Ranking the Top 100 MLB Players Through the 1st Quarter of 2014
I urge you to read the following for a better understanding of my thought process and why guys are ranked where they are on this list.
Imagine, if you will, that every player in baseball was thrown into a pool to be selected from—fantasy draft style. The goal of this draft would be to build a team for the remainder of the 2014 season, but no further.
What follows can be thought of as my big board for the top-100 players in this hypothetical draft.
Given the premise of only focusing on this season, certain questions have to be asked:
- How much weight do you put on 2014 performance versus a player's track record?
- How much stock do you put in a hot start from an unexpected player or a cold start from an established star?
- How much do injury concerns and early-season injuries hurt a player's stock, especially considering that this article is only focusing on this season's performance?
- Do you rank a stud rookie (e.g., Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu) over a struggling star who has established himself as one of the game's best in the past (e.g., David Price and Prince Fielder)?
What follows is my best attempt to answer those questions. For reference, I've included a look at where I had each player ranked in my preseason top 100 for reference, and I also included a look at all of the players who made my initial list before things were trimmed down to 100 on the next slide.
There is obviously a good amount of subjectivity that goes into a list like this, so I don't expect anyone to agree with me 100 percent. I ask only that you keep things civil in what promises to be a fun comments section.
*Number in parenthesis indicates player's preseason top-100 ranking.
Pitchers (+=player excluded due to injury)
Jose Fernandez (29)+, Mat Latos (41)+, Kenley Jansen (56), Francisco Liriano (57), Shelby Miller (58), Justin Masterson (70), Joe Nathan (71), Homer Bailey (74), Gerrit Cole (76), Matt Moore (80)+, Gio Gonzalez (81), Matt Cain (83), Doug Fister (88), Mike Minor (93), Corey Kluber (95), Jhoulys Chacin (97), Glen Perkins (100)
A.J. Burnett, Steve Cishek, Alex Cobb+, Yovani Gallardo, Dillon Gee, Jason Hammel, Matt Harvey+, Tom Koehler, John Lackey, Kyle Lohse, Jordan Lyles, Jake Peavy, Martin Perez+, Michael Pineda+, David Robertson, Sergio Romo, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Rafael Soriano, Chris Tillman, Jered Weaver, Alex Wood
Position Players (+=player excluded due to injury)
Bryce Harper (37)+, Prince Fielder (49), Allen Craig (52), Jose Reyes (59), Jay Bruce (62)+, Starling Marte (68), Shane Victorino (75), Carlos Beltran (77), Carlos Santana (79), Brian McCann (84), Jason Heyward (87), Wil Myers (89), Ian Desmond (91), Michael Cuddyer (94)+, Ian Kinsler (96), Hunter Pence (98), Alex Gordon (99)
Matt Adams, Pedro Alvarez, Brandon Belt+, Michael Brantley, Starlin Castro, Yoenis Cespedes, Brian Dozier, Todd Frazier, Josh Hamilton+, J.J. Hardy, Eric Hosmer, Juan Lagares, Adam LaRoche, Jed Lowrie, Jonathan Lucroy, Miguel Montero, Michael Morse, Brandon Moss, Anthony Rendon, Alex Rios, Jimmy Rollins, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Kyle Seager, Seth Smith, Yangervis Solarte, Mark Teixeira, Neil Walker, Matt Wieters+
First 10 Out
For what it's worth, Jose Fernandez was No. 5 on this list prior to the announcement that he was lost for the season to an elbow injury.
Also worth noting, with Bryce Harper out until July following thumb surgery and his production likely to be limited once he returns, he was not included in these rankings either.
100. 1B Justin Morneau, Colorado Rockies (Previous: NR)
The 32-year-old Morneau is enjoying a career renaissance in Colorado after signing a two-year, $12.5 million deal in the offseason to replace the retired Todd Helton. He's been a nice complimentary piece for the team's stars, and he gives them yet another proven run producer.
99. RP Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies (Previous: NR)
His first two years in Philadelphia were a mixed bag, but Papelbon has looked great so far this season, as he is again one of the top closers in the game. He's signed for $13 million next season, and he could become an interesting trade chip come July if the Phillies are willing to eat some salary.
98. 2B Daniel Murphy, New York Mets (Previous: NR)
The Mets offense has not matched their solid starting pitching this season, and Murphy has been one of the few bright spots at the plate. The 29-year-old has hit .298/.337/.423 since the start of the 2011 season, and he's quietly emerged as one of the top offensive second basemen in the game.
97. SP C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels (Previous: 90)
The Angels may regret the monster contracts they handed Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, but the five-year, $77.5 million deal they gave Wilson prior to the 2012 season has actually worked out. He's 34-20 with a 3.61 ERA in 75 starts since joining the team and remains one of the better left-handed starters around.
96. OF Nelson Cruz, Baltimore Orioles (Previous: NR)
After declining a $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Rangers at the start of the offseason, Cruz wound up settling for a one-year, $8 million from the Orioles just before the start of spring training. He's been an absolute steal at that price so far, and any concerns that his power numbers could drop off following a PED suspension have been put to rest.
95. 2B Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels (Previous: NR)
Kendrick has been a perennial threat to hit .300 since becoming an everyday player, but he's never walked more than 33 times in a season and never posted an OBP higher than .338 in a full-time role. He already has 17 walks in 151 at-bats this year, spiking his OBP to .386 and making him a bigger all-around offensive threat.
94. SS Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox (Previous: NR)
Considering that his .351 BABIP is by no means outrageous, there is some legitimacy to the red-hot start Ramirez has gotten off to this year. It will be interesting to see if the White Sox shop him, provided they fall out of contention, as he is signed through 2015 and no doubt has some trade value.
