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Bryce Harper of Washington Nationals homers despite breaking bat against New York Mets

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NEW YORK — This was shear power by Bryce Harper.

In a startling display, the Washington Nationals slugger broke his bat into two pieces, yet still hit a long home run Monday night against the New York Mets.

Harper’s bat shattered just above his hands, and the barrel helicoptered into the high, protective netting behind home plate on the first base side.

The ball sailed far over the wall in right center at Citi Field. Harper hit his major league-leading eighth home run, a solo shot in the first inning on a 95 mph fastball from Jacob deGrom. Statcast projected the homer at 406 feet.

As Harper rounded the bases, first base coach Tim Bogar picked up the few inches of lumber left in the former NL MVP’s batting gloves and handed it to a bat boy.

On his way back to the dugout, Harper playfully pulled up his sleeve to show his biceps.

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2018 MLBRank Top 100 — Players ranked Nos. 50-1

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Who are the best players in Major League Baseball going to be for the 2018 season?

To determine this, ESPN formed a panel of MLB writers, analysts, contributors and Insiders to rank the top 100. We polled almost 40 experts, who voted from a list of just fewer than 300 players. We unveiled Nos. 100-51 on Tuesday, and now it’s time for the top 50.

We’ve included Dan Szymborski’s preseason ZiPS projected WAR for every player.


No. 50: Justin Turner, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 rank: 68

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.3

Did you know? Signing with the Dodgers in 2014 proved to be a savvy move for Turner, as he has accrued 18.8 of his career 19.6 WAR since then. He has slashed .303/.378/.502 with the team while improving his defense. He has averaged nearly six defensive runs saved per season with the Dodgers after posting negative DRS the few seasons prior. (Note: on the DL with a broken left wrist) — Evan Wildstein, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 49: Robbie Ray, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

2017 rank: 76

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 3.9

Did you know? In 2017, Ray joined Randy Johnson (five times) as the only starting pitchers in Diamondbacks history to strike out 30 percent of batters faced and have a sub-3.00 ERA in a single season (minimum 15 starts). Ray also posted the lowest contact rate among qualified pitchers last season (65.6 percent). — C.J. Hangen, ESPN Stats & Information

2017 rank: 69

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 2.9

Did you know? From 2013 to 2017, no one had more RBIs in the majors than Encarnación (547). Only Nelson Cruz (193) and Chris Davis (190) hit more home runs than Encarnación (189) during that span. Encarnación is also the only player to hit at least 30 home runs in each of the previous five seasons. — Harrison Marder, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 47: Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners

2017 rank: 31

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 2.9

Did you know? Cano is one of four active players with 500 doubles and 300 home runs, along with Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols and Adrian Beltre. Cano is also one of just three primary second basemen to tally those numbers, joining Rogers Hornsby and Jeff Kent (minimum 50 percent of games played at second). — Riley Foreman, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 46: Trea Turner, SS, Washington Nationals

2017 rank: 37

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 3.4

Did you know? Turner’s game is speed. He had a sprint speed of 29.3 feet per second last season, according to Statcast, which was third among infielders behind Dee Gordon and Amed Rosario. Turner had 46 stolen bases in 2017, the most by any player in Nationals/Expos history since 1993, when Marquis Grissom had 53. Coincidentally, 1993 is the year Turner was born. — Sarah Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 45: Nelson Cruz, DH, Seattle Mariners

2017 rank: 54

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 2.2

Did you know? From 2014 through 2017, Cruz hit more home runs than any other player in the majors. Last year, in his age-36 season, he finished one long ball shy of recording his fourth consecutive season with 40 home runs. — Foreman, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 44: Andrew Miller, RP, Cleveland Indians

2017 rank: 36

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 2.3

Did you know? Miller is the first pitcher in MLB history to have four straight seasons with at least 60 innings pitched and a WHIP under 0.90. In that span, he has averaged 14.5 strikeouts per nine innings, second best of any pitcher with at least 200 innings (Aroldis Chapman). — Mackenzie Kraemer, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 43: Yu Darvish, RHP, Chicago Cubs

2017 rank: 39

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 3.9

Did you know? Darvish’s 3.86 ERA in 2017 was the worst of his career, but he still managed to rack up 209 strikeouts. His 11.04 strikeouts per nine innings pitched through the 2017 season is the highest in MLB history among starting pitchers with at least 750 IP. — Hangen, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 42: Marcell Ozuna, LF, St. Louis Cardinals

2017 rank: 56

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 3.7

Did you know? Ozuna posted career highs in every offensive category in 2017, including homers (37), RBIs (124), batting average (.312) and OPS (.924). He joined David Ortiz (2016) and Miguel Cabrera (2013) as the only other players in the past five years to reach those thresholds. — Jon Kramer, ESPN Stats & Information

2017 rank: 44

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.4

Did you know? With a batting average of .290 over the past four seasons (2014-17), Yelich ranks 10th among MLB outfielders in that span (minimum 2,000 PA). The Brewers outfield had a .250 batting average last season, 25th in MLB. (Note: on the DL with an oblique strain)Kramer, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 40: Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox

2017 rank: 64

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 2.6

Did you know? Abreu has been reliable for 25 homers and 100 RBIs each season he has been in the majors, since he debuted on Opening Day in 2014. In fact, he has generated an extra-base hit in each of the five season openers he has played, and the Elias Sports Bureau tells us he’s the only player to do that in his team’s season opener in each of his first five major league seasons. The only other players with 25 HRs and 100 RBIs in each of their first four career seasons? Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio. — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 39: Carlos Carrasco, RHP, Cleveland Indians

