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Who will be MLB's best 50 players in five years? Trout, Vlad Jr., Harper make our projection on New Year's 2019

Welcome to 2019. All the fun and excitement of 2018 is officially in the rear-view mirror and we are roughly six weeks away from beat reporters tweeting out grainy cell phone photos through fences as pitchers and catchers report to spring training to begin the new season. I can't wait. Give me all the spring cell phone photos you can find.

To kick off the new year, we're going to attempt to predict the future. Not the 2019 season though. We're going to look ahead five years and try to predict the top 50 MLB players for the 2023 season. Do you know how much changes in five years? A lot. Here are the top 10 players in baseball five years ago, according to WAR:

  1. Mike Trout: 9.0 WAR
  2. Clayton Kershaw: 8.5 WAR
  3. Andrew McCutchen: 7.9 WAR
  4. Carlos Gomez: 7.8 WAR
  5. Robinson Cano: 7.8 WAR
  6. Josh Donaldson: 7.7 WAR
  7. Miguel Cabrera: 7.3 WAR
  8. Hisashi Iwakuma: 7.2 WAR
  9. Paul Goldschmidt: 7.1 WAR
  10. Andrelton Simmons: 7.0 WAR

Trout is the only one of those 10 players I would comfortably expect to be among the top 10 players in WAR in 2019. Heck, go back only three years, and players like Jake Arrieta and Kevin Kiermaier were among the top 10 in WAR. A lot changes in five years. A lot.

That's not going to stop us from trying to predict the future though. After consulting with my fellow CBS Sports MLB scribes, I have put together a definitive list of the top 50 players in baseball for the 2023 season. Assuming baseball survives the Great Strike of 2021-22, these will be the best players in the game five years from now.

Mookie Betts, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout are three of the best players in baseball right now. What about in five years? USATSI
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1. Mike Trout LAA • CF • 27

Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball since the day he arrived for good in 2012, and, even against a field that includes literally everyone else on Earth, I'd put money on Trout still being the best player in baseball in five years. The Twitter masses tell me this is not a minority opinion either:

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Trout will be only 31 in 2023, which should still be the prime of his career. Also, he's getting better. Trout set new career highs in on-base percentage (.460), OPS (1.088), and OPS+ (199) in 2018. There are no signs of slowing down and I am sticking with Trout as baseball's best player in five years. 

2023 Team Prediction:Phillies. Sorry, Angels fans. Trout won't be able to pass up the opportunity to play close to home when he hits free agency in two years.

The No. 2 player on our list hasn't even played in the big leagues yet. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is cut from the Albert Pujols/Miguel Cabrera cloth in that he combines premium power potential with freakish innate hitting ability from the right side of the plate. The kid hit .381/.437/.636 with 20 homers and nearly as many walks (38) as strikeouts (39) in 95 Double-A and Triple-A games as a 19-year-old in 2018. In five years, when he's 24, he'll be challenging for MVP trophies even without much defensive value. 

2023 Team Prediction:Blue Jays.

Ronald Acuna Jr. came into the 2018 season as the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball and he lived up to the hype, hitting .293/.366/.552 with 26 homers and 16 steals in 111 games. He did that as a 20-year-old too. In five years he'll be a 25-year-old with more knowledge of the league and a better understanding of how pitchers want to attack him. There is an incredible amount of young talent in the game today and Acuna is among the very best.

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2023 Team Prediction:Braves.

I suspect this will rankle some folks. Bryce Harper has been a bit up and down thus far in his big league career, no doubt, but he also had a 10 WAR season at age 22, and I'd argue he is no worse than the second-most naturally talented baseball player on Earth. Harper will be only 30 years old in five years and that means he'll still be right smack in the prime of his career. A 50-homer season is coming at some point. Maybe more than one.

2023 Team Prediction: Yankees. I bet he suits up for another team between now and then though.

I feel like we don't talk enough about Francisco Lindor being a switch-hitting Gold Glove caliber shortstop who hit 38 home runs in 2018. Lindor is getting better each year and in five years he'll still be only 29, which means he should still be a very good defensive shortstop. At his peak, he'll have a chance to be the game's best all-around player.

