One Player From Each MLB Team Most Likely to Excel in 82-Game Season
There's plenty to unpack from MLB's proposal for a 2020 regular season amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
From the benefits of a universal designated hitter, the perks of realigning divisions and reigniting local rivalries, to the downsides of an expanded postseason, this truncated season will have a huge impact on each big league club if it comes to fruition.
All that considered, countless players across MLB have proven in the past they are capable of excelling in this proposed format. After all, a full season consisting of 82 games doesn't cater to those who start slow or have a track record of early injuries.
Here's one player from each team that's poised to produce at a high level should the 2020 regular season become a reality this summer.
For a club that was initially projected to win 53 games, had the season featured its traditional format, there aren't many standout performers on Baltimore's roster. Factor that with the fact that Jonathan Villar departed in free agency this winter and Trey Mancini announced he'll miss the 2020 season due to stage 3 colon cancer.
That said, Baltimore's John Means was the club's lone representative at the All-Star Game last year for a reason. The left-hander had a tremendous first half, leading the way in the Orioles rotation with a 2.50 ERA and opponent-batting average of .219 through his club's first 82 games (17 appearances). He also finished with 5.0 WAR, more than a win better than the next best Baltimore player.
Boston Red Sox
Who can possibly pick up the slack after Boston traded away Mookie Betts? Xander Bogaerts is up to the task.
Flying under the radar to a certain extent in recent years, Bogaerts is coming off the best season of his career. He set several career highs and finished fifth in the AL MVP race.
Through 82 games last year, Bogaerts had a .298 batting average to go along with his team-leading .924 OPS. If Boston is to contend in '20, with its depleted pitching staff, it's going to need to score runs—Bogaerts drove in 117 last year.
New York Yankees
If Giancarlo Stanton can stay on the field, the MVP votes will follow.
With the addition of a universal designated hitter within this proposal, sluggers like Stanton can be used exclusively out of the DH spot and avoid getting banged up early while playing in National League parks.
Stanton's track record at DH suggests that he will thrive there this summer, especially considering his familiarity with the NL East division after eight years with Miami.
Tampa Bay Rays
Pittsburgh Pirates fans, you'll want to skip past this one...
Tyler Glasnow—acquired by Tampa Bay in the lopsided Chris Archer trade two deadlines ago—showed glimpses of a Cy Young caliber hurler last spring. In April, the right-hander had a perfect 5-0 record in six starts, posting a spectacular 1.75 ERA across 36 innings pitched. His performance earned him Pitcher of the Month honors.
The 26-year-old flamethrower spent close to four months on the injured list last year, but has had ample time to prepare for a triumphant full-time return to the Rays' rotation. Besides, with Glasnow mixed in with Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and an effective usage of the opener, opposing hitters have no letup when facing Tampa Bay.
Toronto Blue Jays
Bo Bichette hit .311 with a 144 OPS+ over his 46 games played after he made his MLB debut in late-July last season. He started his big-league career on an 11-game hitting streak with 13 extra-base hits, and continued to rake from there. Don't expect a sophomore slump from Toronto's talented shortstop, even in these unprecedented circumstances.
Chicago White Sox
Tim Anderson was the best position player over the first month of the 2019 regular season.
En route to being recognized as the Player of the Month, Anderson jumpstarted his superb campaign by posting a .375 average in April. The shortstop, bat flips and all, wound up winning the batting title with a .335 clip at season's end. The lowest his average dipped all season long was .307.
Anderson's presence at the top of the White Sox' order, along with youngsters Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez and offseason addition Yasmani Grandal, makes Chicago's offense one of the most precarious to pitch to in the AL.
The best month of All-Star Game MVP Shane Bieber's season last year was April. The right-hander held opposing hitters to a .182 batting average—the best across his entire 15-win season.
Bieber, who led the league in complete games (3) and shutouts (2) finished fourth in the race for the AL Cy Young Award. After a breakout season, look for Cleveland's new ace to take that next step in '20.
During such abnormal circumstances, skippers surely will rely on pure hitters with experience to get the job done. In Detroit, look no further than Miguel Cabrera.
No need to check Cabrera's splits of how he's performed in the first half versus the second—the all-time great has consistently hit, no matter what time of year it is. Further, entering his age-37 season, the Tigers' slugger looked healthy and hit well this spring.
Remember when he took Yankees' ace Gerrit Cole deep twice in back-to-back innings during Spring Training? Cabrera is just 23 homers away from 500 and 185 hits away from 3,000. Miggy won't get there in 82 games, but his chances of completing his milestone-mission are much higher in an abbreviated '20 season than with none at all.
Kansas City Royals
Not only did Jorge Soler lead the American League in home runs a year ago, but he played in all 162 games.
