We’re starting out 2018 MLBRank with Nos. 100-51. Which young stars will rocket up the rankings? Who deserved a spot in the top 100? We asked our experts to give their thoughts on some of the biggest questions that came out of the bottom 50.
Who are the biggest snubs?
I don’t know if there are any obvious snubs, though there are probably too many relievers in general near the bottom of the top 100. I’ll go with one player who always seems underrated in Brett Gardner. He can beat you in a lot of ways. He might not match the 21 home runs he hit last year, and he’s now 34, but he’s coming off a 4.9 WAR season and has been above 3 WAR after each full season of his career. — David Schoenfield
If I could build a team around any player outside the top 100, it’d be Oakland’s Matt Chapman. He’s the best defensive third baseman in the American League, has a history of big power numbers in the minors, and in the first few weeks of this year has shown big improvements in plate discipline and contact. He debuted in Oakland last June, and in his first 99 games as a big leaguer he has produced 5.0 WAR at Baseball-Reference. Only 26 big-league hitters had 5 WAR in full seasons last year. He’s a star. — Sam Miller
Put on your way-too-early prediction hat — where will Shohei Ohtani be next preseason when we do these rankings again?
I’ll say somewhere around 25 to 30. The thing to keep in mind is to accurately assess the value he’s creating away from the amazing aspect of what he’s doing. His pitching value is going to be limited somewhat by pitching just once a week and DH duty means he has to hit at a high level to produce added value. Obviously, there are still unknowns: How he adjusts (especially at the plate), how he deals with the more difficult travel schedule than in Japan, staying healthy, etc. — Schoenfield
He’ll be in the mid-20s by proving he’s legit on both sides of the ball, but it might be hard for him to get higher. To go higher still, the interesting problem he’ll present is the lack of playing time in each role — he probably can’t surpass the top starting pitchers if he can’t make 30 starts in a season. Or can he? Whenever we think we know what to expect, he keeps taking it up a notch. — Christina Kahrl
I am going to say No. 8. The furor should subside some but we’ll see what he has done this first month as a kind of ceiling for his potential. He’s only 23, so whatever equilibrium his numbers eventually reach will be augmented by a projection for improvement. — Doolittle
Byron Buxton (55), Alex Bregman (56), Andrew Benintendi (60): Who is higher next year? Which one would you take if you were building a team?
This is a good one. I’ll gamble on Buxton’s upside, even if Bregman and Benintendi have higher floors with the bat. We already know about Buxton’s Gold Glove defense at a premium position. Even though he hit just .253/.314/.413 last season, his defense and baserunning were so valuable that Buxton was worth 5.2 WAR. The bat came alive in the second half, however, when he hit .300/.347/.546. As I’ve written, if he hits that over a full season, he’s an MVP candidate. — Schoenfield
Put it this way: If you ran 1,000 versions of the universe, Buxton is the only one of these three who is a top-five player in at least one universe. He’s probably also the one I’d take if I were building a team, partly because I’d be greedy and partly because the elite center-field defense is something you can build the rest of a roster around. But Bregman is more likely to win the vote next year; I’d bet that after a 20/20, .300, 5-WAR season this year, he’s in the low 40s next year. — Miller
They’ll all be higher next year, but Bregman would be my guy. Great clubhouse presence (he learned Spanish to better communicate with his Latin teammates) and terrific all-around skill set. Plus, while he’s a third baseman in Houston because of Carlos Correa, he could be an everyday shortstop for quite a few big league clubs. — Doolittle
Give us one guy in the 51-100 range (other than Madison Bumgarner and Shohei Ohtani) who is most likely to be in the top 20 next year.
Buxton is certainly a candidate, but how about Cubs catcher Willson Contreras? He could be ready to take over the title of best catcher in the game from Buster Posey. He hit .276/.356/.499 with 21 home runs in just 428 plate appearances, so one way to add to his value is simply for Joe Maddon to play him more and get him another 100 PAs. This will be just his second full season, so there’s a chance he improves the plate discipline and draws a few more walks to boost that OBP. On defense, he has a strong arm behind the plate, but he needs to improve his pitch framing. At the minimum, look for him to make his first All-Star appearance. — Schoenfield
Part of me wants to say Andrelton Simmons here because I think if he shows that last year’s improvement at the plate is legit, you’re getting a historically excellent defender with good offense. But by that same criterion, you have to go with Buxton because between his similarly game-changing value on defense and his second-half improvement at the plate last year (.893 OPS), he’s turning into a legitimate MVP candidate right before our eyes. — Kahrl
Bregman probably should have been a good 20 spots higher this year, and he’s still ascending, production-wise. A number of top-20 rankings lie ahead for him. — Doolittle