2023 Team Prediction: Yankees. Sorry, Indians fans.

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6. Juan Soto WAS • LF • 22

Juan Soto is only 142 days older than Vlad Jr. and he hit .292/.406/.517 with 22 homers and 79 walks in 2018. That is crazypants. Soto had the most walks, the highest on-base percentage, and the second most home runs ever for a teenager last season. He'll be 25 years old in 2023.

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2023 Team Prediction:Nationals.

Pitchers are hard to place on a list like this because there is so much injury risk. Noah Syndergaard gets the top pitching spot on this list because the guy brings four legitimate swing-and-miss pitches to the mound every fifth day, and since I'm being optimistic and projecting good health for everyone, Syndergaard's 2017-18 injury woes can be overlooked. He'll still be only 30 when 2023 rolls around, you know.

2023 Team Prediction:Rangers. Free agency is three years away and Dallas is home.

There are lots of good juniors in baseball today. Vlad Jr., Acuna Jr., and now Fernando Tatis Jr. I'm not sure Tatis will ever hit two grand slams in one inning like his father, but kids who hit .288/.355/.507 with 16 homers and 16 steals in 88 Double-A games as a 19-year-old like Tatis did in 2018 tend to go on to do great things. He'll debut late in 2019 and be the centerpiece of the San Diego powerhouse in five years. It has been foretold.

2023 Team Prediction: Padres.

Eventually some team will come to their senses and realize talent should be valued over hustle, and give Manny Machado a monster contract. Machado is one of only four players to hit 30-plus home runs in each of the last four seasons and the other three guys (Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion, Nolan Arenado) are all at least two years his elder. He'll be only 30 in 2023 too. That's a prime year, baby.

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2023 Team Prediction: Phillies.

10. Carlos Correa SS •

The first player on this list that I worry I ranked too low. A year ago at this time Carlos Correa would've been in the conversation for the No. 1 spot, but back trouble took a bite out of his production in 2018. There's no way a healthy Correa hits .239/.323/.405 like he did in 2018, right? Right. The hunch here is Correa is playing another position come 2023, likely third base, only because he's so big (6-foot-4 and 215 lbs.) and likely to lose some range as he ages. Still, Correa will be only 28 in 2023.

2023 Team Prediction: Angels. Someone has to take the money they were going to give Trout.

The No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft looks even better than expected already. Royce Lewis hit .292/.352/.451 with 14 homers and 28 steals between two Class-A levels as a 19-year-old in 2018. Come 2023, he'll be a 24-year-old middle of the order force for the Twins, and a pretty good defensive shortstop (or maybe center fielder) too.

2023 Team Prediction: Twins.

Last season, for the very first time, I felt like there was a legitimate challenger to Trout for the title of the best player in baseball. That player: Mookie Betts. Betts will be 30 come 2023 and while he's bound to lose some of his immense defensive value between now and then (because pretty much every player loses defensive value between ages 25-30), there's still plenty of all-around excellence here to be one of the dozen best players in the world.

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2023 Team Prediction:Red Sox.

This past season Alex Bregman broke out as one of the game's premier players, hitting .286/.394/.532 with 51 doubles, 31 homers, and more walks (96) than strikeouts (85). He also had a .553 on-base percentage in the postseason and is a spectacular defensive third baseman. Spectacular enough that the Astros will move him back to shortstop, his natural position, after Correa bolts for the Angels.

2023 Team Prediction: Astros.

An admission: I almost omitted Corey Seager from this list because he slipped my mind following his Tommy John surgery. Like Correa, Seager will probably be playing a position other than shortstop in 2023 because he's so darn big (6-foot-4 and 220 lbs.), but there's more than enough offensive ability here for a prime-aged Seager (age 29 in 2023) to rank among the game's elite players.