2017 rank: 51

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.2

Did you know? Carrasco had the best season of his career in 2017. Not only did the Indians right-hander tie for the MLB lead in wins (18), but he also was one of five pitchers to have 15 wins, 200 innings pitched and a K/9 of 10.0 or better, joining Chris Sale, Jacob deGrom and Cy Young winners Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber. — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 38: Zack Greinke, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

2017 rank: 28

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.0

Did you know? In 2017, Greinke had his fifth season with 200 innings pitched, 200 strikeouts and a sub-3.50 ERA. That’s tied with Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw for the third-most seasons with those stats among active pitchers. Only Felix Hernandez (6) and Justin Verlander (7) have more. — Hangen, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 37: Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals

2017 rank: 49

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.5

Did you know? Rendon’s plate discipline is off the charts. He had a 10.3 percent miss rate in two-strike counts last season, lowest in the majors. And he was among the top offensive third basemen last season, placing in the top five among primary third basemen in strikeout rate (13.6 percent), batting average (.301) and OPS (.937). — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 36: Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees

2017 rank: 46

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 3.2

Did you know? Sanchez’s 33 home runs in 2017 were the most by a Yankees catcher in a single season in franchise history. In 2016 and ’17, Sanchez had the most home runs (53) among all big league catchers, and he leads all catchers in OPS (.923) in that span. — Marder, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 35: Craig Kimbrel, RP, Boston Red Sox

2017 rank: 58

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 2.1

Did you know? Kimbrel has struck out 42 percent of the batters he has faced in his career — the best strikeout rate by any reliever to have faced more than 1,390 batters in a career. Kimbrel’s career-worst season ERA is 3.40 … in a season in which he had a 14.1 K/9 and racked up 31 saves in 33 chances. — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

2017 rank: 33

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.1

Did you know? The last time Syndergaard played a full season, in 2016, his 2.60 ERA was third best in the majors among qualified starters, and his 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings ranked fourth. He threw 149 pitches of 100 mph or faster that season, 118 more than any other starting pitcher. — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 33: Dallas Keuchel, LHP, Houston Astros

2017 rank: 22

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 3.2

Did you know? Keuchel has been one of the top fielding pitchers of his generation. In fact, in 2015, Keuchel became just the seventh pitcher in MLB history to take home the Cy Young and Gold Glove in the same season. Keuchel was the first to do so since Clayton Kershaw took home both awards in 2011. — DeAngelis, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 32: Jacob deGrom, RHP, New York Mets

2017 rank: 41

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 3.9

Did you know? Last season, deGrom had a career-high 239 strikeouts, marking the second time in his career that he struck out at least 200 batters in a season. He became the fourth pitcher in Mets history to have multiple 200-strikeout seasons, joining Hall of Famer Tom Seaver (nine), David Cone (four) and Dwight Gooden (four). — Marder, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 31: Luis Severino, RHP, New York Yankees

2017 rank: NR

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.7

Did you know? Severino finished third in the voting for the AL Cy Young Award last season, and he was an All-Star for the first time in his career. His fastball averaged 97.5 mph in 2017, the highest velocity in the majors among pitchers with at least 15 starts. — Marder, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 30: Jose Ramirez, 3B, Cleveland Indians

2017 rank: 83

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.7

Did you know? Ramírez had a breakout season in 2017, as his 91 extra-base hits tied Giancarlo Stanton for the most in the majors. Ramírez became just the 17th AL player to hit at least 50 doubles and 25 homers in a season and was the first since Miguel Cabrera did so in 2014. — DeAngelis, ESPN Stats & Information

2017 rank: 71

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 3.7

Did you know? Verlander’s postseason performance for the Astros was particularly spectacular. He allowed nine earned runs in 36⅔ innings and posted a 2.21 ERA. Opponents hit just .177 against him. Notably, the Astros went 5-1 in postseason games he started. Since 2012, Verlander has a 1.94 ERA in 14 postseason games (13 starts), with 102 strikeouts in those games. — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 28: Kenley Jansen, RP, Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 rank: 45

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 2.2

Did you know? Since entering the big leagues in 2010, Jansen has six seasons with at least 25 saves. Only Craig Kimbrel (seven) has more among closers. Over the past five seasons, Jansen has recorded an MLB-best three seasons with 40 or more saves. — DeAngelis, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 27: J.D. Martinez, DH, Boston Red Sox

2017 rank: 50

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 3.6

Did you know? Last season, Martinez hit 45 home runs and played in just 119 games. That’s the third-fewest games played in a 40-homer season in MLB history and the fewest games played in a 45-homer season. Martinez was traded to the Diamondbacks on July 18 and made his debut with Arizona the following day. From then until the end of the season, he was arguably the best power hitter in baseball — with better power numbers than even Giancarlo Stanton by certain measures. Martinez had the highest slugging percentage, home run percentage and OPS in that span, and he was tied for the most extra-base hits. — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 26: Josh Donaldson, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays

2017 rank: 21

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 5.6

Did you know? Despite missing time due to injury, Donaldson was still impactful last season. The third baseman recorded his third straight season with 30 homers, tied for the third-longest streak in franchise history. In his previous three seasons in Toronto, Donaldson has been the third-best position player in the majors in wins above replacement, behind only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. — Dowling, ESPN Stats & Information

