This won’t shock you if you have last year’s standings memorized, but the premium talent in baseball isn’t exactly spread evenly across the sport. The Yankees had nine players crack the MLB Rank top 100, the Astros had seven (including six in the top 40) as did the Red Sox, and eight other teams had at least five. Meanwhile, four teams had no players in the top 100 and eight others had just one. That helps explain why we had three 100-win teams and three 100-loss teams.
I don’t know if this talent dispersion is a historical anomaly, but I do know the level of talent is unbelievably high these days. As one example, Justin Turner comes in at No. 53 and all he has done the past three seasons is finish ninth, eighth and 14th in the MVP voting. That’s a pretty good 53rd-best ballplayer in the majors. The young talent is remarkable, with the likes of Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. all making the top 100 for the first time — in Guerrero’s case, even though he’s yet to play a game in the majors.
That leads us to this question: Who’s next? For each team, I’ve nominated one candidate to be the next player from that franchise to appear on MLB Rank — not necessarily in 2020, but at some point in the future. The only rule: The player can’t be on this year’s list — so Mike Trout for the Phillies or Gerrit Cole for the Dodgers doesn’t count, as much fun as that would be to speculate. It’s OK if a player has appeared on a previous MLB Rank top 100.
The teams are ordered based on points earned in the 2019 rankings: 100 points for the No. 1 player, 99 for No. 2 and so on, down to one point for No. 100. So, argue away …
Next: Josh James, RHP
You might have expected to see top prospects Forrest Whitley or Kyle Tucker here, but both were already sent back to minor league camp and might not see Houston for a few months, so they’re more on a 2021 or 2022 timetable to crack the top 100. Meanwhile, I’m all-in on James and his 100 mph fastball. His spring training was slowed by a strained groin and he’s just getting back on the mound, so he won’t be ready for the opening rotation, but when he is, watch out.
Who made it this year? (9 players, 437 points) — Aaron Judge (11), Luis Severino (23), Giancarlo Stanton (31), James Paxton (43), Aroldis Chapman (47), Gary Sanchez (67), Gleyber Torres (78), Miguel Andujar (84), Aaron Hicks (88)
Next: Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
This is interesting. Over the past three seasons, Paxton is 29-18 with a 3.52 ERA over 417 ⅓ innings, while Tanaka — pitching in much more of a hitters’ park — is 39-22 with a 3.83 ERA over 534 innings. Yet Paxton comes in at No. 43 and Tanaka is unranked. Don’t be surprised if Tanaka has the better season and cracks the top 100 next year.
Next: Mike Clevinger, RHP
Maybe if Clevinger got into more fights on Twitter and posted videos of his workouts he’d rank higher. Over the past two seasons, Clevinger has quietly posted a 3.05 ERA in 321 ⅔ innings, while his more publicized teammate Bauer has a 3.20 ERA over 351 ⅔ innings. I’m not necessarily saying Clevinger is better, but 2018 was Bauer’s first season with an ERA under 4.00. Look for more good things from Clevinger and maybe a higher top-100 ranking next year than Bauer.
Next: Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP
Rafael Devers certainly has top-100 potential, but his defense and plate discipline will keep him below that bar for at least another year. The Red Sox feel Rodriguez has the ability to put everything together this year and become a rotation anchor. He has been working on a new slider to go with his 93 mph fastball and outstanding changeup. Various injuries — knee surgery in 2017, an ankle injury last year — have limited him to a career high of 24 starts, so he needs to stay healthy and get to 180-plus innings.
Next: Victor Robles, CF
Why did the Nationals ultimately feel comfortable letting Bryce Harper walk? Because they know Robles is ready to step in. Heck, Robles might have cracked this list this year if he hadn’t injured his elbow early last season attempting a diving catch in Triple-A. He’s a career .300 hitter in the minors, projects as a plus defender in center, will steal some bases and has power potential if he adds a little more launch angle. But even if he’s just a 15-homer guy, he has the all-around game to become an All-Star. ZiPS already projects a solid 2.5 WAR for his rookie season.
