Astros outfielder Yordan Alvarez and Mets first baseman Pete Alonso won the Rookie of the Year awards for the American and National Leagues, respectively. The former was a unanimous choice, while the latter received top placement from all but one of the ROY voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
It’s a power-packed duo, to say the least. While slugging numbers were up around the game, these two still stood out.
Alvarez, 22, didn’t force his way onto a loaded Astros roster until midseason. But he still swatted 27 long balls in his 369 plate appearances. And his half-season offensive numbers were … well, astronomical. Among players with at least 300 attempts, he came in a close second in all of baseball in wRC+ (his 178 just lagged Mike Trout) and slugging percentage (.655, just trailing Christian Yelich).
The 24-year-old Alonso did damage all year long, on both sides of a memorable Home Run Derby victory. He appeared in all but one of the Mets’ games, slugging a league-leading 53 dingers while topping the century mark in runs and ribbies. It wasn’t just counting stats; Alonso wrapped up his debut season with an excellent .260/.358/.583 batting line.
The rest of the American League field fell well shy of Alvarez in output. But that’s not to say there weren’t nice performances. Surprise Orioles hurler John Means landed in second place, another nice bit of recognition for one of the least likely All-Stars in the history of baseball. Brandon Lowe of the Rays, Eloy Jimenez of the White Sox and Cavan Biggio of the Blue Jays finished 3-4-5.
There was certainly stiffer competition on the N.L. side. Third-place finisher Fernando Tatis Jr. may well have commanded the award (or at least forced a photo finish) had his season not been cut short. And the man in second, Braves hurler Mike Soroka, had his own strong claim to the award. He picked up one first-place vote after turning in 174 2/3 innings of 2.68 ERA pitching — no minor accomplishment in a season filled with the offensive exploits of so many. Pirates standout Bryan Reynolds landed fourth with his own excellent campaign, while Cardinals hurler Dakota Hudson and Nationals outfielder Victor Robles each also received down-ballot votes.
The 2019 MLB season has been a year filled with great baseball. These 25 stories were the biggest of the regular season.
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Home runs galore
The “juiced ball” has impacted the game in recent seasons but not close to what we saw in 2019. MLB had a record number of home runs, and there were similar results at Triple-A, which also adopted the same juiced ball. More than half of MLB teams could set their own franchise records this season, and the Twins became the first team in history with five 30 home run hitters.
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Continued strategic evolution
The game continues to change shape with more defensive shifts, bullpen moves and quick hooks for starting pitchers. More teams than ever are also employing “openers” and bullpen starts.
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Christian Yelich’s encore
Yelich’s season ended in September due to a knee injury, but up to that point he proved his 2018 NL MVP season was no fluke. He raised his OPS by 100 points and had a career-high 44 home runs, 30 stolen bases and a .329 batting average in only 130 games. Yelich’s main competition for the MVP Award this year is Dodgers star Cody Bellinger.
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Mike Trout’s excellence
Trout’s season ended early with a foot injury, but the Angels star is the clear favorite to win the AL MVP, which would be his third. He led the AL in on-base and slugging as of mid-September, with a 1.083 OPS and 45 home runs.
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Injuries no problem for Yankees
The amount of star power the Yankees lost to injuries this season was remarkable, but even more remarkable was their response. The team lost stars Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, Miguel Andujar, Luis Severino and Dellin Betances for significant periods, but several role players and veteran minor leaguers emerged to help the team easily win the AL East. 6 of 25
The reigning World Champs had a season they’d like to forget. While they’re likely to finish above .500, the pitching staff held them back from returning to the playoffs in 2019. The starting rotation had a 4.88 ERA as of Sept. 17, 20th in MLB, and lost high-priced starters Chris Sale and David Price for significant portions of the season. Front office decision head Dave Dombrowski was fired in September, and the team could be set for big moves this offseason. 7 of 25
Tyler Skaggs’ tragic death
The beginning of July brought tragedy to MLB, as Angels starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs passed away on July 1. The cause of death was later found to be opioids, and MLB is contemplating opioid drug testing, as a result. 8 of 25
No stopping Justin Verlander
Verlander has aged like a fine wine and is well on his way to winning his second Cy Young Award this year. At age 36, he leads the AL in wins (19), ERA (2.50) and innings pitched (212). Houston should feel good about the two years remaining on his contract.
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New trade deadline rules
MLB ended the Aug. 31 waiver deadline this year, resulting in a wild July 31 trade deadline. Among the headliners were Zack Greinke getting traded to Houston and Nicholas Castellanos moving onto the Cubs. If the league wanted to create more buzz with a single deadline, it accomplished its goal. 10 of 25
Mets offseason moves backfire
New Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen was an unorthodox hire, and he had an unorthodox approach with the team in his first offseason while many were calling for a rebuild. Instead, the team took on money and traded some of its top prospects to Seattle for Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano. Both of those players floundered in 2019, and free agent acquisitions Wilson Ramos and Jed Lowrie were also major disappointments. 11 of 25
Young players continue to drive the game, and 2019 saw another terrific rookie class. Among the stars to emerge were Pete Alonso, Fernando Tatis Jr., Yordan Alvarez, Bo Bichette, Bryan Reynolds and Chris Paddack. 12 of 25
The recent success of the Astros and Cubs has driven many other teams to follow the same rebuild plan, which means stripping down to nothing at the major league level. That’s probably the smartest way to build a champion, but it’s been rough for fans of Baltimore, Detroit and Miami, among others. As a result, league attendance continues to decline with those teams being major culprits.
