Hall & Votes: Who'll be on list tonight at 6?

Hall & Votes: Who'll be on list tonight at 6?

It might seem like another ordinary Wednesday in the middle of January, but baseball fans know that this Jan. 18 is much more than that. It's a date with history.

The Major League season doesn't start for nearly three months, but it's Hall of Fame season, and on Wednesday, the 2017 class of inductees will be unveiled. Live Hall of Fame coverage will take place on MLB Network and MLB.com and the announcement is slated for 6 p.m. ET with coverage beginning at 3 p.m.

Complete Hall of Fame coverage

Based on public ballot tracking, there is a realistic chance of five players being elected, which has not happened since the inaugural Hall of Fame class of 1936, which featured Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson. The Baseball Writers' Association of America had elected a total of four players on three occasions, most recently in 2015, when Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio and John Smoltz got the call.

Here's a quick primer on what you need to know heading into the big reveal.

Who is on the ballot?
There are 34 names on the list in all, including 19 new candidates who add to the intrigue. The first-timers include one of the greatest catchers of all time, Ivan Rodriguez, plus sluggers Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez and the Yankees' longtime backstop, Jorge Posada. Other rookies on the ballot include Edgar Renteria, Jason Varitek, Magglio Ordonez, Derrek Lee, J.D. Drew and Tim Wakefield.

The group of 15 holdovers includes outfielder Tim Raines (on the ballot for a 10th and final year), first baseman Jeff Bagwell, brilliant closer Trevor Hoffman and third baseman-designated hitter Edgar Martinez, all-time home-run leader Barry Bonds, legendary aces Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, intimidating closers Lee Smith and Billy Wagner, sluggers Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff and second baseman Jeff Kent. Smith, like Raines, is on the ballot for the final time.

Big names debut on HOF ballot

Who has a legitimate chance to get in this year?
It's been a long, hard road to Hall immortality for Raines, but it looks like the voters are going to get the long-underrated, phenomenal leadoff man and switch-hitter known as "Rock" elected in his final year of eligibility.

Raines had 2,605 hits, drew 1,330 walks and compiled an on-base percentage of .385 in a career that spanned from 1979-2002. He reached base more times than Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn, Honus Wagner and Roberto Clemente. He's the only player in MLB history with at least 100 triples, 150 home runs and 600 stolen bases. He has the best stolen-base percentage (84.7) among players with more than 400 attempts. And the eye-opening list of stats goes on.

But on Wednesday, the most important number for Raines, and every other contender, will of course be the vote total. Candidates must be named on 75 percent of the ballots, which were mailed to roughly 435 voting members of the BBWAA. Last year, Raines got 69.8 percent of approximately 475 votes, and so far this year, that number is trending significantly higher, according to the public ballot tracker updated by HOF enthusiast Ryan Thibodaux.

Why Raines should be in HOF

In addition to Raines, it's looking good for Bagwell, who rose from 55.7 percent in 2015 to 71.6 in 2016 and is in good position to clear the necessary 75-percent threshold.

It seems to be up in the air for everyone else. Rodriguez is having a strong first showing, which is no surprise considering that he won 13 Gold Glove Awards, seven Silver Slugger Awards and an American League Most Valuable Player Award, but it's shaping up to be a very close vote to determine if he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

The same goes for Guerrero, another one-time AL MVP who retired five years ago with a career line of .318/.379/.553 with 449 home runs, 1,496 RBIs, 2,590 hits and 1,328 runs scored.

Hoffman, who finished with 601 career saves and 856 games finished, both of which rank second in MLB history to the great Mariano Rivera, got 67.3 percent a year ago in his first time on the ballot and should come close again. Mariners legend Martinez is also expected to get more than 60 percent this year, which would represent a significant jump in the voting for him and could set him up well to earn election over the next two years, his last ones on the ballot.

No other holdovers cleared 60 percent last year, making it difficult to do so this year.

Edgar's case for Hall of Fame

What has changed with the ballot?
There's nothing new this year. Players remain on the ballot for up to 10 years provided they receive at least 5 percent of the vote. Before that, players could be on the ballot for 15 years as long as they received at least 5 percent each year. Smith, who's in his 15th year of eligibility, was grandfathered on the ballot because he already had more than 10 years on it when the rule change was made. Raines was not, making this his 10th and final year.

Also, the recent enactment of a rule that limits voting privileges to 10-year BBWAA members who "must hold an active BBWAA card or have held active status within the last 10 years" still stands and still has an effect. That move, aimed to get the voting group more current with active coverage of the game, resulted in a large drop in ballots cast in 2016, going from 549 in 2015 to 440 last year. It's very possible we'll see another, albeit slight, drop.

MLB Now: HOF chatter continues

Who might fall off the ballot?
As noted, it's the last chance for Smith. He received 34.1 percent of votes in 2016 and is not expected to make the necessary jump, although he'll likely be considered by the Modern Baseball committee in the coming years.

Also, it's likely that Renteria, Varitek, Ordonez, Lee, Drew, Wakefield, Casey Blake, Pat Burrell, Orlando Cabrera, Mike Cameron, Carlos Guillen, Melvin Mora, Arthur Rhodes, Freddy Sanchez and Matt Stairs won't get the needed 5 percent and will fall off the ballot. Posada, who was a major part of the most recent Yankees dynasty, will likely wind up close to 5 percent, and probably the most notable name that could fail to meet the minimum threshold.

Posada on 2017 HOF ballot

What will happen with Bonds and Clemens?
Both players, who are in their fifth year on the ballot, would be easy Hall of Famers if not for their connection to performance-enhancing drugs, but things are looking up.

Clemens went from 37.5 percent of the vote in 2015 to 45.2 last year, with Bonds getting 36.8 percent in 2015 and 44.3 in 2016. This year, however, Thibodaux's tracker has both at around 60 percent, which bodes well for the remaining five years of each player's candidacy.

Bonds, Clemens gain HOF momentum

What's in store for next year?
It could be the time for Rodriguez, Guerrero and Hoffman in 2018 if they don't make it this year, given the way recent support has gone. Also expect more improvement in the totals for Martinez, Bonds, Clemens and Mussina.

But expected totals from year to year can change in a hurry based on new guys on the voting block. And the 2018 ballot has its share of doozies.

Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel are all expected to gain high vote totals in their 2018 ballot debuts, and Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Jamie Moyer, Johnny Damon and Johan Santana also present possibly interesting cases for Cooperstown.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.