We saw some pretty awesome power throughout MLB in 2017. During the regular season, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge thrilled us with their overwhelming pop. They became the first players to hit 50 home runs in a season since Chris Davis in 2013.
So, even in a year that saw a league wide record for home runs, the 50 home run club wasn’t welcoming many new members. As we look forward to 2018, who might join that club for the first time?
We have a number of solid candidates. While Cody Bellinger couldn’t quite match fellow rookie Aaron Judge’s total in 2017, we have to look at him a strong option. Khris Davis has topped 40 home runs in each of the last two years. So, he’s a natural candidate to get to 50. But which teammate of his is, as well? On the subject of teammates, one of Stanton and Judge’s fellow Yankees could well join the 50 home run club in 2018.
Mike Trout and Bryce Harper came into MLB together and have been two of baseball’s best players ever since. Both are real candidates to reach the half century mark.
Stanton, Judge, and Davis are the only active players to have hit 50 home runs in a season (Jose Bautista has, as well, but is presently unsigned). These are the 10 players most likely to join that group in the 2018
Cody Bellinger, first baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers
We got a pretty solid glimpse of what Bellinger could do in 2017. Remember, he was in the minors for nearly all of April, had a stint on the DL, and still hit 39 home runs. It was one of the best power seasons that any player his age had ever had.
Now, he’s in the show for a full year. He’s also right in the middle of one of baseball’s best lineups. It won’t be so easy for pitchers to just walk him.
Now, there are two reasons to doubt Bellinger. The first is players generally hit their power peak in their late 20s. Bellinger is only 22. The other is that Bellinger does strike out a lot. So, on the surface, pitchers don’t need to challenge him.
But nearly all power hitters strike out a lot, especially in this era. A high strikeout rate didn’t keep Judge or Stanton from flying by 50 home runs a season ago. Bellinger also has a high walk rate, which is why is rookie year OBP (.352) was so much higher than his batting average (.267). He has a high K rate because he’s almost always swinging for the fences, not because he’s swinging at bad pitches.
And again, hitting in the middle of one of baseball’s best lineups, pitchers will have to go at Bellinger. They may try to paint corners, but they can’t just decide to put him on base. Los Angeles is too deep for that.
That all works to make Bellinger a real threat for a 50 home run season.
Khris Davis, designated hitter, Oakland Athletics
After struggling to stay on the field during his early career with the Milwaukee Brewers, Davis has turned a rather significant corner in Oakland. In his first two years with the A’s, Davis has bombed 42 and 43 home runs, respectively, slugging a combined .526. So, he’s got as much power as anyone in the game.
The primary drawback for Davis is the home stadium. The Oakland Coliseum is fairly cavernous between the lines and like all West Coast stadiums, the ball does not travel well through the Pacific marine layer. There’s also no telling how many foul balls get caught because of Oakland’s immense foul territory.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that these are not new issues. Davis has found a way to overcome them over each of the last two years. In 2018, he’ll spend most of his time as the Athletics’ primary DH. That means he’ll spend even more time honing his skills as a hitter.
If Davis stays on the field, he’ll hit 50 or give it a very good run.
Joey Gallo, first baseman, Texas Rangers
Gallo struggled at the big league level in his 2015 and 2016 cameos. But in 2017, we got to see Gallo for a full year. We saw just how dangerous he can be.
Gallo is not going to win any batting titles in his career. He’s going to hit a lot of home runs, record a lot of walks, and strike out a ton. At times, it will seem like he does nothing else. If that sounds familiar, it should. That’s similar to what people said about Adam Dunn and Dave Kingman in bygone eras.
But unlike Dunn and certainly Kingman, Gallo is playing in the right era. MLB has never embraced players like this more than it is right now. Teams, by and large, don’t care about the strikeouts. They want hitters that can change the course of the game with one swing of the bat. Gallo is that.
With that in mind, playing time shouldn’t be a worry. We also shouldn’t be overly concerned that the Rangers are going to try to do something with Gallo that will stunt his power — even if only marginally. He’s going to be swinging for the fences every time he digs in. In half of those at-bats, he’s going to be swinging for the fences in one of baseball’s best parks for power hitters.
