Sports

The top 50 people who will impact the 2024 MLB Season: Nos. 50-26


This is a list not of the 50 best players in MLB — Rob Manfred is not a better baseball player than José Ramirez — but, rather, of the top 50 people set to influence the 2024 MLB season. At least for this exercise, think of these folks as the characters in your favorite TV show, not numbers on a box score.

The criteria is subjective and the ordering imperfect, but the pudding is in the process. On this list are All-Stars, prospects and people you’ve maybe never heard of — not to mention owners, agents, closers, managers, one former interpreter and three guys named Jackson.

May this list provide to you, the beautiful reader, a snapshot of what to know and whom to care about as the 2024 season begins. Let’s roll.

Read more: Picks for division winners, World Series, Cy Young, MVP, Shohei Ohtani and more

50. Victor Scott

No rookie has eclipsed 70 steals in a single season since Vince Coleman pilfered 110 bags in 1985. But Scott, who was thrust into St. Louis’ every-day center-field role after Dylan Carlson hit the injured list just before Opening Day, has a shot to rack up steals by the dozen. The 23-year-old speedster swiped 94 bases in the minors last year and has true top-of-the-charts, make-the-pitcher-sweat, blink-and-he’s-already-gone foot speed. With MLB’s new rules leading to an uptick in steals last season, Scott should be a lock for at least 50 if he plays anything close to a full season. Imagine if Roadrunner could hit enough.

49. Alex Cora

Red Sox fans are understandably peeved and aggrieved heading into 2024. Their beloved club spent all winter overpromising and underdelivering like a substandard postman. Now Cora, in the final year of his contract, is the one tasked with taping the misfit pieces together into something decent. Boston won’t suck, but they might be devastatingly boring and irrelevant. That could make Cora’s role as a face of the club’s upcoming, behind-the-scenes Netflix doc particularly bizarre. If it all goes sideways, he could be elsewhere by the time the series drops next year.

Lewis has just 280 MLB plate appearances across 70 games, and he already tied Twins legend Joe Mauer in career grand slams (5). If Lewis plays as long as the Hall of Fame inductee and maintains his current four-bagging pace, he’ll hang ‘em up in 2036 with 142 grand slams — 117 more than Alex Rodriguez, the current MLB career leader. Even if that doesn’t happen, Lewis appears primed to become the face of Twins baseball for the foreseeable future. After a series of debilitating injuries robbed him of multiple seasons, the bald bomber exploded onto the national stage last postseason, ripping a pair of round-trippers in Minnesota’s first postseason win since “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” was in theaters. He’s a perennial All-Star if he can stay healthy.

Remember the summer of 2022? We were young and dumb with stars in our eyes, the world was at our fingertips, and Timmy Trumpet was the most popular musician in The Big Apple? It was all because of Díaz, whose masterful season earned him the richest contract ever given to a reliever. But before Díaz could recreate the magic, he fell victim to a freak accident during a celebration in the World Baseball Classic, which kept the Mets‘ closer out for all of 2023. Now, the show must go on. And while these Mets aren’t the hype typhoon last year’s team was, at least Díaz is back, ready to reprise his role as the most electric 10 minutes in New York City.

A man of endless talent and occasionally wavering focus, Chisholm has tantalized and frustrated ever since his debut in 2020. Once again, injuries limited the Bahamian supernova during his club’s improbable run to the playoffs a year ago, with Chisholm posting only a half-season’s worth of plate appearances. But if you take the 26-year-old’s word for it, he is a new man, a grown-up, a matured presence who no longer eats McDonald’s on the daily. That renewed intensity, if it manifests into, say, 150 games and 6 WAR, could propel the electrifying center fielder to his rightful place as one of the sport’s biggest stars. Another year of IL stints and inconsistent play, on the other hand, would likely doom the 2024 Marlins and leave the baseball world with nothing but hopes and dreams about what Jazz could be.

From Aug. 1, 2023, until the regular season’s end, Ragans and Skubal were the two best pitchers in MLB. Small sample size be darned, the pair of lefty starters finished Nos. 1 and 2 in FanGraphs WAR over that stretch, with the sexy peripherals to boot. Ragans, acquired by Kansas City in June for Aroldis Chapman, was a midseason revelation, punching out 89 in 71⅔ innings with a high-90s heater. Skubal is a late-blooming lank-lord with a tough-to-barrel heater and a magnificent changeup. So while both Ragans’ Royals and Skubal’s Tigers enter 2024 as cheeky, impress-your-friends, dark-horse picks to win the AL Central, these aces-in-waiting will need to shine for either club to have anything resembling a playoff prayer.

