BBTN 100: Young aces dominate in Nos. 40-31

Who will be the best players in Major League Baseball in the 2016 season?

ESPN formed a panel of MLB writers, analysts and contributors to rank the top 100, which we'll count down from No. 100 to No. 1, revealing the top 10 on "Baseball Tonight" on March 24.

To compile the top 100, we polled 70 ESPN experts in February and March, starting with a list of more than 350 players. Using a 0-to-10 scale, they evaluated the players based only on how well they are projected to perform in 2016. Players expected to miss 2016 with an injury were not included.

The results will be announced on ESPN.com, Facebook (ESPN Baseball Tonight) and Twitter (@BBTN). Fans can use the hashtag #BBTN100 to join the discussion and follow along.

We're continuing the top 100 with Nos. 40-31.

40. Jon Lester

Pos.: LHP | Team: Chicago Cubs

2015 rank: 21| 2016 fantasy rank: 77

2015 stats -- 32 GS, 11-12, 3.34 ERA, 207 Ks

ESPN says: Jon Lester might have needed a year with his new team, in a new league, to figure things out. Pick-off attempts and stolen bases aside, he wasn't awful by any means in 2015, but he could've been better. Lester had to adjust to the National League game; he had to understand why he was being pinch-hit for -- even when he had more to give. Lester is the classic "feel" pitcher and Year 2 with the Cubs should feel better to him. -- Jesse Rogers, ESPN.com Cubs reporter

By the numbers: Lester finished with a sub-.500 record with the Cubs last season, going 11-12. However, he pitched to the tune of a 3.34 ERA in 205 innings and set the franchise record for strikeouts in a season by a left-handed pitcher (207). -- ESPN Stats & Information

39. Troy Tulowitzki

Pos.: SS | Team: Toronto Blue Jays

2015 rank: 13 | 2016 fantasy rank: 58

2015 stats (Colorado and Toronto) -- .280 BA, .777 OPS, 17 HRs, 70 RBIs

ESPN says: The sight of Tulowitzki in a uniform other than the Colorado Rockies was strange, and his debut in Toronto, while successful for the team, didn't result in individual glory. Tulo hit a mere .239 over 41 games for the Blue Jays with a sub-.700 OPS. Tulo's numbers should be much better in 2016 if he's healthy, likely returning to the days of 25 home runs and a strong batting average. -- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com senior fantasy writer

By the numbers: Tulowitzki did not fare well after being traded from the Rockies to Blue Jays. In 87 games with Colorado, Tulowitzki hit .300 with 12 home runs, averaging 26.9 at-bats per home run. With the Blue Jays, he hit .239 and hit a home run every 32.6 at-bats. -- ESPN Stats & Information

38. Edwin Encarnacion

Pos.: DH | Team: Toronto Blue Jays | @Encadwin

2015 rank: 44| 2016 fantasy rank: 13

2015 stats -- .277 BA, .929 OPS, 39 HRs, 111 RBIs

ESPN says: Maybe it's because he hits in the same lineup as Jose Bautista. Or maybe it's because he plays north of the border. Whatever the reason, Encarnacion always seemed to be underrated for a slugger who has averaged 38 homers and a .919 OPS over the past four seasons. No more. He ranks squarely among the most feared hitters in the American League and stands to cash in big if he reaches free agency after the season. -- Scott Lauber, ESPN.com Red Sox reporter

By the numbers: Encarnacion didn't appear to be himself through the first several months of the season in 2015. From Opening Day to July 31, Encarnacion hit .241 with 19 home runs in 96 games. He caught fire in the last two months of the season, hitting .344 with 20 home runs in his last 50 games. -- ESPN Stats & Information

37. Noah Syndergaard

Pos.: RHP | Team: New York Mets | @Noahsyndergaard

2015 rank: NR| 2016 fantasy rank: 68

2015 stats -- 24 GS, 9-7, 3.24 ERA, 166 Ks

ESPN says: Syndergaard opened the 2015 season at Triple-A Las Vegas. By the end of the year, he was buzzing fastballs in the World Series. His 9.96 strikeouts per nine innings last season ranked second by a rookie in franchise history. The only better: Dwight Gooden (11.39 in 1984). -- Adam Rubin, ESPN.com Mets reporter

By the numbers: Syndergaard threw 221 more pitches at 97 mph or faster than any pitcher in the majors last season. His 166 strikeouts last year were the most by a Mets rookie since Doc Gooden had 276 in 1984. At 23 years and 62 days old during World Series Game 3, Syndergaard became the second-youngest pitcher in Mets history to win a World Series game. -- ESPN Stats & Information

36. Craig Kimbrel

Pos.: RP | Team: Boston Red Sox | @kimbrel46

2015 rank: 26| 2016 fantasy rank: 61

2015 stats -- 59.1 IPs, 87 Ks, 2.58 ERA, 39 saves

ESPN says: When the offseason began, the Red Sox set out to overhaul their bullpen by adding power arms. It doesn't get much more powerful than Kimbrel, who has averaged 14.55 strikeouts per nine innings since 2010, second-best in the majors behind only fellow closer Aroldis Chapman (15.40). At 27, Kimbrel figures to have plenty of lightning left in that arm, even if his ERA has gone up each year since 2012. -- Lauber

By the numbers: Since his rookie season in 2011, no player has recorded more saves than Craig Kimbrel (224). In fact, he has a 58-save lead over the player with the next most (Huston Street). Kimbrel won Rookie of the Year honors in 2011 for a season that included 46 saves and a career-high 127 strikeouts. Kimbrel led the National League in saves each year from 2011-2014, including leading the majors in 2013. Kimbrel is a four-time All-Star, has appeared in the Cy Young voting four times and has appeared in MVP voting three times. His 14.6 strikeouts per nine innings pitched are the second most in major league history among pitchers with at least 100 career innings. -- ESPN Stats & Information

