Experts explain favorite Top 10 Right Now picks

February 4th, 2024

Every year, MLB Network takes on the task of ranking the “Top 10 Players Right Now” at each position. Now, the 2024 edition is in the books.

One of the fun parts of this series every year is the debate it inspires. No two people have the same list at each spot on the field, and the same goes for MLB Network’s “The Shredder” system, which spits out the official list.

Two analysts, Sarah Langs and Mike Petriello, once again took part in the “Top 10 Players Right Now” series, each crafting their own lists for each position. In doing so, it became clear that both have some players who are “their guys” – in other words, they are higher on those players than the other list-makers. Now the question is: Why?

We asked Langs and Petriello to trade off identifying some of these more divisive players and explain their rationale for a more optimistic ranking.

Langs: , C, Giants
Ranks: Langs 6th | Petriello NR | The Shredder NR

Why I’m more optimistic: Catcher felt particularly deep to me this year, which is why I ended up not even having room to rank all of the players I wanted to, most notably Jonah Heim. But I had to include Bailey, my “wild card,” as Brian Kenny encouraged for the lists this year. In just one season, Bailey quickly established himself as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. He was 100th percentile in both fielding run value and pitch framing, as well as 98th percentile in caught stealing above average and 95th percentile in pop time. Put more simply, he did it all behind the plate and excelled, impacting games and helping his team – like his game-ending pickoff at first base on Aug. 1 with a 1.39 sec pop time, the fastest to first on a successful pickoff under Statcast (2015).

As for the bat, he had a .420 expected slugging percentage, compared to his .359 actual mark. That .061 difference was the fifth-largest “unlucky gap” between expected and actual slugging in 2023 (min 2.1 PA per team game), which indicates his results should have been better, based on the contact he made.

Petriello: , 3B, Twins
Ranks: Petriello 10th | Langs NR | The Shredder NR

Why I’m more optimistic: The question with Lewis has never been one of talent. The first overall pick in the 2017 Draft, Lewis didn’t play in 2020 due to the pandemic and then suffered serious knee injuries in both 2021 and 2022. Even in 2023, he missed time with oblique and hamstring injuries. And yet: When he was on the field, he was spectacular, hitting .309/.372/.548 with 15 homers in just 58 regular-season games, then hitting four more home runs in six postseason games. He’s likely found a home at third base after previous adventures in the outfield, and the 2024 projections are jaw-dropping: Steamer projects him to be the fifth-best third baseman in 2024.

I couldn’t go quite that far, because you can’t perform if you can’t play, and we’re still only 70 games into Lewis’ Major League career. But despite how long it’s taken him to get here, he doesn’t even turn 25 until June. There’s time here, and the talent is clear; I couldn’t make a list projecting ahead to 2024 with him not on it, and if that means I didn’t have room for Josh Jung, Max Muncy or Isaac Paredes, so be it.

Langs: , RF, FA
Ranks: Langs 7th | Petriello NR | The Shredder NR

Why I’m more optimistic: Depending where he signs, Soler may end up DHing more than playing right field, but this was the position where he was eligible for our lists. And my choosing to rank him was based solely on his bat, anyway – a bat that I thought deserved the attention to be another more wild-card pick. Soler has solidified himself as a strong power threat. He simply crushes the ball. His 15.0% barrel rate last season was 12th highest among 169 batters with at least 300 batted balls. His .535 expected slugging percentage was 10th among that same group. A total of 129 batters have at least 1,250 batted balls since the start of 2019. Only Aaron Judge, Yordan Alvarez, Shohei Ohtani, Kyle Schwarber, Bryce Harper and Ronald Acuña Jr. have higher barrel rates than Soler’s 14.8% in that span. I’ll take that quality, hard contact any day.

Petriello: , LF, Rangers
Ranks: Petriello 5th | Langs NR | The Shredder NR

Why I’m more optimistic: As with Lewis, I’m pretty happy to take a bet on high-level young talent, even if they haven’t quite proven it over a long period of time yet. Then again, there’s very little about what we saw from Carter that seems like a fluke. Despite not getting called up until Sept. 8, Carter put up a 1.058 OPS over the final three weeks of the regular season, then merely hit .300/.417/.500 during Texas’ run to a World Series title. This is after an age-20 season where he hit .288/.413/.450 over three Minor League levels, and the floor here should be high, because even in his short time up, the metrics on his speed and defense absolutely backed up what the scouting reports said. Obviously, doing it for a full season is a lot different than for a few weeks, but he’s also the No. 5 prospect in baseball. I didn’t just get him on my list. I got him up high on my list.

