The 2020 season was shortened to 60 games, but that still provided individual players the chance to shine and either maintain their status as elite or crash the party and shake up our notions of which players are among the best at each spot on the diamond. So continuing an annual tradition, MLB Network is airing the “Top 10 Players Right Now” for each position, with third basemen up next Wednesday.
Using rankings based on past player performance, a number of offensive and defensive metrics, both advanced data and traditional numbers, and analysis by the MLB Network research team, “The Shredder” gives us its input (output?) on which players are the 10 best at their positions right now.
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Top 10 first basemen
Freddie Freeman was bound to win an MVP Award someday. Well, “someday” came in 2020, when the Braves’ first baseman slashed .341/.462/.640 with MLB bests in runs scored (51) and doubles (23) to go along with 13 homers in 60 games. He also accumulated 3.2 Baseball Reference WAR after finishing with 4.0 in 158 games in 2019. It’s no wonder he repeats as the No. 1 first baseman on The Shredder’s list.
Though the top remains unchanged, there’s a big shakeup throughout the rest of the lineup. The Cardinals’ Paul Goldschmidt bounces back from a fifth-place ranking in 2020 to finish No. 2 this time around. With his MLB-leading 22 homers, Yankees first baseman Luke Voit jumps four slots to No. 3. Crashing the party after not being ranked in 2020 is AL MVP José Abreu, who led the Majors with 60 RBIs and 148 total bases.
Max Muncy slips three places to fifth this year, and Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs moves two spots down to sixth. The biggest drop is Pete Alonso’s, to seventh after the Mets slugger had a down year at the plate following a sensational rookie campaign. Oakland’s Matt Olson ranks eighth, smashing 14 homers and leading all first basemen with 3 Outs Above Average. The Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins ranks ninth after posting an .887 OPS with 10 homers in 41 games. And new Royals first baseman Carlos Santana rounds out the list after leading the American League with 47 walks in 2020.
1) Freddie Freeman, ATL (Last year: 1)
2) Paul Goldschmidt, STL (5)
3) Luke Voit, NYY (7)
4) José Abreu, CWS (not ranked)
5) Max Muncy, LAD (2)
6) Anthony Rizzo, CHC (4)
7) Pete Alonso, NYM (3)
8) Matt Olson, OAK (6)
9) Rhys Hoskins, PHI (NR)
10) Carlos Santana, KC (8)
Top 10 left fielders
With Nationals star Juan Soto moving from left field to right after the club signed Kyle Schwarber, we have a new No. 1 left fielder in Christian Yelich. The Brewers slugger placed second among right fielders in last year’s rankings, but he’s now handling the other corner-outfield spot for Milwaukee. While Yelich had a down year in 2020, he still owns a 1.005 OPS in three seasons with the team. Up next are two holdovers from last year’s list, with free agent Michael Brantley remaining in the second spot and the A’s Mark Canha jumping from fifth to third. The other seven players weren’t ranked last year.
Free agent Marcell Ozuna takes the fourth spot after hitting .338 with a National League-leading 18 homers and 56 RBIs in 2020. He’s followed by Jesse Winker of the Reds and Dominic Smith of the Mets, both of whom appeared in their fourth MLB season and set a career high in OPS last season. White Sox slugger Eloy Jiménez, who has produced 45 homers with an .848 OPS in his first 177 big league games, ranks seventh, and the Giants’ Alex Dickerson, the Yankees’ Clint Frazier and the Blue Jays’ Lourdes Gurriel Jr. complete the top 10.
1) Christian Yelich, MIL (Last year: No. 2 right fielder)
2) Michael Brantley, free agent (2)
3) Mark Canha, A’s (5)
4) Marcell Ozuna, free agent (Not ranked)
5) Jesse Winker, CIN (NR)
6) Dominic Smith, Mets (NR)
7) Eloy Jiménez, White Sox (NR)
8) Alex Dickerson, Giants (NR)
9) Clint Frazier, Yankees (NR)
10) Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Blue Jays (NR)
Top 10 center fielders
It speaks volumes about the top three center fielders in baseball that they’ve all been in the top three spots in The Shredder’s rankings in each of the past two years -- in the same order, in fact. Mike Trout is no surprise at the top, of course, and he runs his streak of finishing as the No. 1 center fielder in the Top 10 Right Now to seven. He’s also been the top center fielder in eight of his 10 MLB seasons.
Cody Bellinger, the 2019 NL MVP Award winner, maintained his runner-up status despite a down year at the plate; it certainly didn’t hurt that he delivered some huge home runs and tremendous defensive plays in the postseason. And George Springer, one of the most coveted free agents on the market, had another big year, posting an .899 OPS with 14 homers in 51 games for the Astros before launching four more in the postseason.
Meanwhile, four of the next seven slots are occupied this year by newcomers -- Alex Verdugo of the Red Sox is No. 4, AL Rookie of the Year Award winner Kyle Lewis is No. 6, the Padres’ Trent Grisham is eighth and the Twins’ Byron Buxton is 10th (though Buxton has been on the Top 10 Right Now list of center fielders before).
