The 2018 regular season is upon us, and now it's time for our first monthly look at the top 50 players in baseball.

Being that no actual games have yet been played, these preseason rankings are based upon reasonable expectations. That means we'll use things like age, recent performance trends, and injury history to make educated guesses as to which players will provide the most value in 2018. Once we get into the season, it'll all be based on performance to date. In this first episode, though, it's all about whom we expect to be the 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, this scribe doesn'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 righteous grievances and misspelled obscenities …

50-41

50
Justin Upton Los Angeles Angels LF
The 2017 season was pretty much standard Upton: .273/.361/.540 with 35 spanks, 44 doubles, and some action on the bases. He's now 30, but he should have plenty of near-term value left in the tank.
49
Jose Quintana Chicago Cubs SP
Quintana's long been a consistent purveyor of innings, run prevention, and command. Last season he looked stronger after the trade to the Cubs, and he's still on the right side of age 30.
48
Justin Turner Los Angeles Dodgers 3B
Turner provides power and excellent defense at the hot corner. However, a broken wrist is going to keep him out for perhaps the first two months of the season, thus eating away at his 2018 value.
47
Eugenio Suarez Cincinnati Reds 3B
He plays pretty much every day, he draws walks, he hits for power, and he plays an impressive third base.
46
Madison Bumgarner San Francisco Giants SP
The Giants' ace returned to vintage form after his dirt bike accident last season. In 2018, he'll miss time following pinkie surgery. That missed time drops him in the preseason rankings, but expect frontline excellence when he gets back.
45
Zack Greinke Arizona Diamondbacks SP
Greinke's bounced back in a big way last season. He logged 202 ⅓ innings with an ERA+ of 149 and 215 strikeouts against just 45 walks. On the downside, he's 34 and struggled with velocity loss in the spring.
44
Lorenzo Cain Milwaukee Brewers RF
Cain played excellent defense this season and put up an OBP of .363 while stealing 26 bases in 28 attempts last season. Bet on another high-value year in 2018.
43
J.T. Realmuto Miami Marlins C
Realmuto remains an underrated player. He caught more than 1,000 innings last season, and over the last two years he's put up an OPS+ of 110 -- i.e., good production by the standards of catchers, especially good defensive catchers.
42
Noah Syndergaard New York Mets SP
On a "when healthy" basis, Syndergaard is one of the top pitchers in all of baseball, but the 25-year-old has a significant injury history. This ranking reflects the notion that he'll mostly but not fully healthy in 2018. If Thor approaches 200 innings, then he's a top-10 player.
41
Robbie Ray Arizona Diamondbacks SP
Ray missed time last season after being struck in the head by a line drive, but he still put up a 2.89 ERA with 218 strikeouts in 162 innings. He's absolutely got the stuff to back up those results.

40-31

40
Marcus Stroman Toronto Blue Jays SP
In 201 innings, Stroman pitched to a 3.09 ERA/149 ERA+, which somewhat quietly made him one of the AL's best starters last season. By the looks of it, he's leveled up.
39
Trea Turner Washington Nationals SS
He's a 24-year-old shortstop who projects as an above-average hitter and is one of the best baserunners in the league. So here he is.
38
Cody Bellinger Los Angeles Dodgers 1B
As a rookie, Bellinger was one of the richest sources of home run power in all of baseball this past season. He slugged .581 on the year and hit 39 homers in 132 games. The power is for real.
37
Christian Yelich Milwaukee Brewers LF
Yelich, who's going into his age-26 season, owns a career OPS+ of 120, adds value on the bases, and is a defensive asset at any outfield position. His new home ballpark may unlock his power potential in 2018 and beyond.
36
Stephen Strasburg Washington Nationals SP
Strasburg worked 175 ⅓ innings, struck out more than 200 batters, and registered an ERA of 2.52 while pitching exclusively from the stretch. When healthy, he's one of the best.
35
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Marcell Ozuna St. Louis Cardinals LF
Ozuna certainly appears to have taken the next step. Last season, the outfielder batted .312/.376/.548 with 37 dingers. Now in St. Louis, the 27-year-old figures to enjoy some relevant baseball.
34
Andrelton Simmons Los Angeles Angels SS
Simmons remains one of the top defenders at any position, and last season he put up an OPS+ of 104 with 38 doubles and 19 steals.
33
Jose Ramirez Cleveland Indians 3B
Ramirez is a plus defender at the hot corner, he's a useful threat on the bases, and in 2017 he was an extra-base machine (29 HR, 6 3B, 56 2B). He's also just 25.
32
Buster Posey San Francisco Giants C
Posey spent more than 800 innings behind the plate, and along the way he notched an OBP of .400 while cracking 34 doubles. It remains to be seen how much he's able to remain behind the plate going forward, but he can still produce.
31
Luis Severino New York Yankees SP
Young Severino was a rotation savior in the Bronx last year. In almost 200 innings, Severino struck out 29.4 percent of opposing batters and authored an ERA+ of 153. Until he proves those kinds of numbers are repeatable, though, we'll hedge a bit with his ranking.

