- In the second installment of the Top 100, we get several of the game's top pitchers (Stephen Strasburg, Noah Syndergaard) along with some of baseball's most reliable bats (Anthony Rizzo, Justin Turner).
SI's MLB writers are proud to present our Top 100 for the 2018 season. The exercise is intended to demonstrate the players most likely to have an impact on the 2018 season based on past performance (we created a weighted WAR average over the past three seasons), injury history and future predictors. And then we argued among ourselves, tinkered with the list and, over time, concluded our rankings.
The goal was to evaluate each player independently (as well as we could, at least). We know that stats can be skewed by a player's team (would Chris Taylor be ranked if he were playing in Tampa Bay? Would Steven Souza crack the list if he were a Yankee?), but we felt our weighting system was the best way to rank players along with one essential question: Which player would you rather have if you needed to compile a roster in 2018? The player that was universally agreed upon was the one who received the higher ranking. Salary was not considered, and 2018 rookies were not included. Many thanks to the essential online resources: Baseball Reference, Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball, among others, for their assistance in helping us create this list.
The rankings are inexact. They are controversial. They may exclude players that you think are essential. So let's get to it the second round. You can find Nos. 100-51 here.
50. Michael Fulmer, Tigers
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Fulmer is everything you want out of a young starting pitcher. He has one of the game's best power sinkers, he averages 95 MPH on both his four-seam fastball and his sinker, and he reliably induces ground balls whenever he throws his changeup. His home run total is low (partly thanks to the pitcher-friendly confines of Comerica Park) and he's started 51 games in his first two full seasons. And he'll be just 25 years old on opening day! Fulmer won't be seen by many this season while he's pitching for the rebuilding Tigers, but he'll likely be one of the biggest names floated at this year's trading deadline. He's arbitration eligible next season, but won't reach free agency until 2023. If the Tigers decide to put him on the trading block (which they should), Fulmer will command an enormous price from any club looking to acquire him. If he continues to pitch the way he has over the past two seasons, he'd be well worth the hefty price.
49. Carlos Martinez, Cardinals
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Much like Fulmer, Martinez is an ace at using a power sinker to generate ground balls. He's one of the game's great workhorses (he's started 92 games over the last three seasons) and still maintains upward of 95 MPH on his sinker and four-seam fastball. What helps differentiate Martinez from an everyday sinkerballer is his slider, which he uses to pop hitters up. Martinez struggled with surrendering home runs last year (he gave up 27 after allowing just 15 in 2016), but he offset that by logging a career-high in strikeouts (207) and a career-low WHIP (1.220). Manager Mike Matheny has worked Martinez hard over the past three seasons, but he's usually very effective whenever he takes the hill.
48. Gary Sanchez, Yankees
Jay Jaffe: Sanchez takes a lot of flack for the quality of his defense, and admittedly, he led the AL with 16 passed balls last year. But he also threw out 38% of would-be base thieves in a league where 27% was average, and was 3.5 runs above average according to Baseball Prospectus' pitch-framing metrics (and 2 runs above average overall, including his throwing and blocking). Oh, and there's this: Over the past two seasons, his 53 homers and 139 OPS+ are tops among catchers, and his 7.1 WAR ranks second despite his not being recalled for good until August 3, 2016.
47. Justin Upton, Angels
Jon Tayler: Quick, guess how old Justin Upton is. What number did you come up with? Was it in the mid-30s? It feels like Upton has been around forever since becoming the No. 1 pick of the 2005 draft, but despite entering what’ll be his 12th season in the majors in 2018, he’s still just 30 years old. It’s easy to forget just how young he is, and how productive he still can be: He raked to the tune of a .273/.361/.540 line last year with the Tigers and Angels, homering 35 times and making his fourth All-Star team. His mediocre-at-best defense will keep him from being a true superstar, but that shouldn’t take any shine of what he’s still capable of, even after a decade of action.
