No. 1 on MLBN's Top 100? Take a wild guess

February 19th, 2021

Spring Training camps are officially open, meaning it’s time to appraise the top talent entering 2021.

MLB Network has completed its countdown of the Top 100 Players Right Now, having tasked its production and research team with ranking the very best players in Major League Baseball. The formula used for this list differs from the Shredder, which was used to determine MLB Network’s rankings for the top 10 players at each position.

Let’s not keep you waiting any longer. Here are MLB Network’s Top 100 players for 2021.

1) , OF, Angels (2020 rank: 1)
Surprise, surprise. Last year might have been Trout’s worst in recent memory, and it was still a season in which he slashed .281/.390/.603, homered roughly once every 12 at-bats and tied for 10th across MLB in FanGraphs WAR. That’s the kind of floor we’re talking about with Trout. Last season marked only the second time in the past nine years that Trout finished outside of the top two in American League MVP Award voting. It would be foolish to bet on that kind of anomaly repeating itself in ‘21.

2) , OF, Dodgers (2020 rank: 4)
This is the second time Betts has finished as the runner-up to Trout here; he placed second before the 2019 season, too, after his transcendent ‘18 AL MVP Award campaign. Betts’ all-around game is so polished that his hitting might not be the biggest takeaway from his excellent debut in Dodger blue; indeed, he still found ways to take over games with his legs and his glove when his bat slumped during Los Angeles’ World Series march. Betts is the type of player you want to build your team around, and the Dodgers made sure they’ll do just that for the next decade-plus.

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3) , SP, Mets (2020 rank: 8)
New York’s ace just missed out on capturing his third straight NL Cy Young Award, a feat only accomplished previously by Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux. But he continued to build his Hall of Fame case nonetheless in 2020, ratcheting his fastball up to unprecedented triple-digit heights while mixing in 90-plus mph sliders and changeups. deGrom didn’t take home the hardware, but he also didn’t do anything to dissuade from the notion that he’s still planet Earth’s best pitcher.

4) , 1B, Braves (2020 rank: 15)
Atlanta’s rock in the middle might have somehow submitted his finest season en route to the 2020 NL MVP Award, abbreviated as that campaign was, with his .462 OBP and .640 slugging jumping off the page. Freeman is likely delighted to have his bash-mate Marcell Ozuna hitting behind him again in the lineup; opposing NL pitchers are probably decidedly less thrilled. One bit of intrigue as the Braves open Spring Training: This is the last year of Freeman’s contract before he hits free agency, and one would think Atlanta would try as hard as possible to convince him to agree to an extension.

5) , OF, Nationals (2020 rank: 10)
Soto’s preternatural hitting ability has tempted some media members -- including a pair here at MLB.com -- to rank him above the mighty Betts, but the Childish Bambino will have to settle for a mere fifth-place ranking here. Soto’s transition to full-time work in right field might be the only question mark facing Washington’s young star, but defense will remain a secondary concern if he continues to hit like he did last year, when he paced the NL in all three rate stats and finished with an out-of-this-world 212 OPS+.

6) , SS, Padres (2020 rank: 32)
The newest face of baseball fresh off a new 14-year, $340 million deal makes his top 10 debut, with the sky representing the limit for San Diego’s cornerstone player. Tatis was MLB’s fourth-most valuable player by FanGraphs’ version of WAR last year, even after he cooled off a touch over the season’s final two weeks. He can hit for average and power, swipe a base, has improved vastly as a defender and, of course, has that cannon arm to first. Simply put, Tatis can do it all.

7) , OF, Braves (2020 rank: 10)
A 40-40 (or possibly even 50-50) season is back on the table for Acuña now that MLB is set to return to a full schedule. Though his average took a slight hit in 2020, the Braves’ young superstar added more value with increased slugging and an impressive .406 on-base percentage, with perhaps only some missed time from wrist and hamstring ailments keeping him from finishing higher in the NL MVP Award vote. Imagine how good he could be this year if he’s healthier.

8) , 3B, Angels (2020 rank: 6)
Rendon’s OPS sat as low as .569 in early August, but he wound up with a very Rendon-esque .915 mark after a torrid stretch to end 2020. That suggests he’ll continue to be the superstar to whom the Angels allocated $245 million last winter, and Rendon indeed tied for MLB’s fifth-most valuable player by FanGraphs’ version of WAR in ‘20 after that slow start.

9) , OF, Brewers (2020 rank: 2)
Yeli and Belli each took a step back in 2020, but MLB Network’s researchers don’t believe Yelich’s 2020 funk (.205 average, career-high 31% strikeout rate) will bear much weight once he gets back to the routine of a full season. Yelich typically impacts the game with his legs even when he’s not slugging, though his baserunning dipped last year, too, according to FanGraphs’ evaluations. Still, Yelich’s track record poses him as a major bounce-back candidate for ‘21.

