Opening day of the 2018 Major League Baseball season is just nine days away, a thought that is most reassuring to baseball fans everywhere. Spring training is winding down, rosters are taking shape, and players are getting themselves primed for the 2018 season.
With the start of the season on its way, it is never too early to ponder on the players who could potentially make the biggest impact in 2018. Which player will have an MVP-caliber season? Which pitcher will stymie his opposition and win the Cy Young Award? Which prospect will burst onto the scene and claim the Rookie of the Year Award? Yes, it’s only March and, yes, it is incredibly difficult to predict what will happen this season. That being said, there are certain players who could be the key architects to the upcoming 2018 season, though they may not be names one would expect.
So, let’s take a shot at predicting the 2018 Major League Baseball award winners by considering some less obvious candidates.
American League Batting Champion: José Ramírez, Cleveland Indians
Ramírez had an outstanding 2017 season, batting .318 with 29 home runs and 186 hits in 152 games. The switch-hitting spark plug of the Tribe established himself as one of the best pure hitters in baseball last season. At just 25 years old, Ramírez has yet to even enter the prime of his career, leaving an incredibly high ceiling for him to still grow into. His proficiency from both sides of the plate, along with his ability to stay healthy for 150+ games, should allow Ramírez to strongly contend for the American League batting title.
American League Rookie of the Year: Dustin Fowler, Oakland Athletics
While Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani may be everyone’s favorite pick for this award, he can’t run away with it just yet. Fowler, the 23-year-old center fielder whom the Athletics acquired from New York as part of the Sonny Gray deal, is looking to make an impact of his own. Fowler is recovering from a ruptured patellar tendon which he suffered in his major league debut last season. Before the injury, Fowler was hitting .293 for the Yankees Triple-A affiliate. Oakland’s lack of outfield depth should give Fowler plenty of playing time, and a return to form could see him snagging the American League Rookie of the Year Award.
American League Cy Young: Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Justin Verlander … These are the names that lead the discussion of, “Who are the best pitchers in the American League.” However, there is another formidable fireballer in the American League who could give those names a run for their money, and his name is Marcus Stroman. Coming off a 13-win season, Stroman is poised to once again lead the Blue Jays pitching staff, and this could be the year he takes over the entire league. He will have to cut down on the 21 home runs he gave up in 2017, but a healthy, more efficient season could put Stroman right in the mix for the American League Cy Young Award.
American League Most Valuable Player: Gary Sánchez, New York Yankees
With all the talk about Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton anchoring the middle of the fearsome New York Yankees lineup, one must not forget about the one they call “El Gary.” Sánchez quickly established himself as one of the best offensive catchers in baseball with his 2017 campaign. He hit 33 home runs and batted .278 in 122 games last season. Sánchez could see his production skyrocket this season due to the various improvements throughout the entire Yankees lineup. Putting up slightly better numbers out of the catcher position could easily put Sánchez into contention this season for the American League Most Valuable Player award.
National League Batting Champion: Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
Sometimes a change of scenery is just what a player needs to realize just how good he is. Yelich, much to his delight, was traded this offseason from the Miami Marlins to the Milwaukee Brewers. Yelich now joins a young, competitive team looking to make a splash in the National League Central division. Not only is Yelich part of a better lineup, but he is also in a more hitter-friendly ballpark in Milwaukee, which should allow him to improve on his already impressive 2017 numbers. Yelich has all the tools, and now he gets a real chance to show them off.
National League Rookie of the Year: Lewis Brinson, Miami Marlins
It is going to be a long and arduous 2018 season for Miami Marlins fans. The team is sorely lacking premier talent following the exodus of players such as Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Yelich, and Dee Gordon. However, the Marlins did get some young talent in return this offseason, one of them being Brinson, who was acquired from Milwaukee as part of the Yelich deal. Brinson, 23, is a force to be reckoned with at the plate as he hit .331 in Triple-A with 13 home runs in 76 games last season. Brinson will get the chance to play every day as the Marlins begin their long rebuilding process, of which he is a central figure. A full season’s worth of at-bats in a weaker division could yield tremendous results for Brinson and the Marlins.
National League Cy Young: Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks
Much like in the American League, there are several prominent names that come to mind when thinking about who the best pitchers are in the National League. Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, and Max Scherzer, who has won the National League Cy Young award the last two seasons, are just a few names that come to mind. However, Robbie Ray is a dark horse candidate who has all the necessary tools to rise up among those elite names and snatch away that award. Ray is coming off a stellar 2017 campaign that saw him go 15-5 with a 2.88 ERA and 218 strikeouts. He also held opposing batters to a paltry .199 batting average last season. He is a strikeout machine who isn’t intimidated by the powerful bats in the National League West. Look for Ray to follow up his impressive 2017 season with an even better Cy Young-caliber 2018 campaign.
National League Most Valuable Player: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Despite only playing in 117 games last season, Freddie Freeman managed to put up incredibly impressive numbers, batting .307 with 28 home runs in his limited time. However, a full, injury-free season could be what Freeman needs to place himself back into the MVP discussion in the National League. He will have stiff competition from the likes of Bryce Harper, Nolan Arenado, and Cody Bellinger, just to name a few. Nevertheless, Freeman has shown throughout his career that he possesses both the power and consistency to dominate the National League. His biggest obstacle will be that his team, the Atlanta Braves, is not likely to contend for the playoffs and, therefore, he will not garner as much attention as the aforementioned Harper and Arenado. Regardless, Freeman has all the tools needed to claim the most prestigious award in the National League.
No one knows what the 2018 Major League Baseball season has in store for us. These predictions could ring true or end up looking completely ridiculous by season’s end. Luckily, we get to see it all unfold starting in just nine days.