The march toward the 2024 regular season in Major League Baseball continues through spring training action. As we kill some time, I will power rank different things each week. I already kicked off the spring with myand then worked through and .
This week, we'll discuss players, but it's with a wrinkle. I'm going to pick the best player on each of the 30 teams and then rank those 30. That means this most certainly is not a "top 30 players" ranking. Just look at the Dodgers. Even if we leave everyone else out, there's Shohei Ohtani, Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. Those three players are all very, excruciatingly obvious top-30 players in baseball. For this exercise I can only grab one, however.
It will not be Ohtani. Not this year. This was an incredibly difficult decision, but Ohtani can't pitch this season, so he's only a designated hitter. I do not think it's out of the realm of possibility that Ohtani has such a ridiculous offensive season that he proves to be the best Dodgers player. I still think he'll be amazing enough at the plate and on the bases to easily be a top-20 (and that's conservative) player this season.
But Mookie Betts is around. In addition to hitting .307/.408/.579 (163 OPS+) with 40 doubles, 39 homers, 107 RBI (as a leadoff man), 126 runs and 14 stolen bases, Betts played more than 700 innings of outstanding right field, filled in with exceptional defense in 485 innings at second base and even played 98 innings, capably, at shortstop. That kind of value pushes Betts over any DH, even a fully functional Ohtani.
This is also a good time to point out these are most certainly not fantasy rankings (note the defensive value factoring in) and, we must reiterate, this is not "the 30 best players."
Finally, this should have been evident, but it's for the 2024 season, so it's predictive and I'm doing that on my own.
Ronald Acuna Atlanta Braves RF
|1. This is the one spot where it's a true ranking. Obviously if I take the best player from every team and then rank those 30 players, the one at the top will be the player I'm declaring the best player in baseball for this season and that would be Mr. Acuña. Everything he did last season came at age 25 and in his first full season of baseball since 2019. We have every reason to believe he can be a similar player for not just this season, but the next several years.
Mookie Betts Los Angeles Dodgers RF
|2. Mookie keeps the Dodgers' spot warm here until Ohtani can pitch again, but he's more than simply a placeholder. He's a bona fide super-duper star. If anything, he's actually become underrated. Some historical perspective: Betts has three 8+ WAR seasons through his age-30 year. Only 31 players in history have ever done that. The most recent? Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.
Aaron Judge New York Yankees RF
|3. This was an incredibly tough decision between Judge and Juan Soto -- and Gerrit Cole should be mentioned as well. Even though I got pretty worried for Judge after his comments about his big toe needing constant maintenance for the rest of his career, I'll stick with the big man. Following his 62-homer season and before hurting that toe last year, he was hitting .291/.404/.674 with 10 homers and 40 RBI in 49 games. A full season of that and he could well win MVP again.
Julio Rodriguez Seattle Mariners CF
|4. This is a lofty spot for Julio, but he's primed to take another big step forward. He was a rookie at age 21 and then struggled early in his sophomore campaign. He hit .302/.354/.526 in his last 111 games after that early slump. He's primed for a full year of ridiculousness now at age 23.
Fernando Tatis San Diego Padres RF
|5. For many people, there will always be stigma surrounding Tatis due to his PED suspension in 2022. They can't deny the extreme level of talent here, though. Remember, in his first three years (ages 20-22), Tatis hit .293/.369/.596 (160 OPS+) with 162-game averages of 48 homers, 116 RBI, 125 runs, 31 steals and 7.5 WAR. Injuries and the 2020 shutdown hampered him. Then the 2022 suspension (and more injuries) happened. He was rusty last season upon his return but still posted outstanding numbers. He's going to go nuts this year and is a great sleeper MVP pick.
Yordan Alvarez Houston Astros DH
|6. Alvarez doesn't bring the defense to the level the players immediately above him do, but his bat is scary enough that it negates any concerns (plus, left field in Minute Maid Park isn't exactly spacious). In the last three seasons, Alvarez has hit .292/.385/.573 (163 OPS+) with 162-game averages of 42 homers and 123 RBI. He's also shown a penchant for big home runs and would be a nice selection for "scariest player to step in the batter's box for opposing pitchers."
Bryce Harper Philadelphia Phillies DH
|7. Perhaps a controversial choice here because Trea Turner is likely in for a monster season after getting over whatever was going in for the first four months last season, not to mention the value Zack Wheeler brings to the mound, but I've got Harper with an MVP-caliber season here in 2024. If he wins, that would be his third MVP, putting him on level with only Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, A-Rod, Mike Schmidt, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio and Jimmie Foxx (only Barry Bonds has more than three and he had seven).
