Smell that? It's the scent of freshly mown grass and raked dirt. That can mean only one thing: The baseball season is rapidly approaching. And in advance of the 2021 MLB campaign, we're ranking the best baseball players without regard for position.
Pitchers, catchers, outfielders, infielders, designated hitters—everyone's eligible for inclusion. This is meant to be a comprehensive look at the sport's top talents at this very second.
This exercise won't look much different than the top baseball players from 2020. The hierarchy in MLB doesn't change that much on a year-to-year basis. At the same time, we've had an entire regular season, playoffs, and a World Series matchup to compile new observations. There will be some shake-ups relative to last year's pecking order.
Perhaps you're wondering what purpose this serves. That's fine. For starters, it's fun. But also, taking stock of MLB's top players can help clue you in to which National and American League teams you should monitor on the futures circuit.
On top of that, top sportsbooks like Bovada and BetOnline will invariably post betting lines for the MVP and Cy Young award winners. This top-10 ranking will give you plenty of candidates to monitor in both categories prior to 2021 MLB props hitting peak availability.
Ranking Top 10 MLB Players
As always, our MLB rankings will be presented in reverse order, beginning with No. 10 and finishing at No. 1. Everything is on the table when determining player placement, with the heaviest emphasis devoted to 2020 performance and projected 2021 contributions.
10. Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF Los Angeles Dodgers
Cody Bellinger has fallen outside a lot of MLB rankings this year because he's coming off a down season in which he posted a career-low .239 batting average. We're not ready to give up on the 25-year-old.
Not only is he just 25, but he was the 2019 National League MVP and remains only one season removed from notching a .305 batting average. Buy the dip! He'll be fine.
9. Francisco Lindor, SS, New York Mets
Francisco Lindor is another big name who has tumbled down MLB rankings everywhere. Last year represented a downturn for many players, and he was not immune. He posted career lows in slugging percentage and batting average.
Color us unconcerned. He has a chance to rebound after going from the Cleveland Indians to the Mets. Their lineup structure makes it harder for pitchers to try wheeling and dealing around him, and even if his offense falters, he remains among the best defensive shortstops alive.
8. Jacob deGrom, SP, New York Mets
Two Mets in the top 10? This feels weird.
Advanced analytics enthusiasts love Jacob deGrom. He grades out as the best starting pitcher in the league, according to similar rankings done by places like MLB Network and ESPN.
It's not hard to see why. Amid a shortened 2020 season, he still put up a sub-2.40 ERA and led all qualified pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings.
7. Manny Machado, 3B, San Diego Padres
Manny Machado headlined top-10 rankings everywhere entering the 2020 MLB season. He has since fallen between No. 15 and No. 20 this year. We refuse to follow the trend.
In his second season with San Diego, Machado batted a career-high .304 while recording a personal-best slugging percentage. Perhaps his defense starts to slip entering his age-28 season, but the raw magnetism on offense isn't going anywhere.
6. Gerritt Cole, SP, New York Yankes
Gerritt Cole just edges out Jacob deGrom as the top pitcher on our list. Though the latter is a dominant force, we just can't quit the Yankees' right-hander.
Cole's top speeds are the stuff of legend, and he has posted a sub-2.90 ERA in each of the past three seasons. It doesn't hurt that he's now fully acclimated to the Yankees rotation, either.
5. Juan Soto, OF, Washington Nationals
It took Juan Soto just three pro seasons to break baseball—all before his 22nd birthday, mind you.
Last year, the Nationals' left fielder led all qualified players in batting average (.351) and slugging percentage (.695). Pitchers will have a deeper scouting report on him now, but players who don't lean on pure power are harder to figure out. As more of an opportunistic hitter, Soto should be immune to a fourth-year dip.
4. Ronald Acuna Jr., OF, Atlanta Braves
Ronald Acuna Jr.s' value is best illustrated by his lows. He hit a career-low .250 at the plate last season while failing to establish himself as a top-tier baserunner...and he still finished inside the top 12 of National League MVP voting.
That isn't some sort of anomaly. Acuna still goes yard at a decent clip even when his batting average is down, and he remains a reliable decision-maker in the outfield.
3. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
What can we say about Mike Trout that hasn't already been said? In any given season, he has the chance to be the MLB's best player.
Last season saw his hitting numbers take a slight dive, but he still remained one of baseball's most terrifying batters. He has led MLB in OPS (on-base-plus-slugging-percentage) through four of the past six years and is basically a given to jack 38 to 45 homers every year at this point.
If he's able to stay healthy all season—a big if—this top-three spot might sell him short.
2. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, San Diego Padres
The Padres are absolutely stacked, but no player on the roster comes close to rivaling the importance of Fernando Tatis Jr. Entering his third season, he has very much become the face of baseball.
Few will argue against his rise. His numbers last year didn't quite align with his rookie season, but he still batted .277 while belting 17 homers and improving drastically on defense. Don't be surprised if he winds up finishing inside the top five of WAR (wins above replacement) this time around. He has that kind of talent.
1. Mookie Betts, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Rolling with Fernando Tatis Jr. makes some sense here, but we're going with the reigning World Series MVP instead.
Sure, Mookie Betts is now two years removed from batting an MLB-best .346. But he's hovered around .300 in each of the past two seasons with OPS marks in the low-90s. Coupled with his big-play potential in the outfield, he is once again almost guaranteed to finish inside the top five of MVP voting.