30-21

30
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Willson Contreras Chicago Cubs C
Contreras, who has excellent defensive skills in tandem with power and plate discipline, is poised to succeed Buster Posey as the best all-around catcher in baseball.
29
Paul Goldschmidt Arizona Diamondbacks 1B
Goldy still figures to be one of the most complete first basemen in the game today. He's a good fielder, he stole 18 bases, and batted .297/.404/.563 last season. That's not out of step with what we've come to expect from him.
28
Anthony Rizzo Chicago Cubs 1B
Rizzo remains durable and perhaps the best defensive first baseman in baseball. Last season, he also batted .273/.392/.507 with 32 home runs. He's going into his age-28 campaign.
27
Alex Bregman Houston Astros 3B
Bregman maybe gets a bit overlooked in that stacked Houston lineup, but he's real threat to take the next step in 2018. He's coming off a 2017 season in which he batted .284/.352/.475 with 39 doubles.
26
Manny Machado Baltimore Orioles SS
Machado struggled through parts of 2016, but overall he remains a standout defender with big power potential. And he's still just 25. Back at shortstop, Machado's bat will be even more special going forward. He needs to rebound at the plate, though.
25
Byron Buxton Minnesota Twins CF
Buxton in the second half of the 2017 season showed how much offensive potential he has. Even when he's not hitting, though, his elite defense in center and similarly elite baserunning make him a highly valuable contributor.
24
Justin Verlander Houston Astros SP
Remember when we thought Verlander was in decline? Over the last two seasons, he's pitched to a 3.20 ERA, while averaging 217 innings and striking out more than a batter per frame. Yes, he's 35, but he's still going strong.
23
Freddie Freeman Atlanta Braves 1B
Freeman missed several weeks with a broken wrist in 2017, but when healthy he remains one of the best pure hitters in the sport.
22
Gary Sanchez New York Yankees C
The powerful Sanchez is the best-hitting catcher in all of baseball, and don't be surprised if he winds up in the running for AL MVP honors this season.
21
George Springer Houston Astros CF
Springer pinned down center field for one of baseball's best teams and along the way reached new heights with the bat: .283/.367/.522, 34 homers.

