These are the 100 people who will influence the 2018 season the most (Part 3)
We've got a doozy for you folks: the 100 people most likely to define the 2018 baseball season.
What follows is not a ranking of the 100 best players, but rather the individuals that we believe will have the greatest impact on the general storyline of the season to come. Now there may be moments where you'll see a name and a ranking and disagree, and that's fine. But sorry, these rankings are ours and no one else's.
Let's get this party goin'.
#50: Marcus Stroman
If Stroman was just your average 5'8" pitcher with mid-90's heat who finished eighth in the AL Cy Young Award voting last year, he'd be remarkable -- but he's a lot more than that. No pitcher in baseball has more fun at their job than Stroman. His ability to mix unrelenting intensity with a fun-loving attitude makes him one of the most captivating hurlers in the game. He's also one of the only MLBers who could pull off jumping into a Ferrari convertable like he does in that GIF.
I mean, the dude literally has a Supreme glove! Between his personal #HDMH brand, his extensive fashion collection and his foray into the rap game Stroman is widening the scope and popularity of baseball, and we're absolutely here for it.
#49 / #48: Alex Bregman / George Springer
Trying to decide who had the most iconic postseason for the 2017 Astros feels like an impossible task. With AL MVP Jose Altuve, potential future AL MVP Carlos Correa, and former AL MVP Justin Verlander, you may assume that there wouldn't be enough attention to go around. Yet, Springer and Bregman put together Octobers that brought them equal with their mega-famous teammates.
Scarily enough, this might just be the beginning. In Bregman, we're talking about an otherworldly defensive third baseman who, according to Brian McCann, loves baseball more than anyone McCann's ever played with. Springer isn't too shabby either: a center fielder who casually just had arguably the best offensive World Series ever. Repeating as World Series champions is a daunting task for any team, but the Astros have an abundance of bonafide superstars and budding superstars alike, which seems like a solid recipe for some back-to-back action.
#47 / #46: Didi Gregorius / Gary Sanchez
If someone were to make an "Expendables"-style movie poster for the 2018 New York Yankees, there's no question that Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton would be featured most prominently front and center. If you're trying to pick which of the many other recognizable and talented Yankees would flank the two giants, however, you can make a strong case that Gregorius and Sanchez are most deserving of that next tier.
There were no more cavernous shoes to fill than those left behind by Derek Jeter, and yet it has only taken a couple of years for Didi, the new shortstop/emoji aficionado, to completely win over Yankees fans. Gary, meanwhile, has the ability to do the unthinkable: hit more home runs than Judge or Stanton. After what felt like a decade of top prospect status, final form Gary Sanchez is here and he is glorious. Judge or Stanton are certainly the favorites for Best Actor, but it's difficult to find a better supporting cast than Didi and Gary.
#45: Joey Gallo
Last year the Rangers slugger with prodigious power declined an invitation to participate in the Home Run Derby. But, with Aaron Judge already admitting he's probably not going to compete in the Derby this year, Gallo is the hero we need.
If he can make it to the All-Star break with some of his old-school stats in more palatable shape than they were in 2017, Gallo might accept the Derby invitation you have to think is forever extended. If he does participate, we could see some absolutely cataclysmic taters from the 6-foot-5, 235-pound force of nature. Remember when he broke that car in the 2014 Futures Game? Maybe he'll hit a ball off the Washington Monument or something.
#44: Gabe Kapler
Most managers didn't run their own fitness and lifestyle blog. Most managers aren't devout health nuts who packed their own snacks (apples and almond butter) on Minor League road trips.
But what may really set new Phillies manager Kapler apart, aside from his pectoral prowess, is his willingness to embrace advanced analytics. Many big league managers have embraced the new age of super stats, but Kapler could go above and beyond anything we've seen before. For instance, this Spring Training, he's already experimented swapping his left and right fielders mid-inning depending on batter tendencies. Get ready to see a lot of "Rhys Hoskins LF-RF-LF-RF-LF-RF-LF-RF."
