Calling the NL East loaded would be an understatement.
The division has the top two starting pitchers in the National League in Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, whom the Phillies face tonight. Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler ... so many upper echelon arms in the division.
Among position players, the Braves have two perennial MVP candidates in Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr.
The Nationals have one in Juan Soto. (The division thanked the Angels for signing away Anthony Rendon.)
The Phillies have a former MVP in Bryce Harper and one of the best all-around players in baseball in J.T. Realmuto.
The Mets have two exciting newcomers in Pete Alonso, who hit 53 homers as a rookie last season, and Jeff McNeil, who has hit .319 in 882 plate appearances since debuting in 2018.
Who is the best player in the NL East?
Jim Salisbury (Phillies insider)
There's no right or wrong answer to this question. You could go with Freeman, Acuña Jr., Soto, Realmuto, Harper, Scherzer or deGrom and not be wrong. If I were building a team long term, I'd go with Acuña or Soto. If I needed to win a game right now, I'd go with deGrom. That kind of stinks for the Phillies because they have to face him Friday night. In an era of small parks, tiny strike zones, rock hard bats and baseballs that fly like Titleists, he has won the National League Cy Young Award the last two seasons. He regularly racks up 200 innings and 240-plus strikeouts. I'm figuring that most of my colleagues will go with offense; I'll go with something that stops offense — starting pitching — and someone who does it well.
Ricky Bottalico (Phillies Pre/Postgame Live analyst)
No-brainer: Soto. A perfect home run swing. Doesn't strike out a lot. He missed the beginning of the season but doesn't look even a little impacted by the time off. He's hitting .414 with five home runs and 10 RBIs in only eight games. He's 21 years old with a long career ahead.
Corey Seidman (Phillies writer, Pre/Postgame Live analyst)
Even though Freeman is still probably the more feared hitter, I'm going with Acuña, who I'd have slightly ahead of Soto and Freeman for his five-tool skill set. Acuña can do it all — hit close to .300, hit for power, run, field, throw. Last season he hit 41 homers, drove in 101 runs and led the NL with 37 stolen bases and 127 runs scored. He hits righties and lefties alike.
He's also not even 23 years old yet, and he's on one of the best contracts in all of baseball — an eight-year, $100 million contract that pays him just $1 million in 2020.
I do think Freeman and Soto are slightly better overall hitters — Freeman because the guy just exudes clutch and Soto because his plate selection is at the very highest level. But the gap is not large enough to ignore the other ways Acuña offers more overall value.
Michael Barkann (Phillies Pre/Postgame Live host)
Not going with deGrom, Freeman, Acuña Jr. or even Soto. Call me a homer ("you're a freakin' homer!") but Harper is the man. He entered Thursday night with numbers that would translate to 50 homers and 125 RBIs over a full season. He's put up MVP-type numbers so far this season, then there's his defense and leadership. Number 3 is the answer.
Casey Feeney (Phillies producer)
In my mind, there are seven players worthy of consideration: Harper, Soto, Scherzer, deGrom, Alonso, Freeman and Acuña Jr.
Because of their everyday impact, I’m inclined to go with a position player over a pitcher. Perhaps there is bias from watching him everyday, but I would take Harper ahead of the other position players mentioned.
Freeman and Soto are better pure hitters than Harper. Acuña Jr is a more electric athlete and might have the highest ceiling of any player in baseball. But Harper strikes me as the most complete package of the group. He’s also being asked to carry an otherwise incomplete roster to a greater degree than the other hitters mentioned.
Sean Kane (Phillies Pre/Postgame Live producer)
There are so many great players in the NL East — several Cy Young caliber pitchers and MVP-worthy position players. But Freeman is the best player in the division. He’s certainly the guy I would pick first for my team. His skills speak for themselves. He’s one of the best all-around hitters in baseball, he plays a tremendous first base and he’s a better baserunner than he gets credit for. Most importantly, he sets the standard for the team that sets the standard in the NL East. He is the unquestioned leader of the Braves, both on the field and in the clubhouse. He always plays hard and he always makes the right play. If you’re interested in winning baseball games, Freddie Freeman is your guy.
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