With the gates of most Major League Baseball ballparks opening up for the first time in over a year, there will be no shortage of fans eager to return to taking in live action. So who are the players that will bring the most excitement to every MLB roster this year? Here's a look at the players who alone are worth the price of admission.
Marte has become one of the most versatile, exciting talents in the game. The 27-year-old is capable of a thrilling, game-changing moment in nearly every way possible. Having split his time between center field and second base over the past few seasons, Marte leads all eligible National Leaguers at either role in extra-base hits (96) since 2018.
Boasting the type of skill set that has long been what legends are made of, there is nothing that Acuna cannot do –and do well— on the diamond. He also is not shy about making it known either, having made it clear that his aim is 40 homer, 40 steal season – at least. He brings an unapologetic flair to the field and the type of enthusiasm that baseball has been missing for some time now. At just 23, the future has no limit for Acuna Jr.
The recent returns have not been all that kind of the Orioles, who have finished in the AL East cellar in four of the past five seasons. However, getting to see the abilities of young talents like Mountcastle is a clear cause for excitement in Baltimore. As a rookie in 2020, split his time between first base and left field, but hit everywhere he landed, posting a .333 average over 35 games.
Although it wasn’t the typical headline-filled offseason for the Red Sox, the biggest addition they made will certainly not be shy about the big moment. Hernandez has made a name for himself by swinging a big bat at just the right times, such as his three home run NLCS outing in 2017 that helped clinch a World Series trip for the Dodgers. Last fall, he became the first player to hit a pinch-hit, game-tying or go-ahead home run in a winner-take-all postseason contest in Game 7 of the NLCS.
Amid the age of the shift and other defensive tweaks and manipulations, Baez is a throwback at the keystone. Easily among the most exciting players with the leather in the game today, he is keeping the art of turning the double play with a style that is a reminder of Ozzie Smith, Omar Vizquel, and Jimmy Rollins throughout the years. Add his propensity for no-look tags and high risk/reward of his free-swinging nature, and Javy is never one that’s short on exhilaration.
Anderson makes it clear as often as need that whether it is on the field or off, he will not simply go quietly into the night. His voice and style of play have brought the eyes of many African-American fans, both young and old, back to a sport that has stopped resembling them over the recent years. The duality of Anderson’s unapologetic flair on the field, at the plate, and around the bases has been equaled by how he uses his platform to highlight the issues that are facing the African-American community at large, helping him to become a different, much-needed type of crossover star.
There are plenty of pitchers who will deliver their pitch, get their strikeout and immediately point their gaze to the ground and stride back to the dugout. Then there’s Amir Garrett. The towering, 6’5, 240-pound lefty leaves all his emotions on the mound, celebrating his K’s with a scream into the air, beating his glove into his chest, or whatever else comes to mind at the moment. And he’s not afraid of what the other dugout feels about it either, as he proved when he tried to fight the entire Pirates dugout last season.
Sometimes excitement comes in the fact of what isn’t going to happen when a pitcher takes the mound. In the young career of Karinchak, most often what’s not going to occur is the bat meeting a ball coming out of his hand. The 23-year-old has struck out 45% of all opponents that have faced him, while those that have been fortunate enough to make contact are only owning a .153 average against his often triple-digit heat.
The most exciting thing about Story’s game is how capable he is of making every type of highlight play possible, at a moment's notice. Want to see the long ball? He leads all MLB shortstops in those over the past three seasons. How about the long-lost stolen base? Second in those too among his positional peers. How about one of those backhand, in the hole Derek Jeter tosses in the field? Got those too. Story can give it to you however you like it.
One of the quiet breakouts of the short season in 2020 came from Castro, who hit a stunning .349 with six homers and 24 RBI in his rookie campaign. He also wasn’t shy about flashing the leather at shortstop either, making a bevy of leaping, sliding, and/or diving grabs along the way. The 24-year-old is a refreshing presence to have on board in these rebuilding times in the D.
With fans coming back into the stands, the Astros skin will need to be thicker than ever. That won’t be a problem for Bregman, who seems to enjoy putting words into the world that he can back up. He’s not shy about taking to social media to take on fans and trolls alike, and more often than not, the 2019 MVP runner-up and former World Series Champ is more than able to make good on his promises on the field.
Maybe it's in the bloodline because Mondesi is bringing the same type of excitement the way his 1994 NL Rookie of the Year father, Raul, did. However, while his Dad did it with a power bat and an incredible throwing arm, the younger Mondesi is doing so by quickly becoming the most dangerous speed threat in the game. Over the past three seasons, Mondesi has swiped more bases than any other player in the game, with 67.
This was a close one between Trout and his dual-threat teammate in Shohei Ohtani, but no player in baseball pulls off more incredible feats, more frequently than Trout. There are few guys in the game that you not only feel will do something incredible every day, but that you expect will do so. Whether it be punishing a pretty much any type of pitch left within his reach, moving with the speed and visage of an NFL safety around the bases, or scaling a wall in center, there is nothing beyond the reach of Trout’s all-time great skill set.
There may be no better athlete that owns the skill set that Mookie does. As a matter of fact, Betts is so skilled that sometimes he takes the potential excitement out of a play because he makes it look so much easier than most others can. However, for every time that he does that, he makes one of his many incredible catches or throws that have made him a five-time Gold Glove winner. Likewise, he puts his unmatched speed/power combination to work at the plate in a way that calls back to Kirby Puckett or Roberto Clemente.
Sometimes, it is just fun to see a guy hit a ball a mile. And that is something that Aguilar can deliver on with regularity. His presence at the plate played a big part in the Miami transformation into a playoff team last year. Meanwhile, his outgoing, jovial nature brings the right kind of energy to the ballpark every day can be noticed from the stands and through a TV alike.
