Projecting Each MLB Team's Home Run Leader in 2020

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 17, 2020

Projecting Each MLB Team's Home Run Leader in 2020

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    Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images

    A record 6,776 home runs were hit across Major League Baseball last season, eclipsing the previous leaguewide mark by a staggering 671 long balls.

    On an individual level, a record 273 players reached double-digit home runs.

    That group was led by New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, who hit a rookie record 53 home runs en route to NL Rookie of the Year honors.

    A newfound focus on launch angle and more players sacrificing contact rate for over-the-fence production means that power surge is unlikely to end anytime soon.

    With that in mind, we set out to predict who will lead each team in home runs during the upcoming season, based on past track record, recent performance and future potential.

    Let's get to it.

AL East

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    Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
    Vladimir Guerrero Jr.Mark Blinch/Getty Images

    Baltimore Orioles: RF Trey Mancini

    After slugging 24 home runs in each of his first two full seasons, Mancini took his power game to another level last year with a team-leading 35 long balls. Playing in hitter-friendly Camden Yards, he's more than capable of duplicating that performance.

    "I didn't do too much with my swing, but I think it's just the mindset up at the plate and setting your sights a little higher, almost," Mancini told reporters regarding last year. "Your approach at the plate really dictates a lot of things that really show up in advanced statistics."

                      

    Boston Red Sox: 3B Rafael Devers

    The easy answer would be J.D. Martinez who leads the majors with 124 home runs over the past three seasons, including a team-high 36 last year.

    However, Devers broke out in 2019 with a .916 OPS and 32 home runs, to go with an AL-leading 54 doubles. Still just 23 years old, he's capable of more offensively, and all it will take is turning a few of those doubles into home runs for him to lead the team.

               

    New York Yankees: RF Aaron Judge

    Can Giancarlo Stanton stay healthy for an entire season? Does Gleyber Torres have another gear after launching 38 home runs last year? Is Gary Sanchez capable of producing at a high level for an entire season?

    Even if the answer to all of those questions is yes, there's a good chance Judge will lead the team in home runs. The 27-year-old has averaged a home run every 12.88 at-bats in his young career. To put that into perspective, only Mark McGwire (10.61) and Babe Ruth (11.76) have gone deep more frequently among players with the requisite 3,000 plate appearances for qualifying for the all-time list. Judge is not there quite yet (1,417 ABs), but it's impressive nonetheless.

                 

    Tampa Bay Rays: LF Austin Meadows

    Meadows hit 21 of his team-high 33 home runs during the second half last season. The only other players to top 20 home runs for the year were Tommy Pham (21), Willy Adames (20) and Avisail Garcia (20), and of the trio, only Adames is left on the roster.

    Newcomers Hunter Renfroe (33 HR in 2019 with San Diego) and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (29 HR in 2019 in Japan) could give him a run for his money, but Meadows looks like the smart choice following his strong performance after the All-Star break.

                  

    Toronto Blue Jays: 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

    It took Guerrero 53 plate appearances before he finally hit his first MLB home run, and then he closed out the season with a dry spell of 119 plate appearances without a long ball. In between, he hit 15 home runs in a solid rookie season that fell well short of absurd expectations.

    The 20-year-old is just beginning to tap into the tools that give him a chance to be a generational offensive talent. That includes some of the best raw power in baseball, and a 30-homer season would not be the least bit surprising.

AL Central

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    Eloy Jimenez
    Eloy JimenezBrace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

    Chicago White Sox: LF Eloy Jimenez

    Jimenez slugged 31 home runs to finish fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting last season, and if his performance over the final month was any indication, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

    The 23-year-old hit .340/.383/.710 with nine home runs and 25 RBI over 24 September games, and if he can build off that momentum, there's no reason he can't best teammates Jose Abreu and Edwin Encarnacion in the South Side showdown.

