MLB Rank 2021: Ranking baseball's best players, from 100 to 51

Who will be the best players of the 2021 MLB season?

As the countdown to Opening Day (Thursday, April 1) continues, we gathered ESPN's baseball experts to determine our annual MLB Rank list of the top 100 players in the sport.


To reach our final order, we presented our panel with pairings of the biggest names in the game and asked simply, "Which player will be better in 2021?" Below, you'll find the first set of results from this year's survey.

The bottom half of our list, ranging from No. 100 to No. 51, features a host of rising stars, veteran mainstays, a reigning Rookie of the Year and 2020's major league home run king.

For each of the players, a member of our panel has provided a relevant stat or storyline to put his position on the list into context. What about the players will determine how well they perform in 2021? What might hold them back? In other words: Why are they ranked where they're ranked?

We will reveal Nos. 50-26 on Tuesday. On Wednesday, we will count down the top 25.

More: Next to make our list for all 30 teams (ESPN+)|2020 top 100



100. Austin Meadows, DH, Tampa Bay Rays



2020 rank: 90

Why he's here: Meadows reported to Rays camp 10-15 pounds lighter and hopes to regain the form from his 2019 All-Star season after struggling to get going in 2020. He didn't make his season debut until Aug. 4 after testing positive for COVID-19 and hit just .205/.296/.371 in 36 games after hitting .291 with 33 home runs in 138 games the season before. -- Joon Lee



99. Ian Anderson, SP, Atlanta Braves



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: The third pick of the 2016 draft, Anderson burst on the scene during his first exposure to the big leagues late in the 2020 season. Including the playoffs, Anderson went 5-2 over 10 starts with a minuscule 1.59 ERA. It won't always be that easy for the dazzling righty, but with excellent command and a possibly elite changeup, Anderson has given Braves fans plenty of reasons to believe he's the real deal. -- Bradford Doolittle



98. Eugenio Suarez, 3B, Cincinnati Reds



2020 rank: 61

Why he's here: The extra time off during last season's shutdown should have helped Suarez, as he was recovering from shoulder surgery, but it never showed up at the plate in 2020. His OPS dropped to just .781 after a career-high .930 mark in 2019. At the very least, his home run totals should return to his previous levels in 2021. -- Jesse Rogers



97. Dustin May, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: The 6-foot-6 right-hander with the big mop of curly red hair is still more potential than finished product at this point, although he owns a 2.98 ERA over 90 career innings. With an upper 90s sinker, high-spin curveball, cutter and changeup, the stuff is electric. Look for him to both start and relieve this season. -- David Schoenfield



96. Justin Turner, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers



2020 rank: 68

Why he's here: Turner might be on the decline, but it is a slow one. During his age-35 season in 2020, he continued to be among the Dodgers' most consistent offensive producers, batting .307/.400/.460 during the regular season and posting an .804 OPS during the playoffs. After finally capturing a World Series championship for his hometown team -- and testing positive for COVID-19 in the midst of that pursuit -- Turner rightfully returned to the Dodgers over the offseason, signing a two-year, $34 million contract. -- Alden Gonzalez



95. Cavan Biggio, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: The least hyped in Toronto's trio of sons of former big leaguers -- along with Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. -- hopes to build upon his 2020 campaign, in which he hit .250/.375/.432 with eight homers after hitting .234/.364/.429 in 100 games in 2019. -- Lee



94. Devin Williams, RP, Milwaukee Brewers



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: The 2020 NL Rookie of the Year after allowing only one earned run in 27 innings, Williams possesses perhaps the most unhittable pitch in baseball: a darting, diving changeup. Batters went 2-for-62 (.032) off it with 41 strikeouts and his 53% strikeout rate was the best ever for a minimum of 20 innings pitched. -- Schoenfield



93. Alex Verdugo, OF, Boston Red Sox



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: If there's going to be any player who makes Red Sox fans feel any better about the Mookie Betts trade, it's likely going to be Verdugo. Amidst a dreadful year for Boston, Verdugo provided one of Boston's few bright spots, hitting .308/.367/.478 with six homers in 53 games while providing a last-place team with a daily spark of energy. -- Lee



