With all due respect to the sacrifice bunt, if there's one thing that's sure to rouse enthusiasm for baseball, it's the home run. Following a slump caused by the strike of 1994, the game underwent a revival due to the long ball, and the implication that chicks dig it. Much of that mighty wallop was owed to performance-enhancing drugs, and when that became impossible to ignore, Commissioner Selig and his fellow head honchos had to denounce the likes of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds. With a crackdown on 'roids came a decline in homers and ratings.
On the bright side, the last four or five years have shown a promising trend: Sluggers are becoming more self-assured and fearless at younger and younger ages. Without PED's, they're unlikely to crush 73 tape-measure shots as a Hulked-up Bonds did, but this crop of talent has the kind of sustainable power that projects more like that of Hammerin' Hank Aaron's, who never hit more than 50 homers in a season, but started young, retired after 40, and stayed consistent. With a few exceptions, this list will focus on bombers under 30 gifted with high ceilings and many years to deliver on great expectations.
15 15. Kyle Schwarber
His age exceeds his home run total (24:16), so Schwarber may seem like an outrageous choice to start the countdown, but he does have that aforementioned high ceiling and a long way to go before he turns 40. Two other Cubs made this list, and both have hit more bombs than Schwarber, but the leftfielder/ catcher has two advantages: At 24, he's the youngest of the three. Plus, he's probably got the most raw power in a stacked lineup.
Schwarber's 2016 campaign was supposed to mark his breakout, but he tore his ACL and LCL in a nasty collision with Dexter Fowler in early April. His return in the World Series was astounding proof that he's a freakish athlete with a tireless work ethic. As a rookie in 2015, he cracked 16 balls out of the park in just 232 at bats. That means he went deep once every 14.5 ABs. With his first full season looming (knock on bat) and a huge payday to swing for once his rookie deal expires, expect the kid to start a trend of drilling 30-40 homers a year in 2017.
14 14. Corey Seager
His brother Kyle is a bomber who almost made the countdown, but the younger Seager is off to a hotter start. The reigning Rookie of the Year went deep 26 times in his first full season. A lot of ABs were required for him to accomplish that feat (627), but like a lot of his peers on this list, Seager's upside is what makes him a potential threat to Aaron and Bonds. The shortstop will turn 23 later in April.
You've got to love his career batting average and on-base percentage--.312 and .374, respectively--because they suggest he'll be immune to slumps at the dish. His power may not be as explosive as, say, Giancarlo Stanton or Chris Davis, but Seager is a tougher out who makes contact more consistently. But here's some perspective on the challenge at hand: He'd have to hit 26 HR 29 more times in order to surpass Bonds. That means he'll either have to pick up the pace or play until he's 50 to do the unthinkable. It's a long shot, but one worth noting.
13 13. Chris Davis
After Giancarlo Stanton, perhaps no one in The Show has as much raw power as Davis. At 31, Davis is older than his counterpart in Miami, whom we'll cover later. But with 241 career moonshots, the Orioles' masher trails only two players on this list. Davis was included over the likes of Ryan Braun and Evan Longoria because of the HR ceiling he possesses. In 2013, he clobbered 53 bombs. A couple years later, he whacked out 47. Both totals led the league.
Davis would rank higher if he could raise his batting average and cut down on his strikeouts, but alas, those struggles hinder his chances. His BA fell beneath the ominous Mendoza Line in 2014 when he hit .196. Equally troubling, he was the dubious king of strikeouts in each of the last two seasons, fanning a combined 427 times. Yikes. The good news is that Baltimore believes in Davis, as they recently rewarded him with a seven-year deal worth $161 million. He's shown he can go deep 50 times a year, but all those strikeouts tend to prolong his famines at the plate.
12 12. Mookie Betts
Following a dazzling run in 2016, Betts has muscled his way onto this countdown. In addition to his .318 average, 113 RBI, 122 runs, and 26 stolen bases, the 5'9" phenom swatted 31 dingers. Whoa. Granted, it took him a voluble 672 at-bats to notch said dingers, but the kid is only 24, and in three seasons in the Big Leagues, his HR tally has increased each year. Surpassing 31 would go a long way in establishing Mookie as an elite thumper with upside to spare.
Betts has it figured out at a remarkably young age. Comparing his early HR totals to those of a slim, athletic, Pirate Barry Bonds with a normal-sized head, the legend has a slight edge, 65-54, but BB never went beyond 30 during his first three seasons in The Show. With speed and on-base skills, Betts doesn't need to hit homers to impact the game (his WAR in '16 was a ridiculous 9.5), but his ability to challenge that Green Monster in left field at Fenway sure doesn't hurt his value. Along with the following player, a rival from the Big Apple, Betts should be a blast to watch for many years to come.
11 11. Gary Sanchez
It may seem dicey to include Sanchez in the discussion of baseball immortality at such an early stage, but it's also fun. In less than half a season in The Show, with a mere 201 at-bats, the catcher knocked 20 pitches over the fence. If he could sustain his home run rate and triple his ABs to a realistic 603, Sanchez would end up with 60 jacks. That total is rare these days. Based on his potential and age, 24, Sanchez actually has a solid chance of someday topping Bonds.
