Aaron Judge

Current players who can replicate Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire 1998 home run totals

Current players who can replicate Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire 1998 home run totals

If watching "Long Gone Summer" left you wanting more, let's point you in the right direction. 

I asked some of our baseball minds at NBC Sports Chicago which present-day MLB player they think can closest replicate Mark McGwire's (70) and Sammy Sosa's (66) home run totals from 1998.

Our White Sox scribe Vinnie Duber kicks it off:

"It’s certainly possible, though there might only be a few guys who could do it on an annual basis," Duber said, "as opposed to the variety of guys who were turning in 40- and 50-homer seasons in the '90s and early 2000s.

"But three players still 30 and under rank in the top 30 on baseball’s single-season home run list: Giancarlo Stanton (now 30) hit 59 in 2017, Pete Alonso (now 25) hit 53 as a rookie last year and Aaron Judge (now 28) hit 52 in 2017. While Stanton and Judge have both had injury issues in the middle of that Yankees lineup, both are big, strong dudes capable of hitting a ton of homers. Alonso might be the most intriguing, as he’s got all of one big league season under his belt and mashed more than 50 homers in it."

RELATED: Sammy Sosa: Why are Cubs punishing me for what 'pretty much everybody' did

I agree the likely suspects are Stanton, Judge and Alonso. The numbers bear out. In MLB history, only Stanton's 2017 total is in the top 10 overall. Ryan Howard (2006) and McGwire (1997) are next on the leaderboard with 58, and Jimmie Foxx (1932) and Hank Greenberg (1938) also hit 58. The next highest total from the 2010s is 54, hit by Jose Bautista in 2010.

Jeff Nelson, producer of "Baseball Night in Chicago" and NBC Sport Chicago pregame and postgame shows, offered this when discussing the idea of not just passing 1998, but Barry Bonds' 2001 season, when he hit 73 homers:

"I don't think we're ever going to see two players chasing the home run mark like Sosa and McGwire did in 1998. They only had to get to 62," Nelson said. "The next race is to 74, almost 20 percent more home runs than the chase in '98. To counter the argument of launch angle and a different baseball, I would point to social media. The Sammy-Big Mac race captured the attention of the nation in a pre-social media world. The following the race would get 22 years later could blow up Twitter (though that would probably be a good thing).

"If there were to be a two-man race, I would go with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, similar to another all-Yankees home run chase in '61, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. Though they would both have to stay healthy, something that hasn't happened the last couple of years."

Duber had this to say regarding a possible passing of Bonds' 2001 total: 

"It still seems a little outrageous to think we’d see 70 homers again. Even Alonso’s MLB-leading total last year was a whopping 17 away from matching McGwire’s in 1998," he said. "Eugenio Saurez ranked second in baseball in homers and was 21 shy of McGwire. But even still, someone came within 11 just three years ago."

And NBC Sports Chicago's noted baseball numbers cruncher Chris Kamka offered this:

"While it's unlikely that it will happen again — especially two players in the same season — it's certainly possible," Kamka said. "And especially now while the ball is flying over the fence at record numbers.

"Four players come to mind. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout and possibly Pete Alonso are, in my opinion, the candidates who are most likely to pull it off — if anyone does. It will take a generational talent in home run power to get it done. Judge, Stanton and Trout are without a doubt just that. If Alonso can continue to improve, he might be on that level as well. Trout draws so many walks, I don't know if he'll get enough chances, although Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs despite drawing 177 walks, so it's not out of the question."

And while we wait for the 2020 season, we do know this certainty: to hope for numbers like these, we'll have to wait until 2021, at least. 

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Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge show potential paths to success for strikeout-heavy Yoan Moncada


Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge show potential paths to success for strikeout-heavy Yoan Moncada

White Sox fans are justifiably concerned by Yoan Moncada's league-leading number of strikeouts.

Moncada carried big expectations into this season after earning the title of No. 1 prospect in baseball last year. He hasn't lived up to those expectations. But the struggles Moncada has dealt with this season don't at all etch in stone what kind of career he'll have in the long term.

Moncada's just 23 years old, and part of the reason there have been so many outside complaints about his season is that he's under the microscope in this rebuilding process. As an early arriver to the South Side, he gets looked at closely on a daily basis while many of the other highly touted youngsters in the organization are going through their developments in the minor leagues. And with the team where it is in its rebuilding effort, Moncada is going through certain things at the big league level that, if the White Sox were in a different spot, he might be experiencing in the minors.

But while Moncada is on pace to break Major League Baseball's single-season strikeout record, it's not at all the end of the world. See above for several reasons why. But there's another good one that's been discussed before but perhaps warrants a closer look, particularly after Moncada added two more strikeouts to his total in Monday night's loss to the Detroit Tigers. (He's up to 169 on the campaign and on pace to strike out 236 times.)

For fans expecting Moncada to arrive in the big leagues and display complete offensive mastery at the plate, just look to two of baseball's biggest stars, two guys who also piled up big strikeout numbers in rookie seasons that ended in Rookie of the Year awards, for examples of how Moncada's path can still end in plenty of major league success.