93. SP Jon Niese, New York Mets (Previous: NR)
Niese seemed poised for a breakout season after going 13-9 with a 3.40 ERA in 2012, but he took a step backward last season and then dealt with a hyperextended elbow this spring, which sidelined him to open the year. He's been terrific since returning, though, and he again finds himself in the role of staff ace while Matt Harvey recovers from Tommy John surgery.
92. 2B Dee Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers (Previous: NR)
After hitting just .229 in 397 at-bats over the past two seasons and spending some time in the minors, Gordon was essentially a forgotten man heading into 2014. However, when the Dodgers decided that Cuban import Alex Guerrero was not ready for the everyday second base job, Gordon seized the opportunity and is off to a fantastic start this year. He leads the league with 24 steals on just 27 attempts.
91. SP Jesse Chavez, Oakland Athletics (Previous: NR)
Chavez spent last season in the Oakland bullpen, posting a 3.92 ERA in 57.1 innings of work over 35 appearances. However, injuries this spring forced him into the rotation, and he's done a fantastic job. He rebounded from a rough outing by going eight innings and allowing two runs his last time out, and he looks like the real deal at this point.
90. LF Melky Cabrera, Toronto Blue Jays (Previous: NR)
Cabrera had his 2012 All-Star campaign cut short by a PED suspension, and it cost him a lot of money in free agency, as he wound up settling for a two-year, $16 million deal from the Blue Jays. Knee problems limited him to just 88 games last year, and he hit just .279 with a .682 OPS when he was on the field. He's back to his All-Star form this season, though.
89. RP Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals (Previous: 53)
In his first full season in the closer's role, Holland went 47-of-50 on save chances with a 1.21 ERA, 0.866 WHIP and 13.8 K/9 last year. He's not been quite as dominant in the early going this season, but he's still been solid, and he has undoubtedly emerged as one of the game's best closers.
88. SP Scott Kazmir, Oakland Athletics (Previous: NR)
Kazmir went from pitching in the independent league in 2012 to securing a minor league contract from the Indians last season to landing a two-year, $22 million deal from the Athletics this past winter. He's putting up the best numbers of his career right now and has done a great job of stepping in for the departed Bartolo Colon as the elder statesman of the Oakland staff.
87. C Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals (Previous: 86)
Still just 24, Perez is already one of the best all-around backstops in all of baseball, and the potential is there for him to be the game's best a few years down the road. He posted a .757 OPS with 13 home runs and 79 RBI last season on his way to his first All-Star appearance, and while he's off to a relatively slow start at the plate this year, he's worthy of consideration here based on his defense alone.
86. SP Nathan Eovaldi, Miami Marlins (Previous: NR)
Jose Fernandez gets the bulk of the national attention among Marlins pitchers, and understandably so, but they have a solid young staff from top to bottom, and Eovaldi has a chance to be something special as well. The 24-year-old throws hard, averaging 95.9 mph on his fastball this year, per FanGraphs, and he has the secondary stuff to make him a plus starter for years to come.
85. 1B Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs (Previous: NR)
After posting an .805 OPS with 15 home runs in 337 at-bats in 2012, Rizzo took a step backward in his first full season last year, posting a .233 BA, .742 OPS and 23 home runs in 606 at-bats. He's back on track this season, though, and remains an integral building block in the Cubs efforts to return to contention.
84. SP Dan Haren, Los Angeles Dodgers (Previous: NR)
Despite going just 22-27 with a 4.50 ERA over the past two seasons, Haren managed to land a one-year, $10 million deal from the Dodgers this past offseason, thanks in part to his strong finish with the Nationals last season. The 33-year-old has looked like the Haren of old so far this year, making an already great Dodgers rotation that much better.
83. 2B Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays (Previous: 82)
Is it possible for a guy to be called underrated so many times that he in fact becomes overrated or at the very least properly-rated? Regardless, Zobrist is a valuable player for the Rays given his defensive versatility and nice mix of power and speed. He's been good for 32.3 WAR over the past five years, which is good for third among all position players over that span.
82. SP Garrett Richards, Los Angeles Angels (Previous: NR)
The No. 42 pick in the 2009 draft and the No. 83 prospect, per Baseball America, in baseball heading into the 2012 season, Richards finally broke through in the second half in 2013. He was 5-4 with a 3.72 ERA in 13 starts down the stretch last season after finally joining the rotation full time, and he's built off of that with a fantastic start to the 2014 season. Still just 25, he looks like he could be the ace of the Angels staff in the very near future.
81. 2B Jason Kipnis, Cleveland Indians (Previous: 61)
Kipnis slides down this list a bit due to a slow start at the plate and an oblique injury that currently has him on the sidelines, but he remains one of the game's best second basemen. He truly broke out last season, finishing 11th in AL MVP voting and making his first All-Star team. The 27-year-old looks like he'll be the face of the Indians for the long term after signing a six-year extension back in April.
80. LF Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals (Previous: 63)
For as often as $100 million-plus contracts fail, rarely have you heard a bad thing said about the seven-year, $120 million deal Holliday signed with the Cardinals back in 2010. He's not an elite offensive player, but he's as consistent as they come and always a safe bet for something in the neighborhood of a .300 BA, 25-HR and 100-RBI campaign each year.
79. RP Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds (Previous: 58)
A liner off the bat of Royals catcher Salvador Perez this spring resulted in a gruesome injury for Chapman, as he had to have a plate inserted above his left eye to repair a fracture in his skull. He's back dialing his fastball up to triple digits in Cincinnati now, though, and there is no ignoring his 329 strikeouts in 200.2 career innings.