Soler can take full advantage of the installment of a universal designated hitter in '20 and play in interleague matchups. Even with the wear and tear of an irregular season, Soler is a safe bet after his breakout year in 2019 to stay healthy and hit for power—both invaluable for a lowly Royals team.
In order to start at shortstop in the 2019 All-Star Game, Jorge Polanco must've been pretty good in the first half, right?
Halfway through the campaign, Polanco had a .312 average with 13 homers, 57 runs and an .882 OPS. From that point on, the switch-hitter's numbers decreased in every major offensive category. And yet, he still earned MVP votes.
In one of the best lineups in baseball, which got even better this offseason with the addition of Josh Donaldson, Polanco will be at his best right out of the gates.
You'd be hard pressed to find a steadier hitter in Major League Baseball than Michael Brantley.
Dropped in a lineup with MVP candidates galore, Brantley may very well be the most reliable hitter when it comes to average. In fact, since '14, Brantley has the second best batting average (.311) among hitters who’ve played in at least 600 games. How's that for consistency?
For a player who's hit north of 20 home runs in a season just once (in '19) in his career, his power numbers actually tend to be better in the first few months of a season. He's hit more long balls and driven in more runs in May during his career than any other month.
Los Angeles Angels
Did you think a truncated season was going to prevent the best player in the world from having yet another MVP-caliber campaign? Think again.
In this proposed season's format, Mike Trout is poised not to miss a beat. Across the board, Trout has performed better in the first half through his entire career. Now, after the Angels reeled in Anthony Rendon this offseason and have a healthy Shohei Ohtani at their disposal, Trout has an outstanding supporting cast to flank him in Los Angeles' lineup.
Last year, in the season's first half, the center fielder hit .301 and mashed 28 home runs while driving in 67. Trout hasn't finished outside the top four in the AL MVP race since '11. In that season, he was just 19 years old and played in only 40 games.
The left side of Oakland's infield is one of the best in all of baseball, with shortstop Marcus Semien and third baseman Matt Chapman.
Semien had the better overall season last year, finishing third in the AL MVP voting, but Chapman was better over the first 82 games. Chapman is both an elite defender and a premiere power hitter, and his OPS was over 100 points better than Semien's in that 82-game span. Chapman's bat, anchored in the season's first half, sets the All-Star up for success in 2020.
Last April, Daniel Vogelbach was one of the best power hitters on the West Coast. The first baseman walloped eight big flies that month—doubling his career total before the '19 season—with a 1.195 OPS. Even though he cooled off significantly from there, Vogelbach still his hit 21 of his 30 long balls in the season's first 85 games.—more than enough to suggest he can re-create his power surge when baseball begins this summer.
There's a reason Mike Minor was such a desirable trade target midway through last season. The southpaw was spectacular in the first half, posting a 2.53 ERA through his first 18 starts. The eight-year veteran earned a trip to his first career All-Star Game and tossed a career high 208 1/3 innings.
Historically, Freddie Freeman hasn't needed much time to reach his peak performance. His career numbers indicate first-half success is commonplace through his decade in the Majors, and last year was no exception. In the first 90 games of the season, Freeman had 23 homers, 110 hits, a .309 batting average and .978 OPS.
Miguel Rojas won't set the league ablaze, but his presence as a leader in a young Marlins clubhouse and his defensive versatility will be key in these unprecedented circumstances.
Expanding rosters in '20 means a handful of Miami's top ranking prospects will likely get a shot at the big-league level. While the spotlight may shine on highly touted phenoms, Marlins fans can count on Rojas to take care of business on both sides of the ball out of the gates.
The shortstop, who can play every position in the infield, got off to a hot start last season, including 35 hits and 12 doubles across 27 games in the month of June. In that month, the 30-year-old hit .347 and had 47 total bases.
New York Mets
Jeff McNeil was unstoppable to start off the '19 campaign. The pesky lefty finished the first half with 101 hits in 76 games played, good for a .349 batting average and .409 on-base percentage.
He's also a versatile defender, playing more than 30 games at four different positions last year. While New York adjusts to the universal designated hitter in the National League and finds ways to put its best lineup on the field, McNeil will rake regardless of where he's playing.
He may be coming off a down year for his standards—failing to make the NL All-Star roster for the first time since 2014—but Bryce Harper has always been the best version of himself at the plate when the season begins.
In his career, Harper has hit more home runs (47), driven in more runs (132), drawn more walks (145) and posted a superior slash line (.298/.428/.597 with a 1.025 OPS) in April than any other month in the season. As he's done in the past, if he can get out to a hot start in 2020 and keep playing well in the late summer months, Philadelphia can't be ruled out in the realigned eastern division.