43. Jen Pawol

At some point this season, Pawol (pronounced Powell) will make history as a barrier-breaking umpire. A minor-league ump since 2017, Pawol was the first woman to work at the Triple-A level in more than three decades, and this spring, she became the third woman to officiate an MLB spring training game. Earlier this month, Newsday reported that Pawol, who was a star softball player at Hofstra, was added to the MLB call-up list, meaning she is a likely alternate whenever a big-league ump is either hurt or on vacation. Her imminent arrival at the big-league level is a positive, though long overdue, development that is sure to become a major national story.

42. Ron Washington

An unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Few in the game adore baseball more and have given more energy, love and passion to it than new Angels skipper Ron Washington. For the 71-year-old New Orleanian back on the top step for the first time since 2014, baseball is a way of life. For Anthony Rendon, Wash’s well-paid third baseman, baseball is a job and little more. Few in the game have presented themselves as more disinterested, ambivalent and disengaged than Rendon over the past handful of seasons. He received an avalanche of flack in the offseason for criticizing the length of the regular season, a perfectly fair point made hollow by his 200 games played the past four seasons combined. If Washington can’t get Rendon to increase his give-a-crap meter, nobody can. A true clash for the ages is brewing.

40. A.J. Preller

The only baseball exec on this list, Preller is easily one of the sport’s more polarizing figures. Some in the industry believe Preller, entering his 11th season at the helm of the Padres, has gotten far too long a leash in San Diego. Others appreciate his eye for young talent and willingness to send it. But the passing of beloved owner Peter Seidler, with whom Preller often worked in lockstep, means — alongside a number of more important, more human things — the San Diego GM no longer has a massive payroll budget or unequivocal support from his bosses. And so he spent the winter threading the needle: shedding salary while remaining competitive. After parting with Juan Soto via trade, the oft-disheveled, bushy-haired exec proved that his club still plans to contend with a March deal for Dylan Cease. The Padres’ farm remains strong, and with Preller more incentivized to win than ever, lest his seat grow hot, he could be an aggressive participant come deadline time if the Pads are still in the mix.

For the umpteenth consecutive winter, Kershaw was presented with a three-forked road: return to Los Angeles, sign with his hometown Texas Rangers or call it a career And even though the future Hall of Famer ended up in Dodger blue once again, this time around felt different. A cataclysmic postseason outing preceded offseason shoulder surgery, the first reported surgery of Kershaw’s 17-year career and one that will keep him sidelined until summer. What will he be when he comes back? Will he come back? How does he fit into this loaded Dodgers rotation? His future looks murkier than ever, but with so much already accomplished, Kershaw came back for a reason: He believes he has something left to give.

36. Jackson Holliday

Before the Seoul Series last week, only five players in MLB history had sported the first name “Jackson.” Come summer, that number will skyrocket to eight, as this trio of top-prospect Jacksons become, coincidentally enough, the three youngest players in MLB. Merrill (born April 2003) debuted for San Diego in Korea after snagging the center-field job in spring training, despite having never played an inning there as a professional before camp. Chourio (born March 2004) will also be his club’s starting center fielder on Opening Day after inking a massive pact with the Brewers over the winter. Holliday (born December 2003) didn’t make the Orioles out of camp but should be up by the end of May. What are the odds? So many Jacksons, so much time.

At this point, Trout is whatever you want him to be: underrated or overrated; still elite or totally washed; an icon or a historical what-shoulda-been; a victim of circumstance or an injury risk; fiercely loyal or too content with mediocrity; the most spectacular player of his generation or a generational missed opportunity. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. And as the 32-year-old readies to shepherd the only franchise he’s ever known into its post-Ohtani haze, he does so with both nothing and everything to prove. Trout has averaged just 72 games per season over the past four but has remained magnificent in those glimpses. The gap between what he still is and what he once was is a mystery only time can solve.

34. Paul Skenes

At some point this summer, the man a Pirates teammate dubbed “an absolute moose” will make his MLB debut. Whenever that occurs, the 2023 No. 1 pick will almost certainly throw a baseball 100 mph past some helpless, hapless, hopeless hitter. Because as Skenes himself recently said of throwing hard: “That’s kinda my thing.” He is listed at 6-foot-6, 235 pounds — this writer will take the over on both — which makes watching the man, the moose, the legend throw in person quite a unique experience. It’s like seeing a pro race-car driver drift an 18-wheeler at 85 mph; our brains struggle to compute a thing that large moving like that. This guy is a mix between an elk and a rocket ship. Make sure you tune in.