78. SP Tim Hudson, San Francisco Giants (Previous: NR)
The Giants took a chance on signing the 38-year-old Hudson to a two-year, $23 million deal this offseason to replace Barry Zito in the rotation, as the veteran was coming off of ankle surgery after his 2013 season ended prematurely when he broke his ankle covering first base. He's been fantastic so far, though, helping the Giants rotation get back on track as a clear upgrade over the much-maligned Zito.
77. 3B Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals (Previous: 48)
In his first full season as a stater last year, Carpenter filled a major void atop the Cardinals lineup and emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate. He led the league in hits (199), runs (126) and doubles (55), and he wound up finishing fourth in NL MVP voting. He's not quite as valuable offensively now that he's moved from second to third, but he remains a high-OBP bat atop the lineup.
76. SS Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta Braves (Previous: 73)
The game's top defensive shortstop, and perhaps best defensive player period, Simmons is still refining his offensive game at this point in his career. His 27 doubles and 17 home runs were a pleasant surprise last season, even though he had an OPS of just .692. Regardless, he is a top-100 player based on his defense alone, and he is one of the most exciting players in the game today.
75. CF Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles (Previous: 33)
While Jones has certainly established himself as a star in the middle of the Orioles lineup, his inability to draw a walk keeps him from being one of the game's truly elite offensive players. He has an OBP of just .322 since becoming an everyday player in 2008, and with a slow start at the plate here in 2014, he slides down the list a decent amount.
74. 2B Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies (Previous: NR)
Utley topped the 130-game mark for the first time since 2009 last year and proved that he can still be one of the game's top offensive second baseman in the process, hitting .284 with an .823 OPS. He got off to a red-hot start this year, and while he's likely due for some regression with a .368 BABIP, he remains a top-100 player as long as he's healthy.
73. SP Mark Buehrle, Toronto Blue Jays (Previous: NR)
The definition of the word consistent, Buehrle has made 31-plus starts, pitched 200-plus innings and won double-digit games in each of his 13 seasons as a starter. He's off to a great start this year, and even with some regression he's still one of the more reliable arms in the American League. The 35-year-old is just seven wins away from 200 for his career.
72. CF Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers (Previous: NR)
With Prince Fielder gone, Jackson was one person the Tigers clearly needed to step up in the middle of the lineup, and he's done just that so far this season. Moving out of the leadoff spot, where his high strikeout rate was a hindrance, may be the best thing that could have happened to him from an offensive standpoint.
71. SP Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies (Previous: 38)
The victim of some terrible luck last year, when he went 8-14 despite a 3.60 ERA (3.26 FIP), Hamels missed the first 20 games of this season while dealing with shoulder tendinitis. His numbers don't look great since he returned, but he finally looked to be rounding into form his last time out, when he allowed one run and struck out 10 in seven innings of work against the Mets.
70. SP Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals (Previous: NR)
The hard-throwing Ventura won a rotation spot out of spring training, and the 22-year-old has given the Royals' rotation a big boost after the team lost Ervin Santana to free agency in the offseason. There were some questions as to whether he would stick as a starter, but he has certainly looked the part so far.
69. 1B Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles (Previous: 13)
Some regression was to be expected from Davis after his monster 53-HR, 138-RBI season last year, and a strained oblique that cost him a 15-day DL stint has not helped matters either. The 28-year-old has legitimate power, but he's probably more likely to hit .250 with 30-plus home runs than he is to hit .286 with 53 longballs like he did last year.
68. RP Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers (Previous: NR)
Signed to a one-year, $3.25 million deal to rejoin the Brewers in the offseason, presumably to pitch in the eighth inning and set up Jim Henderson, K-Rod has instead seized the closer's job and been nearly perfect so far. The 32-year-old converted his first 15 save chances before finally blowing one, and he's been as big a reason as any for the Brewers hot start.
67. SP Ian Kennedy, San Diego Padres (Previous: NR)
After going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA in 2011 while pitching for the Diamondbacks, Kennedy has gone 22-22 with a 4.43 ERA over the past two seasons, and the Padres bought low on him at the trade deadline last year. That is looking more and more like a brilliant move, as he is pitching at a high level once again and still has a year of team control left next year.
66. 3B Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics (Previous: 55)
Donaldson struggled to the point of demotion in 2012, but he came back strong in the second half that season and seemingly used that as a springboard for a breakout 2013 season. He hit .301/.384/.499 with 24 home runs and 93 RBI last year to finish fourth in AL MVP voting, and while he may not quite reach those numbers again this year, he has emerged as one of the game's better all-around third basemen.
65. SP Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals (Previous: 64)
Once a largely overlooked third starter behind Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, it has been Zimmermann who has been the Nationals' most consistent start for the past year-plus. He was 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA and 1.088 WHIP last year to finish seventh in NL Cy Young voting, and he's off to a solid start once again this year.
64. RP Huston Street, San Diego Padres (Previous: NR)
Currently ranked fifth on the active saves list with 246 for his career, Street is a dazzling 67-for-70 on save chances since joining the Padres in 2012, and he's been perfect so far this season. The 30-year-old is signed through this season with a $7 million option for next year, and it will be interesting to see if the Padres make a move to re-sign him or opt to deal him.
63. CF Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies (Previous: NR)
With a .331 BABIP, the hot start that Blackmon has put together looks to be at least somewhat legit. Regardless, a quarter of the way into this season, there is no ignoring just how good the 27-year-old has been. He's made the Rockies look brilliant for dealing Dexter Fowler to the Astros, as that move netted them a plus arm in Jordan Lyles, and Blackmon also has better numbers than Fowler by far.
62. SP Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers (Previous: 50)
More than a few people questioned the Tigers' decision to give Sanchez a five-year, $80 million extension last offseason, but he responded with the best season of his career, winning the AL ERA title with a 2.57 mark and effectively giving the Tigers a third ace. Blister problems have landed him on the DL this season, but he's expected back soon, and he's still one of the AL's top arms when healthy.
