Who will be the best player of the 2021 MLB season?
As Opening Day approaches, it’s time to analyze how baseball’s elite will get back on track.
To create the annual MLB Top 100 rankings, we presented some of the game’s biggest names to our panel of ESPN baseball experts and simply asked them: Which player will be the best in 2021?
In this latest installment of our Top 25 list, you’ll find Cy Young Award winners, MVPs, veterans who have already built a Hall of Fame, and megastars who will dominate the sport for years to come. But which one is number one?
For each player, you’ll find the corresponding statistic or story below to put their position on the list in context.
On Monday, we saw 100-51 numbers with rising stars like the reigning National League Rookie of the Year and a trio of young Chicago hitters helping to make the White Sox one of the most exciting teams in the American League. Tuesday was #50-26 with seven shorts, which is really a golden time for this post.
Today, we determine the game’s No. 1 player, pit Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna Jr. against each other, and help settle discussions about positions – or fuel them, for that matter. B. who is the best starting pitcher in the MLB.
More: 100-51: 50-26: Who’s Next? | List 2020, Debates
Grade 2020: 25
Why is he here? Harper enters his third season with the Phillies after a strong 2020 season in which he hit .268/.420/.542 with 13 home runs. The right fielder is only 28 years old, which seems almost impossible given how long he’s been around in the minds of baseball fans, but he has yet to win his first playoff series as a major leaguer, which is certainly what Philadelphia expected when they signed him for 13 years and $330 million. -Jung Lee
Grade 2020: 15
Why is he here? This will be a critical season for Judge, who turns 29 in April. Fans have waited three years to see a season similar to Judge’s monumental 52-man Rookie of the Year campaign in 2017. But since the start of the 2018 season, Judge has played in just 242 of 384 scheduled games. — Marley Rivera
Grade 2020: 30
Why is he here? With the transfer of Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals, the story has turned into a one-man show for the Rockies. And with the two-way shortstop in his first year, Story’s performance could be limited. If Colorado slows down, as projections show, Story will be a hot commodity on the postseason trade market. Only Francisco Lindor and Xander Bogaerts have amassed more fWAR among shortstops over the past three years, and Story could be a better all-around player than those two. — Bradford Doolittle
Grade 2020: 78
Why is he here? After recovering from a full season of hip surgery – and laying a solid enough foundation to keep his technique from faltering during the season – Seager returned to the superstar form he showed in his debut, batting .307/.358/.585 with 28 extra-base hits in 52 games during the regular season. He then became MVP of the NLCS and MVP of the World Series. He will now enter his year off looking for his place among the game’s most valuable players. — Alden Gonzalez
Grade 2020: 7
Why is he here? Seven years will soon be over, as Scherzer enters the final season of his Washington contract in 2021. After several years with an ERA of 2.00, it rose to 3.74 in 2020, which isn’t too alarming, but it’s still off the radar. Is Scherzer now in a good phase of his career, or is he still elite? — Jesse Rogers.
Grade 2020: 50
Why is he here? After a bumpy first season in San Diego, Machado has performed beautifully in 2020. He hit .304/.370/.580 with 16 home runs, provided his usual good defense (although it’s impossible to win a Gold Glove in a league with Nolan Arenado), and finished third in the NL MVP voting. His value fluctuated along with his batting average, which has been .294, .259, .297, .256 and .304 since 2016. If he hits around 300, he’s clearly a top 20 player. If he gets around 250, he’ll slide into the back half of the top 100. -David Schoenfield.
AP Photo/Corey Sipkin
19. DJ LeMahieu, 2B, New York Yankees
Grade 2020: 57
Why is he here? Re-contracting LeMahieu was probably the best decision of the season. In his two years with the Yankees, LeMahieu finished in the top five of the MVP voting twice and led baseball in average in 2020. While other players are dealing with a 32-point slump, LeMahieu’s versatility in the outfield and discipline at the plate continue to set the standard. — Rivera.
