Spring training is more than half over and the World Baseball Classic is winding down.
Time, then, to look at the best players in baseball, going into the 2017 season. That is, who among all players, at each position, is the kind of guy a manager can’t do without.
The best in the game in 2016 were MVP’s Kris Bryant (NL) and Mike Trout (AL), along with Cy Young winners Rick Porcello (AL) and Max Scherzer (NL). Rookies of the Year were Michael Fulmer (AL) and Corey Seager (NL).
With the new season approaching, we can take into account the contributions that several superstars made to their teams, however, when looking at the best, we take into account a body of work and the impact the player has on his team and the league.
Therefore, we have analyzed offensive, defensive and pitching stats and have come up with two players from each position (except DH) that any manager would be thrilled to have on his roster. The list is split fairly equally between NL and AL, with 10 players from each.
We start with catchers and work our way out.
20. Yadier Molina, C – St. Louis Cardinals
Despite a drop in runners thrown out in 2016, Yadier Molina is still the best catcher in baseball. In the last nine seasons, he has been an all-star seven times, a Gold Glover eight times, won one of two world championships and a Silver Slugger award. Molina has handled the Cards’ pitching staff well and owns a career .995 fielding percentage (he led the majors at .998 in 2016), as well as a career 42 percent success rate at throwing out prospective base stealers. He is as consistent a hitter at the plate of any catcher in baseball, logging a batting average of .285 and slugging percentage of .400. He has hit 108 career homers and has 703 RBI, too. Molina’s strikeouts are very close to his bases on balls, too, showing he has a pretty good batting eye (584 career strikeouts to 427 bases on balls). A keeper, even in his old age (34).
19. Buster Posey, C – San Francisco Giants
Like his counterpart in St. Louis, Yadier Molina, Posey has been one of the most dependable catchers in baseball for the last seven years. He’s also been one of the most successful at his position, winning three World Series. Posey started making a name for himself by winning the 2010 National League MVP award and has since been the league’s MVP (2012), as well as an all-star four times, Gold Glove winner once (last year) and Silver Slugger winner three times. He owns a career .307 batting average (he led the NHL with a .336 mark in 2012) and has 116 homers and 527 RBI in 899 games. Posey also makes a case for being the best with his playoff numbers, including a .248 average with four homers and 23 RBI in 53 games. Defensively, Posey owns a career .994 fielding percentage and has thrown out 33 percent of potential base thieves.
18. Miguel Cabrera, 1B – Detroit Tigers
Miggy isn’t just one of the best first basemen in baseball, he’s one of the best players, period. The Venezualan masher has been a durable and ultra-productive member of the Tigers for nine years, after five great seasons in Miami with the Marlins. His list of awards and accolades over the years is impressive, including 11 all-star nods, a world championship, back-to-back AL MVP awards in 2012-13, a Triple Crown (2012) and seven Silver Slugger awards. Miggy has also led the AL in doubles twice, home runs twice, RBI twice, batting average four times (including three in a row from 2011-13), on base percentage four times, slugging twice and OPS twice. He’s also a .278 hitter in the playoffs, with 13 homers and 38 RBI in 55 games. A slam dunk here.
17. Anthony Rizzo, 1B – Chicago Cubs
Rizzo is one of the true rising stars of the game and now has the distinction of being a Chicago Cubs’ champion. The former Boston Red Sox draft pick (2007) broke in with the San Diego Padres in 2011, and by 2013 was the the Cubs everyday first baseman. In the last four years in the Windy City, Rizzo has been a force at the plate, collecting 118 homers and 368 RBI in 615 games. The three-time all-star has also stroked 149 doubles and 10 triples, while also boosting his on base percentage with 301 walks. After a poor start during the 2016 playoffs, just one for 15 against San Francisco, Rizzo came out swinging against the Dodgers, lighting up their pitching for eight hits in 25 at bats, including two doubles, two homers and five RBI. In the World Series, Rizzo went 9-for-25, with another three doubles, a homer and five more RBI. He was a Gold Glover for the first time in 2016, too, logging a .996 fielding percentage (tying him for third overall).
16. Jose Altuve, 2B – Houston Astros
No one mans the second sack like six-year veteran Jose Altuve does with the Houston Astros. And, the pint-sized native of Maracay, Venezuala provides the bonus of all-star (superstar) caliber offence from a position noted for banjo hitters. All Altuve has done since making his debut in 2011 is lead the American League in hits three times (including a career high 225 in 2014), stolen bases twice and batting average twice. In the past three seasons alone, in which he has been an all-star and Silver Slugger each year, Altuve had 129 doubles, 12 triples, 46 homers, 221 RBI and 124 stolen bases. In the field, Altuve is one half a very dynamic duo up the middle along with Carlos Correa. He has registered a .988 fielding percentage and helped turn 481 double plays in 804 games.
