Ahead of the 2020 MLB season, RADIO.COM Sports set out to project what 25 position players will be the best in the sport this upcoming season. Past results and various projection models were used in creating the following list...
26 Just Missed: Gleyber Torres - Shortstop, New York Yankees
By trading for Aroldis Chapman in July of 2016, Theo Epstein may have helped end a 108-year World Series drought for the Chicago Cubs. However, it cost him Torres, who is already a star.
As Yankees fans like to say, Torres is only 23. You wouldn't know it based on the production - 38 home runs, 90 RBIs - that he put up last season, and you get the sense that Torres was only just scratching the surface in 2019.
If the Yankees are to make good on preseason World Series hopes in 2020, Torres is likely going to be at the forefront of it. The guess here is he'll make this list next year pretty easily.
25 Manny Machado - Third Baseman, San Diego Padres
A year ago, Machado would have been a lock to be in the top 15, if not higher. Considering they still owe him $270 million over the next nine seasons, the Padres hope that Machado has a bounce-back season in store in 2020.
In his first season with the Padres, Machado was still a very effective offensive player away from Petco Park, slashing .289/.369/.513 in 304 road at-bats. But whether he was overcompensating at home after signing a megadeal or underestimated how difficult it can be to thrive as a hitter at Petco Park, the Padres need Machado to improve rather drastically on the .219/.297/.406 slash line he posted in 283 home at-bats in 2019.
For as concerning as Machado's home/road splits were a season ago, he still posted five defensive runs saved at third base and is just two seasons removed from playing all 162 games and posting a 6.2 fWAR. At 27, it's hard to think that Machado doesn't have at least a few more peak seasons in him.
24 Freddie Freeman - First Baseman, Atlanta Braves
In parts of 10 major league seasons, Freeman has hit .293, slugged 227 home runs, won a Gold Glove Award, made four All-Star teams and finished in the top-10 in National League MVP voting on four different occasions.
Freeman is perhaps the most underrated star of his era, because if he stays on this track, he's going to draw legitimate consideration for the Hall of Fame when his career concludes. And he's still only 30 years old.
Even with Josh Donaldson having exited, Freeman is still slated to hit in a lineup that includes Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies and Marcell Ozuna, among others. He's set up to have another big year as the Braves seek their third consecutive National League East title.
23 Josh Donaldson - Third Baseman, Minnesota Twins
Donaldson bet on himself by taking a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves before the 2019 season, and boy, he won big on that bet.
After slashing .259/.379/.521 with 37 home runs, 94 RBIs, 15 defensive runs saved and a 4.9 fWAR, Donaldson landed a four-year/$92 million deal from the Minnesota Twins in free agency.
Though he left one World Series contender in the Braves, he may have joined another. A season ago, the Twins had five players hit 30 or more home runs and won 101 regular season games. Adding Donaldson into a lineup that already included Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano and Mitch Garver is borderline unfair.
22 J.T. Realmuto - Catcher, Philadelphia Phillies
Realmuto's first season in Philadelphia was extremely disappointing from a team perspective, but you can't blame him. In his first year in red pinstripes, Realmuto cemented his status as the best catcher in baseball.
In his age-28 season, Realmuto won his second consecutive National League Silver Slugger Award, while posting career highs in home runs (25) and RBIs (83).
Perhaps even more impressive is the season he had behind the plate, which earned him his first National League Gold Glove Award. In 2019, Realmuto threw out 37 would-be basestealers, while adding in 11 defensive runs saved and 8.0 framing runs above average. FanGraphs says that he was the best defensive player in all of baseball in 2019.
21 Juan Soto - Left Fielder, Washington Nationals
In the Nationals' World Series run, Soto showed a national audience what those who regularly watch the National League East already had come to know - he has a chance to be one of baseball's most dominant hitters for some time to come.
In 542 at-bats during the regular season, Soto slashed .282/.401/.548 with 34 home runs, 110 RBIs, 108 walks and a .949 OPS. In 17 postseason games, Soto hit .277 with five home runs and 14 RBIs, helping the Nationals to capture the first World Series title in the history of their franchise.
With Anthony Rendon having exited in free agency, it's fair to wonder how willing teams will be to pitch to Soto in 2020. When they do, however, the 21-year-old isn't going to miss very often.
20 Trevor Story - Shortstop, Colorado Rockies
Though he's not even the most notable player on the right side of the Rockies' infield, Story has become a star over the past two seasons.
Since the beginning of the 2018 season, Story has slugged 72 home runs, driven in 193 runs and stolen 50 bases. In terms of WAR, FanGraphs says that Story has been the 13th-best player since 2018.
Even as the Rockies prepare for a season where there isn't much in the way of playoff expectations, Story provides a reason to tune in to watch every game.
