There are 30 Major League Baseball teams, each with a 25-man roster. That’s 750 players donning MLB uniforms at any given time.
Nelson Cruz, DH, Seattle Mariners
Players who spend the bulk of their time at designated hitter have to rake to atone for their lack of defensive value. Fortunately for Nelson Cruz, he rakes. The 36-year-old has eclipsed 40 home runs in each of the last three seasons, made five All-Star teams and had two top-10 AL MVP finishes. The decline may begin in a couple of years, but for now he’s one of the game’s elite power hitters.
Yu Darvish, RHP, Texas Rangers
After missing the entire 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery, Yu Darvish came back strong in 2016, striking out 132 in 100.1 innings with a 3.41 ERA. The 30-year-old three-time All-Star is entering a contract year, so expect ace-like results.
Giancarlo Stanton, RF, Miami Marlins
Giancarlo Stanton can’t stay healthy. He played just 74 games in 2015 and 119 last season. But when he plays, oh that power. Not only does Stanton look like a home run hitter created in a super-secret dinger bunker, he plays the part, bashing majestic moonshots and laser-beam liners perfect for the Statcast era. His career-high water mark came in 2014, when he hit 37 homers and finished second in NL MVP voting. At age 27, he’s the kind of talent who could get to 50 jacks if he avoids the disabled list.
Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
Toiling in relative anonymity on the lowly Cincinnati Reds, Joey Votto had yet another exemplary season in 2016, hitting 27 home runs with 97 RBI and leading the NL with a .434 on-base percentage. The four-time All-Star and 2010 NL MVP turned 33 in September, but his plate discipline and control of the strike zone could allow him to flourish for years.
Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
Carlos Correa hit .274 with 20 home runs and 96 RBI in his second season with the Houston Astros, and it felt like something of a letdown. That tells you all you need to know about the 22-year-old 2015 AL Rookie of the Year winner. In the Lone Star State, everything’s bigger, including Correa’s nearly limitless ceiling.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
The guy across the diamond from Anthony Rizzo gets most of the attention (more on him later), but Rizzo is part of the Cubs’ enviable offensive backbone. The 27-year-old has made three straight All-Star teams and had his best season in 2016, hitting .292 with a .928 OPS, 32 homers and 109 RBI.
Chris Sale, LHP, Boston Red Sox
Chris Sale changed his Sox this winter, going from Chicago’s South Side to Boston. Wherever he goes, he’ll be one of the game’s best left-handers, a virtual lock for 200 innings and 200 strikeouts. His mechanics and slender frame have sparked some concerns about durability, but thus far the 28-year-old and five-time All-Star has laughed in the face of that.
Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit Tigers
Entering his age-34 season, Miguel Cabrera may begin to see his numbers sag. At the same time, it’s tough to doubt a guy with 11 All-Star appearances, two AL MVPs and a Triple Crown to his name. Like Verlander, Cabrera is part of an aging Tigers core. Also like Verlander, he’s one of the best at what he does.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
Hitters always get dinged for playing their home games at Coors Field, but Nolan Arenado would be a top talent wherever he hung his spikes. The 25-year-old tied for the NL lead with 41 homers and paced baseball with 133 RBI in 2016, all while playing his trademark brand of brilliant defense. He’s won a Gold Glove all four years he’s been in the league, a streak that’s unlikely to end anytime soon.
Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets
Coming into last season, Noah Syndergaard was a promising, hard-throwing sophomore with 24 starts under his belt.
Now, the 24-year-old with the Norse god nickname is undeniably one of the best pitchers in the game.
In 183.2 innings last season, Syndergaard posted a 2.60 ERA with 218 strikeouts in 183.2 innings. While other members of the Mets’ vaunted rotation went down with injuries, Syndergaard tied for the lead among pitchers with 6.5 WAR.
He’s added 17 pounds of muscle to his already-imposing frame with the intent of throwing even harder and is reportedly working on mastering his changeup.
Bryce Harper, RF, Washington Nationals
After he won NL MVP honors in 2015, it looked like the Bryce Harper freight train had officially left the station.
The brash Nationals outfielder took a step back in 2016, however, as his OPS tumbled from an otherworldly 1.109 to a merely solid .814.
A lot of that can likely be blamed on a nagging shoulder injury. Harper has certainly looked healthy this spring, launching an MLB-leading eight home runs.
Still just 24 years old, Harper could be primed for another explosion. He’s already got three All-Star appearances and a Rookie of the Year award, in addition to the aforementioned MVP.
Love him or loathe him, he’s undeniably one of the most exciting, must-watch players on the planet. Make baseball fun again, indeed.
Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
After injuries derailed two of his first three big league seasons, it was worth wondering if Manny Machado would live up to his limitless potential.
Wonder no more.
Machado had a career year in 2016, setting career highs in home runs (37), RBI (96), average (.294) and OPS (.876). He’s now had two straight top-five AL MVP finishes.
He’s also been the best defensive third baseman in baseball since 2014, if that does anything for you.
At age 24, he’s on the outskirts of his prime, meaning this may be a mere preview of coming attractions.
“[We] can’t say that Manny Machado has become as good as prime [Alex] Rodriguez,” FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan wrote in June 2016. “But we can say that Machado is looking about as good as prime Rodriguez.”
Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout may not have the most compelling personality in the world—his interviews are often the equivalent of unbuttered toast, and he’d sooner wear a tutu to the plate than flip a bat—but, man, is he good at baseball.
At age 25, the Los Angeles Angels center fielder already owns two AL MVP awards and has finished no lower than second in MVP voting every year since 2012.
He now owns a career WAR of 47.4, easily the best in the majors in the 2011-2016 span. We could keep rattling off stats, but you get it.