Corey Seager Texas Rangers SS
|8. The question with Seager is always going to be whether he can on the field. Hell, even last season when he finished second in AL MVP voting, he only appeared in 119 games. He managed to go nuts in those games, though, hitting .327/.390/.623 (170 OPS+) with 42 doubles, 33 homers, 96 RBI, 88 runs and 6.9 WAR. He was also a beast en route to the Rangers winning the World Series, taking his second World Series MVP.
Gunnar Henderson Baltimore Orioles 3B
|9. This was one of the toughest choices in terms of which player to pick, because I feel like Adley Rutschman would be the pick for many. Maybe he should be the pick. I'm still torn. I just think Henderson is about to take things to another level. He started really slow last season before appearing to unlock things. In his last 117 games, he had 26 doubles, eight triples, 25 homers, 75 RBI and 80 runs. His defensively versatility will make things easier as they look to integrate even more high-upside stars -- including Jackson Holliday, who just might steal this spot next year.
Corbin Carroll Arizona Diamondbacks LF
|10. Hopefully the shoulder thing doesn't pop back up, but he appeared in 155 regular season games before 17 in the playoffs and seemed just fine. Carroll was amazing in his first full season last year, hitting .285/.362/.506 (134 OPS+) with 30 doubles, 10 triples, 25 homers, 76 RBI, 116 runs, 54 steals and 5.4 WAR. He was only 22. And now he's got all that playoff experience, too!
Bobby Witt Kansas City Royals SS
|11. Witt now has a long-term extension in hand as he takes over as face of the Royals, succeeding mainstay backstop Salvador Pérez. In Witt's second year in 2023, as a 23 year old, he hit .276 with a 120 OPS+, 28 doubles, 11 triples, 30 home runs, 96 RBI, 97 runs, 49 stolen bases and 4.4 WAR. He's going to get better, too.
Jose Ramirez Cleveland Guardians 3B
|12. The worry here is the power is starting to dip for Ramírez. In the last three years, his home run totals have gone from 36 to 29 to 24 while his slugging has fallen from .538 to .514 to .475. He moves to his age-31 season now, so there's reason to believe with his 5-foot-9 frame that the decline is real there. He's still a complete stud, which is why he's positioned on this list where he is. I just think we've seen the best of him.
Francisco Lindor New York Mets SS
|13. It's funny what a slow start after signing a large contract will do, because the sentiment around Lindor at this point has made him underrated. All he did last season in 160 games (after 161 in 2022) was compile 33 doubles, two triples, 31 homers, 98 RBI, 108 runs, 31 steals and 6.0 WAR. His .254 batting average angers some, but he walks and hits for power and ended up with a 120 OPS+. A power-speed combo with great defense at shortstop from a dude who is seemingly always smiling. What's not to like?
Mike Trout Los Angeles Angels CF
|14. We know all about the positives here, which include three MVPs and four second-place finishes in MVP voting. But Trout hasn't played close to a full, 162-game season since his 134 games in 2019. He hasn't gone more than 140 since 2016. Since the dialed-back 2020, he's played in 36, 119 and 82, respectively. He's still incredibly productive (hell, he hit 40 homers in 2022), but it's a major concern that he can't stay on the field as he moves toward his age-32 season.
Kevin Gausman Toronto Blue Jays SP
|15. Had I done this exercise a few years ago, the Blue Jays entrant would've been in the top 10 and maybe even the top five, but Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has failed in two attempts to replicate that special 2021 season. He's still a very good player, just as Bo Bichette is, but Gausman is the man for the Jays at this point. He led the AL with 237 strikeouts last season in 185 innings while posting a 3.16 ERA (2.97 FIP) and 1.18 WHIP.
Logan Webb San Francisco Giants SP
|16. Webb led the majors in innings pitched last year at 216 and, boy do I love me a workhorse. He ended up the Cy Young runner-up with a 3.25 ERA and 1.07 WHIP with 194 strikeouts against 31 walks. Heading to his age-27 season and pitching in a good home ballpark, he's as safe a bet as they come to have another big season.
Nolan Arenado St. Louis Cardinals 3B
|17. Can you believe this will be Arenado's 12th MLB season? He's still as smooth as they come with the glove at third base, but his bat took a step back last season (.266/.315/.459, 109 OPS+). He's still young enough at age 33 to expect a better season with the bat, but it's just as possible the prime, top-five MVP seasons are behind him.
Yandy Diaz Tampa Bay Rays 1B
|18. Díaz has steadily grown as an all-around player the last three seasons, going all the way up to All-Star, Silver Slugger, batting champion and sixth-place MVP finisher last season. He also set career highs with 173 hits, 35 doubles, 22 homers, 78 RBI, 95 runs and 5.2 WAR.