2023 Team Prediction:Dodgers.

Who? Adley Rutschman, that's who. The Oregon State catcher is the consensus No. 1 prospect for the 2019 amateur draft and he's the most locked in No. 1 pick since Gerrit Cole in 2011, maybe even since Bryce Harper in 2010. Rutschman authored a .408/.505/.628 batting line with 34 extra-base hits and more walks (53) than strikeouts (40) in 67 games as a sophomore in 2018. He's also regarded as a Gold Glove caliber defender behind the plate. There's some serious Buster Posey potential here, except Rutschman can switch-hit. The jump to MLB can be tough on young catchers. The learning curve is steep. The bet here is Rutschman will master the big leagues quickly and emerge as the game's top catcher within five years.

2023 Team Prediction: Orioles. They hold the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, after all.

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The second pitcher on our list is the reigning AL Cy Young award winner. Blake Snell has video game stuff, including three pitches that can miss bats, and now he knows how to throw strikes. I'm not sure there's a young pitcher I'd rather hitch my wagon to going forward than Snell. He'll still be only 30 in 2023.

2023 Team Prediction: Giants. Snell is four years away from free agency but the Cy Young win will boost his arbitration salaries considerably. The bet here is Tampa trades him at some point in the next few years rather than sign him to a big money long-term contract.

For my money, MacKenzie Gore is the best pitching prospect in baseball. The Padres southpaw has three dynamite pitches and very advanced pitchability. Squint your eyes and you can see a Clayton Kershaw starter kit. My guess is Gore will reach the big leagues either late in 2020 or early in 2021, and quickly emerge as one of the game's best starters.

2023 Team Prediction: Padres.

I have Gore as the best pitching prospect in baseball. Most others have Astros righty Forrest Whitley. So I guess it makes sense they're back-to-back on our list then, right? Whitley is the quintessential Astros pitching prospect. Big velocity, big spin rates, big swing-and-miss rates. He is modern baseball encapsulated in a 6-foot-7, 195 lb. frame.

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2023 Team Prediction: Astros.

19. Eloy Jimenez OF •

Everyone was so irate the Blue Jays didn't call up Vlad Jr. last season that the White Sox not calling up Eloy Jimenez went kind of overlooked. He hit .337/.384/.577 with 22 home runs in 108 games between Double-A and Triple-A as a 21-year-old, and, when a player did that back in the day, he received a September call-up as a reward and also to get his feet wet before assuming a full-time job the next year. Baseball doesn't operate like that anymore.

2023 Team Prediction: White Sox.

Kris Bryant was very difficult to place on this list. Last year's shoulder trouble and underwhelming (but still very good) .272/.374/.460 batting line created some uncertainty going forward. Bryant was an MVP caliber performer from 2016-17 and the guess here is he'll again be among the game's best players in 2023, when he'll be 31.

2023 Team Prediction: Dodgers. Sorry, Cubs fans.

Was there a more impressive young pitcher in baseball last season than Walker Buehler? I don't think so. He showed a deep power arsenal, very good command, and a belly full of guts. As long as he stays healthy -- his elbow ligament has already given out once -- Buehler is the obvious apparent to Clayton Kershaw as the Dodgers' ace. Buehler will be 28 on Opening Day 2023.

2023 Team Prediction: Dodgers.

Strikeout worries went away in 2018 and Matt Chapman established himself as one of the top two-way players in baseball. He hit .278/.356/.508 with 42 doubles and 24 homers in a terrible hitter's ballpark and played top-of-the-line defense at the hot corner. Chapman will be 30 in 2023.

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2023 Team Prediction:Athletics. My money's on Oakland signing Chapman to a long-term extension at some point.

Baseball is so stacked with young talent right now that it's almost easy to forget about Gleyber Torres. He put up a .271/.340/.480 batting line with 24 homers in 123 games as a 21-year-old rookie middle infielder in the bright lights of New York last season. That is pretty darn impressive. Gleyber is the rare underhyped young Yankee.

2023 Team Prediction: Yankees. Torres and Lindor will be double play partners.  

Give the Indians brass a truth serum and I'm certain they'd tell you even they didn't expect Jose Ramirez to be this good. He hit .270/.387/.552 with 39 home runs last season and he's one of the toughest hitters to strike out in baseball. And he plays pretty good defense no matter where the Indians put him on the field. What a ballplayer Ramirez has become. He'll be 30 come 2023.