61. 1B Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox (Previous: NR)
Napoli played a huge role in the Red Sox's worst-to-first turnaround last season, as he posted an .842 OPS with 23 home runs and a team-high 92 RBI while playing surprisingly good defense at first base. The team rewarded him with a two-year, $32 million extension in the offseason, and he's again been a major contributor in the middle of their lineup.
60. SP James Shields, Kansas City Royals (Previous: 60)
The Royals pulled the trigger on a huge trade when they acquired Shields last offseason, shipping a prospect package built around Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi to the Rays in order to acquire the workhorse right-hander. The 32-year-old is 94-74 with a 3.71 ERA over the past seven seasons while averaging 223 innings per year, and he's set to hit free agency at the end of the season.
59. RP Koji Uehara, Boston Red Sox (Previous: 66)
Uehara was the Red Sox fourth option to close games heading into last year, but he took the job and ran with it, going 20-of-22 on save chances with a 0.41 ERA after transitioning to the ninth-inning role. His breakout season included a stretch in which he retired 37 straight batters and ALCS MVP honors, and he's been lights out once again this year.
58. LF Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves (Previous: 69)
It's almost impossible to believe that Upton is still only 26 years old, as this is already his eighth big league season. And while he has still not established himself as a superstar, he remains one of the game's better offensive outfielders. His 49 strikeouts in 133 at-bats are troubling, but the power is still there, and when he's hot he's capable of single-handedly carrying an offense.
57. 3B Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles (Previous: 47)
Machado is still shaking off the rust after missing the first 24 games of the season while recovering from knee surgery, but he's simply too talented to fall any lower in the rankings. Still just 21, he emerged as the game's top defensive third baseman last year while also taking a big step forward offensively.
56. SP Ervin Santana, Atlanta Braves (Previous: NR)
Still without a home late in spring training, Santana finally signed with the Braves on a one-year, $14.1 million deal that matched the qualifying offer he declined from the Royals at the start of the offseason. The Braves really had no choice but to sign him after three-fifths of their projected rotation landed on the DL to open the season, but the move has already paid huge dividends, as the 31-year-old has been one of the NL's top starters.
55. 1B Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays (Previous: 42)
The most impressive statistic that Encarnacion posted last season may have been the fact that he walked more than he struck out (82 BB, 62 K), a rare feat for anyone, let alone one of the game's top power hitters. He's gotten off to a relatively slow start this year after posting an OPS over .900 the past two seasons, but he remains as feared a hitter as any in the AL when he's hot.
54. SP Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners (Previous: 46)
A strained tendon in the middle finger on his throwing hand cost Iwakuma the first 27 games of the season, but he's picked up right where he left off since returning. On the strength of one of the best splitters in the game, he was 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA to finish third in AL Cy Young voting last year, and he's been a real find for the Mariners.
53. SP Andrew Cashner, San Diego Padres (Previous: NR)
After opening the season in the bullpen last year, Cashner eventually joined the Padres starting rotation, and he wound up going 5-4 with a 2.14 ERA in 11 starts after the All-Star break. That was enough to make him the Padres' Opening Day starter heading into this season, and despite what his record may suggest he has actually been one of the NL's best pitchers. He looks like the face of the franchise at this point.
52. SP Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals (Previous: 35)
Strasburg went just 8-9 in 30 starts last season despite a 3.00 ERA and 1.049 WHIP, but his peripheral numbers are down this season, as he's off to a somewhat disappointing start. He still has all the talent in the world, and it still seems like only a matter of time before everything falls into place and he has a monster season, but for now he's simply a very good starter.
51. CF Angel Pagan, San Francisco Giants (Previous: NR)
The importance of Pagan to the Giants' success can't be overstated, as the team was 39-32 (.549) with him in the lineup last year compared to just 37-54 (.407) without him. He's healthy once again and has been a dynamic catalyst atop what is an all-around improved Giants offensive attack.
50. DH Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers (Previous: NR)
After leading all of baseball last season with a .361 batting average after the All-Star break, Martinez has stepped into the role of protecting Miguel Cabrera in the Tigers lineup after Prince Fielder was dealt to the Rangers. He's off to a fantastic start this season and is putting up significantly better numbers than Fielder at this point, as he's setting himself up for a nice payday in free agency next offseason.
49. SP Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves (Previous: 85)
Teheran had a rocky first month as a rookie last season, posting a 5.08 ERA through his first five starts, but he was 13-8 with a 2.86 ERA over 25 starts the rest of the way to finish fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting. He essentially had the role of staff ace thrust upon him this season after Kris Medlen and Mike Minor both went down with injuries, but he has looked the part through eight starts.
48. 1B Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers (Previous: 39)
His 40-homer days look like a thing of the past, but Gonzalez remains one of the game's most consistent run producers, having driven in at least 99 runs in each of the past seven seasons. On top of that, he's a legitimate threat to hit .300 each season while playing plus defense at first base, as he just a solid all-around player.
47. SP Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics (Previous: NR)
The de facto ace of the Athletics staff after Jarrod Parker went down with an injury and Bartolo Colon departed in free agency, Gray has built off of a strong showing as a rookie with a great start to the 2014 season. With a plus fastball and one of the best curveballs in the game, the 24-year-old has all the tools to anchor the Oakland staff for years to come.
46. SP Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals (Previous: 67)
It's easy to forget that Wacha had just 64.2 big league innings under his belt when the postseason rolled around last year, but he came up huge in October when he was 4-1 with a 2.65 ERA in five starts and won NLCS MVP honors. Now the clear No. 2 starter behind Adam Wainwright on a very good Cardinals staff, Wacha is already on his way to a great first full season in the majors.
