MLB Top 100 player rankings: Machado ready to make the next jump to No. 1?

The 2017 regular season is upon us, and now it’s time for our first monthly look at the top 100 players in baseball.

Being that no actual games have yet been played, these preseason rankings are based upon reasonable expectations, whereby we use things like age, recent performance trends, and injury history to make educated guesses as to which players will provide the most value in 2017. Once we get into the season, it’ll all be based on performance to date. In this first episode, though, it’s all about who we expect to be best players in MLB this year.

And we’re talking in-a-vacuum value in this season and this season alone, with no heed paid to future seasons or how much money the player in question is making (i.e., salaries have no bearing on the rankings).

As for what matters, with position players it’s a mix of batting, defense, and baserunning. On offense, we’re not concerned with things like RBI. Getting on base and hitting for power matter above all, as do playing time, context of the player’s home ballpark, and production relative to positional peers (e.g., the offensive bar is lower for shortstops and catchers than it is for first basemen and DHs).

For pitchers, projected run prevention and workload will be the drivers, but we’ll also give some consideration to underlying fundamental indicators like strikeouts and walks. No, I don’t care about pitcher wins and losses -- those are team stats. Also, we’re concerned with actual on-field value, not fantasy rankings (although there will obviously be a great deal of overlap).

Now, like it or not, let’s roll out our 2017 preseason rankings of the top 100 players in baseball. As always, reach to the author at his personal email address -- hotmail@hotmail.jpg -- with all your misspelled complaints.

The Top 100 Players of 2017
100
Ender Inciarte Atlanta CF
Inciarte’s a true difference-maker with the glove in center, and he’s also shown solid on-base chops in recent seasons.
99
Charlie Blackmon Colorado CF
Blackmon’s coming off what will likely stand as a career year -- 130 OPS+, 29 homers, some value on the bases, and regular duty at an up-the-middle position. He’s now 30, so I don’t expect the upward trend to continue, but he’ll remain a useful regular.
98
Lorenzo Cain Kansas City CF
Cain’s lost a step in the outfield. However, he’s still capable of pinning down center and swiping a base on occasion, and it says here that he’ll enjoy a rebound at the plate in 2017.
97
Michael Fulmer Detroit SP
Fulmer was the AL Rookie of the Year last season thanks to a 3.06 ERA and 3.21 K/BB ratio across 26 starts. The former 44th overall pick has a balanced four-pitch arsenal fronted by a mid-90s fastball and hard slider. Expect good results once again.
96
Odubel Herrera Philadelphia CF
The former Rule 5 pick has been a hit for the Phils. In addition to flashing a plus glove in center, Herrera’s put up an OPS+ of 111 in each of his two seasons. Last season, he showed a more patient approach at the plate and made progress as a base-stealing threat. He’s going into his age-25 season.
95
Realmuto, who just turned 26, had developed solid defensive skills behind the plate, and he projects as an asset with the bat, especially by positional standards.
94
Kole Calhoun L.A. Angels RF
Calhoun’s a plus defensive right fielder, and he owns a career OPS+ of 114. He’s also averaged 158 games played over the last two seasons.
93
J.D. Martinez Detroit RF
Martinez will miss perhaps almost all of April with a foot injury, but for now his power outputs earn him a spot on the list. Since joining the Tigers and retooling his swing, he’s put up an ERA+ of 145 with 83 homers in 401 games.
92
Cons: He’s got a .302 OBP, and he’s not much of a defender. Pros: He hit 33 homers last season, he’s a middle infielder, and he’s just 23.
91
Contreras figures to be the Cubs’ primary catcher this season. He’s a quality defender, and his bat figures to be a plus relative to his positional peers.
90
Jean Segura Seattle SS
Segura had a bust-out season with the Diamondbacks last season. While regression is possible, I’m mostly buying into his skills growth. He may be stretched defensively as a shortstop by this point, but he’ll still add value on the bases.
