BBE 2018 Positional Rankings: MLB’s Top 15 Utility Players

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Over the offseason, the team of contributors at Baseball Essential voted upon every position on the diamond, compiling our comprehensive Top 15 countdowns for the 2018 season.

Major League Baseball is overflowing with youth and skill, but don’t forget about the rugged veterans we all know and love. These Top 15 rundowns will feature a splendid mix of young, exuberant athletes, and the aged, mature individuals who mentor them. As for the positions, we will unveil the top 15 starting pitchers, relievers, catchers, first basemen, second basemen, third basemen, shortstops, left fielders, center fielders, and right fielders, as well as the foremost designated hitters, utilitymen, and managers, over the next few weeks.

Our voting format is simple. The team of writers and analysts at BBE were given ballots a few weeks back for their top 10 individuals at each spot. A first-placed vote is worth 10 points, second-place is good for nine, and so on.

With spring training done and the regular season now underway, we are finishing up with the publishing of these lists. To keep track of the Top 15 lists you might have missed, stay posted to the Top 15 tag on the site.

In the rundown, we list the player, their position among the list, and how many points they have received in the voting. Now, you’re ready. Here are MLB’s Top 15 utility players for the 2018 season.

Honorable Mentions:

Look at us go. We agreed on the same 15 guys and I’m proud of our panel.

Michael A. Taylor – 15th (1)

A utility outfielder by trade, Michael A. Taylor stepped into the center-field position and played marvelously in the absence of Adam Eaton for the Washington Nationals in 2017, hitting .271/.320./.486 with 19 home runs and 53 RBIs while playing a healthy dose of center field and right field.

The 27-year-old righty stole 17 bases in 118 games, chipping in at the bottom of a hefty Nats lineup. With free agent outfielder Jayson Werth sent packing from the nation’s capitol, Taylor might have earned himself a permanent spot in the Nationals lineup.

Brad Miller – 14th (2)

Tampa Bay Rays utilityman Brad Miller appeared at all three outfield spots, second base, third base, and shortstop a few years ago, displaying versatility that goes unmatched in the Rays dugout. Last year, he qualified as a utiltyman, but had an underwhelming season and comes in at 14th on this rundown.

Miller played designated hitter and was used as a pinch hitter 13 times, but second base was his only on-field position. The left-handed batter hit .201/.327/.337 with nine home runs and 40 RBIs, which are decent counting stats for the amount of plate appearances he had (407). The 28-year-old is expected to play predominantly DH or fill in at second in 2018.

Charlie Culberson – 13th (2)

There aren’t a lot of people on this planet who can say they hit a home run in the World Series, but Charlie Culberson is one of them. With the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, the 28-year-old slashed .154/.267/.231 without a homer in 15 regular season plate appearances, which makes his postseason success (career .348/.333/.652 hitter) even weirder.

Following a trade to the young and exciting Atlanta Braves, the right-handed Culberson — who played second base, third base, and shortstop in 2017 — looks to fill in where he can in a star-studded infield.

Cliff Pennington – 12th (2)

Cliff Pennington is a gamer, always getting dirty and sacrificing himself for the betterment of the club. The 33-year-old will now do exactly this with the Cincinnati Reds as a utility infielder who played second, third, and short last season with the Los Angeles Angels, with whom he slashed .253/.306/.330 in 87 games.

With Eugenio Suarez, Joey Votto, and others in the Reds clubhouse, the switch-hitting Pennington will have to wait his turn and stay ready to use his steady glove and consistent bat in 2018.

Darwin Barney – 11th (4)

Nobody is quite sure where Darwin Barney will play, if at all, this season, after the Texas Rangers and Barney agreed to a release from his minor-league deal. Whichever club gets Barney’s services will obtain a magnificent glove and a ballplayer mentality from one of the better utility players in recent MLB seasons.

The right-hander hit .232/.275/.327 with six home runs and 25 RBIs with the Toronto Blue Jays last season, playing 129 games at left field, third base, shortstop, or second base. The 32-year-old won the National League Gold Glove in 2012, and hopefully will be signed and playing before long.

Ronald Torreyes – 10th (4)

Though the short and skinny Ronald Torreyes can’t crack a stacked New York Yankees lineup routinely, the utilityman is dynamite with fair playing time. The 25-year-old, who played second, third, short, and right field in 2017, hit a splendid .292/.314/.375 with three home runs and 36 RBIs in 108 games.

It might be even harder for the righty to get at-bats in 2018, as the Yankees bulk up for a World Series run. But the utility infielder will keep a smile on his face and be ready when the time comes.

Chris Taylor – 9th (9)

No joke, this is the fourth different countdown for which Chris Taylor has received votes. Nothing about the 27-year-old should surprise us anymore, though. Taylor slashed .288/.354/.496 with 21 home runs and 72 RBIs in 2017, after his performance at the dish forced the Dodgers to keep the righty in the lineup somehow.

How did they do that? Well, Taylor, who had never even appeared in 50 games in a season before, played left field, center field, third base, shortstop, and second base in 2017 on his way to NL Championship Series honors. If Taylor is a utility player, then he’s one of the best, but the beauty of his game is that you can’t define it.

