A position-by-position look at MLB's best

by Dayn Perry

Dayn Perry is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com and author of the new book, "Winners: How Good Baseball Teams Become Great Ones" (Available now at Amazon.com).

Updated: January 19, 2008, 1:20 PM EST 211 comments

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With pitchers and catchers set to report in less than a month, it's time to start thinking about the 2008 season.

So this time out we're going to take a look at which player is the best in all of baseball at each position. The criteria is fairly simple: we're looking for the guy who's going to be tops in 2008 among his peer group of first basemen, shortstops, left fielders, left-handed starters, closers, etc. To arrive at the answers, we'll take into account recent performance trends, age and health history. So without further ado ...

Catcher

Joe Mauer, Twins

Mauer is an exceptional hitter, and he's already established himself as the best defensive catcher in baseball. Mauer is a career .313 AVG/.394 OBP/.459 SLG hitter, and no one is more mobile behind the plate. You'd like to see a bit more durability out of him, but he's the best combination of offense and defense in the game today. Also in the discussion is the Dodgers' Russell Martin.

First base

Albert Pujols, Cardinals

Down year?

Milwaukee's Prince Fielder had a more productive year at the plate in 2007, but Pujols remains the top all-around first baseman in the game today. He's coming off a "down" year in which he tallied 71 extra-base hits and ranked third in the NL in on-base percentage. Throw in his excellent defense and underrated base-running, and you've got a genuine superstar. At age 28, there's more where that came from.

Second base

Chase Utley, Phillies

No competition here. Over the last three seasons, Utley has authored a cumulative batting line of .310 AVG/.388 OBP/.543 SLG. To be sure, hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park has helped those numbers, but Utley's been an elite performer in any context. That's to say nothing of his above-average defense at the keystone.

Third base

Alex Rodriguez, Yankees

Scary good

One day this honor will belong to David Wright of the Mets, but right now there's no disputing A-Rod's standing as the best third baseman in the game. The reigning AL MVP was the most productive hitter in all of baseball last season, and the smart money says he's going to remain just that for the foreseeable future. He's still a solid defender at third, and he's still a high-percentage thief on the bases.

Shortstop

Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
He may not have deserved the MVP, but Jimmy Rollins is tops at SS. (Chris McGrath / Getty Images)

Last season, Rollins deserved neither the MVP nor the Gold Glove. Still, he's got excellent power by shortstop standards, and he's a capable (if overrated) defender at the position. Other candidates? Hanley Ramirez and Derek Jeter are both defensive liabilities, and Jose Reyes and Troy Tulowitzki aren't (yet) as productive at the plate. Soon enough, Tulowitzki will overtake Rollins, but for now, Rollins is the top shortstop in the game.

Left field

Matt Holliday, Rockies

Holliday plays solid defense in left and, more important, crushes the ball. Even after taking Coors Field into account, Holliday was easily the most productive left fielder in the game in 2007, and, at age 28, he figures to keep it up for the next few seasons. If the Rockies have another successful campaign in '08, then Holliday will once again contend for NL MVP honors.

Center field

Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners

Detroit's Curtis Granderson is closing fast, but for now, Ichiro remains the top center fielder in the game. Despite playing his games in perhaps the AL's toughest park for hitters, Ichiro last season batted .351 and posted an OBP of .396 (good for ninth in the AL). As well, Ichiro is arguably the best defensive center fielder in baseball (tremendous range and instincts, cannon arm), and on the bases he's got 272 career steals and an 80.5 percent success rate.

Right field

Vladimir Guerrero, Angels
Vlad still reigns supreme in right, but his years at the top may be running out. (Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty Images)
Right field is a fairly weak position right now, but Guerrero is tops. Last season, he hit .324 AVG/.403 OBP/.547 SLG, and while his range in right has degraded, he's still got a powerful throwing arm. Mostly, it's his offense that earns him top honors. Last season, he posted his highest OBP since his days as a Montreal Expo, and his 45 doubles tied a career high. Magglio Ordonez is in the discussion, but first he must prove that his 2007 numbers weren't aberrant (they almost certainly were). In coming seasons, this honor will belong to Matt Kemp, Jeremy Hermida or Nick Markakis.

Designated hitter

David Ortiz, Red Sox

This one's not even close. Travis Hafner's precipitous decline last season means that Ortiz is far and away the top DH in the game today. Some were concerned that Big Papi hit "only" 35 homers last season, but his batting line of .332 AVG/.445 OBP/.621 SLG and 52 doubles prove he's still one of the deadliest hitters in baseball. Expect that to continue in 2008.

Right-handed starter

Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks

The right stuff

Here's a tough call. There's plenty of competition for the title of top right-handed starter, but until Josh Beckett proves he can stay healthy and Jake Peavy can show more year-to-year consistency, Webb gets the nod. Webb's been one of the game's best starters over the last four seasons, and his numbers get even better once you take Chase Field, a hitter's haven, into account. Peavy's the clear runner-up, and if he repeats last year's numbers then he'll overtake Webb. In later years, expect a heated battle among Felix Hernandez, Philip Hughes and Clay Buchholz.

Left-handed starter

C.C. Sabathia, Indians
C.C. Sabathia, not Johan Santana, gets the nod as the game's best lefty starter. (Elsa / Getty Images)
Another tough one. However, we're going with Sabathia (narrowly) over Minnesota's Johan Santana. Sabathia has been trending upward in recent seasons, and last year it all came together for the AL Cy Young winner. In 2007, he paced the league in innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio and ranked fifth in ERA. Also, Sabathia is only 27, so there's much more excellence to come. Santana certainly has the potential to reclaim top lefty honors, but first he must get his newfound home-run issues in check.

Closer

Joe Nathan, Twins

Nathan is undeniably the most dominant closer in baseball at this moment in time. Since becoming the Twins' closer prior to the 2004 season, Nathan has posted a cumulative ERA of 1.94, and he's whiffed 355 batters in 282 1/3 innings. Oh, and he hasn't given up an unearned run since April of 2005.

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