Let's start with getting rid of the elephant in the room. Looking at you Aaron Judge. It's true that Judge was a rookie in 2017. However, it's also true that he's six months OLDER than Bryce Harper, who has been playing in the show since 2012. Yeah. Judge was old for a rookie, and age is a factor here. Now that being said 25 is still young. Many of the below names are around that age, if not older. I mentioned Harper to illustrate the point that Judge isn't as young as you'd think "just because he was a rookie last year".
The reason Judge isn't on this list is because....I don't know actually. I'll admit it's tough leaving him off. This guy hit 52 FUCKING HOME RUNS last year. He drove in 127, scored 128, and slashed .284/.422/.627. For as much as he strikes out a .284 batting average is pretty good. Plus he walks a lot. A .422 OBP with that amount of power? Incredible. He's not even a negative on defense. Baseball-Reference had him down for 0.3 defensive WAR in 2017. I guess the reason I don't have him listed below is because I just want to see him do it one more time. That's it, just once more. Last year was so incredible, so unbelievable, so outrageous...that I'm skeptical he can do it again. If he does, or if he even comes close to his MVP runner up production, then I'll look silly. I just can't get that post All-Star break slump out of my head yet. Let's move on before the Yankee fans stop reading.
Nolan Arenado, Rockies, Age: 26
Congratulations to Nolan Arenado on making the list for a second straight "year". When I wrote about him back in July of 2016 he was still considered "underrated" and "one of baseball's best kept secrets" simply because of the fact that he plays in Colorado. While he still may not be recognized for being as good as he is (finished 4th in the 2017 NL MVP voting), he has certainly gotten more attention recently. Along with the fact that the Rockies (ROCKIESSSS) made the playoffs last year, people simply can't ignore how good he is anymore.
Over the past three seasons he is averaging 40 homers and 131 RBIs. He of course hits better in Coors, but his road splits from 2017 (.283/.355/.531) is still a good offensive player. He only hit one less homer on the road than at home last year. Additionally, in his five years in the majors he has won five gold gloves. The advanced metrics like him too. Since entering the league in 2013 he leads all third basemen with 104 defensive runs saved. The next highest is Manny Machado....with 74. Put it all together and we have arguably the best two way player in baseball, and at just 26 years old he still has some prime years left in him.
Manny Machado, Orioles (Yankees?), Age: 25
Speaking of Manny Machado he's really good too! The 25-year-old "third baseman" has come a long way since knee injuries threatened the beginning part of his career. He has averaged 158 games per season over the past three years. Now, Machado's numbers did dip a bit in 2017:
2015: .861 OPS
2016: .876 OPS
2017: .782 OPS
He had a bizarre first half of the year. The best explanation I remember reading was that he became a little too pull happy. What made Machado so great when he was coming up was that he was a gap hitter (think doubles into left/center and right/center) who also had the raw power to hit 30+ homers a year. In 2017 it felt as if he was trying to hit 50. He still wound up with similar HR/RBI numbers as years prior but he didn't do it as efficiently. He didn't get on base as often.
Luckily he rebounded as the summer went on. He had a torrid month of August before cooling down again in September. Whatever was going on, I'm confident he'll bounce back for good. Plus there's also the defensive value he brings to third base, as well as the defensive value he COULD bring to shortstop. Plus this one of my favorite GIFs of all time:
Francisco Lindor, Indians, Age: 24
Carlos Correa, Astros, Age: 23
It's almost embarrassing to look back at my July 2016 picks and see the name Xander Bogaerts. However, back in July 2016 there was a legitimate argument to be made for Bogaerts as the best young shortstop in baseball. I've been following this subplot - best young shortstop - for a while now, and the race is as tight as ever. Bogaerts is no longer in the discussion but right now it's almost impossible to decide between Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, and Corey Seager. All three are so damn good. And so damn young! Fuck. I'm leaning Lindor and Correa here over Seager, and honestly it's just a gut call. Seager had a quiet end to 2017, but he was playing hurt.
Correa had a major breakout in 2017 despite playing in just 109 games. It was his age 22 season. Read that again. Correa just turned 23 in September and he's already so polished offensively. Had he played enough to qualify Correa would've ranked sixth in the American League in OPS. He also would've ranked fourth in batting average and fourth in OBP. Furthermore, Correa played very well in Houston's World Series run this year. In 24 career post-season games he has hit seven homers and posted a .891 OPS.
That bring us to Lindor, who for my money, is winning the battle of young shortstops. I love everything about this kid. I love his skillset. I love the enthusiasm with which he plays the game. I love his defensive ability. I love that he more than doubled his home run total in 2017. I love that he has had BIG moments when the lights get brightest. Speaking of which, I'll never get this hit out of my head:
It was a two-run shot to win Game 1 of the 2016 ALCS. At this time not many people were buying into The Tribe. I remember watching that game, that hit, and realizing something special was happening in Cleveland. During the 2016 playoffs Franky hit .310/.355/.466. I'm a believer in the clutch gene and I'm a believer that this kid has it. He then furthered his reputation as a big game player in the most recent WBC when he slashed .370/.419/.630 while leading Puerto Rico to the finals. Lindor is special.