89
Ian Kinsler Detroit 2B
Kinsler continues to defy the aging curve both offensively and defensively, and he also remains a plus baserunner.
88
Edwin Encarnacion Cleveland 3B
The Tribe’s new slugger is going into his age-34 season, so steep decline is certainly possible. Still, in the here and now he’s a top-tier power threat who also takes his walks.
87
Nelson Cruz Seattle DH
The 36-year-old DH just keeps hitting. He’s hit at least 40 homers in each of the last three seasons, and over that span he’s slugged .549.
86
Miguel Sano Minnesota 3B
Across his first 830 major-league plate appearances, Sano owns an OPS+ of 126, thanks mostly to his power. Last year, he cracked 25 homers in just 116 games. He’s a future All-Star.
85
Salvador Perez Kansas City C
Spring knee concerns aside, Perez is still a durable catcher, a highly regarded team leader, and a 20-homer threat.
84
The 22-year-old Benintendi is widely regarded as the top position player prospect in all of baseball. He enjoyed a very promising 34-game stint with the Sox last season, and he’s got a clear path to playing time in 2017. Consider him the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year honors.
83
Danny Salazar Cleveland SP
There’s obviously some risk with this ranking, as Salazar last season dealt with elbow issues. For now, though, we’ll be on the stuff (mid-90s fastball and sinker plus an active changeup with good velocity separation) and results going into his age-27 season.
82
Tulo appears to be in decline, but he remains a valuable defender. As well, his bat remains an asset as shortstops go.
81
Jose Ramirez Cleveland 3B
The 24-year-old third baseman is a defensive asset at his position and a plus base-runner, and he’s coming off a breakout campaign at the plate.
80
Pedroia’s 33, but he’s yet to show much in the way of steep decline at the plate or in the field. With David Ortiz retired, he’s now the face of the Red Sox.
79
Alex Bregman Houston 3B
Bregman overcame his brutally slow start last season to hint at the kind of production of which he’s capable. Don’t be surprised if his sophomore campaign yields 25 homers and strong defense at the hot corner.
78
Brandon Belt San Francisco 1B
Belt remains a valuable and underappreciated hitter. For his career, he owns an OPS+ of 127, and last season he racked up 17 homers, 41 doubles, and 100 unintentional walks.
77
Carlos Santana Cleveland DH
Santana’s into his thirties now, but he remains a steady producer for Cleveland. Last season, he clouted 34 homers while again drawing walks at a high rate. He’ll provide more power and patience in 2017.
76
Dallas Keuchel Houston SP
Keuchel of course disappointed last season after winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015. His numbers improved substantially in the second half, at least until a shoulder injury ended his season prematurely. He’s looked strong this spring, and the expectation here is that he improves substantially over his 2016 outputs.
75
Jon Gray Colorado SP
At long last a homegrown ace for Colorado? Gray has the stuff to be just that. Expect strong park-adjusted numbers from the 25-year-old in 2016.
74
Kyle Schwarber Chi. Cubs C
There’s no doubt that Schwarber has an impact bat -- he boasts power and patience from the left side with no fear of the big moment. The question is how much of that value he’s going to give back with the glove. Expect Joe Maddon to work him in at multiple positions this season.
73
Cole Hamels Texas SP
The changeup artist saw his command falter a bit in 2016. However, he topped 200 innings for the seventh straight season, and his run-prevention numbers were as strong as ever.
72
Aaron Sanchez Toronto SP
Sanchez has spent parts of three seasons in the majors, and over the span of those 317 1/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.86 ERA. He’s still just 24 years of age.
71
Ben Zobrist Chi. Cubs 2B
Zobrist soon turns 36, but the baseball skills are still intact. Particularly encouraging is that last season he set a career high with 96 walks (90 unintentional) while striking out just 82 times. He also remains capable of pinning down multiple positions.
70
Kyle Hendricks Chi. Cubs SP
Hendricks enjoyed tremendous success last season when it comes to batted-ball outcomes. Some of that’s luck, but some of that is probably sustainable skill (particularly in front of that excellent Cubs team defense). No, he’s not going to pitch to a 2.13 ERA again, but his strong K/BB ratios in tandem with good groundball tendencies will serve him well.