92. German Marquez, SP, Colorado Rockies



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: Marquez is 30-22 with a 4.14 ERA over the past three seasons and led the NL in innings and batters faced last season, but remains underrated since he has to pitch half his games in Coors Field. Since 2018, however, he's seventh in the majors with a 3.08 ERA on the road -- behind guys named deGrom, Verlander, Scherzer, Cole, Kershaw and Bieber. -- Schoenfield



91. Lance Lynn, SP, Chicago White Sox



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: Lynn has been perpetually underrated -- this ranking reflects that -- but his acquisition by the emergent White Sox over the offseason is a big reason the South Side now features a championship-caliber rotation. A 2021 version of a workhorse, Lynn is one of 11 pitchers to post more than 10 fWAR over the past three seasons. -- Doolittle



90. Patrick Corbin, SP, Washington Nationals



2020 rank: 33

Why he's here: Corbin was one of the best pitchers in baseball during the 2018 and 2019 seasons but struggled in 2020, posting a 4.66 ERA with a 1.57 WHIP over 11 starts. Those were his worst numbers since his 2017 campaign when he posted a 4.03 ERA with the Diamondbacks. In so many ways, 2020 represented an anomaly, and the Nationals hope the shortened season represents one for Corbin. -- Lee



89. Yordan Alvarez, DH, Houston Astros



2020 rank: 62

Why he's here: Alvarez's ranking is a statement of faith in one of baseball's most electric bats. After knee trouble wiped out Alvarez's 2020 season, he enters the new campaign as a health risk and a full-time DH at the age of 23. Yet Alvarez's presence at the plate is so foreboding and so devoid of weaknesses that his return is the main reason the Astros' offense should remain elite in the aftermath of George Springer's departure. -- Doolittle



88. Starling Marte, OF, Miami Marlins



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: Marte was a big, if not somewhat surprising, deadline acquisition for the Marlins last summer, so picking up his option was a no-brainer for this 2020 playoff team. He played in 61 regular-season games last year due to the midseason trade before a finger injury ended his postseason early. On a team whose strength is on the mound, Marte is a key ingredient near the top of the Marlins' lineup. -- Rogers



87. Dinelson Lamet, SP, San Diego Padres



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: Owner of a 97 mph fastball and wipeout slider, the 28-year-old Lamet had a breakout short season in 2020. After recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2018, he posted a 2.09 ERA with 93 whiffs in 69 innings. The concern heading into 2021: He missed the postseason with a sore elbow. -- Schoenfield



86. Will Smith, C, Los Angeles Dodgers



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: Smith has produced 2.9 FanGraphs WAR in his first 91 major league games and should only keep getting better. He's only 25, but he handles a pitching staff like a veteran and has already proved to be an elite hitter. -- Gonzalez



85. Yasmani Grandal, C, Chicago White Sox



2020 rank: 45


Why he's here: As a solid defender, outstanding hitter and positive clubhouse presence, Grandal is an full-service everyday backstop of the sort we just don't see much of these days. Over the past three seasons, Grandal trails only Philadelphia's J.T. Realmuto in fWAR among catchers. They both more than double the total of any other backstop. -- Doolittle



84. Michael Brantley, OF, Houston Astros



2020 rank: 93

Why he's here: Brantley remains one of the most consistent players of the past decade, regularly posting batting averages hovering around .300 while also providing pop from the outfield. Amidst a shortened season, Brantley hit .300/.364/.476 with five homers in 46 games, not far from his career marks of .297/.354/.440, before re-signing with Houston this offseason. -- Lee



83. Zac Gallen, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: The Diamondbacks acquired Gallen from the Marlins in 2019 in a rare challenge trade of young players that sent shortstop Jazz Chisholm to Miami. Gallen has a 2.78 ERA over 27 career starts, and while he's not overpowering, his changeup and curveball are out pitches and batters have hit just .190 against his four-seamer. -- Schoenfield



82. Luke Voit, 1B, New York Yankees



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: Voit has said this spring he is ready to tone down his "football mentality" and aggressive playing style, which might help last year's MLB home run champion avoid the types of injuries that have limited him at times. Since joining the Yankees at the 2018 trade deadline, his 57 home runs lead the team. -- Marly Rivera



81. Nelson Cruz, DH, Minnesota Twins



2020 rank: 67

Why he's here: There's aging well, and then there's aging like Nelson Cruz. From 2014 to 2020, between the ages of 33 and 39, Cruz batted .286/.363/.557 with 260 home runs and 663 RBIs in 938 games. Only three players -- Mike Trout, Juan Soto and Aaron Judge -- had a higher weighted runs created plus during that stretch. Cruz is 40 now, will turn 41 on the first day of July, and there's no reason to think he'll be slowing down. -- Gonzalez



80. Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta Braves



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: Swanson was traded to the Braves in December of 2015, just six months after the Diamondbacks took him No. 1 overall in the draft. Last season was his fourth as Atlanta's everyday shortstop, but it was the first in which Swanson's production reflected his lofty draft status. He became a full-field line-drive hitter last season while also managing to tack on some power. Swanson's evolution has set him up nicely for the prime of his career. -- Doolittle



79. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs



2020 rank: 24

Why he's here: It's now or never for Bryant before he enters free agency this offseason. Like many, he had a 2020 season to forget, with injuries contributing to a down year. Healthy and at ease in potentially his final year as a Cub, could Bryant return to the .900 or better OPS levels that previously placed him much higher on our list? If he does, will it lead to a July trade deadline move from Chicago? -- Rogers



78. Mike Soroka, SP, Atlanta Braves



2020 rank: 42

Why he's here: After going 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA as a 21-year-old rookie in 2019, Soroka made just three starts in 2020 before tearing his right Achilles. He might not be ready for Opening Day but should return early in the season. The Calgary native relies on a sinker, slider and changeup, a precocious feel for pitching, and keeping the ball on the ground. -- Schoenfield



77. Giancarlo Stanton, DH, New York Yankees



2020 rank: 82

Why he's here: Injuries have kept Stanton out of nearly half of the Yankees' games during his three-season tenure with the team, which is why Stanton said his goal this spring will be to just "show up." He adjusted his offseason workout regimen to include more agility and flexibility training, and that, combined with the fact that he will mostly DH in 2021, should allow him to stay on the field. -- Rivera



76. Kenta Maeda, SP, Minnesota Twins



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: Maeda posted his best season in the big leagues in 2020 during his first year with the Twins, posting a 2.70 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in 11 starts, finishing as the Cy Young runner-up to Shane Bieber. Maeda posted the best walk rate of his career at 1.35 BB/9 and induced the highest ground ball percentage of his career at 49%. -- Lee



75. Yoan Moncada, 3B, Chicago White Sox



2020 rank: 87

Why he's here: Expect a big-time bounce-back season from Moncada. After validating his former status as possibly the game's best prospect with a star turn in 2019, Moncada contracted COVID-19 before last season and was never quite able to gain a foothold during the sprint that was the 2020 season. When he's right, Moncada flashes an elite combination of power, patience and speed. -- Doolittle



74. Jose Berrios, SP, Minnesota Twins



2020 rank: 75

Why he's here: The two-time All-Star has been consistent and reliable over his four full seasons, with his ERA ranging between 3.68 and 4.00 each year. His curveball was better than ever in 2020, as batters hit just .167 against it, and his fastball velocity increased, perhaps an indicator that 2021 will be his best season yet. -- Schoenfield



73. Shohei Ohtani, SP/DH, Los Angeles Angels



2020 rank: 34

Why he's here: All we have as proof that Ohtani can handle being a two-way player in the major leagues is two months, dating back to the start of his rookie season in 2018. Since then he underwent Tommy John surgery, then struggled mightily as both a pitcher and a hitter during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season. But the Angels are exceedingly optimistic about what Ohtani can bring in 2021.

They tracked his progress through an aggressive, data-driven offseason in which he immersed himself in more game-like situations and have watched all of his undeniable talent come through on the mound and in the batter's box this spring. This might be Ohtani's last chance to prove he can handle the rigors of a two-way role. But if anyone can do it, it's probably him. -- Gonzalez



72. Zack Wheeler, SP, Philadelphia Phillies



2020 rank: 83

Why he's here: Big free-agent contracts for pitchers don't always work out. They are especially risky when they involve one with an injury history like that of Zack Wheeler. Happily, Wheeler justified the Phillies' investment in him with a fine 2020 season that saw him garner some down-ballot Cy Young support. He's poised to be the Robin to Aaron Nola's Batman for years to come. -- Doolittle



