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Three players who deserved MLB The Show cover honors over Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

The Blue Jays first baseman is the game’s newest cover athlete, but it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Atlanta Braves reacts after scoring on a two-run home run by Austin Riley in the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies during Game Two of the Division Series at Truist Park on October 09, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For much of January, speculation ran rampant about which MLB star would grace the cover of MLB The Show 24. There’s arguably never been so much young, five-tool talent in the game, guys with the type of power, speed and dynamic athleticism we used to only get once in a generation. Who would the developers tap to be the new face of their franchise? Reigning MVP Ronald Acuna Jr.? Future MVP Bobby Witt Jr.? Home Run Derby hero Julio Rodriguez? The possibilities were endless.

But as it turns out, the correct answer was “none of the above”. This year’s MLB The Show cover athlete is ... Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

This is no disrespect to Guerrero Jr.; with a Hall of Fame father, the pedigree that comes with being a former No. 1 overall prospect and several iconic moments already under his belt, you can certainly understand the argument for the Toronto Blue Jays first baseman.

And yet, it’s not hard to feel a little underwhelmed here. This is partly because Guerrero Jr. is coming off his worst full season as a pro, slashing a shockingly pedestrian .264/.345/.444 (117 OPS+) in 2023 and then tallying just one hit in eight plate appearances in his team’s Wild Card sweep at the hands of the Twins. But it’s also a stylistic objection: Guerrero Jr. is a spectacular hitter when he’s right, capable of scalding balls as hard as anyone in the league, but at a time when another five-tool stud pops up seemingly every other week, opting for lumbering first baseman feels a bit like looking backward rather than forward.

Of course, we subscribe to the theory that if you’re going to make a complaint, you need to pair it with a better idea of your own. So without further ado, here are three names that we think would’ve made for better cover athletes this year.

Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves

Let’s start with the obvious. Acuna Jr. is coming off one of the most impressive offensive seasons in modern history, inventing several new homer/steal clubs on his way to the first 40/70 campaign the sport has ever seen. Outside of the ACL injury that impacted both his 2021 and 2022 seasons, he’s been a force at the plate from the moment he debuted with the Braves as a 20-year-old back in 2018. Atlanta once again figures to be one of, if not the, best team in the league, and Acuna Jr. has a real shot to become the NL’s first back-to-back MVP since Albert Pujols in 2008-09. (If nothing else, the war between Acuna Jr. and 2022 The Show cover boy Shohei Ohtani figures to be among the defining narratives of this coming season.)

If you were going to design a player in a lab to explain what makes the current MLB landscape so exciting, you’d come up with Acuna Jr., and it helps that he carries himself with more swags than whole rosters combined:

Julio Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners

If Acuna Jr. isn’t the epitome of the modern baseball star, Rodriguez is — and he’s a household name after setting his home crowd on fire at last year’s Home Run Derby in Seattle. The Show got itself in trouble by choosing Jazz Chisholm last season, an instance where a player’s reputation outpaced his actual production to date. But Rodriguez has all the charisma of Chisholm and has already established himself as among the best position players around: He’s posted an .834 OPS (136 OPS+) across his first two seasons in the Majors, paired center-field defense so good he has his own no-fly zone at T-Mobile Park.

And when Rodriguez gets going, there’s really nothing else like it: This man slashed .429/.474/.724 for the entire month of August last season, including nine hits in a single 24-hour span. Again, if The Show wants to keep its finger on the pulse, a player like Rodriguez — big, strong, fast, swag to spare — is where the game is headed.

Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers

This may seem like a bit of a lifetime achievement award compared to the other two names on this list, and in some ways it is; it just feels wrong for a player as good as Betts, among the very best of his generation, to go his entire career without ever appearing on the cover of The Show. But Betts is also very much a man of the moment: As good as Acuna Jr. was last year, Betts was on track to beat him out for NL MVP honors before a cold spell in the final few weeks. Betts is as bankable a star as there is — he’s finished outside the top 10 in MVP voting exactly once in the last eight years — and the way the Dodgers are gearing up this offseason, The Show would do well to have a player from L.A. on its cover. Ohtani has already done the honors, and Betts gets the slight nod over teammates Freddie Freeman and Yoshinobu Yamamoto (who would be a solid choice for the Japanese version of the game).