20 For 2020s: Picking Baseball's Biggest Stars Over The Next 10 Years
With baseball set to embark on a new decade, Baseball America chose the 20 players we expect to be baseball's biggest stars. This is part of our 20 for 2020s series examining the biggest names, issues and storylines affecting baseball in the next decade. Related content is below
- The trio of players primed to dominate the 2020s
- The eight biggest storylines facing baseball
- Six key figures throughout MLB's landscape
Wander Franco, SS, Rays
Franco enters the decade as a teenager in the minors, but that doesn’t mean he’s far away from making a major league impact. Both he and Julio Rodriguez are 2017 international free agent signees out of the Dominican Republic who rank as No. 1 prospects in their organizations.
Franco ascended to the status of No. 1 prospect in the game after the graduations of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr. and Eloy Jimenez in 2019. He embraced the expectations of top billing by hitting .327 at a pair of Class A stops. He should bat near the top of the Rays’ order for the better part of the 2020s.
Julio Rodriguez, OF, Mariners
Rodriguez has shot up prospect lists in the past year, going from Dominican Summer League MVP in 2018 to high Class A Modesto late in 2019. Rodriguez matches prodigious physical talent with the “it” factor that draws teammates to him and foretells of future stardom.
Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt
The only amateur to rank among our 20 Stars for the ’20s, Rocker has the physicality of a major league ace and the power repertoire to match. His big-game reputation is rapidly catching up, which makes the college sophomore the prohibitive favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft.
Rocker won Freshman of the Year honors at Vanderbilt in 2019, when he helped pitch the Commodores to their second national title of the 2010s. He went 4-0, 0.96 with 44 strikeouts and five walks in 28 innings at the NCAA Tournament and turned in perhaps the most dominating pitching performance in college baseball history.
With Vanderbilt facing elimination in super regionals, Rocker fired a 19-strikeout no-hitter against Duke to send his team to the College World Series. That he won Most Outstanding Player honors in Omaha almost seemed like an afterthought.
While Rocker is looking at a big league ETA of late 2023 at the earliest, it sure looks like the wait will be worth it for the team that drafts him.
Jo Adell, OF, Angels
Adell is the top position prospect in baseball not named Wander Franco, and the right fielder saw Triple-A for a month at the end of 2019 as he prepares to join Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani in the heart of the Angels’ lineup.
MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Padres
Gore is the high-kicking, bat-missing lefthander from rural North Carolina who ranks as the top pitching prospect in baseball. That he is one of just three pitchers to appear in this feature indicates how highly we think of him. Gore and shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. are the headlining players in the Padres’ rebuild and first-division aspirations.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays
Guerrero is also a product of the insanely talented 2015 international signing class. He made his long awaited big league debut in 2019 after entering the season ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball. He was crowned Minor League Player of the Year in 2018 after flirting with .400 at the upper levels. Better days lie ahead for Guerrero following a so-so rookie season.
Juan Soto, OF, Nationals
Both Soto and Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. are 21-year-olds on a crash course with superstardom. Both players signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2015 and are profiled up top in our 20 Stars for the ’20s opener.
Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres
Tatis placed third in a loaded National League Rookie of the Year field in 2019 despite playing just 84 games. In that time he blasted 22 homer and stole 16 bases, showing a potent combination of power and speed—not to mention a contagious flair for the game.
Ronald Acuña Jr., OF, Braves
Acuña already has black ink on his résumé after leading the National League in stolen bases and runs scored in 2019. His Braves teams haven’t yet broken through in October, but with Acuña leading a young core that also includes Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Mike Soroka and others, it seems like only a matter of time before they do.
Bo Bichette, SS, Blue Jays
Bichette quietly turned in a .930 OPS in 2019 that stands as the second highest ever for a rookie shortstop with at least 200 plate appearances. Feel to hit, power, some speed—Bichette has all the ingredients to develop into one of the preeminent shortstops in baseball during the 2020s. He and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are poised to lead a resurgent Toronto club back into contention.
Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles
Timing is everything in baseball. Case in point: The Orioles parlayed a 115-loss season in 2018 into Rutschman as the No. 1 overall pick in 2019.
The former Oregon State star is a potential franchise catcher who can hit, hit for power, defend and throw. The switch-hitter ranked as one of the best draft prospects of the 2010s, having won Most Outstanding Player honors at the 2018 College World Series.
Baltimore can only hope that Rutschman keys a franchise turnaround similar to the one experienced by their beltway rivals in Washington, spurred by the Nationals’ fortunate timing. They drafted Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper No. 1 overall in successive drafts.
