The 2019 baseball season is underway. While some sports fans might ignore America’s Pastime for a few more weeks or months while the NBA and the NHL start and finish their playoffs, many hardcore baseball fans have been patiently waiting all winter for the Boys of Summer to return. Let’s be honest, there isn’t much better than a sunny day at the ballpark, with some peanuts and a cold beverage, cheering on your favorite team.
The race for Major League Baseball’s two MVP awards is already on. Last year’s winners of Mookie Betts (American League) and Christian Yelich (National League) are off to good starts. Plenty of other players, both the consistently good or the ones looking to have a breakout year, are already turning heads early. This list contains a good mix of the usual suspects and players who could surprise us this year, as we count down the players most likely to be named MVP when October rolls around.
12. Pitchers – Jacob deGrom or Blake Snell
We have to start by stating this following truth: we don’t believe pitchers should be eligible to win the MVP award. There, we said it. They only play once every five or six days (or roughly 30 to 32 games per season), and already have a much-coveted award of their own in the Cy Young, given to the best pitcher in each league every year.
With that said, pitchers ARE currently eligible to receive MVP votes. Justin Verlander was the AL MVP as recently as 2011, and Clayton Kershaw won the NL MVP in 2014. While it remains rare for a pitcher to win, it does happen from time to time. If it’s going to happen in 2019, then Jacob deGrom or Blake Snell are the frontrunners.
Both won Cy Youngs in 2018, but also finished in the top 10 of MVP voting — deGrom was fifth in NL voting, while Snell finished ninth in the AL. If either pitcher can maintain their red hot form from last year, there might be an MVP award in their future. Snell put up a 21-5 record over 31 starts for the Rays, with a 1.89 ERA, 0.974 WHIP, 221 strikeouts, and a 11.0 K/9 rate. DeGrom was similarly dominant, even with no run support from the lousy Mets. Don’t let the 10-9 record fool you, because he still posted a 1.70 ERA, 0.912 WHIP, and 269 strikeouts in 32 starts.
11. Rhys Hoskins
After impressing during a brief call-up in 2017, Rhys Hoskins exploded onto the scene in 2018. The Phillies’ slugger belted 34 home runs and drove in 96 RBIs in his first full year in The Show. While his batting average could use some work (it was .246 last year), there are plenty of signs to indicate he’s going to get even better. For starters, he’s now hitting cleanup directly behind the newly signed Bryce Harper, who gets on base at a very high clip. He’s probably going to have plenty more chances to drive in runs in 2019, and it’s looking good early.
Through the first two weeks of the season, Hoskins is hitting .297/.458/.757 with 5 HRs and 16 RBIs. Sure it’s a small sample size (and probably not sustainable over 162 games), but the first baseman is still just 26 years old and looks like he hasn’t even reached his full potential yet. He will definitely earn some MVP votes this season, it’s just a question of how many.
10. Khris Davis
The Oakland Athletics never seem to get much respect. They play in a crumbling stadium, surrounded by more glamorous teams like the Giants or the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. Even the famed Dodgers and the Angels (with Mike Trout) are a few hours down the highway, depending on your West Coast location. But they surged into the AL Wild Card in 2018 and could very well be a postseason contender in 2019 too.
Enough about the team though, let’s talk about Khris Davis. Sure, he’s mostly a designated hitter and has amazingly hit just .247 for four straight seasons (and .244 the one before that). Not prime MVP material, on the surface. But he mashed 48 home runs in 2018, driving in 123 runs. So far in 2019, he’s slugged 10 homers in 18 games — so he’s on pace to hit about 90 dingers! Even he finished around 50 again, it will be hard to ignore him in MVP voting if the A’s make the playoffs and he hits closer to .285 or .290 for once.
9. Paul Goldschmidt
After a terrific 2018 season that saw Goldy hit .290/.389/.533 with 33 home runs, the Arizona Diamondbacks promptly… traded him to St Louis? Weird. Regardless, St. Louis quickly signed him to a five-year, $130 million extension. The expectations are big, but Goldschmidt is a big time player. He’s finished in the top ten of MVP voting in four of the last six years, including finishing second twice (and 11th once, just outside the top ten).
