20 Breakout Players for 2013 MLB Season
Who might be MLB's breakout stars in 2013?
With the 2013 MLB season still a few months away, there's still plenty of time for baseball fans to wait to see who the newest and best breakout players of the league are. Sure, you might say that watching the established stars of the big leagues is entertaining enough; but there's just something that much more captivating about a burgeoning talent finally putting it all together to reach that elusive “next level” of their game, right?
Just because we have to wait to see who these players are for 2013, that doesn't stop us from trying to predict the future. That said, with so many talented potential sleepers out there in the league, how does one go about picking just 20?
Well, I started by placing limitations and guidelines. For one, all of the players on my list have had major league experience, and are likely to have a full-time job next season – that would eliminate players like Wil Myers and Gerrit Cole, who I like, but aren't really suitable here.
What I was looking for, on the other hand, were players who have shown talent in the bigs, but hasn't quite gotten to the level of what you'd reasonably call a star for any number of reasons: injury, insufficient playing time, etc. If I had to define it in number terms, I'd think 4.5 fWAR for hitters, 4.0 for starting pitcher, and 1.5 for relievers would be appropriate guidelines.
There are going to be exceptions and a couple of borderline guys, of course; but, in short, I'm looking for the next Kris Medlen – who didn't make the breakout candidates list for '13, despite throwing just 138 innings in '12; because if you can't call 1.57 ERA and 5.22 K/BB over those innings a breakout...well, I just don't know what is.
With that in mind, I present my 20 breakout candidates for the 2013 season. Feel free to add your own in a comment - if I end up with a 25% accuracy rate on my predictions, I'll consider the whole thing to have been a success:
Logan Morrison has been through a couple of seasons with a balky knee that has limited his ability to hit (and play) consistently, but there's still plenty of time for the 25-year old to live up to his former top-prospect billing. He's shown the ability to hit for average, has a good batting eye (11% walk rate over career), and we've already seen the 25-homer power. LoMo, like the rest of the Miami Marlins, is kind of in a bad spot as far as home team is concerned, but I'm willing to throw out his '12 numbers that he put up on one leg over 296 PA. Call it a hunch, but I think Morrison will be an All-Star some day - perhaps as soon as '13.
After years of being branded an AAAA player, Chris Davis finally put together that 30-homer season at age-26 that he was destined for as a former top power-hitting prospect. Surprisingly , he was able to do it with a batting average north of .260. Could '12 be the best Chris Davis we'll ever see? With a career minor-league BABIP north of .365, I'm inclined to say that he could be better. As long as the strikeout rate doesn't spike, I think it wouldn't be unreasonable to see him push 40 homers with an average north of .285 - in short, a full-season extrapolation of his rookie year.
Colby Rasmus looked like he was on the verge of superstardom after his 2010 season, but the last couple of down years have done a good job of making folks forget all about his pedigree. Much of what has gone wrong for Rasmus has to do with his declining walk rate, and the fact that he hits a ton of pop flies (15.5% in '11, 14.4 in '12). That said, he showed a glimpse of the upside that once made him an untouchable in June, hitting .297 with a .878 OPS. Something hasn't quite clicked with Rasmus over the last two seasons, if/when it does, watch out.
Will Middlebrooks probably would have already been a breakout player in 2012, if not for a broken wrist that ended his season prematurely. The third baseman showed elite power at the hot corner, which bring able to maintain an above-average BA with a good dash of speed. He was a spark plug in a tired Boston Red Sox club last season, and needs to work on his plate discipline (0.19 BB/K) to take the next step. This is another "hunch" pick, but I think Middlebrooks will get there.
Although his playing time may be at risk with the emergence of teammate Brandon Moss, Chris Carter is my bet for the next breakout hitter out of the Oakland Athletics. In the first sustained stint in the bigs, the 26-year old demonstrated the monster power (.275 ISO, 16 homers in 260 PA) that was a consistent part of his minor league career, as well as an excellent on-base abilities (15% walk rate). The batting average and strikeout rates leave much to be desired, but consider the upside - if he can hit anything close to .250 over a full season of at-bats, he's a 40+ homer threat who could top 100 walks.
Greg Holland might officially be the closer for the Kansas City Royals, but it would be no surprise to see 23-year old Kelvin Herrera supplant Holland for the job in 2013. Herrera doesn't quite have the flashy 12.22 K/9 Holland has, but he's the steadier of the two pitchers, with a 2.35 ERA and 1.19 WHIP that betters the Royals closer. Herrera also walked just 21 batters in 84.1 innings, compared to Holland's 34 walks in 67 innings. Strikeout ability usually wins out in these battles, but Herrera could be an exception to the rule in '13.
After working as a long-reliever/spot-starter for most of his career, Marco Estrada finally got a chance to start full-time in the final half of 2012, and he made the most of the opportunity. Estrada put up a 3.40/1.21 ERA/WHIP split after the break, and ended his season brilliantly, allowing just 11 runs over his final 37.2 innings, while striking out over a batter per inning, and holding his opponents to a .219 average. A breakout 2013 could be next, given full-time innings.
Anthony Rizzo was overmatched in his first stint in the bigs, but the second was a different story. After arriving in June Rizzo was on fire through July, hitting seven homers over 25 games and posting a .942 OPS in that span. His numbers eventually levelled out to a still-good .285/.342/.463 triple-slash, and Rizzo has just one more hurdle to conquer in order to become a star player in '13 - he has to be able to hit LHP, after putting up a feeble .599 OPS and a 0.24 BB/K against southpaws in '12.
