Who is currently the best MLB player? The arrival of Opening Day 2023 and MLB games today means a favorite discussion among baseball fans is back. As Sportsnaut prepares for the season ahead, it’s time to evaluate who are the best players in the game.
It’s not as cut-and-dry as one might think. Variables like defense, postseason success injuries, 2022 MLB statistics and career production all come into play. There is also a consideration given to the value of everyday players versus starting pitchers, comparing a Game 1 starter in a World Series to the cleanup hitter on a playoff contender.
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As MLB Opening Day arrives, we’ve ranked the best players in baseball with an eye on the past, present and future. Breakout seasons will come, some superstars will go down and so many things will change along the way. For now, we’re focused on where everything stands before the first pitch of Opening Week.
Here are the best MLB players entering the 2023 season.
Best MLB players: Young bats, veteran arms headline group
Just Missed: Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Toronto Blue Jays; Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox; Francisco Lindor, New York Mets; Max Scherzer, New York Yankees; Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
20. Corbin Burnes, starting pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers
While the Milwaukee Brewers might’ve downplayed what Corbin Burnes does in the arbitration hearing, there’s no denying Burnes is one of the best pitchers in MLB. Over the last two seasons, Burnes posted the fourth-lowest ERA (2.71) with the third-highest K/9 (11.63) and the best FanGraphs WAR (12.0). When he becomes a free agent in 2025, Burnes will land a $40M AAV deal.
19. Justin Verlander, starting pitcher, New York Mets
Justin Verlander is one of the best starting pitchers in modern baseball history. A year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Verlander won his third AL Cy Young Award and it came with a league-best 1.75 ERA and 0.83 WHIP as a 39-year-old. The only real knock on Verlander when ranking the best MLB players in 2023 is Verlander’s struggles in the World Series (5.63 ERA).
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18. Austin Riley, third baseman, Atlanta Braves
Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley is the perfect example of why you shouldn’t give up on top prospects too early. Across his first 601 plate appearances, Riley posted a .241/.308/.446 slash line with a 30.3 percent strikeout rate and 29 home runs. He’s been one of the best MLB players ever since, posting a .287/.354/.536 slash line with 68 home runs. Already a World Series champion and All-Star before he turned 26, Riley is a star in Atlanta.
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17. Ronald Acuña Jr, outfielder, Atlanta Braves
We didn’t get the best version of Ronald Acuña Jr. in 2022. In his first season back from a torn ACL, Acuña hit 15 home runs with 29 steals and a 114 wRC+. Those are quality numbers, but a healthy version of Acuña can return to the player who posted a .281/.376/.549 line with a 140 wRC+ in his first four seasons.
16. Julio Rodríguez, outfielder, Seattle Mariners
Baseball fans are witnessing an incredible era for the game. There are young MLB stars everywhere and Seattle Mariners outfielder Julio Rodríguez isn’t too far away from becoming a top-five MLB player. As a 21-year-old, Rodríguez posted the 19th-highest wRC+ (146) by a rookie since 1990. He is just scratching the surface of his potential, with 40-homer and 30-steal seasons a viable stat line for him during his prime years.
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15. Trea Turner, shortstop, Philadelphia Phillies
If the World Baseball Classic was any indication of what’s to come for Trea Turner, he will be beloved in Philadelphia. While he might not be quite as fast as he used to be, Turner provides quality defense at shortstop and could deliver a 30-30 season. Combine the production with the positional value and it’s easy to see what makes Turner one of the best MLB players in 2023.
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14. Freddie Freeman, first base, Los Angeles Dodgers
While Freddie Freeman might still have some regrets about what happened with Atlanta, he is thriving with the Los Angeles Dodgers. A five-time All-Star selection and the 2020 NL MVP, Freeman has the fifth-highest fWAR (11.9) and the highest batting average in baseball (.313) over the last two seasons. Even as a 33-year-old, Freeman remains one of the best hitters in baseball.
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13. Jacob deGrom, starting pitcher, Texas Rangers
It’s perfectly understandable why MLB.com and ESPN rank Jacob deGrom much lower on their list of best players in MLB. Injuries are a persistent problem for the veteran righty and they will likely keep hindering him. With that said, deGrom’s peak is statistically one of the best pitchers ever. Since 2018, deGrom holds a 2.05 ERA (Verlander is second, 2.33 ERA) and his 25% K-BB rate in his career is the second-best among starting pitchers since 1950 (1000 innings min.)
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12. Sandy Alcantara, starting pitcher, Miami Marlins
The greatness of Sandy Alcantara is captured rather simply. He won the NL Cy Young Award in 2022 despite playing for a team that only won 69 games. Over the last three seasons, only Burnes, Verlander and Max Scherzer have a lower ERA than Alcantara (2.71). Fortunately for the Marlins, he is under contract through 2028 for just $56 million total.
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11. Paul Goldschmidt, first baseman, St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is the epitome of consistency. He averaged a .927 OPS over the last 10 seasons, driving in nearly 1,000 runs (934) over that span. He also won the NL MVP as a 35-year-old and will be in the mix for the award again this season.
10 best players in baseball
10. Yordan Alvarez, designated hitter, Houston Astros
Yordan Alvarez might be one of the most underrated stars in baseball. He likely won’t ever win an AL MVP because he rarely plays the field, but the 6-foot-5 slugger is sensational at the plate. Before suffering a hand injury in June 2022, Alvarez slashed .321/.415/.667 with a 1.081 OPS and 23 home runs, putting him in the MVP race with Aaron Judge. If Alvarez’s injuries are behind him, he could be the best hitter in MLB this season.
