The MLB season blasts off on Thursday following a brief delay as the owners and players figured out how to cut this multi-billion-dollar cake baseball is hauling in each season.
While the percentage of African-American MLB players still hovers at less than 8 percent, the 80 or so who have made it to the next level represent themselves with a style that would make Jackie Robinson proud as we celebrate 75 years since the Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman broke baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1947.
1. Mookie Betts (OF, LA Dodgers)
Mookie Betts is one of the most popular players in the sport, a two-time champion and a former MVP. The 2021 season was probably the most challenging of his career as he battled unusual slumps, nagging injuries and downgraded team chemistry.
Keep in mind, Betts had what is considered a down year by his lofty standards. He’s still a top three to five player in the game. The numbers the 29-year-old posted — 23 home runs, 10 stolen bases and 93 runs scored in just 122 games — are super solid.
A nagging hip sent him to the DL twice, and when he wasn’t chilling, he appeared hampered on the field at times, even being moved to second base briefly.
Expect a rebound year from Betts who posted a .981 OPS from 2018-2020. Batting leadoff limits Betts’ RBI production, but he’s an invaluable tool at the top of a Dodgers lineup featuring three past MVPs in Betts, Cody Bellinger (2019) and last year’s World Series hero and NL MVP Freddie Freeman.
2. Aaron Judge (OF, Yankees)
Judge had his best season since he won the 2017 Rookie of the Year award and smashed a rookie-record 52 homers. He carried The Empire State on his back the entire 2021 season and continues to answer the call and establish himself as one of the premiere players in the sport. He led the Yankees in just about every offensive category, smashing 39 homers, batting .287 and driving in 98 runs in an offense that underachieved all season.
Judge is up for a huge contract extension, and negotiations are still ongoing. Prior to last season the Yankees had cause for some hesitation because Judge had missed a significant portion of several years with injuries. He crushed the notion that he remains injury-prone last season, appearing in 148 games, his most since playing in a career-high 155 as a rookie.
Time to pay the pinstriper.
3. Tim Anderson (SS, Chicago White Sox)
The game’s elite Black shortstop and perennial batting champion candidate is all about the swag and his deadly combination of athleticism, speed, power and web dominance. The White Sox are definite World Series contenders, and if Anderson can stay healthy he’s definitely a leading contender for American League MVP.
Anderson missed 88 games over the past three seasons but still hit .322 with 45 homers, 138 RBIs and 40 stolen bases.
Who can forget Anderson’s game-winning blast against the Yankees into the cornfields in the Field of Dreams Game in Iowa last season? Mr. Electricity is an invaluable part of Chicago’s mission to win its first World Series since 2005.
4. Marcus Semien (2B/SS Texas Rangers)
Semien cashed in on the greatest power explosion by a second baseman in MLB history.
Semien’s 45 homers set an MLB record, and he didn’t last long on the free agent market as the Texas Rangers signed the Bay area native to a $175M bag shortly before the owners locked out the players. Semien bet on himself in 2021, and it paid off big time. He signed a one-year “show me deal” with the Blue Jays last offseason after the Oakland A’s didn’t feel he was worth the money. Semien even made the switch from shortstop to prove his versatility.
Semien was exactly what they needed in the city of Toronto to get over the hump and become true contenders. The team made a late playoff push, but injuries and a hellacious division featuring the Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays was too much to overcome
With a fresh start hitting in an improved Texas Rangers lineup Semien should continue to make All-Star games and put respect on his family name for seasons to come.
5. Giancarlo Stanton (DH/OF, Yankees)
Along with Aaron Judge, Stanton was able to remain healthy last season and put on a light show for the rest of the league. Already identified as the guy who hits the ball as far as anybody, Stanton who won an MVP in the National League and once hit 59 bombs in a season, had a serious rebound campaign in 2021, hitting 35 homers and providing for some mammoth blasts in clutch moments for the Bronx Bombers.
He should become the next 500 homer guy in MLB if he keeps up this current power pace.
Cedric “CM Storm” Mullins (OF, Baltimore Orioles): A 30-30 season in 2021 says he’s elite.
Triston McKenzie (P, Cleveland Guardians): Electric stuff with Cy Young potential.