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NL East Preview 2019: Position-by-position breakdown

Baseball’s best division features two former MVPs, three Cy Young winners and four teams with a realistic shot at making it to the World Series.

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at Philadelphia Phillies Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The longest offseason in the history of Major League Baseball (unconfirmed) is finally coming to an end. Opening Day is just hours away, which means this is our last chance to evaluate each team’s roster and make any final predictions of what happens in 2019.

My fellow writers and I at Federal Baseball already made our predictions for this season, so let’s shift gears a bit and take a look at how each NL East roster fares as teams head north to their respective cities.

Below is a look at each position group, ranked from first to fifth. For those positions where two players are projected to see significant playing time, they were both listed. Scores were then given for each position — five points for first, four points for second, etc. — and tallied up at the bottom for a rough estimate of how each team stands.


MLB: Spring Training-Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

1. J.T. Realmuto – Phillies

Realmuto takes the top spot in a division stacked with talented backstops after leading all catchers with an .825 OPS last season.

2. Wilson RamosMets

That honor would’ve gone to Ramos (.845) had he not missed time with a hamstring injury — the latest in a series of ailments that have limited him to just two full seasons in his career.

3. Yan Gomes/Kurt Suzuki – Nationals

Gomes was an All-Star last year, albeit in a weak AL field, but alongside Suzuki will be a huge upgrade over Matt Wieters behind the plate.

4. Jorge Alfaro – Marlins

The Marlins acquired Alfaro from Philadelphia in the Realmuto trade, picking up a young, athletic player capable of developing into an above-average everyday catcher.

5. Brian McCann/Tyler FlowersBraves

McCann was one of the few players Atlanta signed this winter; the Braves will pair him up with Flowers after neither player appeared in more than 82 games last year.

First base

MLB: Spring Training-Cincinnati Reds at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

1. Freddie Freeman – Braves

Freeman finished fourth in MVP voting last year and led the NL in both hits and doubles, yet it probably wasn’t even his best season.

2. Rhys Hoskins – Phillies

Hoskins is poised for a breakout season of his own after moving over to his natural position of first base thanks to the trade of Carlos Santana.

3. Ryan Zimmerman/Matt Adams – Nationals

Threats of injury continue to plague Zimmerman, but his battery mate of Adams should keep the first base spot a productive one no matter who’s in the lineup.

4. Neil Walker/Martin Prado – Marlins

Walker had a down year for the Yankees in 2018 but is a lifetime .268 hitter and will likely get the starting nod over Prado in Miami.

5. Dominic Smith/Pete Alonso – Mets

Smith and Alonso have been competing for the Mets’ first base job with Todd Frazier on the shelf and both finished Spring Training with impressive numbers.

Second base

MLB: Spring Training-Miami Marlins at New York Mets Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

1. Robinson Cano – Mets

Cano holds the top spot despite being slapped with an 80-game PED suspension in 2018; he hit .317 in the 41 games after the suspension and has a strong history of staying healthy.

2. Ozzie Albies – Braves

Albies broke onto the MLB scene in dominant fashion last season but struggled to the tune of a .630 OPS over the last two months of the campaign.

3. Brian Dozier – Nationals

The Nationals hope they have a bounce-back candidate in Dozier, who hit .215 last year but had 76 homers combined over the previous two seasons.

4. Starlin Castro – Marlins

Castro may be a forgotten man in Miami, but he still swings a productive bat and was an All-Star in 2017.

5. Cesar Hernandez/Scott Kingery – Phillies

Hernandez should start for the Phillies over former top prospect Kingery after the latter posted an abysmal 126:24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his rookie season.


MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at Philadelphia Phillies Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

1. Jean Segura – Phillies

One of the game’s most underrated players, Segura has 150+ hits in each of the last three seasons and lowered his strikeout rate to a career-best 10.9% in 2018.

2. Trea Turner – Nationals

Turner is only a league-average hitter by OPS+ standards (100 in 2018) but his outstanding baserunning and strong fielding made him a 4-win player by both WAR calculations.

3. Dansby Swanson – Braves

4. Amed Rosario – Mets

Swanson and Rosario are both former top prospects who showed promise in the minors, but each has since struggled at the MLB level.

5. JT Riddle – Marlins

The Marlins believe they have some potential in Riddle, but he’d profile as a utility infielder on most other ballclubs due to the holes in his swing and lack of power.

Third base

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

1. Anthony Rendon – Nationals

It’s a travesty Rendon has never made an All-Star Game in his career, but the Nats’ third baseman will enter his contract year with a higher fWAR over the last two years than any player in the NL.

