As part of a continuing series, I will be ranking the starters at each position heading into this season. See my ranking for starting catchers here.
30. Ian Desmond, Colorado Rockies
29. Adrian Gonzalez, New York Mets
28. Hanley Ramirez, Boston Red Sox
Gonzalez is coming off a nightmare 2017. Lack of production and injuries limited the slugger and he was not on the playoff roster that took the NL Pennant. Now in his age-35 season, Gonzalez is on his last legs as he tries to raise an OPS that didn’t even approach .650 last season. Ramirez will platoon with Mitch Moreland. Ramirez needs 497 plate appearances in 2018 to be eligible for a vesting option in 2019 that will guarantee him $22M. It will be interesting to see if Boston limits his at bats to get themselves off the hook for that option. Ramirez played to a negative WAR last season so I think he rides the pine a lot more than he would like this year.
27. Luis Valbuena, Los Angeles Angels
26. Greg Bird, New York Yankees
Valbuena his below the Mendoza line in 2017, but managed to still show some pop. Bird played sparingly in the regular season last year, and was brutal until a solid postseason showing. Bird may be asked to hit between Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton this year, meaning there is no excuse for him to put up strong numbers once he returns from ankle surgery.
25. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
24. CJ Cron, Tampa Bay Rays
23. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
22. Ryon Healy, Seattle Mariners
21. Lucas Duda, Kansas City Royals
20. Yonder Alonso, Cleveland Indians
With all that was made of Albert Pujols’ poor play last season, Cabrera is another legend who took a serious step into mediocrity last year. Cabrera played the a negative WAR, combining his already suspect defense with a lack of offensive production. He hit under .250 for the first time in his career. In fact, he hadn’t hit under .300 since 2008, a year that he led the AL in homers. Duda and Alonso are both supplemental free agent signings that are expected to minimize key losses from contending teams. Alonso was hitting at an All-Star pace in the first half before his production slid after the break. Duda should continue to put up major home run totals in Kansas City, though I am not sure that roster is available to win titles any longer.
19. Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
18. Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
17. Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
Gallo was a tough player to gauge as he slugged 41 homers, albeit in Arlington, where baseballs catch wind streams like it is going out of style. He is also only 23, so he is still evolving at the plate and is already a top level defensive player. He certainly can climb higher on this list next year if he can raise his on base percentage slightly higher (currently at .333).
16. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
15. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
Braun is changing positions and may actually be a super-utility player in 2018. His 2017 was limited due to a multitude of health issues. If he can stay healthy, the lineup around him does offer the potential for him to put himself back into MVP consideration. Mauer had a redemptive 2017, hitting over. 300 and 36 doubles, after seriously being written off. If Mauer can duplicate his last season, he should firmly supplant himself into Cooperstown.
14. Josh Bell, Pittsburgh Pirates
13. Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics
Bell showed promise in 2017, his first full year as an everyday player. He drove in 90 runs with an OPS of .800. It is now his team in Pittsburgh and I believe he will take the next step. Olson put up great numbers in just over 300 at bats, allowing the A’s to part ways with both Yonder Alonso and Ryon Healy. Olson broke 1.000 in OPS while hitting 24 homers. He is expected to hit cleanup for a trendy sleeper
pick in Oakland.
12. Carlos Santana, Philadelphia Phillies
11. Justin Bour, Miami Marlins
10. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
Zimmerman was an absolute stud for most of 2017, putting up a career season at the age of 32. The Nationals window may be shrinking with the Bryce Harper contract situation and the increasing age of Max Scherzer, so another season of .303/36/108 would be almost mandatory for the Nats to contend.
9. Justin Smoak, Toronto Blue Jays
8. Marwin Gonzalez, Houston Astros
Smoak has become one of the premier first Basemen in the AL, hitting an an .883 OPS and accumulating 296 total bases. Gonzalez is a surprise entry this high up, but his impressive slash line of .303/.377/.530 cannot be denied.
7. Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres
6. Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
5. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
4. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs
3. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Hosmer had a strong 2017, hitting .318 with 25 homers and driving in 94 runs. He also garnered 300 total bases with an OPS+ of 132. He also added to his collection with his fourth Gold Glove. Abreu is one of the more interesting players going into this season. The White Sox have an exciting core. Do they keep Abreu, already 31, with the hopes of competing in 2019? Or do they sell him at the deadline for a high price and continue to bolster their farm system? Abreu is arbitration eligible after the season and is certainly worth a lot more than his $13 million contract. I think he becomes an expensive rental in July. Look to the Angels to make a move. Bellinger had a dominant 2017 with an awesome slash line of .267/.352/.581.
2. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
1. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
My favorite Goldschmidt stats usually revolve around his high stolen base numbers. Though they were down last year, he still had the highest totals of all first basemen with 18, while leading all first basemen in RBI with 120, but Votto reigns supreme with his eye-popping numbers. He led all first basemen in hitting at .320. He slugged 36 home runs on a team that offers him little to no protection. He led the league with 134 walks, an OPS of 1.032 and an OPS+ of 168. His durability was showcased by playing in all 162 games. He earned the second highest voting total for MVP despite playing on a team that was out of contention by May.