A potential surprise star in every MLB division by 2024

Who do you think could have been the NL Central MVP last year?

Paul Goldschmidt? No. Nolan Arenado? No. Cody Bellinger, Dansby Swanson, Christian Yelich or Corbin Burns? No, the answer is Venezuela’s William Contreras, who led the division with 5.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) according to FanGraphs.

The point is, the best player in a particular year may not be the one everyone expected. It’s easy to point to Adley Rutschman, Dominican Julio Rodriguez or Corbin Burns as the next leaders of their divisions. But let’s try to find other candidates who are on the radar but could surprise in 2024.

Here, there is one ‘dark horse’ that can reach the top of each division.

American League
East Division: Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees
Best Player of 2023: Aaron Judge (5.3 WAR)

Let’s take a look at Volpe’s rookie season: 21 home runs, 24 stolen bases, a Gold Glove at shortstop. If you just look at that, you’d think the Yankees have one of the best up-and-coming players in baseball.

But the truth is that Volpe still has a lot of potential ahead of him. There is room for growth for the shortstop – Volpe hit just .209 with a .666 OPS and 81 OPS+ in his first year. Considering that he is only 22 years old, you can expect a lot of growth in his second year. With his combination of power and speed, as well as Gold Glove defense at a premium position, the Yankees shortstop could quickly become one of the best players in his division.

Other candidates: Randy Arozarena (Rays), Tristo Casas (Red Sox), Masataka Yoshida (Red Sox), Jackson Holiday (Orioles).

Central Division: Riley Green, CF, Tigers
Best Player of 2023: Bobby Witt Jr. (5.7 WAR)

Looking back at his 23-year-old season, Green has already demonstrated a complete game in one of the most important positions such as center field with four obvious tools: contact, power, speed and defense. He has already taken quite a leap from his rookie season in 2022 to his sophomore campaign in 2023, improving his OPS+ from 97 to 117. Additionally, he has other important numbers, ranking among first quarter MLB players in practically all Statcast contact metrics. In 2023.

Green, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing arm, should be ready for Opening Day.

Other candidates: Royce Lewis (Twins), Cole Ragans (Royals), Tarik Skubal (Tigers), Eloy Jimenez (White Sox).

Western Division: Evan Carter, LF, Rangers
Best player in 2023: Shohei Ohtani (9.0 WAR)

If you followed Carter during the Rangers’ run to the World Series, you witnessed the birth of a star. Despite playing only 23 games before the postseason, the 21-year-old slugger was one of the Champion’s best players on baseball’s highest stage.

Carter can do it all – hit for average, hit home runs, walk, steal bases and make spectacular catches in the outfield. In 40 games between the regular season and playoffs, Carter hit .303/.415/.574 with a .989 OPS, six home runs, and six stolen bases. This puts him on track for a 20-20 – or perhaps 30-30 – season in 2024.

Add his .300 average, great plate discipline and Gold Glove ability in left field, and Carter could join the ranks of J-Rod, Mike Trout and teammate Corey Seager as one of the game’s best players.

Other candidates: Jeremy Pena (Astros), George Kirby (Mariners), Josh Jung (Rangers), Shea Langeliers (Athletics).

East Division: Michael Harris II, CF, Braves
Best Player of 2023: Ronald Acuña Jr. (8.3 WAR)

If the best player in the NL East division will not again be Venezuela’s Ronald Acuña Jr., how about his teammate? Harris, the 2022 NL Rookie of the Year, faded somewhat last year due to Acuña’s historic campaign and a slow start amid the Braves’ plethora of stars. But Harris really took off after that, hitting .335 with a .912 OPS, 16 home runs and 15 steals in his final 100 games and finishing with almost the same numbers he did when he was Rookie of the Year. Were. And his bat isn’t even his No. 1 skill, well that would be his glove. Harris makes game-changing plays, like his catch – to start a double play – that ended Game 2 of the NLDS against the Phillies, one of the best plays of the entire postseason. At 22, he’s already a star, and he could be even bigger in 2024.

Other candidates: Jazz Chisholm Jr. (Marlins), Kodai Senga (Mets), CJ Abrams (Nationals), Bryson Stott (Phillies)

Central Division: Eli De La Cruz, SS/3B, Reds
Best Player of 2023: William Contreras (5.4 WAR)

The talent of Dominican de la Cruz is amazing in every way. When he debuted in 2023, he immediately became one of the players to watch, whether it was his impressive home runs, triple-doubles at breakneck speed, or throws reaching 100 mph as an infielder. However, when it came to actual production, De La Cruz’s numbers did not live up to his show’s performance. Although he finished with 13 home runs, seven triples and 35 stolen bases, De La Cruz also struck out 144 times in 98 games and posted a .710 OPS and 89 OPS+. Still, he was just a 21-year-old rookie, and the things you can do on a baseball field are amazing. With a step forward, the division’s most exciting young player could soon become one of the best.

Other candidates: Nolan Gorman (Cardinals), Jordan Walker (Cardinals), Oneil Cruz (Pirates), Jack Suwinski (Pirates), Hunter Green (Reds)

West Division: Nolan Jones, OF, Rockies
Best Player of 2023: Mookie Betts (8.3 WAR)

With Shohei Ohtani joining Mookie Betts and Freddy Freeman, the Dodgers have three of MLB’s five most valuable players in 2023 (and that doesn’t even include Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who was the best player in Japan). Add Corbin Carroll to that group, and the NL West has four of the top ten players in the Major Leagues. But perhaps the West’s next big star will come from somewhere else. And Jones is a surprisingly good candidate.

You may not have noticed, but the 25-year-old had a monstrous rookie campaign. In 106 games, Jones posted a .297/.389/.542 batting line, .931 OPS and 138 OPS+, with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. The left-handed batsman is a complete hitter and has no weaknesses against any particular side’s pitchers; Jones hit .314 with a .902 OPS in 130 plate appearances against lefties last season, and he also has a chance to hit at Coors Field. Perfect stuff for a dangerous hitter. And in terms of tools, Jones has a trio to become a full-fledged star: extraordinary power, extraordinary speed and one of the strongest arms in the outfield.

Other candidates: Jung Hoo Lee (Giants), Patrick Bailey (Giants), James Outman (Dodgers), Gabriel Moreno (D-Backs), Ketel Marte (D-Backs)

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