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10 dark horse MVP candidates for 2018

MLB.com @RichardJustice

Opening Day is eight weeks away, and already some of us can't stop thinking about how epic the American League Most Valuable Player Award race could be.

Mike Trout and Jose Altuve. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge. Josh Donaldson and Francisco Lindor. Jose Ramirez and Carlos Correa.

Opening Day is eight weeks away, and already some of us can't stop thinking about how epic the American League Most Valuable Player Award race could be.

Mike Trout and Jose Altuve. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge. Josh Donaldson and Francisco Lindor. Jose Ramirez and Carlos Correa.

Take your pick. Trout, Altuve, Stanton and Donaldson have been AL MVP Award winners. Lindor and Correa probably will be.

There's a similar dynamic in the National League with Joey Votto, Anthony Rendon, Paul Goldschmidt and Kris Bryant bunched atop everyone's list in some order.

Nary an eyebrow would be raised by any of them winning. But for the sake of argument, let's say none of those guys wins.

Who are the potential dark horses? This is about breakout players and potentially a breakout team as well.

Here are 10 to consider:

1. Byron Buxton, CF, Twins
If Buxton builds on the momentum of a nice second half, he has a chance. His game is speed and defense and a slashing-quick bat. The Twins have a chance, too, hoping to build on a 2017 postseason run.

Video: Buxton's lower half is the key to his hitting success

2. Christian Yelich, RF, Brewers
Yelich was already a very, very good player. Now he's going to a really good team and a great baseball environment. Can a player have two breakout seasons?

Video: Yelich adds elite skills to the Brewers lineup

3. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Angels
Great defense typically is part of a larger skill set. Simmons has those other skills, too, but his defensive game is the best in baseball and what defines him. To win an AL MVP Award on a team with Trout would be a huge upset, but Simmons could be in the conversation.

4. Tommy Pham, CF, Cardinals
Not many players have their breakout season at 29, but Pham emerged as a complete player in 2017 with 23 home runs, 25 stolen bases and a .931 OPS. He's a huge reason the Cards are so optimistic about 2018.

5. Alex Bregman, 3B, Astros
Bregman may be the fourth-best player on his own team, but his first full season was a smashing success. He had an .827 OPS in the regular season and one of the biggest hits of the World Series (10th-inning walk-off single in Game 5).

Video: WS2017 Gm5: Bregman walks off Astros in the 10th

6. Joey Gallo, 1B, Rangers
If Gallo's team doesn't contend, he'll need some of the favorites to stumble, but his power -- much like that of Stanton, who hit 59 home runs for the Marlins in 2017 -- is a thing to behold. In a hitter-friendly ballpark, he could top last season's 41 home runs and put himself into the mix.

7. Rhys Hoskins, LF, Phillies
How do you get their attention? You make your Major League debut, struggle for a couple of games and then hammer 18 home runs in 46 games down the stretch the final six weeks. Hoskins will need that kind of jaw-dropping power to insert himself into the mix in 2018.

Video: Hoskins sets record with 18 homers in first 34 games

8-9. Matt Olson, 1B, Athletics and Matt Chapman, 3B, Athletics
Billy Beane has done his usual offseason roster tinkering and seemingly positioned the Athletics to take a step forward in 2018. If we hadn't seen it so many times before, we'd be skeptical. Part of that excitement is with two young corner infielders, Olson at first and Chapman at third. Olson hit 20 home runs in his final 41 games, and the A's were just a game under .500 (36-37) after the All-Star break.

10. Travis Shaw, 3B, Brewers
Shaw was one of the best acquisitions Brewers general manager David Stearns made with a 34-double, 31-home run, 60-walk season. Yelich and Lorenzo Cain are impact acquisitions this offseason, but Shaw is one of the cornerstones on which Milwaukee is built.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.