69
Joc Pederson L.A. Dodgers CF
Pederson strikes out and doesn’t hit for high averages, and that’s precisely the kind of hitter who tends to be underrated. His power, willingness to take walks, and ability to man an up-the-middle position make him a valuable contributor.
68
Dexter Fowler St. Louis CF
Fowler enjoyed a defensive rebound last season thanks to improved positioning, and he ran an impressive .393 OBP while seeing a lofty 4.40 pitcher per plate appearance. Pair those skills with his speed and you have one of the best leadoff hitters in the game today.
67
Andrelton Simmons L.A. Angels SS
Simmons is still a major needle-mover in the field, and that’s what drives his overall value. It’s looking like he’ll never build on the power potential he showed early in his career, but his fielding at the premium position of shortstop is still mega-elite.
66
Jacob deGrom N.Y. Mets SP
deGrom is in the discussion for best stuff in the Mets’ rotation, and that, obviously, says quite a bit. Across parts of three seasons, he owns an ERA+ of 138 and a K/BB ratio of 4.21. His somewhat checkered health history is all that keeps him from being significantly higher on this list.
65
Andrew McCutchen Pittsburgh RF
McCutchen of course endured a down season in 2016, but he remained reasonably productive overall. Call this a gut feeling more than anything, but I expect ‘Cutch to have a rebound season at the plate and grade out as a plus defender at his new corner position.
64
Bradley Jr. is a plus with the glove in center, and over the last two seasons he has a line of .262/.345/.489. Going into his age-27 season, he could take another step forward.
63
Stephen Strasburg Washington SP
Injuries are always the thing with Strasburg, and that’s why he’s not higher on this list despite still being in his 20s and having excellent career numbers.
62
Jake Arrieta Chi. Cubs SP
Arrieta had trouble commanding his fastball for much of last season, and the numbers reflected that. As much as he declined from his 2015 otherworldliness, though, he was still a darn good starting pitcher last season. He’ll be that again in his walk year.
61
Trea Turner Washington SS
Turner enjoyed a deeply impressive half-season with the Nats last year, and this season he’ll be back to his natural position of shortstop. He’s a threat at the plate and on the bases and has the potential to climb this list in the months to come.
60
Matt Carpenter St. Louis 3B
Carpenter’s long been a patient hitter at the plate and a steady on-base threat. Since adjusting his approach to yield more power, he’s hit 49 homers and 80 doubles over the last two seasons.
59
Danny Duffy Kansas City SP
Duffy’s taken quite well to starting detail, and last season was ample proof of that. The strides he made in terms of command are especially notable. He’s got three legit pitches, and I’d go so far as to call him a Cy Young darkhorse in 2017.
58
Brian Dozier Minnesota 2B
Dozier busted out last season with 42 homers, besting his previous career best by 14. I think that’ll stand as a career year, but even if he regresses Dozier has loads of power as middle infielders go.
57
Interrobang (this should be his nickname, you know) is soon to turn 38, but suffice it to say he’s still got it. Beltre remains a plus defensive third baseman and a reliable threat to hit the ball out of the park.
56
David Price Boston SP
Under normal circumstances, Price would be significantly higher on this list, but the uncertainty surrounding his arm health nets him a penalty. He pitched better than his overall 2016 numbers would lead you to believe, and he’s still got ace skills. But what about that elbow?
55
Yadier Molina St. Louis C
He’s at an age and a career workload at which most catchers are in deep decline. Molina, however, still has elite defensive skills, and he’s coming off one of his most productive seasons at the plate.
54
Brandon Crawford San Francisco SS
Crawford’s still one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, and over the years he’s developed impressive pop as his positional peers go.
53
Yasmani Grandal L.A. Dodgers C
Grandal is one of the best pitch-framers in baseball, and he’s also a genuine threat with the bat in his hands thanks to his power and willingness to take a walk. Last season, he mashed 27 homers in 126 games.