15. Dustin Pedroia, 2B – Boston Red Sox
Just call Dustin Pedroia “Mr. Consistency.” The 2007 AL Rookie of the Year and 2008 AL MVP has always managed to bat well, with a career average of .301 in 1,398 games, his lowest BA (qualified) being .278. He can hit for surprising power (375 doubles, 15 triples, 133 homers), steal bases (134) and draw walks (572). Pedroia has been an all-star four times, won four Gold Gloves and and Silver Slugger. As a fielder, he tracks down balls well and rarely makes mental mistakes. Pedroia has made but 55 errors in 1,387 games at second, in 6,239 games. As a post-season player, Pedroia has proven his worth, winning two championships with the Bosox and hitting .242 with five homers and 25 RBI in 47 playoff games.
14. Francisco Lindor, SS – Cleveland Indians
In just two seasons, Francisco Lindor has elevated himself — in our estimation — to being one of the best shortstops in major league baseball. In his rookie season (2015), the native of Caguas, Puerto Rico, got in 99 games and hit .313, with 22 doubles, four triples, 12 home runs, 51 RBI and 12 stolen bases. He also had a league leading 13 sacrifice hits and scored 50 runs, finishing second in AL Rookie of the Year voting. Lindor upped the ante for the AL champion Tribe in 2016, seeing action in 158 games and hitting .301 with 15 HR and 78 RBI. He also smacked 30 doubles, stole 19 bases and led the AL in sacrifice flies with an astounding 15. In the field, he logged a .982 fielding percentage, as well as a share of the highest DWAR (2.7) winning his first Gold Glove and an All-Star nomination. Lindor was a key contributor in Cleveland’s march to the World Series, hit a collective .310 in 15 post-season games, including three doubles, two homers, six RBI and a stolen base.
13. Carlos Correa, SS – Houston Astros
Again, we at Goliath have gone for youth over a host of established shortstops like Troy Tulowitzki, Brandon Crawford and Elvis Andrus. It’s saying something that two of the best in the game are heading into just their third seasons, like Houston’s Correa. He forms the second half of baseball’s best middle infield with Jose Altuve. Like Lindor above, Puerto Rican native Correa is already an above average hitter, registering a .279 average in his 2015 rookie year, with 22 doubles, 22 homers and 68 RBI in 99 games (the same as Lindor), edging out his countryman for Rookie of the Year honors. Correa, like Lindor, got in more games in 2016 (153) and increased his offensive stock by hitting .274, along with 36 doubles, 20 home runs and 96 RBI. In the field, Correa has a gun for an arm and owns collective .974 fielding percentage. He was integral to Houston’s chances in the 2015 post-season, batting .292 in six games, including two homers and four RBI.
12. Kris Bryant, 3B – Chicago Cubs
The Cubs future is very, very bright. Yes, they won their first championship in over a century in 2016, but they didn’t do it with a team of all veterans. And in keeping with our focus on youth and the future of the game, 2016 NL MVP Bryant gets our nod as one of the two best third sackers in the game. Bryant, while still learning some of the intricacies of the “hot corner” — his fielding percentage is a pedestrian .952 in two seasons — is an offensive dynamo who is only going to get better. He’s a free swinger (he led the NL in strikeouts with 199 in his rookie season) who still gets a lot of hits and draws better than average walks. In his Rookie of the Year campaign (2015), for instance, he hit .275 with 31 doubles, five triples, 26 homers, 99 RBI, 13 stolen bases and 77 walks. In 2016, he copped MVP honors by batting .292, leading the NL in runs (121) and smashing 35 doubles, 39 homers and driving in 102 runs. He capped it all by batting .308 in the post-season, with five doubles, three homers and eight RBI.
11. Josh Donaldson, 3B – Toronto Blue Jays
We like Josh because he’s the kind of player to rise to pretty much any occasion and who has a flair for the dramatic, offensively and defensively. The 2015 AL MVP fields his position with elan and hits the ball a ton, regular season and playoffs. His MVP season was one for the ages, endearing him to Toronto fans in his first campaign north of the border. He hit .297 and topped the loop in runs scored (122) and RBI (123). He had career highs in hits (184), doubles (41), homers (41), slugging percentage (.568) and sacrifice flies (10). He put an exclamation point on things with 10 hits in the post-season, three of them for homers. In 2016, Donaldson again put himself in the MVP conversation (he finished fourth), by scoring another 122 runs, stroking 74 extra base hits, driving in 99 runs and drawing a career high 109 walks. He also won his second consecutive Silver Slugger award and third straight all-star nomination.
