Top player at each position entering the '23 season
It’s a topic of constant conversation, but especially at this time of year: Who is the best player at each position right now?
MLB Network’s annual “Top 10 Players Right Now” series concluded this week, with The Shredder ranking the top 10 players at each position on the diamond. You can find those lists for each position here.
Now let's take a closer look at the No. 1 player at each spot.
Starting pitcher: Corbin Burnes, Brewers
Burnes had a breakout year in 2021, winning the National League Cy Young Award and following that up with another tremendous performance for Milwaukee in ’22, when he posted a 2.94 ERA with a league-leading 243 strikeouts. If there was any question about the right-hander’s durability, given that entering the ’22 campaign he had never pitched more than 167 innings in a season, he put those doubts to rest by tossing 202 innings last year. Burnes jumped all the way from No. 9 on last year’s list to the top spot this year.
Catcher: J.T. Realmuto, Phillies
Already widely considered the best catcher in the game as he entered the 2022 season, all Realmuto did was have the best season of his career, both by OPS+ (129) and Baseball Reference WAR (6.5), which was two full wins higher than his previous career-high in both 2018 and ’19. Add on top of that his role in helping the Phillies win the NL pennant, and you’ve got yourself a tough act to beat if you want to be the best backstop in baseball.
First baseman: Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals
After finishing among the top six in NL MVP Award voting five times, Goldschmidt finally took home the MVP trophy with a prodigious performance in 2022. He hit .317/.404/.578 with 35 home runs, leading the league in slugging and OPS. His 180 OPS+ also led the NL. Can’t argue with that type of production when considering who among the many great first basemen in the game -- including the Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman, who finished fourth in MVP voting -- belongs in the top spot here.
Second baseman: Jose Altuve, Astros
There was a time a couple of years ago when it was reasonable to wonder if Altuve’s best years were behind him -- after all, the former AL MVP had just a .629 OPS in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. But he’s rebounded in a big way, posting a .921 OPS last year, his highest since his 2017 MVP campaign. Still only 32, it seems the spark plug for the defending World Series champs still has a lot left in the tank.
Shortstop: Trea Turner, Phillies
As he prepares to don a Phillies uniform for the first time, Turner tops the chart for shortstops heading into the 2023 season. Although he got off to a slow start at the plate last year, taking a .686 OPS into his 30th game of the season, he took off from there, hitting .306/.348/.487 with 20 homers and 22 steals the rest of the way for the Dodgers. He managed to post the highest Baseball Reference WAR of his career, at 4.9. As he enters his age-30 season, Turner could be just what Philadelphia needs to follow up a pennant-winning season with one that ends in a World Series title.
Third base: Manny Machado, Padres
While we knew Machado is an all-world talent at the hot corner, he delivered a fantastic performance to end the 2022 regular season that vaulted him into the NL MVP conversation. His 159 OPS+ was his highest in a full season (not counting the shortened ’20 campaign). From Aug. 9 through the end of the regular season, Machado slugged .588 with 13 homers to fuel San Diego into the postseason. Then, in the playoffs, he belted four more homers as the Padres reached the NL Championship Series for the first time in 24 years.
Left field: Yordan Alvarez, Astros
How do you define “breakout season”? How about posting a career-high OPS+, one that is more than 50 points higher than the prior year? That’s what Alvarez did, finishing third in AL MVP voting despite missing time due to a hand injury. He smashed 37 homers in 135 games to help propel Houston to its fourth World Series in six years, which it won in six games over Philadelphia. Alvarez launched three homers in the postseason, including a walk-off shot in Game 1 of the AL Division Series. Still only entering his age-26 season, he’s two homers shy of 100 for his career.
Center field: Mike Trout, Angels
Yes, Julio Rodríguez burst onto the scene and captivated the baseball world with his electric play in center field and at the plate last year, but there’s still no dethroning the incumbent here. Trout remains the gold standard of center fielders after another typical Trout season in 2022, when he posted a .999 OPS with 40 homers in just 119 games -- injuries limited him once again, but when he was healthy, he continued to produce at an elite level. Hopefully, he’ll finally have another full season in ’23 -- if he does, we could see some truly mind-boggling numbers.
Right field: Aaron Judge, Yankees
Tough to beat a guy who set an AL record with 62 home runs last year. Judge is an easy choice for best right fielder in the game after turning in one of the finest offensive campaigns in MLB history. Judge entered last season No. 4 on this list after finishing fourth in 2021 AL MVP voting. He enters this season No. 1 after winning his first AL MVP Award and inking a nine-year, $360 million contract to remain the most prolific slugger in the Bronx Bombers’ lineup.
Relief pitcher: Edwin Díaz, Mets
Díaz was simply overpowering in 2022, as the hard-throwing right-hander outdid even his record-setting 2018 season with the Mariners, when he led the Majors with 57 saves. In 61 appearances for the Mets last year, he had a microscopic 1.31 ERA and an incredible 50.2 percent strikeout rate. When Díaz emerged from the bullpen, the contest was as good as over. The 29-year-old signed a five-year, $102 million contract extension with the Mets last November, the richest reliever contract in MLB history.