Wednesday April 1st, 2015

We're in a peak era for baseball talent, with Hall of Fame-caliber players at the top of their game at just about every position on the field. There's also depth in greatness at many spots, especially on the mound. Picking the best of the best is an exercise in teasing out gradations of excellence, most notably in spots, like first base, where a changing of the guard is happening. Now, with the 2015 season starting on Sunday, we present SI.com's third annual All-MLB team: this year's top players across the diamond.

• Check out SI's team previews and rankings ahead of the 2015 season

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    Catcher
    The best offensive catcher in the game, Posey has been an offensive metronome for San Francisco the past three seasons, playing in 147 or 148 games in each and hanging a composite line of .314/.381/.497 with 20 homers a year. In an era defined by the strikeout, Posey combines power and contact like a batsman from the 1980s; last year, he was one of just seven players to whiff less than 12% of the time while posting an isolated power above 150. His defense doesn't quite rise to the level of the best in the game—Russell Martin and Jonathan Lucroy are better pitch-framers, while Yadier Molina is still the gold standard for throwing—but he's not hurting the Giants with his average arm, and he's managed a World Series championship pitching staff in three of the last five seasons.
     
    Honorable mention: Yadier Molina, Cardinals.
     

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    First Base
    It's the 2015 team, remember, so when choosing between a 25-year-old and a 32-year-old of comparable skill, the player on the upslope of his career will have an edge. Hence the reason for taking Rizzo over Miguel Cabrera. Rizzo's power has been building for a while, and he broke out last year with 32 homers and a .527 slugging percentage. He's a complete hitter with a reasonable strikeout rate (19%) and an excellent 116/66 strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio. He's an asset around the bag as well and should continue to be over the next few years. Cabrera can still rake—he hit .313/.371/.524 with 25 home runs and 109 RBIs last season—but there have to be doubts about his durability this year and how aging will impact both his time at first base and his performance there. I'm not sure he's even the second choice for '15 at the slow corner.
     
    Honorable mention: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
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    Second Base
    The shape of Cano's production changed with his move West last season, but not the value. In his first year since leaving the Yankees for the Mariners as a free agent, he remained one of the best players in baseball with a .314/.382/.454 slash line in 157 games—actually his lowest slugging percentage since 2008. Some of his peers had stronger seasons with the glove, but none among that group combined offense, defense and innings at second base the way Cano did. He's 32 this season and has a lot of mileage on him, so by next year, we may be looking at his successor.
     
    Honorable mention: Jose Altuve, Astros
     

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    Third Base
    It seems as if Beltre has always been overshadowed by one peer or another, whether it be Scott Rolen or David Wright or Ryan Zimmerman or Evan Longoria. Through it all, Beltre just keeps hanging big year after big year. He's now garnered MVP votes in five straight seasons, made his first four All-Star teams in his 30s and improved his plate discipline and contact skills even as the league makes those things harder to maintain. It's not just that Beltre is a Hall of Famer; it's that he may finish his career as one of the five best third basemen who ever played the game.
     
    Honorable mention: Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays

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    Shortstop
    Tulowitzki was the best player in baseball when he was on the field last year, but he managed to play in just 91 games in 2014. Such is the tradeoff with Tulowitzki, who has missed nearly half of the Rockies' games since the start of the '12 season. When he plays, though, he's a monster, a great hitter who saves runs in the field while playing a critical defensive position. He's so far ahead of his peers at shortstop that he led the position in Fangraphs' WAR calculations last season despite missing 71 games. Hope for one full, healthy campaign while Tulowitzki is still around his peak, because it would be a sight to see.
     
    Honorable mention: Ian Desmond, Nationals
     

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    Leftfield
    Far from the classic lumbering slugger hidden away in the outfield corner, Gordon plays a complete game, highlighted by the game's best defense in left and an arm that wouldn't be out of place in the other corner spot. His offense has leveled off the last few years—.266/.339/.426 in 2013 and '14 combined—but he sprinkles in some steals (23, 79% success rate) and is a plus base runner overall, no matter what you saw in Game 7 of the World Series.
     
    Honorable mention: Christian Yelich, Marlins

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    Centerfield
    All the cool kids are sweating Trout's declining steals and rising strikeout rate and drawing fancy charts to show what pitches he struggles with. This is what happens when you're the best player the game has ever seen through the age of 22. Trout could walk away from baseball for a year, come back next April and still have the sixth-highest WAR total of any player through the age of 23. Let other people worry about Trout's swinging strike percentage on 95-mph fastballs in Zone 14. You just enjoy watching one of the best young players ever.
     
