The National Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2018 could be part of another blockbuster induction weekend next summer.The 2018 Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot was released on Monday and it includes three possible first-ballot electees: Braves prolific switch-hitting third baseman Chipper Jones, slugger Jim Thome -- eighth all-time
The National Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2018 could be part of another blockbuster induction weekend next summer.
The 2018 Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot was released on Monday and it includes three possible first-ballot electees: Braves prolific switch-hitting third baseman Chipper Jones, slugger Jim Thome -- eighth all-time with 612 home runs -- plus Omar Vizquel, the shortstop who played 24 seasons and won 11 Gold Gloves for six teams.
Other leading candidates include Trevor Hoffman, the reliever who holds the National League record with 601 saves, and Vladimir Guerrero, the outfielder who is one of the top Latin-American position players in Major League Baseball history.
A year ago, Hoffman missed by five votes at 74 percent and Guerrero by 15 at 71.7 percent. It's Hoffman's third time on the ballot and Guerrero's second.
Hoffman was the Padres' closer for most of his 18-year career and had 552 of his saves in 16 seasons with San Diego. Guerrero hit .318 with 449 home runs in 16 seasons, mostly for the Expos and Angels.
Any candidate for the Hall of Fame must be named on 75 percent of the ballots. In the 2017 election, 442 eligible members of the BBWAA voted and 332 were needed for induction. A BBWAA member can vote for as many as 10 candidates. Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were elected a year ago and inducted in July along with Braves executive John Schuerholz and Commissioner Emeritus Allan H. "Bud" Selig.
Voters have until Dec. 31 to file their paper ballots. The results will be announced on Jan. 24 on MLB Network and MLB.com. Inductions are scheduled for July 28-29 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"As much as you thought the ballot was going to clear up a little bit, with the fact that each recent year three or four guys have gotten in, it just goes to show you how many great players were part of that era," Hoffman said. "More and more incredible people keep coming on the ballot. Guys like Chipper, Thome and even Vizquel seem like sure-fire first-time Hall of Famers."
Jones batted .303 in 19 seasons, all for the Braves -- .303 from the left side of the plate, .304 from the right side. His career line of .303/.401/.529 puts him right there with Mickey Mantle's .298/.421/.557 as the top two switch-hitters in baseball history. Mantle hit 536 homers. Jones hit 468.
Thome played the first 13 of his 22 seasons for the Indians. Playing along with Vizquel, that team went to the postseason in five straight years, including two World Series appearances, from 1995-99. Aside from his abundant home-run numbers, Thome drove in 1,699 runs, had a .402 on-base percentage, a .554 slugging percentage and a .956 OPS playing for six teams.
Vizquel turned 1,734 double plays, the most ever by a shortstop, 144 more than Ozzie Smith, who was elected to the Hall in 2002. Vizquel batted .272 with 2,877 hits.
"I think I have the numbers," Vizquel said. "I think people usually pick the right guys to get in there, and I have a pretty good chance. My 11 Gold Gloves help a lot. I played a lot of games and got a lot of hits. You don't know how they're going to rank what you did, but I'm very excited about my chances."
There are a number of other newcomers on the ballot who will generate votes, too.
Johan Santana was a dominant left-hander from 2003-10, going 122-60 and winning two AL Cy Young Awards for the Twins during that time.
Jamie Moyer pitched until he was 49 and logged 269 wins in 25 seasons for eight teams.
Andruw Jones was a fleet-footed center fielder who played with Jones on two of the five Braves teams that went to the World Series from that era. He won 10 Gold Gloves and had 434 homers in 17 seasons playing for five teams.
Livan Hernandez, a Cuban right-hander, pitched 17 seasons for nine teams and was Most Valuable Player in both the 1997 NL Championship Series and World Series for the Marlins.
Johnny Damon had 2,769 hits and played for both the 2004 World Series-winning Red Sox and the Yankees' championship team of 2009.
And Hideki Matsui, the Japanese slugger who came over from the Yomiuri Giants as a free agent late in his career at 29, played 10 seasons -- seven for the Yankees -- winning MVP of the 2009 World Series in which he batted .615 with three homers and eight RBIs in New York's six-game win over the Phillies.
Four returnees to the ballot have been tracking higher in recent years: Edgar Martinez, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Mike Mussina.
Martinez, one of the top designated hitters of all time, received 58.6 percent on the most recent ballot and is in his ninth year on it. Players are eligible for the BBWAA ballot for 10 years beginning five years after retirement. Martinez played his entire 18-year-career for the Mariners and hit .312/.418/.515 with a .933 OPS.
Clemens, a right-hander with 354 wins and seven Cy Young Awards, was at 54.1 percent year ago. Bonds, the all-time leader with 762 homers who won seven NL MVPs, was just below Clemens at 53.8 percent. Both have four more years of eligibility after this one and have struggled toward election because of their association with the performance-enhancing drug era.
The right-handed Mussina, who logged 270 wins and a 3.37 ERA pitching 18 seasons for the Orioles and Yankees in the tough American League East, had 51.8 percent of the vote. He has five more years on the ballot after this one.
Curt Schilling, whose voting support fell from 52.3 percent in 2016 to 45 percent in 2017, is on the ballot for a sixth time.
The class has a potential to be stellar and could be bolstered by players on the upcoming Modern Era Committee ballot, to be voted on next month. On that ballot, the players include Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant and Alan Trammell. Union leader Marvin Miller is also on the ballot.
The vote of a yet-to-be named 16-person panel is slated to be announced Dec. 10 live on MLB Network and MLB.com at 6 p.m. ET at the Winter Meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
The 16 members of the committee can vote for a maximum of five candidates, a total of 80 votes. In this case, a name must appear on at least 12 of the 16 ballots to be elected.
Since Joe Gordon was elected in 2009, only two players have been enshrined through the Veterans' Committee process: Cubs third baseman Ron Santo in 2012 and Deacon White, a 19th-century catcher, in '13.
"Of course, I'd love to be in, but I've always said, 'Let's get somebody in,'" Garvey said. "It's been so long. The managers come up and they [get] in. Yeah, let's get some players in. Have some fun."
The complete list of players on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot:
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.