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The injury bug is inescapable, but the numbers of stars lost this year was particularly disappointing. Identifiable players like Giancarlo Stanton, Corey Kluber and Carlos Correa missed large portions of the season, and September featured the losses of Mike Trout, Christian Yelich and Javier Baez. 14 of 25
More free agent drama
The 2017-18 offseason was a rough one for veteran free agents, and it was arguably worse this past offseason. For the second straight year, multiple second-tier stars were without contracts come opening day. Dallas Keuchel eventually found a one-year deal in Atlanta, and Craig Kimbrel signed a three-year agreement with the Cubs, but the recent issues are publicly impacting the relationship between the owners and players. 15 of 25
Bruce Bochy’s swan song
Giants manager Bruce Bochy is wrapping up his career this season, as he continues to be honored for his 25 years of service between the Padres and Giants. San Francisco’s season is ending in disappointment for the third straight year, but Bochy is rightfully getting plenty of recognition.
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Los Angeles claimed its seventh straight division title and is hoping that its last game of the year is a win for the first time in that stretch. The Dodgers are well on their way to another 100-win season, but anything short of a World Series win will be a disappointment.
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Phillies can’t spend Into the playoffs
The Phillies were one of the winners of the offseason, signing Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson and trading for Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto. An incredible string of bullpen injuries and a struggling starting rotation doomed them, however, and the team is all but eliminated from the playoffs for the eighth straight year. 18 of 25
Twins emerge again
Minnesota was a surprise wild-card team in 2017 before regression last year. A big offseason and the hiring of manager Rocco Baldelli has spurred the Twins to a likely AL Central title for the first time since 2010, with a record five 30-plus home run hitters. 19 of 25
Billy Beane outsmarts again
While Oakland lost in the wild-card game last year, not much was expected of the A’s this year with major losses in their starting rotation. Yet the team has a great shot to win a wild-card spot for the second straight season, getting great years out of the likes of Mike Fiers, Chris Bassitt and Brett Anderson, as well as breakouts from Marcus Semien and Ramon Laureano. 20 of 25
Pittsburgh entered the All-Star break still contending in the NL Central, just one game under .500 and 2.5 games back in the division. The Pirates went 21-41 over their next 62 games and imploded in every way imaginable. Injuries, suspensions, clubhouse fights and the arrest of closer Felipe Vazquez for statutory sexual assault mired a season that couldn’t end soon enough for the team. 21 of 25
Mariners making moves
Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto earned a reputation as a willing trader before this season but took it to a new level this season. Through trades, transactions and promotions, the rebuilding squad used more players than any team in baseball history during 2019 as the M’s sit in the cellar of the AL West. 22 of 25
Cleveland withstands pitching setbacks
Cleveland entered the year with a scary rotation led by Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. The team got a combined 43 starts out of that trio, with Kluber suffering an arm injury, Carrasco missing time with leukemia and Bauer getting traded to Cincinnati at the deadline. Somehow, the team has still managed to pitch well, led by Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber, as it fights for a playoff spot in the final weeks of the season. 23 of 25
Rays continue doing it differently
ampa Bay continues to make revolutionary, strategic changes to the game as it fights in a high-powered division with minimal resources. After winning 90 games last season, the team is set to do even better this year and could win an AL wild-card spot despite losing Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow for significant portions of the season. Manager Kevin Cash continues to work wonders.
It’s fair to say the 2019 MLB season has been the year of the rookie. All around the league, first-year players have burst onto the scene to make immediate impacts, and in some cases have become instant stars. Just look at what some of these guys have done:
The Mets’ Pete Alonso currently leads the majors with 47 home runs.
Before he got hurt, San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. was hitting .317 with 22 homers and 53 RBI in only 84 games.
Houston’s Yordan Alvarez has crushed 22 long balls in only 240 at-bats.
Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hasn’t quite dominated the way he did in AAA, but he’s shown immense power and potential, and the show he put on at the Home Run Derby will be talked about for years.
Atlanta’s Mike Soroka is a legitimate NL Cy Young candidate.
The Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds is hitting .328 and could well win the batting title.
The list goes on and on. Keston Hiura, Christian Walker, Eloy Jimenez, Austin Riley, among others look like cornerstone everyday players in the big leagues.
This unprecedented wave of talented players making their debuts all around the same time got us thinking. Let’s take a look at 10 players who could make a similar rookie impact in 2020.