Max Scherzer has finished in the top five in Cy Young Award votes and made the All-Star Game in each of the last seven seasons. Now, coming off a World Series title, he's poised to keep that streak of dominance going.
In Scherzer's 12-year career, he has a 3.18 ERA, 1.077 WHIP and a 10.7 strikeout-per-nine ratio in the first half of the season.
Through 82 games last year, the Cubs' best position player wasn't Javier Baez, Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo. Instead, catcher Willson Contreras was leading Chicago on offense with a .294 average and .965 OPS in that window to start the 2019 season. That's consistent with Contreras' knack for putting up his best numbers in the first half.
In the first half of the year, Contreras, entering his fifth season, has a better slash line in each offensive category and has consistently stroked the ball well, adding just under 50 points to his batting average on balls in play (.339 compared to .290).
Eugenio Suárez is one of the game's most underrated power hitters, but from a hot-start perspective, it doesn't get much better than Aristedes Aquino.
Aquino was the reason countless baseball fans from across the nation starting tuning into Reds games last August. Aquino won Player of the Month in the NL during the first month of his career, hitting .320 with 14 home runs and a 1.158 OPS through 29 games.
This is a risky pick, as he's unproven other than that first breakout performance. Luckily for the Reds, Aquino will get to play home games in the hitter-friendly confines of Great American Ball Park.
In his first two seasons with the Brewers, Christian Yelich led the league in batting average twice, won the '18 NL MVP award and finished second in the voting in '19.
Take a look at Yelich's stats through Milwaukee's first 82 contests last year: 75 games played, 93 hits, 29 home runs, 63 RBI, .330 BA and 1.131 OPS. At that point, he was on a 162-game pace for 63 long balls.
A remarkable start to last season was integral in Josh Bell earning a trip to his first career All-Star Game. The slugger had 18 homers through the first two months of the season, winning Player of the Month in May courtesy of his sensational .390 average and 1.238 OPS. He wound up with a career-high 37 homers and 116 RBI in '19.
After the first half, Bell's numbers dropped across the board. That was in part due to injuries turning up in late-July, forcing the slugger to spend time on the injured list. Perhaps some reps as Pittsburgh's universal designated hitter can keep Bell on the field crushing baseballs into the bleachers.
St. Louis Cardinals
These numbers may be from the end of the season, but when it comes to rattling off a stretch of dominance, it doesn't get much better than what Jack Flaherty did over his final 16 starts of '19.
From July 7—which aligns nicely with when the '20 season could begin—to the final day of the Cardinals' campaign, Flaherty was arguably the best pitcher on the planet. He had an impeccable 0.93 ERA in that span and held opposing hitters to a .139 batting average. The right-hander was Pitcher of the Month in the NL in both August and September, going 7-2 with a 0.77 ERA in his final 12 starts.
They say to build a team up the middle. Ketel Marte is a switch hitter that can play middle infield and center field and wound up with a fourth-place finish for the NL MVP Award last year.
Marte started last season colder than most of the players on this list, but when he heated up, there was no looking back. The 26-year-old made his first All-Star Game and in 144 games posted a .329 average with 32 home runs.
Not only has Nolan Arenado made the All-Star team, won a Gold Glove Award and finished in the top 10 for the NL MVP in each of the last five seasons, but he's played at least 155 games per year in that span. That consistency and durability will only benefit him during a truncated, irregular season.
Los Angeles Dodgers
If you think Cody Bellinger's stats from his MVP season are astounding, check these out.
In April last year, Bellinger posted a slash line of .431/.508/.890 with 14 homers and 37 RBIs. The former Rookie of the Year Award winner wound up with a league-leading 9.1 WAR and 47 long balls, but much of that historic success was in the first half.
Bellinger hit 30 homers and had a .336 average and 70 runs scored before the All-Star break. Put Mookie Betts next to this left-handed slugger in the Dodgers' lineup and he'll get even more pitches to hit this year.
San Diego Padres
Fernando Tatis Jr. debuted at the big-league level shortly after turning 20 years old and it took no time at all for him to hit his stride.
Injuries prematurely ended his rookie season in August, but his 84 games played in '19 offers a nice comparison for what he could do over an 82-game schedule. His numbers last year: .317/.379/.590, 22 homers, 152 OPS+, 16 stolen bases, 4.1 WAR.
San Francisco Giants
Hunter Pence thrives at the beginning of the season and he's got the experience to prove it.
Just look at last year. In his age-36 season, Pence earned a trip back to the All-Star Game, for the first time in five seasons, by hitting 15 first-half homers and driving in 48 runs in 55 games. With the DH at his disposal in San Francisco, Pence can keep on hitting for another year.
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