With the 2021 NL MVP award yet to be handed out (the announcement will come on November 18th), our team wanted to take a way-too-early look at who might be the frontrunners to win the honor at the end of the 2022 season. Currently, the three finalists for the 2021 award are Bryce Harper (Philadelphia Phillies), Juan Soto (Washington Nationals), and Fernando Tatis Jr. (San Diego Padres).
The three players just mentioned are all either entering the primes of their careers (Tatis Jr. and Soto) or in the middle of it (Harper). So they could be in line to make a run next year in addition to some other strong historical or bounce-back candidates. Harper is the odds-on favorite to win the award this year, but there has not been a back-to-back MVP winner since Albert Pujols won in 2009. This isn’t to say it couldn’t happen but as you will see below, the field below is an extremely crowded one.
Though Tatis Jr. missed 22 games due to a shoulder issue in 2021 and his batting average was not as elite as his peers this season (.282), “El Niño” is still one of the top three most electrifying players in MLB. Tatis finished the 2021 season slashing .282/.364/.611 with 97 RBIs, 25 stolen bases, and an NL-leading 42 home runs. The 22-year old has had some injury issues in the past, but his ceiling is perhaps the highest in the major leagues, and is a contender every year he is healthy to compete for an MVP. Tatis was recognized as an All-MLB First Team player in 2020 along with a Silver Slugger Award, just one year removed from his MLB debut in 2019.
For the Padres slugger to take home the MVP next year, a full bill of health will be mandatory to compete for the title. Even in 2021, the young slugger made history by becoming the fourth Padres player to have hit 30 home runs and stolen 20 bases in a season, after Steve Finley, Wil Myers, and Ryan Klesko. Normally a shortstop, Tatis switched to the outfield later in the season to help limit his shoulder injury issues that could also factor into his playing situation for next season. As the youngest player on this list, Tatis’ upside is second to none in MLB.
Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts has been recognized as an all-world player and athlete (he is also a professional tenpin bowler for the Professional Bowlers Association) and is due to make a run at his second MVP award. Betts last won the award back in 2018 when he was a member of the Boston Red Sox and was also the American League batting champion. In fact, in 2018, he became the first player in MLB history to win the MVP, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, a batting title, and the World Series in the same season. After some of his own injury issues this season, Betts has the pedigree to make a run at the MVP as well.
An All-Star in 2021 and an All-MLB selection in 2020, Nationals outfielder Juan Soto is a rising superstar in the sport that is on the cusp of winning an MVP award. As mentioned above, Soto is a top-three candidate for the MVP this year and will be for years to come. In 2019, he was a key part of the Nationals’ first World Series championship and in 2020 he won the NL batting title with a .351 average. Ronald Acuña Jr. (Atlanta Braves) is another young player that could make a run as well. Acuña Jr. is a former rookie of the year, All-Star, and two-time Silver Slugger and is coming off a World Series championship with the Braves.
Prediction: The NL is full of uber-talented young players, but the leader of the pack is Tatis Jr. Thanks to his ability to both crank home runs and be a weapon on the bases, the young Padres superstar is one healthy season away from an MVP award. Though veterans like Harper and Betts have won their fair share of hardware in the past, there is a new wave of talent coming through the ranks to usurp the established stars.
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