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9. José Ramirez, third baseman, Cleveland Guardians
While José Ramirez flies under the radar on a small-market team, there’s no denying his accomplishments make him one of the best MLB players entering the 2023 season. Dating back to 2017, Ramirez has the fourth-highest fWAR (36.2) behind only Judge, Mookie Betts and Mike Trout. It’s a testament to his approach at the plate (11% walk rate vs 12.9% strikeout rate). A perennial MVP finalist who still holds his own defensively at the hot corner, Ramirez is also one of the most underpaid superstars in baseball.
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8. Bryce Harper, outfielder, Philadelphia Phillies
Bryce Harper was viewed as a generational talent coming out of high school, getting his GED early just so he could become eligible for the MLB draft sooner. Expectations for Harper were sky-high and while so many generational prospects have failed to match the hype, Harper met everyone’s expectations. He’s a seven-time All-Star selection with two NL MVPs and he’ll cross the 300-homer market this season. If not for injuries, Harper would be even higher on this list.
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7. Manny Machado, third baseman, San Diego Padres
It’s easy to identify one of the best players in MLB when they sign two $300 million contracts in the span of just a few years. The San Diego Padres wisely extended Manny Machado (11 years, $350 million) to prevent him from opting out and hitting free agency in the winter. Thanks to the deal, an outstanding defender at third base with a 139 wRC+, 255 RBI and a .291/.359/.522 slash line over the last three seasons will spend the next decade in San Diego.
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6. Nolan Arenado, third baseman, St. Louis Cardinals
Nolan Arenado is one of the best defensive third basemen ever. A 10-time Gold Glove Award winner and the recipient of five Fielding Bible Awards with six Platinum Glove Awards, Arenado is truly sensational at third and he is still doing it (99th percentile Outs Above Average) in his 30s. What really separates Arenado as one of the best players in MLB is the .891 OPS he posted last season to put him in the running for MVP.
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5. Juan Soto, outfielder, San Diego Padres
The numbers Juan Soto posted last season (.242 batting average, 27 home runs, 62 RBI) certainly don’t scream superstar to the average fan. So, it’s worth taking a look beyond the traditional box score. Soto recorded the 12th-highest walk rate (22.2%) in baseball since 1950. As for his batting average, that’s the result of a batting average on balls in play (.249) that fell 60 points from his career line. Simply wait for the upcoming 40-homer season with a .300 batting average to be reminded why Soto is one of the best players in MLB.
4. Mookie Betts, outfielder, Los Angeles Dodgers
Mookie Betts is the definition of a five-tool player, which is the last thing you’d anticipate from a 5-foot-9 outfielder who was selected in the fifth round of the 2011 MLB Draft. Beyond the six All-Star selections, 2018 AL MVP and two World Series rings, Betts holds a .903 OPS with 190 home runs, 130 steals and a .293/.373/.530 slash since 2016. If that’s not enough, he also is an elite defender (15 Defensive Runs Saved in 2022) who can also play second base.
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3. Aaron Judge, outfielder, New York Yankees
Aaron Judge was the MVP winner in 2022, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the best player in MLB. Landing at No. 3 on this list certainly isn’t a knock on the New York Yankees captain. After all, Judge is coming off a record-breaking season and just became the highest-paid hitter in MLB history. We do expect some statistical regression from Judge in 2023, but another season of 40-plus homers with 100 RBI and a .950 OPS will still make him one of the best hitters in MLB.
- Aaron Judge stats (2022): 1.111 OPS, 62 home runs, 131 RBI, .311/.425/.686
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2. Mike Trout, outfielder, Los Angeles Angels
Everyone knows injuries are the lone thing that prevents Mike Trout from being viewed as one of the best MLB players ever. For now, we’re putting those to the side and focusing on the numbers. Trout has the ninth-highest wRC+ (172) in baseball history, just behind Barry Bonds (173) and his 1.002 OPS is right behind Rogers Hornsby and ahead of Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio (.977). As for the injuries, just keep in mind that Trout hit 40 home runs with a 176 wRC+ in only 119 games last season. Yes, the Los Angeles Angels have the two best MLB players in 2023.
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1. Shohei Ohtani, starting pitcher and designated hitter, Los Angeles Angels
Best Player in MLB: Shohei Ohtani is the No. 1 player in MLB and there is no one else like him in the history of this sport. While Babe Ruth is the common counterpoint, Ruth’s best seasons on the mound (2.05 ERA, 1.08 WHIP in 1034 innings from 1915-’18) happened before he was an all-time great hitter (20 home runs, 111 RBI from 1915-’18).
So, let’s focus on Ohtani. The two-way phenom already has an AL MVP and his .918 OPS over the last two seasons is right behind Soto (.925) and better than both Freeman (.907) and Ramirez (.881). On offensive output alone, including his speed on the bases, Ohtani is a top-10 offensive contributor in baseball. Now throw in the fifth-lowest ERA (2.70) and the fifth-highest strikeout rate (31.4%) in the last two years. An MVP-caliber hitter and a Cy Young Award candidate every year, Ohtani is the best player in MLB and it’s not a contest.
All statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, ESPN and Baseball Savant.