Photo courtesy of Todd Kirkland
Bat flips, diving catches, gunning a guy out at home, stealing a clutch base; these are all things that can get a stadium rocking and swing the momentum in a game. Today, we’re putting the spotlight on the guys that make those electric events go down. When I think of an “electric” or “explosive” player, I’m looking at a guy with all five tools (bat, power, speed, glove and arm), can make anything happen at any time in a game, and gets his teammates pumped up. These 10 players are by no means the 10 best in the game right now, but they’re the 10 guys I really don’t want to see in the opposite dugout pregame.
Here are my 10 biggest game changers in the MLB right now:
10 – Byron Buxton
Buxton makes the list largely due to his extremely hot start to 2021 and untapped potential. The Byron Buxton hype started in 2012 when the Twins made him the 2nd overall pick in the draft. He reached the big leagues in 2015 at age 21 and struggled mightily with injuries and on-field performance up until the abbreviated 2020 season. Although he still missed over a 1/3 of the games last year, he still managed to hit 13 dingers, drive in 27 runs and slug his way to a .844 OPS (impressive considering his .267 OBP).
2021 looks to be his coming out party, as he’s currently 2nd in the AL in home runs and leads the league in SLG, OPS and OPS+. Not only is he looking to finally put things together at the plate, but since 2016 he’s been Top 5 in the AL for OF Range Factor/Game every season. This showcases his speed and ability to track down balls others can’t. Although he’s the weakest player statistically on this list, he’s one of the most exciting players in the game to watch in 2021.
9 – Trea Turner
Turner is another guy who has struggled to stay on the field due to injuries throughout his career, but when he’s on the field, he leaves no doubt he’s one of the best on it. The main stat that pops off the charts to me when we’re talking about Trea is his Power-Speed #. This stat is essentially the balance of home runs and stolen bases, which you need a lot of for this stat to favor you.
Turner has ranked Top 5 in this stat every season since 2018 not only due to his MLB leading sprint speed, but his sneaky pop that puts him in the 20-25 home run conversation yearly. Not only is he valuable with his base-running and offensive prowess, but he also plays the most premium position on the field. If he can stay healthy, which he was able to do in 2020, he should be in the MVP conversation every year.
8 – Javier Baez
Baez is a guy who struggled quite a bit in 2020, but he’s on this list because of his flair and game-breaking ability. My favorite thing about watching Javy is the viscous hacks he takes every swing. It seems like every swing he takes, whether it be on a 3-0 or 0-2 count, his goal is to put that baseball right next to the American flag Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted on the moon.
My favorite Javy play has to be from the WBC when he was covering second on a stolen base and decided to look away from the runner and point back at Yadier Molina, all while still managing to get the out. Although he struggled at the plate in 2020, he still managed to lead the league in Range Factor/Game at SS and finish 2nd in 2019, so he is a plus defender. Nonetheless, I and many baseball fans out there hope to see him get back to his All-Star form he’s capable of in 2021.
7 – Francisco Lindor
This guy arguably has the most fun out of anyone in the MLB. That trait is invaluable to a team because sometimes you have to remind your teammates baseball is a game, after all, and to have fun with it. He was crucial to the Indians in getting to the World Series in 2018 not only because of that, but mainly because of his performance on the field. He had a bit of a down year in 2020, but from 2017-2019, he eclipsed 32 home runs and a .842/116 OPS and OPS+.
My favorite part of Lindor’s game is not only does he have major pop for a shortstop, but he does it from both sides of the plate. He brings even more power to a loaded Mets lineup in 2021 that has no breaks in it at all. I’m pumped to see the excitement and flair he brings to a big market team.
6 – Trevor Story
Story is the most underrated player on this list. He’s often forgotten because he plays for a non-competitive Colorado Rockies team, but he’s the only thing keeping that team from winning 50 games in 2021. Yes, his stats are somewhat inflated due to playing 81 games a year at Coors Field, but that doesn’t discount the fact the dude is an absolute masher. He is, in my opinion, the best offensive shortstop in the game right now.
Not only is he a beast with the bat in his hands, but he’s been top 3 in the NL for Range Factor/Game at SS every year since 2016 and ranked top 5 for fielding % at SS from 2017-2019. I’m not saying he’s a Gold Glove guy, but he is in all aspects an above average player. The most forgotten part of his game is his speed. He stole 27 and 23 bases in ’18 and ’19 respectively, and also led the NL in stolen bases with 15 last season. I think he’s one of the top candidates for a 30-30 season in 2021. Watch out for Trevor Story.