Langs: , 1B, Guardians
Ranks: Langs 9th | Petriello NR | The Shredder NR

Why I’m more optimistic: Over the course of compiling these rankings, I always find a few players who surprise me, in a good way. Players who, off the top of my head, I’d say had good seasons, but as I pore over stats, end up not just offhandedly “good,” but actually list-worthy. Naylor, my wild card at first base, was one of these this year. If there’s one thing we know about Cleveland, it’s that a handful of its hitters specialize in not striking out. In 2023, Naylor joined the elite portion of that group. His 13.7% strikeout rate was 12th lowest of 168 batters with at least 450 plate appearances, with three teammates – Steven Kwan, José Ramírez and Will Brennan – among the 11 players ahead of him. He hit .308, which was sixth among that same group, behind only Luis Arraez, Acuña, Freddie Freeman, Yandy Díaz and Corey Seager.

Petriello: , CF, Marlins
Ranks: Petriello 8th | Langs NR | The Shredder NR

Why I’m more optimistic: We haven’t quite seen the performance matching the hype just yet, because while Chisholm might be an electric star who’s already headlined video game covers, his career OPS+ is 103, which is to say, average. Yet I remain cautiously optimistic here, in part because after a rough introduction to the bigs (90 OPS+ from 2020-21), he’s been considerably better the last two years (117 OPS+ from 2022-23). Similarly, a move to center field last season had some uncomfortable early moments that eventually turned into above-average performance. Somewhat like Lewis, the issue here is one of health, as Chisholm missed much of 2022 with a back injury and large chunks of 2023 with toe and oblique issues. But time remains on his side, as he’ll be just 26 in 2023, and even some minor good luck in the health department could leave us with a plus defensive center fielder who could go 25/25 on offense. That’s a star-level player.

Langs: , CF, Red Sox
Ranks: Langs 8th | Petriello NR | The Shredder NR

Why I’m more optimistic: Duran’s speed and improvements at the plate intrigued me, so he was my wild-card pick in center. He had an average sprint speed of 29.5 ft/sec, just shy of the elite, 30 ft/sec threshold, and well above MLB average. He was 98th percentile in baserunning run value. He’s cut down his strikeout rate at the MLB level each year of his career, from 35.7% in 2021 to 28.3% in ’22 to 24.9% this past season. His 46.0% hard-hit rate was eight percentage points higher than in ’22. His ground-ball rate dropped from 54.2% to 41.8% in favor of more line drives. That all added up to a .295 batting average. I like the upward trajectory here.

Petriello: , RF, Twins
Ranks: Petriello 9th | Langs NR | The Shredder NR

Why I’m more optimistic: Kepler has had an up-and-down career, bouncing between excellent years (36 homers, 123 OPS+ in 2019) and disappointing ones (9 homers, 92 OPS+ in 2022) with some regularity, though he always offers above-average defense. In 2023, he had one of his best years, hitting 24 homers with a 121 OPS+, and it was popular to suggest that was because of the shift ban. Maybe it was, but not in the way you’d expect, because he correctly accepted more strikeouts as the cost for, well, mashing in the air:

Reportedly, this was less about fielders not being able to stand in the wrong places and more about Kepler not worrying about fielders being able to stand in the wrong places. I’m more than a little interested to see if, in the second year of the shift limits, the new grip-it-and-rip-it version of Kepler can persist.

Langs: , 3B, Marlins
Ranks: Langs 8th | Petriello NR | The Shredder NR

Why I’m more optimistic: I’ve been all in on Burger since July 17, 2021, when he crushed his first career home run. And I mean crushed – at 115.2 mph, it was the hardest by a batter for his first homer tracked by Statcast. That strong contact has always been there for Burger, and in his first year as an everyday player in 2023, he showed what it could do. The only players with at least 300 batted balls and a barrel rate higher than his 16.4%? Ohtani, Alvarez and Matt Chapman. His .518 slugging percentage led all qualified third basemen, and his 34 homers were third among those playing the hot corner, behind only Austin Riley (37) and Max Muncy (36).

Petriello: SP, Mariners
Ranks: Petriello 9th | Langs NR | The Shredder NR

Why I’m more optimistic: There’s no shortage of good starting pitcher options to get on these lists, but I was a little surprised to see that no one else included Castillo, because he’s been one of the better and more reliable starters around for more than a half-decade now. He did just finish fifth in the Cy Young voting, after all, and it might have been better if not for a poor finish ruining what had been a 3.01 ERA entering September. I like, too, his ability to adapt, because he was once known for his deadly changeup, but now his blazing four-seamer is his primary pitch. On a list like this, for pitchers, I like some amount of comfort in a high floor with potentially high ceiling, and Castillo offers that.