19 Bryce Harper - Right Fielder, Philadelphia Phillies
Quietly, Bryce Harper had a very nice first season in Philadelphia, hitting 35 home runs, driving in 114 runs and posting a 4.6 fWAR. He also had a major bounce-back defensively, as he recorded 13 outfield assists and nine defensive runs saved.
Of course, the Phillies didn't reward Harper with a 13-year/$330 million deal for him to have very nice seasons, they did it with the expectation that in the front half of the deal he would be competing for National League MVP awards.
Harper's second year in Philadelphia seems like as good of a time as any for him to compete for his second National League MVP award. A year ago, he didn't know what team he would be playing for - or where his family would live - until early March. A calm offseason with stability ahead of his age-27 season may be just what Harper needs to put together his best season since 2015.
18 Marcus Semien - Shortstop, Oakland Athletics
In case you missed it, Semien was one of the best players in baseball a season ago. Semien exploded in his age-28 season, slashing .285/.369/.522 with 33 home runs, 92 RBIs and a staggering 7.6 fWAR, en route to finishing third in American League MVP voting.
There will always be some concern when a player has such an unexpected dominant season about potential regression the year after. That said, his 2019 season was so dominant that even if he sees some regression he would still be one of the most productive shortstops in the league.
If Semien comes anywhere near replicating his 2019 season this year, the A's will have a chance to overtake the Houston Astros in the American League West. Considering he's eligible to become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2020 season, Semien may be one more big season away from becoming an extremely wealthy man.
17 Ketel Marte - Second Baseman, Arizona Diamondbacks
Like Semien, Marte became one of the league's most underrated superstars a season ago, slashing .329/.389/.592 with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs and a 7.1 fWAR.
In 2019, Marte made his first National League All-Star team, and finished fourth in National League MVP voting, ahead of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Nolan Arenado - and rightfully so. When you factor in his ability to play pretty much any position on the diamond, the 26-year-old may be one of the most well-rounded players in all of baseball.
It's unlikely that the Snakes will challenge the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League West title, but they won 85 games a year ago even after trading Zack Greinke at the trade deadline. This offseason, they added in Madison Bumgarner, Starling Marte and Kole Calhoun. If Marte - Ketel that is - has another big season, the Diamondbacks could compete for a Wild Card spot.
16 George Springer - Outfielder, Houston Astros
For whatever illegal benefits that the Astros may have had in 2017 (and maybe 2018 and 2019), Springer has traditionally been a better offensive player away from Minute Maid Park. That trend continued in 2019, which was the most dominant individual season that the former World Series MVP has had.
In 479 total at-bats in 2019, Springer slashed .292/.383/.591 with 39 home runs, 96 RBIs and a 6.5 fWAR. He also continued to be a valuable defensive player, posting 11 defensive runs saved between center field and right field.
Even with an extremely talented lineup in 2020, the Astros will face a tough task in blocking out any distractions this season, ones that they brought on themselves. However, there's no evidence that Springer is going to fall off a cliff without any assistance of illegal sign stealing.
15 Xander Bogaerts - Shortstop, Boston Red Sox
Early in the 2019 season, the Red Sox signed Bogaerts to a six-year/$120 million extension that will keep him in Boston through at least 2025. As he prepares for the first season of that pact, there's reason to think that Bogaerts deal is going to age very well.
Bogaerts made his second American League All-Star team in 2019, and finished fifth in American League MVP voting after hitting .309/.384/.555 with 33 home runs, 117 RBIs and a 6.8 fWAR. Though defensive metrics aren't particularly kind to Bogaerts, his offensive output has made him the eighth most valuable hitter in all of baseball since the start of the 2018 season, per FanGraphs.
With Mookie Betts having been traded and uncertainty about what Chris Sale is at this stage of his career, Bogaerts has become one of the faces of the Red Sox. Even if the Red Sox are unlikely to reach the postseason in 2020, they'll again have a really good offense, one that Bogaerts will be at the forefront of.
14 Fernando Tatis Jr. - Shortstop, San Diego Padres
Pete Alonso had the best overall rookie season in baseball in 2019, but Tatis Jr. was the rookie that flashed the largest potential for the future.
In just 84 games, Tatis Jr. slashed .317/.379/.590 with 22 home runs, 53 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. Would Tatis Jr. have stayed on that pace over the course of a full season? Perhaps not, but if he was that dominant in his first 334 at-bats at the major league level, what does that say about what's to come?
Tatis Jr. was limited to just over half of a season because of injuries to his hamstring and back. If he's able to stay healthy in 2020, it's not out of the question that Tatis Jr. could compete for the National League MVP in his age- 21 season.
13 Rafael Devers - Third Baseman, Boston Red Sox
A year after winning the World Series, 2019 served as a pretty underwhelming season for the Red Sox, who won 84 games and finished in a distant third place in the American League East.
