Major League Baseball has existed for 118 years and produced many national icons, from Babe Ruth to Willie Mays and Barry Bonds. These stars existed as role models for kids and a form of escapism for adults; a timeless and universal phenomenon. In 2021, the stars look a little different: thrilling and incredible just the same, but with different ethnicities and nationalities.
American (and international) kids now look up to Japanese Shohei Ohtani, Dominican Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto, Venezuelan Ronald Acuña Jr, and Canadian-Dominican Vladimir Guerrero Jr. International stars being at the forefront of the league is the next step for the MLB — it makes it universal, representative. While these five athletes are in the first legs of their careers, they’re already making history, and they can lead the MLB into its next era with their talents.
Shohei Ohtani, pitcher, Los Angeles Angels
Ohtani’s a pitcher, yet he’s leading the MLB in home runs. The comparisons to Babe Ruth, as insane as they might sound, might not be far off: Only Ohtani and the great Bambino have dominated the game equally as batters and pitchers.
In fact, Ohtani was the only player to be selected to the All-Star game as a pitcher and a position player. He strikes out 12 batters per nine innings, good for 44% of possible outs. He also leads the MLB in slugging percentage at .675. This two-way dominance is unprecedented, and Ohtani’s just getting started.
Fernando Tatis Jr., shortstop, San Diego Padres
Tatis matches his dynamic talents with an equally exciting personality. He cheers and sneers when he hits his home runs, and he’s hit 30 of them this season alone. He’s dynamite on offense, ranking in the 98th percentile in exit velocity and the 95th percentile in sprint speed. He’s promising defensively as well: Just earlier this month, he turned heads for making a catch where he appeared to double jump in the air. The youngest-ever cover athlete for the video game “MLB The Show 21” is easy to root for years to come.
Juan Soto, left fielder, Washington Nationals
Last season, Soto won the National League Batting Title and a Silver Slugger award, and he hasn’t slowed down since. With a career WAR, or wins above replacement, of 14.1, Soto provides elite offense and solid defense, enough to warrant early Hall of Fame speculation. Soto’s three-season rise to become one of the MLB’s top batters was capped off with his first All-Star appearance this year, as well as his participation in the Home Run Derby. With a .298 batting average this year, Soto continues to impress as a hitter.
Ronald Acuña Jr., left fielder, Atlanta Braves
While the Braves have had a less than ideal season, Acuña has shined as an outfielder and batter for his team. He averaged career highs across the board — a .294 batting average, 6.6 home run percentage, 163 OPS+ (his OPS has been 63% better than that of an average hitter) — the list goes on. Prior to the All-Star Break, he led the MLB with 72 runs scored.
After receiving the most fan votes during Phase 1 of All-Star voting, he would have participated in the game had he not torn his ACL. However, Acuña still believes he will return better than ever, and MLB fans, young and old, should be paying attention.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., first baseman, Toronto Blue Jays
Reigning All-Star Game MVP Guerrero is having one of the best seasons of his life. With 76 runs, he’s tied for first for runs scored in the American League and fourth in batting average in the MLB with .326. He leads the MLB in fWAR and wRC+, two metrics designed to show the best players in the league. He’s on pace to possess the highest fWAR (8+) for a first baseman in MLB history. A Home Run Derby legend, Guerrero is on pace to be one of the best hitters the game has ever seen.
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