35. Dellin Betances

Pos.: RP | Team: New York Yankees | @DBetances50

2015 rank: 53| 2016 fantasy rank: 150

2015 stats -- 84 IPs, 131 Ks, 1.50 ERA, 9 saves

ESPN says: Not only does Betances stand 6-foot-8 and routinely hit 99 mph, but his best pitch just might be an almost unfair knee-buckling curveball. The 27-year-old right-hander struck out 135 batters in 90 innings in 2014, with a 1.40 ERA; he struck out 131 batters in 84 innings last season, with a 1.50 ERA. Look for much of the same this season, though the Yankees have to monitor his workload until Aroldis Chapman's expected return on May 9. -- Marly Rivera, ESPNDeportes.com

By the numbers: Since his first full season in the majors in 2014, Betances' 266 strikeouts are most among relievers. His 1.45 ERA in that span is second among relievers behind Wade Davis. Betances has thrown the most innings of any relief pitcher since 2014. The reason he has hit that total? In that span, Betances has made 61 appearances in which he has thrown 1 ⅓ innings or more. The pitcher with the next-most such appearances has just 49. -- ESPN Stats & Information

34. Corey Kluber

Pos.: RHP | Team: Cleveland Indians

2015 rank: 16| 2016 fantasy rank: 40

2015 stats -- 32 GS, 9-16, 3.49 ERA, 245 Ks

ESPN says: Don't let the mediocre 27-25 win-loss record over the past two years mislead you; Kluber is a workhorse ace. His 2014 Cy Young breakout season shouldn't be muted by last year's rougher ride (9-16). He ranked 117th in run support (3.3 runs per game) out of 124 starters with 20-plus starts. Over the past two seasons, Kluber's strikeout rate of 28.3 percent ranks sixth among all regular big league starters. -- Christina Kahrl, ESPN.com editor/Sweetspot blogger

By the numbers: Kluber led the Indians with 245 strikeouts last season, finishing third in the American League behind Chris Sale and Chris Archer. Kluber led an Indians staff that finished first in the AL with 1,407 strikeouts. -- ESPN Stats & Information

33. Sonny Gray

Pos.: RHP | Team: Oakland Athletics | @SonnyGray2

2015 rank: 63| 2016 fantasy rank: 72

2015 stats -- 31 GS, 14-7, 2.73 ERA, 169 Ks

ESPN says: Oakland ace Gray boasts a career 2.88 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, and he can be an annual Cy Young contender with more support. Gray has won 14 games in each of his two full seasons. He's not an elite strikeout option but he avoids hard contact. With his skills, Gray, one of the more underrated rotation anchors in the sport, will soon become a big winner. -- Karabell

By the numbers: Gray was the 18th overall pick in the 2011 draft and has the highest WAR of any player taken in the first round that year (10.8). The 2011 draft is already on its way to being among the best ever, with Jose Fernandez, Gerrit Cole, George Springer, Francisco Lindor, Kolten Wong and Joe Panik as products from the first round. The only American League pitcher with a better ERA than Gray since his rookie year in 2013 is Felix Hernandez. Gray's 2.88 ERA over his first three seasons is the fourth-best mark by any A's starter with at least 400 innings pitched over his first three seasons (Barry Zito: 3.04). -- ESPN Stats & Information

32. Gerrit Cole

Pos.: RHP | Team: Pittsburgh Pirates

2015 rank: 79 | 2016 fantasy rank: 39

2015 stats -- 32 GS, 19-8, 2.60 ERA, 202 Ks

ESPN says: You know how many pitchers have ever been taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and then gone on to win a Cy Young? Exactly one: David Price. But if last year was any indication, Cole might be the second. And soon. It wasn't just that he went 19-8, finished in the top five in ERA (2.60) and allowed only two homers all year to opposing 3-4-5 hitters. It's that extra gear, says his pitching coach, Ray Searage: "It's in his DNA. He wants to be the best of the best." -- Jayson Stark, ESPN.com senior writer

By the numbers: Cole made 30 starts in a season for the first time in his career in 2015. Among 78 qualified starters, Cole was top 15 in ERA (2.60), WHIP (1.09) and WAR (5.4). Cole had the second-fastest average pitch velocity among starters (92.4 mph) behind only Matt Harvey (92.5), thanks to a fastball that sat in the 94-97 range and a slider that sat between 85 and 89 mph. Forty percent of at-bats against Cole that ended in a slider resulted in a strikeout, 10th highest in MLB. -- ESPN Stats & Information

31. Chris Archer

Pos.: RHP | Team: Tampa Bay Rays

2015 rank: NR | 2016 fantasy rank: 57

2015 stats -- 34 GS, 12-13, 3.23 ERA, 252 Ks

ESPN says: What's the single most unhittable pitch in baseball? It just might be Chris Archer's devastating slider. He struck out more hitters last season with his slider alone (179) than any pitcher in baseball whiffed with any pitch -- and more than Johnny Cueto or Sonny Gray struck out, period. But also remember this: Only six pitchers threw more fastballs at 95 mph or more than the 1,046 Archer threw. Now combine the dazzling stuff with the commitment to being great, and you have a Cy Young dark horse on your hands. -- Stark

By the numbers: Archer struck out 179 batters with his slider last season, 36 more than the next-closest pitcher and 29 more than any other pitcher in the past five seasons. Archer's 252 strikeouts in 2015 ranked fourth in baseball. If you only count his strikeouts via the slider, Archer would have still ranked 24th in strikeouts, ahead of notable players like Johnny Cueto and Garrett Richards (both 176). -- ESPN Stats & Information