                 

    Cleveland Indians: 3B Jose Ramirez

    After hitting a career-high 39 home runs in 2018 while finishing third in AL MVP voting for the second straight year, Ramirez took a step backward last season with a disastrous first half. He returned to form after the All-Star break with a .327/.365/.739 line and 16 home runs in 178 plate appearances, and more of the same should be expected in 2020.

    That said, keep an eye on Franmil Reyes, who quietly hit 37 home runs last year. A brutal outfield defender, he can focus solely on hitting as the team's full-time DH, and that could mean more offensive production.

              

    Detroit Tigers: 1B C.J. Cron

    Cron has hit 55 home runs over the past two seasons and will be penciled into the middle of a rebuilding Tigers lineup after he signed a one-year, $6.1 million deal.

    The 30-year-old has limited on-base ability and is a below-average athlete and defender, but he'll receive at least 500 plate appearances in Detroit. That should be enough for him to approach the 30-homer mark again.

               

    Kansas City Royals: DH Jorge Soler

    After years of battling injury and tantalizing with his potential, Soler led the AL with 48 home runs.

    The 27-year-old also struck out a league-high 178 times at a 26.2 percent clip (17th-highest among qualifying batters), but he showed a refined enough approach to also draw 73 walks and post a .354 on-base percentage. Those are encouraging signs that he is more than just an all-or-nothing slugger whose aggressiveness can be exploited, and he should have no trouble with pacing a weak offensive team in homers once again.

                         

    Minnesota Twins: 1B Miguel Sano

    Nelson Cruz topped 40 home runs for the fourth time in the past six seasons last year, and his 244 long balls during that span lead all of baseball. If he leads the Twins in home runs again in 2020, no one will be surprised.

    However, Sano looks like a prime candidate to unseat him after he posted a .939 OPS with 21 home runs in 271 plate appearances after the All-Star break. Looking below the surface-level numbers, his 53.3 percent hard-hit rate in the second half trailed only Judge (56.2 percent) among all qualified hitters, which bodes well for future production.

AL West

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    Mike Trout
    Mike TroutKevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Houston Astros: DH Yordan Alvarez

    Alex Bregman led the Astros with 41 home runs in 554 at-bats last season, which comes to one every 13.51 at-bats. That was good for the AL's ninth-best AB/HR ratio.

    Meanwhile, Alvarez did not make his MLB debut until June 9, yet he still managed 27 home runs in 313 at-bats. That comes to one every 11.59 at-bats. He will need to make adjustments as the league finds ways to attack him, but there's no reason to doubt the sustainability of his impressive rookie performance.

               

    Los Angeles Angels: CF Mike Trout

    Trout saw his 2019 season end prematurely Sept. 7 because of a foot injury that required surgery, yet he still finished with a career-high 45 home runs and added a third AL MVP trophy.

    There's a 50-homer season lurking in there, and with free-agent addition Anthony Rendon protecting him in the batting order, 2020 could be the year we see it.

             

    Oakland Athletics: 1B Matt Olson

    Matt Chapman and Matt Olson tied for the team lead with 36 home runs last season, overtaking Khris Davis for the top spot after he struggled through a down year.

    That said, it took Olson 100 fewer at-bats to reach 36 home runs than it took Chapman to get there, and he did it after coming back from breaking his hamate bone in his right wrist in March. Both players can eclipse the 40-homer mark in 2020 as they continue to emerge as bona fide superstars.

                   

    Seattle Mariners: LF Kyle Lewis

    This was a tough one.

    Daniel Vogelbach led the way with 30 home runs last year, but just nine of those came after the All-Star break when he crashed back to earth with a .162 average and 32.3 percent strikeout rate.

    Lewis, the No. 11 pick in 2016, has always had tremendous power potential, and he made quite an impression in his first MLB action with a 132 OPS+ and six home runs in 75 plate appearances. If he wins the everyday left field job, a 30-homer season is possible.

                     

    Texas Rangers: RF Joey Gallo

    Gallo finished fourth on the Rangers last season with 22 home runs and only played 70 games while battling a left oblique strain and a broken hamate bone in his right wrist.

