Just about every team in Major League Baseball has young stars. However, some of the best and brightest reside in the NL East. For the Boston Red Sox, many of those rising stars have only existed in highlight packages. Even with interleague play, there is only so much opportunity to clash with all the talented players in the NL. Last year, the Red Sox faced the Arizona Diamondbacks (three games), the Colorado Rockies (four games), the Los Angeles Dodgers (three games), the Philadelphia Phillies (four games), the San Diego Padres (three games) and the San Francisco Giants (three games) in interleague play. That is a total of 20 games out of 162 or 12.3 percent.
Things will look quite a bit different in 2020. For starters, there will only be 60 games total based on the current plan and part of that plan will force the Red Sox to play the usual suspects from the AL East 40 times as well as the five teams in the NL East 20 times. That’s still the same number of interleague games as last year, but it is obviously a much larger percentage. Additionally, by playing the teams from the NL East, the Red Sox will have a rare opportunity to face some of the best young players in the game today, some of whom the Red Sox will be facing for the first time. That’s not to say that the NL Central and NL West don’t have young stars of their own, but the NL East has some of the best. There are still a lot of questions surrounding this season and its unclear if everyone on every roster will end up playing, but on paper, playing the NL East has a lot of promise for those hoping to watch baseball’s future.
We’ll start with Atlanta. The Braves were on the Red Sox’s original 2020 schedule, so this was always going to be a year to check out the glut of talent on Atlanta’s roster. The highest profile young star for this team is Ronald Acuña Jr. The 2018 NL Rookie of the Year has already amassed nearly 10 bWAR in just two seasons and is coming off a season when he slashed .280/.365/.518 and flirted with a 40 home run, 40 stolen base campaign. He is a player who can do anything, including unleash some legendary bat flips, and at just 22, he has a long future ahead of him. To date, Acuna has only played in six games against the Red Sox.
Acuna isn’t the only young star leading Atlanta into the future. Second baseman Ozzie Albies was an All-Star in 2018 and won a Silver Slugger award last year when he slashed .295/.352/.500 and amassed 75 extra-base hits. Albies also has played in all of six games against Boston before. Then there’s Mike Soroka, who ascended to ace status in 2019 during his age 21 season, as he finished sixth in NL Cy Young voting with a 169 ERA+. If one team represented baseball’s future, it might just be the Braves...
...that is unless the Nationals have anything to say about that. The defending World Series champions may have already reached the peak of the baseball world, but they are set up for enduring success beyond that. Aces like Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg certainly account for a lot of that potential, but the long-term future really rides on the shoulders of Juan Soto. The 21-year-old outfielder played in his first major league game at age 19 and he’s never looked back. He was second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2018 and got even better in 2019, posting 4.6 bWAR while smashing 34 home runs and recording an on-base percentage of more than .400 for the second-straight year.
Soto has plenty of backup as well, with shortstop and stolen base magician Trea Turner and up and coming outfielder Victor Robles both capable of breaking out even further than they already have. For those wondering, Soto, Turner and Robles have a combined 25 career plate appearances against Boston, with Turner (14) and Soto (11) accounting for all of them.
New York Mets
Getting back to breakout seasons, the Mets certainly had one on their hands last year with Pete Alonso. Although it wasn’t entirely unexpected due to his prospect pedigree, the 25-year-old first baseman went out and launched 53 home runs. Fifty. Three. That’s incredible and was also the most by anyone in baseball last year. It earned Alonso the NL Rookie of the Year award and since the Red Sox did not face the Mets at all last year, this will be the first time they’ll see his thunderous power in person.
The Mets also have guys like Michael Conforto and Amed Rosario, who have not scaled the heights that Alonso has reached, but have been solid players in their own right. Plus, Jacob deGrom might not be a rising star anymore, but he has won each of the last two NL Cy Young Awards. All three have faced the Red Sox before, but not all that frequently.
Somehow Aaron Nola has pitched five years at the MLB level already, but as he enters his age 27 season, it still feels like he has another level to reach. He seemed to scrape the ceiling of his potential in 2018 when he finished third in NL Cy Young voting, but he regressed some last year, falling from a 173 ERA+ to a 116 mark. Even with that dropoff, Nola is still one of the top pitchers in the league and the jury is still out on if he’s reached his peak.
Of course, Bryce Harper is also on this roster and also will be entering his age 27 season. He may not have been an All-Star in his first year in Philadelphia, but he still hit 35 home runs, posted a 125 OPS+ and accumulated 4.3 bWAR. He may not be a consistent rival to Mike Trout, but he’s still a very good player and someone the Red Sox have only faced in 13 games. (They’ve faced Nola three times). Don’t forget about Rhys Hoskins either. The 27-year-old can still bop (29 home runs last year in addition to an NL-high 116 walks), even if he hasn’t become an All-Star just yet.
The Marlins are what balances out the NL East, as the franchise doesn’t boast anyone that can match guys like Acuña and Soto. However, that doesn’t mean the team has absolutely nobody. Don’t be fooled by his NL-high 14 losses last year because Sandy Alcántara was actually pretty solid. The 24-year-old pitched to a 3.88 ERA and tied for the most complete game shutouts in baseball (two). In addition, third baseman Brian Anderson led the Marlins in bWAR (3.7) and he will be entering his age 27 season this year. Alcántara has never played the Red Sox and Anderson has 21 total plate appearances against them.