading seven steals.
The next step in his development will be to cut down his strikeout rate (27.1 percent career) and slow things down in the field since he possesses all the physical tools to be a standout shortstop.
He's still miles ahead of the curve.
1. RF Ronald Acuna Jr.
Ronald Acuna Jr. already had more than 300 MLB games under his belt before his 23rd birthday.
Since bursting onto the scene in 2018 to post a 143 OPS+ with 26 doubles, 26 home runs and 16 steals to win NL Rookie of the Year honors, he has made significant progress in refining his game.
After raising his walk rate from 10.6 to 18.8 percent last season, he has slashed his strikeout rate from 29.7 to 15.0 percent this year while emerging as the NL MVP front-runner with a 174 OPS+ and an MLB-best 12 home runs in 153 plate appearances.
The list of players with 40-40 potential might begin and end with Acuna and Fernando Tatis Jr., and it wouldn't be surprising if Acuna added a few Gold Gloves to his trophy case as well.
Playing for a team that is poised to contend for the foreseeable future, Acuna will overtake Freddie Freeman as the face of the Atlanta Braves in only a matter of time while he makes his case for the title of best player in baseball.