That acknowledged, there was nothing underwhelming about the season that Devers had in 2019. In 647 at-bats, Devers slashed .311/.361/.555 with 32 home runs, 115 RBIs and a 5.9 fWAR. In many respects, he was as good or better than Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts offensively in 2019.
Baseball is flush with tremendous third basemen right now, many of whom are better defenders than Devers. From an offensive standpoint, though, the 23-year-old may be as good of a bet as any player at his position over the next seven seasons.
12 Nolan Arenado - Third Baseman, Colorado Rockies
Given that he's won seven Gold Glove Awards and three Platinum Glove Awards before his 29th birthday, it doesn't feel like a stretch to say that Arenado is one of the greatest fielders - at any position - in the history of the sport.
What's more, he topped the 40-home run mark for the third time in his career in 2019, homering 41 times, while driving in 118 runs and hitting .315. Since the start of the 2014 season, FanGraphs says that Arenado has been the third most valuable offensive third baseman. You can probably take a wild guess at who grades out best defensively at the hot corner over that same time period.
The prospects from an individual production perspective for Arenado are better in 2020 and beyond if he stays in Colorado - he has a .324 career batting average at Coors Field, while he's hit .265 on the road. Even if Arenado is traded at some point this year, when you factor in his defense, he's going to be an excellent player wherever he's playing his home games at.
11 Ronald Acuna Jr. - Outfielder, Atlanta Braves
Whether he occasionally rubs some so-called baseball purists the wrong way or not, there's no denying that the start that Acuna Jr. has had to his career makes you think he's destined for Cooperstown.
In 2019 - his first full major league season - Acuna Jr. hit .280 with 41 home runs, 101 RBIs, 37 stolen bases, 76 walks, nine defensive runs saved and a 5.6 fWAR. If that's the baseline we're working with in terms of trying to evaluate what to expect from Acuna Jr. in his age-22 season, it's laughable how good of a career he projects to have.
The Braves, of course, would have preferred to retain Josh Donaldson in free agency. That said, Acuna Jr. will lead what should still be a very explosive offense. He's a legitimate National League MVP candidate, and the Braves may pose the biggest threat to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League.
10 Jose Ramirez - Third Baseman, Cleveland Indians
Perhaps this feels a tad high for Ramirez based on how he performed in the first half of the 2019 season, but considering the switch he flipped after the All-Star Break, it feels like a good bet that the 27-year-old will be one of the most valuable position players in the sport in 2020.
Following consecutive seasons of finishing third in American League MVP voting, Ramirez was ice cold in the first half of the 2019 season, as he slashed .218/.308/.344 with just seven home runs and 35 RBIs in 317 at-bats. However, Ramirez got scorching hot after the midsummer classic, hitting .327/.365/.739 with 16 home runs, 48 RBIs and a 1.105 OPS in 165 at-bats after the All-Star Break.
We're not saying that Ramirez is going to top his 2018 season - where he posted a staggering 8.0 fWAR. But the guess here is he'll be closer to his 2018 production than what he was at for much of the 2019 campaign.
9 Matt Chapman - Third Baseman, Oakland Athletics
For as much acclaim as Nolan Arenado (rightfully) receives, there's certainly a case to be made that Chapman has been the best overall third baseman in baseball over the past two seasons.
According to FanGraphs, Chapman slightly tops Arenado in terms of overall offensive value since the start of the 2018 season. Even more notable is that he actually tops Arenado comfortably in basically every defensive metric during the same span. For example, he has 47 defensive runs saved since the beginning of the 2018 season, 34 more than Arenado.
The A's have won 97 games in each of the past two seasons, a span that has seen Chapman win two Gold Glove Awards, two Platinum Glove Awards and cement himself as one of the most valuable players in baseball.
8 Anthony Rendon - Third Baseman, Los Angeles Angels
With Bryce Harper out of the picture, Rendon stepped into the spotlight in D.C. in 2019 and thrived, helping the Nationals to win the first World Series title in franchise history.
In 2019, Rendon slashed .319/.412/.598 with 34 home runs, 126 RBIs and a 7.0 fWAR, allowing him to make his first All-Star team and finish third in National League MVP voting. This wasn't a case of an outlier season in a contract year, though. Since the beginning of the 2017 season, FanGraphs says that Rendon has been the most valuable offensive performer at third base in baseball.
A year after finally gaining national recognition, Rendon will join Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels after inking a lucrative seven-year deal in free agency. The Angels face an uphill battle to returning to the postseason for the first time since 2014, but there's little doubt that they are going to hit.
7 Francisco Lindor - Shortstop, Cleveland Indians
Lindor may have had a relative down season in 2019, but there's little doubt here that in what may be his final season in Cleveland he's going to be one of the most valuable players in the league.
