MLB Network's "Top 10 Right Now" series ranks Major League Baseball's top players at each position headed into 2018, with two episodes airing each Saturday, beginning on Jan. 13 and ending tonight. MLB.com's Mike Petriello participated in the show, and we're sharing along with the reasoning behind it. Rankings were
MLB Network's "Top 10 Right Now" series ranks Major League Baseball's top players at each position headed into 2018, with two episodes airing each Saturday, beginning on Jan. 13 and ending tonight. MLB.com's Mike Petriello participated in the show, and we're sharing along with the reasoning behind it. Rankings were compiled with a combination of subjective and analytical data, and no, batting average and RBI never matter.
Position overview: Center field has the best player in baseball, full stop. After that, there's an intriguing mix of players comprising elite defenders, star hitters and those who can do both. Center field has suddenly become one of the most exciting positions in baseball, and there's never any shortage of talent here.
Eligibility notes: Players are eligible only at one position, and several players who saw time at center field in 2017 were considered in other spots for these rankings, including Andrew McCutchen (RF), Adam Eaton (LF), Joc Pederson (LF) and William Fowler (RF).
Before we get to my list, here is The Shredder's list -- the official ranking of Top 10 Right Now -- for comparison. This list was created by the MLB Network research team and is to be considered entirely separate from my list.
1. Michael Trout, Angels
- Tommy Pham, Cardinals
- Charlie Blackmon, Rockies
- George Springer, Astros
- Lorenzo Cain, Brewers
- Christian Yelich, Brewers
- Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
- Chris Taylor, Dodgers
- Michael Conforto, Mets
- A.J. Pollock, D-backs
1. Mike Trout
Obviously. Trout is the best player in baseball, and it's not even really close. He had, on a rate basis, the best season of what was already the best career you're likely to ever see; his .306/.442/.629 (181 wRC+) made him baseball's best hitter, once again. Put it this way: His 6.9 Wins Above Replacement was tied for the third-most in the game, and he got there even despite missing nearly two months with a thumb injury. Even his relatively unimpressive defensive metrics weren't really on him; he simply wasn't getting difficult chances hit to him.
There's no better player in the game. He's an obvious, slam-dunk Hall of Famer. So yes, of course, he's the best center fielder.
2. George Springer
You probably remember Springer from his World Series MVP heroics, but his season was impressive well before that. When he arrived as a rookie in 2014, his 33 percent strikeout rate caused concern about whether he'd make enough contact to succeed. In 2015 and 2016, that dropped to 24 percent. In 2017, that dropped again to 18 percent, and he managed to increase his power at the same time, posting a career-high .522 slugging percentage. He's been consistently 30 to 40 points above average, putting up a 140 wRC+ last year, and he's a solid defender as well.
3. Charlie Blackmon
It's difficult to talk about Blackmon's outstanding season without pointing out that his home/road splits were completely insane. In Denver, he hit .391/.466/.773, a .503 wOBA that basically made him Babe Ruth. (Seriously. Ruth had a .513 career wOBA.) On the road, he hit .276/.337/.447, a .333 wOBA that basically made him league-average. It's impossible to ignore the boost he got from hitting at altitude. He's not Ruth.
But it wouldn't be fair to simply say that he's a "Coors Field creation," because it's not entirely true. In 2016, he hit .335/.399/.540 (.398 wOBA) at home, and .313/.363/.563 (.390 wOBA) on the road, which is to say that he was the exact same player. The viewpoint here is that we probably just saw Blackmon's career year, but what a year it was -- and he's a star no matter where he calls home.
4. Lorenzo Cain
There's a reason that Cain ranks this highly, and that the Brewers were willing to invest in him for the next five seasons: He combines an elite glove with an above-average bat. The glove, you know about; in 2017, he ranked fourth in Outs Above Average with +15, and in 2016, he was tied for seventh, at +12. The speed, you probably know about as well; in addition to six straight seasons with steals in the double digits, he was in the top four percent of Sprint Speed, similar to Trea Turner.
But it's easy to forget about the bat. Last year, Cain hit .300/.363/.440, which gave him a 115 wRC+, about the same as Mike Moustakas and Yelich. Since 2015, his line is a similar .299/.356/.445, about the same as Marcell Ozuna or Francisco Lindor. He can hit, run and field. That makes him a star.
