Happy Opening Day, cherished readers! Three games are already in the books, but the full slate arrives today (well, other than Astros-Yankees, which inclement weather has cruelly postponed, and Tigers-Marlins, which for some maddening was scheduled for Tuesday). The Ringer’s resident baseball fans are super pumped, and we want to share our glee with you by gushing over the nine players we’re most excited about entering the season. Peace, love, and baseball.
Bryan Curtis: Rangers 2B Rougned Odor. How’s this for a don’t-get-too-excited/wait-I’m-already-excited spring training moment? On March 25, Odor homered three times against the Padres, giving Rangers fans who were already feeling good about themselves an extra jolt. In the debit column: We get headlines like “Funky Odor,” surely just one of many groaners. But what a small price to pay for upside.
Robert Mays: Cubs LF Kyle Schwarber. Explain to me how this is the work of an actual human person. Really, I’ll wait. I think Dennis Eckersley said it best: “Mercy. What in the world?”
Sean Fennessey: Mets LF Michael Conforto. Last night’s platonic disaster of an opener notwithstanding, this could be a special season for the Mets.
[Waits to be struck by lightning bolt.]
OK, I’m still alive and so is Keith Hernandez. Pundits have pointed toward the young arms in Flushing, but the thumper hitting sixth is the reason to dream again. A 2014 first-round pick out of Oregon State, Conforto is the kind of disciplined power bat the Mets have developed only once — the declining, depressing David Wright. The 23-year-old Conforto was on base four times last night, and was the only Met who seemed ready for the season. May he wake his teammates with one of these soon.
Chris Ryan: Phillies 3B Maikel Franco. On Friday, Maikel Jack Franco (not his real middle name) launched a ball into the Philly night sky that will land sometime around the Democratic National Convention in July. Get used to this. Franco hit nine homers in spring training and looks to be fully recovered from the wrist injury that disrupted his 2015 season, right when he was doing stuff like this at third:
Craig Gaines: Dodgers SP Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw has had an unlucky 13 playoff appearances. OK, some of them have been plain bad (his personal bird of ill omen is the cardinal), but Kersh didn’t put Hanley Ramirez at short or build bullpens out of spare parts bound by Brian Wilson’s loose whiskers. In this first season after his Sundance Kid’s departure for millions and mediocrity in Arizona, I will be following this generation’s best pitcher more keenly than ever, fervently hoping all summer that he’ll get a chance to unleash Public Enemy No. 1 in postseason appearances 14, 15, 16 …
Mallory Rubin: Orioles 2B Jonathan Schoop. You already know that the Orioles have an MVP-caliber infielder in his early 20s who’s capable of pairing Gold Glove defense with a 30-homer season. What you might not know is that they actually have two: Schoop, henceforth referred to as “Johnny Baseball,” can’t match Manny Machado’s fame or five-tool production, but he might be able to match his dinger and web-gem totals this season. And boy, is that cause for celebration!
Megan Schuster: Twins CF Byron Buxton. Buxton spent his spring training making highlight-reel catches, enjoying the Florida sunshine, and prepping to make his first Opening Day roster. If his bat can catch up to his speed and defensive skills, then we might be able to justify that Mike Trout comparison. (OK, that’s still a reach.)
Tate Frazier: Yankees SP Luis Severino. He’s 22. He throws an absurd cutter that baffles batters on both sides of the plate. He’s fourth in this year’s rotation, but he’s the future for the Pinstripes. And he’s got the best ears in baseball, bar none.
This piece originally appeared in the April 4, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.