52
Anthony Rendon Washington 3B
Rendon’s a pronounced asset defensively, especially back at his natural position of third base. In 2016, he also enjoyed a rebound in terms of hitting and in terms of health.
51
Adam Eaton Washington CF
Eaton’s got the patience and OBP befitting a true leadoff hitter, and he’s also developed some pop. Last season, he was perhaps the best defensive corner outfielder in baseball. Back in center, he won’t rank among the league’s elite at the position, but he’ll still be solid enough.
50
Yoenis Cespedes N.Y. Mets LF
If all goes as planned, then Cespedes won’t sniff center field again, and that’s a good thing. Over the last three seasons, Cespedes has slugged .537 while averaging 37 homers per 162 games played. He’s on the wrong side of 30 now, but he’s showing no signs of slippage in the power department.
49
Carlos Martinez St. Louis SP
Over the last two seasons, Martinez has established himself as the present and future ace in St. Louis. Such were his results that the Cardinals committed to him long-term. In case you didn’t know it, he’s still just 25.
48
Addison Russell Chi. Cubs SS
Russell’s in the discussion for best defensive shortstop in the National League, and last season his 21 home runs hinted at his power potential. He’s going into his age-23 campaign and has a ceiling as high as anyone on the Cubs.
47
Masahiro Tanaka N.Y. Yankees SP
The splitter specialist has been excellent when healthy since making the leap stateside. Last season, Tanaka enjoyed his most sustained success to date and wound up notching his first top-10 finish in Cy Young balloting.
46
Byron Buxton Minnesota CF
I’m big on Buxton breaking out in 2017. He made adjustments and thrived down the stretch last season, and the tools and baseball skills are undeniable. He’s looking like a future superstar.
45
Justin Turner L.A. Dodgers 3B
Turner adjusted his swing to hit the ball in the air more often, and his career took off. He’s put up a 130 OPS+ since the start of the 2015 season, and he’s a plus fielder at third. The Dodgers were wise to keep him in the fold.
44
A.J. Pollock Arizona CF
Remember him? Pollock fractured his elbow late in spring training last year and wound up missing almost all of 2016. This year, he should get back to being a standout defensive center fielder with pop and speed on the bases.
43
When healthy, he’s probably the most devastating power hitter in the game. For a player of his stature, he’s also a deceptively good fielder and baserunner.
42
Last season, Bogaerts put up an OPS of .802, while the average big-league shortstop had a mark of .725. He also cracked 21 homers in his age-23 campaign.
41
Evan Longoria Tampa Bay 3B
In his age-30 season, Longoria enjoyed an offensive renaissance. The face of the franchise can still put up the power numbers, and he still plays a nifty third base. He’s also missed a total of six games over the last four seasons.
40
Gary Sanchez N.Y. Yankees C
Sanchez announced himself very loudly in his rookie season, as he slugged .657 and mashed 20 homers in just 53 games. To be sure, he’s not going to repeat those power numbers, but he is going to be a very productive hitter for the Yankees, especially by the standards of catchers.
39
Kevin Kiermaier Tampa Bay CF
Kiermaier is on short list of not only top defensive center fielders, but also top fielders at any position. He’s also an above-average hitter and a plus baserunner. It’s his needle-moving defense, though, that drives his value.
38
Springer’s a difference-maker with the glove, and for his career he’s averaged 31 home runs per 162 games played. Speaking of games played, Springer, who had injury concerns early in his career, played in all 162 of them in 2016.
37
Rick Porcello Boston SP
Porcello of course pitched his way to the AL Cy Young Award. Along the way, he rang up 223 innings and led the majors with a 5.91 K/BB ratio. Still just 28 years of age, Porcello has long had the stuff to reach such a level. Now he’s on that level.
36
Kyle Seager Seattle 3B
Seager’s an underrated sort who plays plus defense at the hot corner and who’s put up an OPS+ of 119 for his career. He’s coming off the first 30-homer campaign of his career.
