Ranking MLB Players Primed for Home Run Surge in 2021

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2021

Ranking MLB Players Primed for Home Run Surge in 2021

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    With today's focus on launch angle and power production, there is more pressure than ever on MLB players to drive the ball out of the ballpark.

    On Monday, Eno Sarris and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported Major League Baseball is taking steps to deaden the ball in an effort to counter the recent power spike. But don't expect a dramatic change—the long ball is not going anywhere.

    There are plenty of established sluggers, but we wanted to focus on those who have not yet made their marks as prolific power hitters.

    Ahead we've highlighted 10 players who have never reached 20 home runs in a single season but could be poised to take a prominent position on the homer leaderboard in 2021.

    Players were selected based on minor league track records, big league production and projected playing time, and they were ranked by my own home run total predictions.

    Let's start with some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

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    Bobby Dalbec
    Bobby DalbecSteven Senne/Associated Press

    Here are a few other players who have never reached the 20-homer mark but could be poised for big power numbers:

    • Bo Bichette, TOR
    • Garrett Cooper, MIA
    • Franchy Cordero, KC
    • Bobby Dalbec, BOS
    • Trent Grisham, SD
    • Austin Hays, BAL
    • Sam Hilliard, COL
    • Keston Hiura, MIL
    • Alex Kirilloff, MIN
    • Kyle Lewis, SEA
    • Ryan Mountcastle, BAL
    • Tyler O'Neill, STL
    • Austin Riley, ATL
    • Will Smith, LAD
    • Trea Turner, WAS
    • Jared Walsh, LAA
    • Evan White, SEA

10. Edwin Rios, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Did the Trevor Bauer signing slam the door on a reunion between third baseman Justin Turner and the Los Angeles Dodgers?

    According to Spotrac, the Dodgers are roughly $29 million over the luxury-tax threshold, which means a current tax bill pushing $10 million. The front office could always throw caution to the wind in pursuit of another title, but it's hard to see how Turner would fit into future plans.

    If the Turner era is over, it would open the door for Edwin Rios at third base.

    The 26-year-old slugged eight home runs in 83 plate appearances last season, and he had a 31-homer season at Triple-A in 2019. He grades out well from a metrics standpoint, earning a spot in our skill rankings article on baseball's best power hitters.

    Max Muncy and Chris Taylor are also capable of playing third base, and manager Dave Roberts likes to shuffle his lineup, so don't expect Rios to get 600 plate appearances. But even in a semiregular role, he could pile up home runs.

    2021 Home Run Prediction: 25

9. Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Byron Buxton has been teasing his potential for years.

    He posted a career-high 124 OPS+ with 13 home runs in 135 plate appearances last season, flashing a previously unseen level of power after entering the year with a career high of 16 long balls in 511 plate appearances in 2017.

    His defense will keep him in the lineup every day even if he slumps at the plate, which means he'll have opportunities to hit his way out of cold spells.

    The biggest question is his ability to stay on the field given the myriad injuries he has suffered, but he seemed to turn a corner at the plate in 2020—and a career year could be forthcoming.

    2021 Home Run Prediction: 27

8. Nate Lowe, Texas Rangers

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    With a 6'4", 220-pound frame and a smooth left-handed swing, Nate Lowe certainly looks the part of a power hitter.

    The 25-year-old hit .330/.416/.568 with 32 doubles, 27 home runs and 102 RBI over three levels of the minors in 2018, establishing himself as one of the top position player prospects in the deep Tampa Bay Rays farm system.

    He has a 107 OPS+ with 11 home runs in 245 plate appearances in the majors in two seasons, but he had been blocked by left-handed hitting first baseman Ji-Man Choi.

    His path to playing time is clear following a December trade to the rebuilding Texas Rangers, and he'll enter spring training as the favorite to beat out the underperforming Ronald Guzman for the starting first base job.

    Under club control through the 2026 season, he will be given every chance to prove he can be a long-term piece.

    2021 Home Run Prediction: 29

7. Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Randy Arozarena took the baseball world by storm in October, hitting .377/.442/.831 with 10 home runs in 20 postseason games to help the Rays reach the World Series.

    The 25-year-old still has rookie eligibility with just 99 regular-season plate appearances in the big leagues, so he should be the front-runner for American League Rookie of the Year honors since he'll enter the season with an everyday job.

    That said, he's not going to post an .831 slugging percentage over a full season.