18. Walker Buehler, S.P., Los Angeles Dodgers
Grade 2020: 19
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Why is he here? Buehler took some time off when the 2020 season ended, so he was slow to get going when MLB resumed in mid-summer. But Buehler was at his best when it mattered. In the postseason, he allowed only five runs and struckout 39 batters in 25 innings. He’s only 26 years old and has already established himself as one of the best big-league pitchers – and it looks like the best is yet to come. — Gonzalez
Grade 2020: 47
Why is he here? He’s a little small, but all he does is hit, hit with power, and steal some bases. He finished third, third and second in the MVP voting the past four years and comes into 2019 after a below-average (for him) season. He was involved in 7 wars in 2017 and 2018 and 6.4 in 2020. — Shoefield
16. Trevor Bauer, MS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Grade 2020: 88
Why is he here? Bauer, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, played a shortened season with the Reds and was awarded a three-year, $102 million contract with the defending baseball champions. While eyes will be on his performance at a club full of established stars, the more tangible interest will be in Bauer’s desire to repeat his award-winning performance at Cincinnati. After a season in which he posted a 1.73 ERA, things seemed to only go downhill. But then again, there are few players in the MLB who are as eager to improve as Bauer. — Doolittle.
Grade 2020: 13
Why is he here? Making contact has never been more difficult than it is now, and in the past four years, Rendon has hit just 24 more times than he has given assists. In that time, he hit .307/.399/.550 while playing Gold Glove defense and notching 22.6 WAR FanGraphs, behind Trout and Betts. — Gonzalez
Grade 2020: 40
Why is he here? Bieber has emerged as one of the best pitchers in the game over the past two seasons and has put together a remarkable 2020 campaign. In 12 starts, he had an ERA of 1.63 and a WHIP of 0.87 and was chasing the American League MVP title and the Cy Young for most of the year, which he eventually won. — Lee…
Grade 2020: 12
From fantasy to play to rest: Passan has a lot of thoughts on runners and teams that will be very successful next year.
Jeff Passan’s predictions for 2021
Why is he here? Bregman had a forgettable 2020 season in which, perhaps more than with any other fallen Astro, his on-field sterility seemed to wane amid the avalanche of ridicule that descended on Houston. As an example, Statcast Bregman delivered just five barrels on 128 balls a season ago. When Bregman is at his peak, he’ll try to hit for the Rockets again, and when he does, he’ll remind everyone why he was second in the AL MVP voting in our last full season. — Doolittle.
12. Cody Bellinger, Of, Los Angeles Dodgers
Grade 2020: 6
Why is he here? Bellinger is a naturally gifted outfielder with an improved arm, elite speed and majestic power. When he has the time to handle his demanding workload and swings the right way, he’s one of the best players in the game, as he showed during much of his 2019 MVP season. But sometimes, as in the 2020 season shortened by lockouts, the mechanism breaks down and requires frequent maintenance. Bellinger was never in sync last year. He hit .233/.329/.455 if you count the postseason. — Gonzalez
Grade 2020: 9
Why is he here? Arenado was bothered by shoulder problems (AC joints) for most of 2021, resulting in a low .253/.303/.434 in 48 games. Many doubt his numbers will go beyond Denver, but the 29-year-old says he’ll take the ball with ease this spring, and that’s good news for the Cardinals. At Colorado, Arenado was twice the league’s top-ranked player in rushing and scoring, and also won the Silver Slugger Award four times. With his eight gold gloves, Arenado will also provide an upgrade at the hot corner to an already talented defense down the stretch. — Rivera.
Grade 2020: 10
Why is he here? This will be a crucial year for the two-time Gold Glove and four-time All-Star shortstop. Sir, I want to thank you for your support. Smile is coming off his senior season in Cleveland, in which he hit a low .258 with eight home runs. Now he has to make sure contract negotiations don’t distract him when he’s wearing a Mets jersey and being the center of attention in New York. — Rivera.
