Fan­tasy base­ball:

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Steve Gard­ner Colum­nist USA TODAY

The most in­trigu­ing play­ers from each team for 2019.

Even if you’re still not in your fan­tasy play­off chase, these fi­nal few weeks could have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on draft­day strate­gies next spring.

As the 2018 sea­son winds down, let’s look at a few more rea­sons to be ex­cited for 2019. Based on ob­ser­va­tions, stats and a lit­tle bit of spec­u­la­tion, here’s our an­nual list of the 30 most in­trigu­ing play­ers for next sea­son.

AMER­I­CAN LEAGUE

Bal­ti­more: 2B Jonathan Vil­lar. The speed­ster was a top-5 fan­tasy per­former just two years ago in Mil­wau­kee (.285, 19 HRs, 62 SB). Since be­ing traded to Bal­ti­more, Vil­lar, 27, has rekin­dled some of those mem­o­ries with six homers and 12 steals in 35 games en­ter­ing the week.

Bos­ton: SP Ed­uardo Rodriguez. He missed time with in­juries each of the past two sea­sons, but they’ve been to his an­kle and knee, not his arm. With 12 wins and a 10.0 K/9 rate in 21 starts, a true break­out could be on the hori­zon.

Chicago: OF Eloy Jimenez. The ser­vice time game might have kept him from reach­ing the ma­jors this sea­son, but there’s no way he won’t be up in 2019. Af­ter a mid­sea­son pro­mo­tion to Class AAA, the 21-year-old hit .355/.399/.597 with 12 homers in 55 games.

Cleveland: SS Fran­cisco Lin­dor. He leads the ma­jors with 118 runs scored — and with a ca­reer-high 34 homers needs seven more steals to join team­mate Jose Ramirez in the 30-30 club.

Detroit: SP Mat­tew Boyd. The left­hander has a 3.06 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in 10 sec­ond-half starts.

Hous­ton: 1B Tyler White. Since the All-Star break, he has a .323/382/.653 slash line, nine homers and 31 RBI in 34 games. The DH spot is wide open with Evan Gat­tis a free agent this win­ter.

Kansas City: SS Adal­berto Mon­desi. Mon­desi, 23, has stolen 20 bases in 24 at­tempts in 55 games since be­ing pro­moted from the mi­nors. He also has seven homers in 189 at-bats.

Los An­ge­les: DH Sho­hei Oh­tani. In roughly a half-sea­son’s worth of plate ap­pear­ances, he’s hit 19 homers and sto- len eight bases. Only four qual­i­fied hit­ters — Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Jose Ramirez — have a higher OPS than Oh­tani’s .966. With po­ten­tial el­bow surgery putting his pitch­ing plans on hold, he’ll con­cen­trate only on hitting next year.

Min­nesota: OF By­ron Bux­ton. Strong sec­ond-half fin­ishes in each of the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons ar­ti­fi­cially boosted Bux­ton’s draft stock the fol­low­ing spring. That won’t hap­pen this time … but his elite-level skills re­main in­tact.

New York: C Gary Sanchez. He was the top-ranked fan­tasy catcher af­ter hitting .278 with 33 homers a year ago. Can he re­bound af­ter hitting just .181? And will he stick be­hind the plate?

Oak­land: 3B Matt Chap­man. A fu­ture MVP can­di­date, his of­fense has al­most caught up to his Gold Glove-cal­iber de­fense. He’s cut his strike­out rate while im­prov­ing his power num­bers (22 HRs, .521 slug­ging per­cent­age).

Seat­tle: SP James Pax­ton. A no-hit­ter in May and an elite strike­out rate (11.6 K/9) point to an ace-qual­ity pitcher. If only he could stay healthy enough to pitch 200 in­nings …

Tampa Bay: SP Tyler Glas­now. Dom­i­nant in the mi­nors, ter­ri­ble in the ma­jors. What’s the key to un­lock­ing his tal­ent? Glas­now’s progress could im­pact how the Rays de­ploy their “opener” strat­egy.

Texas: 2B Rougned Odor. One of this sea­son’s great­est re­bounds is Odor go­ing from a .217 hit­ter with one home run on June 17 … to a .293 hit­ter with 17 homers since then.