    Pitchers will be careful, and he'll need to show the necessary discipline to avoid getting himself out, but he can be an impact player in the middle of the lineup for years to come.

    A 30-homer season and the AL Rookie of the Year Award are well within reach.

    2021 Home Run Prediction: 30

6. Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox

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    Paul Beaty/Associated Press

    How much better can Luis Robert get in his second season?

    After a dynamic start in 2020, he struggled down the stretch, hitting .136/.237/.173 with one home run and a 34 percent strikeout rate in September.

    Growing pains are inevitable even for players with the brightest futures, and there's no denying Robert has as much potential as any young player in the game.

    The 23-year-old still finished with 11 home runs in 227 plate appearances, and he's not far removed from a 32-homer, 36-steal season over three minor league levels in 2019. Expect more ebbs and flows as he settles in to the big leagues, but 30 homers might be his floor.

    2021 Home Run Prediction: 30

5. Kyle Tucker, Houston Astros

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    After a breakout season, Kyle Tucker will be asked to shoulder much of the offensive load following the departure of center fielder George Springer in free agency.

    The 24-year-old hit .268/.325/.512 for a 123 OPS+ with 12 doubles, six triples and nine home runs, and that is just the tip of the iceberg as far as his extra-base potential is concerned.

    In 2019, he posted a .909 OPS with 26 doubles and 34 home runs in 125 games at Triple-A, earning a September call-up and playing his way onto the postseason roster.

    There is still significant untapped power potential in his 6'4", 199-pound frame, and he could be a perennial 30-homer threat as the Houston Astros reshape the core of their roster.

    2021 Home Run Prediction: 31

4. Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Brandon Lowe might not be the first name that comes to mind when thinking of young sluggers on the rise, but his numbers speak for themselves.

    In roughly one season of playing time over the past two years—138 games and 551 plate appearances—he's hit .270/.347/.530 with 31 home runs and 88 RBI.

    Advanced metrics back up his power production, as he earned a spot among the game's top power hitters in our recent skill rankings, which focused on stats such as hard-hit rate, barrel rate and exit velocity.

    The six-year, $24 million extension he signed a week prior to the 2019 season could become one of the best bargains in baseball.

    2021 Home Run Prediction: 32

3. Clint Frazier, New York Yankees

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Clint Frazier did not play his first game until Aug. 12 last season, spending the start of the year at the team's alternate site.

    He ended up being one of the team's most productive hitters down the stretch, finishing with a .267/.394/.511 line and eight home runs in 160 plate appearances.

    The door remains open for Brett Gardner to reunite with the New York Yankees, but they are up against the luxury-tax threshold, per Spotrac, and he would likely need to accept a significant pay cut from the $10 million he earned in 2020.

    For now, Frazier has a clear path to the starting left field job.

    Even if Gardner does return, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton have had enough trouble staying healthy for Frazier to find regular playing time.

    He has always had power, and he just needs an opportunity to show what he can do over a full season. Here's predicting that opportunity finally comes—and he makes the most of it.

    2021 Home Run Prediction: 33

2. Alec Bohm, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Alec Bohm looked right at home in the big leagues after making his debut Aug. 13.

    The 24-year-old hit .338/.400/.481 in 180 plate appearances to finish as the runner-up to Milwaukee Brewers reliever Devin Williams in National League Rookie of the Year voting.

    It was a surprise Bohm hit just four home runs, however.

    The 6'5", 218-pound slugger was the third pick in the 2018 draft due in large part to the tremendous power potential he showed at Wichita State. He hit .305/.378/.518 with 30 doubles, 21 home runs and 80 RBI in 125 games in his first full season in the minors the following year.

    This might be an ambitious prediction, but Bohm's advanced contact skills and the discipline he showed as a rookie should help pave the way for a significant spike in his power numbers.

    2021 Home Run Prediction: 35

1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Don't jump off the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. bandwagon before his 22nd birthday.

    Most players his age are just breaking into the upper levels of the minors, and only a select few reach the majors at such a young age.

    His production has not lived up to the absurd expectations that followed him into the big leagues, but there's nothing wrong with a 109 OPS+ and 24 home runs in 757 plate appearances.

    Anyone who watched the 2019 Home Run Derby is well aware of the raw power Guerrero possesses, and with his advanced hit tool, it's only a matter of time before it starts showing up consistently in games.

    It looks like he's going to be one of the "best shape of his life" stories in spring training, and that could be a harbinger of the breakout many have been expecting since he debuted.

    2021 Home Run Prediction: 36

            

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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