The overall hitting line will not rival some of baseball’s best hitters. But Gallo is as powerful as anyone, and one of MLB’s prime threats to join the 50 home run club.
Nolan Arenado, third baseman, Colorado Rockies
We move from a one-dimensional hitter to one of baseball’s best all around bats. Arenado has hit 120 home runs over the last three years. So, it’s clear that the power is there.
A number of reasons exist as to why Arenado is such a big threat to hit 50. A big one is that he gets to play his home games at Coors Field. In a way, saying that kind of diminishes the accomplishments of Arenado and really, every Rockies hitter. That’s not our goal. But no stadium is as favorable to the hitter as Coors Field. That certainly works to Arenado’s advantage.
Additionally, Arenado is selective. Over the last three years, Arenado has struck out only 319 times, or 106 times a season. For a guy who’s averaged 40 home runs a year in that same stretch, that rate is very good. Arenado’s overall hitting numbers show that he doesn’t swing for the fences all the time. But he doesn’t make a habit out of swinging at pitches that he can’t drive. If we’re trying to figure out someone who’s a threat to hit 50, that’s a darn good sign.
Finally, as we went over with Bellinger, most players hit their power peak as they get into their late 20s. As luck would have it, Arenado is entering his age 27 season. If he could average 40 home runs a year at an age where most hitters are still finding their power, what can he do at a time when those hitters are at their best?
Rhys Hoskins, left fielder, Philadelphia Phillies
Hoskins spent the majority of 2017 pounding baseballs at the Minor League level. He hit 29 home runs in only 115 games. He then got the call to the Phillies and hit 18 home runs in 50 games, which works out to a pace of 54 over 150 games.
Now, he gets a full year in the majors. He gets to take half of those at bats at the very friendly Citizens Bank Park.
Additionally, Hoskins is also hitting in a much better lineup than the one Philadelphia featured in 2017. The Phillies signed Carlos Santana in the offseason and at some point in 2017, star rookie Scott Kingery is going to become an every day player. A lot will depend on how Gabe Kapler shapes the order. But Hoskins figures to be at leas reasonably well protected.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to project anyone to hit 50 home runs. It’s even harder when the player in question has all of 50 MLB games to his name. But Hoskins showed immense power throughout 2017. He’s definitely someone to watch.
J.D. Martinez, designated hitter, Boston Red Sox
The skeptical person might wonder what Martinez is doing on this list. After all, he had a career year in 2017 and only hit 45 home runs. It’s a good season, sure. It’s just not 50 home runs. So, how can we find five more home runs out of a player entering his age 30 season? Normally players like that are a lot more likely to regress.
There’s some definite truth to that. But two points must be made. One is that Martinez played in only 119 games. If we get him closer to the 150-160 game range, it’s easy to find five more home runs.
But the other stat that can’t be overlooked is just how much Martinez’s power got better when he was traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Martinez hit 16 home runs in 57 games for the Tigers, and 29 homers in 62 games for the D-Backs. That can be attributed in part to Arizona being a much better place to hit than Detroit. We can also simply call it a prolonged hot streak. And as immense as the hot streak was, it may not carry into 2018.
But there’s one other thing to question. How much did going from a non contender to a playoff team spark Martinez? Remember, Justin Verlander’s season went from okay to outstanding when he went from the Tigers to the Houston Astros. For a veteran player, it’s has to be easy to fall into a complacent pattern when your team is going nowhere. That’s certainly something that could have led to his spark.
Now, he’s on the Red Sox. Boston figures to be, at the very least, a playoff contender in 2018. On top of that, Fenway is a good park for hitters.
Martinez had a career year at age 29. We wouldn’t be surprised to see him do it again at 30.
Mike Trout, center fielder, Los Angeles Angels
While only 26, there’s very little that Trout has not done in the game of baseball. But he’s not a member of MLB’s 50 home run club.
Now, if Trout never ends up hitting 50 home runs in his career, it won’t be because a lack of talent. It will be more because his game is so complete and there’s no real need for him to try to bring more power into it. That’s been the case with Trout throughout his career. But will it continue to be the pace?
There’s a reason that the late 20s tend to be the ideal power years for hitters. Part of it is that by the time most hitters reach that age, their bodies are fully developed. They’ve also seen what pitchers have to offer and those pitchers have seen what the hitters have to offer. So, the adjustment period — at least the big adjustment period that tends to take place through the first 3-4 years of a player’s career — is over.
