If you’re a baseball fan, chances are someone is going to ask you who you think will win the MVP this season. And if you’re boring, you’re going to say “Oh, Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton, probably.” You’re so boring! Everybody is going to say Trout and Stanton, or Jose Abreu, or Andrew McCutchen, etc. How about picking someone the casual fan doesn’t even know exists? How superior would that make you feel? Pretty superior, I’d imagine.
With that in mind, here’s a list of five players in each league who all have a legitimate chance at the big award if they have the kind of years of which they’re all capable. And when Trout and Stanton end up winning the MVPs this winter, you can say, “Man, it totally should’ve been Mookie Betts.” We’ll all know it should’ve been Mookie Betts.
Eric Hosmer, Royals: The former top prospect finally seems poised for the monster season so many expected from him years ago. Still just 25 and entering his fourth season in the big leagues, Hosmer is coming off of a postseason run that saw him hit .351/.439/.544 and he’ll look to carry over that success into 2015. Postseason numbers don’t mean anything once a new year rolls around, of course, but Hosmer looks like a more mature hitter ready to hold down the middle of the order for Kansas City. The Royals are a weaker team than last year’s AL champion squad, so they’ll need big years from their best players if they hope to make another playoff run. A huge year from Hosmer, coupled with the Royals in contention again, could propel the big first baseman squarely into the middle of the MVP debate.
Mookie Betts, Red Sox: He’s already drawn comparisons to McCutchen, with David Ortiz saying Betts is even better than the former NL MVP was at similar points in their careers. His teammates have guaranteed he’ll be an All-Star this year. He’s run away with the center field job this spring, helping to push Rusney Castillo and his $72 million contract to the minors. All the stars seemed to be aligned for the young outfielder to have a huge season as the Sox try to get back to the postseason after last year’s disaster. And if they do, you can bet your life that a Boston player is going to get heavy MVP consideration from the national media. On a team full of superstars, Betts has a chance to outshine them all.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees: His first year in the Bronx wasn’t particularly memorable, true. And the Yankees look like they might be really, really bad this year. But if they manage to be servicable – say, they finish .500 or better – it’ll likely be because Ellsbury had an MVP-caliber year. He’ll probably never hit 30 home runs again, but a 20-30, 20-40, or even 20-50 season isn’t out of the question. If he somehow manages to make the Yankees relevant, writers will be falling all over themselves writing his name down for MVP…if they don’t give it to A-Rod, of course.
Nelson Cruz, Mariners: Hitting 40 home runs ain’t what it used to be. Cruz was the only slugger to reach that mark last year and still managed to finish just seventh in MVP voting, the only time he’s ever received MVP votes in his career. That’s a bit surprising until you consider the PED stains all over him, but still. Cruz has a big chance to prove all of his doubters wrong this year in the spacious confines of Safeco Field. Hitting 40 homers there has to be the equivalent of hitting 50 somewhere else, and another huge power year from Cruz coupled with a successful Mariners season would get him a lot closer than seventh in the MVP balloting.
J.D. Martinez, Tigers: Don’t laugh: Martinez hit .315/.358/.553 last year after the Tigers claimed him off waivers from Houston (what an awful mistake that looks like for the Astros). He started slowly but then had a torrid summer, posting an OPS better than 1.000 in both June and September/October along with .992 in July. Was it a fluke? That’s always a possibility, but Martinez hasn’t skipped a beat this spring and looks like the Tigers’ best hitter. He didn’t manage a single MVP vote last offseason, but an even bigger year at the plate would go a long way in changing that. Martinez looks like he’s finally figured things out.
Brandon Belt, Giants: Belt was on his way to firmly inserting himself into the MVP discussion last year before a series of freak injuries destroyed his season. Now fully healthy and a key piece of the Giants lineup, he has a great chance to build on that early success and have the breakout season so many have been expecting from him. Belt is capable of hitting 30 home runs while maintaining a high on base percentage, plus he’s a threat to steal double digit bases. If he can put together the year he seemed to be putting together last year, the Giants might get over their odd year drought and he’ll for sure be in the MVP conversation.
Jorge Soler, Cubs: Kris Bryant may be getting all of the attention, but Soler has been a beast for the Cubs this spring and has a chance to make a name for himself if he carries that into the regular season. If the Cubs have any kind of success this year, don’t be surprised if a lot of their regulars become major players for awards. Soler has the chance to put up reasonably big power numbers in Wrigley, and if his all-around stats can keep pace he’ll likely find himself in the MVP race. The Cubs may have bigger names waiting in the wings, but Soler is every bit as talented and can prove it with a big year.
Nolan Arenado, Rockies: The Rockies are going to be awful, which should severely hamper any of their players’ MVP hopes. But if they manage to be, say, less awful than expected, it’ll likely be due to a monster offensive year from their lineup led by their big third baseman. Arenado’s year was interrupted by injuries in 2014, but he’s healthy and ready to build on the impressive numbers he put up in just his second season. A 30-plus homer season doesn’t seem entirely out of the question (he plays half his games at Coors, after all) and Arenado’s ace in the hole might be his stellar defense, which has won him two straight Gold Glove awards. He’s a very good all-around player who may be ready to take the leap from very good to great this year, and get himself some MVP votesin the process.
Matt Kemp, Padres: Everyone seems to have written off Kemp and his myriad of injuries, and that could be just the motivation he needs to get back into the MVP race. Kemp managed to hit .309/.365/.606 in the second half last year while putting up an OPS of 1.047 in September/October. He’s looked healthy this spring, and while he’ll never be as fast as he was in his younger days he still has the ability to be a very productive, very dangerous hitter. Kemp may feel he has something to prove this season. If he can stay healthy, don’t bet against him putting up big overall numbers and garnering a lot of MVP talk.
Jason Heyward, Cardinals: He’s never finished higher than 20th in MVP voting, but playing in St. Louis seems to be the elixir for guys to have career years. Heyward is just 25 with seemingly all the tools necessary to be a superstar, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him put it all together in his first season with the Cardinals. It’s also his free agent walk year, which should provide extra incentive. Heyward has always seemed like an MVP in waiting who just hasn’t yet put up MVP numbers, but that could change in 2015. It feels like a breakout year is coming.