1. Luis Robert, OF, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox system has been strong for several years now, and while Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and the above-mentioned Jimenez have already thrived in the big leagues, Robert figures to join them in the near future. The native Cuban dominated three separate minor league levels in 2019, hitting .328 with 32 homers and 92 RBI while stealing 36 bases and adding 31 doubles and 11 triples. He was recently named the minor league Player of the Year by USA Today, and it’s a reasonable assumption that he’ll be patrolling center field at Guaranteed Rate Field very early next spring.
2. Gavin Lux, IF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Lux’s status on this list is a bit tenuous, as he was just promoted to the big leagues this week, and it’s likely going to be close whether or not he accumulates 130 at-bats and loses his 2020 rookie status. Provided he doesn’t, he should be the hands-down favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year next season. In the minor leagues this season the 21-year-old slashed an astounding .347/.421/.607 while crushing 26 homers and driving in 76 runs. He’s a natural shortstop who has played second in his early exposure in the big leagues, a position that may become his ultimate home given the presence of Corey Seager. Regardless at what side of the second base bag he lines up defensively, Lux can flat out hit, and it’s no surprise the Dodgers wanted to give him a look down the stretch to see if he can make a push for a postseason roster spot. 3. Kyle Tucker, OF, Houston Astros
Houston has been waiting for the talented left-handed slugger to go from dominant minor leaguer to dangerous middle-of-the-order bat in the big leagues, and it seems fair to assume that transition will finally occur next season. With AAA Round Rock in 2019, Tucker hit .266 with 34 homers and 97 RBI — the third consecutive minor league season he drove in over 90 runs. Perhaps even more impressive is the 30 stolen bases he racked up, as no matter what level you’re playing in, it’s incredibly difficult to produce 30/30 seasons. Tucker’s blend of power and speed have long made him desirable to other teams in trade discussions, but the Astros have consistently hung up the phone before talks could get off the ground. His organization’s belief in him hasn’t been deterred, however, and it’s time for the 22-year-old to reward its patience.
4. Carter Kieboom, IF, Washington Nationals
The Nationals took Kieboom in the first round out of high school three years ago, and he’s done nothing but shoot through their system since. In 412 at-bats in AAA this year, the young infielder hit an impressive .303 with 16 homers and 79 RBI while also tallying 24 doubles and 203 total bases. Injuries necessitated a brief big league promotion in late April, and while he did hit his first two big league homers during that 39 at-bat stint, Washington shipped him back to Fresno when it got some veterans back. Next season, however, the Nats figure to have an opening at second base, as Brian Dozier signed only a one-year free agent pact last winter, and his performance has not warranted Washington doubling down, especially given the presence of Kieboom, who conceivably will team with shortstop Trea Turner to form this team’s long-term double play combination.
5. Casey Mize, SP, Detroit Tigers
Mountcastle is far from a perfect prospect, but his power potential is simply hard to ignore. In a little over 500 at-bats for Baltimore’s AAA affiliate in Norfolk, the 22-year-old hit .312 with 25 long balls and 35 doubles. His .527 SLG percentage finished sixth in the International League, and it’s easy to see why the Orioles are high on his bat. That said, Mountcastle does have things to work on. For starters, he doesn’t really have a defensive position. He played third base in 2018 and predominantly first this season while also mixing in some work in left field. A future as a big league DH could very well be in the cards. Plate discipline is also of some concern as the big right-handed slugger walked only 24 times all year, making his .344 OBP simply remarkable. All told, while Mountcastle is raw, the O’s are in no position to not take a flier, and if he gets consistent at-bats in 2020 it may just become too difficult to get him out of the line-up.
8. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates
The son of longtime major league third baseman Charlie Hayes, Ke’Bryan has blossomed into quite the hot corner prospect. In 110 games in AAA this season the Pittsburgh’s first-round pick from back in 2015 hit .261 with 10 homers and 55 RBI, but those numbers only tell some of the story. His 31 doubles, 13 steals and renowned defense at an important position help paint the picture of a solid player who can do just about everything on a baseball diamond. The Bucs have started Colin Moran or Jung-Ho Kang most nights at third base this season, and while Kang is no longer in Pittsburgh, Moran is not someone who should block the team’s best position player prospect. Hayes doesn’t profile as a can’t-miss star, but he should be an above-average everyday third baseman for a long time, potentially beginning as soon as next opening day.
9. Justin Dunn, SP, Seattle Mariners
Dunn came to Seattle in the much-discussed winter trade with the Mets that netted the Mariners outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic, and while that alone would seem to make the deal a heist for the M’s, the righty has the potential to make this one of the most one-sided trades of all time. In 25 starts in AA in ’19, the Boston College product worked to a strong 3.55 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP while punching out 158 hitters in 131.1 innings and limiting the opposition to a .236 batting average. Scouts don’t look at Dunn as a future big league ace or even a No. 2, but a strong showing in spring training would put him in discussion for a rotation spot, and it’s certainly feasible he could become a key cog in Seattle’s starting five sometime in 2020.
10. Nate Pearson, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto is a team to buy stock in, as with youngsters Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio already contributing to the parent club, the organization’s farm system has more talent coming. Pearson paces that group. In 25 minor league starts this season the right-hander posted a 2.30 ERA in 101.2 innings while delivering an 0.89 WHIP and a .176 batting average against. He struck out well over a batter/frame while issuing only 27 free passes all season. And on a team with little to be excited about on the mound, particularly after Marcus Stroman was traded for New York, Pearson is quickly going to become a name to know among baseball fans in Canada.