71. Randy Arozarena, OF, Tampa Bay Rays



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: There's the very rational thought that Arozarena can't possibly duplicate what he did in last year's postseason, batting .377 with 10 home runs over a span of 20 games that evolved into must-watch TV. But then you consider the solid numbers he put up during the 2020 regular season (.281/.382/.641 in 76 plate appearances), and the fact that he added a reported 15 pounds of muscle over the winter, and that he's only 26, with rookie eligibility remaining, and that he's oozing with tools. And then you think -- Arozarena might just be capable of anything. -- Gonzalez



70. Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF, Kansas City Royals



2020 rank: 77

Why he's here: The 2019 All-Star has played every game the past two seasons, led the AL in hits in 2018 and 2019, including 206 in 2019, and has played all over the field. The Royals have him slotted in for right field for 2021, but his versatility means he's also the backup center fielder and second baseman. -- Schoenfield



69. Josh Hader, RP, Milwaukee Brewers



2020 rank: 36

Why he's here: Hader leads all big league relievers in win probability added over the past three seasons, a period during which he has evolved into a more traditional one-inning stopper than the multi-inning beast he was at his peak. Last season, Hader became more slider-oriented and, related or not, suffered periodic command issues that contributed to a career-worst 3.79 ERA. Still one of the game's most feared relievers, Hader will be closely watched early in the season to see if last season's trends continue. -- Doolittle



68. Marcus Semien, 2B, Toronto Blue Jays




2020 rank: 35

Why he's here: During his time with the Athletics, Semien became a player whom sabermetric observers loved to tout as among the most underrated players in the game, posting a 4.7 bWAR in 2018 and 8.9 bWAR in 2019. Semien struggled in the shortened 2020 season, hitting .223/.305/.374, but hopes to regain his form in 2021 after signing a one-year, $18 million contract with Toronto. -- Lee



67. Kyle Hendricks, SP, Chicago Cubs



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: Elevated to the No. 1 spot in the Cubs' rotation, Hendricks is money in the bank. He has become one of the more consistent starters in the league with an ERA+ of 121 or higher each year over the past half decade. -- Rogers



66. Josh Donaldson, 3B, Minnesota Twins



2020 rank: 38

Why he's here: It's all about staying healthy for the former MVP. He played just 52 games in 2018 and 28 games in 2020, but with the Braves in 2019 he played 155 and was one of the best players in the league, hitting 37 home runs, drawing 100 walks and finishing 11th in the MVP voting. -- Schoenfield



65. Eloy Jimenez, OF, Chicago White Sox



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: In 2019, Jimenez showed as much potential as actual consistent production, but last season, he improved across the board and ended up with his first Silver Slugger award. Jimenez finished fourth among all hitters in barrels-per-plate-appearance percentage and fifth in hard-hit percentage. That trait -- the ability to flat-out mash -- will mark Jimenez's rise, as will the infectious smile he wears everywhere he goes. -- Doolittle



64. Ketel Marte, 2B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks



2020 rank: 44

Why he's here: Marte's OPS dropped over 200 points from his career high of .981 in 2019, but he remains a versatile infielder/outfielder with the potential to be a strong all-around contributor. Despite that breakout season the last time MLB played a full schedule, Marte seemingly remains one of the lesser-known star players. -- Rogers



63. Max Muncy, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers



2020 rank: 69

Why he's here: After back-to-back highly productive seasons, Muncy had a rough go of it throughout 2020, batting .192/.331/.389 with 60 strikeouts in 58 games. Despite maddening struggles, he still managed to reach base at a respectable level and still found his groove in the postseason, posting a .961 OPS in the final three rounds. Muncy is an advanced hitter who has made significant strides to improve his defensive versatility in recent years. A normal season could also normalize his numbers. -- Gonzalez



62. Max Fried, SP, Atlanta Braves



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: After a breakout 17-win season in 2019, Fried was even better in 2020, going 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA. He doesn't have the big strikeout rates of some other top starters and instead relies on inducing soft contact, ranking in the 98th percentile in hard-hit rate and allowing just two home runs in 56 innings. -- Schoenfield



61. Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics



2020 rank: 54

Why he's here: Olson represents the prototypical slugger of this particular era of baseball: someone who can hit the ball a mile while striking out a great deal of the time. He posted the highest strikeout percentage of his career in 2020 at 31.4% but also hit 14 home runs in 50 games. -- Lee