But also, players in their late 20s usually don’t run as well as they did when they were in their early-mid 20s. So, they move the focus of their games to the power. Trout is entering that portion of his career. We’re not saying that he’s going to stop stealing bases or anything. But we wouldn’t be surprised to see him hone his hitting craft a little more than he has throughout his career. Given how good Trout of a hitter Trout already is, that’s a scary idea for opposing pitchers.
In all likelihood, Trout is still at least a couple years away from that point. But given his age and the increased emphasis on the home run ball over the last two-plus seasons, it would not be surprising to see Trout take his power to a new level. We are talking about baseball’s best player, after all.
Matt Olson, first baseman, Oakland Athletics
As we enter the 2018 season, Olson is essentially the American League’s version of Hoskins. In 2017, Olson hit 23 home runs in 79 Minor League Games. Then he got called up to the majors and 59 games, hit 24 home runs. The latter rate works out to 61 home runs over 150 games.
Like Hoskins, Olson has all of the same concerns. He’s not going to catch any pitchers off guard in 2018. They’ve seen what he can do and the good ones have been trying to find ways to get him out in the offseason. He also has all of the same ballpark concerns that we went over with Davis. Oakland is not a great place to hit.
But like Davis, Olson found a way to overcome that in 2017. He can do it again in 2018.
In all, predicting 50 home runs from such a young player seems nuts. But it’s important to remember that Aaron Judge had an MLB cameo in 2016. He didn’t look anywhere near as good as Olson did in his 2017 cameo. Yet Judge managed to top 50 home runs in his first full year. So, while it may be unlikely, Olson can do the same.
Gary Sanchez, catcher, New York Yankees
The Yankees will open the 2018 season with two men (Judge and Stanton) who have hit 50 home runs in a season. It’s not outrageous to think that the Bronx Bombers will have three such players when Opening Day of 2019 rolls around.
The concern with Sanchez is his position. Catchers generally play fewer games than any other position (excluding pitchers) and for good reason. The position takes a serious toll on your body. Additionally, catchers generally get less effective — especially in regards to home runs — in the later months of the season.
That’s a reason to be concerned. It, however, does not disqualify Sanchez from this discussion. One reason is the fact that he’s not a great catcher. That doesn’t mean that he won’t play behind the dish. But look for Aaron Boone to get Sanchez a significant number of at-bats at DH. A decreased workload will go a long way in easing some of the doubts that the catching position naturally creates.
But it’s not the only factor.
Sanchez has demonstrated immense power throughout his MLB career. He hit 20 home runs in only 53 games in 2016 and 33 in 122 games last year. He bats in a good lineup and not only plays in one of baseball’s best hitters parks, but plays in maybe baseball’s best hitting division. The American League East is loaded with hitters parks. With an unbalanced schedule, the overwhelming majority of Sanchez’s at-bats will take place in a live yard.
That’s not to say that he will hit 50 home runs. But Sanchez is certainly one of the main candidates to join the club.
Bryce Harper, right fielder, Washington Nationals
If we were to draw up the blueprint to find the ideal player to join the 50 home run club in 2018, we’d arrive at Harper. The Nationals’ star has just about everything working in his favor that one could possibly want.
A good lineup? Check. Harper will certainly draw walks but Washington has hitters up and down the lineup who can make pitchers pay for putting Harper on base for free.
A good hitter’s park? Check. On the surface, Nationals Park may seem like a reasonable place for pitchers. But that’s largely because most hitters are right handed and left field generally works to the pitcher’s advantage. The ball carries very well to right, which is ideal for left handed power hitters — like Harper.
Incentive? Certainly Harper has that. There’s no better time to have a career year then when you’re a pending free agent.
Of course, none of that really matters if the hitter doesn’t have elite pop. But Harper has that. He hit 29 home runs in only 111 games in 2017 and hit 42 in 2015.
The primary concern with Harper is his health. He’s had a hard time staying on the field throughout his career and while it was a freak injury, 2017 was no exception.
Injuries are something we can’t account for. But if Harper can stay healthy, he’s more likely than any MLB player to join the 50 home run club.