5 – Shohei Ohtani
Ohtani could eventually climb higher on this list, but I have him at #5 due to sample size. Similar to Buxton and Turner, the issue with Ohtani has always been health. I’ve been a skeptic of his ability to pitch and hit while staying healthy, but 2021 is his year to prove me and the haters wrong. Not only is he every bit of a plus hitter, but he’s among the hardest throwers in the league with a fastball up to 102 MPH and one of the dirtiest splitters I’ve ever seen.
I thought it was unbelievable when he managed both hit the ball with the highest exit-velo in the MLB the first week of the season and throw the hardest pitch. My favorite thing about Ohtani is his prowess as a hitter. The ball could be a foot outside and he still finds a way to hit the ball with authority. This guy has the most God-given talent I’ve ever seen a ballplayer have and I hope to see him bringing the electricity to Anaheim for many years to come.
4 – Mookie Betts
In my book, Mookie Betts is the definition of a five tool player. He can hit for average and pop, but he’s a perennial Gold Glover in RF, has one of the strongest arms in the game and is always a threat on the bases. The thing I’m most impressed with from Mookie is how he was originally drafted by the Red Sox as a 2nd baseman.
It dumbfounds me not only that he was able to become a Gold Glover in the outfield, but his arm strength is as good as it is and he was originally a 2nd baseman. There are a few scouts out there that need to be fired. I’m not sure he can replicate his 2018 MVP campaign where he hit 32 bombs and mashed his way to a .346/.428/1.078 slash, but at 28 years-old he’s still in his prime. Dodger Stadium is sure to never have a power outage with Mookie on the premises.
3 – Mike Trout
You might hate me for putting the best player of our generation at #3 in these rankings, but it is by no means a knock against his performance. I don’t need to get into the 3 time AL MVP’s stats. We all know how good Mike Trout is. The only reason he’s not #1 or #2 is the lack of flair he shows in comparison to the next two guys. I want nothing more than to see Mike Trout bat flip a walk-off bomb over the backstop, but I don’t think we’ll ever be lucky enough to see that happen.
He’s a veteran and the bona fide leader of the Halos, so it might not be the best idea for him to partake in those kinds of activities. He chooses to lead by example for the young guys and stay humble and I’ll never knock a guy for doing that. Since he is getting older and doesn’t have the speed he used to, we won’t ever see Trout steal 49 bases like he did in 2012. I’m not sure he’ll ever steal 30 again. Nonetheless, he’s still the best player in the game and absolutely electrifying.
2 – Fernando Tatis Jr.
The cover athlete of MLB The Show ’21, Tatis is the definition of “electric”. The Padres got lucky with this guy, as they only had to give up the coveted James Shields back in 2016. We’ve only gotten a taste of what Tatis Jr. can do, but his first full 162 game season in the big leagues will unfortunately not be quite as full one due to the shoulder injury he suffered 5 games in.
When he’s on the field, he’s a clear cut 30-30 guy that plays the most premium position on the field. Although he can be a bit shaky at times with his defense on routine plays, he makes the tough plays look routine. I challenge you to find 5 other players in the MLB that are not only capable, but brash enough to tag up from third on a pop fly in the infield. Not only can Tatis Jr. do this, but he can successfully. The plays he makes, the bases he steals, the bats he flips are all electrifying to Slam Diego and they’ll have the luxury of that for many years to come.
1 – Ronald Acuña Jr.
Ronnie is in every way the most electrifying MLB player in the game today. When I’m talking bat flips, talking trash, pumping up teammates and electrifying a stadium, he’s exhibit A. If the Braves weren’t so loaded with outfield talent, he’d be one of the best centerfielders in the game. He nearly had the most recent 40-40 season in 2019, but fell 3 stolen bases short. He’s another guy who’s at the top of the Power-Speed # rankings yearly alongside Tatis and Turner.
Similar to Francisco Lindor, one of my favorite things about Acuña is how much fun he has playing the game. Him and Ozzie Albies have one of the best friendships in the game and I always love to see the shenanigans they’re up to. Bottomline, Acuña brings the speed to the table that Mike Trout doesn’t and brings the track record and sample size that Tatis hasn’t brought yet. Because of this, Ronald Acuña Jr. is the biggest game changer we’re lucky enough to watch in 2021.