2017 rank: 17

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.2

Did you know? Over the past two full seasons, Freeman’s .977 OPS ranks sixth in MLB, and only Joey Votto has amassed more WAR among first basemen than Freeman’s 11.0. Last season, in 37 games before suffering a wrist injury, Freeman was slashing an incredible .341/.461/.748. Despite playing only 117 games, he hit 28 homers, six shy of his career high in 2016. — Wildstein, ESPN Stats & Information

2017 rank: 27

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.4

Did you know? Springer hit a career-high 34 home runs last season, but it was the World Series that was the real Springer show. He hit five home runs, tying the World Series record held by Reggie Jackson (1977) and Chase Utley (2009). Springer became the first player to hit a home run in four straight games within a World Series. His 29 total bases were the most in any postseason series, and his eight extra-base hits were the most in a World Series. — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 23: Cody Bellinger, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 rank: 47

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.4

Did you know? Bellinger hit 39 home runs last season, the most by a rookie in National League history and third most by a rookie in any league (Aaron Judge, Mark McGwire). The Dodgers were 9-11 prior to Bellinger’s debut on April 25 last season. In total, they went 52 games above .500 with him in the starting lineup and five games under .500 without him in the starting lineup. He led the 104-win Dodgers in home runs and RBIs last season, the first rookie since RBIs were officially recorded in 1920 to lead a 100-win team in both categories. — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 22: Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants

2017 rank: 19

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.9

Did you know? This is Posey’s 10th season in the bigs and ninth full season. Through nine seasons, he has won a Rookie of the Year award, MVP award, batting title and three World Series rings. Hall of Famer Johnny Bench had two MVP awards and a Rookie of the Year award through his first nine seasons, but he didn’t win his first World Series until that ninth season (1975). — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

2017 rank: 24

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.9

Did you know? Rizzo has been a model of consistency for the Cubs in his young career. In fact, there have been just three players in Cubs history to record five seasons with at least 20 home runs before their age-28 seasons: Rizzo (five) and Hall of Famers Ron Santo (six) and Billy Williams (five). — DeAngelis, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 20: Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 rank: 13

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 5.7

Did you know? Seager followed a strong rookie campaign, which won him the 16th Rookie of the Year award in Dodgers history in 2016, with a similar level of production in 2017. He hit 22 homers with an .854 OPS and .295 batting average the season after he had 26 homers, an .877 OPS and a .308 batting average in his rookie year. He’s one of four Dodgers position players with at least 4.5 wins above replacement in two of his first three career seasons. — DeAngelis, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 19: Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Washington Nationals

2017 rank: 20

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.0

Did you know? Last season, Strasburg posted an ERA of 0.86 in the second half, the second-lowest mark after the All-Star break since its inception in 1933. Strasburg also led all qualified pitchers in HR per nine IP (0.7) and ranked first in the NL in fielding independent pitching (2.72) in 2017. — DeAngelis, ESPN Stats & Information

2017 rank: 18

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 3.8

Did you know? Last season was a breakout year for Blackmon. Not only did the outfielder win the National League batting title with a .331 average, but he also set an MLB single-season record with 103 RBIs from the leadoff spot. Blackmon’s productivity carried over into the start of the 2018 season, earning him a six-year deal to stay in Colorado with player options for 2022 and 2023. — Dowling, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 17: Mookie Betts, RF, Boston Red Sox

2017 rank: 12

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 5.5

Did you know? Last season, Betts had 31 defensive runs saved, the second most in the majors behind only Andrelton Simmons. Betts won his second career Gold Glove, becoming the second Red Sox right fielder to win multiple Gold Gloves (Dwight Evans). Betts also was a standout offensively in 2017, becoming the first player in franchise history with consecutive 20 homer-20 stolen base seasons. — Dowling, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 16: Aaron Judge, RF, New York Yankees

2017 rank: 14

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.7

Did you know? Last season, Judge became the first Yankee to win AL Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter in 1996, as he hit an MLB rookie-record 52 home runs. Judge also became the fifth player in MLB history to have at least 50 home runs, 120 walks and 120 runs scored in a single season, joining Babe Ruth (four times), Mickey Mantle, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. — Marder, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 15: Manny Machado, SS, Baltimore Orioles

2017 rank: 16

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.9

Did you know? Over the past five seasons, Machado is one of four players to record three seasons of 30 home runs and 150 games played, along with Nelson Cruz (4), Anthony Rizzo (3) and Nolan Arenado (3). — DeAngelis, ESPN Stats & Information

2017 rank: 11

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 5.8

Did you know? Lindor hit 60 home runs in his first three seasons, the fourth most by any shortstop behind Nomar Garciaparra, Carlos Correa and Ernie Banks. Lindor finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 to Correa. Lindor’s power took off in a big way in 2017, when he hit 33 homers after hitting a combined 27 the first two seasons of his career. — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

2017 rank: 26

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 6.4

Did you know? Stanton became the first player in Marlins history to win an MVP award last season after leading the majors in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage. He had 30 home runs over a 48-game span from early July to late August. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Barry Bonds is the only other player in MLB history to hit 30 home runs in a 50-game span within one season. — Marder, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 12: Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs

2017 rank: 6

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 5.8

Did you know? Bryant is well on his way to establishing himself as one of the best young power hitters the Cubs have ever had. He hit 94 home runs in his first three career seasons — 29 more than anyone else in Cubs history. His 19.7 wins above replacement in that span were also the most by any Cubs position player in his first three career seasons — by another large margin (Charlie Hollocher had 12.5). — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 11: Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

