The 20 Most Interesting MLB Players In 2020
This month, I give you my most interesting 2,020 players for the 2020s.
. . . Wait, I have an editor on the line.
Fine, since Baseball America won’t just give me 15 pages, I’ll lower my sights. Here are 20 players who will help set the course of the 2020 season.
Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox. One reason the Red Sox entertained the idea of trading Mookie Betts is the presence of Benintendi, like Betts a complete player. The sweet swinger lost ground in 2019, however, dropping to career-worsts in average (.266), on-base percentage (.343), homers (13) and stolen bases (10). With or without Betts, Benintendi’s return to stardom is essential to the Red Sox competing with the Yankees in the American League East.
Edwin Diaz, Mets. Diaz went from the No. 2 reliever in baseball with the Mariners in 2018 to a dinger machine with the Mets. His ERA nearly tripled as he allowed 15 homers in 58 innings, and he lost the closer role in August. The Mets lost 24 games in which Diaz appeared, an insane number for a closer. The Mets hope to catch the Braves and Nationals this year, and they can’t do it if Diaz is blowing one-fifth of his save opportunities.
Jesus Luzardo. Athletics. The lefty was supposed to have a big impact on the 2019 club, but injuries held him to 55 innings all year and just 12 in the majors. Those A’s won a wild-card berth again in spite of his absence, but after years of patching together a rotation and using openers, the A’s are ready to have a true ace. Luzardo, who pitches in the mid 90s with an excellent curveball and changeup, just needs to stay healthy to become the best pitcher on the best challenger to the Astros in the AL West.
Kyle Schwarber, Cubs. The 2016 World Series hero had his best full season, ripping 38 homers and slugging .531, posting the best contact rate of his career in 2019. The real key is how often he gets the ball in the air. About one in every four fly balls Schwarber hits leaves the yard, but he doesn’t have a high flyball rate (42 percent in 2019 and in his career—the top hitters in baseball are up around 50 percent). With the Cubs unwilling to add to their core, a repeat season by Schwarber is essential to their hopes of squeezing another title from this group.
Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees. On a Hall of Fame trajectory a year ago, Stanton lost all but 18 games last year to four separate injuries, a reminder of the problems he had staying on the field with the Marlins. Now 30, and guaranteed $244 million over the next nine seasons, Stanton seems certain to pass on his 2020 opt-out clause, locking him on to the Yankees’ payroll through 2028. They need him in the lineup for 145 games and hitting 40 homers this season, both to win the division and to provide hope that he can produce big numbers deep into his 30s.
Those are the big five. Here are 15 more names to keep in mind as spring training approaches.
Byron Buxton, Twins. He was headed for an MVP-caliber season when his body once again gave out: a wrist injury, a concussion, and finally, shoulder surgery. The Twins were a great team with Buxton, ordinary without. They need him healthy.
Mike Clevinger, Indians. Limited to 21 starts last season, Clevinger was one of the best starters in baseball on a per-inning basis. He can make the same leap Gerrit Cole did a year ago.
Gerrit Cole, Yankees. You can’t sign the largest contract for a pitcher in the sport’s history and not be a focal point for the coming season. Will Cole still be the pitcher the Astros made him into even after leaving Houston?
Carlos Correa, Astros. Still just 25, and a star when he plays, Correa hasn’t reached 120 games or 500 plate appearances since 2016, and only once in his career. This is a critical year for him.
Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals. Even in winning the division, the Cardinals’ offense was a problem, in part because America’s First Baseman had the worst year of his career. Now, at 32, he starts a huge five-year contract extension.
Yasmani Grandal, White Sox. The South Siders’ first big swing in free agency in a long time should help both the offense and the pitching staff, maybe even enough to make the team a contender.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays. The Jays put some money into their pitching staff—most notably by signing Hyun-Jin Ryu—because they think Vladito will be the centerpiece of a good young offense. They’re absolutely right; he could win the AL batting title this year.
Book Excerpt: Inside The Recruiting Battle For Shohei Ohtani
Ohtani’s process for selecting his big league team late in 2017 is examined in the following excerpt from Jeff Fletcher’s upcoming book, Sho-Time: The Inside Story of Shohei Ohtani and the Greatest Baseball Season Ever Played.
Josh Hader, Brewers. At times he was the only effective reliever in a bullpen decimated by injuries and regression, and he wilted a bit (15 homers) under the load. The Brewers have no path back to October without him.
Bryce Harper, Phillies. Fair or not, the Phillies’ success or failure will be pinned on Harper—not Zack Wheeler or J.T. Realmuto. How many people realize he’s almost halfway to a Hall of Fame career?
Brendan McKay, Rays. This is the first prospect developed as a two-way player in generations. Will the Rays continue to deploy McKay as a starting pitcher/designated hitter, or ask him to commit to pitching full-time?
Shohei Ohtani, Angels. Despite the hype, Ohtani hasn’t really been a two-way player since 2016. The Angels need his arm more than his bat. Will managing his recovery from Tommy John surgery limit his impact on both sides of the ball?
Chris Sale, Red Sox. Sale signed a five-year, $145 million contract extension and then turned in the worst season of his career, replete with an injured list trip for elbow inflammation. Red Sox fans will hold their breath with every pitch.
Juan Soto, Nationals. With Anthony Rendon gone, an offense that was too often a two-man show is down to one man. There are support pieces in D.C., but no one who can provide the average, OBP and slugging of the 21-year-old superstar.
Julio Urias, Dodgers. Down two starters from 2019, the Dodgers will lean on the fruits of their farm system to fill the rotation. Urias, in his fifth major league season at 23 years old, is ready to take the leap.
Joey Votto, Reds. Is he done after the worst year of his career at 35? The Reds need a Votto bounceback to go with all the new talent they’ve brought in.