If you grew up in the late 90s/early 2000s, Backyard Baseball was likely a familiar part of your childhood.
The premise behind these computer games was simple: build a team of kids to compete in a baseball game in the neighborhood. The games first started with fictional kids, before expanding to MLB players as kids in its 2001 and 2003 iterations.
While the original games have aged gracefully (and are available to play online through the ScummVM program), the later games didn’t fare as well, and Backyard Baseball died out following a mobile release in 2015.
But I can’t help but ask: What if the game still existed today? How would it look different from previous versions? Would there be instant replay? A pitch clock? Sign stealing? Tipped pitches? A baseball team in Las Vegas? (Okay, we may still be a few years away from that.)
Well, we don’t have to get into all of the intricacies of America’s pastime, backyard-style, but I can dream about what the talent pool would look like. The beauty of Backyard Baseball was its unique cast of kids and ways you could play them. You could have Derek Jeter pitching to Maria Luna. You could had Dmitri Petrovich racing out a ground ball to Barry Bonds. Also, Frank Thomas could pitch? Who knew?
If Backyard Baseball 2023 were real, I’m envisioning 30 new MLB players, one from each team. I tirelessly analyzed each selection, rating the player’s skillset, devising strengths and weaknesses, and explaining my entire methodology behind it all.
Toronto Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. makes perfect sense as the Blue Jays’ pick, given his dad was a staple of the early Backyard Baseball games. It helps he’s Toronto’s premier power hitter too.
Previous athletes as kids: Raul Mondesi (2001), Carlos Delgado (2003, 2005)
Baltimore Orioles: Adley Rutschman, C
Adley Rutschman has only been in the league for a year, but good catchers are hard to come by (especially for a team without big names). Plus, the game could use a well-balanced kid behind the plate.
Previous athletes as kids: Cal Ripken Jr. (2001), Jeff Conine (2003), Miguel Tejada (2007)
Tampa Bay Rays: Wander Franco, SS
Wander Franco is on the verge of becoming one of the league’s young superstars. While the Rays are more primed on their starting pitching, Franco is their most exciting player.
Previous athletes as kids: Jose Canseco (2001), Greg Vaughn (2003), Carl Crawford (2007), Evan Longoria (2010)
Boston Red Sox: Rafael Devers, 3B
It’s easy to turn Rafael Devers into a kid given his baby face, but he’s the Red Sox’s lone great slugger left. Betts and Benintendi are gone, and Chris Sale is always hurt.
Previous athletes as kids: Nomar Garciaparra (2001, 2003, 2005), Pedro Martinez (2005), David Ortiz (2007, 2010), Daisuke Matsuzaka (2010)
New York Yankees: Aaron Judge, OF
What better choice for the Yankees than the American League’s new single-season home run champ? There are a lot of excellent players in the Bronx, but this one is obvious.
Previous athletes as kids: Derek Jeter (2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2010), Alex Rodriguez (2005, 2007, 2010), C.C. Sabathia (2010)
Cleveland Guardians: Shane Bieber, SP
The Guardians are loaded with burgeoning talent: Steven Kwan and Andres Gimenez to name a few. But we could use more established pitchers, and this one also has a Cy Young award to his name.
Previous athletes as kids: Kenny Lofton (2001), Jim Thome (2003)
Kansas City Royals: Salvador Perez, C/DH
Bobby Witt Jr. makes sense as the Royals’ soon-to-be-superstar, but shortstop is crowded, and we need more catchers. Whether at behind the plate or at first base, Salvy is still fun to watch at age 32.
Previous athletes as kids: Carlos Beltran (2001, 2003)
Detroit Tigers: Javier Baez, SS
There aren’t a lot of great options out of Detroit right now. Between Javier Baez and Austin Meadows, Baez is the more marketable name. A former MLB The Show cover athlete, he gets the edge.
Previous athletes as kids: Juan Gonzalez (2001), Bobby Higginson (2003), Miguel Cabrera (2010)
Minnesota Twins: Byron Buxton, OF
Byron Buxton just can’t get healthy for the life of him, but he’s one of the most valuable players in baseball when playing. He’s the perfect choice for the Twins, whether or not he plays over 100 games.
Previous athletes as kids: Mardy Cordova (2001), Brad Radke (2003), Johan Santana (2007), Joe Mauer (2010)
Chicago White Sox: Tim Anderson, SS
Tim Anderson is one of the league’s most expressive players, and that makes him a must-watch. Jose Abreu is the former MVP, but we need more speedy contact hitters to round out the neighborhood.
