Aaron Judge has been MLB’s best player in the first three months of the 2017 season, stunning rival evaluators with his improvement since the end of the 2016 season. But he still has fewer than 100 games in the big leagues, which is why he isn’t ranked here among the top 10 players in the big leagues.
2017 MLBRank Top 10s
ESPN experts and analysts provide their lists of the Top 10 players in the game today.
» 2017 MLB Rank Index
• Buster Olney
• Jessica Mendoza
• Dave Flemming
• David Ross
• David Schoenfield
• Marly Rivera
• Jerry Crasnick
• Adnan Virk
As we have seen with Kyle Schwarber, adjustments are needed even by the most talented hitters, and in time, we’ll know if pitchers can find a way to attack Judge’s large strike zone.
For now, here’s my list of the majors’ top 10 players — without the guy who currently leads the big leagues in WAR.
Note: All stats are as of Friday, June 23.
10. Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Seager, 23, has become the Dodgers’ best position player already, after he scored 105 runs and compiling 26 homers last season. Only Kris Bryant rated higher in WAR in the NL last season.
9. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds
A rival executive on Votto: “He is so good, and the crazy thing is he’s actually gotten better.”
Votto’s .601 slugging percentage is the best of his career, and yet he has a strikeout rate of just 11.2 percent, an incredible combination in an era dominated by strikeouts. Keep in mind: He has usually been a better hitter in the second half than the first half.
8. Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
Perhaps his 4-for-4 day against the Indians last week signaled the start of a 2017 turnaround for Machado, who has struggled this year. But the overall body of work in his career has been extraordinary, and he’ll be well compensated for it when he reaches free agency at the end of next season.
Machado soon turns 25, and he has already had three top-10 finishes in the AL MVP race. He missed half a season with a knee injury in 2014, and only four players rank ahead of him in defensive runs saved since he broke into the big leagues.
7. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
He has the best adjusted ERA+ among all starting pitchers all time, and over the past six seasons, he has won three Cy Young Awards and had a second-, third- and fifth-place finish. Kershaw has already given up more homers this season than in any other season in his career, and his ERA is his highest since 2010. But at a time when a lot of teams routinely pull their starters the third time through the opponents’ batting order, Kershaw is among the MLB leaders in innings and strikeouts.
6. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
Some of the next-level analytics aren’t kind to the Rockies’ third baseman, and like all Colorado players, he will forever swim upstream against the question of how much of his offensive production is created by the favorable hitting conditions at Coors Field. But evaluators have come to believe this about the multitalented and intense Arenado: He is a player who can be the anchor to a winning team. He is a significant difference-maker.
5. Max Scherzer, RHP, Washington Nationals
The Human No-Hit Alert has a chance to become the rarest of species: Scherzer is well on his way to fully justifying a long-term, big-money investment in a free-agent starting pitcher. In his first 78 starts with the Nationals, Scherzer has 705 strikeouts and 114 walks in 564 2/3 innings — and an ERA of 2.73 while averaging about seven innings per start.
Going into last weekend, Scherzer led the NL in the pitcher’s triple crown categories — ERA, innings and strikeouts — at the outset of what has been the best season of his career.
4. Chris Sale, LHP, Boston Red Sox
Remember Sale’s quaint season of 2016, when he was all about pitch efficiency and generating ground balls? Well, forget that: Sale has struck out 12.2 batters per nine innings this season, which would rank among the 10 best ratios of all time if he can stay in the same range through the season. He has a 1.97 FIP, and the only active starting pitcher who has fared better in a season is Clayton Kershaw, at 1.811 in 2014. Sale has a chance to rack up something in the range of 330 strikeouts this season; he has never had more than 274. He’s one of the best, and he’s at his very best in 2017.
3. Mookie Betts, RF, Boston Red Sox
“When you guys have that conversation about who the best young player is — [Mike] Trout, [Bryce] Harper or [Manny] Machado — you had better damn well include Mookie Betts,” one manager said.
Betts finished behind Trout for the AL MVP Award in 2016, but he is still building his offensive consistency. He is already regarded as one of the game’s best baserunners, as well as the best defensive right fielder.
“He’s best right fielder I’ve seen,” one evaluator said.
“The best now?” I asked.
“No — the best ever,” he responded. “I’ve never seen anybody cover so much ground in front of him. Not even close.”
2. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona’s first baseman has finished second in the NL MVP voting twice already, but this might be the season in which Goldschmidt will finally receive the personal acclaim that many of his peers believe is long overdue. He checks every box. Goldschmidt lead the majors in runs and RBIs; and his on-base percentage this season is close to .450, a career best. He ranks in the top five in this baserunning efficiency metric. And he is a superlative defender, perhaps the best among those at his position who throw right-handed.
1. Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels
He has missed about a month this season because of hamstring and thumb injuries, and yet the only players who ranked higher than Trout in WAR as of June 23 were Aaron Judge and Paul Goldschmidt. That’s just one number among the many that demonstrate Trout’s preeminence in the sport. Trout was having the best season in a career of unprecedented early success, with an OPS of 1.203, and he expects to be back around the All-Star break. He could collect career hit No. 1,000 and career homer No. 200 right around the time he turns 26 in August.
Toughest omissions: Buster Posey and Carlos Correa
The Giants’ disastrous season obscures what has been a spectacular offensive season for Posey, who has a chance to join, again, the very short list of catchers who have won batting titles. Among the catchers who have at least 200 plate appearances this season, Posey leads in wRC+ at 159 — and he is in a different universe than everybody else. Brian McCann is second at 124. The Giants have a lot of problems, but they have the preeminent player at a premium position.
Correa has taken a big step forward this year, in a season in which his attention to detail has grown. He worked diligently on his defense, especially on grounders hit to his right, and Correa has studied video on his baserunning, about secondary leads. Most obviously, he continues to learn about hitting in the big leagues. Still just 22 years old, Correa is hitting .303, with 14 homers heading into Friday’s games.
“Everybody talked about him having a down year [in ’16],” one evaluator said. “He had — what? — 20 bombs and 96 RBI at age 21? I’ll take that.”