2023 Team Prediction: Indians. The 2023 season is the final club option year on his current team friendly contract.

The reigning NL MVP is sneaky young and will play the entire 2023 season at age 31. Christian Yelich has the type of all-around game that figures to age well, and, as a left-handed batter, he'll be at the platoon advantage more often than not. I don't think it would be difficult to argue Yelich will still be a top-10 player in baseball in five years. For now, I rank him 25th, which is still really good.

2023 Team Prediction:Cardinals. Yelich is on an absurdly team friendly contract that expires following the 2022 season, so 2023 will be the first year on his next contract, which will likely be outside the Brewers' price range.

In Juan Soto and Victor Robles, the Nationals have two of the brightest young outfielders in baseball. Robles put up a .288/.348/.525 batting line in very limited action in 2018, and, in five years, he very well might have his career year at age 26. He's a budding star and could be a top 10 player in the game five years from now.

2023 Team Prediction: Nationals.

27. Luis Severino SP •

Back-to-back seasons as a top-10 pitcher have put Luis Severino firmly among the game's elite. He'll always be at a disadvantage relative to his peers because his home ballpark is so pitcher unfriendly, but he's been the hardest throwing starter in baseball the last two years, and his razor blade slider is allergic to bats. Severino will play the entire 2023 season at age 29, and, even with some velocity loss, he has the stuff to dominate.

2023 Team Prediction: Yankees.

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28. Shohei Ohtani LAA • SP/DH • 17

Bold prediction: Come 2023, Shohei Ohtani will be either a full-time pitcher or a full-time position player. He won't still be doing both. The smart money is on Ohtani being a full-time position player only because his elbow has already given out once, and the increased injury risk might be too much to stomach going forward. Either way, Ohtani will still be a top 50 player in baseball in five years, and on the short list of the game's most fun players.

2023 Team Prediction: Angels. They won't let him get away after losing Trout.

I'm not quite sure where he's going to play because the Reds are pretty well stacked on the position player side, but I do know Nick Senzel is going to hit. He's one of the top prospects in the game and I get the sense he'll be one of the most underrated players in the game the next few years. I say that because Senzel probably won't put up huge home run or RBI totals. He will do everything well though.

2023 Team Prediction: Reds, though I was tempted to say another team because it's not out of the question that they'll trade him for pitching help.

I'm not sure there's a more difficult player to project going forward than Aaron Judge. He is obviously excellent. That power and those on-base skills and that defense make for a wonderful all-around player. That said, Judge is listed at 6-foot-7 and 282 lbs., and I have no idea how to forecast a player that big. Plus 2023 will be his age 32 season. The hunch here is Judge is still a dominant power hitter come 2023, but he'll probably be a first baseman because running around the outfield at that size can't be good for the knees.

2023 Team Prediction: Yankees.

I worry that Javier Baez will never be much better than he right now because he rarely walks and is so undisciplined at the plate. That really limits a player's offensive ceiling. That said, Baez is already very good, and wow can the man play defense. Even if his ceiling is a .330-ish on-base percentage, Baez will be among the game's best players because he has power and saves so many runs with his glove.

2023 Team Prediction: Cubs. Can't let Javy get away after Scott Boras takes Bryant to Los Angeles.

Because Vlad Jr. turns 20 in March, Rays prospect Wander Franco is the overwhelming favorite to be the next Juan Soto, meaning a kid who tears up the big leagues as a 19-year-old rookie. Franco hit .351/.418/.587 with 11 home runs and more walks (27) than strikeouts (19) in 61 rookie ball games last season. At age 17, he was more than three years younger than the average Appalachian League player. Franco turns 18 in March and it is not out of the question that he could make his MLB debut as a 19-year-old in the middle of 2020, assuming the Rays let him. He's a budding star and will be only 22 in 2023.

