Have you seen them out there during these Spring Training games? Have you? They’re something we’ve seen only sporadically over the last year-plus of our lives, and didn’t see at all last season until the National League Championship Series. They’re ... fans! There are fans at baseball games this spring. It’s amazing, isn’t it?
It’s still not exactly normal to any stretch of the imagination. There’s social distancing and masking, and, as far as I’ve been able to tell, not a single instance of the wave yet. But there are still fans there. You could be one of them. You could just buy a ticket and go.
And it has been a while since you got to do that. So today we point out a player from each team that you just have to see live. We’ve been watching these games on television for so long, but you really can’t understand just what incredible athletes these men are until you see them in person. Here are the guys you will hopefully get a chance to see live in person as soon as this year, assuming we stay on our current course with COVID-19 vaccine distribution, something I know we are all rooting for.
American League East
Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B/1B
You really can’t quite appreciate how much his swing can look like his father’s -- how you are instantly transported back to that time, or how you can see a Hall of Famer you might have been too young to see in his time -- until you watch it in the flesh. It’s uncanny.
Orioles: Félix Hernández, RHP
OK, so he’s not the old Félix. Who is? You can still say that you saw King Félix, one of the greatest pitchers of his era, in person if you see him now. With any luck, we’ll have plenty of chances … this year and in many others to come. Trey Mancini, who is back after missing 2020 while receiving cancer treatment and has now recovered, is another fine choice here.
Rays: Randy Arozarena, OF
Unless you had tickets to the World Series, no Rays fan has seen him play in person yet. Probably time to check out the ALCS MVP.
Red Sox: Rafael Devers, 3B
He’s 24 now, but he still has the face and comportment of a teenager. In person, he can almost look too big for his body, if that makes sense.
Yankees: Aaron Judge, RF
He’s had some injury woes, so we haven’t had as many chances to see him in person the last couple of years as we’d like. But the moonshots coming from that frame are jaw-dropping.
Cleveland: Shane Bieber, RHP
Bieber doesn’t have a Thor-esque inherent intimidation on the mound. He is dominant in a different, more fascinating way that can maybe best be appreciated when you watch him construct his at-bats, and his starts.
Royals: Adalberto Mondesi, SS/2B
His numbers are never quite where the Royals want them to be. But when you watch him play, it’s like 1985 again. He’s the best bet to give us our first 70-steal season since Jacoby Ellsbury in 2009.
Tigers: Miguel Cabrera, 1B/DH
He’s not the hitter he once was, but he still has that aura: Everyone still gets quiet when he comes to the plate.
Twins: Byron Buxton, CF
He may not be on the field as much as the Twins might want, but watch him play for half a second and it’s clear he was born to play this game. If only his body would agree with him.
White Sox: Luis Robert, CF
On a team stacked with physical specimens, Robert is the ideal: Chiseled from granite and always a threat to bust out of any uniform.
Angels: Mike Trout, CF
There are billions of people on this planet who have never seen Mike Trout play baseball in person. The poor wretches!
Astros: Yordan Alvarez, DH/LF
Last year was a nightmare for him, but fortunately, there was no one there to see it. The overwhelming power will play forever.
Athletics: Jesús Luzardo, LHP
It hasn’t all come together for him just yet, but his stuff is so dazzling that it’s obviously just a matter of time. You sometimes wonder how anyone gets a hit off him.
Mariners: Kyle Lewis, CF
The Mariners have had all sorts of problems, but Lewis reminds you that this is a fun, and simple, game to enjoy.
Rangers: Joey Gallo, RF
He’s running out of time to become the superstar the Rangers were hoping for, but when he gets a hold of one, you’ll want to run terrified in the other direction.
National League East
Braves: Ronald Acuña Jr., OF
The flair and excitement with which he plays the game goes hand-in-hand with a disarming ease at times -- the game is just not as hard for him as it is for everyone else.
Marlins: Sixto Sánchez, RHP
The Marlins are packed with young pitching, but no one is as electric as Sixto.
Mets: Francisco Lindor, SS
It’s really hard not to pick Jacob deGrom here, but Lindor is about to own Flushing in a way no one has owned that place in a long, long time.
Nationals: Juan Soto, RF
Honestly, it would be worth watching Soto for the theatrics at the plate after taking a pitch alone. That he might be the best hitter in baseball is a handy little bonus.
Phillies: Bryce Harper, RF
Harper is 28 years old now, but he still has the energy of a brash kid out there. He makes you want to go sprinting around the bases and hit the ball 500 feet.
Brewers: Christian Yelich, OF
Obviously, we’re talking about the 2019 version, not the 2020 one. But there’s no reason to think we’re not getting the 2019 version.
Cardinals: Nolan Arenado, 3B
Now Cardinals fans get to learn what Rockies fans already knew: Watching Arenado every day is like getting a daily clinic in baseball.
Cubs: Javier Báez, SS
Sure, last year was a mess, but Báez has a way of looking like the best player on the field at any given time even when he’s struggling.
Pirates: Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B
This is going to be the only answer here for the Pirates for a while.
Reds: Michael Lorenzen, RHP/OF
For all the talk of Shohei Ohtani, there is one guy who regularly both pitches well and hits well (and, particularly, runs well) in baseball, and he’s in Cincinnati.
D-backs: Zac Gallen, RHP
His stuff can be mesmerizing at times, and he has emerged right as Madison Bumgarner has taken a step back.
Dodgers: Mookie Betts, RF
Let’s not overcomplicate this. Betts is going to be one of those players who, when you look back on his career, you can’t remember him ever doing anything wrong.
Giants: Mike Yastrzemski, OF
For a team that’s as decent as the Giants are, it’s a little surprising how non-electric many of their players are. So you can’t go wrong with Little Yaz.
Padres: Fernando Tatis Jr., SS
The face of baseball -- this year, and clearly for many years to come.
Rockies: Trevor Story, SS
You may have to just catch him in a Rockies uniform while you can. This is starting to become true for all Rockies.