October is always the most thrilling month for Major League Baseball. The drama, the intensity of every pitch, the late nights that leave you giddily staggered the whole next day. This is baseball’s month to strut its stuff. The game is at its absolute best.
It’s a chance for stars to truly shine. Baseball’s greatest players have had their most indelible moments in October, from Reggie Jackson’s World Series homers to Madison Bumgarner’s dominance to Derek Jeter’s clutch heroics. This is the month when you want to see the best baseball has to offer.
Thus, as the postseason is about to begin, we rank the top 50 players competing in this year’s tournament. It’s an interesting exercise when you consider that some of the game’s biggest stars — and some MVP favorites (including Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout) — are not in the playoffs.
That said, there will still be plenty of stars on display. Some of these players have been great for years; some have emerged in recent weeks. But all of them are absolutely pivotal to their team’s success. These guys are as good as it gets. If you were picking a team based on trying to win in October, these are the guys you’d pick. This list is not based solely on career value, but rather a mix of 2022 form, track record and health.
1. Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees: How could it be anyone else? He has had perhaps the best home-run-hitting season of all time, he has carried this limping offense for weeks, and he’s one of the largest figures (literally and figuratively) in the entire sport. They say nothing any Yankee does matters if they don’t win the World Series. That might not be true — and it shouldn’t be — but this is certainly a great time for the best player in baseball to shine.
2. Mookie Betts, RF, Dodgers: Fair warning: There are going to be a lot of Dodgers on this list. And we of course have to start with Betts, who just recovered from his “down” season to be right back among the best players in baseball. Remember, too: He’s going for his third World Series title this year.
3. Jacob deGrom, RHP, Mets: He may run out of gas from time to time, but until that happens, he’s basically the most dominant pitcher in a decade. Even during his recent slump, there are times he seems literally impossible to hit.
4. Max Scherzer, RHP, Mets: Oh, yes, the Mets’ No. 2 starter is known to have his moments as well.
5. Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals: He slowed down a little bit over the last month. But up to that point, he was putting together one of the best hitting seasons by a first baseman in years. And he might just win the NL MVP Award for his troubles.
6. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Dodgers: Remember how we all thought it would be impossible to get used to Freeman in a uniform that wasn’t the Braves’? He has been right at home in Los Angeles, in what might be his best full season as a big leaguer. Now, can he go win back-to-back World Series?
7. Yordan Alvarez, DH, Astros: Fine, fine, so he doesn’t play the field. You’re not going to be thinking about how he doesn’t play the field when he’s up against you this October with the bases loaded. Or, really, with the bases empty: He’s an instant rally.
8. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Cardinals: Arenado and St. Louis have been such a perfect fit you almost forget he ever played in Colorado in the first place. And he just finally won his first division title.
9. Manny Machado, 3B, Padres: Take your pick between Machado and Arenado: They’re the gold standard at the hot corner, and MVP candidates.
10. Julio Rodríguez , CF, Mariners: So he’s young. So he has had a few injury issues lately. He’s still the most electrifying young talent in the game right now, and the perfect avatar for everything long-suffering Mariners fans are excited about.
11. Juan Soto, RF, Padres. He’s only this low because of his slow start after the Trade Deadline (.790 OPS with San Diego).
12. Justin Verlander, RHP, Astros: Crazy fact: the Astros have lost the last three postseason games Verlander has started. I wouldn’t get too attached to that statistic, though. A resurgent Verlander, if healthy, remains built for October.
13. Julio Urías, LHP, Dodgers. It’s not easy picking between all of the Dodgers starters, but Urías, after a slow start, has established himself as the staff’s ace. Though it’s OK if you’d rather go with …
14. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers. Ho, hum, just another 2.30 ERA season, like it’s nothing. Every inning you watch this guy pitch remains a gift.
15. Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros: Whatever your lingering feelings about the Astros are, Altuve is having a fantastic year, a resurgent year (.921 OPS), the sort of year that reminds you that until that little scandal a couple of years ago, he was considered to be well on his way to an open-and-shut Hall of Fame case.
16. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B, Blue Jays: He might have been ranked higher on this last year. But what has been a “down” year for him is still the envy of most of baseball … and he still hasn’t had a big postseason moment in front of that crowd.
17. Francisco Lindor, SS, Mets: Mets fans will probably never, ever admit that they booed him. He is having a vintage Lindor year, contributing in all facets of the game, and is one of the top 10 position players in MLB according to FanGraphs’ version of WAR.
18. Trea Turner, SS, Dodgers: Yeah, here’s the other big-ticket free agent who may be hitting the market at just the right time this offseason.
19. Kyle Tucker, RF, Astros: Perpetually underrated, one of these days he’s going to have an October moment that finally makes everyone understand (and remember!) that he’s one of the best players in the sport.
20. Austin Riley, 3B, Braves: Remember a couple of years ago when you wondered if he’d have the plate discipline to stick? Safe to say he stuck: He’s been the best hitter on a 100-win team and he’s become a pretty smooth defender at the hot corner as well.
21. Pete Alonso, Mets: He’s not just a star at the Home Run Derby. He just shattered the Mets’ single-season RBI record and is going to be in the top 10 all-time in RBIs for the Mets next year.