2. Josh Donaldson – Braves

Donaldson struggled through an injury-riddled season in 2018 but is just three years removed from finishing fourth in AL MVP voting.

3. Jed Lowrie/J.D. Davis – Mets

The Mets will look to former Houston Astro Davis at the hot corner to start the year while Lowrie rehabs from a knee injury.

4. Brian Anderson – Marlins

Anderson put together an excellent rookie season last year, hitting .273 with a team-high 34 doubles.

5. Maikel Franco – Phillies

The Phillies have taken the pressure off Franco with their plethora of offseason additions, giving him a chance to finally reach the potential that was expected of him when he reached the majors.

Left field

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Atlanta Braves Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

1. Ronald Acuña Jr. – Braves

2. Juan Soto – Nationals

Just as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have always been intertwined since earning MLB call ups with weeks of each other, the same will soon be said for Acuña and Soto — who finished 1-2 in the race for NL Rookie of the Year last season. Both young stars have high expectations in 2019, setting the stage for an exciting year between the two phenoms.

3. Andrew McCutchen – Phillies

Speaking of phenoms, McCutchen may not be the same player he was when won NL MVP in 2013, but he’s remained productive into his 30s and will be an important leader in the Phillies’ clubhouse.

4. Jeff McNeil – Mets

McNeil enjoyed a superb Spring Training and will be a jack-of-all-trades for New York, adding depth at left field, third and second base.

5. Curtis Granderson – Marlins

Granderson, the eighth-oldest player currently on a major-league roster, was quietly productive despite a low batting average and will be a mentor for the Marlins’ young roster.

Center field

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

1. Michael Conforto/Juan Lagares – Mets

Conforto’s coming-out party in 2017 was halted by a torn muscle in his shoulder, but he returned to reach base at a .350 clip and smacked a career-high 28 homers.

2. Victor Robles – Nationals

Placing him second on this list may be a bit high considering he’s played just 34 games in the majors; yet, there’s also a chance it’s too low considering he’s an early favorite for NL Rookie of the Year.

3. Ender Inciarte – Braves

When it comes to Inciarte, you always know what you’re going to get: Gold Glove defense, an OPS in the .700s and 20+ stolen bases. Just don’t ask for much more.

4. Odubel Herrera – Phillies

Herrera is one of the most inconsistent hitters in the NL East. He enjoyed one stretch of 41 straight games reaching base last season but also had an OPS below .500(!) in the month of September.

5. Lewis Brinson – Marlins

The prized prospect Miami received in return for Christian Yelich, Brinson struggled mightily in his rookie season. He can only go up after hitting .199 with 120 strikeouts in 109 games.

Right field

MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at Philadelphia Phillies Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

1. Bryce Harper – Phillies

Only six players in MLB history hit at least 150 home runs, drew 500 walks and posted a .900 OPS through their age-25 seasons. Four are in the Hall of Fame and the other two are Harper and Mike Trout.

2. Brandon Nimmo – Mets

Nimmo should partner alongside Conforto to form a fearsome outfield pairing for at least the next three years. The Mets’ right fielder led the team with a .404 on-base percentage last season and just turned 26 years old.

3. Adam Eaton – Nationals

The biggest question surrounding Eaton is his health. He has yet to play in more than 95 games in a season since being acquired by the Nationals but appears to be at full strength entering 2019.

4. Nick Markakis – Braves

Markakis may be entering his age-35 campaign, but he’s coming off the best year of his career and has played in at least 145 games in all but one of the 13 seasons he played in.

5. Garrett Cooper – Marlins

Cooper actually started on Opening Day last season but was limited to 14 games after two separate wrist injuries — one of which occurred on the second game of the season.

No. 1 Starter

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Washington Nationals Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

1. Max Scherzer – Nationals

2. Jacob deGrom – Mets

Although last year’s NL Cy Young award went to deGrom, Scherzer has been the best pitcher in baseball since 2012 and he gets the nod here. Similar to Acuña/Soto, this is an interdivisional rivalry that should keep any baseball fan glued to the TV.

3. Aaron Nola – Phillies

Nola’s breakout season saw him finish third in NL Cy Young voting and lead all MLB pitchers in bWAR (10.5). Fresh off a new extension and only 25 years old, Nola has an exciting career ahead of him and this is only the start.

4. Mike Foltynewicz – Braves

Although he’ll miss the first couple turns through the rotation with an elbow injury, Foltynewicz is the Braves’ unquestioned best starter after posting a 2.85 ERA in 31 starts last season.