The "if" in question is humongous, but if he can keep up the pace he's on, Gary Sanchez would become baseball's home run king by the time he's 36. That's assuming a lot from a small sample size, but still, it's a great sign of things to come for fans of the Pinstripes. For a franchise that gave birth to legends such as Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Jackson, and Jeter, the Yankees spent a few years toiling in a mini-slump caused by overpaid free-agent busts. Then Sanchez arrived in 2016. He looks poised to become a superstar with tremendous power.
10 10. Freddie Freeman
An under-the-radar threat, Freeman has been at it since 2010. His promising blend of youth and production earned him a spot here, and he posted a career high in dingers last year with 34. Freeman's .968 OPS was likewise an encouraging sign that he's entering his prime. He'll be 27 for much of the upcoming season. He and the Braves are hoping Matt Kemp can stay healthy to protect him in their lineup.
Kemp is worth a mention because Atlanta really needs him to produce in order to get the most out of Franchise Freddie, whose 34 bops were especially impressive when considering how often the opposition pitched around him and forced the rest of the lineup to beat them. (This strategy worked constantly, btw.) Freeman will start the season with 138 HR and that mix of experience, clout, and confidence that every ballplayer dreams of, but few realize. With or without much help around him, expect Freeman to go deep 35-40 times this season.
9 9. Manny Machado
With over a hundred moonshots at the age of 24, Machado could do the unthinkable. In less than a quarter century of life, he has already appeared in three All-Star games--due to his glove as well as his bat. The cornerstone of sports in Baltimore, Machado is a first-rounder for those of y'all who get into fantasy baseball, and he whacked 37 pitches out of the park in 2016. His potential suggests that in a given season he could very well surpass 45.
For fans who want to see somebody someday take the honor away from Bonds, Machado has promise. He seems capable of playing the game at a high level until 2032 (barring Armageddon), which means it's not unrealistic for him to become the new home run champ of baseball. Consider the number of round-trippers Hank had at the age of 24: 140. (By contrast, Bonds got off to a slower start, but eventually caught up due to exceptional talent, and yes, probably steroids.) Machado will begin the season with 105 home runs. That means the Orioles' phenom will have to step it up a notch. But even Hank and Barry have to shrug and admit Machado can do it.
8 8. Anthony Rizzo
The first of the Cubs cornerstones to make his presence felt, Rizzo provided thump and hope when the reigning champs were dismal and rebuilding. In 2014, for example, he belted 32 homers as the Cubs finished in the cellar of the NL Central. The All-Star first baseman has posted 31 or 32 HR in each of the last three seasons. That's steady and productive, but to challenge Bonds, he'll have to pick up the pace. That could happen, though. Rizzo is only 27 and he has yet to reach his full potential.
It's worth noting that in Bonds' first four seasons in the big leagues--long before we all knew what the initials P.E.D. stand for--he managed just 84 HR. By comparison, Rizzo totaled 71 in the same span of time. Both were relatively late bloomers. But when Bonds turned 29 in 1993, he mashed 46 pitches out of the park--and he was most likely clean when he did so. Expect a similar boom in power from Rizzo in his late 20s/ early 30s as he begins to master the mental aspect of hitting with his youth and athleticism still intact.
7 7. Albert Pujols
It was a mega blockbuster of a deal when the best hitter in baseball signed with the Angels for 10 years and $254 million dollars. That sounds like a deal Dr. Evil would demand to not blow up the earth with a frickin' huge laser. Looking back, the Angels overextended their budget for no playoff wins in five seasons with Pujols hitting in their lineup, but the man is still a future Hall of Famer with 591 career bombs. He's 171 shy of Bonds at the age of 37, but the plot thickens: He's still got another five years on that Dr. Evil contract of his.
Still a dangerous hitter when he's healthy, Pujols is the active leader in home runs. He's the closest to the finish line, and he might play out his deal, barring an early retirement, before he turns 41. To surpass Bonds, he'd have to average 34.4 dingers per season. It's a definite possibility. The three-time MVP is coming off of foot surgery, but he's expected to start on Opening Day. My guess? Give him a 35% chance of doing it, but only if the Angels add a big name to compliment Mike Trout and provide protection for Pujols in their lineup.
6 6. Miguel Cabrera
A premier slugger since '03, Miggy illustrates how hard it is to break one of the game's most prestigious records. The 11-time All-Star has been doing it for a long time and he's still got a long way to go. The odds are not in his favor--even with 446 career jacks. Nonetheless, the Venezuelan-born bomber stands a better chance than Pujols of achieving the improbable. At 33, soon to be 34 in late April, Cabrera is younger than his peer and future Hall of Famer, and Miggy has also stayed healthier in recent years.
He's the oldest in the top six by a wide margin for a reason: A track record that proves his standard of excellence. Though his ceiling for power numbers is not the highest, Miggy has been owning his hype since the year of the Steve Bartman incident at Wrigley Field--before some of the hitters on this list even reached adolescence. Cabrera has averaged almost 32 homers in 14 seasons. He'd need to sustain that pace for another decade to break the mark of Bonds. It's unlikely, but there's a chance that's enhanced by his ability to become an ideal DH in the American League.