10. Christian Yelich, LF – Miami Marlins
Let’s face it, left field is the least sexy position in baseball. Usually a refuge for aging starters or a place to hide a suspect defensive player with a bad arm, left field gets little respect in baseball circles. However, there are a few great players in both leagues who give the position cache. One of them is Yelich, who enters his fifth season in Miami as one of the best. Drafted in the first round by the Marlins in 2010, the Thousand Oaks, CA native has started 395 of 479 total games in left field, including 120 in 2016 (he started 29 games in centerfield too). Defensively, he was baseball’s sixth best left fielder, logging a .985 fielding percentage with five assists. Offensively, he had his best overall season in 2016, collecting 172 hits (second best among left fielders), 38 doubles (second), 21 homers (eighth), 98 RBI (third), 72 walks (first), .298 average (second), .376 OBP (first), .859 OPS (third) and 5.3 WAR (first). His ceiling is very high.
9. Yoenis Cespedes, LF – New York Mets
Cespedes is entering just his sixth MLB season, but it feels like he has been playing much, much longer. The Mets slugging left fielder was an all-star for the second time in his five-year career in 2016 and one his first Silver Slugger too. Cespedes is a superior left fielder to Yelich, having won a Gold Glove in 2015 (.980 fielding percentage, 13 assists) and posting a career fielding percentage of .981. Cespedes has been versatile enough to play centerfield in 612 career games, starting 165 up the middle. On the offensive side, Cespedes posted his second straight 30+ homer season (31), giving him 137 for his career. He’s been known as a free swinger, but cut down his strikeouts from 2015 (141 to 108) while increasing his walks (33 to 51). “La Potencia” has a big new contract (four years, $110 million) and lots to prove. We think he’s up to the task.
8. Mike Trout, CF – Anaheim Angels
That Mike Trout is the best centerfielder in the game, there is little dispute. Offensively, position-wise, he is without peer, and defensively he has been very sound (he’s never won a Gold Glove, though). Trout won his second of two MVP awards in 2016 and could very well have won it five years in a row, as he finished second in three other years starting in 2012. Over that time, he has led the American League in runs four times (including a career high 123 in 2016), RBI’s once (111 in 2014), stolen bases once (49 in 2012), walks twice (career high 116 in 2016) as well as on base percentage, slugging and OPS once each. Trout’s value, offensively, is literally off the chart, as he was tops among centerfielders in offensive WAR by a wide margin at 10.6 (his closest competitor was at 6.2). In the field, Trout has started 678 of 811 career games in centerfield and has registered a .994 fielding percentage there, along with 20 of his 21 assists.
7. Charlie Blackmon, CF – Colorado Rockies
The Colorado Rockies have shown great faith in former 2004 28th-round draft pick Blackmon, and in turn he has rewarded them by becoming one of the best centerfielders in all of baseball. Since becoming a full-time starter in Colorado (which drafted him in the second round of the 2008 draft after he failed to sign elsewhere), Blackmon has made a fairly seamless transition from corner outfielder to starter. That is, after playing just 22 games in center in 2013 (of 56 total starts), he started 135 of 138 games there in 2016, logging a .990 fielding percentage and adding four assists. At the plate, the speedy Blackmon showed more power in 2016, slugging 35 doubles, five triples and 29 homers for a career high .552 slugging percentage. He also stole 17 bases (he had 43 in 2015) and drove in 82 runs.
6. Mookie Betts, RF – Boston Red Sox
Betts rise to the top of the right field heap has been nothing short of meteoric. Picked in the fifth round of the 2011 draft by Boston, Betts was in the major leagues in 2014 and has never looked back. After his original 52-game stint in 2014, Betts had a breakout season in 2015, playing 145 games. He hit .291, along with 92 runs scored, 42 doubles, eight triples, 18 home runs and 77 RBI. In 2016, he cemented his status as one of the best, if not the best, corner outfielders in the major leagues. He scored 122 runs, stroked another 42 doubles, five triples, 31 homers and a career high 113 RBI to go with a personal best batting average of .318. In the field he made just one error in 157 starts (.997 fielding percentage) and he logged 14 assists. That overall performance got him a second place finish in MVP voting, as well as his first all-star nomination, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.