Baseball’s stretch run is in full swing, and while a handful of clubs — the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers and Braves — are locks to be playing in October, the remaining playoff spots are very much up for grabs. Every team in the hunt has legitimate stars aiming to lead it to the game’s biggest stage, but here at Yardbarker we’re focusing on guys who are not quite household names but will still have a big impact on the season’s final six weeks.
1. Keston Hiura, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers
Hiura had long been the crown jewel in the Brewers system, and since arriving in the big league’s to stay in late June, he’s done nothing but impress. Since July 1, the former first-round pick has hit .307 with 14 home runs, and his emergence has allowed Milwaukee to shift veteran Mike Moustakas back to his natural position of third base and send struggling Travis Shaw to AAA. The Brewers were a trendy pick to dethrone the Dodgers in the National League this season, and while the year has not gone entirely to plan, they’re still right in the thick of not one but two heated races. Entering play tonight, Milwaukee sits just one game back of both the Cardinals and Cubs in the NL Central and one game out of an invitation to the NL wild-card game. If they do ultimately get to participate in the postseason, Hiura may well be the primary reason why, as while the rookie has thrived toward the top of the Brewers lineup, several veterans on this team have underperformed.
2. J.D. Davis, IF/OF, New York Mets
The January trade the Mets made with the Astros to bring utility man J.D. Davis to Queens drew few headlines. The right-handed hitter had always crushed minor league pitching during his tenure with Houston but had failed multiple times at the game’s highest level. New York, though, was undeterred, as it felt his struggles with the Astros were a direct result of sporadic at-bats because of a logjam of talented players at the positions he could play. Fast forward seven months, and that bet is paying huge dividends. In the early portion of 2019, Davis was mostly a power threat off the bench for the Mets. But after injuries opened up regular playing time for him, the 26-year-old has become impossible to take out of the lineup. Since the beginning of July, he’s hit an incredible .367 while reaching base at an absurd .428 clip. He’s begun to hit for a little more power in August, as he’s already blasted four homers this month and driven in 11 runs, and his somewhat surprising production is one of the biggest reasons the Mets have been able to climb back into the pennant race.
3. Paul DeJong, SS, St. Louis Cardinals
DeJong is now in his third big league season, but he’s yet to generate much fanfare outside of St. Louis. That’s probably a little bit of an oversight, as while he’s far from being the best shortstop in the league, he’s been a productive and consistent right-handed bat for the duration of his career. After a red-hot start to this season, DeJong went into a terrible slump, but he’s broken out of it big time since the All-Star break. A recent surge that included a three home run game in Pittsburgh has put him in position to set new career highs in homers and RBI, and the Cardinals are certainly hopeful he can continue producing at a high level. Similar to Milwaukee, St. Louis is locked in heated races for both the NL Central crown and a wild-card spot, and DeJong’s bat in the bottom half of the lineup is crucial, as opposing teams are unlikely to let fellow right-handed sluggers Paul Goldschmidt or Marcell Ozuna beat them in a big spot.
4. Zach Plesac, SP, Cleveland Indians
The nephew of longtime big leaguer Dan Plesac, the young right-hander was not considered much of a prospect entering this season. A dominant 10-start beginning to his minor league season opened eyes, however, and with the Indians in need of a starter at Fenway in late May, it was Plesac who got the call. Since then he has been an absolute godsend for a Cleveland rotation that has sustained injuries to Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar as well as a trade of outspoken Trevor Bauer. In 14 starts for the Tribe, Plesac has worked to a 3.27 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP in 77 innings, bringing a level of consistency to a pitching staff that desperately needed it. His performance has helped Cleveland erase an 11.5 game deficit in the AL Central, as earlier this week it caught Minnesota, and the club is counting on him for continued success as this race is likely headed for a photo finish.
5. Scott Kingery, IF/OF, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies made headlines in spring training a year ago when they inked Kingery to a long-term pact before he’d ever played in a major league game. The organization obviously believed immensely in the University of Arizona product’s potential, and while it’s hard to call his rookie season much of a success (.226/.267/.338), Kingery has become a much more important Phillie in 2019. Playing all over the diamond, the 25-year-old has hit .275 with 14 homers and 27 doubles in 324 at-bats while serving as an offensive table setter for Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto for most of the season. Philadelphia has underwhelmed following a massive importation of star power last winter, but the Phils are still right in the thick of a chaotic NL wild-card race. Having Kingery on base and wreaking havoc down the stretch will drastically help their chances of reaching October.
