Publish date:

Six Players Who Will Dictate Their Team's Fate in 2021

Five playoff-hopeful teams are going to be banking on key contributors to keep delivering.

A full season on the heels of the shortest season in baseball history is sure to provide even more than the usual number of surprises. Here are the five most interesting players in baseball—players with a wide range of outcomes that could most determine the fate of their teams.

1. Randy Arozarena, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

With speed, lightning-fast hands and tremendous power, Arozarena became a postseason legend last year. The Rays finished sixth in runs last year and eked out a 14–5 record in one-run games. A full season close to the October version of Arozarena and a bounce-back from Austin Meadows mean Tampa Bay could be vastly improved on offense.

2. Shohei Ohtani, SP/DH, Los Angeles Angels

This is year four of Sho Time in L.A., and we still have not seen Ohtani make more than 10 starts in a season or get 450 plate appearances. As someone who throws as hard as Gerrit Cole and hits as hard as Aaron Judge, Ohtani is one of the five most talented players in the game. Finally looking healthy, Ohtani has been tearing up spring training. No player is more important when it comes to getting Mike Trout to the postseason.

SI Recommends

3. Corey Kluber, SP, New York Yankees

He turns 35 in April and has thrown only 36 2/3 innings the past two years because of a variety of injuries. Navigating the season with the former Cy Young Award winner intact will be New York’s biggest task. The Yankees don’t need him to make 32 starts, but they do need him healthy when October rolls around. Is “Klubot” back, or is this another version of James Paxton?

4. Trevor Bauer, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Bauer, 30, has never put two big seasons back to back, but don’t count him out this year after his spin rates took huge leaps last year. The trickier part could be his tendency to call attention to himself while joining the defending world champions.

5. Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, 3B and 1B, Oakland A’s

Might as well list them as an entry, which is how the franchise viewed them even in the minor leagues as the foundations of a championship team. Chapman reported to camp slimmer and healthier after undergoing hip surgery. Olson has been refining his setup and swing to recover from a miserable 2020 in which he was late getting to fastballs. Against heaters his batting average sunk from .284 to .202 and his slugging dropped from .586 to .455.