10) , OF, Dodgers (2020 rank: 3)
No, Bellinger’s 2020 wasn’t a repeat of his ‘19 NL MVP Award campaign, but he proved in last year’s postseason how potent his bat is when he’s feeling right. A “down” year for Bellinger still saw him homer roughly once every 18 at-bats, and the former primary first baseman now ranks among baseball’s top defensive center fielders after he led all players in Statcast’s Outs Above Average (OAA) metric.

It will take a minute to get used to Nolan Arenado and Francisco Lindor in new uniforms for 2021; will we have to adjust our eyes soon for Trevor Story, too? Arenado, Story and DJ LeMahieu all used to occupy the same infield, and LeMahieu (the 2020 MLB batting champ) has proven repeatedly that a Rockies star can thrive outside Coors Field. LeMahieu and George Springer are the two highest-ranked members of this winter’s free-agent class, bunched with owners of two of the largest free-agent contracts in history in Gerrit Cole and Manny Machado.

  1. , SP, Yankees (2020 rank: 7)
  2. , SP, Indians (2020 rank: 58)
  3. , 3B, Cardinals (2020 rank: 9)
  4. , 2B, Yankees (2020 rank: 37)
  5. , SS, Mets (2020 rank: 10)
  6. , SS, Rockies (2020 rank: 21)
  7. , 3B, Astros (2020 rank: 5)
  8. , 3B, Padres (2020 rank: 59)
  9. José Ramírez, 3B, Indians (2020 rank: 50)
  10. , OF, Blue Jays (2020 rank: 18)

Corey Seager, Trea Turner and Tim Anderson all made huge jumps in 2020 to join fellow shortstop Xander Bogaerts within MLB’s top 30. And speaking of jumps, National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer and runner-up Yu Darvish were each unranked a year ago. Now, they’re two of the biggest reasons why the NL West race looks so intriguing. Sitting right outside this year’s top 20 are Aaron Judge and Bryce Harper, two outfielders who can demolish a pitch with any swing.

  1. , OF, Yankees (2020 rank: 16)
  2. , OF, Phillies (2020 rank: 33)
  3. , 3B, Athletics (2020 rank: 19)
  4. , SS, Dodgers (2020 rank: 77)
  5. , SS, Red Sox (2020 rank: 22)
  6. , SS, Nationals (2020 rank: 76)
  7. , SS, White Sox (2020 rank: 95)
  8. , SP, Nationals (2020 rank: 14)
  9. , SP, Dodgers (2020 rank: NR)
  10. , SP, Padres (2020 rank: NR)

The Dodgers’ rotation included Nos. 38-40 on our list as recently as 2019, but Los Angeles is now so loaded on starting pitching that it's represented even further in the top 30. Three of the very best free-agent hitters this winter in J.T. Realmuto, Michael Brantley and Marcell Ozuna wound up re-signing with their 2020 teams, much to those clubs’ delight. The ranking of Michael Conforto and Jeff McNeil at Nos. 34-35 (along with Dominic Smith at No. 67 and Brandon Nimmo at No. 89) shows that the Mets’ outfield mix should continue to rake, even without George Springer.

  1. , 1B, White Sox (2020 rank: 97)
  2. , 1B, Cardinals (2020 rank: 46)
  3. , C, Phillies (2020 rank: 41)
  4. , OF, Mets (2020 rank: 78)
  5. , OF/IF, Mets (2020 rank: 49)
  6. , OF/DH, Astros (2020 rank: 44)
  7. , OF/DH, Braves (2020 rank: NR)
  8. , SP, Dodgers (2020 rank: 61)
  9. , SP, Blue Jays (2020 rank: 53)
  10. , SP, Dodgers (2020 rank: 29)

The top 50 rounds out with a pair of Dodgers catchers past and present in Yasmani Grandal and Will Smith, who erupted for a .980 OPS and a home run for every 14 at-bats in the abbreviated 2020 season. Another pair of contributors to the 2020 World Series champs in Max Muncy and Justin Turner come in right next to each other -- though there’s still a chance that Turner won’t wear Dodger blue this year. And this section also includes three of the biggest mashers at first base, topped by 2020 home run champion Luke Voit, making his first appearance on this list at No. 41.

  1. , 1B, Yankees (2020 rank: NR)
  2. , DH, Twins (2020 rank: 51)
  3. , 1B, Cubs (2020 rank: 39)
  4. , 1B, Athletics (2020 rank: 38)
  5. , INF, Dodgers (2020 rank: 36)
  6. , 3B, free agent (2020 rank: 54)
  7. , 3B, Twins (2020 rank: 26)
  8. , 2B/OF, D-backs (2020 rank: 25)
  9. , C, White Sox (2020 rank: 42)
  10. , C, Dodgers (2020 rank: NR)

There’s some beautiful changeup symmetry with Devin Williams and his “Airbender” super-pitch ranked just ahead of Stephen Strasburg and his all-world change of pace at Nos. 59 and 60. Williams and Liam Hendriks, now with the White Sox, were two of MLB’s best relievers last year and figure to compete for that honor again. This could be the final year that Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa form the double-play combo in Houston, with Correa set to join the impending free-agent shortstop superclass next winter. And check out Mike Yastrzemski, who has gone from stuck in the Minor Leagues to sitting just outside baseball’s 50 best players.