After 22 years in the Reds organization, Votto spent the offseason adrift, unemployed, wandering aimlessly through the streets of his hometown of Toronto, all the while believing he could still mash. Conveniently enough, it was the Blue Jays who came a-calling for the 40-year-old first baseman, who has become one of baseball’s most beloved and respected wise men. The ever realistic Votto will start his 23rd season in professional baseball with Toronto’s Triple-A club in Buffalo, New York, where he’ll try to rediscover the magic one more time. An eventual appearance at the Rogers Centre feels likely, but no matter how 2024 plays out for the future Hall of Famer, it’s sure to be, as is always the case with Votto, a captivating follow.

31. Vlad Guerrero Jr.

Votto is the most whimsical character on the 2024 Blue Jays, but Bichette and Guerrero are the most crucial. Barring a contract extension, both of Toronto’s cornerstones are set to reach free agency after next season. That means the Blue Jays, who went two and see-ya the past two Octobers, are already staring down the barrel of a dark future. Does Toronto extend one? Both? Neither? Could a collapse lead to a trade earlier than we expect? Or is this still-super-young duo primed to break out and carry the Jays to glory? So much of this club’s future revolves around the present and, more specifically, how this pair perform the next two seasons.

Unless he signs in the next 48 hours, the burly left-hander will remain team-less on Opening Day. That’s a truly shocking development, given how high Montgomery’s stock seemed to rise during the second half of last season. Whenever the ice thaws, be it by capitulation from Montgomery’s agent, Scott Boras, or injury to a contender’s starter, the 31-year-old will be a sudden boon to whichever team gains his employ. It’s not often that players such as this enter the season unsigned, and one club will benefit from the rarity.

Redemption is a tricky thing. After losing all of 2022 to injuries and a PED suspension that, in turn, lost him the adoration of many, Tatis reappeared with lofty expectations. He was far from a knight on horseback last year, with his offensive production far below his lofty standards and his Padres a maze of sewage — though it’s worth noting that El Niño’s defensive transition to right field went better than even the most irrational optimist could’ve anticipated. Still only 25, is a PED-less Tatis still one of the best players in baseball? Was it all a steroid-assisted mirage? Probably yes and certainly no, but until he proves it over a full season, the doubters will remain. Whether he’d return to superstardom in the wake of his suspension once seemed dependent on how he handled the chaos, but now, it’s more about whether Tatis can rediscover the magic, consistency and electricity of his game.

How much is holding on to greatness worth? The Astros are about to find out. Bregman, who has already spent eight sensational years in Houston, is set to reach free agency for the first time this winter. Whether the Astros extend their talisman third baseman will offer precious insight into how the organization plans to keep the most successful run in franchise history going. Bregman has been a foundational piece of Houston’s seven consecutive ALCS appearances, but he’s rounding 30 years old in a few days, and his offensive production the past four years has been merely excellent rather than exceptional. After the club extended fellow Astros icon Jose Altuve earlier this spring, the spotlight is now very much on Bregman.

27. Tony Clark

The Shohei Ohtani-Ippei Mizuhara gambling scandal has dominated headlines over the past week, a development that the MLB Players Association and Clark, its head, should be relatively thankful for. Because boy, oh boy, have things gotten messy over there. Here’s the short of it: A host of players tried to replace Clark’s No. 2 and the union’s lead negotiator, Bruce Meyer, with a former minor leaguer named Harry Marino, a lawyer who was instrumental in unionizing MiLB players a few years ago. The entire disagreement, which is somewhat split along player agency lines, seems superficially resolved for now, with Clark issuing a statement Sunday that Marino won’t be involved moving forward. But with another CBA negotiation lurking after the 2026 season, Clark needs to prove he can get the entire union pulling in the same direction if the players want to have any hope of improving upon their recent gains.

After a winter of waiting, Snell ended up settling. Sure, $30 million is a heck of a settle for you or me, but for Snell, who was hoping for a payday north of $200 million, the two-year, $62 million deal with an opt-out was both surprising and disappointing. That Snell, coming off his second career Cy Young, and agent Scott Boras could do no better than a lucrative “prove-it” deal also highlights something amiss within the fibers of our sport. Now, the goateed left-hander joins a Giants team hoping to sneak its way into October. Each of Snell’s outings, be they good or bad, will feel like something of a referendum on Boras, the “market,” the Giants’ wait-it-out strategy, the teams that passed on Snell and baseball economics as a whole.

To be continued …





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