Kris Bryant struck out 199 times in 2015 to lead the National League and set the Cubs' single-season record. That's striking out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances. It's also a total that currently stands as the 11th highest in baseball history. But Bryant has since seen those strikeout numbers drop dramatically, a possibility for Moncada as time wears on considering the rave reviews he gets from manager Rick Renteria and others when it comes to his understanding of the strike zone.

Bryant saw his strikeouts drop from 199 in his rookie season to 154 in 2016, a season in which he had 49 more plate appearances than he did in the year prior. Last season, his strikeout total plummeted to 128 (and his walks climbed to a career-best 95) in just 15 more plate appearances than he had in 2015. This season, Bryant has been plagued by significant injuries, but for what it's worth, he's got 75 strikeouts in 358 plate appearances, a strikeout rate 10 percent lower than the one from his rookie season.

So while Bryant and Moncada are different players, there's recent precedent — and just up the Red Line, at that — for a player striking out a ton during his rookie season only to consistently see those strikeouts decrease as time goes on. Remember that this is only Moncada's first full season in the majors. Time and experience can change an awful lot.

Then there's Aaron Judge. Last season, the New York Yankees slugger struck out 208 times, the sixth-highest total in baseball history. Like Bryant did in his rookie season, Judge struck out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances. But unlike Bryant, Judge is striking out at a similar rate this season. Judge is a different kind of player than Bryant, of course, more of a slugger with the kind of power you see elsewhere among baseball's all-time single-season strikeout leaders: your Mark Reynoldses, your Adam Dunns, your Chris Davises, your Ryan Howards. Of course, Judge also walks a ton, something some of those guys did/do, too. Judge led baseball with his 208 punchouts last season, but he also led the American League with 127 walks. Judge ranks in among the league leaders again this season, with 68 walks.

Again, we'll go back to the praise for and confidence in Moncada's eye at the plate. He's got 50 walks in this strikeout-heavy season. As his skills at the dish are honed further, perhaps he could follow a path more similar to Judge's than Bryant's, where his strikeout numbers stay high but so, too, do his walk numbers.

Now, these are obviously not perfect comparisons. Bryant was an NL MVP a year after he was the NL's Rookie of the Year. Judge was the AL's Rookie of the Year a year ago and finished second in MVP voting. Moncada has other statistical areas of concern besides strikeouts: He's slashing .221/.304/.398 after Monday's loss in Motown, numbers that don't come close to the Rookie of the Year stats that Bryant and Judge put up in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

But these are examples of paths to success for players who hit the big leagues only to strike out and strike out a lot. There's little way of knowing if Moncada will be able to achieve the stardom those two have accomplished. But the big strikeout total doesn't preclude him from doing so.

After another whirlwind winter, Starlin Castro welcomes reunion with Cubs fans

After another whirlwind winter, Starlin Castro welcomes reunion with Cubs fans

MIAMI —Starlin Castro has been on a crazy ride the last few years.

The Cubs dealt Castro — the former face of the franchise — to the New York Yankees following the 2015 season to make room in the infield and lineup for Ben Zobrist, who wound up taking home World Series MVP honors 11 months after signing.

Castro missed a World Series ring with the Cubs by a year and now he finds himself in similar circumstances again in Miami. The 28-year-old second baseman was traded to the Marlins as collateral for the Giancarlo Stanton megadeal in December and is now in the midst of a full-on tear-down in South Beach.

Not many players can get used to being traded twice in two years.

"It's always a little tough in the beginning," Castro said the day before he and the Marlins host the Cubs in the first regular-season MLB game in 2018. "But the mindset doesn't change.

"We can't control this. Just try to play hard and come here every day to compete."

Only 10 players remain in a Cubs uniform since Castro last donned the blue pinstripes, but he tries to keep in touch with Anthony Rizzo and others.

In Chicago, Castro compiled 991 hits over six years (2010-15), but the Cubs have more than enough options at middle infield now — Addison Russell, Javy Baez, Ian Happ, Ben Zobrist, Tommy La Stella.

Castro was the Yankees' cleanup hitter last May in his return to Wrigley Field, protecting Aaron Judge in the lineup. Now, the reigning MLB leader in homers and RBI (Giancarlo Stanton) is providing protection for Judge.

The 2018 season will open with World Series expectations for both of his former teams, but Castro will be sitting on the outside looking in unless he's traded for a third time.

The Marlins have torn down their roster since the Stanton trade and Castro projects to hit third for Miami this weekend in the season-opening four-game set against the Cubs. Tough times are ahead for the Marlins, but Castro won't forget where he came from.

Exactly a year after his last game at Wrigley Field (May 7), Castro will once again make a trip back "home" to the Friendly Confines with the Marlins — a series he already has circled on his calendar.

Will fans give him a similar ovation?

"I love Chicago," he said. "That's the city that gave me the first opportunity to be a professional baseball player. I feel good when I play there. I'm looking forward to go over there and see all the fans."

Castro has had no ill will watching his former team make it to the NLCS twice and World Series once since his departure.

"I watched the whole World Series and I cheered for them," he said. "Some people can say, 'nah,' but I feel good for all my teammates and the city of Chicago. They deserved that championship."