Behind The Scenes

#ESPN500 takes a swing at naming today’s best MLB players

Emilio Bonifacio of the Miami Marlins is No. 412 on the ''ESPN 500'' list. The Marlins host the defending World Series champion Cardinals on Wednesday, April 4 on ESPN.

On Tuesday, ESPN.com introduced its latest Major League Baseball super project: “The ESPN 500.”

“The ESPN 500” counts down the top 500 active MLB players heading into the 2012 season.

Use hashtag #ESPN500 to discuss the rankings

The first 100 players – Nos. 500-401 – were revealed Tuesday and the countdown will continue every weekday through April 3, when the Top 10 will be announced.

ESPN.com chose 34 ESPN MLB experts from across the company and asked them to rank each player on a scale of 1 to 10 based on one simple question: “How good is this player heading into the 2012 season?”

Among the 34 participants were Terry Francona (Sunday Night Baseball), Aaron Boone (Monday Night Baseball), Tim Kurkjian (ESPN The Magazine), Steve Berthiaume (Baseball Tonight), Pedro Gomez (Wednesday Night Baseball) and Jerry Crasnick (ESPN.com).

Like every topic about America’s pastime, the ESPN 500 is certain to spark spirited debate among fans, analysts and players alike.

Fans are encouraged to join the conversation on Twitter, using hashtag #ESPN500.

Front Row had the opportunity to talk with ESPN.com MLB Senior Coordinator Dave Kull about the ESPN 500 project…

How did this idea for the ESPN 500 come together?
We thought it would be a good way to create interest heading into the 2012 MLB season. ESPN.com’s NBA section created a similar project during the NBA lockout and we believed a countdown of MLB’s best current players would be an effective way to help preview the upcoming season.

What were the criteria for ranking players?
After we posed the question to our experts – how would you rate the quality of this player going into the 2012 season on a scale of one to ten? We presented each expert with a description of what every number – 1 through 10 – represented. For instance, a “10” is a player who is playing at a Hall of Fame caliber level. A “7” is a player who is close to All-Star caliber. A “5” is an average Major League player.

Who contributed to the ESPN 500?
Participation was very strong. We had several ESPN MLB properties and platforms represented, including experts from ESPN.com, Sunday Night Baseball, Baseball Tonight, Monday Night Baseball, Wednesday Night Baseball, ESPN Radio, ESPN Deportes, ESPN The Magazine and ESPN Stats & Info.

Were you surprised at some of the rankings?
Yes, I was very surprised. There are some people I looked at and said this is a great player – but couldn’t believe where they ended up ranking. I think fans will be surprised at where certain star players were ranked. No matter what, there will be debate. Not everyone will agree.

Did you learn anything about the sport from these rankings?
We learned quite a bit of interesting information that we’ll present to our fans. After the Top 10 is announced on April 3, we will offer a complete breakdown of rankings by team, league and position.

What do you want MLB fans to take from this project?
We want fans to visit ESPN.com, check the rankings, debate with their friends and debate with us. That’s what a list like this is all about. Not everyone is going to agree. We hope to create excitement heading into the MLB season.

The ESPN 500 rankings schedule:

 Tuesday, March 20: Nos. 401-500

Wednesday, March 21: Nos. 351-400

Thursday, March 22: Nos. 301-350

Friday, March 23: Nos. 251-300

Monday, March 26: Nos. 201-250

Tuesday, March 27: Nos. 151-200

Wednesday, March 28: Nos. 101-150

Thursday, March 29: Nos. 51-100

Friday, March 30: Nos. 26-50

Monday, April 2: Nos. 11-25

Tuesday, April 3: Nos. 1-10

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