No matter what happens in Kapler-ville this upcoming season we can be sure of one thing: We'll see some stuff we've never seen before.
#43: Paul Goldschmidt
The D-backs' victory over Colorado in the NL Wild Card Game was one of last season's sweller moments, even though the Dodgers defeated Arizona in the NLDS. If the D-backs want to get back to the postseason this year in an even-more-crowded NL West, Goldschmidt will have to put the Snakes on his back.
#42 / #41: Brandon Morrow / Yu Darvish
You know what they say: If you've already beat 'em, join 'em. After helping the Dodgers knock out the then-defending champs in the NLCS, both Morrow and Darvish pulled a reverse Kanye West and left L.A. for Chi-Town.
Now with Jake Arrieta in Philly and Wade Davis in Colorado, Morrow and Darvish are being counted on to fill those respective voids. Whether or not the Cubs are able to get back to postseason glory after a relatively anticlimactic defeat last season will be very dependent on these two moundsmen.
#40 / #39 / #38: Felix Hernandez / Johnny Cueto / David Price
We've been watching these three guys tear through hitters for a over a decade, which is why it may be hard to believe that all three of them are only entering their age-32 seasons. It wasn't too long ago that these veteran arms were at or near the top of their craft. But 2017 was a very different story as the traditionally healthy trio dealt with a variety of injuries, and in turn, diminished performance. The Red Sox, Giants and Mariners all had drastically different 2017 seasons, but they each enter 2018 with similarly significant expectations for their front-line pitchers.
Tangentially related: Here's an Instagram video of Cueto:
#37: Yasiel Puig
It's difficult to believe that this will be Puig's sixth season in the big leagues. Every bat flip, laser-beam throw and tongue waggle seems just as fresh as the day he arrived. But coming off a Dodgers run to the World Series -- routinely dubbed the Puigseason -- it's safe to say we are eager to see what Puig has in store for us in 2018.
Puig was having more fun than ever in 2017, likely largely because he was back to performing at the star level he teased us with back in 2013. He is a linebacker playing right field with an unbelievably strong arm and knack for hitting baseballs long distances -- and yet his very existence is worth the price of admission. There is never a dull moment of Puig on a baseball field, and he wants it make sure of that. He knows the game is a game, and games are supposed to be fun. And if his epic non-bat flip from World Series Game 2 is any evidence, he knows EXACTLY what he's doing. We can't get enough.
#36: Albert Pujols
For about five or six years, Pujols was the best hitter on the planet, no questions asked. But this upcoming 2018 season will be a fascinating one for him.
Pujols will almost definitely reach the 3,000 career hit mark a year after joining the 600 HR club, but Mike Scioscia and Co. may be forced to limit his playing time if he has another below average campaign at the plate like last year. Hopefully Pujols recaptures some of his old self and we don't have to find out. But don't be surprised if Luis Valbuena sees some significant time at first base and our glimpses of the future Hall of Famer become fewer and fewer. Shohei Ohtani could also get some more playing time with Pujols on the bench.
#35: Jose Ramirez
As if the Lindor-led Indians squad that made it to Game 7 of the 2016 World Series wasn't fun enough, Ramirez decided to crank his game up to another level in 2017. He transformed from a spark-plug utilityman with some juice in the bat to a legitimate AL MVP candidate in what seemed like a blink. He even has his own trademark: the stinkface.
This remarkable look exudes a special kind of confidence that we simply cannot get enough of. Whether he's in the box or in the field, the Ramirez stinkface screams, "I'm going to beat you!" It's hard to imagine he could get any better, but there he is, giving us that look as if to say, "Watch me." What a player. Hopefully a recent finger laceration doesn't stop him from taking the field on Opening Day.
#34: Dave Martinez
After another phenomenal regular season led to an early postseason exit, Nats fans might wonder if their squad will ever get over the hump. Enter Davey Martinez:
The Nats' new skipper has already done some pretty unorthodox things during Spring Training (not surprising considering he's a disciple of Joe Maddon's), including the above moment in which camels were brought into camp to help the players "get over the hump." Martinez also had the Nats compete in a chipping competition simply because it was fun. That's our kind of manager.