46. Nelson Cruz, Mariners
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Even at the age of 37, Cruz still has prodigious power and is one of the game's most reliable hitters. Despite sending the last three seasons in one of the most notoriously unfriendly hitters' parks in Safeco Field, Cruz barely missed his fourth consecutive 40-home-run season (he hit 39). Cruz is known for his power, but he remains one of the game's most complete hitters. He's finished with an on-base percentage of at least .360 all three years he's played in Seattle, after eclipsing that mark just once over the past six seasons. He's finished with park-adjusted OPS of 159, 147 and 146 the last three season despite playing in a cooler climate and big ballpark. He's received down-ballot MVP votes over his last four seasons. He may be aging, but Cruz always hits.
45. Marcell Ozuna, Cardinals
Gabriel Baumgaertner: If Ozuna even comes close to replicating his 2017 season, he'll be the toast of St. Louis in his first season there. Playing in front of so few fans in Miami, Ozuna quietly had a triple-crown quality season last year in Miami: .312, 37 HR, 124 RBI with a 145 OPS+ and 5.8 WAR. He had 191 hits and still managed a 36% extra-base hit rate. He's not just a bat either; Ozuna won a gold glove after moving to leftfield in 2017. When he's locked in, he's a lethal player who has top-20 talent. The only question now is whether he can remain consistent as a Cardinal.
44. Jacob deGrom, Mets
Jack Dickey: Not much has gone right lately for the Mets’ vaunted young rotation. Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, and Robert Gsellman combined to pitch 365-1/3 innings and allow 254 runs last year—yikes. But most everything has gone right for deGrom. He’s avoided major injury since his 2014 debut, and in 2017 he threw more than 200 innings for the first time in his career, posting a 3.53 ERA. His 10.7 K/9 ranked third in the NL; hitters managed only a .235 average against him despite the Mets’ league-worst defense. He has three strong pitches and happily works deep into games. DeGrom and division-mate Stephen Strasburg each have worthy claims to being the best No. 2 starters in baseball.
43. Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
Jay Jaffe: No centerfielder can Go Get It quite like the wall-climbing Kiermaier, whose 42 Defensive Runs Saved in 2015 set a single-season record for the metric at any position. Injuries have limited Kiermaier to just 203 games in the two seasons since, but when paired with his above-average offense, his 47 DRS and 10.6 WAR in that reduced playing time speak to his impact. In fact, over the past three seasons, his 8.5 WAR per 650 plate appearances is higher than any position player besides Trout, suggesting that he may well deserve to be higher here.
42. Kyle Seager, Mariners
Jon Tayler: The baseball version of Groundhog Day would definitely star the elder Seager brother, who has spent the last six seasons putting up the same excellent stats like clockwork. Unfortunately for him, his 2017 campaign was the day where Phil Connors steals the groundhog and drives off a cliff, as he set full-season career lows in batting average (.249), OPS+ (107), and WAR (2.5). Nonetheless, he’s as consistent as they come at the hot corner; that may not be sexy, but it’s definitely worth a top-50 slot.
41. Brian Dozier, Twins
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Dozier simply rakes for a second baseman. He's morphed from a good power hitter (18 homers in 2013, 23 in 2014) into one of the American League's most fearsome (42 home runs in 2016, 34 in 2017). He's as reliable as any everyday infielder (he's played at least 147 games since he assumed the full-time second base job in '13) and won the Gold Glove in 2017. There's no more important player to the Twins' astonishing turnaround from one of the worst teams in the big leagues into playing for the AL Wild Card last year. Power-hitting second basemen like Dozier just don't come around too often, and he's a player that probably lacks the exposure he deserves because of Minnesota's small market.
40. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
Jay Jaffe: The son of a former MLB utilityman wasn't expected to contribute until late 2017, but injuries brought Belinger to the majors in late April, around 11 weeks before his 22nd birthday. He did nothing less than set an NL rookie record for homers, make the All-Star team, supplant Adrian Gonzalez at first base and unanimously take home NL Rookie of the Year honors. While his long swing makes him strikeout-prone, he's a disciplined hitter and a decent baserunner whose athleticism would hold up in centerfield.