2023 Team Prediction: Rays.

Aaron Nola has gotten better and better in each of his MLB seasons and it culminated with a third place finish in the 2018 NL Cy Young voting. He'll be 30 come 2023 and his running fastball, snapdragon curveball, and pitching smarts are more than enough to compensate for any age-related velocity loss.

2023 Team Prediction: Phillies.

After shoulder injuries sabotaged his 2014-15 seasons, Jurickson Profar finally started to look like the player everyone expected him to be in 2018. The former No. 1 prospect in baseball hit .254/.338/.458 with 35 doubles and 20 homers, and he'll still be only 30 in 2023. Profar appears poised to break out as one of the game's best players in 2019. I loved the A's move to get him.

2023 Team Prediction: Red Sox. Profar is only two years away from free agency, you know.

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35. Jo Adell LAA • CF • 59

The most tooled up player in the 2017 draft quickly emerged as one of the top prospects in the game in 2018. Jo Adell managed a .290/.355/.543 batting line with 20 homers and reached Double-A as a 19-year-old last season. The next Mike Trout he is not, but Adell looks like a future star and he is a worthy heir apparent in center field.

2023 Team Prediction: Angels.

Gosh, playing Eduardo Nunez over Rafael Devers at third base early in the postseason sure seemed silly, didn't it? Better late than never, I guess. Devers turned only 22 in October and he's swatted 31 home runs in 179 career MLB games. Two things are likely to be true when Devers is a 26-year-old in 2023: One, his defense will have forced a move off third base. And two, he'll have at least one 40-homer season under his belt.

2023 Team Prediction: Red Sox.

We have to squeeze a Braves pitcher into this list, don't we? They have so many great pitching prospects. Kyle Wright is the best of the bunch, in my opinion, and I expect him to grab hold of a rotation spot for good by the end of 2019. With a big fastball and two out-pitch breaking balls, Wright has true ace potential.

2023 Team Prediction: Braves.

With his 28th birthday coming up, Trevor Bauer is the second oldest player in our top 50 players for 2023 list. He'll spend the entire 2023 season at age 32, but he keeps himself in excellent shape and he's never hard arm problems. Bauer had his long-awaited breakout season in 2018 and I reckon he will come up with ways to remain a dominant starter for at least another half-decade.

2023 Team Prediction: Orioles. Hey, why not? Bauer says he wants to sign a series of one-year contracts as a free agent.

Of all the players on this list, I feel like Andrew Benintendi has the widest range of possible outcomes. I could see him being a top 10 player in five years and I could see him being a solid but unspectacular everyday player in five years. The bet here is Benintendi becomes one of the game's best players come 2023, when he'll still be only 28.

2023 Team Prediction: Red Sox.

The Cardinals are a pitching factory and Jack Flaherty is their latest stud. He threw 151 innings with a 3.34 ERA and 182 strikeouts as a 22-year-old in 2018. Flaherty will be 27 years old in 2023 and he appears set to become one of the best pitchers in the game as he enters his prime.

2023 Team Prediction: Cardinals.

His production slipped in the second half, but Ozzie Albies has a chance to be a 30/30 player who saves a boatload of runs on the middle infield. With Dansby Swanson spinning his wheels, there's a pretty good chance Albies will be Atlanta's full-time shortstop come 2023, when he'll still be only 26.

2023 Team Prediction: Braves.

The early returns have been underwhelming, I know. Amed Rosario hit a punchless .256/.295/.381 with nine home runs in his first full MLB season in 2018, but the talent is there for him to be far better, and he's a defensive dynamo at shortstop. Development is not linear. Sometimes it takes players a year or two to find their way in the big leagues. I believe in the talent and see Rosario living up his top prospect potential before long.

2023 Team Prediction: Marlins. Don't ask me why. It just feels like he'll end up there.

Jose Altuve turns 29 in May and that makes him the oldest player on our list by nearly nine months. His bat-to-ball skills and baserunning ability should allow him to remain productive into his early-30s, however, and the Astros will be able to use him at DH occasionally in the coming years to take it easy on his body. I don't think he'll still be a truly elite player in five years, when he'll be 33, but I do expect Altuve to be very good in 2023.

