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Now that spring training is fully underway, I figured it was the perfect time to start a full player ranking for each division. The NL East is absolutely LOADED with talent, so we’re starting there. And to be clear, we are ranking position players ONLY!
5. Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
Now it might surprise some people that I have Acuna this low on my list, but let me explain. If you watch the Atlanta Braves with any regularity, you’ll notice that the Braves’ star is streaky as can be. The highs will make you believe you’re watching a top five player in all of baseball, and then he’ll fall into a three week slump.
What’s painfully obvious about his career stats is that putting the ball in play has become a problem. Averaging his numbers out over the span of a typical 162-game season has him walking back to the dugout 192 times a year. That’s not the end of the world with the way the game is played today, but it’s also not ideal if you want to climb my rankings.
Still Ronald Acuna is box office, and I have little doubt he’ll figure out what sends him into these dry spells.
ATLANTA BRAVES:— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) February 28, 2021
Ronald Acuña Jr. became the youngest player in postseason history with a leadoff home run when he hit one in 2020 NLDS Game 1 against the Marlins, at 22 years & 293 days old
428 ft HR
109.5 mph exit velocity
💪 ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/88mA46583c
4. Trae Turner, Washington Nationals
Since he plays the most important position in all of baseball, shortstop, Trae Turner has to be on this list. When you post a .335 batting average, rarely strike out (36 times in 2020), and fill a prominent defensive position, you deserve some recognition.
We saw how important a player Turner is to his team in their World Series run in 2019. Turner is entering the final year of his deal with the Washington Nationals, so expect another breakout season for the 27-year-old.
3. Francisco Lindor, New York Mets
Man, that sounds weird to write. Why did the Cleveland Indians get rid of this guy over money? That’s a conversation for another day, but the Mets know exactly the type of player they’re getting. He’s a power-hitting, switch-hitting shortstop who plays for a really good team.
I know no one wants me to use teammates to determine how good a player is heading into 2021, but it’s a reality some fans have to come to grips with. Lindor slotting ahead of Pete Alonso and Michael Conforto matters because these players don’t play by themselves. They work as a unit, and that lineup is fearsome. It’s just one of the benefits of playing for a major market team that baseball writers rarely discuss.
Lindor had a down year last year and was likely worried about trade rumors. Anyone who watched Indians baseball last year (most didn’t) can vouch that Lindor was linked to a different team nearly every day. Now that he’s in New York with an owner who practically prints money, he’s no longer worried about being traded or being lost to free agency. It’ll pay off on the field.
2. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Uh yeah. The Atlanta Braves are stacked. After Ronald Acuna sets the tone at the top of that lineup, Freeman is the catalyst. Look at these numbers:
How many players in the last fifteen years have hit at or near .300 for five years running, with power, and while winning Gold Glove awards? This is a generational talent we’re seeing at first base in Atlanta, though he’s overshadowed by the power numbers we’re seeing across baseball.
It’s really too bad that baseball fans across the country aren’t hearing Freddie Freeman’s name because he isn’t bat flipping. He’s a breath of fresh air and a real blast from the past that old school fans of baseball can enjoy.
Unfortunately for Freddie, this next guy on my list will go down as one of the best hitters this game ever witnessed, so I couldn’t give him my top spot.
1. Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
If Barry Bonds had been a wee bit smaller in stature, he would be Juan Soto. Soto gives the Nationals everything from the three spot in their lineup: contact, power, and the ability to take a walk.
Though just 22, Soto comes into the season with a deep understanding of what makes his own game tick. He has no “Ronald Acuna” streaky moments that make you question his future. You can pretty much pencil Juan Soto in for a .295 average with 30+ homers and several clutch moments.
There are great players in today’s game that you don’t necessarily want up to bat with everything on the line. Juan Soto is not one of them. Other than Mike Trout, Juan Soto is baseball’s toughest at bat.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS:— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) February 28, 2021
Best (hitter in baseball) for last.
Juan Soto has a 151 career OPS+. That’s 6th-highest by through a player’s age-21 season (min 1000 PA). Only players ahead of him: Mike Trout, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb.
Let’s watch him homer ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/yi1e7nMHld
Soto tops my list, and I’d actually prefer to discuss whether he slots right behind Trout as the game’s best player.