The Mets’ Brandon Nimmo made the biggest jump over last year, going from No. 9 to No. 5 after posting 1.8 Baseball-Reference WAR in 55 games. Oakland’s Ramón Laureano falls from fourth to seventh, and Miami’s Starling Marte goes from sixth to ninth.
1) Mike Trout, LAA (Last year: 1)
2) Cody Bellinger, LAD (2)
3) George Springer, free agent (3)
4) Alex Verdugo, BOS (not ranked)
5) Brandon Nimmo, NYM (9)
6) Kyle Lewis, SEA (NR)
7) Ramón Laureano, OAK (4)
8) Trent Grisham, SD (NR)
9) Starling Marte, MIA (6)
10) Byron Buxton, MIN (NR)
Top 10 catchers
Last year’s top four catchers all made the top 10 again, but there’s a new No. 1, with J.T. Realmuto jumping from second to first. Realmuto is the total package, with a strong throwing arm, stellar pitch-framing skills and a powerful bat. He takes the place of White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal, who falls one spot to No. 2. The Cubs’ Willson Contreras, meanwhile, also drops one spot, from No. 3 to No. 4. And the Twins’ Mitch Garver (No. 4 in 2020) is now ninth. The rest of the top 10 consists entirely of newcomers, including the Dodgers’ Will Smith at No. 3 and the A’s Sean Murphy at No. 5. Neither player has even logged 100 games in the Majors yet, but both are off to strong starts in their first two seasons, with Smith posting a .937 OPS and Murphy an .846 OPS.
Royals catcher Salvador Perez finishes seventh behind the Padres’ Austin Nola after winning a Silver Slugger Award with a .333/.353/.633 slash line in 2020, and he might have ranked even higher if he didn’t miss all of '19 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Braves’ Travis d’Arnaud (.321/.386/.533), who was the NL Silver Slugger Award winner at catcher, places eighth, while new Mets backstop James McCann breaks into the top 10 on the heels of a career-best .896 OPS in 2020.
1) J.T. Realmuto, free agent (Last year: 2)
2) Yasmani Grandal, CWS (1)
3) Will Smith, LAD (Not ranked)
4) Willson Contreras, CHC (3)
5) Sean Murphy, OAK (NR)
6) Austin Nola, SD (NR)
7) Salvador Perez, KC (NR)
8) Travis d'Arnaud, ATL (NR)
9) Mitch Garver, MIN (4)
10) James McCann, NYM (NR)
Top 10 relief pitchers
While there are seven newcomers in the top 10 this year, a familiar face takes the top spot, with Liam Hendriks vaulting from No. 4 a year ago. On the night he was anointed as baseball's top reliever, the free-agent right-hander also found a new team. A source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand that Hendriks agreed with the White Sox on a three-year deal with a club option for $54 million. Hendriks was brilliant once again for the A's in 2020, posting a 1.78 ERA with a 0.67 WHIP, 14 saves, 37 strikeouts and only three walks in 25 1/3 innings. The other two holdovers from last year are Aroldis Chapman, who falls from No. 2 to No. 7, and Josh Hader, who drops from third to 10th.
Following Hendriks is Drew Pomeranz, whose strong relief work late in 2019 earned him a four-year, $34 million deal with the Padres. The first season of that deal was a success, as the lefty had a 1.45 ERA with 29 K’s in 18 2/3 innings. Next up is National League Rookie of the Year Award winner Devin Williams, who dominated to the tune of a 0.33 ERA with a 17.7 K/9 rate in 27 innings. Nick Anderson (No. 4 on the list) also had a sub-1.00 ERA last season (0.55), and he has registered a 1.43 ERA with 67 K’s and five walks in 37 2/3 innings since joining the Rays in a trade in July 2019. Cleveland’s James Karinchak rounds out the top five after notching a 2.67 ERA with a 17.7 K/9 rate in 27 frames as a rookie. He’s the favorite to take over as Cleveland’s closer with Brad Hand (No. 6 on the list) joining the free-agent pool in November.
1) Liam Hendriks, free agent (Last year: 4)
2) Drew Pomeranz, SD (Not ranked)
3) Devin Williams, MIL (NR)
4) Nick Anderson, TB (NR)
5) James Karinchak, CLE (NR)
6) Brad Hand, free agent (NR)
7) Aroldis Chapman, NYY (2)
8) Aaron Bummer, CWS (NR)
9) Tyler Duffey, MIN (NR)
10) Josh Hader, MIL (3)
Here’s a breakdown of the schedule (all shows air at 7 p.m. ET), as well as the MLB Network analysts who will help bring you the rankings:
Wednesday, Jan. 27: Third basemen with Mike Lowell
Thursday, Jan. 28: Starting pitchers with Ron Darling
Monday, Feb. 1: Second basemen with Harold Reynolds
Tuesday, Feb. 2: Shortstops with Harold Reynolds
Wednesday, Feb. 3: Right fielders with Cliff Floyd
Thomas Harrigan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @HarriganMLB.
Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.