Rankings, whether it be power rankings of teams, rankings of players for real life or fantasy, or rankings of desserts or cereals or something dumb like that, are made for arguments sake. There’s a fair argument for fantasy rankings having some utility beyond the takes they produce, but other than that there is little point to this stuff besides starting a conversation. That, for what it’s worth, is not necessarily a bad thing. I think there are definitely some places that produce asinine rankings on purpose for hate-clicks, which is a real thing because we live in hell. For the most part, though, the sports world’s rankings are done in good faith. None of this really matters, either, and many of us are here because we like talking about this stuff. So, in short, I’m on team rankings, unless you do something stupid like say putting Raisin Bran on the top of a top cereals list or something crazy like that.
Anyway, all of this is to say ESPN released a list of the top 100 players in MLB right now. Is this a definitive list by any measure? Of course not. It’s not meant to be! Still, it’s a fun discussion for a time when we’re just biding our time for the real baseball to get underway. Plus, Mike Trout is listed number one so that’s a good sign for some sense of credibility. Unsurprisingly, since they just won 108 games and the World Series, the Red Sox are well-represented with seven players on the list.
98. Nathan Eovaldi
This is wild. I don’t even necessarily think this is wrong, but Eovaldi being a top 100 player in the game is certainly not something anyone would have considered a possibility at this time last year. Things have clearly changed tremendously since coming back from Tommy John surgery. Obviously his heroics in the postseason really put him on the map on the national landscape, but Eovaldi showed a lot throughout the 2018 season. With that nasty cutter being utilized more than ever, he looked better than he had at any other point in his career. The Red Sox clearly bought into the changes, giving him a four-year deal shortly after the winter began. ESPN is buying it, too. Eovaldi is between Mets outfielder Michael Conforto and Cubs pitcher (as well as old friend) Jon Lester.
69. David Price
Nice. Price moves up 12 spots from last year’s list, which is not typical of a pitcher with his mileage and in his age group. The Red Sox lefty, like Eovaldi, made real changes in the second half last year that give some hope for him aging gracefully. As his velocity drops with each passing year, Price has now shown he’ll be able to lean more on his secondaries and command pitches with movement to get outs. We’ve seen with guys like CC Sabathia how well that can work, and if pitchers buy into that approach they can pitch effectively for much longer than we’d expect, even if their days as dominant aces are over. Price getting that playoff monkey off his back certainly helps his public perception, too. He was ranked between Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger and Blue Jays super prospect Vlad Guerrero Jr.
57. Xander Bogaerts
Bogaerts had a substantial jump from last year, moving up 28 spots. After last season, I think you could certainly argue he should be even higher on this list, but that may also be coming from a position of bias. As we’ve talked about plenty this offseason, it’s easy to look at Bogaerts’ breakout 2018 as the new normal. It’s what we always expected him to be, and since he’s still only 26 it’s not unheard of for someone of his age to take that next step. If I was to bet on it, I’d say he’ll be closer to his 2018 level of production in 2019 than any of the years prior to it. That’s both in terms of overall value and the way in which he got to that value. However, it’s also fair to mention it was just one year in a five-year career. I can see the argument for holding him back until he repeats himself, which is why I won’t be surprised if he’s a top-30 player on next year’s list. Bogaerts finds himself between Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies and Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain.
50. Andrew Benintendi
I love Benintendi as a player, and his slow second half has seemingly overshadowed just how great he was for much of 2018. He’s a legitimately huge part of the top of this order and is going to be a table-setter in 2019 out of the leadoff spot. That being said, I’m a little surprised he was ranked more highly than Bogaerts. I think their defensive reputations make it seem like there’s a large gap, but when factoring in positional value I don’t think they are all that far apart. I think Bogaerts has a higher ceiling at the plate, too. That being said, Benintendi is probably a little safer just because his profile of plate discipline-based value is easier to bet on. I think this might be a little high, at least in the context of other Red Sox players on the list, but I’d like to see him prove me wrong in 2019. Beintendi is ranked between A’s closer Blake Treinen and Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager.
17. J.D. Martinez
Martinez doesn’t provide any value on defense. In fact, when he’s out there he’s probably a net negative. Okay, we got that out of the way. He’s still properly ranked here because, in case you forgot, the dude absolutely mashes. He won two Silver Sluggers last year! I wouldn’t argue for it, but you wouldn’t be unreasonable to argue Martinez being the best hitter in baseball. Over the last three years, only Trout has a better wRC+. Martinez is an amazing hitter and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. If he was even an average contributor in the field at any position he’d be a lot higher on this list. Still, this is more than fair. Martinez is ranked between Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and Indians starter Corey Kluber.
9. Chris Sale
I have certainly contributed to this, but a lot of the conversation around Sale this winter has been about his injury-riddled second half and general late-season struggles over his career. It’s been a big enough focus that it’s starting to overshadow the fact that he is straight-up bananas for the vast majority of his starts. He was the best pitcher in baseball before he got hurt last year and was on track for his first Cy Young award. Even without winning, and even with those well-documented late-season struggles, Sale has finished in the top five of Cy Young voting in each of the last six years and he was sixth in the voting seven years ago. He’s amazing, and his ranking as the third best pitcher in baseball (behind Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom) is well-deserved. Sale is ranked between Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor.
2. Mookie Betts
Duh. Before last season I think there was a real argument for who should be recognized as the second best player in baseball. Trout has been the clear number one for years now, but there wasn’t exactly a clear number two. After what Betts showed last year, and after three straight top-six MVP finishes including a win last year, he’s clearly number two. I don’t think there’s much of an argument for anyone else. We are watching a special player in right field every day. Get that extension done, Dave. Betts is ranked between Scherzer and Trout.