Who will be the stars of next season in MLB? A number of young hitters and pitchers look set to break through and put up big numbers across the board. Here are our picks for 2019’s best breakout candidates.
Vlad Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays
He’s not exactly an unknown name—the son of Vladimir Guerrero couldn’t possibly be one—but he’s still as easy a call as exists as a young player who’s going to make an immediate impact next season. The consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball, Vladdy Jr. hit an absurd .402/.449/.671 in Double A as a 19-year-old—and then followed that up by slashing .336/.414/.564 a level higher. He’s going to be a mega-star.
Eloy Jimenez, OF, White Sox
Not far behind Guerrero in the prospect rankings—usually No. 2—is Jimenez, the future centerpiece of the White Sox. Like Vlad Jr., Jimenez proved too good for the minors in 2018, hitting .317/.368/.556 in Double A, then taking it up a notch at Triple A by hitting .355/.399/.597. He’s a smidge older than Guerrero at 21, but when he reaches the majors in 2019, that won’t matter a lick.
Peter Alonso, 1B, Mets
Alonso destroyed the minor leagues last season, hitting .285/.395/.579 with 36 homers split between Double and Triple A. Despite that and a gaping hole at first base, though, the Mets refused to call him up, letting him languish at Las Vegas. That shouldn’t be the case in 2019, as New York desperately needs a first baseman. Is Alonso the real deal? He looks like it from here.
Seranthony Dominguez, RP, Phillies
Few throw harder than Dominguez, whose fastball sits at 98.4 mph. That alone is scary enough, but the Dominican righty pairs his heater with a vicious slider against which opposing batters hit .067 with 34 strikeouts in 64 plate appearances. A relief ace in the making, Dominguez isn’t someone you want to see in the late innings—unless you’re a Phillies fan.
Jesse Winker, OF, Reds
A former first-round pick and top prospect, Winker followed up a strong debut in 2017 with a solid half-season of work in Cincinnati, hitting .299/.405/.431 and walking more than he struck out. Expect big things from this proto-Joey Votto in the making if he can get a full year’s worth of plate appearances in a crowded Reds outfield.
Harrison Bader, OF, Cardinals
After a cup of coffee in 2017, Bader got a full-season shot this year and didn’t miss. The 24-year-old New York native and University of Florida product hit a respectable .264/.334/.422 with 12 homers in 427 plate appearances, but where he really shone was on defense in centerfield. His blazing speed—he ranked ninth in the majors in Statcast’s Sprint Speed, at 29.9 feet per second—helps him cover plenty of ground, and his range is something special, as he finished first in baseball in Outs Above Average. If the bat catches up with the glove, watch out.
Adalberto Mondesi, SS, Royals
The son of Raul went bonkers in the second half of 2018, hitting .280/.316/.533 with 11 homers after Aug. 1. He also showed off plenty of speed, swiping 24 bags in 28 tries in that same span. One of the few bright spots on a bad Royals team, Mondesi finally looks ready to step into his top prospect projection.
Ramon Laureano, OF, Athletics
Taking over centerfield late in the season, Laureano surprised with a .288/.358/.474 line in 176 plate appearances. More impressive, though, was his sterling defense in centerfield, setting him up as the easy choice to hold the position down in 2019. It’s exciting to think of what he can do with a full year of at-bats and innings in the field.
Josh James, P, Astros
James had a brief coming out party during the playoffs, when he befuddled the Red Sox in Game 4 of the ALCS with a hard fastball and darting changeup. The 25-year-old was pretty good in the regular season, too, striking out 29 in 23 innings of work split between the rotation and the bullpen. With Charlie Morton and Dallas Keuchel gone via free agency and Lance McCullers out for the year, James is one of many hyper-talented Houston arms—including Framber Valdez and Forrest Whitley—likely to get a shot at a rotation spot next spring. Remember his name if he comes away with it.
Willians Astudillo, C, Twins
Astudillo briefly went viral amid his late-season cameo in Minnesota thanks to his round stature and a mad dash from first base to home. There’s way more to the Twins’ stocky utility infielder/catcher, though—like the fact that he hit .355 in 93 at-bats, or that he struck out just three times (!) and walked only twice (!) in that span. Astudillo, in other words, is more than just a Bartolo-esque lark.
Jose Leclerc, RP, Rangers
Given Texas’ closer job at the start of August, Leclerc ran away with the role, allowing no runs over 18 innings and striking out 29 against six walks. Armed with a fastball that sits at 96 mph and a dazzling changeup, the 24-year-old has all the tools to become a shutdown closer or multi-inning relief weapon for the Rangers. Whichever it ends up being, you should be paying attention.