Drop everything to watch these players in '21

These are the MLB.TV All-Stars

March 11th, 2021

You only watch the best. You read articles about the best movies and listen to podcasts that break down the TV shows that you have to see if you want to take part in "the discourse." Your playlists are finely curated -- so good they belong in a museum. So, why not treat your baseball viewing the same way?

Sure, you've got your team. Maybe even your fantasy players you keep close tabs on. But there are a handful of players out there who are so good and so talented that they can turn the impossible into the possible on a daily basis. These are the players you should carve out time in your schedule to see each at-bat, every start. The guys you should skip doing chores on the off-chance that a ground ball is hit in their direction. The players for whom baseball highlights and MLB.TV were designed for.

So, just who are they? That's a great question, and five MLB.com writers came together to answer it. Rather than just a list, though, we wanted to ensure that a fan in every major U.S. time zone was represented. So, using a traditional snake draft method, we picked the most exciting player in every region: East, Central, West.

Here were the results. Get excited.

Juan Soto - Matt Monagan

Talk about wanting to tune in for someone’s at-bats.

Even when Soto doesn’t swing, he’s entertaining. And when he does swing, he’s basically Ted Williams. Outside of all that, he’s one of the most joyful, energetic, exciting baseball stars on Earth. He’s endearingly unafraid to show how much fun he’s having playing a game for a living. You can’t even hate him after he hits homer after homer against your favorite team. There’s nobody I’d rather start a team with, elect as mayor or just hang out with on a Friday night.

Giancarlo Stanton - Mike Petriello

I accept that the “right” answer here is either Ronald Acuña Jr. or Francisco Lindor. I understand, also, that Stanton has rarely been healthy recently, and barely plays the field anymore. Understood. But if I’m looking for excitement, I think I’m going to have to go with the man who hits the absolute tar out of a baseball, to the point that we’ve had batted ball tracking for six seasons, and he’s had the hardest-hit ball of the year … six times. I think the premise of this exercise means I don’t have to hold the DH issue against him, because you can’t know when to flip on a game in advance of a great defensive play. You do know when a hitter’s spot in the order is coming up.

That said, if knuckleballer Mickey Jannis makes the Baltimore rotation, I reserve the right to pretend I’d always said him here. Nothing is cooler than a knuckleballer.

Francisco Lindor - Nathalie Alonso

I didn’t think both Francisco Lindor and Ronald Acuña Jr. would be available at this point, which made this an agonizing choice. Ultimately, I went with the new guy in the East, who will have a lot of eyeballs on him this season because it’ll be his first in New York and because he will either 1) sign a mega-extension with the Mets soon or 2) be a pending free agent. We’re talking about an energetic, charismatic superstar who can change the course of a game with a home run, a stolen base or a highlight reel defensive play at one of the game’s premium positions. Plus, it’s always gratifying to watch players who genuinely seem to enjoy themselves on the field, and Lindor is known as Mr. Smile for a reason.

Jacob deGrom - Michael Clair

I had to go back and forth on this one for a very long time. I would write out Ronald Acuña Jr., who simply oozes fun -- from the minute he shows up in the park and fools around with Ozzie Albies, to the time when he steps to the plate and launches another blast. But in the end, I had to take deGrom, who epitomizes appointment viewing.

He’s gone from a non-prospect to a guy with a blazing, unhittable fastball (that developed like no other pitcher in history!) and a 94-mph slider that he can perfectly locate on the outside corner to every batter’s dismay. He may not be the most demonstrative player in the game -- and he doesn’t even have the wild mane of hair that he used to -- but there’s a reason why I clear my schedule every fifth day to make sure I’m seeing the kind of player you’ll tell your kids about.

Ronald Acuña Jr. - Sarah Langs

Even at the fifth pick here, there were just so many options. But Acuña, who came three stolen bases shy of a 40-40 season in 2019 and generated conversation last Spring Training about the concept of 50-50, seems like an ideal choice. He hit the longest home run in the Majors last year -- a 495-foot blast on Sept. 25 that also had a 112.9 mph exit velocity. He’s the youngest player in postseason history with a leadoff homer and the youngest with a grand slam -- and he accomplished those feats in 2020 and 2018, respectively, so this has been going on for a while. And I haven’t even mentioned his defense yet, where highlight reel-worthy catches abound. He’s electric, and you can feel that through the screen when you watch him play.


Luis Robert - Sarah Langs

This was an impossibly difficult and stressful choice -- both Central divisions are loaded with exciting players, which is an awesome thing for everyone except those of us having to actually choose one. Just one. Robert is one of those players who generates highlights no matter what he’s doing. In his intro to the Majors in 2020, he showed us just how multi-talented he is. At any given moment, he’s likely to either make a five-star catch in center, hit a 487-foot homer or put up elite speed on a stolen base. You pretty much can’t take your eyes off the screen for a single moment when he’s on the field.

Javier Báez - Michael Clair

There is no other player for whom baseball seems to have been created than Báez. I mean, there’s a reason he has the MLB logo tattooed on the back of his neck.