Luis Robert Chicago White Sox CF
|19. Easy choice here. Robert finally put it all together for one full, relatively injury-free season in 2023 and it was glorious. He collected 36 doubles, 38 homers, 80 RBI (for a terrible team), 90 runs, 20 steals and 5.0 WAR. There's more upside here if the batting average comes up and brings the on-base percentage with it, but we've seen his tools.
Rafael Devers Boston Red Sox 3B
|20. Devers will be 27 this year. His last three seasons, on average: 150 games, .282/.354/.520 (133 OPS+), 38 doubles, 33 homers, 100 RBI, 92 runs and 3.9 WAR. He's a star and legit middle-order needle-mover, but he probably falls shy of superstardom and we haven't seen the Red Sox contend with a team built around him (remember, he was a supporting cast member for the likes of Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, previously).
Matt McLain Cincinnati Reds SS
|21. A litany of Reds players could end up being the best on the team this season. It was probably the hardest to pick. There's the tantalizing upside of Elly De La Cruz, the possibility of Hunter Greene leaping up to ace levels this season and a handful of others capable. In 89 games as a rookie last season, McLain hit .290/.357/.507 (129 OPS+) with 23 doubles, four triples, 16 homers, 50 RBI, 65 runs, 14 steals and 3.7. He's not far from being a complete player already and he's the best bet here.
Carlos Correa Minnesota Twins SS
|22. There might be some votes for Royce Lewis here, but I'd like to see it for a full season. Correa's brutal 2023 season will hopefully prove to be an outlier after he finished fifth in MVP voting in 2021 and then posted a 5.5 WAR in 136 games in 2022. Still, I can't rank him any higher after last year's nonsense.
Nico Hoerner Chicago Cubs 2B
|23. Even with Cody Bellinger's bounce-back season -- which earned him a nice offseason deal -- Dansby Swanson's steady shortstop play and power numbers and Justin Steele's leap up to frontline starter status, Hoerner was the Cubs' leader in WAR last season. He's one of the best defensive second basemen, can play short, hits for average and stole 43 bases last year. If not Hoerner, I'd actually be inclined to take Seiya Suzuki this season, as I believe he's primed for a breakthrough in his third season stateside.
Luis Arraez Miami Marlins 2B
|24. Arráez flirted with .400 for a lot longer last season than most players have for decades. That was fun. He still ended up hitting .354, securing his second straight batting title (one in each league). His batsmith skill is so far ahead of his others that he'll have to keep rocking that high average to be a valuable player. I'll bet on it happening at least one more season.
William Contreras Milwaukee Brewers C
|25. The injury of Brandon Woodruff, trade of Corbin Burnes and limited 2023 Christian Yelich bounce-back open the door for new blood here. The younger Contreras here has shown he's a great hitter now for a full season and also had exceptional framing stats last year, helping improve his pitchers. He'll be their most valuable player this season as they look to reload the staff.
Tarik Skubal Detroit Tigers SP
|26. Riley Greene or Spencer Torkelson (who I'm expecting to have a huge power season) could've also been the picks, but I'll take the southpaw Skubal based on his stellar return from flexor tendon surgery last season. In 15 starts, he worked 80 1/3 innings, striking out 102 against 14 walks with a 2.80 ERA (2.00 FIP) and 0.90 WHIP.
Bryan Reynolds Pittsburgh Pirates LF
|27. Tough choice here. Ke'Bryan Hayes or Mitch Keller could be justified and the popular upside pick would be Oneil Cruz after a broken leg ruined his possible breakout 2023. Reynolds established stardom in 2021 and has followed it up with two clearly lesser, albeit good, seasons. I will say this: In order for the Pirates to have a fun 2024 season, they'll need Cruz to overtake Reynolds.
Kris Bryant Colorado Rockies RF
|28. I realize that none of the projection systems are going to agree, but I'm going with a Bryant bounce back after two miserable, injury-riddled seasons in Colorado for the former MVP who is still plenty close enough to prime age at 32. Let's also keep in mind the dearth of other Rockies options gets an assist here. Perhaps Nolan Jones would've been a better pick, but I'm going with the established upside and a little hope.
Zack Gelof Oakland Athletics 3B
|29. The former second-round pick debuted last season and played 69 games, performing very nicely. Despite a cavernous home ballpark, he slugged .504, thanks to 20 doubles, a triple and 14 homers.
C.J. Abrams Washington Nationals SS
|30. The 23-year-old Abrams showed flashes of quality upside last season for the Nats. He's a shortstop who had 28 doubles, six triples, 18 homers and 47 steals in his first full-time MLB season.