Next: Nick Pivetta, RHP
The Phillies have reason to be optimistic beyond Harper and all their other offseason acquisitions. Acquired from the Nationals for Jonathan Papelbon in 2015, Pivetta should be near the top of any list of potential breakout pitchers. The stuff is there as evidenced by a 27.1 percent strikeout rate that ranked 13th among qualified starters — one spot ahead of Nola. The question: Was his .326 BABIP the result of the porous Phillies defense, or does he simply lack the fastball command to make the leap to the next level? He might also be wise to consider ditching his two-seamer (batters hit .379/.471/.569 against it). He’s not a lock to improve, but he’s the best “next” choice for the Phillies given the farm system lacks can’t-miss prospects.
Next: Gavin Lux, 2B/SS
Look, if Max Muncy rakes again — .263/.391/.582 with 35 home runs in 2018 — he’ll crack this list next year. I do believe in his bat, as his ability to control the strike zone should allow him to tap into his power, but some regression in the home run rate is expected (he had the 10th-highest rate of home runs to fly balls), and it’s not certain how much he’ll play against lefties. So I’ll go with one of my favorite minor leaguers in Lux, who had a breakout season, hitting .324/.399/.514 at age 20 between Class A and Double-A. I love the bat-to-ball ability and the left-handed bat, although he’ll probably wind up at second base.
Next: Brandon Nimmo, CF
Nimmo became the first Mets hitter to post a .400 OBP since David Wright in 2007; it was just the 11th .400 OBP season in team history. He might be a little stretched on defense in center field, but if he posts another .400 OBP and 4.4 WAR season, he’ll easily crack the top 100.
Next: Yu Darvish, RHP
Kyle Hendricks remains criminally underrated with WAR figures of 5.4, 3.5 and 3.5 the past three seasons, good for 10th-best among starting pitchers in total WAR over that span. MLB Rank tends to reward peak value more than consistency, however, and Hendricks is unlikely to come close to the 2.13 ERA he had in 2016. Anyway, Darvish’s first season in a Cubs uniform was a disaster, but I’m banking on a comeback and the big strikeout totals that jazz up his reputation.
Next: Keston Hiura, 2B
Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff will be intriguing to watch as they move into the rotation, but let’s see if their stuff plays up as well as it did out of the bullpen last season. Hiura is the team’s top prospect, the ninth overall pick in 2017 out of UC Irvine with a highly regarded bat. He reached Double-A last year and hit .293/.357/.464 between two levels with 13 home runs in 485 at-bats. I’d like to see him improve his walk rate (just 36 walks in 535 plate appearances), and he’ll really have to hit as his glove isn’t considered special.
Next: Brendan Rodgers, SS/2B
I’m still a Jon Gray believer, but I’ll go with the more obvious choice in Rodgers, the team’s top prospect. I’m not completely sold on Rodgers: The one minor league stop where he has put up monster numbers was at Class A Lancaster, which is like Coors Field on steroids. He doesn’t walk much or run much, and with Trevor Story entrenched at shortstop, his future position with the Rockies will be second base, which puts even more pressure on the bat. He’ll spend this season at Triple-A and figures to compete with Garrett Hampson and Ryan McMahon for the starting job in 2020. Hmm, maybe Gray does put it all together and beats Rodgers into the top 100.
Next: Touki Toussaint, RHP
Mike Foltynewicz couldn’t quite crack the top 100 even after a 2.85 ERA in 2018, but maybe the voters were right. His season was heavily BABIP influenced, and now he’s out with a sore elbow and will miss his Opening Day start. Ender Inciarte (No. 98 last year) has an argument as a three-time Gold Glove winner in center field, but I’m going with one of the Braves’ young pitchers. Toussaint isn’t likely to be an overnight sensation, and he might even end up in the bullpen long term, but his stuff is ridiculous, and if he puts it together he has more upside than more polished arms Kyle Wright or Mike Soroka.
Next: Jack Flaherty, RHP
This one is easy. I love Harrison Bader, but he’s probably more Kevin Pillar than peak Kevin Kiermaier, whereas Flaherty has Cy Young potential — the staff ace the Cardinals kept expecting Carlos Martinez to grow into. As a rookie, Flaherty’s strikeout rate ranked 10th among pitchers with at least 150 innings and his .199 batting average allowed ranked ninth. He has looked sharp already this spring, including one outing when he fanned nine in four innings. Flaherty should not only crack the top 100, but I look for him to crack the top 50.