35
Jose Quintana Chi. White Sox SP
The ruthlessly consistent Quintana is almost certainly not going to be with the White Sox much longer, and he’ll command a high price in trade. That’s with good cause. All this attention may mean he’s not underrated any longer. Instead, he’s just damn good.
34
Starling Marte Pittsburgh CF
The 28-year-old Marte owns an OPS+ of 118 for his career, and he’s coming off a season in which he stole 47 bases and took the extra base more than half the time. His fielding is such that he’s dislodged Andrew McCutchen from center field in Pittsburgh.
33
Carlos Carrasco Cleveland SP
The most underrated starting pitcher in baseball? It may be Carrasco. Over the last three seasons, he’s put up a 134 OPS+ and a 4.77 K/BB ratio. The question, of course, is durability.
32
Chris Archer Tampa Bay SP
After some midseason adjustments, Archer got back to being the guy who finished fifth in the AL Cy Young balloting in 2015. At age 28, he could be in for a big year.
31
Yu Darvish Texas SP
Health is always a question with Darvish, but the 30-year-old right-hander owns a career ERA+ of 129 and along the way he’s struck out more than 30 percent of opposing batters -- a remarkable figure for a starting pitcher.
30
Daniel Murphy Washington 2B
Murphy rebuilt his swing during his final season with the Mets, and he’s turned into one of the best left-handed hitters in baseball. Last season, he batted a thumping-good .347/.390/.595 with 77 extra-base hits versus just 57 strikeouts. No, he’s not much with the glove, but with plate numbers like that, he need not be.
29
Johnny Cueto San Francisco SP
Cueto in 2016 put together one of the best seasons of his career, especially in the command-and-control department. Time was when he had durability questions, but he’s racked up 675 1/3 innings over the last three years.
28
Jon Lester Chi. Cubs SP
Lester’s coming off probably the best season of his career, but even accounting for some regression and age-related decline, he profiles as a top-tier starting pitcher.
27
Verlander enjoyed a highly impressive renaissance season in 2016: 227 2/3 innings, 136 ERA+, AL-leading 254 strikeouts. Yes, he’s still got skills and ability to harness them.
26
Miguel Cabrera Detroit 1B
At some point, Cabrera will enter his deep decline phase, but it hasn’t happened yet. He’s a negative in the field and on the bases, but oh, that bat. The future Hall of Famer hit 38 bombs last season while running an OPS+ of 157.
25
Joey Votto Cincinnati 1B
When healthy, Votto produces on par with the best hitters in the game. Not many can match his career batting line of .313/.425/.536.
24
Yelich is a developing superstar with the bat, and this season his offensive skills will be even more valuable as he shifts to center field from left.
23
Lucroy’s still a plus behind the plate, and he’s still a high-quality hitter, especially compared to those of his premium defensive skills. The Rangers will very much enjoy having him behind the dish for a full season.
22
Freeman put aside those injury concerns by playing in 158 games last season and authoring a tremendous line of .302/.400/.569. He’s also entering what could be his prime seasons.
21
Goldy remains one of the more well-rounded players in the game, especially as first basemen go. In 2016, he led the NL in walks while hitting 24 homers and stealing a career-best 32 bases.
20
Anthony Rizzo Chi. Cubs 1B
Rizzo is a skilled defender at first base, and he’s established himself as one of the best “take and rake” hitters in all of baseball. Expect that to continue in 2017.
19
Noah Syndergaard N.Y. Mets SP
No other starting pitcher can match Syndergaard’s velocity, and his slider is one of the hardest in the game today. He put up an ERA+ of 158 in his first full season, and he could be ready to top 200 innings for the first time.
18
Buster Posey San Francisco C
Posey is still one of the top defensive catchers in baseball -- particularly when it comes to framing pitches -- and he’s still a frontline offensive producer relative to others at his position.