39. Christian Yelich, Brewers
Jack Dickey: Yelich sneaks up on you. He has never appeared in a playoff or all-star game. He has spent much of his big-league career as the third-best outfielder on his own team. He does nothing exceptionally. But he does everything well. He hits for average and moderate power; he hits to all fields; he walks; he steals bases; he plays a credible center field. He’s done all this for four straight years—and he’s only 26. The major question facing Yelich and his new employers in Milwaukee is whether he can become more than what he has been. He has a slugger’s frame but the swing of a slap hitter. To date his results have met in the middle. The Brewers need more than that to catch Chicago.
38. Trea Turner, Nationals
Jon Tayler: By the time you’ve finished reading this sentence, Trea Turner will be standing on second base. One of baseball’s fastest men (right up there with Buxton and Billy Hamilton), Turner marries game-changing speed with line drives for days and solid if unspectacular defense at shortstop. His ceiling is one of the higher ones in baseball, but he hasn’t been able to reach it yet thanks in part to injuries that limited him to 98 games in 2017 and left him a wreck at the plate, particularly in the playoffs (3-for-21 with seven strikeouts, each uglier than the last). If he can pull together a full healthy season, there’s no limit to what he can do.
37. Lorenzo Cain, Brewers
Jay Jaffe: Eric Hosmer got all the hype, but Cain's been the more valuable Royal in recent years thanks to his combination of midrange power, excellent speed and baseruning skills, and outstanding defense, even if he fell off a bit in 2017 (+5 DRS, compared to +29 over the previous two seasons). He's another player who arguably should rank higher here, as he was 10th in the AL in WAR in 2017 (5.3) and is tied with Simmons for 16th among position players (15.4) over the past three seasons.
36. Madison Bumgarner, Giants
Connor Grossman: It’s strange to see Bumgarner outside of the top 10 pitchers in baseball, but that’s the world he lives in after a dirt bike accident (separated shoulder) cost him half of last season. This year will be a critical one for Bumgarner. He’s out to prove he isn’t dealing with any residual effects from last season’s injury, potentially enticing the Giants to mull over a $200-plus million extension.
35. Noah Syndergaard, Mets
Jay Jaffe: Syndergaard's strained latissimus dorsi—which happened just three days after the pitcher was scratched from his regular turn due to shoulder and biceps discomfort but declined to undergo an MRI—not only wrecked his 2017 season (and that of the Mets), it clouds the rankings a bit. With a full season on par with what he did in 2016, he might rank in the top 25 here, but as it is, he’s the ninth-ranked starting pitcher here; he was tied for eighth in the majors in pitching WAR in 2016 (5.3), that while placing third in ERA (2.60) and ninth in strikeouts (218).
34. Robinson Cano, Mariners
Connor Grossman: The veteran second baseman regressed at the dish and in the field last season. He’s still a very solid contributor to Seattle’s lineup, but if the Mariners want to have a stake in the AL West race this season they’ll need more of the 39-homer, .298-hitting Cano they saw in 2016.
33. Anthony Rendon, Nationals
Gabriel Baumgaertner: Rendon is another one of those technical hitters—much like his teammate Daniel Murphy—who should be watched regularly to be appreciated. In an era where high strikeout totals are widely accepted as part of the game, Rendon actually walked (84 times) more than he struck out (82) en route to a .403 OBP and a 140 OPS+. He was in the thick of the MVP discussion all year last year, and is maybe the best complementary player in baseball. He has plus power (25 homers), always hits for extra bases (a 44% XBH rate last season) and is a strong defender at third base. Rendon will be in for a huge payday once he hits free agency in 2020.