6. Austin Meadows, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better-run major league baseball operation than the Tampa Bay Rays. Year after year Tampa Bay finds a way to not only compete but also to often triumph over behemoth division rivals in Boston and New York all while operating in one of the smallest markets in the game. The 2019 season has been no different, as despite the Yankees having the AL East all but sewn up, the Rays are positioned to make the postseason as a wild card. Their young right fielder is a huge reason why. Meadows was acquired in the ’18 deal that sent Chris Archer to Pittsburgh, and he has absolutely thrived in his first full season in the big leagues. In just short of 400 at-bats thus far, the left handed slugger has hit .283 with 20 home runs and 25 additional extra-base hits. He was even named an All-Star last month. Moving down the stretch, Tampa will continue riding the young 24-year-old, as he’s already become arguably the focal point of the offense.
7. Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics
Oakland is eerily similar to the aforementioned Rays, as it deals with a lot of the same market challenges but still finds a way to remain a force to be reckoned with. In fact, there’s a reasonable chance the two clubs square off head to head in the AL wild-card game in just a few weeks. The Athletics left-handed-swinging first baseman has flown by under the radar in recent seasons, but his production is soon going to render that impossible. After missing a month-and-a-half early in the season, Olson has rallied to crush 25 home runs since Mother’s Day, putting him just four short of his previous career high. With Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, Stephen Piscotty, Mark Canha and most importantly a healthy Khris Davis, the A’s are exceedingly right-handed heavy, making Olson’s left-handed bat imperative to the middle of their lineup.
8. Victor Robles, CF, Washington Nationals
Robles was supposed to be the next big outfielder to come out of the Nationals system last season, but injuries prevented him from making an impact and ultimately contributed to Juan Soto coming up and making a bid for last year’s NL Rookie of the Year. While his young teammate has blossomed into a star, Robles breakout rookie season has not been discussed as much as it should. Yet he’s become a critical player on a team looking to return to October. Playing in almost all of Washington’s games, Robles has launched 15 long balls from the bottom part of the lineup while swiping 18 bases and playing tremendous defense at the premium position of center field. He does strike out too much, as his 110 punch outs in just 397 at-bats are unsightly, but he’s obviously immensely talented. If he can turn it up just a little, Washington should have the inside track on a playoff berth.
9. Josh Taylor, RP, Boston Red Sox
The underlying narrative surrounding the 2019 Red Sox nationally has been a horrific bullpen that consistently blows leads and lets winnable games get out of hand. That’s accurate, but it’s also why few fans outside of New England have been privy to what Taylor, a 26-year-old rookie, has been doing. In 33 contests the southpaw has worked to a strong 3.27 ERA in 33 innings while delivering a 1.18 WHIP and striking out well over a batter/inning. The Arizona native has delivered six scoreless outings in consecutive appearances while becoming the closest thing the Red Sox have had to a reliable relief pitcher. That will have to continue moving forward for Boston to have any chance to make a late surge, as barring a serious run, the defending champs will find themselves on the outside looking in come October.
Here are major leaguers with three or fewer service years, minor leaguers, collegiate and high school stars and international prospects who could end up in Cooperstown in the distant future.
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Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves OF
After a breakout rookie year as a 20-year-old, Acuna became the youngest $100 million man in baseball history. He etched his name in the history books when he became the youngest player to hit a postseason grand slam, in Game 3 of the 2018 NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. During his Rookie of the Year campaign, Acuna hit 25 home runs and stole 15 bases, becoming the fourth 20-or-younger player to accomplish the feat. (He joined Alex Rodriguez, Orlando Cepeda and Mike Trout.) 2 of 23
Jo Adell, Los Angeles Angels OF prospect
Adell has put on a five-tool talent show early in his professional career, rising to become the top homegrown Angel prospect since Mike Trout. His game is reminiscent of that of his potential future teammate, as Adell is a gifted defender who makes high-quality contact at the plate. He hit 20 home runs across three different levels in his first full pro season as a 19-year-old.
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Pete Alonso, New York Mets 1B
Alonso has wasted no time making an impact as rookie. His 26th home run, on June 22, set the National League first-half rookie record. In the process, “Polar Bear” tied Darryl Strawberry’s full-season rookie home run record. He has 31 HRs, more than halfway to Aaron Judge’s 2018 rookie record of 52.
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Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers 1B/OF
Bellinger’s career is off to a torrid start. The third-year big-leaguer captured NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2017, after hitting an NL-rookie-record 39 home runs. In 2019, Bellinger set an April record with 97 total bases and tied the record for home runs (14) and runs (32).
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Walker Buehler, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher
Buehler made an immediate impact upon arrival in L.A., becoming the latest in an increasingly long line of recent Dodger prodigies. In 2018, he capped a terrific rookie year (8-5, 2.62 ERA, 151 strikeouts) with a dominant, seven-shutout-innings performance in Game 3 of the World Series. On June 21, he became the first Dodger pitcher to turn in a 15-plus strikeout outing (16 overall) with no walks.
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Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics 3B
A dazzling defender on the hot corner, Chapman has turned into one of the most dependable highlight creators in the game. Chapman’s presence at the plate has continued to grow as well, as he has produced an .870 OPS since 2018.
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Jasson Dominguez, Dominican Republic OF
The 16-year-old Dominguez is widely considered the top international amateur prospect. The multiskilled outfielder is a switch-hitter with a strong, 5-foot-10, 190-pound frame and the ability to hit for power from both sides of the plate. He’s also fast. The Yankees gave him a $5 million signing bonus earlier this month.