5. Jose Urena – Marlins

Urena is the only Marlins starter with more than 25 career starts, amassing a 4.45 ERA across four seasons with Miami.

No. 2 Starter

MLB: Spring Training-Miami Marlins at New York Mets Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

1. Noah Syndergaard – Mets

No one has ever questioned Syndergaard’s talent when he’s on the field, but 2019 will be an important year for the right-hander as he tries to exceed 200 innings for the first time in his career.

2. Stephen Strasburg – Nationals

Health is also a concern with Strasburg, who finished third in NL Cy Young voting in 2017 then pitched just 130 innings last season. With Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark — who were each relatively healthy during their Nats tenures — now pitching elsewhere, there’s more pressure on Strasburg’s shoulders to make 30+ starts.

3. Jake Arrieta – Phillies

Arrieta’s ERA and FIP have both risen each year since he won NL Cy Young in 2015, raising the question as to whether he can be effective in 2019. Regardless, he should still be a quality innings eater and mentor in a rotation stocked with young arms.

4. Julio Teheran – Braves

It’s tough to gauge what kind of pitcher Teheran will be in 2019. He bounced back from an abysmal 2017 campaign but has underlying numbers that suggest he may regress again this season.

5. Caleb Smith – Marlins

Smith was acquired by the Marlins in the team’s “other trade” with the Yankees (read: sans Giancarlo Stanton) and is part of the reason Miami felt comfortable releasing veteran Dan Straily earlier this week.

No. 3 Starter

MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers at New York Mets Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

1. Zack Wheeler – Mets

There’s a lot to like about Wheeler heading into 2019. He finally stayed healthy enough to pitch for an extended period of time, and he took full advantage: 3.31 ERA, 1.124 WHIP, 8.8 K/9.

2. Patrick Corbin – Nationals

Corbin had a monster season with the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, setting career bests in ERA, strikeouts and WHIP. Now one question remains: Can he do it again?

3. Nick Pivetta – Phillies

The former Nationals prospect acquired in the Jonathan Papelbon trade, Pivetta didn’t blow anyone away last season but is only a little older than Nola and had a 10.3 K/9 in 2018.

4. Sean Newcomb – Braves

Newcomb, another young pitcher acquired via trade, broke onto the MLB scene in 2018 and allowed the Braves to finally reap the benefits of parting ways with Andrelton Simmons. He made 30 starts as a rookie and projects to take a big step forward this season.

5. Trevor Richards – Marlins

Richards joined the Marlins’ pitching staff after going undrafted out of Drury University and impressing scouts in independent league. He amassed a 4.42 ERA in 25 starts and sports a nasty changeup.

No. 4 Starter

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

1. Anibal Sanchez – Nationals

The Nats’ rotation became the deepest in the division with the addition of Sanchez, who’s coming off a bounce-back year but needs to prove he can stay healthy.

2. Steven Matz – Mets

Matz may have more potential than Sanchez, but he’s failed to eclipse 160 innings in each of his four seasons and has a 4.75 FIP in 43 starts over the last two years.

3. Vincent Velasquez – Phillies

The strikeouts have always come easy for Velasquez, but so have the home runs. Last year may have been a turning point for the right-hander, however, as he lowered his HR/9 to 1.0 (his lowest mark as a full-time starter).

4. Kevin Gausman – Braves

After being traded by the Baltimore Orioles to Atlanta, Gausman enjoyed one of the best stretches of his career; he posted a 2.87 ERA and 1.140 WHIP across 10 starts. He dealt with a shoulder injury this spring but should be good to go to start the season.

5. Sandy Alcántara – Marlins

Alcántara has some control issues (6.1 BB/9 in 2018) but is entering his age-23 season and will be one of the faces of the team’s youth movement as Miami moves forward with its rebuild.

No. 5 Starter

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at Washington Nationals Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

1. Jeremy Hellickson – Nationals

Hellickson’s 3.45 ERA last season was his best since 2012, but he only made 19 starts and was often pulled before facing opponents the third time through the order.

2. Zach Eflin – Phillies

After starting off the season with a 3.41 ERA through his first 13 starts, Eflin — along with many other Phillies — struggled mightily down the stretch with a 5.56 ERA over his final 11 appearances. Which Eflin will Philadelphia have in 2019?

3. Jason Vargas – Mets

Vargas, simply put, was terrible last season. However, considering he’s just two years removed from making the All-Star Game and still posted strong strikeout numbers, it’s not out of the question that he can bounce back this year.