5 5. Giancarlo Stanton
The All-Star formerly known as Mike is only 27, and he's already reached the 200 HR milestone with 208. That didn't take long. He became the Marlins' all-time leader in bombs in 2015. The next year, he won the Home Run Derby in spectacular fashion, offering a record-breaking 61 souvenirs to the fans at Petco Park--which is known as a "pitcher-friendly park," by the way. The 10 longest moonshots in the contest all came off of Stanton's bat. He can hit a ball 500 feet, which is a pretty cool thing to admit to chicks.
Stanton's clout is undeniable. But he's shown a few weaknesses in pursuit of Bonds. His career batting average is .266. That's a respectable number that he'll have to raise with more discipline at the plate if he wants to get the most out of his talent. His .240 average last season was discouraging, and the same goes for his strikeout totals. He whiffed 140 times in 119 games. And he only played in 119 games because, yet again, injuries limited his production. If he can get wiser with age and better protect himself from the dreaded bean ball, Stanton will be making Bonds nervous a decade from now.
4 4. Nolan Arenado
There's no doubt about his pop, he's young, and he hits at Coors Field. The Rockies' third baseman is a no-brainer to rank on this list. Arenado cracked 41 ding dongs last season, 42 the year before, and he will be 26 by the end of April. He's got 111 homers on his resume, and he looks poised to add hundreds more as he enters the prime of his career. Colorado figures to feature him in the middle of their lineup boasting MVP numbers for many years to come.
Like the aforementioned Machado, he plays Gold Glove defense on the left side of the infield--and when you consider what he can do with the bat in his hands, Arenado is a premier all-around talent. Clubbing balls into the thin air of the Mile High City certainly won't hurt his cause, but his power stroke doesn't vanish when the Rockies hit the road. If he can play 15 more seasons until he's over the hill, Arenado would need to average over 43 HR per season. For that to happen, it would help if Colorado locked him up long-term for an absolutely massive sum of cash.
3 3. Bryce Harper
Fairly touted as the Mike Trout of the National League, Harper trails his counterpart by 47 dingers, but Harper is a year younger than the 25-year-old Trout. Both have an alarming number of pitchers left to embarrass before they retire. While Trout has displayed superior on-base skills, Harper have the edge when it comes to sheer power. He whacked 42 over the fence in 2015--a career high. That same season, Trout posted his career high with 41. Overall, Trout remains ahead of Harper by a slim margin that's subject to change.
The depth of talent in the lineup that surrounds him should offer a great boost for Harper's 2017 campaign. He'll be protected by the likes of Daniel Murphy and Trea Turner, and I love the acquisition of Adam Eaton as a leadoff man. Don't be surprised if Harper belts 50 homers. As for his long-term outlook on Bonds' record, if the young MVP candidate plays 'til he's 40, he'd need to post about 38 bombs per season. That's almost as realistic as it gets on this list. However, his first challenge will be to raise his batting average above the sketchy .243 he managed last season.
2 2. Kris Bryant
All KB did as an encore to his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2015 was earn MVP hardware, bring a World Series title to a franchise that had been starved for glory since 1908, and throw the decisive out to first base with a smile on his face. No big deal! He's an exceptional ballplayer with rare modesty that makes him easy to cheer for. In his third year in the Bigs, there's no way he could top what he's already achieved... Is there?
Well, for the purpose of this article, yes, there is. Bryant could very well surpass 40 jacks in 2017 (and the year after that, and so on). He sent 39 moonshots aloft during the Cubbies' march to redemption, and he's capable of hitting 50+. KB is slated to hit between Schwarber and Rizzo in a loaded lineup; there's no way to pitch around him. The versatile third baseman has tallied 65 round-trippers at the age of 25. He's establishing a skillset that is reminiscent of Hank Aaron's: Power, contact, consistency, hitting IQ, and childlike enthusiasm for the game. Who needs to hit 73 homers if it means cheating, right? We shall see.
1 1. Mike Trout
It's a tossup between Bryant and Trout, but here lies the difference: They're both 25. Bryant has 65 HR. Trout has 168. That settles it. Trout was called up in August of 2011 at the age of 19. Like KB, he won Rookie of the Year honors and made it clear he's among the game's most marketable talents. Unlike KB, Trout has been voted MVP not once but twice. And get a load of his HR totals since 2012: 30, 27, 36, 41, 29. Those numbers evoke Hank Aaron's legacy--and the sample size is larger than that of Bryant's.
As for Trout's chances of usurping Bonds as the game's home run overlord, let's suppose he retires at 43, the same age as King Barry*. That would offer Trout 19 more seasons to close a gap of 594. To break the record, the kid from New Jersey would have to average about 32 homers per season. That's a realistic number--even if Trout doesn't quite make it to that age. He won't pulverize 73 out of the park like Bonds did. Odds are, no one will. (Unless PED's are permitted again, to broaden the game's appeal--and why not? But that's a separate argument.) Mike Trout has the best chance of any slugger in the game to someday become the greatest home run hitter of all-time.
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