7 potential 50-homer hitters not named Judge

September 25th, 2022

We don’t know exactly how many home runs Aaron Judge will end up hitting this season. But we know one thing for sure: He made it to 50.

Judge’s 50th homer, hit off the Angels’ Ryan Tepera on Aug. 31 at Angel Stadium, made him the first player to reach the 50-homer plateau since Pete Alonso did it in 2019. It’s the second time Judge has hit 50 -- he had 52 back in 2017 -- and, the way he’s going (he's got 60, as you may be aware), it sure seems likely it won’t be his last.

But it’s worth remembering just how tough it is to reach that number. Only 11 players have done it since Barry Bonds set the home run record with 73 long balls back in 2001: Giancarlo Stanton, Chris Davis, Jose Bautista, Alex Rodriguez (twice), Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, David Ortiz, Andruw Jones, Jim Thome, Alonso and Judge (twice). Only three of those players are active.

But perhaps, with Judge, Alonso and Stanton combining to do it four times in the past six seasons, we are entering another boom period for 50-homer seasons. After all, over the previous nine years prior to that stretch, there had been only two of them. If we are indeed about to have a gold rush of 50-homer hitters, who are our likeliest candidates to reach the number for the first time?

Here are the top seven, ranked:

1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. -- Blue Jays
2022 HR total: 30 | Career high: 48 (2021)

This one doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, as he did have 48 just last year. That said, as solid of a year as Guerrero has put together in 2022, it has been a clear step backward for him at the plate. He only just reached the 30-homer mark on Wednesday, and his OPS is more than 150 points below where it was last year. That feels more like a blip than anything else, though -- something we look back at in 15 years as an obvious statistical anomaly. If I had to pick the next person to get to 50, I’d go with him. Just not this year.

2. Yordan Alvarez -- Astros 
2022 HR total: 37 | Career high: 37 (2022)

This ridiculously powerful Astros slugger might have made a serious run at the number this year, had he not missed some time due to injury. Health may be the key for Alvarez, especially as he enters his prime. He is, after all, still only 25 years old. (He won’t turn 26 until next June.) While Alvarez spent a significant amount of time in left field this year, he could join Ortiz (2006) as the only players to hit at least 50 homers in a season while logging the majority of their games at DH.

3. Fernando Tatis Jr. -- Padres
2022 HR total: N/A | Career high: 42 (2021)

Well, OK, it’s obviously not happening this year. It might be tough for him next year, too, considering he will have some games remaining on his 80-game suspension at the beginning of the season. (How many depends on how far the Padres go in the playoffs, if they make it.) But don’t kid yourself: Tatis is a player with monstrous power. Remember, he had an NL-leading 42 homers last year despite playing in only 130 games … and he was 22! Tatis is also under contract until Albert Pujols is 54 years old, so, uh, he should have plenty of opportunities. Sure, right now it's a rough period for him and his relationship with his team. But that’s the thing about being young -- you can always turn it around.

4. Bryce Harper -- Phillies
2022 HR total: 18 | Career high: 42 (2015)

It sure feels like Harper has hit 50 before, doesn’t it? But actually, he has hit more than 40 only once, back in his otherworldly 2015 NL MVP Award-winning season. But he’s going to have many, many opportunities to launch baseballs into the night at Citizens Bank Park, as long as he can stay healthy. (Always an issue for players as they go into their 30s, like Harper is about to. Also, how can Bryce Harper be about to turn 30?) Harper is hurt by the fact that he has such a discerning batting eye, but you can also see him, like Albert Pujols before him, focusing more on power as he gets older. Harper has settled into such sustained excellence that you almost forget how incredibly talented he is, but as he changes as a player as he ages, you could see it manifest in more power, not less.

5. Mike Trout -- Angels
2022 HR total: 36 | Career high: 45 (2019)

Nope, Trout hasn’t done it, either. That 2019 campaign was also, not coincidentally, his last healthy season, though “healthy” is relative -- he only played 134 games that year. (The last year he played more than 140 games? 2016!) But Trout has been on better than a 50-homer pace this year, showing that the power is as present as ever. Trout also runs less than he ever has before, and he might move to a corner outfield position soon, so he should (hopefully) be able to stay a little healthier. Which comes first: Trout hitting 50 homers or Trout winning his first playoff game?

6. Shohei Ohtani -- Angels
2022 HR total: 34 | Career high: 46 (2021)

Why not, right? If Ohtani’s going to get a little better every year, as he has done over the last two years, he might just break Bonds’ home run record and Bob Gibson’s ERA record! That’s absurd, of course, but Ohtani’s raw power remains on a par with anyone else in the game. You do wonder sometimes what he could do as a hitter if he wasn’t a pitcher and could concentrate solely on the offensive side. Fifty homers would seem well within Ohtani's reach, considering he hit 46 last year. Though, uh, you could say the same thing about what would happen if he concentrated on his pitching. Which is why it’s so great that he continues to do both.

7. Ronald Acuña Jr. -- Braves
2022 HR total: 13 | Career high: 41 (2019)

It’s clear at this point that Acuña isn’t fully healed from his knee surgery. He’s not running as well as he has in the past, and his power has been diminished. He has fewer homers in more games than he did before the injury in 2021 (24 in 82 games). But one would think this upcoming offseason rest would do the trick for him, and he should be raring to go to start 2023. One also assumes, as Acuña gets further into his 20s, he’ll steal a little bit less often, which -- combined with him no longer having to patrol center field -- should allow him to stay healthier and concentrate on his hitting. And we know what happens when he’s healthy and hitting. Acuña had 41 homers in 2019 and would have had more if not for the injury last season. He certainly has 50 homers in him.