Báez can race down balls in the hole that other players might simply wave a glove at, before spinning, leaping, diving and turning plays that would make ballet dancers weep in envy. He slaps down no-look tags like no one else, slides around tags like "The Matrix" is an actual thing and can blast baseballs to another universe. He is a joy to watch because he simply exudes enthusiasm on the field. Don't ever stop watching him -- especially if you're playing against him -- because he just may score on you from second on a sac fly.

Eloy Jiménez - Nathalie Alonso

The White Sox are a young, exciting team heading into 2021, and Eloy Jiménez is a big part of the reason why—even with all the concerns about his defense in left field. His power is legit: Though he’s only played 177 games in the big leagues, the 24-year-old has racked up 45 home runs, including 31 during his sensational rookie season in 2019, and he is a candidate to lead the American League in dingers in 2021. I was watching two years ago when he hit his first two Major League home runs against the Yankees in the Bronx, and I’ll be watching now.

James Karinchak - Mike Petriello

Karinchak is not just a high-octane late-inning reliever, though he is indeed that. (You may remember him as “the guy who in 2019, across a handful of levels, struck out 74 in 30 1/3 innings, and yes, that is a 22 K-per-9 mark.”) Last year, with Cleveland, he whiffed an insane 48.6% of the hitters he faced. But it’s not just about strikeout marks; if it was, I’d have picked Devin Williams. It’s because the way he pitches, with a 96 mph fastball and an 84 mph breaking ball, each thrown almost entirely vertical and from right over the top, is deeply uncomfortable to watch. That’s a good thing for me, on my couch. It sounds horrible for the hitter, which I guess is how you whiff nearly half the Major Leaguers you face. Let’s call him the “schadenfreude” of pitchers. I enjoy how badly he makes everyone else look.

Nelson Cruz - Matt Monagan

Who knows how much longer we’ll be able to watch Nelson Cruz bash baseballs into the sky. Although, I’ve thought the same thing the last four years and he continues to evade Father Time. The 40-year-old slugger needs 33 homers this season to become the 40th in history with 450 (that’s nothing for the Boomstick; he averages about 40 per year and already blasted a laser over the wall in his first spring at-bat). His late-career surge has him mentioned in the same breath as Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and Ted Williams. Experts warn that there could be a bit of a dropoff for the Twins DH as he enters his age-41 season, but those are just opinions. There’s only one way to find out. You gotta tune in.

Fernando Tatis Jr. - Matt Monagan

Where do I start? Is it his golden rockstar hair that jumps when he jumps? Is it his otherworldly defense? His bat flips? His ability to score from any base on any hit to any part of the field?

You can’t not tune in to Padres games to see Tatis Jr. You just never know what to expect, but whatever it is, it’ll be something you’ve never seen before.

Mookie Betts - Mike Petriello

I was pretty tempted to just say “the answer is Mike Trout” and end my blurb there, but you know what, no, Betts is a much better outfielder, a better baserunner, he plays on a more interesting team, and he’s just more fun to watch. I wouldn’t necessarily say his plate appearances are absolutely-must-turn-on in the same sense that some of baseball’s best mashers are, but aside from maybe Tatis, I’m not sure anyone has a higher fun-per-second rate. Because he’s so good at every part of the game, you don’t have to target a plate appearance or particular moment. You can turn on any Dodger game at any moment and potentially see Mookie do something great. That’s exciting.

Mike Trout - Nathalie Alonso

Mike Trout has maintained such an extraordinary level of excellence for so long that to some people, he’s not all that exciting anymore. I am not one of those people. Trout is still the best player in the game, a first-ballot Hall of Famer in his prime who is mentioned in the same breath as greats like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. I was born too late to watch Aaron, Mays or Mantle, but I can watch Trout and I will never pass up the chance.

Shohei Ohtani - Michael Clair

He’s doing things that haven’t been done in over a century. And considering what baseball was like 100 years ago, with soggy baseballs and training regimens that included beer and hot dogs as an important part of the diet, you could say that Ohtani is doing things that have never been done. Rick Ankiel was a legend because he was able to turn from pitcher to quality outfielder. Anthony Gose is making news for maybe breaking camp as a new 100 mph reliever with the Indians.

And then there’s Ohtani, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery to resume being the prime two-way player in the sport. He’s already launched a 468-foot home run in Spring Training. He’s struck out dudes and touched 100 mph with his fastball. Quite frankly, we may never see a player like him again. There’s good reason to miss out on your sleep all summer to tune in to the Angels every time he comes near the field.

Matt Chapman - Sarah Langs

When I previewed an A’s/Padres series last season, the two players in the image atop the article were Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chapman. That was purposeful (and created by the talented Scott Chiusano), because Chapman’s defense is on that magical level where you need to drop everything if a ball is hit his way just to see what he will do. He’s must-see TV.

In addition to being a vacuum at third base, he also can crush the ball. His 115.9 mph home run off Zack Greinke last August was the hardest-hit home run by an A’s player tracked by Statcast (since 2015) and tied for the team’s hardest-hit batted ball of any kind, with a 2016 Khris Davis single.