5. Kevin Kiermaier
Over Kiermaier's four seasons in the Majors, he's established himself as one of baseball's preeminent outfield defenders; since 2014, only Andrelton Simmons has piled up more Defensive Runs Saved (+103) than Kiermaier's +90, and the Statcast™ numbers concur. The glove alone would make him a star, but he's not just a glove, and that's why he's so high on this list. Kiermaier has three straight seasons of double-digit homers and steals, and last year his .276/.338/.450 (112 wRC+) was solidly above-average -- it was the same as Robinson Cano.
More encouraging is that after missing much of the summer with a hip injury, Kiermaier wasn't slowed when he came back. He was actually better, hitting .258/.329/.408 (99 wRC+) before he was injured and .306/.352/.517 (133 wRC+) after.
6. Christian Yelich
Obviously, Cain and Yelich aren't both going to play center, but these lists were created prior to the duo joining Milwaukee on the same day, so they are both on this list. Yelich has consistently been good, with a career line of .290/.369/.432 (121 wRC+), but the question has long been if he can be great. The skills are there. The youth (he just turned 26) is there. Now, a friendly home ballpark is there. If Yelich can change his approach to take advantage of it -- by which we mean to hit fewer grounders, since his 55.6 percent grounder rate was one of baseball's highest -- 2018 could be the true breakout everyone has been waiting on.
7. Byron Buxton, Twins
He's baseball's fastest man. He's baseball's best outfielder. He stole 29 bases in 30 tries last year. He only turned 24 in December and, after years of fits and starts, he crushed at the plate late last year, hitting .300/.347/.546 (130 wRC+) in the second half. If Buxton hits like that, he's one of the top 10 players in baseball. But even if he doesn't, his speed and defense make him a star. According to Baseball Reference, he's one of just seven outfielders to ever have a 5-WAR season with offense five points or more below league average.
8. Tommy Pham
There was probably no bigger breakout in 2017 than that of Pham, who finally stayed healthy enough to play a full season and put up a huge .306/.411/.520 (148 wRC+) with 23 homers, 25 steals and good defense. It all added up to a 5.9 WAR season that made him one of the 10 most valuable hitters in the game. While it was a late breakout -- he's 30 in March -- it wasn't a completely out-of-nowhere one, either. In parts of five Triple-A seasons, Pham had hit .301/.376/.464. If he can stay healthy, there's no reason to not expect a repeat.
9. Ender Inciarte, Braves
Inciarte is somewhat like Kiermaier, just with slightly less power. He's an elite defender, having just ranked second only to Buxton with +19 Outs Above Average, and he's a perfectly useful league-average hitter, as his 2017 line of .304/.350/.409 (100 wRC+) is more or less what he's done in each of the last three years. Throw in some baserunning value -- 78 steals over four years -- and you have a consistently above-average player. There's a lot of worth in that.
10. Chris Taylor
Unlike Pham's, Taylor's breakout was completely out of nowhere. He didn't make an impression in parts of three seasons for the Dodgers and Mariners, hitting .234/.289/.309 from 2014-16, then hit .288/.354/.496 (126 wRC+) while making starts at five positions in 2017. We're buying this, mostly, because there's a pretty good reason behind it: Like teammate Justin Turner before him, Taylor completely rebuilt his swing to hit the ball in the air. While he slumped a little in September, his first half of .285/.365/.480 (126 wRC+) and his second half of .291/.344/.511 (125 wRC+) were similar. We'll take the bet that he keeps this up in 2018.
Just missed (in no order): Michael Conforto; Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox; A.J. Pollock; Odubel Herrera, Phillies; Starling Marte, Pirates; Aaron Hicks, Yankees
Conforto would have been on this list, and perhaps highly placed, if not for fact that the serious shoulder injury he suffered late in 2017 is likely to keep him out until May this year, and may impact his power for some time after that. Bradley is an elite fielder, but his bat was below average in 2017 (90 wRC+), sunk largely by a dreadful .204/.277/.302 (51 wRC+) second half.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.