Tomorrow marks the one-month mark before Major League Baseball Opening Day 2019, so it’s a good time to discuss the top players in the league entering the season. The rankings are being split into positional players and pitchers (coming in a couple weeks), as it’s difficult enough to rank the league’s best players without combining positional players and pitchers. I am taking defense in strong consideration for my top ten, as it’s an important aspect of the game that isn’t appreciated enough.
10. Bryce Harper, No team
We’re still waiting for one of Major League Baseball’s best players to choose where he’ll continue his career, and his contract will likely be the biggest contract in American sports history (a record just broken by Manny Machado when he signed with the Padres for $300 million). At his best, Bryce Harper is an absolutely dominant player that would be behind only Mike Trout among the sport’s top players (the same can be said for many talented players, but Harper has shown it during his 2015 NL MVP campaign), but inconsistency and some injuries keep him down at the No. 10 spot. Aaron Judge could very easily be on here, as could Manny Machado, who is hurt by his hustling comments despite outstanding defense.
9. Kris Bryant, Cubs
I think Kris Bryant has become a bit of a forgotten man among the MLB’s best, as a shoulder injury last season really derailed his season. The previous three seasons, Bryant was the NL Rookie of the Year (2015), the NL MVP (2016), and hit .295 with 29 homers in 2017—oh, and he helped lead the Cubs to their first World Series since 1908 a couple years ago. Bryant looks like a perennial .290, 30-homer hitter, and he plays very good defense at the hot corner along with the versatility to move to the outfield or swing over to first base. Some might argue this is too high for the 27-year-old, but the more I think about it this might be too low for Bryant if anything.
8. Francisco Lindor, Indians
An All-Star the last three seasons, Francisco Lindor has gotten better every year while manning shortstop for the Indians. Despite standing at about five-foot-eleven and under 200 pounds, Lindor has become one of baseball’s major power threats, hitting 33 and 38 bombs the past two seasons. While his average has taken a dip from the .313 and .301 range from his first two MLB seasons, it’s hard to argue against his total bases jumping up into the 300s the past two years. Also, despite an increase in power, Lindor still finds a way to steal bases (25 last season), though he needs to be more careful after getting caught stealing ten times in 2018. The 2016 Gold Glove winner is one of the best defenders in baseball.
7. Jose Ramirez, Indians
The Indians have a couple of superstar players among the MLB’s top ten, and they both could easily be up into the top five. I don’t know what they’re feeding players over there in Cleveland, but Ramirez has taken a similar power jump to his teammate Francisco Lindor, hitting 29 home runs in 2017 and 39 home runs in 2018. Ramirez’s average was down to .270 after he hit .312 and .318 the previous two seasons, but he scored 110 runs and knocked in another 105 while stealing 34 bases, joining the 30-30 club (30 HR, 30 SB). While Ramirez probably isn’t a top-notch defender, he has the versatility to play both third base and second base.
6. Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals
Paul Goldschmidt has been one of the most consistent players in baseball for the Diamondbacks over the past several years, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t keep it up in St. Louis with the Cardinals. Goldy is a six-time All-Star, a four-time Silver Slugger winner, and a three-time Gold Glove winner, with his average never dropping below .290 since 2012. He has a great balance of contact and power and a good eye at the plate to draw walks, and defensively, he’s a run-saver at first base.
5. Christian Yelich, Brewers
A top-five ranking for the reigning NL MVP is not too high, as 2018 certainly wasn’t a fluke for Christian Yelich. The former Marlin has long been one of Major League Baseball’s top contact hitters, and he added more power to his game during his MVP season, launching 36 homers with an NL-high in average (.326), slugging percentage (.598), OPS (1.000), and total bases (343). He also scored 118 runs, knocked in 110, and stole 22 bases while getting caught just four times. The former Gold Glove outfielder has very good range and an adequate throwing arm.
4. Jose Altuve, Astros
Jose Altuve battled through a knee injury and was clearly not at full strength for much of last season, including the postseason, but he was still able to hit .316 and score 84 runs for the Astros. The former World Series champion is still just 28 years old, so he’s squarely in his prime and is as good of a bet as anyone to hit well into the .300s every season. The five-foot-six second baseman is able to generate enough power to hit 20 or 30 homers in a season, and he has the green light to swipe bases at a high rate (30+ steals every season from 2012-2017). Altuve is “undersized,” but he’s one of the most impactful catalysts in baseball
3. Mookie Betts, Red Sox
Most people seem to believe Mookie Betts is the clear second-best player in baseball, and you can certainly make that argument fairly easily. Last season, Betts became the first player in MLB history to win a Most Valuable Player, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, batting title, and a World Series—he also joined the 30/30 club with Jose Ramirez, as the two of them became the first players since 2012 to accomplish the feat. Betts is an explosive athlete that makes a bunch of plays in right field for the Red Sox, and he’s just as explosive as a hitter that puts the ball over the fence or in the gaps before screaming around the basepaths. Betts has a case for the best defensive player in the majors.
2. Nolan Arenado, Rockies
On the heels of his $260-million contract extension, it’s about time Nolan Arenado starts getting his due as an elite player and likely future Hall of Famer. Aside from the No. 1 player on the list, there isn’t a more consistent player in baseball than Arenado, who has won the Gold Glove at third base an absurd six consecutive seasons along with four straight Silver Slugger awards at the position. The 27-year-old also led the National League in home runs three times already, and he’s hit 158 homers the past four seasons, including at least 37 each year; and at least 100+ runs and RBI in each of those seasons except for 2015, when he had only 97 runs. Plus, Arenado plays the game as hard as anyone, which you love to see from the best players.
1. Mike Trout, Angels
Everyone knows Mike Trout is a great player and a walking legend, so any praise is just overkill. I’m not huge on analytics, but Trout having a higher WAR since 2012 than Manny Machado and Bryce Harper combined is a pretty good indication of how amazing he is. The 27-year-old is a true five-tool player with a level of consistency that is extremely rare, and it’s crazy to think how much his next contract might be worth—I’d say $400 million is the starting point, and it could reach half-a-billion dollars.