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Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays SS prospect
The game’s next great prodigy, Franco has been sensational in his first year-and-a-half as a pro. As a 17-year-old, he hit .351 with 11 home runs and seven triples to claim MVP of the Appalachian League. He was three years younger than the league average age. He has kept his foot on the gas in Year 2, recently inheriting the mantle of the game’s top prospect despite just turning 18 in March.
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MacKenzie Gore, San Diego Padres pitching prospect
Injury plagued last season, Gore has firmly established himself as one the game’s top coming attractions on the mound. The southpaw — who drew comparisons to Clayton Kershaw en route to becoming the third overall pick in 2017 — is dominating minor league foes as a 20-year-old.
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Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays, 3B
There may be no more naturally talented hitter to emerge in the past 20 years than Vlad Jr. He famously destroyed minor league pitching over the past two years, hitting .323 and .381, respectively, with a number of tape-measure homers mixed in. Few 20-year-olds feel like they are overdue to reach the majors when they did, but Guerrero Jr. fit that bill. On May 14, he became the youngest Blue Jay to homer. For good measure, he hit another one that night.
With the MLB regular season now about one-third of the way finished, we have a clearer picture of where each team stands. Some managers are already looking over their shoulders as a result of poor team performance. The following gallery is a ranking of MLB manager job security from one (least secure) to 30 (most secure).
1. Dave Martinez, Nationals
Brad Penner / USA Today Sports Images
While the Nats allowed Bryce Harper to walk in free agency, they entered the season with high expectations after signing Patrick Corbin. The roster has its share of stars with Corbin, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Juan Soto and Anthony Rendon, yet the team was almost out of the playoff race entering June. Washington was also the most disappointing team of 2018, at 82-80, and fired pitching coach Derek Lilliquist in early May. Frankly, it’s surprising Martinez has lasted this long in his second year.
2. Mickey Callaway, Mets
Noah K. Murray / USA Today Sports Images
The Mets sideshow continues. Callaway’s team finished with 77 wins in his first season but seemingly went all in this offseason by adding Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano and Wilson Ramos and also allowed rookie Pete Alonso to stick on the roster out of spring training, thereby losing a year of team control. Yet, New York was below .500 entering June, and the pitching staff (Callaway’s area of expertise) has been disappointing.
3. Don Mattingly, Marlins
Aaron Doster / USA Today Sports Images
It’s hard to believe him, but Marlins CEO Derek Jeter has insisted he expects the Marlins to win now. Jeter and Mattingly go way back to their days with the Yankees, but if Jeter truly practices what he preaches, Mattingly could be on the chopping block. To the surprise of no one (except maybe Jeter), the Marlins were 21-36 through June 3 and in contention for the worst record in baseball.
4. David Bell, Reds
Brad Penner / USA Today Sports Images
On one hand, the Reds ranked fourth in run differential in the NL through June 1. On the other hand, they were in last place at 27-32 with a lineup that has been a massive disappointment. The Reds’ pitching additions have worked out for the most part, particularly Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark, but the team had much higher expectations in Bell’s first season. It would be surprising if Cincinnati fired Bell in his first year but not unprecedented.
5. Ned Yost, Royals
Jim Cowsert / USA Today Sports Images
Yost gets some leeway for leading the Royals to two World Series, but the organization’s last winning season was its World Series championship 2015 season. K.C. won only 58 games last year and is well on its way to another embarrassing finish. The hiring of former Cardinals manager Mike Matheny as a front office assistant opened some eyes, and he would make sense as a replacement if the Royals move on from Yost, whose contract expires after this season.
6. Joe Maddon, Cubs
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Maddon is in the last year of his contract with the Cubs, and the team has high expectations for 2019 despite making few offseason moves. While they have appeared in four straight playoffs, including their historic World Series win in 2016, their playoff success under Maddon has otherwise been fleeting. The NL Central has never been tougher during Maddon’s tenure than it is this season, but the team might decide to finally move on from him if it doesn’t go further in the playoffs this year.
7. Mike Shildt, Cardinals
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Shildt was the Cardinals savior last season, going 41-28 after the first-time manager was promoted following Mike Matheny’s firing. His start to this season has been more innocuous at 30-28, third place in the loaded NL Central. The Cardinals are desperate to make the playoffs after failing over the last three seasons and trading a significant package for Paul Goldschmidt in the offseason. Shildt can’t be faulted for the team’s starting pitching struggles, but ownership could make changes if the team disappoints again this year.
8. Brad Ausmus, Angels
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You’ve probably heard this one before, but the Angels have been plagued by multiple pitching injuries and have struggled to find hitters around Mike Trout this year. They had the same issue recently under Mike Scioscia, and Ausmus hasn’t been able to buck the trend despite being far more amenable to using openers and defensive shifts. Ausmus should get some slack, but it’s inexcusable for the team to not be competitive for so long. The Angels are at risk of finishing below .500 for the fourth straight season.