Goldschmidt is a career .296/.397/.532 hitter, averaging about 29 HRs and just under 100 RBIs per season. He’s regularly hitting second in a dangerous Cardinals lineup, sandwiched between leadoff man Matt Carpenter and third-year player Paul DeJong, with the powerful Marcell Ozuna batting cleanup. The Cardinals believe he is the man who will help get them back to the postseason, after narrowly missing out on a Wild Card berth in each of the last three years. An MVP-like season, which Goldy can certainly produce, would go a long way to help.
8. Ronald Acuna Jr.
At the beginning of April, Ronald Acuna became the youngest player in MLB history to sign a nine-figure contract. His eight-year, $100 million extension keeps him locked up until he’s 30 (assuming his team uses their options for 2027 and 2028). If his outstanding freshman year in the big leagues is any indication (he won NL Rookie of the Year in 2018), the Braves just got an absolute bargain.
Acuna hit .293/.366/.552 with 26 HRs, 64 RBIs, and 16 stolen bases. All that in just 111 games, after the Braves kept him down long to manipulate his service time. He’s already off to a red-hot start in 2019 too, with all of his batting numbers currently above those from his first season — his OPS is 1.072! He’s also belted five homers in the early days of spring, putting him on pace for over 50. While he’ll probably slow down a little, there’s still a reasonable chance that he will hit close to 40 bombs, with excellent contact hitting to go along with it. If the Braves can once again be in contention for the postseason, Acuna will a big reason why. Even if he doesn’t win the MVP in 2019, we’d be willing to bet gets the award at least once or twice before his career is over.
7. Aaron Judge
Speaking of former Rookie of the Year winners, Aaron Judge won the AL award back in 2017 when he belted — get this — 52 home runs, 114 RBIs, and had a slash line of .284/.422/.627. He managed to lead the AL is both walks and strikeouts! Hell, he almost won the MVP that season, finishing second in voting to Jose Altuve. While his 2018 numbers dipped a bit, he only played 122 games due to injury. The Yankees still made the playoffs, and they expect to be back playing October baseball in 2019 too.
Judge has all the assets to win MVP: a decent batting average, strong outfield defense, and unbelievable power in his bat. Judge (and teammate Giancarlo Stanton) regular dominate the list of hit balls with the highest exit velocity. The only question surrounding Judge’s chance at an MVP award are his Yankee teammates. Early season injury troubles have crippled the Yankees’ ability to field their strongest lineup, which will cut down Judge’s ability to score runs and drive in some of his own. He also still strikes out A TON. Despite all that, you won’t be able to ignore his MVP credentials if he hits 50+ home runs again.
6. Christian Yelich
Christian Yelish has always been a good ball player. Since breaking into the league with the woeful Miami Marlins, Yelich routinely hit just under .300 and stole double-digit bases. But after an off-season trade to the Milwaukee Brewers in January 2018, he took his game to a whole new level. With a red hot second half, Yelich finished the 2018 season with 36 homers, 110 RBIs, and a .326/.402/.589 slash line. He almost won the Triple Crown, falling two home runs and a single RBI short. He also was a huge part of the Brewers making it to the NLCS, although they eventually lose to the Dodgers in Game 7.
Yelich is still just 27-years old, entering what is typically an athlete’s prime years. It’s hard to imagine that Yelich could get even better than his 2018 self, but he’s already hitting .354 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs in the Brewers’ first 17 games of 2019. The Brewers desperately want another crack at postseason glory, and Yelich could be the man who leads them there — and picks up back-to-back MVP awards along the way.
5. Matt Chapman
Okay, this is definitely one of those think-outside-the-box choices we talked about. The Oakland A’s third baseman is only playing in his second full year of baseball, on a team that no one expects a ton from. But Chapman was very good in 2018, and looks to improve in 2019.
Last year, Chapman hit .278/.356/.508, with 24 home runs and 68 RBIs. Those are decent numbers, but not MVP numbers — although he did finish 7th in AL MVP voting last year. However, the California native turns just 26 at the end of April and we think he’s going to be even better now that he’s had a full year of Major League Baseball under his belt. Chapman’s early 2019 numbers are promising, batting close to .300 and knocking five early dingers. Add in the fact that Chapman is still on his budget-level rookie contract and not even eligible for arbitration until 2021, and the young third baseman has a lot to prove. When he sees guys like Ronald Acuna Jr. or Eloy Jimenez getting eight- or nine-figure contract extensions early in their rookie deals, Chapman will be striving for that big payday too.