2023 Team Prediction: Astros.

Fairly or unfairly (probably unfairly), I do wonder what Nolan Arenado's numbers would look like outside Coors Field. I don't think it's as simple as "his road numbers are the real him." There's no doubt Coors Field is boosting his offense to some degree though. That's just baseball. Coors Field or no Coors Field, I still think Arenado is an above-average hitter and an otherworldly defender at the hot corner. He'll be 32 in 2023.

2023 Team Prediction:Rockies. Arenado will be a free agent next offseason but Colorado has a history of paying big to keep their own.

It feels like Xander Bogaerts has been around forever but he turned only 26 in October. He put together a career best .288/.360/.522 batting line with a career high 45 doubles and a career high 23 home runs in 2018. Bogaerts will play the entire 2023 season at age 30 and he's about to enter what should be the best seasons of his career.

2023 Team Prediction:Mets. New GM Brodie Van Wagenen will convince the Wilpons to spend when Bogaerts hits free agency next winter.

Y'all ready for Vlad Jr. and Bo Bichette to have a Jeff Bagwell/Craig Biggio thing for the next decade or so? Bo, Dante's son, hit .286/.343/.453 with 11 home runs and 32 steals in 131 Double-A games as a 20-year-old in 2018. He'll be 25 in 2023 and entering what will likely be his fourth MLB season.

2023 Team Prediction: Blue Jays.

47. Brendan Rodgers SS •

I would not at all be surprised to see Brendan Rodgers rank as a top-10 player come 2023. The kid is incredibly talented and hey, Coors Field will give his numbers a superficial boost. Rodgers hit .275/.342/.493 with 17 homers in 95 Double-A games as a 21-year-old last season and he should make his MLB debut at some point in 2019. He's a shortstop by trade but Trevor Story's presence means Rodgers is probably destined for second base. No matter where he plays, he'll rake.

2023 Team Prediction: Rockies.

Luis Urias will probably be the closest thing we'll see to "the next Jose Altuve" in a long time. The 5-foot-9 infielder is a hit machine and a guaranteed fan favorite given his high energy style of play. Urias struggled in his 12-game big league cameo last year (.208/.264/.354), but make no mistake, the kid can rake. His career .306/.397/.405 minor league batting line is much more indicative of the type of player he can become.

2023 Team Prediction: Padres.

It has been 15 years since a full-time catcher last hit 40 home runs -- Javy Lopez swatted 43 for the 2003 Braves -- and my money is on Gary Sanchez doing it at least once between now and 2023. A very strong throwing arm and good pitch-framing numbers are easy to forget given the league-leading passed ball totals. All that matters is the Yankees have given no indication they will move Sanchez out from behind the plate. He'll be 30 in 2023 and on the short list of the game's best catchers.

2023 Team Prediction: Yankees.

Cody Bellinger has been quite streaky in his two big league seasons but make no mistake, he's a 45-homer season waiting to happen. Add in the high-end athleticism that allows him to play center field in addition to first base and you've got a dangerous hitter who can slot into the lineup in a number of different ways. Do you know how old Bellinger will be in 2023? 27. He'll be 27.

2023 Team Prediction: Nationals. Just don't ask me how he'll get there.


Others considered (listed alphabetically):Willy Adames, Rays; Miguel Andujar, Yankees; Byron Buxton, Twins; Luis Castillo, Reds; Gerrit Cole, Astros; Michael Conforto, Mets; Jacob deGrom, Mets; Keston Hiura, Brewers; Yoan Moncada, White Sox; Anthony Rendon, Nationals; Miguel Sano, Twins; Jameson Taillon, Pirates; Kyle Tucker, Astros; Trea Turner, Nationals.

You may have noticed not one of our top 50 players for the 2023 season is a reliever. That's because, even with bullpens becoming more and more important, relievers rarely rank among the the top 50 players in the sport. From 2014-18, the top reliever in baseball ranked and 88th, 60th, 63rd, 76th, and 42nd in baseball in WAR. So sorry fans of Edwin Diaz and Josh Hader, they don't make our top 50 for 2023 list. They would've made a top 100 list though.

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