  1. , OF, Giants (2020 rank: NR)
  2. , SP, Phillies (2020 rank: 81) 
  3. , 2B, Rays (2020 rank: NR)
  4. , OF, White Sox (2020 rank: 97)
  5. , 2B, Astros (2020 rank: 17)
  6. , SS, Astros (2020 rank: 43)
  7. , SS, Blue Jays (2020 rank: 99)
  8. , RP, White Sox (2020 rank: NR)
  9. , RP, Brewers (2020 rank: NR)
  10. , SP, Nationals (2020 rank: 20)

It must have been fate (along with the math, of course) that ranked former Harvard-Westlake High School teammates Jack Flaherty, Lucas Giolito and Max Fried right next to one another on this year’s list. Pick those three as the building blocks for an MLB rotation of the future, and you’re well on your way. Meanwhile, the Mets feature a pair of promising young mashers in Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith at Nos. 66 and 67, and the Cubs’ star infield tandem of Javier Báez and Kris Bryant looks as if it will remain on Chicago’s roster (for now) after a swirl of trade rumors. Báez and Bryant will try to bring the Cubs back to the top in what could be the North Siders’ last stand with their current core.

  1. , SS, Cubs (2020 rank: 23)
  2. , 3B, Cubs (2020 rank: 34)
  3. , 3B, Reds (2020 rank: 35)
  4. , SS, Yankees (2020 rank: 31)
  5. , 3B, Red Sox (2020 rank: 40)
  6. , 1B/DH, Mets (2020 rank: 24)
  7. , OF/1B, Mets (2020 rank: NR)
  8. , SP, Cardinals (2020 rank: 28)
  9. , SP, White Sox (2020 rank: NR)
  10. , SP, Braves (2020 rank: NR)

We start to see the depth of the Blue Jays’ new-and-improved infield within Nos. 71-80, with the up-and-coming Cavan Biggio ranked just two spots ahead of offseason acquisition Marcus Semien. The former Oakland star is one of several intriguing names switching places in this section; the Padres and White Sox hope trade prizes Blake Snell and Lance Lynn can make the same impact that Kenta Maeda did when he landed with the Twins last winter. And speaking of acquisitions made good, the Yankees’ Gio Urshela continues to astonish with his trajectory toward being one of baseball’s best third basemen.

  1. , 2B, Blue Jays (2020 rank: NR)
  2. , 2B, Braves (2020 rank: 55)
  3. , SS, Blue Jays (2020 rank: 30)
  4. , SP, Padres (2020 rank: NR)
  5. , SP, White Sox (2020 rank: NR) 
  6. , OF, Rockies (2020 rank: 85)
  7. , OF/2B, Royals (2020 rank: 56)
  8. , 3B, Yankees (2020 rank: NR)
  9. , RHP, Twins (2020 rank: NR)
  10. , LHP, Padres (2020 rank: 83)

Within Nos. 81-90 sits a pair of Reds starters in Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray, who would have ranked as the ace of nearly any other staff last year, had they not pitched alongside National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer. Castillo’s and Gray’s names have both surfaced in trade rumors this winter, as has Cubs stalwart catcher Willson Contreras, who has put up an above-average hitting line (by OPS+) in all but one of his big league seasons. And Lourdes Gurriel Jr. might be spurring some calls to Toronto’s front office, now that George Springer’s signing has given the Blue Jays a crowded outfield (a good problem to have).

  1. , C, Cubs (2020 rank: 79)
  2. , C, Royals (2020 rank: NR)
  3. , OF, Blue Jays (2020 rank: NR)
  4. , SP, Cubs (2020 rank: NR)
  5. , SP, Reds (2020 rank: 91) 
  6. , SP, Reds (2020 rank: NR)
  7. , OF, Rangers (2020 rank: 64) 
  8. , OF, Red Sox (2020 rank: NR)
  9. , OF, Mets (2020 rank: NR)
  10. , 3B, White Sox (2020 rank: 60)

The final 10 spots this year are packed with potential. Byron Buxton and Giancarlo Stanton have shown how they can single-handedly swing a ballgame -- if only they can remain healthy enough to do so. Randy Arozarena went from relative unknown to household name thanks to a postseason for the ages, and he carries big expectations into this year. And there are the top two finishers in last year’s AL Rookie of the Year Award vote, Kyle Lewis and Luis Robert, who could jockey for bragging rights for years to come.

  1. , OF, Twins (2020 rank: NR) 
  2. , OF, Rays (2020 rank: 45)
  3. , OF, Mariners (2020 rank: NR)
  4. , OF, White Sox (2020 rank: NR)
  5. , RP, Brewers (2020 rank: 74) 
  6. , SP, Rays (2020 rank: 92) 
  7. , OF/DH, Yankees (2020 rank: 63)
  8. , DH, Red Sox (2020 rank: 27)
  9. , OF, Orioles (2020 rank: NR)
  10. , OF, Rays (2020 rank: NR)