2021 MLB season preview: 10 bold predictions and players to watch


Zach Kaplan, Editor-in-chief

The 2021 MLB season is finally here! There’s so much excitement brewing about the upcoming season, which starts tomorrow, April 1st, with the first games at 1:05 pm ET. 

One major change that many in the baseball world are happy about is that fans will be allowed back in the stands this year. While the exact number of fans allowed in stadiums differs by state, for the Yankees and Mets, stadiums can be filled to 20% capacity, while some teams like the Texas Rangers are allowed full capacity on Opening Day. 

Yankees fans are most excited to see outfielder Aaron Judge hit the field. One thing Judge is known for, like many other MLB stars, is always throwing the game ball into the stands before every half inning, and that’s something he might have to be cautious about doing this year, but at least this will mark some semblance of normalcy. 

Interacting with fans “felt great,” Judge said. 

“A couple of fans were yelling to play catch; I’ve missed having those moments,” he told the press. “With all of the rules we’ve got going on, I can’t be spreading anything. I tried to be smart about that.” 

On a separate note, this offseason saw a lot of moves being made. The Padres fortified their rotation, trading for lefty Blake Snell, righty Yu Darvish, and righty Joe Musgrove from the Rays, Cubs, and Pirates. 

The Dodgers inked reigning NL Cy Young Trevor Bauer to a three-year, $102 million contract–making him the pitcher with the highest average annual value on a contract. 

The Mets agreed to a trade with the Indians which sent star shortstop Francisco Lindor and pitcher Carlos Carrasco to Queens. Star Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado also went to St. Louis in a blockbuster trade over the offseason.

A lot of stars were traded this year, and it’s set to be a very intriguing year. So here are my 10 bold predictions for the season and what surprises may happen.

-The Yankees win the World Series. It’s been said so many times before, and the bias on my end is clearly there, yet with the roster that the Yankees are set to have, it’s hard not to see them as favorites to win the Fall Classic. Think of this rotation: Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino (set to return from Tommy John surgery this summer), Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, Domingo German. It feels that if the Yankees can keep Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton healthy, and D.J. LeMahieu from regressing, they are on even footing with the Dodgers and Padres. 

-The Mets don’t live up to the hype. Many predictions see the Mets as clear favorites to win the NL East, and with good reason. Their signing of Lindor and Carrasco, as well as the very under-the-radar signing of Taijuan Walker, fortifies their lineup and rotation. Yet, the Braves are already proven and have shown what they can do, only adding rotation depth in Charlie Morton and keeping Marcell Ozuna. However, the Mets do give the Braves a fight till the end, coming within two games of the division title. 

-Juan Soto wins National League MVP. Everyone sees the potential Soto shows daily, but it’s a question of whether this year is where he shows his true ceiling, which feels like it’s going to keep going thanks to how Soto has raised the bar each year.

-Trevor Bauer posts a 4+ ERA. As much as I’d love to see Bauer go out and fully earn that $34 million he’s earning this year, considering how much he’s modernized and popularized the game of baseball, I can’t be the only one that notices that his one year with a below-2 ERA is in a shortened 60-game season, right?

-Jarred Kelenic wins AL Rookie of the Year. Kelenic was sent to the Mariners from the Mets in the deal that sent Edwin Diaz and Robinson Cano to the Mets. That deal didn’t quite work out well for the Mets, and even if they do win the division or see new success this year, Mets fans will come to feel annoyed at Brodie Van Wagenen for shipping off Kelenic, who will start producing heavily for the Mariners alongside Kyle Lewis.

-Ke’bryan Hayes wins NL Rookie of the Year. Hayes made a splash in Pittsburgh last year, hitting .376 in the shortened season, and nearly everyone sees his potential: he’s a speedy hitter who can hit to all sides of the park and command the hot corner with ease, and these utilities should show in 2021. 

-Jameson Taillon makes the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting and wins AL Comeback Player of the Year. Taillon has struggled with injuries and endured the operations and recovery processes of not one, but two Tommy John surgeries over his career, but his high-risk, high-reward signing by the Yankees will pay off. In 2018, Taillon went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA, and Taillon seems to be on that same track this year. For one, Taillon himself has testified to feeling better than ever this year, but he has shown that his pitches look very improved during spring training, and for those reasons, if the Yankees play him right, he should see success this year. 

-The Padres win the NL Pennant. This is a risky one because it seems obvious that one of the Padres and Dodgers will make the World Series representing the National League this year, but it’s anyone’s guess which team it will be. The general inclination seems to say that the Dodgers are the best bet, considering they won the World Series and built on their success with the Bauer signing and with the signing of Tommy Kahnle. However, I think the youth of the Padres, plus the amount of new talent that they went out and got this offseason will for sure pay off. However, no matter what the result of this year’s arms race between the California dynasties, the Dodgers don’t seem to have a lot of time left at the top. The Bauer signing is going to force them to decide what to do with a number of star players, among them Corey Seager, Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Bauer, A.J. Pollock, Joe Kelly, and others, and it’s unlikely they’ll have the cap space to keep all of them. Considering that additionally, next year the Padres will get Mike Clevinger back from Tommy John surgery, and should only keep getting better, so for the Dodgers, this seems like the last hoorah. 

-World Series matchup: New York Yankees vs. San Diego Padres. It feels like this is the year for the Bronx Bombers to finally make it to the World Series, considering their two former foes, the Rays and Astros, don’t seem to be as much of a threat this year, and the Yankees seem like the only American League team with a guaranteed shot at the title this year.

-MVPs: Aaron Judge and Juan Soto. Judge came so close in 2017 when he was denied the MVP title in favor of Houston’s Jose Altuve. Looking back on it, Judge was robbed of that title, considering Judge had a better on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, more home runs, more RBIs, and a much higher average exit velocity. The reason Judge didn’t win the MVP was that his batting average was significantly lower than Altuve’s (.278 vs. Altuve’s .346) yet the other stats favor Judge. Point is, in 2017 Judge was healthy and was raking, and if he can do that again this year, an MVP seems to be on the horizon for him.