Consider this, Lindor hit 32 home runs, stole 22 bases, made the All-Star team and won a Gold Glove Award in 2019, and that probably came in his least effective full season as a pro. No wonder there's some thought that he could land a deal in excess of $300 million when he becomes a free agent after the 2021 season.
A year ago, Lindor and Jose Ramirez both had relative down seasons and the Indians still won 93 games. If there's a bounce back from that duo, the Indians could be a World Series contender, and Lindor could be an American League MVP candidate.
6 Aaron Judge - Right Fielder, New York Yankees
Over the past two seasons, Judge has hit 54 total home runs and been worth 9.7 fWAR, numbers that become even more impressive when you consider that he's only played in 214 of a possible 324 regular season games over that timespan.
It is mildly concerning that Judge is dealing with a shoulder injury early in Spring Training, but there's no indication that it will affect his readiness for Opening Day. Staying healthy may be the only thing standing in the way of Judge having a Hall of Fame-caliber career.
If healthy for the full season, Judge has a chance to win the American League MVP, and the Yankees could make a serious push for 110 wins.
5 Alex Bregman - Third Baseman, Houston Astros
Bregman had a monster 2019 season, slashing .296/.423/.592 with 41 home runs, 112 RBIs, 119 walks and an 8.5 fWAR. If not for another dominant season by Mike Trout, Bregman would have been the American League MVP.
Of course, we're a long ways removed from waxing poetically about Bregman, or anyone involved with the Astros. Regardless of what extent the Astros benefitted from their illegal sign stealing in 2017 and since, anything they've accomplished in their incredible run of success in recent years has been clouded.
Still, the guess here is that Bregman, who hit 37 points higher on the road in 2019, will be excellent at compartmentalizing any distractions and focusing on the present. Don't expect any massive fall-off from Bregman in 2020.
4 Cody Bellinger - Center Fielder, Los Angeles Dodgers
Bellinger is coming off about the most complete season one could possibly have. En route to the National League MVP, Bellinger slashed .305/.406/.629 with 47 home runs, 115 RBIs and a 7.8 fWAR.
If his offensive prowess wasn't enough, Bellinger won a Gold Glove Award in right field, posting 19 defensive runs saved and 10 outfield assists. Mind you, he broke into the league as a first baseman. He'll get another challenge this season, as he's expected to open the season in center field for a team with World Series aspirations.
The craziest thing is that Bellinger probably isn't even the best position player on his own team.
3 Christian Yelich - Right Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers
There were quite a few teams that thought that Yelich hadn't reached his ceiling when he was playing in Miami. But even the Brewers, who acquired Yelich in a January 2018 trade, couldn't have possibly seen him having the type of explosion in production that he has over the past two seasons.
After winning the 2018 National League MVP, Yelich had an even better season in 2019, slashing .329/.429/.671 with 44 home runs, 97 RBIs, 30 stolen bases, a 1.100 OPS and a 7.8 fWAR in just 130 games. If he hadn't fractured his kneecap in early September, there's a very real chance he would have repeated as National League MVP.
In any event, Yelich is healthy now, and to have a chance to win a crowded National League Central, the Brewers will need the 28-year-old to be in the thick of the MVP race again.
2 Mookie Betts - Right Fielder, Los Angeles Dodgers
When you consider that players often peak in their contract years, it's scary to think about what type of season Betts may be about to have.
A year ago, Betts hit .295/.391/.524/ with 29 home runs, 80 RBIs, 16 stolen bases, 97 walks, a .915 OPS and a 6.6 fWAR for the Boston Red Sox. No joke, that season felt disappointing when contrasted with his 2019 American League MVP season, where he slashed .346/.438/.640 with 32 home runs, 80 RBIs, 30 stolen bases, 81 walks, a 1.079 OPS and an unfathomable 10.4 fWAR.
Betts now joins a Dodgers team that has averaged over 100 wins over the last three seasons. If the Dodgers can't win their first World Series title since 1988 this year, maybe it's not going to happen with this core.
1 Mike Trout - Center Fielder, Los Angeles Angels
There are perhaps individual seasons where Trout has had one or two peers, but in terms of the totality of his career, no one in this era is on the same plane as Trout. His peers are Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Babe Ruth. Really.
Even though he was limited to 134 games in 2019, Trout won his third American League MVP Award, slashing .291/.438/.645 with 45 home runs, 104 RBIs and an 8.6 fWAR.
In his eight full seasons, Trout has finished in the top two in American League MVP voting seven times. The only season that Trout didn't finish in the top two in American League MVP voting was 2017, when he was limited to 114 games. Heck, despite missing 48 games in 2017, Trout still was so dominant when he was on the field that he finished fourth in American League MVP voting. That may actually be his most impressive accomplishment.
Trout is still only 28 and has already accomplished enough to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. One can only assume that in 2020 he'll add onto a resume that is already forcing its way onto a second page.