Yordan Alvarez, OF, Astros
At 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Alvarez looks like he means business at the plate. In 2019, he carried through on that implied threat. Alvarez belted 50 home runs and drove in 149 runs between Triple-A Round Rock and Houston. His 173 OPS+ in the majors was the highest ever for a rookie in the integration era with at least 350 plate appearances. That is the sort of production that makes one more forgiving of Alvarez’s apparent allergy to defense.
Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox
Devers is a hitting prodigy who reached the majors at age 20 but took a few seasons to fully blossom. After hitting .311 with 32 homers and a major league-leading 90 extra-base hits and 359 total bases in 2019, he has arrived.
Devers looks as shaky at third base as he looks confident in the batter’s box. Even if he moves across the diamond to first base, he still has franchise hitter potential with a bat in his hands.
Gleyber Torres, SS, Yankees
Torres popped 38 home runs in 2019 yet flies somewhat under the radar given all the firepower in the Yankees’ lineup. But in reality he has two seasons as a starting middle infielder under his belt before turning 23. He might have even more big league time had he not missed half of 2017 after having Tommy John surgery.
Regardless, Torres is poised to become the Yankees’ next great shortstop, the position he is expected to occupy full time beginning in 2020 now that Didi Gregorius has departed.
Jarred Kelenic Tempts Mariners With Summer Showing
The 21-year-old outfielder focused on working out during quarantine and opened eyes in summer camp.
Cody Bellinger, OF, Dodgers
Bellinger is one of those stealthy five-tool players who can seemingly do anything he puts his mind to. Before turning 24 years old, Bellinger had already won a Rookie of the Year trophy, made two all-star teams in three seasons, smacked 111 career home runs and played for two Dodgers pennant winners. He added an exclamation point by winning the 2019 National League MVP award.
Bellinger focused on first base as a prospect and reached the majors with that as his primary position in 2017. He developed into a Gold Glove right fielder in 2019 with outstanding range and the best outfield arm in the NL.
Bellinger’s offensive development is even more impressive. His home run output keeps growing while his strikeout rate keeps shrinking. In 2019 he lowered his strikeout rate by 10 percentage points compared with his rookie season.
Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Dodgers’ player development system keeps cranking out impact players
Buehler missed a development year to Tommy John surgery but still reached the majors in 2017, two years after being drafted. He ascended to near-ace status of the Dodgers’ veteran pitching staff during the 2018 season. He left no doubt about his standing that October—or the next October.
The Dodgers gave Buehler the ball twice in elimination games, first in Game 7 of the 2018 NL Championship Series and again in Game 5 of the 2019 NL Division Series. He allowed two runs in 11.1 innings in those starts. Big-game Buehler also fired seven shutout innings against an epic Red Sox lineup in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series.
Alex Bregman, 3B, Astros
A competitive fire drives Bregman to disprove his doubters—and he heard as many doubts on his way up as perhaps any superstar.
Drafted No. 2 overall in 2015, Bregman was in the big leagues a year later. In 2017 he was a key contributor to a World Series champion—then he kicked things into gear. Bregman finished fifth in the American League MVP race in 2018 and then second in 2019, when his furious finish nearly allowed him to overtake MVP Mike Trout.
Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
Lindor is a Gold Glove shortstop who has batted leadoff twice as often as he has hit in any other lineup spot. But don’t mistake him for a table-settler. Lindor already has three 30-homer seasons, which is more than all but three shortstops in history. What the others—Miguel Tejada, Ernie Banks and Alex Rodriguez—have in common is that each won at least one MVP award. Look for Lindor to join that club.
Mookie Betts, OF, Red Sox
Players with well-rounded skill sets tend to age the best. Betts checks all the boxes in that regard. The 2018 American League MVP has four all-star nods, four Gold Gloves in right field, three Silver Sluggers, a 30 home run-30 stolen base season, plus two others at the 20-20 benchmark.
Betts is still in his prime seasons and nobody would be surprised to see him duplicate his MVP form. After all, he will spend the first half of the 2020s in the age 27 to 31 sweet spot—and he will spend the 2020 season playing for his next contract as free agency looms.
Mike Trout, OF, Angels
Trout racked up nearly 73 wins above replacement through age 27 to obliterate Ty Cobb’s previous record of 69 WAR, as measured by Baseball-Reference.com.
With three American League MVP awards—including one in 2019—and four runner-up finishes—including in his Rookie of the Year season of 2012—Trout is one of the most decorated players in history when it comes to MVP balloting. He has led the AL in OPS for three straight seasons, in on-base percentage for four and park-adjusted OPS+ for five.
Trout’s metronomic consistency is something to behold, and it should keep him ticking well into the 2020s. Now it’s up to the Angels to surround him with fellow championship players.