4. Javier Baez
Javy Baez, known affectionately to Cubs fans as “El Mago,” almost won the MVP in 2018. He finished second to a deserving Christian Yelich, but should be back in contention for 2019. It’s hard to not enjoy watching Baez play baseball, even if you’re not a Cubs fan. His handy bat work, dazzling defense, and contagious love for the game makes him a fan favorite with more than just those who live in the North Side of Chicago.
Baez had the best season of his career in 2018, slashing .290/.326/.554, with 34 home runs and an NL-leading 111 RBIs. Throw in 21 stolen bases, 40 doubles, nine triples, and outstanding glovework, and it’s easy to see why many experts think Baez could win the MVP in 2019. The Cubs have made the postseason four years in a row, and there’s an expectation that they will make it back again before their current window closes. Baez’s performance this year will matter a lot, and it has the potential to carry the Cubbies deep into October. And it might also add an MVP trophy to Baez’s mantle.
3. Cody Bellinger
Cody Bellinger played all 162 games for the Dodgers last year, but didn’t make the All-Star team or finish anywhere close to the top of MVP voting. In fact, he only hit .260 with a respectable 25 home runs and 76 RBIs. He doesn’t even have a regular position, switching between firstbase and whatever outfield spot his team slots him into. But he’s still young (he turns 24 in the middle of the 2019 season), so there’s still plenty of optimism that Bellinger will get better.
Well, he got better in a hurry. It’s only been three weeks, but Bellinger is on an absolute tear right now. Over the first 17 games of the 2019 season, he leads the league in almost every major category: runs (22), hits (28), home runs (9), RBIs (22), average (.424), on-base percentage (.500), and slugging percentage (.909). Those are ridiculous numbers. Sure, there’s little chance that Bellinger can maintain them for an entire 162 games, but we can’t see him simply falling off a cliff either. Plus next season is his first arbitration contract year, and judging by his early production numbers, he’s going to cost the Dodgers a truckload of cash.
2. Mookie Betts
Mookie Betts was the 2018 AL MVP, and it wasn’t even close. He landed 28 out of the 30 first place votes, and was almost a unanimous choice. Only Mike Trout and teammate J.D. Martinez stopped him, each picking up a single first place vote. But Betts had a better season than either of those two, with 32 HR, 80 RBIs, 30 stolen bases, and a slash line of .346/.438/.640. Plus incredible defense in the outfield. His WAR of 10.9 was the highest in all of MLB in 2018, making him a very worthy MVP candidate. Oh, and the Red Sox won 108 games and cruised to a World Series championship. All in all, it was an incredible year for Mookie.
The Red Sox have started slow in 2019, but there’s no reason to think they won’t be in the conversation again when it comes to the postseason. Betts is still just 26-years-old, and could potentially get even better. That’s a scary thought for the other teams in the AL East.
1. Mike Trout
Who else could top our list but Mike Trout? He’s already won this award twice (in 2014 and 2016), and to put it simply: Mike Trout is the best baseball player on the planet. Even when he hasn’t won the MVP, he’s finished second four other times. The man is a baseball machine. He had a ridiculous 2018, with 39 dingers, 79 RBIs, 122 walks (most in AL), and a slash line of .312/.460/.628. That’s an OPS of 1.088, more than anyone else in baseball last year!
Trout is already off to a good start in 2019 too, belting five homers and hitting an ungodly .382/.593./882. A slight groin injury forced him to miss a few games, but if Trout stays healthy (and there’s no reason to think he won’t), he’s going to put up another 10.0+ WAR season. Assuming he does, he’s going to pass legends like Reggie Jackson, Larry Walker, Ernie Banks, Carlton Fisk, and Derek Jeter on the all-time WAR list — and Trout is still just 27. Frankly, it’s a crime against baseball that the Angels can’t seem to add the right pieces around him to get into playoff contention. Doesn’t matter though, since Trout just signed the richest contract in sports history to stay in L.A. until he’s 40. Hopefully we get to watch him play October baseball soon, because he’s a lock to win the MVP award at least one more time — and probably more than that.