Previous athletes as kids: Frank Thomas (2001, 2003), Paul Konerko (2007), Carlos Quentin (2010), Bobby Jenks (2010)
Los Angeles Angels: Shohei Ohtani, SP/OF
Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball for more than a decade. However, Shohei Ohtani is a literal cheat code. The pitchers hit in Backyard Baseball, and Ohtani is dominant at both.
Previous athletes as kids: Mo Vaughn (2001), Troy Glaus (2003), Vladimir Guerrero (2007)
Houston Astros: Jeremy Peña, SS
Derek Jeter was a staple of Backyard Baseball until his retirement, and Jeremy Peña is probably the best bet to follow in his footsteps: a superb shortstop with a solid swing and speed.
Previous athletes as kids: Jeff Bagwell (2001, 2003), Lance Berkman (2007, 2010)
Oakland Athletics: Ramon Laureano, OF
The Athletics have the lowest payroll in baseball, so there aren’t a lot of proven selections here. But Ramon Laureano is a firmly established starting outfielder with highlight-reel defense.
Previous athletes as kids: Jason Giambi (2001), Tim Hudson (2003), Eric Chavez (2007)
Seattle Mariners: Julio Rodriguez, OF
Julio Rodriguez is the type of player who could don the cover of a Backyard Baseball game. In one year, he’s earned his spot not just as the Mariners’ best player, but one of MLB’s best as well.
Previous athletes as kids: Alex Rodriguez (2001), Ichiro Suzuki (2003, 2005, 2010)
Texas Rangers: Jacob deGrom, SP
Jacob deGrom has been injury prone in recent years, though he’s been baseball’s best pitcher when healthy. On his new team, he edges out Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, and pitching is a commodity.
Previous athletes as kids: Ivan Rodriguez (2001), Alex Rodriguez (2003), Alfonso Soriano (2005), Josh Hamilton (2010)
Atlanta Braves: Austin Riley, 3B
It’s not easy to pick just one Atlanta Brave. Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies are among the possibilities, but Austin Riley has been more reliable at the plate and doesn’t rub coaches the wrong way.
Previous athletes as kids: Chipper Jones (2001, 2003), Andruw Jones (2007)
Miami Marlins: Jazz Chisholm Jr., 2B/OF
It seems criminal to exclude last year’s NL Cy Young winner, Sandy Alcantara. But while Jazz Chisholm Jr.’s statline is just okay, he’s an exciting player and is on the cover of MLB The Show 23.
Previous athletes as kids: Alex Gonzalez (2001), Cliff Floyd (2003), Dontrelle Willis (2005, 2007), Dan Uggla (2010), Hanley Ramirez (2010)
New York Mets: Pete Alonso, 1B/DH
Pete Alonso would join the ranks of Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. as one of the most dangerous power hitters Backyard Baseball has seen. So we can’t pass up the opportunity to see him crush baseballs.
Previous athletes as kids: Mike Piazza (2001, 2003, 2005), Carlos Delgado (2007)
Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg, SP
Three years ago, the Nationals would’ve been loaded with options. But with Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, and Trea Turner gone, that leaves just Stephen Strasburg as the lone remaining star in Washington.
Previous athletes as kids: Vladimir Guerrero (2001, 2003), Alfonso Soriano (2007), Ryan Zimmerman (2010)
Philadelphia Phillies: Bryce Harper, OF
Just when everyone started to doubt Bryce Harper, he delivered with an incredible postseason in 2022. So the stupendous slugger and future Hall of Famer is the Phillies’ clear choice.
Previous athletes as kids: Curt Schilling (2001), Jimmy Rollins (2003), Jim Thome (2005), Bobby Abreu (2007), Ryan Howard (2007), Chase Utley (2010)
Milwaukee Brewers: Corbin Burnes, SP
What happened to Christian Yelich? I would’ve instantly picked him a few years ago. So, despite contractual drama this offseason, it’s now all about the ace starting pitcher in Milwaukee: Corbin Burnes.
Previous athletes as kids: Jeromy Burnitz (2001), Richie Sexson (2003)
St. Louis Cardinals: Nolan Arenado, 3B
The choice between Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado as the Cardinals’ pick is difficult. Goldschmidt is the reigning MVP, but Arenado adds another excellent third baseman to the neighborhood.
Previous athletes as kids: Mark McGwire (2001), Albert Pujols (2003, 2005, 2010)
Chicago Cubs: Ian Happ, OF
The Cubs have unloaded their veterans in recent years, but outfielder Ian Happ has remained on the roster as an All-Star-caliber outfielder. He provides some spark on a team in the middle of a rebuild.