2017 rank: 4

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.1

Did you know? Goldschmidt has a power-speed combination that can hardly be matched; he was the only player last season with at least 35 homers and 15 stolen bases (36 HR, 18 SB). Goldschmidt led all first basemen in runs (117) and RBIs (120) last season. — Brendan DeAngelis, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 10: Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros

2017 rank: 9

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 5.7

Did you know? Correa won the 2015 Rookie of the Year award in the American League and hasn’t slowed down. He hit 66 home runs in his first three seasons in the majors, second most by a shortstop in his first three career seasons. The only shortstop with more in his first three seasons was Nomar Garciaparra, with 69. Correa is one of seven infielders with multiple 6-WAR seasons by his age-22 season, along with Manny Machado, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Bench, Eddie Mathews, Arky Vaughan and Jimmie Foxx. — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 9: Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

2017 rank: 15

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 5.3

Did you know? Votto has the 12th-best OBP entering 2018 (.428), and he keeps getting better in every aspect of his game. Last season, he put up a 1.032 OPS and vastly improved his defense by adding 25 defensive runs saved to his previous year’s total of minus-14 and tying for the lead among all first basemen with 11. — Wildstein, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 8: Chris Sale, LHP, Boston Red Sox

2017 rank: 5

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 6.1

Did you know? Sale struck out an MLB-high 308 batters last season. He was the first American League pitcher with a 300-strikeout season since Pedro Martínez in 1999. Sale struck out 12.9 batters per nine innings, which was the third-best mark by any pitcher in a season, behind Martínez’s 1999 season (13.2) and Randy Johnson’s 2001 season (13.4). — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 7: Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies

2017 rank: 8

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 5.2

Did you know? Arenado is elite with the bat and the glove. Over the past five full seasons, Arenado is second in MLB with 106 defensive runs saved, and he’s the only player to win a Gold Glove in each year. He is also tied for the NL lead in home runs and led the NL in RBIs in two of the past three seasons. — Wildstein, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 6: Corey Kluber, RHP, Cleveland Indians

2017 rank: 29

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 5.5

Did you know? Last season, Kluber suffered a back injury in May and spent some time on the disabled list. After he returned in June, Kluber led the majors in wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio for the remainder of the season. That won Kluber his second Cy Young Award, making him the first pitcher in franchise history to win multiple Cy Youngs. — Marisa Dowling, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 5: Bryce Harper, RF, Washington Nationals

2017 rank: 3

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 4.9

Did you know? Harper had a resurgent 2017 after a down 2016. He won the NL MVP in 2015, with a .330 batting average, 1.109 OPS and 10.0 wins above replacement. Then 2016 was a .243 batting average, .814 OPS and just 1.5 wins above replacement. In an injury-shortened 2017, Harper hit .319 with a 1.008 OPS and 4.7 wins above replacement. — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 4: Max Scherzer, RHP, Washington Nationals

2017 rank: 7

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 5.1

Did you know? Last season, Scherzer became the sixth pitcher in NL history to win the Cy Young award in consecutive seasons, joining Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Sandy Koufax. Opponents hit .178 against Scherzer last season, the lowest opponent batting average for an NL pitcher in the live ball era (since 1920). And don’t forget: He also won the 2013 AL Cy Young Award. — Langs, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 3: Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros

2017 rank: 10

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 5.7

Did you know? Altuve has 200 hits in each of his previous four seasons, the longest such streak since Ichiro had 200 hits in each of his first 10 seasons from 2001-2010. Altuve has been the AL batting champ three times during his streak (Ichiro won just two batting titles in his career). Altuve has 48 homers in his past two seasons and 36 home runs total in his first five seasons. — Bonzagni, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 2: Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 rank: 2

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 5.8

Did you know? Kershaw has a 2.36 ERA in his career entering 2018, second lowest in the live ball era (since 1920) and trailing only Mariano Rivera (2.21) among pitchers who have thrown at least 1,000 innings. In ERA+, which adjusts for the offensive environment in which a pitcher played, along with ballpark and other factors, Kershaw is second to Rivera in MLB history (minimum 1,000 IP). — Bonzagni, ESPN Stats & Information

No. 1: Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels

2017 rank: 1

ZiPS projected 2018 WAR: 7.9

Did you know? Trout has 54.2 wins above replacement in his career entering 2018. The only player to accumulate more WAR through his age-25 season was Ty Cobb (56.0). Even if Trout ends up with 0.0 WAR in 2018, he will have the fifth most by any player through his age-26 season, behind Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Rogers Hornsby and Alex Rodriguez. — Michael Bonzagni, ESPN Stats & Information

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What you need to know about the Reds firing manager Bryan Price

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After a major league-worst 3-15 start to the season, the Reds fired manager Bryan Price on Tuesday morning. Here’s what you need to know about Cincinnati’s early-season decision to make a change.

Bryan Price’s firing was inevitable in the midst of a 3-15 start, but he didn’t have much to work with. The Reds’ pitching is bad, the defense might be worse, and the offense has been gutted by injuries to Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler and the departure of Zack Cozart through free agency. Nick Senzel will arrive soon from Louisville and Hunter Greene provides reason for excitement in the minors, but it’s going to be a long, laborious rebuild before the Reds are respectable again.