4. Bryse Wilson/Kyle Wright – Braves

If there’s one thing the Braves have a ton of, it’s young starting pitchers. Wilson and Wright both made the starting rotation thanks to Foltynewicz’s injury, but behind them are fellow top pitching prospects Mike Soroka (injured), Ian Anderson and Touki Toussaint.

5. Pablo Lopez – Marlins

Another 23-year-old Marlins starter, Lopez made 10 starts last year and boasted a 0.90 ERA in five appearances this spring.


MLB: New York Mets-Workouts Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

1. Edwin Diaz – Mets

Diaz was one of the best closers in baseball last year, leading the majors with 57 saves and amassing a 1.96 ERA and a 15.2(!) K/9 over 73.1 innings.

2. Sean Doolittle – Nationals

The Nats enjoyed a strong season from Doolittle (1.60 ERA), who’s one of the best pitchers in the sport when it comes to inducing weak contact. He just needs to stay healthy given how thin Washington’s bullpen is entering this season.

3. Seranthony Dominguez – Phillies

At 23 years old, Dominguez put together a 2.95 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 0.931 WHIP and 11.5 K/9. That’s really good, folks.

4. A.J. Minter – Braves

He’s no Craig Kimbrel, but Minter racks up the strikeouts and is very good about preventing the long ball. He’ll start the season on the shelf while rehabbing a shoulder injury.

5. Sergio Romo – Marlins

The Marlins won’t be using him in an “opener” role, which might actually be a good thing. Romo allowed four earned runs in five first-inning appearances (9.00 ERA).

Set-up men

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies-Media Day Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

1. David Robertson/Pat Neshek – Phillies

The Phillies’ acquisition of Robertson this offseason won’t go down as one of their splashiest moves of the winter, but it will be one of their most significant. Robertson hasn’t appeared in fewer than 60 games in a season since 2009.

2. Jeurys Familia/Justin Wilson – Mets

Despite the Mets’ trade for Diaz, Familia decided to return to his former club on a free-agent deal to handle eighth inning duties and make New York’s bullpen one of the deepest in the league.

3. Trevor Rosenthal/Tony Sipp – Nationals

Rosenthal still touches triple digits but hasn’t pitched since 2017 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Sipp will compete with Kyle Barraclough for seventh-inning duties and brings a respected veteran presence to Washington’s relief corps.

4. Arodys Vizcaino/Darren O’Day – Braves

O’Day is dealing with a forearm injury and doesn’t yet have a timetable for his return, but Vizcaino has been Atlanta’s best reliever over the past four years. He’s averaged a 2.79 ERA and 45 appearances per season over that span.

5. Adam Conley/Drew Steckenrider – Marlins

Miami’s bullpen won’t be very good, but Conley had a 3.60 FIP last season and his underlying numbers suggest he’ll be better than he was in 2018. Steckenrider has quietly impressed since entering the league in 2017 and could be a candidate for the closer job if Romo struggles to start the year.


MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

1. Don Mattingly – Marlins

The only active manager in the division to ever win a playoff series, Mattingly won’t be guiding Miami to its first postseason berth since 2003 but he has an excellent veteran presence that should bode well for handling the team’s rebuild.

2. Brian Snitker – Braves

Snitker is the reigning NL Manager of the Year after helping the Braves win 90 games and capture the NL East. The biggest question now is can he get there with the rest of the division retooling over the offseason while Atlanta stood pat.

3. Gabe Kapler – Phillies

Despite some early blunders to start his managerial tenure, Kapler gelled the Phillies’ young clubhouse together and has an innovative approach to the game. The pressure is on him now, however, as the team has its sights set on the World Series.

4. Davey Martinez – Nationals

Martinez struggled in his first season with managing the personalities in the clubhouse and making bullpen decisions. He was given the benefit of the doubt considering it was his rookie season as manager, but the Nats’ front office has notoriously had a quick trigger with skippers and won’t have the same level of patience in year two.

5. Mickey Callaway – Mets

The Mets’ 11-1 start to last season thrust Callaway into the national spotlight only for the team to freefall for the rest of the season and highlight Callaway’s mistakes as a rookie manager. Now working for a GM who didn’t hire him, Callaway has big expectations in 2019.

The final tally

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Nationals – 61

Mets – 57

Phillies – 54

Braves – 45

Marlins – 24

Well, there you have it. The Nats emerge from this imperfect scoring system with the most well-rounded roster in the NL East. New York, interestingly enough, finished in second, which wasn’t enough to influence my vote for the division’s Wild Card recipient (I picked the Phillies), but does show how dangerous the Mets can be if they stay healthy.