20-11

20
Charlie Blackmon Colorado Rockies CF
Blackmon continued his upward ascent last season, and as a result finished fifth in the NL MVP balloting. Expect another strong campaign in this, his walk year.
19
Mookie Betts Boston Red Sox RF
Betts is probably the AL's best defensive corner outfielder, and he's also a power threat at the plate and a speed threat on the bases. Consider him still one of the most complete players in the game.
18
Josh Donaldson Toronto Blue Jays 3B
Donaldson's calf injury cost him time in 2016, but after returning from injury he crushed the ball. Expect big things from the free-agent-to-be in 2018.
17
Aaron Judge New York Yankees RF
With 52 home runs and an OPS+ of 171, Judge last season authored perhaps the greatest rookie season ever. Even if he regresses a bit in 2018, he'll remain one of the game's leading power threats.
16
Carlos Carrasco Cleveland Indians SP
Is Carrasco half of the best one-two rotation punch in baseball? Quite possibly. Over the last four seasons, he's logged a 134 ERA+ and a K/BB ratio of 4.82. Cy Young darkhorse, this guy.
15
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Clayton Kershaw Los Angeles Dodgers SP
Kershaw missed time with a back injury but otherwise remained one of the best pitchers in the world: 180 ERA+, 202 strikeouts in 175 innings, 6.73 K/BB ratio. If we were more confident about his health moving forward, he'd be in the top three or so.
14
Anthony Rendon Washington Nationals 3B
Rendon's an asset with the glove, and last season he stayed healthy while putting up the best offensive numbers of his career. Don't forget Rendon in the "best third baseman in the NL" debate.
13
Giancarlo Stanton New York Yankees RF
The new Yankee wound up only one homer shy of 60 for the season. He also led the NL in SLG and wound up with 377 total bases. He has injury concerns in his past, and we may look upon 2017 as his career year. Still, Stanton's an established beast at the plate.
12
Bryce Harper Washington Nationals RF
Harper bounced back from a disappointing (by his standards) 2016 to put up a 157 OPS+ and tally 29 homers in 111 games last season. Don't be surprised if he comes up big again in his ballyhooed walk year, especially if he avoids knee problems.
11
Nolan Arenado Colorado Rockies 3B
You know he's the best defensive third baseman in baseball, and he'll once again put up big numbers at the plate -- even after you correct for the Coors effect.

10-1

10
Kris Bryant Chicago Cubs 3B
Bryant has done nothing but produce since arriving in the bigs. Last season, he played in 151 games, flashed a good glove at third, and batted .295/.409/.537 while remaining one of the hardest hitters to double up. Last season, he also enjoyed a big bump in his walk rate. Put him on your short-list of NL MVP candidates for 2018.
9
Chris Sale Boston Red Sox SP
Sale topped 300 strikeouts for the year in 2017, and he led the majors in innings while running a sub-3.00 ERA. In other words, Chris Sale is still Chris Sale.
8
Joey Votto Cincinnati Reds 1B
A .320/.454/.578 line across more than 700 plate appearances? Yeah, Votto's still got it. He's 34 now, but so far no signs of decline. Expect him to remain one of the very best hitters in baseball in 2018.
7
Corey Seager Los Angeles Dodgers SS
Some second-half injuries sapped Seager's production a bit last season, but he's still a 23-year-old shortstop with a career OPS+ of 133.
6
Francisco Lindor Cleveland Indians SS
He's a slick-fielding shortstop with power and speed. Ergo, he's one of the best players in all of baseball. He also moving closer to what should be his prime.
5
Max Scherzer Washington Nationals SP
The 2016 and 2017 NL Cy Young winner is still one of the best pitchers on the planet. He wound up with an ERA+ of 176, and he led the NL in strikeouts. Scherzer's reeled off five straight seasons of at least 200 innings.
4
Corey Kluber Cleveland Indians SP
Kluber's coming off a Cy Young season in which he led the majors in ERA, ERA+, and K/BB ratio. With pitchers, it's more about skills retention than age, and Kluber's skills are very much intact.
3
Jose Altuve Houston Astros 2B
Altuve was the AL MVP with very good cause in 2017. He's a middle infielder with excellent speed on the bases and an All-Star bat, and he's still in his prime.
2
Carlos Correa Houston Astros SS
Correa missed roughly a quarter of the 2017 season because of a torn thumb ligament, but his final line of .315/.391/.550 as a plus-fielding shortstop is simply tremendous. He's a mere 23 years of age, so the best may be yet to come.
1
Mike Trout Los Angeles Angels CF
Undergoing thumb surgery of course took a big bite out of Trout's 2017, but he wound up being baseball's best player on a rate basis. He's still just 26, so there's every reason to believe he'll continue being baseball's best player.