45. CF Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers (Previous: NR)
Slowed by myriad injuries over the past couple seasons, including a serious ankle injury, Kemp finally looks to be healthy. He's been red hot at the plate of late, and when he's right he remains one of the most dynamic all-around players in the game.
44. SP Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs (Previous: NR)
Samardzija has been the victim of some terrible luck so far this season, as the Cubs have managed just 15 runs of support in his eight starts. Still, his peripheral numbers are great across the board, as he looks to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 season. All signs point to him being moved at the deadline, and he could wind up being the market's top arm.
43. SP Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers (Previous: 44)
An ace on most teams, Greinke has given the Dodgers the big second arm they were looking for behind ace Clayton Kershaw, and that six-year, $147 million deal he signed is looking more and more reasonable. He's done a nice job stepping up here in the early going with Kershaw sidelined, and with the staff back at full strength, the Dodgers may have the best rotation in baseball.
42. 1B Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox (Previous: NR)
The White Sox took a major risk by signing Abreu to a six-year, $68 million deal this winter, as no one was quite sure how his power bat would translate to the big league level after he put up huge numbers in Cuba. The early returns have been better than anyone could have imagined, though, as he won AL Player of the Month in April. He's in line for some regression, as a 37.8 HR/FB% is not sustainable, but his power is for real, and he looks like the clear front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year honors at this point.
41. 3B Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers (Previous: 17)
Beltre is off to a slow start, and considering he's in his age-35 season, that can't simply be overlooked. However, he's still earned the benefit of the doubt after a string of terrific seasons. He's quietly established himself as one of the best all-around third basemen of all time, and he could have a legitimate Hall of Fame case with a couple more productive seasons.
40. RP Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves (Previous: 36)
He's blown two saves in the early going, and his 2.51 ERA is well above his career mark, but Kimbrel remains the game's premier closer at this point and should be just fine over the long term. His fastball/slider combination is nothing short of devastating, as his 409 strikeouts in 241.2 innings of work can attest.
39. SP David Price, Tampa Bay Rays (Previous: 25)
The Rays rotation as a whole has been a tremendous disappointment so far this season, and Price has failed to step up with the staff being hit hard by injuries. He still gets the benefit of the doubt at this point, and while he was great his last time out, he does slide down the rankings some. One has to wonder if the Rays will revisit the idea of trading him should they continue to struggle.
38. DH David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox (Previous: 28)
Remember back in 2009 when Ortiz hit just .238 and was written off as washed up? Four-plus seasons and 123 home runs later, he's certainly gotten the last laugh there, as Big Papi is still going strong at the age of 38. At some point, he's going to drop off, and it will likely be a swift one when it happens, but for now he remains one of the game's most consistent sluggers.
37. 3B Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies (Previous: NR)
No position player climbed higher in these rankings than Arenado, as he has taken a huge step forward at the plate in his second season after already proving that he was an elite defender by taking Gold Glove honors as a rookie. He has already put together a 28-game hitting streak this season and is well on his way to making his first All-Star appearance. He looks to be establishing himself as one of the game's best third basemen.
36. RF Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers (Previous: 65)
You can call him overrated (I have), and you can point to his high BABIP as a cause for concern (I have also done that, as it's a hefty .383 for his career), but Puig just continues to produce, and it's hard to argue with production. He's currently riding a career-best 13-game hitting streak, and while I still think the league and luck will catch up to him at some point, it's hard to rank him any lower than this.
35. CF Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees (Previous: 51)
He may never duplicate the power numbers he showed in 2011 (46 2B, 32 HR), but Ellsbury remains one of the game's elite table-setters, and his Yankees career is off to a very nice start. Whether or not he's worth the seven-year, $153 million deal he got this offseason is debatable, but his place among the game's top outfielders is not.
34. SS Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers (Previous: 16)
Had he not missed significant time at the beginning of last season with thumb and hamstring injuries, Ramirez may very well have walked away with NL MVP honors. He wound up hitting .345 with 20 home runs and a 1.040 OPS in 86 games, and once the Dodgers decided to extend him he should be in line for a huge payday.
33. 1B Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins (Previous: 23)
Many predicted a spike in Mauer's power numbers when he made the full-time move to first base this season, and while we have not seen that yet, he remains one of the best pure hitters in all of baseball. He does lose some value moving out from behind the plate, but it should help prolong his career as the Twins look to get the most out of their star.
32. 3B David Wright, New York Mets (Previous: 22)
The face of the Mets franchise and one of the best third baseman in the game, Wright is off to a slow start this season, but he is capable of putting up MVP-caliber numbers as long as he's healthy. Look no further than last season, when he hit .307/.390/.514 with 18 home runs in 430 at-bats but was limited to just 112 games due to a hamstring injury.
31. SP Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees (Previous: NR)
So far, so good as Tanaka makes the transition from being the top arm in Japan to pitching in the Bronx. Expectations were certainly high after the team gave him a seven-year, $155 million deal, but he has pitched like an ace so far, and the Yankees have needed him to with the rest of the staff battling injuries and inconsistency.
30. LF Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies (Previous: 30)
Despite the fact that he's currently one of the least productive regulars in a loaded Rockies lineup, Gonzalez remains an elite talent and one of the best all-around outfielders in the game. He's had some trouble staying healthy, which keeps him out of the top 25, but he's put together four straight 20/20 seasons and hit .311 in the process.
