We're calling these lineup rankings "way-too-early" -- and while that might well be true, maybe it's not. At this point of the winter, teams across MLB have largely completed their heavy lifting. We do still have a few free agents out there and some trades have continued to trickle in, but we are at a point where we can get a pretty good grasp on how each team's offense is going to look in the coming season.
It's fair to say that there has been a good amount of reshuffling -- both at the top and bottom of the leaderboard -- in these rankings since last year's preseason projections, even if it often feels like we're looking at the same teams atop the same leaderboards year after year.
While specific ranking slots change frequently, wider-lens changes are a bit slower to come into focus. These are the changes that are most interesting, when a good team suddenly looks great, or when it seems to have slipped into the lower divisions of the majors.
That dynamic is on full display with these rankings, where a new top lineup has emerged, setting a high bar of expectation for a franchise that has never won a World Series. We've also got some perennially elite offenses that look, well, not elite. Though, of course, it might be way too early to be drawing these conclusions.
Here is our list.
1. San Diego Padres
- 1. Ha-Seong Kim (2B, R)
- 2. Juan Soto (RF, L)
- 3. Manny Machado (3B, R)
- 4. Xander Bogaerts (SS, R)
- 5. Jake Cronenworth (1B, L)
- 6. Nelson Cruz (DH, R)
- 7. Matt Carpenter (LF, L)
- 8. Austin Nola (C, R)
- 9. Trent Grisham (CF, L)
Park-neutral runs: 896
Best traits: everything | Worst traits: nothing
The name missing from the projected Opening Day lineup is Fernando Tatis Jr., who returns from his PED suspension on April 20. At that point, the Padres will have four MVP-level producers atop their batting order. The talent is staggering.
It's not just a collection of names, either. It's also a group that does everything well. The Padres rank in the top 10 in all seven of our skill categories, which is why they get to be designated as good at everything and bad at nothing.
The Padres forecast to rank third in park-adjusted batting average and top the majors in secondary average. Which covers pretty much everything. And it's a deep lineup: The Padres have eight players forecasted to finish in the 70th percentile or better by OPS, including the four MVP hopefuls in the 90-to-100 group. In fact, they are all in the 95th percentile or above.
Simply put: Given good health and representative performances from its core, this might well turn out to be the best offense in Padres history.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
- 1. Tommy Edman (SS, S)
- 2. Willson Contreras (C, R)
- 3. Paul Goldschmidt (1B, R)
- 4. Nolan Arenado (3B, R)
- 5. Brendan Donovan (2B, L)
- 6. Tyler O'Neill (LF, R)
- 7. Lars Nootbaar (RF, L)
- 8. Juan Yepez (DH, R)
- 9. Dylan Carlson (CF, S)
Park-neutral runs: 842
Best traits: patience, strike-zone command, long ball, BABIP | Worst traits: speed
This doesn't look like the most athletic Cardinals team in history but it does look like a lineup that can mash up and down the order. As in from the very top to the very bottom.
For that statement to turn out to be true, it'll require continued development and success from some young players, such as Carlson, Nootbaar, Donovan and Yepez. But it's an impressive mix and the base lineup doesn't even include youngsters Nolan Gorman, who can mash but has questionable strike-zone command, and Jordan Walker, who could hit St. Louis with a flourish this season.
When we say that the Cardinals' applied speed is a weakness, it's just an observed trait, not a condemnation, as this is simply how the club has been built -- and that trait hasn't derailed the ability of St. Louis to field elite defenses.
The lineup, already deep, got even longer with the offseason addition of Contreras. The Cardinals are projected to have six players in the 90th percentile or better by OPS+, the most of any club in the majors.
3. Atlanta Braves
- 1. Ronald Acuna Jr. (RF, R)
- 2. Michael Harris II (CF, L)
- 3. Austin Riley (3B, R)
- 4. Matt Olson (1B, L)
- 5. Sean Murphy (C, R)
- 6. Ozzie Albies (2B, S)
- 7. Eddie Rosario (LF, L)
- 8. Marcell Ozuna (DH, R)
- 9. Vaughn Grissom (SS, R)
Park-neutral runs: 831
Best traits: long ball, gap-to-gap, contact | Worst traits: BABIP
The Braves have built a consistent, self-regenerating powerhouse of offensive talent that doesn't look like it's going to fade any time soon.
As for the power part of the equation, Atlanta projects to lead the majors in both isolated power and slugging percentage. That's a pretty good starting point, but the Braves also rank third in projected secondary average, so it's not just a team that hits the ball far ... it's a team that works the zone and makes consistent contact. The Braves hit a lot of fly balls but if that's the worst thing about your offense, you're in good shape.