32. Andrelton Simmons, Angels
Jay Jaffe: Simmons is unquestionably the game's top defensive shortstop. Since 2012, a season in which he played only 49 games, he's racked up 163 Defensive Runs Saved, 93 more than second-ranked Brandon Crawford. But it's his maturation as a hitter that has turned him into one of the game's top players. In 2017, he set career highs in doubles (38), total bases (248), OBP (.331), SLG (421), OPS+ (103) and WAR (7.1). Arguably, he should rank even higher here, as his 15.4 WAR over the past three seasons is tied for 16th among all position players.
31. Carlos Carrasco, Indians
Jon Tayler: Are you ready to accept that Carlos Carrasco is one of the best pitchers in baseball? The Venezuelan righty was simply dazzling in 2017, posting career bests as a starter in innings (200), strikeouts (226), ERA (3.29), ERA+ (139) and WAR (5.4). Then again, none of those were terribly far off from what he did the year previous. Long one of the most slept-on starters in the game, now is the time to recognize that, were it not for the presence of two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, Carrasco would be the Indians’ deserving ace. As is, he’s arguably the best No. 2 starter in baseball. If you somehow still don’t know his name, learn it now; he’s a superstar waiting to happen.
30. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
Jay Jaffe: During his tenure in Texas, Beltre has become one of the game's most beloved elder statesman and a social media favorite thanks to his home runs hit from one knee, his attempts to elude head-rubs from teammates and his ejection for moving the on-deck circle (!), but that's not why he ranks so high here. He's maintained his combination of potent hitting and stellar hot corner defense well into his late 30s, and has assured himself of a first-ballot Hall of Fame berth by collecting his 3,000th hit and putting his 500th home run in sight (he's got 462).
29. Buster Posey, Giants
Connor Grossman: The Giants’ backstop continues to blend a steady offensive presence (slashing .309/.376/.464 over the last four seasons) with an elite defensive skillset, earning Posey the top spot among catchers on our list. The most jarring takeaway from Posey’s 2017 campaign comes in the home run column. His 12 big flys represents a career low. Posey won’t ever produce gaudy power numbers, but don’t be surprised to see them climb a bit in 2018.
28. Charlie Blackmon, Rockies
Connor Grossman: A surprising MVP-type year from Blackmon keyed an equally surprising playoff season for the Rockies. After posting career-highs in every relevant offensive category (37 HR, 104 RBIs, 1.000 OPS, to name a few) and leading the league in hits, runs, and total bases, Blackmon fits into a second tier of outfielders just below the likes of Stanton, Harper and Judge. Another season like his last could certainly change that.
27. George Springer, Astros
Jon Tayler: It’s easy, when you’re part of a record-setting offense featuring the pint-sized version of Pete Rose (at the plate, anyway) and the best young shortstop since Alex Rodriguez, to get overlooked. Case in point: Springer, who clobbered 34 home runs out of the leadoff spot atop Houston’s dynamite lineup, posted a 144 OPS+ and slashed his strikeout rate dramatically, yet still had to fight for oxygen behind Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. But Springer’s bonkers World Series (.379/.471/1.000 and five homers in seven games, as well as an MVP award that was probably the easiest decision the writers have ever had to make) ensured that his name will ring out a little louder in 2018. It should: At 28, he still has plenty of room to get better, especially now that he’s significantly improved his plate discipline and contact rates.
26. Jose Ramirez, Indians
Jon Tayler: It’s tempting to say that Jose Ramirez came out of nowhere to become an All-Star and finish third in the MVP voting, and in some sense, that is true. The chubby Dominican infielder was never a prospect of any note, struggling to hit at every level of the minors, and he was used, in his infrequent stays in Cleveland, primarily as a utility infielder of little renown. That began to change in 2016, though, when he became the team’s regular third baseman in the second half, displacing declining veteran Juan Uribe, and posted a 114 OPS+ as an integral part of a pennant winner. Then came last year’s shocking results: a .318/.374/.583 line with 29 homers, 17 steals, a 145 OPS+ and 6.9 WAR—ninth best among all major leaguers. Ramirez hits the ball hard and puts it in the air—a winning formula for this era of the game—and makes tons of contact inside and outside the strike zone. How he turned into an MVP contender, that’s a little harder to discern, but there’s no doubting what he is now.
25. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
Jon Tayler: To those blessed with talents us mere mortals can barely comprehend, the expectations will always be higher, and the criticism will always be louder. That’s been the case in the stellar but star-crossed career of Strasburg. His stuff is, on a pure basis, maybe the best of any pitcher alive, armed as he is with a 97-mph fastball, a changeup that vanishes like a magic trick, and a curveball that loops like an out-of-control roller coaster. But when you have the pitches he does, and when you were supposed to be a Hall of Famer from the moment you stepped on an MLB mound for the first time, nothing ever feels good enough. Maybe, then, Strasburg’s incredible NLDS Game 4 start, in which he saved the Nationals from elimination despite being sick and struck out 12 Cubs in seven scoreless innings, will be the turning point for those who slag on the righty for not being the second coming of Roger Clemens. Forget the hype, and forget the haters: When Strasburg is on, there’s almost no pitcher on earth you’d rather have, and even when he isn’t, he’s still one of the best starters in the league. That alone should be enough.
24. Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks
Jay Jaffe: On the heels of his stellar, Cy-worthy 2015 (1.66 ERA, 9.3 WAR), Greinke's first year of his six-year, $206.5 million deal in Arizona was a dud, but he bounced back in convincing fashion in 2017, ranking sixth in the NL in ERA (3.20), fifth in strikeouts (215, his highest total since 2009) and fourth in WAR (6.0). For as much as the penny-pinching Diamondbacks would like to get out from under his contract, their chances at another playoff berth are much stronger with him heading the rotation.
23. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
Jon Tayler: Set your watch to Rizzo, who just cranked out his fourth straight season with an on-base percentage of .386 or better, a slugging percentage above .500, and an OPS+ above 130. He’s even more consistent by home runs, with totals of 32, 31, 32 and 32 over the last four years. Rizzo’s overall numbers took a slight hit last year thanks in large part to a brutal month of May in which he hit .194, but even amid that slide, he still posted a respectable OBP of .347. Still only 27 but carrying himself with the presence of a 15-year veteran, the Cubs’ star first baseman is one of the game’s best and most patient hitters and one of the engines of Chicago’s superlative lineup. Consistency can be boring, but the Cubs likely don’t care when it looks like Rizzo.
22. Freddie Freeman, Braves
Jack Dickey: Not that long ago—specifically, after his injury-shortened 2015, in which he turned 26 and hit .276/.370/.471—it was fair to wonder whether Freddie Freeman was one of the best hitters of his generation or merely a fine one. He struck out too much and hadn’t developed elite power. While he still strikes out too much Freeman’s adjusted on-base-plus-slugging over the last two seasons ranks fourth in baseball behind only Mike Trout, Joey Votto, and Jose Altuve. And there’s every reason to think he’d have managed even better power numbers last year had a May wrist fracture not left him a diminished player upon his return. (Freeman was hitting an eye-popping .341/.461/.748 when Aaron Loup’s pitch hit him.) He has declared himself fully healthy, and he’s poised to have an All-Star season for the rebuilding Braves.
21. Justin Turner, Dodgers
Gabriel Baumgaertner: The shaggy, auburn-bearded wonder has famously gone from released by the Mets to one of baseball's most valuable infielders, but it's worth emphasizing just how good Turner is. He struck out just 56 times last season. He's one of the best defenders at third base not named Arenado or Bryant. He logged 147 hits, just six fewer than he did in 2016, despite playing in 23 fewer games because of injury. His walk total has increased each of the last four seasons, as has his on-base percentage. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth in the big leagues behind only Joey Votto, Mike Trout and Aaron Judge. Turner seems to be getting more recognition because of his role on one of the league's best teams, but his rise to one of the league's best infielders is remarkable.