I hope you enjoyed the BBTN 100 countdown. Even if you disagreed with the final rankings it was a fun way to get us energized for the start of the season.
What will happen in the 2016 season? We all have our dream scenarios and I say, "Keep dreaming," because that's what makes baseball so wonderful and dramatic and surprising -- Mariners over Cubs! -- and even when those dreams are shattered we always return, the clock simply turning to the next season. So let's turn the clock ahead: Who will be in next year's BBTN 100 top 10? I have few ideas ...
These are the top four guys on this year's BBTN 100, and I believe they're the top four players in baseball and nothing can strike them from their perch other than a bolt of lightning or a torn elbow ligament. I suppose you can make an argument Harper still has something to prove: He has just one monster season, battled some injuries in 2013 and 2014, and maybe took advantage of a terrible division in 2015. I get all that, but there are two major reasons to absolutely believe he has obtained a new level of dominance. First, he was just 22. Young players often make that giant leap overnight -- they don't all come out of womb fully mature like Trout -- and that's what Harper did, healthy and finally in control of his talents. Second, that walk rate: 124 walks. That's the sign of a disciplined hitter, one with complete knowledge of the strike zone, a guy who has learned to avoid getting himself out and forcing the pitchers to come to him or he'll simply take his base. That makes him a better hitter and creates real value in his OBP. After all, he led the NL with 118 runs scored, playing in the midst of a mediocre Nationals lineups.
THE ALMOST SURE THING: Josh Donaldson
Look, it will be hard to top his 2015 numbers when he led the AL in both runs and RBIs in winning MVP honors. He's also 30 years old, so you have to think he's maxed out his physical talent. But it's not like 2015 was a fluke, his athleticism is underrated, he's been durable, he's a plus defender, he's in the middle of a great lineup. Andrew McCutchen ranked ahead of Donaldson in this year's BBTN 100 but Donaldson is more likely to get back into the top 10. Some of that is because Donaldson has more defensive value via the metrics but also because his power numbers are the better bet to play up again. McCutchen's slugging percentage dipped below .500 in 2015 -- we're nitpicking here -- and he doesn't run as much as he did a few years ago.
I was a little surprised Machado didn't crack the top 10 on this year's list: What more do you want from him? He added power, he added walks, he played all 162 games, he won another Gold Glove. And he doesn't turn 24 until July, so like Harper, he's a young player who put everything together. I think there's potential for even more: A .300 batting average to go along with those 35 home runs. Correa actually came in two slots ahead of Machado -- 16th to 18th -- a testament to how quickly he's won respect in the game while not even playing a full season. I'll repeat what you know and what everybody says: He can do it all. He's going to be a top-10 player for the next decade, barring injuries.
PITCHER ON THE RISE: Jose Fernandez
I'll be honest: I was surprised at Fernandez's ranking at No. 19, higher than Felix Hernandez or Chris Archer or Gerrit Cole or Corey Kluber, let alone MVP candidates such as Joey Votto or Anthony Rizzo, even though he's never made 30 starts or pitched 200 innings. And he may not get to 200 innings this year as the Marlins have already laid out a plan that indicates they're going to be conservative with his innings. But next year's rankings will be heading into 2017, when there shouldn't be any worry about his workload.
BIG BAT, BAD TEAM: Nolan Arenado
The young Rockies third baseman -- he turns 25 in April -- was another breakout player, blasting 41 home runs while winning his third Gold Glove in three seasons in the majors. Brad Ziegler of the Diamondbacks nominated him as the most exciting player in the game: "I've never seen anything like that at third base and now he's become one of the best hitters in the league. There are basically no holes in his game." He was worth 5.8 WAR in 2015. If he can maintain those power numbers and add 35-40 points of OBP -- a few more hits, a few more walks -- he becomes a top-10 player.
A BUDDING ALL-AROUND STAR: Mookie Betts
Mookie is my guy -- he's young, he's going to hit .300, he plays good defense -- but it could be somebody even more surprising ...
Four of this top 10 weren't in the top 10 the previous year and Jake Arrieta wasn't even ranked. Is there another Arrieta out there? If you mean another pitcher who will post a 1.77 ERA and have the best second half in baseball history, probably not. Arrieta's season was simply unpredictable and definitely insane.
So I leave this one up to you. Maybe it's a guy like George Springer or Miguel Sano or Corey Seager, all of whom ranked in the 90s this year. Maybe Yasiel Puig puts everything together. What about Anthony Rendon if he can stay healthy? Garrett Richards has Arrieta-level stuff. Or maybe it's simply a veteran who climbs back into the top 10 such as Robinson Cano, or one who stays there such as Miguel Cabrera, or maybe Arrieta or Zack Greinke post another sub-2.00 ERA.
I say use your imagination and dream big.