    Honorable mention: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
     

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    Rightfield
    One of the best sights of the spring was seeing Stanton digging into the box and staying there, showing that his career wasn't going to be altered by the fastball he took to the face last September. Stanton's at-bats are must-see events: You never know when he's going to launch a ball 500 feet or hit a line-drive rocket that the third baseman leaps for on its way into the leftfield stands. Like many members of this team, Stanton combines statistical prowess—he led the NL in homers, slugging and total bases—with a watchability that belies the idea that baseball is boring.
     
    Honorable mention: Jason Heyward, Cardinals

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    Designated Hitter
    Like many lefthanded sluggers, Ortiz's batting average and on-base percentage have been hurt by the prevalence of defensive shifting: His .263 average and .355 OBP last year were his lowest marks in five years. Ortiz's skills are intact, however, as his 35 homers and a .254 isolated power attest, and he hasn't struck out 100 times in a season since 2010. At 39, Ortiz is Boston's oldest player and one of the last remaining links to a time when the DH was a place to put a great hitter and watch him work.
     
    Honorable Mention: Victor Martinez, Tigers
     

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    Bench Weapon
    Jarrod Dyson, Royals
    Eighteen times, Kansas City manager Ned Yost called on Dyson to pinch-run last year. On eight of those occasions, Dyson immediately stole a base, including in a critical comeback win on Sept. 15 against the White Sox. Dyson added a pinch-steal and a run scored in the crazy Wild-Card Game against the Athletics as well. With Alex Rios in town to play rightfield and Lorenzo Cain established in center, look for Dyson to make more late-inning magic for Yost and the Royals.
     
    Honorable Mention: Enrique Hernandez, Dodgers

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    Lefthanded Starter
    Kershaw's Baseball-Reference page looks like something out of the Deadball Era, like he should have a nickname like Ol' Whackaback and a handlebar mustache. He has a 2.11 ERA over the last four years, which is video-game stuff even in a low-scoring era. He spotted the league April last year while recovering from a back injury and still won the Cy Young Award and the NL MVP Award. He had 17 straight quality starts at one point, and that streak was broken only by a five-inning outing shortened by rain on one end and another five-inning stint in a blowout on the other. Kershaw made 27 starts last year and allowed more than four runs just once; Corey Kluber was the best pitcher in the AL and allowed more than four runs twice in two different months. Kershaw is simply playing a different game than everyone else is.
     
    Honorable Mention: David Price, Tigers
     

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    Righthanded Starter
    Felix Hernandez, Mariners
    Hernandez has just one Cy Young Award, that back in 2010, and it seems like a rolling string of pitchers have had their peaks and moved on—Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, Kluber—while he just keeps posting big years. Hernandez has struck out at least 200 men in six straight years while never leading the AL in whiffs. He's never pitched in a postseason game—never even come all that close, in fact—and he stands out among players in the expanded-postseason era as the greatest never to get that chance. We'll see if the revamped Mariners can push the King over the top in '15.
     
    Honorable Mention: Johnny Cueto, Reds

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    Lefthanded Closer
    Two hundred and two batters came to the plate last year against Chapman. Just more than half, 106, struck out. That 52.5% strikeout rate broke Craig Kimbrel's record, set in 2012. You had twice as good a chance to strike out against Chapman as you did to reach base. Seeing a pitch delivered at 100 mph used to be legendary. Chapman, meanwhile, averaged 101. He's a science-fiction character brought to life.
     
    Honorable Mention: Sean Doolittle, Athletics

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    Righthanded Closer
    Craig Kimbrel, Braves
    Kimbrel struck out "just" 39% of the batters he faced last year, which would have been notable as recently as five years ago. Despite this embarrassing change, Kimbrel has the lowest ERA of any pitcher in history with at least 250 innings pitched (1.43). Kimbrel and Chapman would seem to be the evolutionary endpoint of the one-inning closer, operating at—setting, really—the outer extremes of unhittability and run prevention.
     
    Honorable Mention: Greg Holland, Royals

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    Setup Man
    Wade Davis, Royals
    What Davis did last season was just an extension of what he did during his final season in Tampa Bay in 2013, when he posted a 2.43 ERA and a 31% strikeout rate out of the Rays' bullpen. His raw numbers from '14, including a 1.00 ERA, won't be easy to repeat, but he will remain the best setup man in baseball for at least one more year.
     
    Honorable Mention: Tyler Clippard, A's

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    Manager
    Joe Maddon, Cubs
    There's a reason why the Cubs snapped up Maddon just weeks after he left the Rays. He worked very well with the Rays' analytical front office, integrating the information they generated into his own decision-making. That will serve him well with Chicago's data-centric ways. However, Maddon managed to be a stathead manager without picking up the reputation for alienating people that followed the likes of Buck Showalter and Davey Johnson. In fact, Maddon is considered a better leader of men than he is a tactician. In the Cubs, he has come into a situation not unlike the one he inherited in Tampa Bay, with a roster full of young players who haven't won anything yet. Look for that to change.
     
    Honorable Mention: Buck Showalter, Orioles

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