Next: Stephen Piscotty, RF
He’s not flashy, but Piscotty hit .267/.331/.491 with 27 home runs and 41 doubles, including a .272/.337/.536 line in the second half. His walk rate fell from 13.0 percent in 2017 to 6.9 percent, so if he can reverse that and improve his OBP, he’ll slide into the back end of the top 100.
Next: Jo Adell, OF
Justin Upton is certainly capable of top-100 numbers in any given season, or maybe Matt Harvey finds a time machine and travels back to 2015, but Adell, a consensus top-10 overall prospect, is the best bet. He reached Double-A last year at 19 after starting in the Midwest League, surprising even the Angels with his rapid ascent after they tabbed him with the 10th pick in the 2017 draft. He has already grown into his big-boy body, and he has future star written all over him. He could reach the majors later this year and team with Trout in the Angels outfield in 2020 and maybe crack this list in 2022 … with hopes that Trout is still alongside him.
Next: Nick Senzel, CF/IF
Keith Law’s No. 6 overall prospect is the logical answer here. Senzel has done nothing but rake since getting drafted second overall in 2016 with a .314/.390/.513 line in the minors. He’s a natural third baseman, but the Reds are trying him out in center field this spring, taking advantage of his athleticism to fill the team’s biggest hole. The obvious concern is health. He missed time last year with vertigo and a broken finger, then had elbow surgery to remove bone spurs.
Who made it this year? (1 player, 89 points) — Blake Snell (12)
Next: Tommy Pham, LF
It speaks to the impressive depth the Rays have built that they won 90 games last year and yet only one of their players cracked the top 100. Pham finished 11th in the MVP voting with the Cardinals in 2017, but an awful two-month slump in May and June last year sent him to Tampa, where he posted a 1.071 OPS in 39 games. Pham was No. 78 on this list last year, and I’m taking the over on his 2.7 WAR projection from ZiPS for another top-100 ranking.
Who made it this year? (1 player, 82 points) — Manny Machado (19)
Next: Fernando Tatis Jr., SS
Look, it could be almost any of the Padres’ promising youngsters: Joey Lucchesi or Luis Urias or Francisco Mejia or Franmil Reyes or Chris Paddack. Heck, maybe Wil Myers has a bounce-back season, and let’s not forget Eric Hosmer was on this list 12 months ago. But everyone is already drooling about a Machado-Tatis left side of the infield, with good reason. Tatis will need some time in Triple-A, and he’ll have to curb some swing-and-miss issues, but he should be a star by 2021.
Next: Joey Bart, C
I mean … look, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford aren’t washed up, but you can’t really project them as top-100 players moving forward. Maybe Bart is the next Buster Posey, but he’s a catcher entering his first full professional season, so he’s several years away. Considering Bumgarner could get traded and Posey is returning from hip surgery, it’s possible the Giants have nobody on this list next year.
Next: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B
Hayes ranked 18th on Keith Law’s prospect list, thanks to a glove that Law said makes Hayes “a likely 80-grade defender at third base with unbelievable hands and instincts.” He’s still growing into his power — he hit seven home runs in Double-A — but he controls the strike zone and should hit for average. He’s a unique prospect, but it seems the worst-case scenario is peak Placido Polanco, and that’s a top-100 player.
Who made it this year? (1 player, 36 points) — Zack Greinke (65)
Next: Robbie Ray, LHP
Ray was on this last a year ago at No. 49, but scuffled through some injuries and went 6-2 with a 3.93 ERA over 24 starts. (And, yes, getting only eight decisions was weird; he’s the first pitcher with that many starts and so few decisions in MLB history, not including Tampa Bay opener Ryne Stanek). The stuff is still filthy — 165 K’s in 123⅔ innings — and he finished strong with a 3.23 ERA in the second half.
Who made it this year? (1 player, 33 points) — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (68)
Next: Danny Jansen, C
This is a tough one since Vladdy Jr. would have been the obvious choice except he’s the rare rookie to crack the top 100. Marcus Stroman is a bounce-back possibility, but if he pitches well he’s a candidate to be traded in July, so he might make this list in 2020 for a different team. Let’s go with Jansen, the rare catching prospect who can hit. He posted an .884 OPS in 2017 and .863 at Triple-A in 2018. He controls the strike zone (44 walks, 49 strikeouts), and if he can post an .800 OPS in the majors, he’s going to make some All-Star teams.
