June 4, 2021

Top 10 Early Contenders for American League MVP, Ranked

While we’re not even at the All-Star Break, the American League MVP race has already started to heat up.

Plenty of potential candidates have come to the forefront but nobody has separated from the pack just yet. The fact that three-time MVP Mike Trout is current on the IL after a brilliant start to the season has helped to open things up. Even a couple of pitchers could get involved in the race with no clearcut favorite emerging at the moment.

Even though there’s still more than half a season left to play, let’s take an early look at the top 10 contenders for AL MVP.

10. Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees

If there’s one pitcher in the American League who has a chance to win MVP, it’s Gerrit Cole, who has been everything the Yankees have needed him to be.

At the moment, his ERA and WHIP are lower than they were two years ago when he dominated for the Astros on his way to earning that massive contract from the Yankees. With six wins in 11 starts, Cole also has a chance to get to 20 wins this season. Getting to that mark, which few pitchers reach nowadays, is probably a prerequisite for making him a legitimate MVP candidate.

9. Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros

The Astros have a pick-your-poison type of lineup, which will make it difficult for any single player to get a lot of MVP attention. Also, Yuli Gurriel doesn’t come with the same name recognition as Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, or Alex Bregman. However, Gurriel has been Houston’s best and most consistent hitter this year.

Other Astros have gone through highs and lows, but Gurriel has been steady from opening day and deserves to be in the MVP race if he can keep it going all year.

8. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians

If the valuable part of MVP means anything, Jose Ramirez has to be in the conversation.

The Cleveland offense would be nothing without Ramirez, especially with his running mate Franmil Reyes now on the IL. Granted, Ramirez isn’t even having his best season, nor is he even among the top 10 in the American League in OPS. However, along with the Cleveland pitching staff, Ramirez is almost singlehandedly keeping the Indians relevant in the playoff race, which truly makes him one of the most valuable players in baseball.

7. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox

It’s not that Xander Bogaerts had a bad year in 2020, it’s just that he’s having an even better season in 2021. He’s batting over .300 and on pace to hit at least 30 home runs and get close to 100 RBIs this season.

Bogaerts has been a big reason for Boston’s resurgence this season and is doing his fair share to help replace former MVP, Mookie Betts. 

6. Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins

Byron Buxton has been out for nearly a month, so he doesn’t have enough at-bats to qualify as one of the league leaders. But if he did, Buxton would be leading the AL in batting average and OPS. He was crushing the ball during his first 24 games of the season before going on the IL. If he comes back from injury and picks up anywhere close to where he left off, Buxton should be able to jump back into the MVP race.

The problem is that his numbers are too good to maintain for an entire season. Plus, not only will he have played fewer games than everyone else but also his team is terrible. Those two things will hurt him in the MVP race. However, there’s no question that Buxton has made some waves this season.

5. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

Of course, Trout is injured at the moment and probably won’t be back until July. The Angels also appear to be going nowhere, especially without him in the lineup. But the guy who already has three MVP awards on his mantle can’t be ignored.

Before he got hurt, Trout was mashing, hitting .333 with an OPS of 1.090, both would be career-highs if he can produce at that rate when he gets back. In other words, the 29-year-old was having perhaps the best season of his career. If he picks up where he left off, he could have a monster second half and shouldn’t be counted out of the MVP race just yet.

4. J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox

While his performance dropped off a little in May, Martinez was surely putting up MVP-caliber numbers in April while helping the Red Sox get off to a fast start. After hitting .213 with an OPS of .680 last year, Martinez has come back in a big way this season. This is the best he’s looked since his first year in Boston when the Red Sox won the World Series.

Despite his drop-off in May, he’s still second in the American League in OPS. If Martinez can get back to producing the way he was in April, he’ll have a chance to hit 40-plus home runs and make himself a serious MVP contender.

3. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

If the Yankees end up coming back to win the AL East this year, Aaron Judge should be a serious MVP contender because he will have been invaluable to his team.

With so many other problems in the Bronx, Judge has carried the Yankees for large stretches of the season to this point, helping them stay within striking distance. He’s not quite at the level he was when he hit 52 home runs with an OPS of 1.049 when he won Rookie of the Year in 2017, but this is the best Judge has been since that year.

He’s on pace to at least flirt with 40 home runs and is third in the American League in OPS. More importantly, the value he brings to his team is undeniable.

2. Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

Shohei Ohtani has a huge advantage in the MVP race because he contributes as both a hitter and a pitcher.

As a pitcher, he still has a ways to go to become one of the best starters in baseball. However, he also has a 2.72 ERA over seven starts and is striking out batters at an impressive rate. Meanwhile, he has 15 home runs in 50 games as a hitter and is posting an OPS of .927.

The conundrum is that there’s no precedent for a player who provides that kind of offensive production and is also an average or better starting pitcher. How are voters supposed to compare that to players who only hit and perhaps play a little defense? Even if his team is bad, Ohtani’s breakout dual-threat season will be tough to ignore.

1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays

In terms of numbers, nobody in the American League can measure up to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. right now.

He leads the AL in batting average, OPS, and home runs. While the home run race is close, Guerrero has a 20-point lead in batting average and nearly a 50-point lead in OPS. He’s crushing the ball and is blossoming into the best hitter in baseball at the ripe old age of 22.

Even if it looks like the Blue Jays will have a hard time keeping up in the AL East and making the playoffs, if Guerrero keeps up his current numbers, it’s hard to believe anybody will be able to match him and keep him from MVP honors.

Photo: Getty Images