29. SP Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies (Previous: 18)
Lee had a rough Opening Day start in which he allowed eight earned runs in five innings of work, but he has a 2.24 ERA in his eight starts since that time, and he remains one of the most consistent starters in the game. He's still due $25 million next season and has a $12.5 million buyout on a $27.5 million contract in 2016, but the Phillies could consider moving him at the deadline if they decide to rebuild.
28. 1B Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels (Previous: 45)
Healthy once again after missing 61 games last season with a foot injury, Pujols is once again producing at a high level, and he reached a milestone in April when he launched his 500th career home run. He's not the MVP-caliber star he once was, but a .275 BA, 35-HR, 110-RBI season seems well within reach.
27. LF Shin-Soo Choo, Texas Rangers (Previous: 31)
One of the game's premier on-base threats, Choo signed a seven-year, $130 million deal with the Rangers in the offseason, and he currently leads the AL with a .457 on-base percentage. He's back to playing a corner outfield spot, where he is better suited defensively after playing center field last year, making him that much more valuable overall.
26. 3B Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays (Previous: 21)
Longoria remains the face of the Rays franchise, and if I had to pick one third baseman to have on my team right now, he would be my guy. He's come up with clutch hits, is a proven run producer, has plus power and is one of the better defensive third baseman in the game to boot.
25. SP Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants (Previous: 32)
The Giants starting rotation was a major disappointment last season, and it was a big reason why they came up well short of expectations, but Madison Bumgarner continued to climb the ranks of the game's top arms, going 13-9 with a 2.77 ERA and 199 strikeouts to finish ninth in NL Cy Young voting.
Still just 24, he has a bright future ahead of him, and he should anchor the Giants staff for the foreseeable future.
24. 2B Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox (Previous: 19)
Year in and year out, Dustin Pedroia is a solid producer for the Red Sox, whether he's hitting leadoff and setting the table or hitting third and serving as a run producer.
A thumb injury last season and a wrist injury early on this year have sapped his power, but he remains one of the best offensive second basemen in the game. Throw in his plus defense and the intangible leadership qualities he brings to the clubhouse, and he's undoubtedly a top-25 player.
23. SP Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox (Previous: 43)
Jon Lester cemented himself as one of the game's top starting pitchers last year with a bounce-back regular season and a fantastic postseason, capped off by a pair of wins in the World Series in which he allowed just nine hits and one run in 15.1 innings of work.
The 30-year-old is a free agent at season's end, and after declining a four-year, $70 million extension offer in the offseason, it will be interesting to see if he not only sticks around in Boston but also what he winds up earning with the ever-climbing cost of starting pitching.
22. 2B Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners (Previous: 11)
It's not often that a team manages to sign someone away from the Yankees, but the Mariners did just that when they shelled out a massive 10-year, $240 million deal for Robinson Cano in free agency this winter.
The power has not been there in the early going for Cano, but he remains one of the best offensive players in all of baseball and the game's top second baseman. The back end of his contract will almost certainly be an albatross, but for the time being he's well worth it.
21. CF Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers (Previous: 40)
After a breakout season of sorts in 2012, during which he hit .260 with 19 home runs and 37 stolen bases, the Brewers gave Carlos Gomez a three-year, $24 million extension. That looks like an absolute steal now after he took his game to another level entirely last season on his way to an 8.9 WAR.
One of the best power/speed threats in the game, Gomez also showed improved plate discipline last season while continuing to play some of the best defensive center field in all of baseball. The health of Ryan Braun is key for the Brewers, but the production of Gomez is equally important at this point.
20. SP Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox (Previous: 14)
An elbow strain that currently has him on the 15-day DL slides Chris Sale down these rankings a bit, but he remains one of the top pitchers in the game. Furthermore, the injury does not look to be serious, as he is set to begin a rehab assignment on Thursday, per Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
There are legitimate concerns about his long-term health given his funky, max-effort delivery, but he has been lights out over the past two seasons, and until a serious injury occurs he has to be considered one of the top pitchers in baseball.
19. LF Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers (Previous: 27)
The Brewers led the National League in scoring in 2012, but slipped to eighth last year. The fact that Ryan Braun played in just 61 games while battling injury and serving a 65-game PED suspension is a big reason why.
He was just recently activated from the DL after suffering an oblique injury, and he's also dealt with some thumb issues this season, so injuries are a legitimate concern. When he has been in the lineup, though, he has proved once again to be an elite offensive threat and someone capable of making the Brewers serious contenders.
18. 1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds (Previous: 9)
Patience may be a virtue, but it has led to some criticism for Joey Votto over the past few seasons, as many would like him to be more aggressive at the plate as opposed to walking so much. Still, it's hard to argue with a guy who has led the NL in on-base percentage in each of the past four seasons and is over .400 once again this year.
He's never going to be a prototypical masher at the first base position, but Votto is an incredibly valuable hitter, and the team's decision to move him to the No. 2 spot in the lineup maximizes his on-base skills.
17. RF Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins (Previous: 34)
With 117 home runs before his 24th birthday, it's hard not to get excited about the potential Giancarlo Stanton had shown through his first four big league seasons, but injuries had kept him from putting it all together for one huge season.
He's healthy now though, and that huge season may be in the works, as he currently leads the NL with 11 home runs and 42 RBI through his first 154 at-bats. He has the best raw power in baseball and plus on-base skills. A .300/.400/.500 season with 40-plus home runs is by no means out of the question.
16. SP Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds (Previous: 72)
Injuries limited Johnny Cueto to just 11 starts last season, and that was reason enough for me to rank him fairly low at No. 72 in my preseason rankings. But he has shown no lingering effects this season and is once again one of the game's elite starting pitchers.
The 28-year-old was 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA to finish fourth in NL Cy Young voting back in 2012. The Reds are counting on a similar showing this year as their staff has not been nearly as effective with Homer Bailey struggling and both Mat Latos and Tony Cingrani dealing with injuries.