60. Brandon Woodruff, SP, Milwaukee Brewers



2020 rank: 96

Why he's here: Woodruff has the makings of a bona fide top-of-the-rotation starter. The only thing missing on his résumé at this point is a full season of being the Brewers' ace. Last season, Woodruff's arsenal beyond his outstanding four-seamer improved across the board. Listed at 6 feet, 4 inches and 243 pounds, and entering his age-28 season, Woodruff seems on the cusp of a run of All-Star-level seasons as a gobbler of elite innings totals, if only he can stretch out what he has done the past two seasons over a full 162-game slate. -- Doolittle



59. Mike Yastrzemski, OF, San Francisco Giants



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: Players like Yastrzemski are why we love baseball. He's a 14th-round pick who didn't debut until his late 20s and has quickly emerged as the catalyst for an up-and-coming Giants team. Yastrzemski somehow only improved off his surprising rookie season in 2020, sporting a .968 OPS to go along with a league-leading four triples. He was a joy to watch, played with a flair for the dramatic and ultimately failed to reach base in only seven of 54 games. -- Gonzalez



58. Jeff McNeil, 2B/OF, New York Mets



2020 rank: 76

Why he's here: He didn't reach the majors until he was 26, but McNeil can flat hit, thanks to one of the best contact rates in the majors. He has hit .329, .318 and .311 in his three seasons with the Mets and his .319 average is best in the majors since 2018 (minimum 1,000 PAs). -- Schoenfield



57. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros



2020 rank: 29

Why he's here: Altuve rode the wind of his 20s to this lofty rating despite the first season of his 30s ending up as the worst of his career. Altuve hit a paltry .219/.286/.344 during the regular season, then went 0-for-7 during Houston's wild-card series against Minnesota. Suddenly, the old Altuve re-emerged, as he hammered five homers over 11 games in the ALDS and ALCS, nearly boosting Houston to another pennant. Still, Altuve is on the wrong side of 30, always a perilous time for a second baseman, so the Astros will be watching him anxiously as he enters one of four more seasons left on his contract, each paying him $26 million. -- Doolittle



56. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs



2020 rank: 56

Why he's here: Rizzo's ability to hit 30 home runs as a lefty is a key to the Cubs' offense. He has accomplished that feat four times in 10 MLB seasons. Entrenched as the team's No.3 hitter, the hope in Chicago is that his down 2020 was just a blip in an otherwise very consistent career.-- Rogers



55. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B,Toronto Blue Jays



2020 rank: 74

Why he's here: The Blue Jays hope that Guerrero can live up to the astronomical hype that surrounded the 21-year old now that he lost 40 pounds this offseason. Amidst all the buzz around the first baseman's power, Guerrero struggled hitting the ball into the air over the past few seasons after hitting .262/.329/.462 with nine homers in 60 games in 2020. -- Lee



54. Brandon Lowe, 2B, Tampa Bay Rays



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: An All-Star as a rookie in 2019, Lowe finished eighth in the MVP voting in 2020 after swatting 14 home runs and slugging .554. His combined line over 138 games in 2019-20: .270/.347/.530 with 31 home runs. He just needs to do that over a full season and he moves into the top 50. -- Schoenfield



53. Michael Conforto, OF, New York Mets



2020 ranking: 100

Why he's here: Conforto is coming off arguably his best season, as evidenced by a .322/.412/.515 slash line and a career-best 30.3% line drive rate. His 128 weighted runs created plus from 2018 to 2020 is tied for 15th among major league outfielders. The Mets would probably love to lock him up before he begins his free-agent year, but Conforto also has the incentive of being by far the best player available at his position next offseason. -- Gonzalez



52. Luis Robert, OF, Chicago White Sox



2020 rank: Not ranked

Why he's here: He didn't win Rookie of the Year, but many in the game believe Robert can be an MVP candidate once he irons out a few things at the plate, starting with improving the .302 on-base percentage he posted in 2020. A 20/20 season is easily in his sights with 30/30 not out of the realm of possibility for one of the highest-upside young players in the entire sport. -- Rogers



51. Aaron Nola, SP, Philadelphia Phillies



2020 rank: 52

Why he's here: Nola is a throwback starter who would probably take the hill 40 or 45 times if only Joe Girardi would let him. (Which he won't.) Only Jacob deGrom has thrown more innings over the past three seasons, and no one has started more games. Only seven pitchers have compiled more fWAR, which suggests that his ranking here is low. He's durable, he's consistent and he keeps getting better. -- Doolittle

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