Another post-break reliever-to-starter success story from '12, the 31-year old Japanese import worked in the Seattle Mariners bullpen until just before the All-Star break. Afterwards? Oh, all he did was put up a 2.50 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 90 innings. I look forward to what a full season will bring for Hisashi Iwakuma.
Shelby Miller's 2012 season was spent largely in AAA battling inconsistency and a spiking homer rate, but when he finally arrived in the big leagues, all he did was make people forget all about it. Sure, he worked primarily as a reliever, making just one start in his six '12 appearances totaling 13.2 innings, but the one start was a brilliant six-inning, one-hit shutout where Miller allowed just a pair of walks and struck out seven. You'll have to believe in his talent over sample size to believe that he could have a breakout season in '13, and I happen to be a believer.
Did you know that Homer Bailey is still only 26-year old, despite having played in the majors for parts of six seasons? The former first-round pick has been around forever, and though he hasn't yet lived up to his upside, there are hints that Bailey may finally get there in his age-27 season. Bailey threw over 200 major-league innings for the first time in his career, including a very good 3.21/1.18 ERA/WHIP split and a 8.02 K/9 after the All-Star break. Bailey ended his season with a brilliant seven-inning, one-hit, 10 K playoff performance, a final reminder that this just isn't the same guy who was first-round bust all of those years.
Another potential breakout season ended prematurely, this time from a suspension from having tested positive for testerone, Yasmani Grandal will have to prove to the league in 2013 that his excellent first 60-game stint at the majors (.863 OPS, 2.2 fWAR) wasn't a product of whatever he was taking. That said, with his long track record of success at the minor league level, I don't think he'll have trouble doing so.
As the consensus number-one pitching prospect going into the 2012 season, Matt Moore didn't burst onto the AL scene with a Stephen Strasburg-like impact, but it didn't take him long to get there either. After struggling with control over the first couple of months of the '12 season, Moore settled down and pitched like everyone thought he would. Despite running out of gas in September, the lefty still compiled an excellent 3.01/1.21 ERA/WHIP split after the All-Star break, while holding opponents to a .220 BA. He's not quite a breakout star yet, but it shouldn't take much longer.
After three full seasons in the majors, Justin Smoak hasn't lived up to his top-prospect billing in the majors, but hasn't spent quite enough time to be called a total bust either. Facing a potential loss of playing time with the arrival of Kendrys Morales, Smoak will have to make the best of his opportunities in '13; but fortunately, the 26-year old left 2012 on a hell of a run: a 1.1 fWAR, .341/.426/.580 triple-slash hitting streak over his final 101 PA that puts him on on the leaderboards over the likes of Prince Fielder, Joey Votto and Adam Jones.
Pegged by many to be a breakout player in 2012, Mike Minor looked like all but a lost cause for the first three months of the season, carrying around a 5.97/1.42 ERA/WHIP that probably didn't belong in the bigs. Then the All-Star break happened, and Minor was essentially untouchable: 2.16 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, .197 BAA, 4.19 K/BB. Don't be surprised if 2013's Kris Medlen came from the same team.
There aren't too many bright spots on the Houston Astros starting rotation, but that shouldn't diminish the reasons why 27-year old Lucas Harrell is listed at the number-one spot according to the team's depth chart. In his first full season, Harrell put together a respectable 3.76 ERA over almost 200 innings, including a notable 2.87 ERA and .243 BAA after the All-Star Break. Walks are still a problem for Harrell, but he close to having a breakout season.
Long considered one of baseball's top pitching prospect, Jacob Turner's first taste of the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers was forgettable. Then he got traded to the Miami Marlins, and he forgot about it. Here's what he did in September and October: 2.30 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, .210 BAA. Still just 21-years old, Turner could be ready for his breakout sooner rather than later.
You might not know Al Alburquerque as the best reliever playing for the Detroit Tigers, but you're about to in 2013. The righty's '12 season was cut almost in entirety because he needed surgery on his elbow, but Al-Al's been untouchable when he's healthy enough to pitch: 1.59 ERA, .133 BAA, 13.50 K/9 over 56.2 career innings. He's been more than good enough to overcome his poor walk rate (5.88 BB/9) thus far - if the elbow holds up, watch for him to give Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit a run for the closer's chair in '13.
There's just something about Derek Holland's 1.22 WHIP, .240 BAA and 2.79 K/BB that I can't quit, despite his 4.67 ERA that's fueled by his almost league-leading 1.64 HR/9. He didn't throw a single complete game in '12, but his four complete game-shutouts in '11 tells me Holland is too talented to be this mediocre - I'm not about to give up on the idea of the hard-throwing lefty having an age-26 breakout in 2013.
With a 4.6 season under his belt from '12, you might say Max Scherzer already had his breakout season - and you'd probably be right. The reason why I've put him on this list anyway is because I think he's capable of being so much more in '13. Scherzer led the league in K/9 in 2012, but didn't really find his stride until the All-Star break, when he became one of the best pitchers in the league, posting a 2.69 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and a .229 BA over the final half of the season - numbers that bettered those of some guy named Justin Verlander, by the way.