It’s a crime that JBJ has only one Gold Glove in his trophy case because arguably no outfielder in the game has been responsible for more highlights over the last half-decade. He commanded the relentless terrain of the Fenway Park outfield with pure brilliance, covering the type of ground that is usually reserved for 40-year touchdown passes on Sundays. Joining alongside fellow Gold Glover in Lorenzo Cain, there should be no shortage of highlights coming from the Milwaukee outfield this year.
Buxton owns the type of scary speed that makes you take notice of him anytime he is on the field. No batted ball seems out of his grasp in centerfield, where he has led the American League in range factor for four of the past five years. Likewise, he is a bolt of electricity when running bases, turning any ball that touches the outfield grass into a potential extra-base hit.
There is no player alive who enjoys the game more than Lindor, whose nickname ‘Mr. Smile’ is a well-earned one. But it is easy to have a great disposition when you’re as good as Lindor, who is the easiest bridge in the game between the classic, glove & speed, shortstop prototype, merged with the power prototype of the modern game. His $345 million dollar extension in his new home in New York is likely to ensure that smile isn’t going anywhere soon either.
Judge truly is a one-of-one in the history of the game and type of player that is an attraction that makes people buy tickets to behold. With a 6’7, 270-pound frame that seems more fit for either pro football or pro wrestling, it’s not a surprise to see him hit the type of mammoth home runs that have become his calling card. However, the grace he runs with throughout the outfield belongs to a man much smaller, while the strength of his arm rounds out the awe-inspiring package that Judge brings to the Bronx.
When your nickname is ‘Laser Show’, that comes with some earned expectations of entertainment. Luckily, it is a name that fits Laureano well, as has the ability to have his own portion of the highlight shows dedicated solely to his exploits. Whether it be bounding up the outfield wall or unleashing the type of deep throws from the outfield that have to be seen to believe, the A’s outfielder is the real deal.
Hate him or love him, one thing that Bryce is going to do is put on a show. Even 10 years into his career, he brings the same gamer mentality to the ballpark every day that he did when he was breaking in as a teenager. Whether it be pimping a 430-foot home run, running through a wall, or rocking one of his endlessly new hairstyles or custom cleats, Bryce remains a unique and necessary flavor in the game.
A high effort guy every night out, Reynolds’ refusal to be worried about risks is one of the most exciting parts of his game. He isn’t afraid to try for the big throw to cut down a runner trying for the extra base, nor is he going to worried about stretching for more when running the bases himself. The Pirates need a dose of entertainment amid what could be a long season, and Reynolds could be the most consistent supplier of it.
There is no more exciting personality and player in the game today than Tatis. His rapid ascent has made him one of the most identifiable players and is just getting started. His combination of flash-and-dash in the field, along with his bat flipping big moments at the plate have endeared him to an entirely new generation of fans that have been itching for a fun and relatable, yet otherworldly talented guy to follow. He could be the crossover face of the game that has been absent –yet needed— for quite a while now.
With his twisting, quirky delivery on the mound, that sends his dreadlocks flying and the ball dancing around the dish, Cueto is one of the most fun pitchers to watch of all time. Whether it be Cincinnati, Kansas City, or his most recent stay by the Bay, Cueto stays high on personality on the mound, in the dugout, or in front of the mic. He’s also a big-time cook with a very lively Instagram page to prove it.
Lewis put on a show during his breakout 2020 that saw him end as the unanimous AL Rookie of the Year pick. The 25-year-old Georgia native is the leader of a young, diverse team in Seattle that boasts more African-American players than any other from its roster. His skillset and results boast the potential of what great all-around athletes can bring to the diamond.
What Hicks is capable of producing makes people pass on getting an early start for the parking lot, all just to behold the jaw-dropping spectacle of watching him throw. This because nobody, in history, throws harder, more often than Hicks. He is the ultimate scoreboard watcher to see how high he can ramp it up, as his average pitch speed in 2019 checking in at 101.3 miles per hour. He also shares the all-time record for fastest pitch with Aroldis Chapman at 105.1 miles per hour.
Kiermaier’s dashes to complete catches that seem impossible in the Tampa outfield have made him one of the best defensive outfielders of all time. An indisputable nod to the jaw-dropping glove work he has produced is that he has won three Gold Gloves, but only played more than 130 in any of those seasons once. But although he was out with injury (often due to his fearless tracks through the outfield) the excitement he created while playing was unapproachable.
Gallo does one thing –hit home runs— but does it very, very well. He does this to such an extent that he actually hit 100 career homers before he reached 100 singles and became the fastest player in American League history to reach the century mark as well. And often, his drives aren’t of the cheap variety either, as he owns 13 career homers over 450 feet, including two of 490 or further.
No matter what he does, Gurriel Jr is all energy doing it. He can regularly be spotted dashing or diving for a ball in left field or taking some pretty fearless hacks at the plate. Gurriel is the type of player that really young fans gravitate to because of his energy, while more experienced ones are nervous about it because it always feels like he’s on the brink of taking too big of a risk. And there’s always a place for a guy like that.
If there was an All-Aerobics team, Soto would be the runaway pick for captain. Known for his signature stretch at the plate –as well for hitting some signature bombs— Soto is already one of the game’s top bats. Few batters in the game carry a greater presence to the plate than he does, in the fear-inducing fashion of an Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, or Ted Williams. And that’s quite a reputation for a guy that’s only 22.
Matt Whitener is St. Louis-based writer, radio host and 12-6 curveball enthusiast. He has been covering Major League Baseball since 2010, and dabbles in WWE, NBA and other odd jobs as well. Follow Matt on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.