Jerry Crasnick, ESPN Senior Writer2h ago

The Reds’ 3-15 start this season is the franchise’s second-worst through 18 games in the past century. Only the 1931 Reds, who started 2-16, have come out of the gate slower than this year’s team. That 1931 squad went on to finish a National League-worst 58-96.


The Reds posted a .419 win percentage under Bryan Price, which is worst in MLB since the start of 2014. Price’s win percentage is also the lowest in franchise history among managers to spend more than three seasons with the team.


The Reds are the first team since the 2015 Brewers to start 3-15 or worse. Those 2015 Brewers finished 68-94, which wasn’t last in the NL Central. That spot belonged to the… Bryan Price-led Reds at 64-98.


The Reds are the only team that has failed to win 70 games in each of the past three seasons. Price’s first year as Reds manager was his best, as they went 76-86 in 2014. Since then, Cincinnati has finished in last place each year without winning more than 68 games in any single season.


Price’s firing marks the first time since 2002 that there has been a managerial change in April. There were four that season, including the Tigers parting ways with Phil Garner after an 0-6 start and Milwaukee letting Davey Lopes go just 15 games into the season. The Reds’ move does rank among the earliest managerial moves in the last 45 years.

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Inside Albert Pujols’ path to 3,000 hits

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ALBERT PUJOLS’ THREE MVP awards, 10 All-Star Games and abundance of Baseball-Reference black ink ensure him a place in Cooperstown and the right to take an occasional breather from the concept of every pitcher-batter confrontation as a life-or-death experience. But he still arrived in spring training with a competitive chip and a trace of defiance in his voice — and who could blame him?

Pujols has spent several seasons playing on achy feet, he has undergone two surgeries to ease a persistent case of plantar fasciitis, and he has had little opportunity to immerse himself in the grueling winter workouts so vital to his long-term success. The new metrics paint an unfavorable picture, and he has seen the stories of his decline and the suggestion that the four years and $114 million left on his contract are a financial albatross for the Los Angeles Angels.

Amid the doubts, Pujols’ high standards and professional pride continue to fuel him. He clings to the traditional numbers that give him comfort because it’s a little late in the game for him to embrace the tenets of weighted runs created plus.

“I’ve still driven in [90] or 100 runs five out of the six years that I’ve been here,” Pujols said. “Yes, my average, on-base and slugging haven’t been the same. But you know what? If I hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs in the four years I have left, I think I’m going to be in pretty good company.”

He’s already in good company — and it’s about to get better.

Pujols hit the ground running this spring — not an easy feat for a guy with two career bunt singles. He’s tied for 11th in the majors with 22 hits so far this season and is only 10 shy of becoming the 32nd player in MLB history with 3,000 career hits. He will join Adrian Beltre as the second Dominican Republic native in the club, and he will enter a group of players with 3,000 hits, 450 homers and 600 doubles that includes Hank Aaron, Carl Yastrzemski, Beltre and Pujols’ baseball icon, Stan Musial.

For want of a better word, he’s looking downright spry at age 38.

“I want to do it first, and then we can talk about it as much as you can,” Pujols said. “To get to that number is going to be really special. It’s something you don’t aim for or focus on, but when you’re this close, you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of hits.”’

As the big day looms, Pujols sat down with ESPN.com and reflected on some of the moments, mantras and personal milestones that have brought him to such a revered place.

He’ll always remember the first

When Pujols tore up spring training in 2001, the rumblings began that the Cardinals might consider breaking camp with a 21-year-old third baseman/outfielder with 127 minor league games on his résumé. Pujols started in left field on Opening Day and got on the board with a single to left field against Colorado’s Mike Hampton on April 2, 2001.

Pujols went 1-for-9 in that opening series at Coors Field before collecting seven hits in 14 at-bats against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was on his way.

“I remember my [second] at-bat. I almost took him deep,” Pujols said of the encounter with Hampton. “I almost hit a home run. I hit a long fly ball, and they caught it right at the wall. Then I hit a pitch middle-away, and I hit a ground ball, and Neifi Perez almost caught it, but it went through.

“Obviously, it’s fun, but I was more worried about trying to stay up in the big leagues. Three days before, they told me I was going to make the ballclub. Then three days later, on Opening Day, I got my first base hit.

“I didn’t think much about it, but that’s how it’s been for me. Everything I’ve accomplished is great, but it’s hard for me to soak everything in when I’m still playing the game. Sometimes people can take that wrong. It’s not that I don’t care. I do care. But it’s hard for me when I’m still active and playing the game to sit down and think about what I’ve accomplished. I’m still probably going to get a lot of other things. That’s pretty much how I’ve been since day one.”

The stance laid the foundation

Many of Pujols’ peers marvel at his ability to last so long while using such a physically demanding batting stance. He settled into the box in a pronounced crouch, with his legs spread in a kind of wishbone, and it was a natural antidote to over-striding. The approach put a strain on his legs and back, but it didn’t prevent Pujols from playing the ironman role. During a 12-year span from 2001 through 2012, he averaged 675 plate appearances and 155 games per season.

“I can’t imagine being in that stance for 20 years,” Pujols’ former Cardinals teammate David Freese said. “That’s insane. He gets so far down there. It’s got to wear on him. In the clubhouse, you see how guys are hurt and have nagging injuries, and he’s dealt with that most of his career. But 160 games later, he’s still in there unless he has surgery. It’s all about having the desire and the focus and the need and the want to be out there.”

Pujols has a simple explanation for his commitment to the stance. He used it early, it worked, and there was no reason to change.