22. Max Fried, LHP, Braves: One of the many contributors on that World Series-winning team last year, he’s now the ace for a club that’s even better this season.
23. Gerrit Cole, RHP, Yankees: He didn’t quite put up the numbers his rotation mate Nestor Cortes did, but he’s still the stopper for this team: They brought him in to be a postseason ace. Now’s the time for him to show it.
25. Emmanuel Clase, RHP, Guardians: For some teams, closers just aren’t a thing anymore. But that’s probably because they don’t have anyone like Clase, who has had the sort of season that Mariano Rivera would envy.
26. Ryan Helsley, RHP, Cardinals: The 104 mph fastballs get all the headlines, but Helsley has been one of the best relief pitchers in baseball from the very start of this season. (And yes, these relievers might seem a bit high, but it’s easy to forget just how large relievers loom in October.)
27. Andrés Giménez, 2B, Guardians: Quietly, so very quietly, he is one of the best infielders in baseball. And with José Ramírez’s struggles since the All-Star break, Giménez is also the best player on this team.
28. José Ramírez, 3B, Guardians: It has been a rough second half (.760 OPS) for the perpetual MVP candidate. But you still absolutely do not want to face him in a key spot.
29. Luis Castillo, RHP, Mariners: They brought in a Cy Young Award winner in the offseason (Robbie Ray), but it’s the in-season trade acquisition — the one they just extended — who is going to pitch Seattle’s first postseason game in more than 20 years.
30. Shane McClanahan, LHP, Rays: He might not win the Cy Young as it once looked like he might, and he was a little wobbly down the stretch, but no one wants to face him in the postseason.
31. Ronald Acuña Jr., OF, Braves: Yes, he has had trouble with injuries all season. But he still is a superstar, and if he gets hot, he could still carry this team.
32. Nestor Cortes, LHP, Yankees: One of the best stories in the game, and one of its most beloved characters, is the real deal: If he wants to become a true Bronx legend, now’s the time.
33. Alek Manoah, RHP, Blue Jays: This is the season Toronto dreamed of when he was an up-and-coming prospect, and even though he’s approaching 200 innings, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down a bit.
35. Shane Bieber, RHP, Guardians: He’s not quite at the Cy Young level he once was, but he’s still the ace of this staff and someone very scary to see on the mound to start a series.
36. George Springer, OF, Blue Jays: His first real healthy season as a Blue Jay has been terrific. And we certainly know what he’s capable of in the postseason.
37. Alex Bregman, 3B, Astros: Bregman was an MVP candidate a few years ago before having a couple of down seasons. But he has returned to something nearing his former form this year, posting a 134 OPS+, his best since 2019.
38. Matt Olson, 1B, Braves: So he’s not as high as Freeman. He is absolutely close enough to make the Braves not miss their former star.
39. Bryce Harper, DH, Phillies: Injuries have kept him out of the field and used in a limited capacity all year, and he’s slugged just .352 in 35 games since coming back from a left thumb injury. But how scary would it be to see him in a big spot in October?
40. Michael Harris II, CF, Braves: He and teammate Spencer Strider have been the two best NL rookies this year, and Strider’s left oblique injury that is clouding his postseason status is all that is keeping him from being ranked here. Either way: What an incredible rookie combo.
41. Jeff McNeil, 2B, Mets: The dictionary definition of underrated: You realize he led the Mets in Baseball-Reference WAR this year, right?
42. J.T. Realmuto, C, Phillies: Is he the best catcher in this postseason field? He has to be, right?
44. Will Smith, C, Dodgers: Oh, wow, him too. There are some really good catchers represented this year.
45. Aaron Nola, RHP, Phillies: Perpetually underappreciated, he’s the kind of pitcher that could carry a team in a postseason.
46. Kyle Schwarber, LF, Phillies: Yeah, he’s one-dimensional. But what a dimension it is.
47. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Blue Jays: The time when he was a frustrating Orioles prospect is long in the past. He’s likely about to finish in the top six in Cy Young voting for the second straight year.
48. Dansby Swanson, SS, Braves: Is he the most underrated shortstop in baseball? He’s going to make a lot of money this offseason for the team willing to find out.
49. Brandon Nimmo, CF, Mets: Nimmo is a guy you always overlook and then at the end of the game you look at the box score and he was on base three times.
50. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Yankees: He hasn’t had that great a year, but do you want to be facing this guy with the score tied late in a postseason game?
Honorable mention: Albert Pujols, DH, Cardinals: Based on his recent form you could probably put him in the top 10, but a few months ago it would have seemed crazy to rank him here at all. Will this hot streak continue in October? What else does he have in store?
Others who were considered (in no particular order): Yu Darvish, RHP, Padres; Tony Gonsolin, RHP, Dodgers; Zack Wheeler, RHP, Phillies; Robbie Ray, LHP, Mariners; Wander Franco, SS, Rays; Bo Bichette, SS, Blue Jays; Joe Musgrove, RHP, Padres; Yandy Díaz, INF, Rays; Raisel Iglesias, RHP, Braves