AP Photo/Aaron Doster
Grade 2020: 4
Why is he here? Of all the players who struggled in 2020, Yelich may have the fewest excuses. He is now playing with some pride, and Brewers manager Craig Consult is confident he will get his form back. Before posting a .786 mark last season, he led the National League in OPS in his first two seasons in Milwaukee. — Rogers
Grade 2020: 41
Why is he here? He has only played one full season in the majors and already has a 14-year, $340 million contract while being considered the new face of baseball. Why? Well, over the course of this season (143 games, 629 appearances) he has a .301/.374/.582 record, 39 homers, 27 stolen bases, eight triples, and a 7.0 BaseballReference WAR – all before he turned 22. No player has ever collected more WAR in baseball in his first 150 games. — Gonzalez
Grade 2020: 17
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Why is he here? It will be nearly impossible for Freeman to hit the .341/.462/.640 line that he was MVP with in 2020, but maybe he can do it again. In 2020, he registered more walks than outs and the most outs in his career in both categories. Fewer strikeouts leads to higher average and OBP, and he didn’t sacrifice power for strikeouts. — Shoefield
Grade 2020: 3
Why is he here? He was not far from winning his third consecutive Cy Young Award in 2020, finishing third behind Trevor Bauer and Yu Darvish. With DeGrom’s increased velocity this spring and an improved team around him, Mets fans can expect more DeGrom dominance – and likely better run support – in 2021. — Rogers
5. Gerrit Cole, JV, New York Yankees
Grade 2020: 2
Why is he here? Baseball’s top pitcher admitted he was impressed with the nature of the saves and starts in last year’s pandemic season. Cole always lives up to his reputation as an ace: In 12 regular season starts in 2020, he went 7-3 with a 2.84 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 73 innings. But the Yankees’ $324 million right-hander has to let go of his penchant for home runs, as his 14 home runs were the second-most in the majors. — Rivera.
Grade 2020: 8
Why is he here? It’s easy to forget that Akuna is only 23 years old, given how quickly he has established himself as one of the most feared batsmen in the sport. Last year, he hit 14 home runs and posted a .250/.406/.581 line in 46 games. Considering Fernando Tatis Jr’s astronomical 14-year, $340 million contract, Braves fans should consider themselves lucky that the team has secured the superstar outfielder for eight years in a $100 million deal. — Lee…
3. Juan Soto, OH, Washington National
Grade 2020: 11
Why is he here? No, it’s not stupid to compare Soto to Ted Williams. Williams hit .344/.442/.594 as a 21-year-old. Photo struck. 351/.490/.695. Sure, Soto only did it in 47 games, and then Williams hit .406 in 22, but the bottom line is that Soto has the same superstar skills and plate discipline as Williams. If you pick the player who will likely be the best hitter in 2021, it’s Soto. -Schoenfield
2. Mookie Betts, of, Los Angeles Dodgers
Grade 2020: 5
Why is he here? Dodgers players and coaches knew Betts was good even before he joined them last year. They didn’t know how good it was. After wearing the same jerseys for a season, they were amazed at how sharply he defended, how well he worked, how well the ball bounced off his bat, and how perfectly he ran the bases. Bets is a five-player in the truest sense of the word. His 38.4 WAR FanGraphs from 2015-2020, surpassed only by Mike Trout, is testament to that. — Gonzalez
1. Mike Trout, Of, Los Angeles Angels
Grade 2020: 1
Why is he here? Last season was Trout’s worst since his debut in the Coffee Cup a decade ago. His baseball percentages were consistently lower. He stole only one base and defended poorly. He was also deservedly among the top five AL MVPs selected for the ninth consecutive season. If you can judge a player’s greatness by his worst seasons, then with Trout you can see at a glance why he’s just as likely to compete with Babe Ruth and Willie Mays for historical supremacy as he is with Mookie Betts, Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. for the best throne that belongs to only him. — Doolittle.
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