Toronto: 3B Vladimir Guer­rero Jr. All he did was hit .381 with a 1.073 OPS over four mi­nor league lev­els … at age 19. With Josh Don­ald­son no longer man­ning the hot cor­ner in Toronto, the Vlad Jr. era can soon be­gin.

NA­TIONAL LEAGUE

Ari­zona: 2B-SS Ke­tel Marte. He’s shown some power and some speed, com­bined with ex­cel­lent plate dis­ci­pline.

At­lanta: OF Ron­ald Acuna Jr. Eigh­teen of the 20-year-old’s 25 homers have come since the All-Star break, as have 12 of his 14 stolen bases. And oh yeah, he leads the ma­jors with a 1.129 OPS in the sec­ond half.

Chicago: 2B-SS Javier Baez. His break­out sea­son fi­nally ar­rived. The re­sult is a .294 av­er­age, 30 homers and 100 RBI. An­other ap­pear­ance at third base will give him fan­tasy el­i­gi­bil­ity at a third po­si­tion.

Cincin­nati: 3B Eu­ge­nio Suarez. One of the game’s un­sung stars, Suarez con­tin­ues to im­prove. While Baez will get se­ri­ous MVP con­sid­er­a­tion, he and Suarez have nearly iden­ti­cal num­bers on of­fense.

Colorado: SS Trevor Story. His first three sea­sons in the ma­jors have been full of peaks and val­leys. How­ever, he’s at the sum­mit right now, hitting .293 with 31 homers, 96 RBI and a sur­pris­ing 25 steals.

Los An­ge­les: 1B-3B Max Muncy. While the un­likely All-Star’s home runs have con­tin­ued since the break, the bat­ting av­er­age (.218) and on-base per­cent­age (.314) have not.

Mi­ami: C J.T. Real­muto. With 20 homers and a .287 av­er­age, Real­muto has clearly been this sea­son’s top fan­tasy catcher.

Mil­wau­kee: RP Josh Hader. Is he a closer next year? A setup man? Or both? De­spite col­lect­ing only 11 saves, Hader has been the NL’s most valu­able re­liever be­cause of his stel­lar ra­tios (2.13 ERA, 0.77 WHIP) and 121 strike­outs.

New York: SP Zach Wheeler. In the sec­ond half, Wheeler has qui­etly given the Mets a third ace. He’s 7-1 in nine starts with a 1.50 ERA and 62 strike­outs in 60 in­nings.

Philadel­phia: SP Aaron Nola. Be­fore the sea­son, there were ques­tions about his dura­bil­ity. Not any longer. He ranks among the top five in the ma­jors in in­nings (1882⁄3), wins (16), ERA (2.29) and qual­ity starts (23).

Pitts­burgh: SP Trevor Wil­liams. Wil­liams is de­fy­ing mod­ern-day sci­ence with his suc­cess, prov­ing you don’t have to throw hard (he av­er­ages 90.4 mph on his fast­ball) to get hit­ters out. In his last nine starts, he’s posted an ERA of 0.66 while av­er­ag­ing just 5.6 strike­outs per nine in­nings.

St. Louis: OF Harrison Bader. One of the game’s fastest play­ers, he’s a strong can­di­date for a 20-homer, 20-steal 2019 since he’ll be the Cards’ full-time cen­ter fielder.

San Diego: C Fran­cisco Me­jia. Switch-hitting Me­jia might have the great­est fan­tasy im­pact of many ex­cel­lent Padres prospects in 2019 be­cause of his of­fen­sive skills at a thin po­si­tion.

San Fran­cisco: SP Dereck Rodriguez. The rookie didn’t ar­rive with much fan­fare, but he’s been per­haps the most con­sis­tent pitcher on the staff with a 2.41 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 15 starts.

Washington: OF Juan Soto. The 19year-old rookie has shown the rare com­bi­na­tion of power and su­perb plate dis­ci­pline. As a re­sult, his .922 OPS would be the high­est for any teenager in ma­jor league history.

PETER G. AIKEN/ USA TODAY SPORTS

Ex­pected to be the Car­di­nals’ full-time cen­ter fielder in 2019, Harrison Bader will have a shot to be a 20-20 (homers and steals) player.

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