15. SP Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers (Previous: 26)
It's fair to say that Max Scherzer has been the ace of the Tigers' staff since the start of last season, and remains the team's top starter today, but Justin Verlander has gotten things back on track after a subpar 2013 campaign and again looks like one of the game's best.
Things finally seemed to click for the 31-year-old in September and on into the postseason last year, and after a dominant showing in spring training he is off to a great start to the 2014 season. He has turned in a quality start in seven of his eight outings, and has not allowed more than three runs in any start.
14. C Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants (Previous: 20)
After winning the batting title and NL MVP honors in 2012, Buster Posey took a step back offensively in 2013, but he was still one of the most productive catchers in baseball and the most dangerous hitter in the Giants' lineup.
He's putting up elite numbers once again this season, and could be in for career highs in home runs and RBI thanks to an improved offense around him that is the best he's ever been part of. At some point he'll likely move out from behind the plate, but until he does he remains one of the most valuable players in the game.
13. RF Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays (Previous: 54)
An injury-plagued 2013 season in which he played just 118 games and put up relatively pedestrian numbers kept Jose Bautista out of the top 50 in my preseason rankings, but he is back to hitting at an elite level in the early going this season.
He currently leads the AL with 34 walks, and has reached base in all but one game so far this year, as his ability to get on base is just as valuable as his light-tower power and run production skills. As long as he stays healthy, which has been an issue the past couple seasons, he's a shoo-in to be a top 20 performer.
12. 1B Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves (Previous: 15)
Handed the everyday first base job as a 21-year-old in 2011, Freddie Freeman took a huge step forward at the plate last year after a solid first two seasons, hitting .319/.396/.501 with 23 home runs and 109 RBI and giving the Braves' wildly inconsistent lineup a bat they could count on.
His impressive season earned him an eight-year, $135 million deal in what was just his first year of arbitration eligibility, so he'll be an anchor in the middle of the Braves lineup for the foreseeable future. He finished fifth in NL MVP voting last year, and may very well win one in the next couple years.
11. SP Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals (Previous: 8)
Adam Wainwright proved he was all the way back from 2011 Tommy John surgery last year, going 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA in an NL-high 241.2 innings of work to finish second in NL Cy Young voting.
The definition of a workhorse, the 32-year-old was at 276.2 innings by the time the postseason wrapped up, and he is one of the few true staff aces in the game today. He's had a tough time with the Cubs this year, allowing 24 hits and 12 runs in 18 innings, but he's been lights out against everyone else and looks to be a serious Cy Young contender once again.
10. SP Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers (Previous: 10)
Following a very good rookie season in 2012, Yu Darvish took a huge step forward last year, lowering his ERA from 3.90 to 2.83 and striking out a whopping 277 hitters in 209.2 innings to finish second in AL Cy Young voting behind Max Scherzer.
He has some of the best stuff in all of baseball, and the six-year, $56 million deal the Rangers signed him to after ponying up a $51.7 million posting fee is an absolute steal. The 27-year-old lost a no-hitter with two outs in the eighth last time out, the second time in his career that has happened, and it seems like only a matter of time before he twirls one.
9. CF Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates (Previous: 6)
The reigning NL MVP, Andrew McCutchen has been counted on to carry the Pirates' offense the past few seasons. A huge second half last year was a big reason why the team was able to snap their 20-year postseason drought.
He's off to a terrific start once again this year, as the full toolbox has been on display once again. He's capable of contending for a batting title while making a run at 30/30 and winning a Gold Glove, not something many players in the game today can say.
8. SP Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers (Previous: 12)
Things finally all fell into place for the supremely talented Max Scherzer last season, as he went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts in 214.1 innings of work, claiming AL Cy Young honors and assuming the role of staff ace with Justin Verlander battling through a down season.
A free agent at season's end, the 29-year-old turned down a six-year, $144 million extension in the offseason, and there is a good chance he receives substantially more if he keeps pitching like he has. A big reason for the Tigers' decision to deal Prince Fielder and Doug Fister was to free up money for a Scherzer extension, so expect the Tigers to do whatever it takes to bring him back.
7. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks (Previous: 7)
If he were playing for a contender last season, Paul Goldschmidt would have been an easy choice for NL MVP honors, as he hit .302/.401/.551 while leading the NL with 36 home runs and 125 RBI.
Still just 26, Goldschmidt has quickly gone from opening eyes in his first full season with 20 home runs, 18 steals and an .850 OPS to being perhaps the most feared hitter in the National League. The five-year, $32 million extension the team got him to sign last year looks like borderline robbery at this point.
6. C Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (Previous: 5)
Already the top defensive backstop in the game for a number of years, Yadier Molina has emerged as one of the best hitters in the National League over the past few seasons, regardless of position.
He set career highs with 44 doubles and 80 RBI in 2013, hitting over .300 for the third straight season and winning his sixth consecutive Gold Glove. There may be no one in baseball who means more to the success of his team than Molina, as he does a fantastic job handling the Cardinals' talented young staff.
5. SP Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners (Previous: 4)
Felix Hernandez has pitched at least 200 innings and posted an ERA of 3.50 or lower in each of the past six seasons, as he remains one of the game's elite starting pitchers and the face of a rebuilding Mariners team.
He's not the same electric pitcher he was when he broke into the league as a 19-year-old, but it's because he does not need to be anymore. He's refined his stuff and gets by more on location and the ability to mix his pitches than he does on pure stuff. It's hard to believe he's still just 28 years old. With an improved team around him perhaps he can finally rack up some wins this year.
4. SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (Previous: 1)
The back issues that cost him the first 31 games of the season are enough for me to bump Clayton Kershaw from the No. 1 spot in these rankings, but he remains the game's best pitcher and considering it was his first trip to the DL it's not a huge cause for concern.
Expectations have been bumped up a notch after the 26-year-old agreed to a record seven-year, $215 million extension in the offseason, and he does have something to prove after a rough showing in the NLCS last year. With three straight NL ERA titles and two Cy Young awards in three years, he's already built himself quite a resume.
3. SS Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies (Previous: 24)
Injury questions will always be part of the conversation for Troy Tulowitzki, as he played just 173 games the past two years and has topped the 150-game mark just twice in his career. As things stand right now though, he's your NL MVP and a huge reason why the Rockies are off to such a great start.
Tulowitzki remains the best all-around shortstop in baseball and is the best hitter in the National League when he's at 100 percent. If I'm building a team for the rest of the year, which is what these rankings reflect, I still take the next two guys on this list ahead of him because of the injury questions. Based on 2014 production alone, though, he's been the best player in the game.
2. 1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (Previous: 3)
Were it not for a groin injury that limited him to one home run and seven RBI in September last year, Miguel Cabrera may very well have won another Triple Crown. As it was, he still managed a third straight batting title and second consecutive AL MVP.
He got off to a relatively slow start this year, but has begun heating up of late, hitting .340/.385/.681 with four home runs and 18 RBI in 12 games this month. When the dust settles on 2014, another batting title and AL MVP award is a very real possibility for what remains the best hitter on the planet.
1. CF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (Previous: 2)
Yes, he's struck out 48 times in 152 at-bats. Yes, just 6-for-42 in the month of May. Yes, his OPS is down 121 points right now from where it was last year.
All that said, 38 games this season are not reason enough for me to call anyone but Mike Trout the best all-around player in baseball. If he's still struggling come midseason that could be a different story, but at this point what he did over his first two seasons in the league far outweighs his struggles in the early going this year.
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Arizona Diamondbacks (1): 1B Paul Goldschmidt
Atlanta Braves (6): 1B Freddie Freeman, RP Craig Kimbrel, SP Julio Teheran, LF Justin Upton, SP Ervin Santana, SS Andrelton Simmons
Baltimore Orioles (4): 3B Manny Machado, 1B Chris Davis, CF Adam Jones, LF Nelson Cruz
Boston Red Sox (5): 2B Dustin Pedroia, SP Jon Lester, DH David Ortiz, RP Koji Uehara, 1B Mike Napoli
Chicago Cubs (2): SP Jeff Samardzija, 1B Anthony Rizzo
Chicago White Sox (3): SP Chris Sale, 1B Jose Abreu, SS Alexei Ramirez
Cincinnati Reds (3): SP Johnny Cueto, 1B Joey Votto, RP Aroldis Chapman
Cleveland Indians (1): 2B Jason Kipnis
Colorado Rockies (5): SS Troy Tulowitzki, LF Carlos Gonzalez, 3B Nolan Arenado, CF Charlie Blackmon, 1B Justin Morneau
Detroit Tigers (6): 1B Miguel Cabrera, SP Max Scherzer, SP Justin Verlander, DH Victor Martinez, SP Anibal Sanchez, CF Austin Jackson
Houston Astros (0)
Kansas City Royals (4): SP James Shields, SP Yordano Ventura, C Salvador Perez, RP Greg Holland
Los Angeles Angels (5): CF Mike Trout, 1B Albert Pujols, SP Garrett Richards, 2B Howie Kendrick, SP C.J. Wilson
Los Angeles Dodgers (8): SP Clayton Kershaw, SS Hanley Ramirez, RF Yasiel Puig, SP Zack Greinke, CF Matt Kemp, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, SP Dan Haren, 2B Dee Gordon
Miami Marlins (2): RF Giancarlo Stanton, SP Nathan Eovaldi
Milwaukee Brewers (3): RF Ryan Braun, CF Carlos Gomez, RP Francisco Rodriguez
Minnesota Twins (1): 1B Joe Mauer
New York Mets (3): 3B David Wright, SP Jon Niese, 2B Daniel Murphy
New York Yankees (2): SP Masahiro Tanaka, CF Jacoby Ellsbury
Oakland Athletics (4): SP Sonny Gray, 3B Josh Donaldson, SP Scott Kazmir, SP Jesse Chavez
Philadelphia Phillies (4): SP Cliff Lee, SP Cole Hamels, 2B Chase Utley, RP Jonathan Papelbon
Pittsburgh Pirates (1): CF Andrew McCutchen
San Diego Padres (3): SP Andrew Cashner, RP Huston Street, Ian Kennedy
San Francisco Giants (4): C Buster Posey, SP Madison Bumgarner, CF Angel Pagan, SP Tim Hudson
Seattle Mariners (3): SP Felix Hernandez, 2B Robinson Cano, SP Hisashi Iwakuma
St. Louis Cardinals (5): C Yadier Molina, SP Adam Wainwright, SP Michael Wacha, 3B Matt Carpenter, LF Matt Holliday
Tampa Bay Rays (3): 3B Evan Longoria, SP David Price, 2B Ben Zobrist
Texas Rangers (3): SP Yu Darvish, LF Shin-Soo Choo, 3B Adrian Beltre
Toronto Blue Jays (4): RF Jose Bautista, 1B Edwin Encarnacion, SP Mark Buehrle, LF Melky Cabrera
Washington Nationals (2): SP Stephen Strasburg, SP Jordan Zimmermann
First Basemen: 13
Second Basemen: 8
Third Basemen: 7
Left Fielders: 6
Center Fielders: 9
Right Fielders: 4
Designated Hitters: 2
Starting Pitchers: 37
Relief Pitchers: 7
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