    Before that, he turned in back-to-back 40-homer seasons, and with the improved .253/.389/.598 line he showed last year, a 50-homer season is well within reach if he can stay on the field. One factor to consider is how the Rangers' new park, Globe Life Field, will play relative to the hitter's paradise they left behind.

NL East

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    Ronald Acuna Jr.
    Ronald Acuna Jr.Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

    Atlanta Braves: CF Ronald Acuna Jr.

    After winning NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2018, Acuna made a run at a 40-40 season last year with 41 home runs and 37 steals in his age-21 season. So what's next?

    "He's talking about 50-50. That's the first thing he said when he got here," teammate Ozzie Albies told reporters.

    With Josh Donaldson gone, first baseman Freddie Freeman looks like Acuna's biggest competition after he slugged a career-high 38 home runs last year. He's topped 30 just twice in his nine-plus-year career, though.

                  

    Miami Marlins: CF Monte Harrison

    This one is a long shot, but with no clear answer for the Marlins, Harrison is a name to watch.

    The 24-year-old will likely start the season at Triple-A, but if Lewis Brinson struggles again after he posted an anemic 24 OPS+ in 248 plate appearances, Harrison could take over as the everyday center fielder. A wrist injury interrupted his 2019 season, but he quietly reduced his strikeout rate from 36.9 to 29.5 percent, and his 55-grade power and 30-30 potential remain.

                           

    New York Mets: 1B Pete Alonso

    After he led the majors with 53 home runs as a rookie, Alonso is a no-brainer choice for the Mets.

    His 30.6 percent home run-to-fly ball rate will be tough to duplicate (league average was 15.3 percent), especially with a 42.0 percent hard-hit rate that was only good for 55th among qualified hitters, but a 40-homer season is still well within reach, given his power profile.

                

    Philadelphia Phillies: RF Bryce Harper

    In a "disappointing" first season with the Phillies, Harper posted a 125 OPS+ with 35 home runs and a career-high 114 RBI in a 4.2-WAR season. He may never live up to his 13-year, $330 million contract, but that doesn't mean he's not an excellent player.

    The other prime candidate here is Rhys Hoskins, but he hit just nine home runs after the All-Star break last year when he put up an abysmal .180/.318/.361 line in 313 plate appearances. Don't sleep on top prospect Alec Bohm if he receives an early promotion to take over as the everyday third baseman.

                      

    Washington Nationals: LF Juan Soto

    After a brilliant rookie season, Soto solidified his place as one of baseball's elite offensive players in 2019 when he hit .282/.401/.548 with 34 home runs. He hit five more long balls during the postseason, including three in the World Series.

    With Rendon gone and no other player on the roster topping 20 home runs last year, it's hard to envision anyone else leading the team in homers.

NL Central

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    Christian Yelich
    Christian YelichDylan Buell/Getty Images

    Chicago Cubs: LF Kyle Schwarber

    Schwarber led the Cubs with 38 home runs last season, and things seemed to click for him offensively after the All-Star break:

    • First Half: 353 PA, .227/.320/.457, 18 HR, 28.3 K%
    • Second Half: 257 PA, .280/.366/.631, 20 HR, 21.8 K%

    The 26-year-old hit .341/.419/.681 with 17 extra-base hits in 105 plate appearances over the season's final month, and 2020 could bring his long-awaited offensive breakthrough.

                 

    Cincinnati Reds: RF Nick Castellanos

    With Eugenio Suarez recovering from January shoulder surgery, it's hard to think he'll duplicate his 49-homer performance from a year ago. Instead, newcomers Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas might be the favorites to pace the Reds in home runs.

    After a 35-homer season last year and with a 38-homer campaign on his resume, Moustakas would be the easy answer, but there's no ignoring the way Castellanos finished 2019. The 27-year-old tallied 21 doubles and 16 home runs in 51 games with the Cubs after a July trade from Detroit, and a career year could be coming with the move to Great American Ball Park.

