Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

13 potential impact players for stretch run

Teams look for second-half impact like Nationals' Turner had last season
MLB.com @philgrogers

Trea Turner weighed heavily on the mind of Nationals' fans early last season. He was the guy everyone wanted promoted tomorrow, yet he played in only three games during the first half of the season.

Mike Rizzo wanted to make sure he was ready when he was inserted into the Nats' lineup, and without question he was. Turner hit .340 after the All-Star break, with 13 home runs and 33 stolen bases. His .934 OPS ranked between Nolan Arenado and Ryan Braun.

Trea Turner weighed heavily on the mind of Nationals' fans early last season. He was the guy everyone wanted promoted tomorrow, yet he played in only three games during the first half of the season.

Mike Rizzo wanted to make sure he was ready when he was inserted into the Nats' lineup, and without question he was. Turner hit .340 after the All-Star break, with 13 home runs and 33 stolen bases. His .934 OPS ranked between Nolan Arenado and Ryan Braun.

So who is going to have an impact like that this summer? In honor of the Nationals' manager, here's a (Dusty) Baker's dozen of players you should keep your eye on:

Mike Trout, Angels
Trout was supposed to be out two months after tearing a ligament in his left thumb sliding headfirst into second base on May 28, but he is ahead of schedule. He could be activated when the Angels host the Rays on Friday, with an eye on rewarding the Halos for staying alive in the American League Wild Card race without him. Trout was having the best year of his Hall of Fame career when he was hurt (.337/.461/.742), accumulating 3.4 WAR in 47 games.

Video: LAA@TB: Trout goes back-to-back with 15th homer

Marcell Ozuna, Marlins
An All-Star for the second year in a row, the 26-year-old outfielder has already matched a career high with 23 home runs. Ozuna could be the most impactful player traded before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, as Miami is looking to be active sellers in anticipation of new ownership. He is entering his prime and isn't due to reach free agency until 2020, which could make him attractive to teams like the Braves and Giants, who already have an eye on upcoming seasons. 

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Kershaw has made 14 postseason starts but none in the World Series, which explains why he's so much fun to watch these days. Even when he isn't on the mound, he figures prominently in camera shots of the dugout, as he engages in every game like it's already October. Kershaw is on track to make 30-plus starts for only the second time in the past five years, and has all his weapons working (14-2, 2.18 with an 0.88 WHIP and 10.8 strikeouts per nine).

Aaron Judge, Yankees
It's one thing to destroy the AL and win May and June, but it is another to keep it up until August and September. Judge just might be capable of doing it. Jose Altuve surged ahead of Judge in the batting race, but he's leading the AL in home runs (30) and second in RBIs (66) so, like Fred Lynn in 1975, he's got a chance to pull off the MVP Award and Rookie of the Year Award double. How you gonna take your eye off that?

Yoan Moncada, White Sox
Forget what you saw last September in Boston. Those troubles might have gotten Moncada traded, but they will have little bearing on what to expect once the Cuban speed-power infielder becomes a fixture on the South Side. He's going to strike out, but he is developing some consistency to go with the flash in his game. The White Sox were smart not to rush Moncada back to the Major Leagues, and he's about to reward them for the patience.

Video: CWS@LAA: Moncada rips a double that scores two

Scooter Gennett, Reds
How can this be a guy who was claimed on waivers at the end of Spring Training? Gennett not only had his four-homer game on June 6, but in 26 games since then, he has hit .323 with eight home runs and a 1.029 OPS over 93 at-bats. Along with Zack Cozart, Eugenio Suarez and Jose Peraza, he gives Cincinnati an overload in the infield, but GM Dick Williams is likely to provide clarity on that situation at the Deadline. What would the interest be like if he made Gennett available in a trade?

Justin Verlander, Tigers
A couple strong starts after the All-Star break could make Verlander attractive to teams looking to make a run for the postseason or to strengthen their postseason rotations. He's 34 and signed through 2019 (with a vesting option for '20), which makes his contract a potential hurdle but is throwing harder than he has since 2011. Verlander has full 10-and-5 no-trade rights, but he seems motivated to avoid the pain of a Detroit rebuild.

Kyle Schwarber, Cubs
Will Schwarber's trip to Iowa prove to be the medicine needed for a big second half? It was predictable for the Cubs' rotation to regress after the huge 2016 but who expected this to a middle-of-the-pack attack? He had a .352 on-base percentage and homer every 14 at-bats in the second half of 2015. It would be huge for Joe Maddon if Schwarber could do it again.

Yuli Gurriel, Astros
According to br-WAR, the Cuban first baseman has been the eighth-most important member of Houston's loaded lineup. But Gurriel has hit stride midway through his first full season in North America, batting .343 with seven home runs and a .965 OPS since May 28. It's hard to think of a team scoring 5.8 runs per game getting better, but the Astros have a shot.

Yadier Molina, Cardinals
Among players with 200-plus plate appearances, only Joey Votto had a higher second-half batting average last season than Molina (.365/.398/.529). That's probably a surprise unless you're a member of Cardinal Nation. While this season has been a struggle for Molina (.270/.303/.411) and his team, never write off a St. Louis team too early. The Cards play their last 22 games against National League Central teams, including 10 against the Brewers and Cubs.

Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
Is this the year Goldschmidt going to go from being baseball's best under-the-radar talent to a Most Valuable Player Award winner? He's on pace for 36 home runs, 122 RBIs and 105 walks, and he could have a better chance to do damage with A.J. Pollock back in the lineup.

Chris Sale, Red Sox
Sale has been everything Dave Dombrowski hoped he would be after the trade with the White Sox, but the real test will come in September and October. Sale has always pitched better in the first half (59-22, 2.74) than the second half (26-32, 3.31) and has never made a postseason start. He's essential to the Red Sox's state of mind as they roll toward October.

Starling Marte, Pirates
Can Marte make up for lost time after an 80-game suspension for PEDs? He is on a rehab assignment looking forward to a July 18 return to the Pirates, who have gone 36-40 without him. Marte was playing center field to start the season, but he will return to left field, as Andrew McCutchen has reclaimed center. Only 1 1/2 games behind the Cubs, the Bucs can jump into the NL Central race if the Brewers stumble.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com.