Who made it this year? (1 player, 31 points) — Mitch Haniger (70)
Next: Yusei Kikuchi, LHP
This offseason, the Mariners traded away four players in the top 100 — Edwin Diaz, James Paxton, Jean Segura and Robinson Cano. With them, Seattle would have ranked 13th in our points system, between the Braves and Cardinals, but instead rank 23rd with its lone representative. They also don’t have a clear candidate to crack this list anytime soon. Marco Gonzales is a nice midrotation starter, and Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn are good pitching prospects, but hardly sure things. Jarred Kelenic, acquired in the Diaz trade, was just drafted last year and is years away. So how about Kikuchi? He’s a polished veteran lefty, and a lot of Japanese pitchers seem to do well their first season in the majors. He could sneak his way in to the bottom of the top 100 next year.
Who made it this year? (1 player, 29 points) — Jose Berrios (72)
Next: Byron Buxton, CF
Coming off a wild-card berth in 2017, the Twins had three players on this list last year: Buxton (No. 56), Brian Dozier (No. 60) and Miguel Sano (No. 77). Things could not have gone worse for that trio as they combined for just 0.2 WAR and each battled injuries as the Twins fell under .500. Buxton’s projections are wildly unpredictable, but we know he can play center field. If he stays healthy and hits even a little bit, he’s a valuable player.
Who made it this year? (1 player, 26 points) — Whit Merrifield (75)
Next: Adalberto Mondesi, SS
Mondesi is already a top-100 fantasy player heading into 2019 because of his ability to swipe 50 bags, but I’m not sold on him reaching the top 100 on this list just yet. He had a terrible strikeout-to-walk ratio of 77-11, and batted-ball data said he was fortunate to produce an OPS of .804. Still, he can run and his defensive metrics were above average.
Who made it this year? (1 player, 12 points) — Jose Abreu (89)
Next: Eloy Jimenez, RF
For the second straight year, Abreu is the lone White Sox player on the list, and this ranking is rather generous given his mediocre 1.7-WAR campaign in 2018. The rebuild has gone slower than expected as youngsters such as Yoan Moncada and Lucas Giolito have struggled and Michael Kopech had Tommy John surgery in August. Jimenez, however, looks like the real deal — Keith Law’s No. 5 prospect. He’s the rare power prospect who doesn’t strike out much, and he’s ready to make an immediate impact in 2019.
Who made it this year? Nobody
Next: Jose Leclerc, RHP
Nine relief pitchers made the top 100, but not Leclerc, who had a 1.56 ERA and was the toughest pitcher to hit (.126 average, one home run) in 2018. The Rangers just signed him to a four-year, $14.75 extension that also includes two option years. Leclerc should make that contract look like a steal. Then again, baseball history is littered with relief pitchers who had 50 great innings, and Leclerc is one season removed from walking 40 batters in 45 innings.
Who made it this year? Nobody
Next: Casey Mize, RHP
I really wanted to list Miguel Cabrera, but he has been worth minus-0.2 WAR the past two seasons. At age 36, you can’t really predict a big comeback — but that doesn’t mean he can’t have one. Let’s go with Mize, last year’s No. 1 overall pick who should advance quickly through the minors.
Who made it this year? Nobody
Next: Brian Anderson, 3B/RF
Anderson had 3.9 WAR as a rookie last year — a higher figure than Juan Soto, Walker Buehler, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. He’s not flashy, but he hit .273, has doubles power, draws some walks and did well playing two positions. All he needs to do is improve a little bit across the board. The ZiPS projection has him at 2.7 WAR and not improving at the plate — he does turn 26 in May — but I think there’s top-100 potential here.
Who made it this year? Nobody
Next: DL Hall, LHP
It’s possible the next top-100 player for the Orioles isn’t even in the organization yet. Hall is the only prospect to crack Law’s top 100 (at No. 63) after dominating the South Atlantic League in his first full professional season. Still, it’s a long way from low-A to the majors, so he’s several years from making any impact.