Major League Baseball found itself in the spotlight for the first time since the 2018 World Series this past Friday night. The reason for it was the major-league debut of the renowned Toronto Blue Jays prospect, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the son of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero.
Despite going head-to-head with NBA and NHL playoff games, as well as the second night of the NFL Draft, it was baseball that had the attention of the masses that night. On Twitter, which essentially serves as the country’s virtual sports bar, the hashtag #VladdyDay was the number one trending topic in the U.S. throughout most of Friday night’s action. MLB did its part as well, tweeting out a live video feed of Guerrero’s at-bats throughout the night. Even the behemoth marketing machines of the NBA and NFL could not detract from “Vladdy Day”.
Some viewed the entire spectacle as overkill, but many saw it for exactly what it was: MLB galvanized its audience around one of its most exciting and promising prospects. One of the biggest complaints surrounding the league over the last several years is that it does not do a good enough job marketing its talent to the masses. Superstar players such as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are household names to hardcore baseball fans, but to the general audience? Not so much. If you were to ask a casual observer about Mike Trout, they might recognize that he’s a baseball player, but what team he plays for? Maybe not. By contrast, if you ask a casual observer about LeBron James they would immediately know who he is and how great he is, and the same goes for Tom Brady.
Marketing has always been an issue for MLB. The talent has never been the problem, as the league is filled with talent across the board. However, several other deterring factors such as pace of play and the excessive length of the regular season have hampered the sport in its attempts to compare with the NBA and NFL, in terms of popularity.
That being said, the 2019 season is presenting the league with a unique opportunity that must not be ignored. Guerrero is not the only young superstar that is going to turn heads this season. There is a myriad of great players 25 years old or younger that will be landing on highlight reels as the summer goes on including Fernando Tatis Jr., Tim Anderson, and Cody Bellinger. These may not be recognizable names right now, but should they continue to see ample playing time, these players will quickly become the next wave of Bryce Harpers and Mike Trouts to represent baseball.
Fernando Tatis Jr. (Shortstop, 20 years old) – San Diego Padres
Gerrero is not the only generational talent making his major-league debut in 2019. Fernando Tatis Jr., son of former 11-year pro Fernando Tatis, has been off to a hot start in his major-league career with the Padres.
Tatis is currently batting .300 with six home runs through the first 27 games of his young career. While many Padres fans were thrilled with the signing of free-agent slugger Manny Machado, the promotion of Tatis to the major-league club might have excited them even more. He has been a top prospect in the Padres system for several years now, and he along with Machado can bring a whole new set of curious eyes to the National League West in 2019.
Tim Anderson (Shortstop, 25 years old) – Chicago White Sox
Anderson, unlike Guerrero and Tatis, has been in the majors for the past three seasons and is yet to make a major impact in the Windy City to this point in his career. However, 2019 looks as if it is shaping up to be Anderson’s breakout year, and it could not have come at a better time for the White Sox. The team missed out on the Machado sweepstakes in the offseason, hence why Anderson’s sudden skyrocketing production at shortstop is so crucial. Not to mention that the White Sox have a cabal of exciting pitching prospects that are knocking on the door looking to break their way onto the major-league club.
Anderson is currently slashing an impressive .375/.394/.615 with six home runs and a league-leading 10 stolen bases through his first 23 games this season. Not only are his numbers impressive, but Anderson is quickly earning a reputation of being an exciting player who adds a lot of flair to the game, as is represented by his epic bat flips whenever he crushes a home run.
Cody Bellinger (First Baseman/Outfielder, 23 years old) – Los Angeles Dodgers
Bellinger is another player who seems poised to have a massive breakout season in 2019, as if his 2017 rookie season wasn’t impressive enough. Bellinger hit 39 home runs in his rookie year, bringing a young power presence to a Dodgers lineup that was constituted of mostly veterans.
His 2019 campaign is off to a white-hot start, as Bellinger currently leads baseball in batting average (.431), home runs (14), and runs batted in (37). He is exactly the type of player that MLB should be throwing its marketing power behind. He hits for a ton of power, is healthy, and plays in a massive media market in Los Angeles.
These are just three examples of exciting, young talent that is currently occupying the MLB landscape. There is even more young talent to be found all throughout the league and many more who have not yet made their major-league debuts. MLB needs more days like “Vladdy Day” where the country finds itself captivated by one of baseball’s many young superstars.
Lack of talent has never and will never be a problem for baseball. Major League Baseball must now avoid looking the proverbial gift horse in the mouth with this wave of young players coming through the league in 2019. The league, for the sake of its own relevancy and survival, must do everything in its power to market and support its emerging young stars.