If you were asked a year ago who would lead baseball in home runs in 2019, who would you have said? Mike Trout, probably? Nolan Arenado, maybe? Nelson Cruz, as a joke? It's doubtful anyone outside of the five boroughs would have guessed Pete Alonso. His 53 dingers led the sport last year, followed by Eugenio Suarez (49) and Jorge Soler (48).
The point is that this exercise is unpredictable, and the answer often isn't the best player in the league (Trout has never led even the AL in homers).
We don't know when, or even if, baseball will come back in 2020. But if only for a moment, let's imagine it does.
Your top three home run hitters for 2020: Joey Gallo, Mike Trout and Roland Acuña Jr. No sense picking anybody over 28. Baseball is a young man's game. The top three from last year–Pete Alonso, Eugenio Suarez and Jorge Soler–were 24, 27 and 27.
Trout is the oldest of the 2020 bunch at 28. He hit 45 last year and missed about 50-70 plate appearances with a foot injury. Acuña is a special talent who is only 21 and already has 67 homers.
Gallo is 26 and has 1,550 career plate appearances and who hit 22 in 70 games last year before breaking a hamate bone. He has freakish power and is entering his prime. No one knows yet how the new Rangers ballpark is going to play–Gallo has the kind of light tower power that isn't affected by dimensions–but playing indoors for much of the year should be an added benefit.
My high-risk, high-reward pick is Joey Gallo.
The risk: He missed three weeks with a strained left oblique and then the last two months of the season with a broken right hamate bone. The latter injury in particular can sap hitters of their power, at least temporarily. And the Rangers will open their new ballpark, Globe Life Park. We can't yet be sure how it will play–for all we know, an inexplicable and constant gust of wind in rightfield will direct each of his long fly balls into a waiting glove.
But the reward could be so good. Even in his abbreviated time, Gallo ranked No. 6 in baseball in average exit velocity (min. 100 batted balls), at 93.0 mph, and finished third in both hard-hit percentage (52.3% of balls left his bat at 95 mph or better) and barreled ball percentage (11.4). Plus, if that wind never materializes, 374 feet to rightfield and 326 down the line should be fun for a lefty who likes to pull the ball. Gallo is one of the original launch-angle kings, and he seems as good a bet as anyone else to win the home run crown.
After 31 HRs in 122 games last year, Eloy Jiménez will blossom even further in his sophomore season, with more contact and more chances to show off his natural power. He needs 50 to set the White Sox' single-season home run record, and we'll guess he sets it eventually.
Take a second and think about who led MLB in homers during the 2010s. Who demonstrated a consistent ability to hit for power over 10 seasons? Mike Trout? Albert Pujols? Miguel Cabrera?
Try Nelson Cruz. The Twins' ageless wonder hit 346 homers in the last decade, 11 more than anyone else (Edwin Encarnación finished second, just as we all expected). After mashing 41 dingers last season, Cruz is my pick to ring in the new decade as the home run king. He won't lead the 2020s in homers (Cruz turns 40 on July 1), but he will lead 2020.
Look to the second half of Bryce Harper's first season in Philadelphia to see how his second year will go. He hit 19 home runs in 67 games after the All-Star break, when he was healthy and comfortable in his new clubhouse. Adjust that rate over his 157 games played in 2019 and that's 44.5 home runs. Add in a deeper Phillies lineup around him—a healthy Andrew McCutchen, newly acquired Didi Gregorius, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto—and he should see more pitches to hit.
I think we'll see depressed home run totals this season compared to the dingers bonanza that was 2019, so why not pick baseball's model of consistency? Mike Trout bashed a career-high 45 homers last season, and he leads baseball with 84 home runs since 2018. Trout is at the peak of his powers, and he has added protection as Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon beef up the heart of the Angels lineup. Los Angeles' pitching deficiencies could keep Trout from the playoffs, but his historic career should continue in 2020.