“I was always down on my legs until my injuries,” he said. “Now I’m standing a little bit more tall. Whenever I feel good on my legs, I still kind of get down in that position. But obviously because of my knee surgery on my back side, I can’t do as much because it flares up a little bit.

“I haven’t changed it much. A little bit. I’m pretty sure if I tried to hit like other people, I would feel uncomfortable. This is something I’ve done for almost 19 years now.”

Stan the Man set the standard

When Pujols was with the Cardinals, spring training was like touring a baseball museum. A stroll through the clubhouse could easily yield an encounter with Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Bruce Sutter or Red Schoendienst, the patron saint of every value Cardinals fans hold dear.

Pujols and Musial were separated by 60 years, but they developed an intergenerational bond as superstars responsible for fulfilling the dreams of a baseball-obsessed city. Pujols’ respect for Musial was so profound that he chafed over the nickname “El Hombre” because he thought it intruded upon the hallowed ground that “Stan the Man” had staked out in St. Louis.

“Stan did a lot of stuff for our foundation, and I did a lot of stuff for his foundation. We just became real close,” Pujols said. “I knew about him, but not much until I got to St. Louis and I started reading about him and they started making the comparison between me and him. He was just a great human being. Forget about what he did in baseball. Look at what he did to serve this country. To me, that’s more important than what he did in the game and showed the kind of person he was.”

Pujols and Musial rarely talked hitting in-depth, but one ritual endured throughout Pujols’ 11 seasons in St. Louis.

“When Stan played, I’m pretty sure they used to make their own bats,” Pujols said. “The wood is so much better now than it was back then. So every time I came around, he always touched my bat. He would pick it up and say, ‘Man.’ I remember one time he told me, ‘That’s why you don’t miss any pitches. This feels good.’

“It was just fun. Great times, great memories. It’s always going to live with me, and nobody can take that away from me.”

From his first at-bat, he loathed striking out

Of the 31 players with 3,000 hits, 20 never struck out 100 times in a season. But the majority of those hitters were either contact types (Pete Rose, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and Rod Carew) or players from a bygone era (Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Paul Waner and Napoleon Lajoie, to name a few).

“It’s something in this game I really, really don’t like. If you put the ball in play, you give yourself a chance to put some pressure on the defense, and maybe they can make mistakes and make an error. If it’s two outs, you can start a rally. If you strike out, you don’t have any chance.”

Albert Pujols on strikeouts

Pujols’ .560 slugging percentage will be the best of any 3,000-hit club member, yet he has never whiffed 100 times. His single-season highs of 93 came in his rookie season of 2001 and last season at age 37.

“Some guys in this era think the strikeout is a little overrated,” Pujols said. “They’re like, ‘I don’t care about it.’ I do. It’s something in this game I really, really don’t like. If you put the ball in play, you give yourself a chance to put some pressure on the defense, and maybe they can make mistakes and make an error. If it’s two outs, you can start a rally. If you strike out, you don’t have any chance.

“I can’t really describe what it is with two strikes. I don’t feel any pressure. I still feel like I can put my best swing on it and not have to worry about it. Part of that is having the success. You have to have success with two strikes and know that you can trust yourself.”

Consistency has been his trademark

Pujols has a .972 career OPS against lefties compared to a .938 mark vs. righties, and he has logged a .954 home OPS in St. Louis and Anaheim compared to .938 on the road. If there’s a pattern to his monthly progression each season, it’s his penchant for doing his best work during the dog days.

“August and September are my best months because that’s what I train for in the offseason,” he said. “I train for the late months when your body is tired and you’re draining out. My trainer and coaches used to tell me those are the toughest months. It seems like I always hit better in the second half than the first half. I don’t know why because I never did anything different. It was just my preparation in the offseason.”

He wore out the best of his generation

Pujols is 0-for-16 against Corey Kluber, 2-for-21 against Chris Sale and 13-for-65 against Felix Hernandez, the pitcher he considers his biggest career nemesis. His overall numbers have taken a hit as he has transitioned into his late 30s with the Angels.

But the starting pitchers who dominated Cy Young voting and All-Star rosters during Pujols’ peak seasons in St. Louis always prompted him to raise his game.

That 1.194 career slugging percentage against Randy Johnson is not a misprint. Pujols hit six homers and drove in 15 runs in 33 at-bats against the Big Unit.

“Randy was still in his prime when I came up,” Pujols said. “Even though I had the success, he was one guy you really, really didn’t want to face. He was a gamer, man. I remember you couldn’t even say hi to him before he pitched. I actually tipped my cap the first at-bat against him. He had his game face on all the time.

“These guys were all so good, it takes you to another level where you have to zoom in and really focus because they might give you one pitch to hit. One pitch to hit, and if you miss it, you’re done. If they made that mistake, you needed to take advantage.

“With the guys who were extra special, they already knew if you were ready to hit before you even stepped in the batter’s box. They’d track you all the way down from the dugout and see your body language, and they knew if you were ready to hit or not. Those guys would take you to the next level physically and mentally.”

And Odalis Perez, in particular

When Pujols makes his Hall of Fame speech five years after his retirement, he should save a mention for Odalis Perez, a fellow Dominican who pitched for 10 seasons with the Braves, Dodgers, Royals and Nationals.

Pujols went 16-for-26 against Perez, with six homers, 10 walks and a 2.145 OPS. The beatings eventually became too demoralizing for his countryman to bear.