9. Clint Hurdle, Pirates
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The Pirates remain within striking distance in the NL Central, though winning the division doesn’t truly look realistic with Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams injured. Pittsburgh’s pitching staff has been far worse than expected as a result, and their negative-68 run differential through 58 games currently is the third-worst in the league. Hurdle has done a nice job considering the circumstances, but the team has finished above .500 only once in the last three years and could be in for a standings plunge if it doesn’t get healthy quickly.
10. Scott Servais, Mariners
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The M’s had a fire sale this offseason despite winning 89 games in 2018 but were able to get off to a hot start anyway. The Jay Bruce trade on June 2 likely was the first domino to fall in a continuing rebuild with the team standing 17 games out of first place. Servais hasn’t done anything wrong, but it remains to be seen whether the front office sees him as the right manager for what will soon become a younger roster.
Athletes in any sport wants to perform at their best the year before they’re eligible to hit free agency, and baseball players are certainly no different. This winter alone has shown how much money can be gained or lost in a contract year, with high-profile names standing out on both sides of the spectrum. Manny Machado used the best season of his career to secure a $300 million long-term guarantee from the Padres, while longtime Astros’ lefty Dallas Keuchel struggled in his walk year and finds himself still unsigned with two weeks to go until Opening Day.
Impending free agents on losing teams always deal with a degree of uneasiness around the trade deadline, when clubs hope to bring back something before letting a player leave for nothing, and it takes a certain level of professionalism to block out the noise and perform. In 2019 several players jump off the page as candidates to enjoy a big walk year. Let’s examine the list.
1. Justin Smoak 1B Toronto Blue Jays
Two years ago the switch-hitting Smoak hit .270 with 38 home runs and 90 RBI while adding 29 doubles and making the All-Star Team. Unfortunately he was unable to come close to replicating that success a year ago. In 505 at-bats, the veteran watched his stat line dip to .242 with 25 homers and 77 RBI, still a solid season but not nearly as eye-opening as his prior campaign. Entering 2019 both the Blue Jays and Smoak would benefit from a renaissance, as Toronto is exceedingly unlikely to be in the mix in a difficult AL East and would love to move him to a bat-needy team at the deadline. Smoak understands the monetary difference between his ’17 and ’18 seasons is massive.
2. Jose Abreu 1B Chicago White Sox
Abreu has spent his entire career in the Windy City after defecting from Cuba prior to the 2014 campaign, and during his first four years in the big leagues he was one of the best run producers in the entire sport. From 2014-17 the right-handed slugger hit over .290 with 25-plus homers and 100-plus RBI in each season, but last year didn’t go nearly as swimmingly. A lower abdominal injury limited the 32-year-old to a career-low 128 games, and his .265 average, 22 homers and 78 RBI were evidence of just how bothered he was by the discomfort. Now back and healthy, Abreu is a prime candidate for a huge year, as he is a proud man who fancies himself as one of the most productive hitters in the American League. A big winter payday is quite the carrot at the end of the proverbial stick.
3. Zack Wheeler SP New York Mets
After spending the majority of his career taking two steps forward and one step back, the right-hander finally arrived in a big way in 2018. In 29 starts, Wheeler dominated for much of the year, turning in a 3.31 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP in 182.1 innings while striking out 179 men and holding the opposition to just a .225 batting average. There had been some minor chatter of New York trying to extend the 28-year-old during camp, but Wheeler spoke candidly about understanding he and Gerrit Cole are the top two free agents to be starting pitchers, and it’s clear he has his eyes on the prize heading into the new season.
4. Gerrit Cole SP Houston Astros
Speaking of Cole, the former Pirates first-round pick landed in Houston as part of an offseason trade prior to last year, and while he often found himself overshadowed by teammate Justin Verlander, he was one of the best pitchers in the American League in his own right. In 32 outings the veteran turned in a 2.88 ERA with a career best 1.03 WHIP while holding the opposition to a sub .200 batting average for the first time and eclipsing the 200 innings pitched plateau for the third time in four years. His 276 strikeouts finished second to only Verlander in the AL, and the UCLA product earned a selection to his second All-Star Team. Entering 2019 Wheeler was 100 percent right that he and Cole will be the two most sought-after pitchers next winter, and provided Cole avoids serious injuries moving forward, his bank account can expect to expand by several zeroes.
5. Josh Donaldson 3B Atlanta Braves
Perhaps no offensive player is more motivated at the outset of 2019 than the 2015 AL MVP, who struggled through a miserable injury-plagued 2018 season and ultimately settled for a high value one-year, prove-it deal in Atlanta. The Braves could be getting themselves a steal as they attempt to win their second consecutive division crown, as from 2015-17 Donaldson launched 111 homers and drove in 300 runs while consistently hitting around .280 and getting on base at close to a .385 clip. Taking the pillow contract was a strategic play for the veteran, as he understood he would be overshadowed by Machado and Bryce Harper on the free-agent market this season. And if he can re-establish himself as a premier run producer in 2019, he just may break the bank next winter.