                   

    Milwaukee Brewers: RF Christian Yelich

    Yelich hit just 59 home runs in 2,812 plate appearances during his five seasons with the Marlins and then exploded for a 164 OPS+ and 36 home runs to win NL MVP honors in 2018.

    He upped that to a 179 OPS+ and 44 home runs last season, despite suffering a fractured kneecap that ended his campaign in the middle of September. Keston Hiura could also put up impressive totals after he launched 19 home runs in 84 games as a rookie last year.

               

    Pittsburgh Pirates: 1B Josh Bell

    After hitting just 38 home runs over first two full seasons, Bell turned his vast power potential into on-field production last year when he slugged 37 home runs.

    Starling Marte (23 HR) was the only other player on the roster to exceed 20 home runs, and he's been traded to Arizona, while Bryan Reynolds (16 HR) is more hit tool than power. Bell should easily top the team for a second straight year.

                  

    St. Louis Cardinals: 1B Paul Goldschmidt

    It took Goldschmidt some time to get acclimated to his new team before he exploded for a 1.085 OPS and 11 home runs in July.

    The 32-year-old still finished with 34 home runs, marking the fifth time in the past seven years that he's topped the 30-homer mark. Since Marcell Ozuna signed with Atlanta, Goldschmidt's biggest competition for the team lead will be shortstop Paul DeJong, who hit a career-high 30 home runs last year, but that might be his ceiling.

NL West

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    Cody Bellinger
    Cody BellingerJohn McCoy/Getty Images

    Arizona Diamondbacks: 3B Eduardo Escobar

    A late-bloomer who filled a super-utility role with the Twins earlier in his career, Escobar joined the D-backs at the 2018 deadline and remained in Arizona by signing a three-year, $21 million contract last offseason.

    Both Escobar (35 HR) and Ketel Marte (32 HR) reached previously unseen levels of power to pace the team in home runs. Escobar has a more fly-ball-driven approach (44.6 percent) than Marte (34.8 percent), so he seems like the safer bet to repeat those numbers.

                 

    Colorado Rockies: 3B Nolan Arenado

    Over the past five seasons, Arenado has averaged 40 home runs and 124 RBI as one of baseball's most productive hitters. He hit 41 home runs last season, and 20 of those came on the road, so his power production is not Coors Field-reliant.

    If he winds up being traded before the season begins, keep an eye on Ryan McMahon as a potential breakout candidate. His 47.2 percent hard-hit rate during the second half last season was good for 12th among all qualified hitters, and he finished his first full season with 24 home runs.

                   

    Los Angeles Dodgers: 1B/OF Cody Bellinger

    After a monster first half in which he posted a 1.124 OPS and 30 home runs, Bellinger leveled off a bit with a .917 OPS and 17 home runs following the All-Star break.

    Max Muncy could give him a run for his money after back-to-back 35-homer seasons, and blockbuster addition Mookie Betts has averaged 29 home runs over the past four years, but Bellinger still looks like the smart pick as he enters his age-24 campaign.

              

    San Diego Padres: 3B Manny Machado

    With five straight 30-homer seasons, including 32 home runs in his first year with the Padres, Machado is a proven slugger.

    The Padres shipped out last year's team leader, Renfroe (33 HR), and Reyes (27 HR) was traded to Cleveland at the deadline, so the biggest competition for Machado appears to be 21-year-old phenom Fernando Tatis Jr. who had 22 home runs in 84 games as a rookie. Expect both of their left-side infielders to top 30 home runs in 2020.

                          

    San Francisco Giants: CF Mike Yastrzemski

    A revelation as a 28-year-old rookie last season, Yastrzemski emerged from a six-year minor league career to post a 123 OPS+ and tie with Kevin Pillar, who since signed with Boston, for the team lead with 21 home runs.

    A repeat performance seems more likely than a power surge from declining veterans Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria, and Alex Dickerson has yet to prove he can stay healthy over a full season, so we'll pencil in Yastrzemski as the 2020 home run leader.

                             

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.