“One time I hit a ball off the end of the bat and got an infield hit, and he put his hands up, and he was like, ‘Really? You even got a base hit on that?”’ Pujols said. “It was so funny. He was like, ‘Man, can I ever get you out?”’

He has machine-like tendencies

What makes great hitters special? Hand-eye coordination, bat speed, anticipation and pitch recognition invariably factor into the equation. But the best hitters have a certain something extra that sets them above the crowd.

Angels second baseman Ian Kinsler has played with enough elite players to qualify as an authority on the topic. His list of teammates includes Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, Sammy Sosa, Victor Martinez, Michael Young and Josh Hamilton, who was about as good as it gets during a brief peak in Texas.

“In my opinion, good hitters make adjustments game to game or at-bat to at-bat,” Kinsler said. “Great hitters make adjustments pitch-to-pitch, and Hall of Famers can make adjustments as the pitch is coming. They might be expecting one thing and see another and make an adjustment and put a really good swing on it.”

A 2009 ESPN commercial that depicted Pujols as a ruthless cyborg — aka “The Machine” — played out each night at the plate.

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0:30

Albert Pujols doesn’t like his nickname.

After fouling off a pitch, Pujols would step out of the box, take a breath to collect himself and stare intently at his bat while a swirl of split-second calculations whizzed through his head. If he was a hair too fast or too slow or too quick firing his hips, he would recalibrate and makes the necessary adjustment to do damage.

“I have a game plan every day,” Pujols said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stick with it the whole game. Maybe the pitcher has pitched me a little different than the game plan I was taking. You can’t just wait until you’re 0-for-4 or 0-for-5. You have to make that adjustment right away.

“Batting practice is a little bit different because we’re under time, but even in the cage, I’ll take a couple of swings, step back and close my eyes. I’ll walk around — and boom, boom, boom — three more. What I’m doing is visualizing what I’m going to do in the game. Mark McGwire was really good at that. He was really focused and visualizing, ‘That pitch is going to be right here, and this is what I want to do.’ It’s the same thing for me. I’m thinking. I’m processing. It happens in less than 10 seconds. Everything.

“When I get back in the batter’s box, I’ve already processed all the things I want to do. If that pitch was there and I missed it, I’m like, ‘Why did I miss that pitch?’ And now I know. So if they throw it again, that’s when I make the adjustment and do my best to try and put my best swing on it.”

He’s a Joey Votto fan

Pujols and Votto have the same agent, Dan Lozano of the MVP Sports Group, and they’re two of only 11 players in MLB history who have signed contracts in excess of $200 million. They also dot the leaderboard in a slew of career categories. Votto ranks 16th in history with a .964 OPS, while Pujols and Miguel Cabrera are tied for 22nd at .9461 — right down to the ten-thousandths.

“Albert was never going to be out-prepared. He was really comfortable taking that first pitch all the time because he always knew what the second pitch was going to be. And you never saw that ugly swing where he was completely fooled and out on his front foot and looked terrible. For Albert, looking terrible was a lineout to right.”

Former Cardinals teammate Skip Schumaker

Skip Schumaker, now a coach with the San Diego Padres, played with Pujols in St. Louis for seven seasons and in Cincinnati with Votto for two seasons. He found that their attention to detail is remarkably similar.

“Their video work and preparation were relentless,” Schumaker said. “Joey would be on the plane flight watching video. It didn’t matter what video work the pitcher did on him because he had already done more than the pitcher could ever do.

“Albert was never going to be out-prepared. He was really comfortable taking that first pitch all the time because he always knew what the second pitch was going to be. And you never saw that ugly swing where he was completely fooled and out on his front foot and looked terrible. For Albert, looking terrible was a lineout to right. He even knew the umpires’ strengths in the strike zone. For instance, if Rob Drake gave more on the outside corner than normal, Albert knew that.”

Ask Pujols which active hitters he admires most, and he mentions Cabrera from the right side of the plate and Votto from the left. He swears by Cabrera as baseball’s best hitter, even though Miggy’s numbers declined precipitously last season, when he played with two herniated discs in his back, and he is off to a slow start again this season.

“Miggy is awesome,” Pujols said. “He’s the best hitter in the game right now. It’s Miggy from the right side, and Joey Votto is pretty special. His hand-eye coordination is great, and I enjoy his swing and his work ethic. I wouldn’t mind having either one of those guys up with the game on the line. You can’t go wrong with either of them.”

He once inspired a future MVP in Houston

Pujols is a fan of Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, who was just a pint-sized overachiever striving to stick in the big leagues when they first crossed paths at second base during Altuve’s rookie year in 2011.

“I just hit a double, and I was at second base, and he asked me, ‘Albert, I just want to stay here. Do you think I have a chance?’ I was like, ‘If you keep doing what you’re doing, buddy, you’re going to be here for a long time.’ I always make a joke about it when I see him now.

“It’s great. I’m excited because I saw him from day one in Houston coming up and how hard he’s worked. I’m just real excited to see him accomplish what he has in the game.”

Not to mention countless other young players

Zack Cozart, who signed a three-year deal with the Angels in December, broke into the majors with Cincinnati in 2011 and was rendered mute in his initial encounters with Pujols.

“I was a rookie, and I was in awe of him,” Cozart said. “I got on first, and I couldn’t even say anything to him because it’s Albert Pujols. And now I’m teammates with him. It’s crazy, and it’s really cool to say I played with Joey [Votto] and now I’m in Albert’s group every day. We don’t necessarily talk a ton about hitting, but I watch him and how he goes about things, and you can’t help but want to mimic that because the guy is one of the best of all time. You just can’t do everything they do because they’re among the best players ever.”

