Under normal circumstances, the 2020 Major League Baseball season would be rounding into its first full month of action. However, these are far from regular times and due to the global shift in the norm, whether Opening Day is delayed — or even outright canceled — is anybody’s guess.
Therefore, since the trivial is more necessary than ever, here is a look at the (currently anticipated) MLB top 10 players, by position, for the 2020 campaign.
While other positions may boast more elite talents, there is no deeper position in the game today than shortstop. The keystone is where a new wave of athletes is showcasing their abilities in ways the position has never seen before. In the same way a great quarterback, point guard or goalie is the express route towards a championship across the sporting world, an elite shortstop has become a prerequisite for elite teams.
Since 2016, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa and Javier Baez have all been a part of World Championship clubs, while being opposed by Corey Seager and Francisco Lindor, all of whom are mentioned below. Add in Trea Turner, who just barely missed inclusion here, and the message is clear: finding the right fit at the keystone is a must if a club has serious championship aspirations.
Very few players have the selection of skills to call upon that Lindor has on-demand. Lindor is as easily capable of making an impact on the bases, as he is at bat, as he is with the glove. He is an athletic, switch-hitter who has been an All-Star in all four of his full seasons. His 18.3 WAR is tops among all shortstops since 2017, a time span where he has averaged 34 home runs, 21 stolen bases and 110 runs per season. During that same period, no other player has regularly reached those heights in those diverse areas of impact.
Lindor is booting up for first of two pivotal seasons, as he is set to reach free agency following the 2021 campaign and many in the sports betting community believe he could be on the move. As such – much like Manny Machado was two years ago — he’ll twice be one of the most sought-after players in the game. First as a huge trade chip from the Indians, who seem resigned moving on from their franchise player, and then again as a free agent in line for a guaranteed record-setting rate at the keystone.
Story has been the power standard at the position, with his 72 home runs, .916 OPS and .561 slugging % ranking tops among all shortstops the past two seasons. He also checks in at second in batting average (.293) and stolen bases (50) over the time frame.
While Coors Field his home certainly doesn’t hurt –.328/.402/.662 at home versus .260/.322/.445 on the road in 2019 — it doesn’t tell the entire story either. Story is one of the best baserunners in the game, while his improved plate discipline has created more opportunities for Nolan Arenado to drive in runs as well. With glove, Story committed just eight errors while leading the NL in range factor among shortstops in 2019.
Appropriately, Baez is featured on the cover of the newest edition of the MLB: The Show video game. This is because no player in the game pulls off more Playstation-worthy highlights with regularity than him. His flashy, yet effective moves up the middle, coupled with his extraordinary throwing arm makes him a human highlight reel up the middle in Wrigley.
Baez' flair for the big moment carried over at the plate. He is over two times more likely get an extra base hit (12.7%) than a draw a walk (5% of 561 plate appearances). While he didn’t duplicate his NL MVP runner-up effort from 2018, he made his second All-Star team in 2019, finishing with 29 home runs and driving in 85.
The breakout performance of the year in the American League belonged to Semien. He finished third in AL MVP voting after connecting for 33 home runs, 43 doubles, scoring 123 runs runs while driving in 92, all being runaway career-highs.
However, it was a highlight performance in a career that has been consistently strong. Since 2015, Semien has annually produced an OPS over .700, while reaching double figures in both home runs and stolen bases. Over the past two seasons, he has taken strides defensively, producing a defensive WAR over 2.0 both years, leading the AL in shortstop assists in three of the past four seasons.
On purely offensive merits alone, Bogaerts should be within the top three players at the position, easily. 2019 was the top season of his career thus far, as his .939 OPS and 85 extra base hits both led all MLB shortstops. His 52 doubles finished second in the AL, behind only his infield mate Rafael Devers, while his 7.1 offense-only WAR was fourth-best in the American League.
However, his defense continues to be a liability against him reaching his full upside. According to Fangraphs, due to his range limitations, Bogaerts finished last among MLB shortstops with -14 defensive runs saved. Overall, he has not finished above replacement level defensively since 2015.
Due to a pair of injuries, Tatis Jr..’s sensational rookie campaign was limited to only 84 games. But that snapshot provided more than enough to more than justify the hype that accompanied his MLB debut. The definition of a five-tool performer, Tatis produced a .969 OPS, along with 41 extra base hits and 16 stolen bases at the plate. In the field, he put his athleticism on display often, drawing comparisons to a young Alex Rodriguez that were more than reasonable to make.
Due the early season injury to Didi Gregorius, Torres spent 77 games at his natural position in 2019, while still seeing significant action at second base. His defense is still a work in progress, as 11 of his 20 errors came at shortstop. As he shifts over the position in a full-time capacity this year, his maturation with the glove should follow with consistency.
One thing that is for certain is that his bat will play anywhere. Torres connected for 38 home runs, the most among any player who saw the majority of their action at the position.
On pure talent alone, there are few that can reach Correa’s level. However, far too often, his inability to stay on the field keeps that talent from being displayed frequently enough. In 2019, Correa missed 53 games and he has only played over 110 games once in his five-year career.
Yet what he did in such limited time stands as proof of how good he really is. In 321 plate appearances, Correa hit 21 home runs and produced a .926 OPS, the second-best such showing of his career. He also produced a defensive WAR of over 1.0 for a fifth straight season. Correa's upside remains one of the biggest ‘what ifs’ in the game, as by all accounts he still remains an elite performer, despite limited availability.
DeJong is one of the most overlooked players in the game, even in being mentioned amongst his own teammates. But while Yadier Molina, Paul Goldschmidt and Jack Flaherty are more popular, it has been DeJong who has become the most consistently overall productive Cardinal in his first three seasons. In 2019, DeJong hit 30 homers, 30 doubles and was selected to his first All-Star Game. While his free-swinging ways continue to keep his on-base % down (he is yet to produce better than a .325 OBP), DeJong contributes across the board. He led the NL in double plays turned, assists and defensive WAR among shortstops.
During a comeback season from Tommy John surgery, Seager put up a strong reminder campaign of what he is capable off. Though he missed all of April, Seager's 44 doubles led the National League, while his 84 RBI were the best among NL shortstops. Prior to his injury, Seager had establishing himself as one of the top young players in the game. Entering his age 26 season, there is plenty of time for him to fully pick back up where he left off.
Left on Deck: Tim Anderson (White Sox), Trea Turner (Nationals), Jorge Polanco (Twins)
Top Prospects: Wander Franco (Rays, #1), Royce Lewis (Twins, #9), Bobby Witt Jr (Royals, #10)
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