17
Robinson Cano Seattle 2B
Cano just keeps doing what he does. Last season, he launched a career-best 39 homers en route to putting up an OPS+ of 138. He also remains a solid defensive second baseman and one of the most durable players of his generation.
16
Madison Bumgarner San Francisco SP
While Mad-Bum’s postseason reputation is firmly in place, he’s somewhat quietly put up the best regular-season numbers of his career in 2016. He’ll be going for his seventh straight season of at least 200 innings pitched.
15
Corey Kluber Cleveland SP
Kluber’s got lights-out stuff, and he’s coming off a season in which he finished third in the AL Cy Young balloting. He also boasts a career K/BB ratio of 4.52.
14
Corey Seager L.A. Dodgers SS
Seager has the potential to be higher on this list -- he’s a quality defensive shortstop who last season hit like an All-Star first baseman. The reigning NL Rookie of the Year has a bright future and present.
13
Chris Sale Boston SP
Sale has established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball, and he’s been relatively healthy despite what looks like a high-stress delivery. With a better defense behind him in Boston, don’t be shocked if the gangly lefty wins the Cy this season.
12
Nolan Arenado Colorado 3B
Arenado is the NL’s top defensive third baseman, and he’s also developed into a leading power hitter. Yes, Coors Field helps his cause, but know that 38 of the 83 home runs he’s hit over the last two seasons have come on the road.
11
Jose Altuve Houston 2B
He’s got power, the ability to hit for high averages, enough glove to keep him in the middle infield for the time being, and elite baserunning chops. Altuve has methodically developed into one of the best players in the game today.
10
Bryce Harper Washington RF
Clear of the reported shoulder injuries that likely sapped his numbers last season and enjoying a strong spring, Harper is poised to get back to being one of the most productive hitters in the game.
9
Carlos Correa Houston SS
Correa made some adjustments at the plate midseason and resumed punishing the ball. Going into his age-22 season, he has a career OPS+ of 128 while averaging 27 homers per 162 games. Oh, and he’s a shortstop.
8
Max Scherzer Washington SP
He’s coming off his second Cy Young award, and the skills are very much intact at age 32. His four-season peak is deeply impressive: 2.95 ERA, 223 innings per season, 5.03 K/BB ratio.
7
Josh Donaldson Toronto 3B
Donaldson remains a plus fielder at the hot corner and an absolute machine at the plate. Since joining the Jays prior to the 2015 season, he’s authored an OPS+ of 151.
6
Francisco Lindor Cleveland SS
Lindor is an elite defender at the most premium position on the diamond. The bat’s also developed quite well, as he’s put up an OPS+ of 111 across two seasons in the bigs. Put him on your AL MVP short-list.
5
Mookie Betts Boston RF
Betts has long defied his small stature, and last season it all came together for him at the highest level. In addition to deservingly winning a Gold Glove for his work in right and swiping 26 bags, Betts also racked up a majors-leading 359 total bases. Expect more of the same from the 24-year-old who’s one of the most complete players in the game.
4
Kris Bryant Chi. Cubs 3B
The reigning NL MVP has power, is willing to take a walk, almost never hits into double plays, and is a plus defender at multiple positions. Speaking of which, Bryant’s positional flexibility does a lot for the Cubs’ excellent roster flow. Oh, and he’s still just 25.
3
Clayton Kershaw L.A. Dodgers SP
Eventually, Kerhsaw’s peak will come to an end, but for now he’s still on the right side of age 30. Not since 2010 has he finished outside the top five of the NL Cy Young balloting, and over the past three seasons he’s pitched to a 1.89 ERA with a K/BB ratio of 8.48. Absurd numbers.
2
Manny Machado Baltimore 3B
He’s going into his age-24 season, and he’s coming off a 2016 campaign in which he rang up 40 doubles and 37 homers while playing stellar defense at the hot corner.
1
Mike Trout L.A. Angels CF
The decorated five-tooler has won two MVPs in his five full seasons in the majors and finished runner-up on those three other occasions. Also, the best player in baseball is still just 25.

Surely you agree with everything you’ve just read. 

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