Kris Bryant, Cubs, Age: 26
Bryant, the 2016 National League MVP, has added elements to his game in each of his first three seasons. Every year since 2015 he has raised his OBP and decreased his strikeout totals. That's impressive. It shows that not only does he have the desire to better himself and adjust to big league pitching, but he has the ability to do so.
Now admittedly, Bryant's numbers decreased a bit in 2017, but part of that could be do to an adjustment he made that didn't work out. After hitting just 1 of his 39 homers to right field in 2016 Bryant wanted to hit with power to the opposite field more often last year. He was the anti-Machado in this regard. It...kinda worked? The 26-year-old super model (basically) hit five opposite field homers but just 29 total.
However, since he increased his walk rate and hit for a career high in doubles, Bryant posted a 143 OPS+, down just three points from his MVP season. This year he reportedly wants to get back to just seeing the ball and hitting the ball. Count me as someone who thinks this kid will do that, and do it successfully.
EDIT: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers, Age: 29
I finished writing this whole thing without including Kershaw or any other pitchers. When you're building a franchise from the ground up (which is what we're doing here) I just don't see how you could take a pitcher. They get hurt more often and when you're investing a top pick in a re-draft you want someone who can affect the game every day. At least that's what I believe, but I know there would be those screaming WHERE'S KERSHAW so I felt I should at least include my thoughts. Kershaw is turning 30 in March. He's getting up there. He's still the best right now, but is he the best bet for the next 5 years?
So let's say Kershaw is "too old" for this exercise. Who else would be the pick if you wanted to go starting pitcher? It turns out there aren't that many young aces. Chris Sale is 28. So is Madison Bumgarner. Corey Kluber is 31 and Max Scherzer is 33. Noah Syndergaard is 25, but do you really trust him to stay healthy? And even if you do is his injury risk worth passing on an elite position player? The next best "young ace" would be Luis Severino of the Yankees, who isn't even 24 yet. I really like him to continue to develop, but now we're talking about taking Severino over names like Lindor, Correa, Arenado, etc. I don't see it. Let's move on to who I consider the top two picks in a MLB re-draft.
Bryce Harper, Nationals, Age: 25
People forget that when Bryce Harper got hurt this year, in a freak accident may I remind you, he was the leading contender for NL MVP. Yes it's true that even if he had stayed healthy he may not have won it though. After all Giancarlo Stanton went a little bit nuts, Joey Votto remains criminally underrated, and there were legit arguments to be made for Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. The point is more that before Harper went down he was really, really (really) good.
In just 111 games he hit 29 homers, drove in 87 and slashed .319/.413/.595. If he had the at bats to qualify his 154 OPS+ would've ranked 6th in baseball behind only Trout, Judge, Votto, Stanton, and Altuve. That type of production, combined with his age, makes him a no-brainer consideration for a top three pick in a draft like this. Yet what's scary is that isn't even Harper's ceiling.
We saw his ceiling in 2015, oh you know, THE YEAR HE BECAME THE YOUNGEST UNANIMOUS MVP IN BASEBALL HISTORY. As a 22-year-old that season Bryce slashed .330/.460/.649 with 42 homers. He posted an unholy 198 OPS+, which means he was 98 percent (!!!) better than league average. It's the highest OPS+ anyone has posted since 2004 when Barry Bonds checked in at 263. *Faints*
So sure if you want to say that Harper hasn't been that player since, then you'd be right. But he was great last year before getting hurt! And he was great in 2016 before getting hurt (and playing through it)! He may never reach the heights of 2015 again (it was that good), but he's young enough to at least come close. More than almost any other player I feel confident he'll win an MVP in the next couple years.
Mike Trout, Angels, Age: 26
I had to change the title of this blog because of Mike Trout. It was originally "If All Of MLB Had A Re-Draft Who Would Be The Number One Pick"? However, that's become too obvious of a question. The answer is Trout. He's the best player in baseball and is off to one of the best starts to a career of all time. Think about this for a second. If Trout retired right now, at age 26, he would have the 94th most WAR among position players in the Hall of Fame, more than over 50 other inductees. In 2017 alone he surpassed 30 HALL OF FAMERS IN CAREER WAR.
Entering 2017 every full season Trout played he had finished either first or second in the MVP voting. What the fuck. The only reason he didn't this year was because he got hurt for a bit. But he still led baseball in OPS. He finished with career highs in OPS, OPS+, OBP and slugging. He finished 4th in the MVP voting while playing just 114 games. In every year of Trout's career he has led his league in a new, different stat. He's the perfect baseball player. He has the perfect combination of power, speed, defense, durability, and drive. He's a generational, once in a lifetime player and is the best overall player we've seen since Bonds. He's maybe going to be one of the best of all time.