Whether Martinez's oddball style will translate to postseason success is yet to be seen, but in an absolutely crucial year for the Nationals, it's nice they have a captain at the helm who appreciates a sprinkle of levity. If everything goes to plan, maybe the Nats will ride in on camels for their World Series parade.
#33 / #32: Mookie Betts / J.D. Martinez
If your team ranks 27th in baseball in home runs, what kind of player would you want to bring in to improve your squad? Perhaps a player nicknamed "Just Dingers" would suffice?
The Red Sox/J.D. Martinez marriage felt inevitable all offseason, but that doesn't mean President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski deserves any less credit for bringing the slugger to Boston. Betts, who is coming off an underwhelming 2017 season at the plate, will welcome Martinez to the task of launching the Red Sox offense to new heights this season. These two guys may not be able to reach things on high shelves like their middle-of-the-order counterparts in the Bronx, but Mookie and J.D. should provide the Red Sox lineup with a powerful one-two punch.
#31: Dan Duquette
After a half-decade of extremely competitive and supremely fun baseball, 2018 looks like it might be the end of an era for the Orioles.
If the O's are out of things by the Trade Deadline, what Duquette decides to do could alter the landscape of the season's second half. What if Cleveland swings a deal for Adam Jones to solidify its outfield? What if Houston makes a trade for Britton and Brach to compete with the Yankees' super 'pen? What if the D-backs are still in it and make a shock move for Manny Machado to play shortstop? And if the Orioles are in it at the Deadline -- which, with the recent signing of Alex Cobb, they could be -- who might Duquette acquire to help push for October?
Depending on how the Orioles perform over the first half, Duquette could hold the keys to this year's Trade Deadline.
#30 / #29: Evan Longoria / Andrew McCutchen
The perennial NL West-contending Giants dropped to the basement of the National League in 2017, posting their worst record in over 30 years. Evidently, they weren't about that whole losing thing, so they went out and acquired two faces of other franchises: McCutchen and Longoria.
Cutch and Longo will simultaneously learn how to be something other than Pirates and Rays while also taking on the responsibility of helping the Giants march back to October. It will be equal parts cool and disorienting to watch these two guys in new uniforms in 2018, so we can only imagine how strange it will be for the players themselves. At least they'll have each other as they venture into this bizarre new chapter of their careers.
Nearly every sports homecoming story is fun on its own, but in the case of Ichiro, it is worth an additional layer of reflection for how many stars had to align to bring back the hitting maestro to where his big league career kicked off 17 years ago. When Ichiro was traded to the Yankees in July 2012, he was a 38-year-old in the midst of his worst season in MLB. For many before him, that would have been the end. But Ichiro was -- and always will be -- far different from the many before him.
With an unmatched clubhouse presence, tireless work ethic, and a proficiency for pinch-hitting, Ichiro managed to carve out a backup outfielder role for five seasons in New York and Miami.
A fit with the Mariners did not seem apparent at the beginning of the offseason, but injuries happen. A strained Ben Gamel oblique meant Ichiro would return to Seattle. The march to hit No. 4,000 begins Opening Day.
#27 / #26: Corey Seager / Cody Bellinger
Somewhat lost in the Bellinger Mania of 2017 was that his fellow '90s kid teammate, Seager, put together a stellar sophomore campaign in which he hit .295/.375/.479 with 22 homers. Sure, the numbers were a minor step down from his 2016 Rookie of the Year campaign, but for a player who was still just the fifth-youngest everyday player in the National League, it was another tremendously impressive year.
Bellinger, meanwhile, was one of the youngest everyday players in all of MLB in 2017, and he smashed the Dodgers' rookie record books to the tune of 39 marvelous home runs and an unforgettable tornado-like swing. He also picked up L.A.'s second consecutive NL Rookie of the Year Award. There are plenty of big names on the defending NL champions' roster, but these two certainly stand out.