5. Bryce Harper, RF – Washington Nationals
Wunderkind Harper had a down year in 2016, in relation to his 2015 MVP season, that is. The 2012 NL Rookie of the Year, busted out huge in 2015, leading the senior circuit in runs (118), home runs (42), OBP (.460), slugging (.649) and OPS (a ridiculous 1.109). He also had 38 doubles, 99 RBI, a career high .330 average and 124 walks. In 2016, then, he slipped somewhat, even though he garnered his fourth all-star nomination. He hit just .243 and every other stat took a hit, including homers (24), RBI (86) and walks (108). One stat he did lead in, however, and which speaks to how much respect his bat gets, was intentional bases on balls, with 20. In the field, Harper is fairly average, with an overall fielding percentage of .980 and 44 career assists in 657 games. He’s bound to have a better year in 2017.
4. Justin Verlander, SP – Detroit Tigers
For our money, Justin Verlander is the best starter in the American League, period. In 12 seasons he has won a Cy Young (2011), been runner up twice, won a MVP award (2011), has been an all-star six times and was Rookie of the Year in 2006. Statistically, he has topped the table in all major categories at least once, including: wins (twice), ERA once), innings pitched (three times), strikeouts (four times, including 254 last season) and WHIP (twice, including 1.001 in 2016). Verlander has been one of the most durable starters in baseball going into his 13th season, as he’s pitched well over 200 innings nine times. Verlander finished second to former teammate Rick Porcello in Cy Young voting last year, going 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA in 34 starts, 27 of which were quality (second in MLB). He had a league leading 254 strikeouts in 227.2 innings pitched. In the post-season, Verlander is 7-5 in 16 career starts with a 3.39 ERA and 112 Ks in 98.1 innings.
3. Clayton Kershaw, SP – Los Angeles Dodgers
All Clayton Kershaw has to do, in our opinion, is win a World Series and then he can pretty much write his acceptance speech to Cooperstown. The three-time Cy Young winner and NL MVP just turned 29 on Sunday and after an injury-plagued 2016 he should be good to go in 2017. In just nine seasons, Kersaw has won 126 games, logged a 2.37 ERA, has 24 complete games in 263 starts (15 shutouts included), 1,760 innings pitched, 1,918 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.007. Numbers that truly distinguished him as a superstar were the 21 wins he had in just 27 start in 2014, as well as the 301 strikeouts in 232.2 innnigs pitched in 2015. As for his post-season record, until he truly breaks through, the lack of a title will only make writers a little skeptical. He is 4-7 in 14 career playoff starts, including a 4.55 ERA and 106 Ks in 89 innings.
2. Kenley Jansen, RP – Los Angeles Dodgers
No other closer in the NL, outside of Jeurys Familia, is on the rise like Kenley Jansen. And we’re tabbing Jansen as the best of the bunch in the senior circuit, due to a number of factors. First, he’s been incredibly consistent in five seasons as the Dodgers full-time closer, having an ERA between 1.83 (low) and 2.76 (high). His strikeouts per nine innings have routinely been over 13.o and home runs surrendered never higher than six and as low as four (in 2016). In those five seasons, he has appeared in 333 games, logged 220 saves and tossed 495 strikeouts in 328 innings pitched. Last year, Jansen was second in saves with 47, first in WHIP among relievers at a miniscule 0.670 and third among closers with a 1.83 ERA. Jansen has been money in the playoffs too, recording eight saves in 17 games and striking out 35 batters in 20.1 innings.
1. Andrew Miller, RP – Cleveland Indians
The transformation of Andrew Miller, mediocre starter, to Andrew Miller, lights out middle reliever/closer has been astonishing. Early in his career with Detroit, Florida and Boston, Miller seemed destined for an early end to his career. In fact, in 2010, Miller was 1-5 in seven starts for the Marlins and sported an ungainly 8.54 ERA and 2.357 WHIP. A trade to Boston in 2011 was the tonic for Miller and by 2013 he had carved his ERA down to 2.64 in 37 games, all in middle relief. In 2014, he split the year between Boston and Baltimore, going 5-5 with a 2.02 ERA and 103 strikeouts in just 62.1 innings pitched. A move to New York precipitated even bigger things, as Miller teamed with Aroldis Chapman to form one of the most lethal one-two punches out of a bullpen ever. However, it was with the Tribe in the latter half of 2016 that Miller became “lights out.” In 26 games, he went 4-0, along with a 1.55 ERA, three saves and 46 strikeouts in 29 innings. Other than a blip against Chicago in the World Series, Miller was nearly unhittable, winning the ALCS MVP after stoning Toronto on just three hits in 7.2 innings pitched and striking out 14.