“I was a rookie, and I was in awe of him. I got on first, and I couldn’t even say anything to him because it’s Albert Pujols.”

Angels infielder Zack Cozart on his first encounter with Albert Pujols

Opposing pitchers, similarly, file away their matchups with Pujols for posterity. Detroit starter Michael Fulmer will never forget striking out Pujols in their first meeting in 2016.

“I made the three best pitches of my whole career,” Fulmer said. “I threw him two four-seam fastballs down and away. He took the first one, swung through the second one, and then I threw him one of the best sliders I’ve ever thrown. I don’t know how — I can’t replicate it. He swung through that one too, but just kind of seeing him in the box, and obviously I watched him growing up, I was a huge fan of his. Just to be able to pitch to him, it was something I’d never thought I’d dream of.

“I exhaled for sure when I struck him out. I kind of turned around and to myself said, ‘How did I just do that? I can’t believe I just did that.’ It was a surreal moment.”

He’s a fan of old-school stats, and he’s unabashedly old-school

“There’s so much stuff going on with punching numbers and computers,” Pujols said. “I always tell those genius people that think they know everything, ‘Put that computer on the plate, and see if it’s going to hit.’ I believe in the wisdom the coaches have. You play for 20 years, and you know what you do because you play it — not because you punch a number in a computer.

“I think it was last year or two years ago, somebody said something about how the RBI doesn’t matter anymore. Are you fricking kidding me? How do we win games? You’re going to tell me the RBI doesn’t matter. How are you going to win games if somebody doesn’t drive somebody in? Nobody can score. So let’s just wipe it away then?”

And he believes a lot of success is about showing up

Pujols consistently preaches that his early work in the cage, video study and time in the weight room lie at the heart of his success. He developed the proper work habits from his veteran teammates in St. Louis and recoils at the idea of taking shortcuts.

“If I want young guys to follow and respect the rules of this clubhouse, I have to be here early myself,” Pujols said. “If I’m the CEO of a big company, and I’m in charge of 400-500 employees, and your job is to show up at 7 o’clock in the morning, and I’m the CEO and I show up at 9 o’clock, what kind of example does that set? If you show up tomorrow at 9 o’clock, I can’t say anything to you. But if I show up at 6:30, before I open up those doors, you can’t have any excuse to show up late unless there’s an emergency. You can’t show up at 7:15 or 7:30 because the boss is there at 6:30. All the successful companies you look at, I bet that’s why they’re a success.

“When I was in St. Louis, I learned from Placido Polanco, who was my compadre. Fernando Vina. Edgar Renteria. Mike Matheny. J.D. Drew. Mark McGwire. Larry Walker. Reggie Sanders. Tony Womack. Jim Edmonds. I was so blessed being around all those guys because they taught me the game the right way. I was like a sponge. When you drop the water, and the sponge sucks everything up, that’s how I was. It stuck with me and helped me out up to right now. And that’s what I encourage these young kids to do.”

His influence will transcend 600 homers and 3,000 hits

Schumaker can recount in vivid detail how Pujols took Brad Lidge deep in Game 5 of the 2005 National League Championship Series and brought a hush to the crowd at Minute Maid Park. “For me, that’s a top-five moment in my career,” Schumaker said. But two private clubhouse encounters better illustrate Pujols’ impact on Schumaker as a teammate and person.

“I was a fifth outfielder at the beginning of my career,” Schumaker said, “and Albert treated me like I was a starter. He was fantastic to me. One year, they had a tailor in the clubhouse, and he bought me a suit. Another time, I was looking for watches. I thought I needed a dress-up watch, and all of a sudden in spring training, he threw me this beautiful Breitling watch out of nowhere. It had to be a $5,000 watch, and he was like, ‘Here you go, kid.’ It was incredible. I still have the watch.

“He was excellent to all the young guys. He did it for a guy named John Rodriguez, too. And his wife was excellent to the wives when they could have been the ultimate big leaguers. You’re talking about maybe one of the top five players ever. For him to go above and beyond the way he did for me and so many other guys, that says a lot about who he is. It really stuck with me in my career — how cool that was.”

As Schumaker watches Pujols pick off milestones, he recalls another encounter during spring training in Florida, when he gained a greater insight into Pujols’ charity work in the Dominican Republic.

“Albert asked me how my offseason was, and I told him I went to Hawaii,” Schumaker said. “I asked him what he did, and he told me how we went to the Dominican with mattresses and doctors and all this stuff. I’m thinking, ‘Well, my offseason was worthless.’ He used the platform he had been given on and off the field, and that really resonated with me. He did it right.”

There’s more work to be done

As time moves on and the next milestone looms, Pujols collects memories along with hits. No. 3,000 will provide an opportunity to reflect and thank all the people who’ve accompanied him on this road. Even the most ruthless of hitting machines gets sentimental now and then.

“I’ve had great people around me,” Pujols said. “After God and my family, I can name you names and be here for weeks. People who helped me out on and off the field. Teammates. Ex-teammates. Guys I can pick up the phone anytime and call, and they’ll encourage me not just in baseball but in life. Those memories stay with you forever.

“I’ve got three more years left after this. That’s the mark I want to leave behind — that path. Trust me, the 600 homers are great, and 3,000 hits is awesome. But the memories and friendships you build here are untouchable. Nobody can take that away from me.”

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