On Wednesday, we looked at the 10 players whose names you learned in 2018, and because these are baseball players -- the names of baseball players will never escape your brain once you've learned them; you're not getting Manny Sanguillen or Stubby Clapp out of your head no matter how
On Wednesday, we looked at the 10 players whose names you learned in 2018, and because these are baseball players -- the names of baseball players will never escape your brain once you've learned them; you're not getting Manny Sanguillen or Stubby Clapp out of your head no matter how hard you try -- you'll know them forever.
Today, we get speculative. There are dozens of baseball players who will emerge in 2019 and reside in the subconscious of the average baseball fan for decades to come. Who are they? Here's a guess at the 10 ready to break through, the ones whose names you'll undeniably learn in '19 … and never forget.
We're limiting this list to players who haven't made their big league debut yet. Victor Robles may be No. 4 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, but he popped up in the Majors in 2017. These are guys you've never seen before, but will soon.
All told, there are easier positions at which to enter your MLB career than "first baseman for the Mets in a year when they've traded away youth in a potentially quixotic postseason run," but Alonso has the goods. He hit 36 homers between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas last year, and notably, he became the guy whom many Mets fans saw as the power-hitting bat that could save their perpetually aging big league roster. Jeff McNeil may start 2019 at first base, but Alonso will be up, perhaps sooner rather than later. He'll be asked to be a middle-of-the-order bat, essentially immediately.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
All right, so you've obviously heard Guerrero's name before. In fact, after his incredible walk-off homer in the exhibition game at Olympic Stadium in Montreal last spring, you may have even seen him play already, at least in a viral video. But this is the year Guerrero will land, and whatever day he gets his eventual callup will be the biggest day in baseball that week. At his best, he has his father's talent plus plate discipline, which is an absolutely terrifying concept.
Also known as "the guy whose career Cubs fans will be tracking for the next decade while vaguely mumbling in Jose Quintana's direction," Jimenez should hit the South Side no later than June. As one of the top power-hitting prospects in the sport, he also destroyed the Dominican League this offseason. The guy is a monster. The White Sox have a trove of prospects ready to bust through to the Majors, but he might be the best one. If you were wondering whether Jimenez was ready, he's said so himself.
The Pirates already have an intriguing rotation, with Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer and Trevor Williams a most imposing top three. But adding Keller, the No. 16 overall prospect and the No. 2 right-handed pitching prospect, at midseason could make them downright frightening. With the trade of Ivan Nova, the Bucs have a spot ready for Keller. If they can hang in the tough National League Central into September, Keller could be a big reason why.
Obviously, with a name like this, Kieboom is never leaving your mind. But don't be confused: This is not Spencer Kieboom -- that's Carter's older brother, the catcher who played in 52 games for the Nationals last season. This is Carter, a top shortstop prospect who could be moved to second base now that he's ready for the Majors since Trea Turner has short all sealed up. The Nats are a legit contender this year, whether or not they sign Bryce Harper, and Kieboom could fill their wide-open second-base spot and find himself in a postseason chase down the stretch. It will still seem strange that a last name as unusual as "Kieboom" will require a first-initial differentiator on the back of a uniform to distinguish from a teammate.
The Seibu Lions star was made available to MLB teams at the beginning of December, but it's been rather quiet since then. It's possible that Kikuchi is the top starting pitcher on the market, and not surprisingly, the Yankees are still kicking his tires. He has been ready for a while; according to Kyodo News, he has been prepping for so long that he thinks he'll be able to do his introductory press conference in English.
No, Rodgers is not the Irish soccer coach. He's the top hitting prospect for the Rockies -- a team that, this offseason, seems to realize that its needs are more lineup-related than bullpen-related. Signing Daniel Murphy shouldn't stand in the way of infielder Rodgers; the defensively challenged Murphy seems ensconced at first base. Trevor Story obviously has shortstop locked up, but with DJ LeMahieu seemingly on his way out, Rodgers should have a place to contribute immediately. And with Nolan Arenado in the final year of his contact -- as you might have heard! -- Colorado is all-in on this season. Rodgers is the future, but he's also the present.
2018 was supposed to be Senzel's breakthrough year, but he had all sorts of trouble, from a right index finger fracture to a battle with vertigo to offseason elbow surgery. But he should be good to go by Spring Training, and he joins a Reds roster that is suddenly fascinating, with Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig added to a lineup that already includes Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett. Senzel's an infielder, but all infield spots are spoken for; there's a chance Cincinnati might put him in center field. The club won't be able to keep his bat down for long.
Fernando Tatis Jr.
The other son of a player whose baseball card you used to have, Tatis is the jewel of the stacked Padres system, a five-tool player whose defensive prowess at shortstop is exceeded only by his all-around hitting ability. The Friars look ready to start making a big step forward -- witness all those Corey Kluber rumors -- but Tatis is the centerpiece of everything they're trying to do both in the present and the future. That future will officially begin when San Diego calls up Tatis. And to think: If the White Sox hadn't decided they wanted James Shields so badly three seasons ago, Tatis would be a part of that insane Chicago prospect haul.
Of all the teams to have a potential superstar starting-pitcher prospect ready to show up this year and start mowing guys down, the Astros -- who are already stacked -- are the lucky recipients of Whitley. He was rumored to be headed out in various trades over the past year, but Houston hung on to him -- a smart move, considering how many rotation pieces it's losing this offseason. Whitley will fit snugly with a team that looks to be the class of the American League West: More than anyone else on this list, he's the one you're most likely to see in October.
Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.