Every year in Major League Baseball, players compete for jobs in spring training and/or battle to keep them in the regular season. Here are five MLB players entering make-or-break seasons in 2019.
Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees
Andujar was the runner-up for the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2018. The third baseman’s issue is his defense and the fact that he’s not Nolan Arenado — who’s a free agent after 2019.
Andujar’s future with the Yankees has been a central talking point this offseason. Rumors have been swirling that Andujar could be traded to clear space for star infielder Manny Machado — who the Yankees have been ever-linked to. But with spring training now in full force, Machado to the Yankees appears less likely, and, in its place, come rumors that the Yankees’ top target next offseason is Arenado.
Andujar has a cannon for an arm, but the woes outweigh the heroics in the field for the third baseman, especially given the pivotal late-game errors. Meanwhile, he hit .297 while totaling 27 home runs, 92 RBIs, and 47 doubles (which was tied for third in MLB) in 2018.
The Yankees want to swing for the fences when it concerns adding top-tier players, and if Andujar doesn’t improve defensively — and be less aggressive at the plate — he could be sent elsewhere to pave the way for the arrival of Arenado, Anthony Rendon, or another elite infielder.Countless @MLB players are entering make-or-break seasons in 2019. Here are the five that need All-Star caliber seasons the most, as @RPStratakos writes.Click To Tweet
Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
Buxton’s MLB career has been a rollercoaster. In his first two seasons with the Twins (2015-16), he played a combined 138 games and struggled to get on base. The ensuing season is when Buxton came into his own as an everyday fixture.
Hitting .253 while totaling 16 home runs, 51 RBIs, and 29 stolen bases, he was a crafty source of offense in the Twins lineup. In the field he was electric given his raw quickness and ability to get behind any fly ball hit his way. Unfortunately for Buxton, last season was an entirely different story.
He was banged up for the majority of the year and, as a result, limited to 28 games — and his production was severely affected. Hitting just .156 and totaling four RBIs in the appearances he made, Buxton took multiple steps back after a successful 2017 campaign. Now, he has no margin for error. He has to improve his plate approach, limit the strikeouts (Buxton has recorded more strikeouts than hits in each of his four MLB seasons), and become a more consistent everyday player.
Buxton has the skill set to be an elite defensive center fielder, but if he can’t stay healthy and become a more steady hitter, the Twins may begin to focus on the rest of their outfield rotation — which includes Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler, and Jake Cave — instead of waiting on their former first-round pick to blossom.
Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies
Three years ago Franco was one of the most promising young infielders in the sport. He was making diving plays at third base, raking at the plate, and looked like he could be a building block for the Phillies. While he’s still 26 and a contact hitter, there’s some concern surrounding Franco’s game.
He has made a lot of errors at the hot corner, looked shaky at the position, in general, and management appears to have taken notice. The Phillies have been linked to Machado, Arenado, and roughly every star or soon-to-be free agent, especially among infielders. It appears that if the opportunity to add a star infielder presented itself, the Phillies would pounce — which would force an infield shakeup that likely moves Franco out of third base.
Franco has totaled 22-plus home runs in each of the last three seasons and hit an encouraging .270 in 2018; he also doesn’t record many strikeouts. At the same time, with a lineup that now features the likes of Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Odubel Herrera, and Rhys Hoskins, the Phillies aren’t as reliant on Franco’s bat as they once were; they’re looking for an excuse to upgrade.
If he doesn’t shore up his defense, Franco could be playing elsewhere in 2020, or by this season’s MLB trade deadline.
Aaron Sanchez, Toronto Blue Jays
Two years ago Sanchez was one of the most captivating storylines in MLB. In his first year starting on a consistent basis (2016), the right-hander recorded a 3.00 ERA in 30 starts. He was pitching deep into games, working out of trouble, and was the Blue Jays ace. But the last two seasons have been challenging for Sanchez.
While injuries have played a role in his downfall, Sanchez is in the midst of a discouraging period of time in his career. He has made a combined 28 games over the last two seasons while recording ERAs of 4.25 and 4.89 and WHIPs of 1.72 and 1.56 in that time span. Sanchez has been unable to pitch with the consistency he once possessed, his command has, at times, sailed, and he’s nowhere near the ace the baseball world was accustomed to in 2016.
The Blue Jays are looking for players to build a foundation around, and, at one point, Sanchez looked like he could be a focal point of that process. Now more than ever, there’s doubt as to whether he will ever resemble anywhere near the resilient starter the Blue Jays grew fond of.
A free agent after 2020, the Blue Jays may look to get what they can via trade for Sanchez if his struggles drag on; he needs a big 2019 campaign as much as any other pitcher in the sport.
Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves
Once one of the premier prospects in the sport, Swanson has struggled to live up to the hype in the big leagues. While a contact hitter and flashy fielder, he has been unable to garner consistency. Sure, he totaled a career-high 14 home runs and 59 RBIs in 2018, but Swanson’s .238 batting average in 2018 and career-.243 batting average are worrisome.
Swanson has two full MLB seasons under his belt, and the shortstop’s potential is evident. He moves well in the field and has shown the ability to hit for power, but he has also recorded more strikeouts than hits in each of the last two seasons and is a year removed from totaling 20 errors at the middle infield position.
Swanson was sent down to Triple-A in 2017, and if he’s unable to produce at a higher rate at the plate this season, he could be sent to a different organization in the near future. The Braves are fresh off winning the National League East, and their young core is blossoming. On the other hand, their division projects to be one of the most potent in the sport in 2019 with the Washington Nationals, New York Mets, and Phillies all improving this offseason.
The time is now for the Braves, and waiting on Swanson doesn’t do them any good. You have to take advantage of a championship window in sports. With a low payroll (the Braves are 19th in MLB in payroll at roughly $110 million) the Braves have money at their disposal to make a significant signing, and the left side of their infield is an aspect of their roster that contains a great deal of uncertainty moving forward, at shortstop in particular.