Howie Kendrick – 8th (12)

At 33 years old, Howie Kendrick surprisingly had one of the best seasons in his long career. Playing with the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals (after a midseason trade), the righty batter slashed .315/.368/.475 with nine home runs and 41 RBIs in 91 games played.

Kendrick returns to the Nats this season and will play outfield when the opportunity arises. Kendrick played both corner outfield spots as well as first base and second base in 2017.

Ian Happ – 7th (16)

The future of Ian Happ, one of the top young players in the Chicago Cubs system, will not be as a utility player, but for now he’ll play wherever he can. That was the case in 2017, as the 23-year-old played all three outfield spots, second base, and third base to the tune of a .253/.328/.514 slash line, 24 homers, and 68 RBIs.

For a franchise that made its fanbase suffer forever, things are looking way up for the Cubbies. The switch-hitting Happ is one of the reasons why, in addition to perennial NL MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

Brock Holt – 6th (20)

If this list didn’t take talent and production into account, and was based entirely on playing as many positions as possible, Brock Holt would be a unanimous number-one choice. The former AL All-Star has played both corner outfield spots and all four infield positions for the Boston Red Sox in the past two seasons, hitting .200/.305/.243 last season in his 64 games.

It’s hard to get innings in with youthful All-Stars like Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts on your team, but the presence of oft-injured Dustin Pedroia and Eduardo Nunez could mean the 29-year-old Holt will step in and play. At any rate, the lefty hitter will keep a team-first attitude and maintain his unparalleled versatility for when the Sox need him most.

Andrew Romine – 5th (20)

Andrew Romine is about as average as any ballplayer, but the utilityman now with the Seattle Mariners did something to remember with the Detroit Tigers in 2017. The switch-hitter, who hit .233/.289/.336 last season, appeared at all nine on-field positions in a single game. Aside from that, his well-versed game was on display all season as he appeared at all four infield spots and the three outfield positions at least 10 times each.

Romine is listed on the Mariners’ depth chart as the backup to all infield positions and right field. Any injuries or slumps in Seattle this season will see the 32-year-old Romine fill right in.

Eduardo Nunez – 4th (28)

Eduardo Nunez wasn’t really supposed to be a utility player, but in re-signing with the Red Sox, it looks like he will be in 2018. Nunez can play all over the infield as he has done so prolifically in his MLB career, while dabbling in corner outfield play. The righty hit .313/.341/.460 in 2017 with the Sox and San Francisco Giants, adding 12 home runs, 58 RBIs, and 24 steals to his already-versatile game.

With Pedroia on the shelf to start the 2018 season, Nunez slots into the second base spot for now. When the former MVP returns to the Red Sox lineup, the 30-year-old Nunez will have to shuffle around Fenway Park for a spot in the order; if he hits like he did for Boston late last season, finding a position won’t be a problem.

Ben Zobrist – 3rd (30)

Ever since the emergence of Javier Baez in the Cubs middle infield, 2016 World Series MVP Ben Zobrist has been relegated to a role as a utility player. It helps when you play such a role better than close to everyone in the major leagues, as Zobrist hit .232/.318/.375 in 128 games last season while appearing at first base, second base, shortstop, and both corner outfield spots.

The 36-year-old is just as well-versed at the plate as he is on the Wrigley Field dirt, as the switch-hitter has put up 42.1 Baseball-Reference WAR over his career. Without a solidified spot in the order, Zobrist will have to scratch and claw for at-bats in a deep lineup, but he can be a reliable late-game defensive substitution at the very least.

Kiké Hernandez –  2nd (33)

Enrique Hernandez, better known as Kiké, had a career year as a utilityman for the Dodgers, hitting .215/.308/.421 with 11 home runs and 37 RBIs while playing every position except pitcher and catcher for the NL pennant winners in 2017. The 26-year-old was a quick fix at any defensive spot and held his own at home plate, especially in the NLCS; Hernandez hit three home runs in a series-clinching Game 5 win against the Cubs.

Hernandez is an exciting utility player with an easy-to-root-for attitude. The righty will likely play more infield than outfield this season with the return of Matt Kemp in left field for the Dodgers and second base remaining uncertain (veterans Chase Utley and Logan Forsythe will platoon). Either way, Kiké can bring a spark of speed and energy into the Los Angeles lineup at all times.

Marwin Gonzalez – 1st (38)

Marwin Gonzalez led the Houston Astros in RBIs and batting average with runners in scoring position during the 2017 regular season as a utility player, posting 4.3 bWAR in 134 games. I could stop right there and be done convincing you that Gonzalez is the best utility player in baseball, but his numbers go on. The switch-hitter played both corner outfield spots and all four in the infield to the tune of a .303/.377/.530 slash line, 23 homers, and 90 runs driven in for the World Series champions.

Gonzalez started in the postseason predominantly as a left fielder and played exceptional defense in October’s title run. With prospect Derek Fisher emerging as the starting left fielder, Gonzalez will have to maneuver around the diamond to contribute the way he did in 2017 — but that shouldn’t be a problem for the 29-year-old impending free agent.

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