Are we in the midst of the golden era of the home run? It’s possible. Just a few years ago it seemed impossible that homer totals would reach the same heights we saw during the infamous Steroid Era of baseball around the turn of the century, but the ball has started flying again.
2017 set a single-season record for home runs across Major League Baseball when 6,105 balls flew over fences.
It marked the first time in history that at least 6,000 long balls were hit across the big leagues. It was so rampant that it led to massive speculation regarding whether the league was doing something to the baseballs themselves in order to make them fly farther.
Home runs are exciting, and baseball wants to do everything it can to keep up with the times and continue to expand its fanbase. Americans like high-scoring sports, so adding offense to the game seemed like a possible way to increase fan interest.
Interestingly enough, 2018 did not see that same kind of power display. We still got over 5,500 home runs during the regular season, but that’s a pretty massive dip from the 2017 mark that eclipsed 6,000. Did the league stop “juicing” the balls? Or was pitching just better in 2018 than it was in ‘17? Who knows?
Whatever the case, home runs are still well up from where they were around 10 years ago. There were just 4,552 home runs hit back in 2011, for example.
Khris Davis of the Oakland A’s led the way in 2018 with 48 dingers. J.D. Martinez of the Red Sox finished second with 43 in his first season in Boston, while Joey Gallo of the Rangers was the only other player to get to 40.
2018 marked the third straight season in which Davis clubbed at least 40 home runs. As you may expect, he is one of the betting favorites to lead the big leagues in bombs again in 2019.
Will Davis repeat as American League home run champ? Or will a new slugger rise to the top? MyBookie has brand new home run props posted regarding who will lead the league in homers in 2019. Let’s break down a few potential sleepers coming out of the American League.
Alex Bregman (+8000 to Lead MLB in Home Runs)
Alex Bregman was a highly-touted prospect coming out of LSU, but last season he officially made the leap from prospect to superstar. Bregman, not Jose Altuve or George Springer or Carlos Correa, was the Astros’ best hitter in 2018, and it really wasn’t all that close.
The former No. 2 overall pick slashed .286/.394/.532 last season with 31 home runs and 103 runs driven in. He also stole 10 bases and smacked 51 doubles, for good measure.
Bregman hit 12 more home runs in 2018 than he did in 2017 as he became one of the more feared hitters in the American League. If you recall, the Red Sox just declined to pitch to him for most of last fall’s ALCS, instead opting to take their chances with Altuve and Correa as they battled injuries. He had a .553 on-base percentage during the postseason, which is Barry Bondsian. Bregman would go on to finish fifth in AL MVP voting for his exploits.
Bregman got better as the season progressed, which is a sign that he may not be done improving. Bregman hit just 5 total home runs in March, April and May combined before his season really started to take off in June.
The LSU product slapped 11 dingers in June and 6 more in July on his way to a career-high 31. Minute Maid Park is a pitcher’s park overall, but it is a good home run park, as well, especially for right-handed hitters like Bregman.
It’s an awful lot to ask for Bregman to go from 31 homers to the 40-plus it will likely take to lead the big leagues.
Still, given the remarkable improvement he’s shown at the plate in his short time at the big league level, who’s to say he can’t eventually show that kind of regular power?
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (+10000)
Look, I know what you’re thinking. It’s crazy to suggest that a rookie could wind up leading the big leagues in homers. Except…we just saw it happen 2 years ago when Aaron Judge popped 50-plus during what was technically his rookie campaign. See? Anything is possible.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the most highly-touted hitting prospect baseball has seen in quite some time. Perhaps much of that has to do with the fact that his dad and namesake was one of the most feared sluggers in the game during his career, but the minor league numbers are outstanding, as well.
Most in the know believe the Blue Jays should have brought him up last season, but they’re going to wait until this year for service time reasons.
Vlad Jr. spent most of his time at Double-A last season before being promoted to Triple-A late in the year. He cracked 14 homers in 61 games at Double-A before adding 6 more in just 30 games at the highest level of the minors.
Vlad Jr. hit a ridiculous .402 during his time at Double-A, which is basically unheard of in this day and age. He’s going to be one of the best pure hitters in the majors the second he steps foot on the field, which isn’t something we say a whole lot when it comes to rookies.
The big question when it comes to Guerrero will be how much time he gets at the big league level. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that he’ll make his major league debut some time in 2019, but when? Will he break camp with the Jays? Or will he come up a month into the season? Later?
Vlad Jr. is capable of hitting home runs in bunches, and it won’t hurt that he’ll play the majority of his games in the American League East, which is home to some of baseball’s best hitting environments. In addition to homer-friendly Rogers Centre, Guerrero will also be taking his hacks at Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and Oriole Park.
All 4 rank among the best power parks in baseball, which should play right into his hands.
Vlad Jr. is a bet that may carry more weight prior to the 2020 season, but I felt like he was at least worth a cursory mention heading into what should be his rookie season. Based on the way this guy raked in the minors, who’s to say he can’t burst onto the scene at the game’s highest level and take the league by storm?
Shohei Ohtani (+10000)
Last season Shohei Ohtani essentially split time between pitching and hitting. Hitting wound up taking precedence, as he struggled with elbow problems for much of the year. In the end, the eventual AL Rookie of the Year was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery at season’s end.
