If you followed the major storylines in baseball, you probably know that Alex Bregman has a shot to steal the A.L. MVP award from Mike Trout or that Marcus Semien emerged as a star. You may have missed these three shining stars on otherwise forgettable teams. Each has a past to suggest they have plenty of talent, but had also seemed past their prime. All were helped to some degree by the more aerodynamic ball of the 2019 regular season (though seemingly not the playoffs). With each, their second half surge provides hope that they will continue their recent success in 2020.
Maybe Soler just needed the hype to stop. Long viewed as a prospect with huge potential in the Cubs system, Soler disappointed as a Major Leaguer. Then, in 2019 playing for the Kansas City Royals, he reminded the world why he got all that hype and that he’s still only 27. The season-long effort was excellent, but in the second half, he was one of the best hitters in baseball, slashing .299/.411/.665. That slugging percentage was fourth among qualified hitters, and the on-base percentage was seventh. Soler managed to both improve his contact rate and start hitting the ball a lot harder, whacking balls at an average exit velocity of 92.6 MPH. Half of his batted balls qualified as hard hits. Whether or not he keeps all of these gains, no one can fake that kind of performance for that long. The lowly Royals may have a star.
It wasn’t so long ago that Seager was a second-tier star, hitting for average and power while playing a solid third base. His 5-win season in 2016 may prove to be a career high, but there’s no reason to think his dud of a 2018 is indicative for who he’ll be going forward. That season he slashed a measly .221/.273/.400. Going into this past season, he was something of a forgotten man. The first half of 2019 continued that ugly trend: he was 22% worse than league average at the plate, and was starting to look like he couldn’t keep up with today’s game. Then, in August, he awoke from his slumber to become a monstrous .323/.417/.699 hitter. For one month, Seager was Mike Trout with a better average. He wasn’t anything special before or after, but that barrage was enough to lift his second half numbers to among the best in the league. It’s unclear what to expect of Seager going forward, but that one month was good enough to show that all is not lost for the Mariners third baseman.
Villar had a breakout with the Brewers in 2016, hitting for a good average, a nice dose of power and an incredible 62 steals. The following year was lousy, and the one after that was decent but nothing special. It became easy enough to forget that Villar only turned 28 in May. His 2019 saw a return to his 2016 ways, led by an excellent second half. He hit for a high average, and his 14 second half homers led to a career-high 24on the season. He didn’t steal 62 bases, but he did swipe 40, going 23 for 26 in the second half. He was aided by a .365 BABIP after the All-Star break, which he won’t keep up, but his speed does help him run out some extra hits. The Baltimore Orioles don’t have a lot to cheer for these days, but in Villar, they have one of the most entertaining players in the game in the midst of a comeback.