6. Scooter Gennett 2B Cincinnati Reds
In just two seasons in western Ohio, Gennett has transformed himself from a solid role player in Milwaukee to one of the best offensive second basemen in the league. Last year the 28-year-old hit .310 with 23 homers and 92 RBI while setting a new career high with a .357 OBP and eclipsing 30 doubles for the third time in his career. By all accounts the veteran is someone the Reds should want to keep around for the long haul, but in mid-February he expressed frustration over not receiving a contract extension, a potential rift to pay attention to as the summer unfolds.
7. Marcell Ozuna OF St. Louis Cardinals
When the Marlins were selling off everyone and everything that wasn’t nailed down prior to last season, the Cardinals were happy to swoop in and take the right-handed-hitting Ozuna off their hands. The Dominican Republic native had just completed a season that had watched him hit .313 with 37 homers and 124 RBI while earning a trip to his second straight All-Star Game, taking home his first Silver Slugger award and even winning his first Gold Glove. St. Louis fantasized about adding that type of production to the middle of its lineup, but unfortunately it took the veteran some time to get used to his new surroundings. When all was said and done, Ozuna’s numbers slid to .280 with 23 homers and 88 RBI, still solid but not what the Cardinals were expecting. Entering Year 2 in Missouri, this lineup is now home to slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who will take pressure off Ozuna to be the premier right-handed bat and, in theory, add a substantial amount of RBI opportunities. It should come as no surprise if the 28-year-old delivers a monster season.
The New York Mets are adding another infielder to the mix.
The Mets have signed Jed Lowrie to a two-year deal worth at least $20 million, as first reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan. The move makes sense for new team GM Brodie Van Wagenen, who previously served as Lowrie’s agent and obviously believes in his former client.
Lowrie, who turns 35 in April, is coming off his first season as an All-Star. He had consecutive seasons in Oakland in which he posted an OPS over .800.
The surprise here is that the Mets signed another second baseman after already acquiring Robinson Cano in a trade with the Mariners, indicating one of the two will be switching positions.
Lowrie and Cano can both play second. Amed Rosario is the Mets’ shortstop, while Todd Frazier is set to play third. Lowrie could play shortstop or third base and mix things up with Rosario and Frazier, depending on who’s healthy and playing well. Another option could be Cano playing some first base, mixing with Jeff McNeil and whoever else the Mets end up keeping on the 25-man roster.
Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes will miss the rest of the season because of a right hamstring strain, the New York Mets announced Monday.
Cespedes, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list on Saturday, had an MRI on Monday that confirmed the initial diagnosis. With a recovery timeline of six weeks and the Mets out of postseason contention, the injury effectively ends the slugger’s season.
Cespedes, 31, played in just 81 games this season due to injuries and batted .292 with 17 home runs and 42 RBIs.
The Mets also got bad news on third baseman David Wright, who had been on a rehab assignment while attempting to come back from last year’s neck surgery for a cervical disk herniation.
“After playing in a few games, I continued to have shoulder pain,” Wright said in a statement released by the team. “So I decided to go to the doctor and get it checked out. Will make any decisions going forward after my appointment.”
The 34-year-old Mets captain, who last played in a major league game in May 2016, will be reexamined in New York later this week.
Mets also announced tonight that Yoenis Cespedes’ hamstring strain will end his season (81 games played). He had been a long-shot to return.
“I just hope he’s able to keep playing,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “That’s the key for me.”
The Mets did offer positive updates on ailing starting pitchers Matt Harvey(shoulder) and Noah Syndergaard (lat muscle), as Harvey is expected to return for Friday’s start against Houston, while Syndergaard is slated to throw a bullpen session on Wednesday.
The Cleveland Indians acquired veteran outfielder Jay Bruce from the New York Mets in a trade Wednesday night. The Indians have agreed to pick up the roughly $4.2 million that’s left of Bruce’s $13 million salary this season, a source confirmed.
Minor league pitcher Ryder Ryan is headed to New York in the trade. Ryan, 22, was a 30th-round pick by Cleveland out of the University of North Carolina in the 2016 MLB first-year player draft. He’s 3-4 with a 4.79 ERA for Lake County in the Class A Midwest League this season. He has recorded six saves while appearing in 33 games — all in relief.
Bruce, a three-time All-Star, is hitting .258 with 29 homers and 75 RBIs this year. He gives the Indians a corner outfielder and established bat to replace Michael Brantley, who went on the disabled list Monday with a sprained ankle. Lonnie Chisenhall has also been on the disabled list since early July with a strained calf.
“Obviously, if both Michael and Lonnie are healthy and unrestricted at this point, we wouldn’t have the opportunity for a player like Jay,” Indians president Chris Antonetti said. “But, with Lonnie still at least a little ways off from being able to get out on a rehab assignment and get back to the active roster, and Michael sustaining the injury the other day, now we felt that bringing in Jay will help us while those guys are out.”
Sources said the New York Yankees were also involved in talks to acquire Bruce before the Mets traded him to Cleveland.
It’s the second straight season Bruce has been traded, as the Mets landed the veteran outfielder in a deal with the Cincinnati Reds last year.