The procedure will cost Ohtani the 2019 season as a pitcher, but he will still be able to contribute to the team as a hitter. So, the plan for ‘19 is to have Ohtani serving as the team’s full-time designated hitter.
Ohtani is expected to be ready for Opening Day, so at this point we have no reason to believe his upcoming campaign will be cut short due to the aforementioned surgery. Assuming he’s able to stay healthy enough to stay in the lineup, I would think the Angels will deploy him as the DH just about every day, regardless of opposing pitcher handedness.
The phenom logged 367 plate appearances a season ago. He showed no signs of struggling against big league pitching, as he slashed .285/.361/.564 with 22 homers and 61 runs batted in. He also showed off his wheels by stealing 10 bases.
Ohtani appeared in 114 games as a hitter, though the Halos decided against starting him at lefties much of the time.
I think Ohtani will be in there for the most part against lefties in 2019. He also wouldn’t be in the lineup as a hitter the day before and the day after his scheduled pitching appearances, which obviously cut into his plate appearances considerably.
Assuming Ohtani is in the lineup every day near the top of the order, I think it’s fair to project him for somewhere around 600 plate appearances. Mike Trout, who missed 22 games last season, logged 608 PAs.
Angels Stadium isn’t a great park for power, but it did improve in that regard when they lowered the wall in right field prior to last season. Obviously, that is beneficial to a left-handed swinger like Shohei. Ohtani has shown power to all fields, anyway.
Considering Ohtani showed great power in his limited at-bats as a rookie, I don’t think it’s out of the question to suggest that he could push for 40 dingers in a full season’s worth of plate appearances.
Let’s also not forget that this guy is still only 24, so he should continue to improve, as well. Natural improvement combined with increased time at the plate should push his homer total skyward.
Ohtani makes for my favorite long shot bet on the board here to lead the bigs in homers in 2019. Bet on him at this number while you still can, because the odds will come down as the year progresses.
Rougned Odor (+10000)
The Rangers may not be good, but they do hit a lot of home runs. It helps that they play plenty of their games in the summer heat of Arlington. Hot weather helps the ball fly, and there are plenty of days and nights at Globe Life Park during the summer when temps soar above 100 degrees.
It also doesn’t hurt that the ballpark itself is designed so that there is almost a constant jet stream blowing out toward right field, which helps the ball fly even more.
So, lefties that ply their craft in Texas have an advantage. We’ve seen Joey Gallo and his uppercut swing take advantage of those factors time and time again. Gallo is a polarizing player considering he’s either striking out or circling the bases in most of his plate appearances, but he’s fun to watch.
Gallo hit 41 homers in 2017 and followed that up with another 40 in ‘18. At +2000 to lead the majors in homers next season, I definitely think Gallo is still a bargain.
Odor has also been somewhat polarizing in that he’s another true outcome guy. He doesn’t have the patience of Gallo, though, so his on-base percentage has always left plenty to be desired. He did make serious strides in that department last season, however. Odor’s OBP jumped to .326 after a pathetic .252 showing the season prior.
Odor’s decision to be more selective at the plate likely won’t hurt his power numbers in the long run, either. Odor hit just 18 homers last year, but he was limited to just 129 games due to injury. This guy hit 33 bombs in 2016 and another 30 in 2017, so we know the power potential is there.
Now that he is more patient, I’d expect Odor’s power numbers to climb back up. It helps that Odor showed improved ability to hit left-handed pitching as last season progressed, and the conditions in Texas are obviously favorable to lefty power. I still prefer Vlad Jr. and Ohtani at the same +10000 odds, but Odor makes for an intriguing candidate, at least.
Gary Sanchez (+6000)
Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton understandably get most of the attention in New York. Both players topped the 50-homer plateau in 2017, which makes them arguably the game’s most potent power duo. Neither player reached the same heights last season, but obviously the potential is there.
2018 turned into something of a lost season for the team’s young catcher, Gary Sanchez. After hitting 33 dingers across 471 at-bats 2 years ago, Sanchez was limited to 18 homers in 2018. He played in just 89 games due to injury, which limited him to just 374 plate appearances. Sanchez also hit just .186, which is obviously terrible.
Pitchers have made adjustments when it comes to pitching to Sanchez, so it’s now his turn to readjust heading into the new season.
I have a hard time believing the 26-year-old went from being one of the game’s best hitting catchers to an unplayable albatross in the span of a season, so I would expect a bounce-back effort from the Yankee backstop next season.
Sanchez closed the season strong, including a 2-home run game against the Red Sox in the ALDS, which is a good sign about his prospects for ‘19.
He has shown the ability to hit home runs in bunches when he’s right. Assuming he can stay healthy – groin injuries landed him on the DL twice last season – this guy clearly has enough raw power to lead the league in big flies.
Remember, he went deep a whopping 20 times in just 229 plate appearances when he initially burst onto the scene back in 2016. Yankee Stadium is also a home run haven, and he’ll get to play plenty of road games in those same hitter-friendly AL East ballparks as mentioned above.
Sanchez isn’t as under-the-radar as Ohtani, Guerrero Jr. or Odor, but I like the value here.