Previous athletes as kids: Sammy Sosa (2001, 2003, 2005), Greg Maddux (2005), Derrek Lee (2007), Alfonso Soriano (2010)
Pittsburgh Pirates: Oneil Cruz, SS
Oneil Cruz still has a long way to go before he’s a great hitter, but the raw talent is there. At 6’7″, he’s a freakish athlete with abnormal strength. Who wouldn’t want to see that translate to Backyard Baseball?
Previous athletes as kids: Jason Kendall (2001, 2003)
Cincinnati Reds: Tyler Stephenson, C
The Reds are low on talent right now, so let’s nab another catcher for their selection. Tyler Stephenson has a small sample size so far but has established himself as an outstanding contact hitter.
Previous athletes as kids: Barry Larkin (2001), Ken Griffey Jr. (2003), Jay Bruce (2010)
Arizona Diamondbacks: Daulton Varsho, OF/C
While Ketel Marte has proven himself more in Arizona, I’m high on guys that are fun to watch. Daulton Varsho can play numerous positions and has great speed, making it easy for him to fill in anywhere.
Previous athletes as kids: Randy Johnson (2001, 2003, 2005), Dan Haren (2010), Brandon Webb (2010), Stephen Drew (2010)
Los Angeles Dodgers: Mookie Betts, OF
The Dodgers are constantly the scariest roster in the majors, so picking just one player is tough. You can’t ask for a better ambassador for baseball than Mookie Betts, and his game translates well to the backyard.
Previous athletes as kids: Shawn Green (2001, 2003, 2005), Eric Gagne (2005)
San Francisco Giants: Logan Webb, SP
Logan Webb has emerged as one of the most impressive starting pitchers in baseball, on a roster known more for depth than star power. Thus, he’s the Giants’ standout and another much-needed arm.
Previous athletes as kids: Barry Bonds (2001, 2003, 2005), Tim Lincecum (2010)
San Diego Padres: Juan Soto, OF
A year ago, Juan Soto would’ve been the Nationals’ clear selection. But one blockbuster trade later, and he’s the Padres’ biggest star. (Also, Fernando Tatis Jr.’s suspension made this one a bit easier).
Previous athletes as kids: Tony Gwynn (2001), Phil Nevin (2003), Jake Peavy (2010)
Colorado Rockies: C.J. Cron, 1B
Backyard Baseball has their kids who can mash but can’t do much else (Mark McGwire, Albert Pujols, etc.). C.J. Cron is a worthy addition to this group, even if he won’t have the altitude to help him.
Previous athletes as kids: Larry Walker (2001), Todd Helton (2003), Matt Holliday (2010)
1. Mookie Betts, 2B
The outfield gets crowded quick with great players, but we can’t pass on Mookie Betts. It’s rumored the Dodgers have considered Mookie at second base, so he gets the start there as the speedy, dangerous leadoff hitter.
2. Juan Soto, CF
Juan Soto can hit basically anything, a modern-day Vladimir Guerrero if you will. So he’s a must-draft, and his solid speed makes him a good centerfielder. Let’s put him below Betts to help keep the line moving.
3. Pablo Sanchez, C
You can’t have a Backyard Baseball team without Pablo Sanchez. He’s the perfect three-hitter who can clear the bases on one swing. Pabs fits in well behind the dish since everywhere else is full of reliable major leaguers.
4. Aaron Judge, RF
Let’s pencil in the American League home run king as the cleanup hitter (and as the right fielder). Aaron Judge could just deliver a grand salami, and it helps that he has three dangerous sluggers in front of him.
5. Bryce Harper, LF
Following Aaron Judge is another hitter that’s just as scary: Bryce Harper. Bryce is a clutch hitter with a smooth swing who fits in well in the five spot. We can easily place the left-hander in left field to round out the outfield.
6. Shohei Ohtani, P
Batting your pitcher sixth (let alone at all) is unheard of in the majors, but Shohei Ohtani is a different breed. His low batting average places him down in the lineup a bit, but in this spot, he’s still a danger to clear the bases.
7. Pete Alonso, 1B
As a power hitter, Pete Alonso is right up there with Aaron Judge and Bryce Harper. But his lack of speed drops him down in the order a tad. As the seven-hitter, he’s just as much of an RBI threat as any kid in the lineup.
8. Nolan Arenado, 3B
Nolan Arenado batting eighth is crazy, even for an All-Star team. This is a mighty talented team, however. He adds ridiculous pop at the bottom of the lineup and is a defensive wizard you can’t pass up at third base.
9. Tim Anderson, SS
Tim Anderson has the contact and speed to bat leadoff, but I’d rather give more at-bats to Mookie and Juan. Still, any lineup with Tim as your nine-hitter is pretty darn scary. He’s the most talented shortstop available too.