Look no further than last year’s home run leaderboard for a reminder of how much changes in the course of a single baseball season. Your top home run hitters for 2019? Three players who were anything but household names when the season began: Peter Alonso, Eugenio Suarez and Jorge Soler.
But for every breakout there’s a bust, as fans of the Cubs, Red Sox and Phillies can attest. All three teams opened the season with high hopes only to disappoint, setting the stage for further change in some of baseball’s biggest markets. Meanwhile, the wild-card Nationals were a pleasant surprise, defeating one super-team after another on their way to the first championship in franchise history.
As another season approaches, it’s time to look boldly ahead. You heard it here first: the 2020 season will be one to remember for the following reasons.1. By next summer, Luis Robert will be one of baseball’s most exciting players
The most dynamic player on an under-the-radar Chicago White Sox team won’t open the season in Chicago, but once the White Sox assure themselves of seven years of service time from their top prospect, watch out for Luis Robert.
The 22-year-old Cuban advanced all the way from high-A to triple-A in 2019, hitting .328 with a 1.001 OPS along the way. Not only does the centre fielder have 30-homer power, he stole 36 bases last year, too. Expect him to make an instant impression in all aspects of the game once he arrives early next season.
2. Francisco Lindor will be traded mid-season
The closer Lindor gets to free agency, the harder it is to envision a long-term extension with Cleveland. So it’s most likely a question of when he’s traded, not if.
With two years to go before free agency, the Cleveland front office is already listening to offers for Lindor, 26. The Dodgers, in particular, seem motivated to add him. But the Corey Kluber trade lessens the need for Cleveland to move Lindor immediately. Instead, look for them to hold on until mid-season just as they did with Trevor Bauer a year ago. At that point, the rumours will pick up anew, ultimately leading to a deal that sends Lindor to a contender.
I guess I’m hedging my bets a little with this prediction, because I definitely want to be wrong. But even after the Angels added Rendon to a lineup including Trout and Ohtani, it’s hard to see them as a playoff team.
They should score plenty of runs, to be sure, but can a rotation led by Ohtani, Griffin Canning and Dylan Bundy really compete in the AL West? I don’t see it, especially considering this division could be sneaky-tough. Even beyond the 107-win Astros and the 97-win Athletics, you have the Rangers, who have added meaningfully to their rotation this winter.
So as much as it pains me to say it, Trout and the Angels will be watching with the rest of us in October.
4. Mookie Betts will power up on the way to a massive contract
In his final season ahead of free agency, Mookie Betts will set a career high in home runs while once again ranking among baseball’s wins above replacement leaders. His huge year will lead to a nine-year, $326-million contract. But the team signing it won’t be the Red Sox.
5. This will be the year Vladimir Guerrero Jr. breaks out
I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong about Guerrero Jr.’s rookie season. He didn’t live up to the lofty expectations awaiting him in Toronto.
But he’s still just 20 years old, younger than some players hoping to be drafted next summer, and Vlad Jr. did hold his own in 2019, posting a .772 OPS with 15 home runs. Plus, he appears to be trending in the right direction. Even though he dealt with some late-season fatigue, Guerrero Jr. posted an .801 OPS in the second half.
From an analytical standpoint, the Steamer projection system forecasts a .295/.363/.501 slash line with 25 home runs. And more subjectively, the Blue Jays like what they’re seeing from Guerrero Jr.’s workouts.
“He’s committed,” Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins said last month. “He has not missed a beat.”
In 2020, Guerrero Jr. will live up to the hype and establish himself once and for all as an all-star calibre hitter.