15 MLB Players Who Will Break Out in 2014
Stars Are Born Each Year
In 2013 we saw guys like Chris Davis, Josh Donaldson, Yasiel Puig and Jean Segura explode onto the scene. None of these guys were considered bad players going into the season, but nobody expected them to put up the numbers that they did. Every season we get All-Stars who seemingly burst out of nowhere but why?
Baseball is a team sport with nine guys in the field and nine guys in the lineup so one guy on a team can't win without the rest of his team winning too. When you break it down, though, baseball is also very much an individual sport. It's a series of battles between an individual pitcher and an individual hitter, and the outcomes of those individual battles then affect the rest of the team. Because of these dynamics baseball allows for players to break out at any given moment unlike any other sport. Sure players emerge every season in every sport, but it's almost always within the context of the team.
Let's compare baseball with basketball for a moment. In basketball a player can spend all offseason working on their three point shot, but that skill becomes meaningless once the season comes around if their teammates don't pass them the ball when they're open for three. In baseball, a pitcher can develop a pitch or a batter can work on maintaining balance through their swing and they can implement these skills during their individual battles regardless of what their teammates are doing. In baseball the team is dependent on the individual while the individual is mainly independent from the team; in other team sports both the team and individual are dependent on each other. It's this dynamic that allows so many players to break out each season, and it's one of the many reasons why baseball is so unique and beautiful.
Let's look at who's ready to break out in 2014.
15. Jurickson Profar
Jurickson Profar, 2B Texas Rangers
It is no secret that Jurickson Profar is one of the best young players in baseball. Last season Profar was stuck in a utility role behind Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus, but the Rangers recently traded Kinsler in order to make Profar their everyday second baseman. Profar was Keith Law's No. 1 prospect entering the 2013 season, and it will be exciting to see what this 20 year old will be able to do in his first full season in the Majors.
14. Eric Hosmer
Eric Hosmer, 1B Kansas City Royals
Hosmer posted a disappointing .232/.304/.359 line (avg/obp/slg) in 2012, but he bounced back nicely with a .302/.353/.448 line in 2013. Hosmer set a career-high last season with 34 doubles, and at just 24 years of age it's reasonable to expect his power to continue to develop and for some of those doubles to turn into home runs. Hosmer had a very nice 2013 and should burst into a star in 2014.
13. Brandon Belt
Brandon Belt, 1B San Francisco Giants
Brandon Belt had really struggled in the majors but in the second half of last season he rediscovered his swing, started driving the ball more and the results were what Giants fans have been waiting for. Belt upped his line drive percentage from 21.5 in the first half of last season to 27.7 in the second half. He also dropped his fly ball percentage from 43.9 to 38.2 and watched his OPS rise from .784 to .915. As long as Belt continues to drive the ball he should be in line for a breakout season in 2014.
12. Andrew Cashner
Andrew Cashner, SP San Diego Padres
Cashner had a 4.27 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP in 2012 and he was able to cut both of those numbers down drastically in 2013 (3.09 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP) largely thanks to a decrease in walks (walk percentage went from 9.7% in 2012 to 6.7% in 2013) and home runs (HR/9 went from .97 in 2012 to .62 in 2013). If Cashner can keep the walks and home runs down while picking back up the strikeouts (his career strikeout percentage is 20% but last year it dropped to 18.1%) then he's going to have a monster season in 2014.
11. Gerrit Cole
Gerrit Cole, SP Pittsburgh Pirates
Gerrit Cole was phenomenal for the Pirates once he was called up. In 117.1 innings for Pittsburgh last season, Cole posted a 3.22 era to go with a 1.17 WHIP. Cole has an excellent fastball, and with an average speed of 96.1 mph it was the fastest fastball of any pitcher last season with at least 110 innings pitched. Cole is a major part of the Pirates' plans going forward, and he's talented enough to be one of the 20 best starting pitchers in 2014.
10. Wilin Rosario
Wilin Rosario, C Colorado Rockies
Even though he's only 24 years old, Wilin Rosario has already posted back to back seasons of 20+ home runs. Rosario improved his line drive rate last season while maintaining his fly ball rate by hitting fewer ground balls. If Rosario can maintain these batted ball rates he has a very strong chance to break the 30 home run mark in 2014.
9. Chris Archer
Chris Archer, SP Tampa Bay Rays
Archer was excellent for the Rays last season. Once he was called up he posted a 3.22 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and stuck out 101 batters over 128.2 innings. Archer is expected to be part of the Rays rotation to open up the 2014 season, and if he builds on where he left off at the end of 2013 he should be in line for a breakout year.
8. Christian Yelich
Christian Yelich, OF Miami Marlins
Yelich was called up in July by the Marlins last year and played well for them in the second half of the season. He was a big prospect who was ranked 12th in Keith Law's mid-season prospect rankings back in July. Law talked about how Yelich had one of the best swings in the minors but he needed to start making adjustments against left-handed pitchers. That scouting report held true in his big league debut as Yelich hit .362 in 149 at bats against right-handed pitchers but hit just .165 in 91 at bats against lefties. If Yelich can bring his batting average against lefties up to even the .215 range then he should be able to break out in 2014.
7. Salvador Perez
Salvador Perez, C Kansas City Royals
Perez is 23 years old and has already hit .301 over the course of 253 major league games. He may never develop a power bat quite like Wilin Rosario, but he should be a .300+ hitter for years to come and does have 20 home run potential. A .320-20 home run season isn't out of the question for Perez in 2014.
6. Josh Rutledge
Josh Rutledge, 2B Colorado Rockies
In 2012 Rutledge showed some pop that you just don't typically see in middle infielders: he hit eight home runs in 291 plate appearances and had an ISO (SLG%-AVG) of .195. Many people thought Rutledge was going to break out in 2013, but instead he took a big step back and spent a large portion of the year in AAA. He came back from the minors, though, and proceeded to hit .328 after September 1. Rutledge has a strong chance at being the Rockies' starting second baseman to start the season, and if he can keep the momentum rolling from the end of 2013 then he could very well break out in 2014.
5. Matt Adams
Matt Adams, 1B St. Louis Cardinals
Matt Adams certainly has the talent to break out in 2014; the only question is whether or not he's going to get the opportunity. Adams hit 17 home runs last season for the Cardinals in just 319 plate appearances as he played the role of power bat off the bench. If Adams is given a full season's worth of plate appearances he's got a strong chance at hitting 30-plus home runs, but the Cardinals still have Allen Craig at first base and they just traded for Peter Bourjos, leaving them with a plethora of outfielders as well. It's early in the offseason though and a lot can happen between now and opening day. If Adams ends up in an everyday role he could have a very big year in 2014.
4. Michael Wacha
Michael Wacha, SP St. Louis Cardinals
Wacha recorded a 2.78 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP for the Cardinals in 64.2 innings last season and he then proceeded to carry the team all the way to the World Series. Wacha recorded a 2.64 ERA and a .91 WHIP in 30.2 innings and looked like an absolute star. People are going to expect a lot out of Wacha in 2014, and I expect him to deliver. Wacha is another guy who may very well be one of the 20 best pitchers in baseball at the conclusion of 2014.
3. Wil Myers
Wil Myers, OF Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays desperately needed a middle-of-the-order power-bat when they called up Myers last year, and he certainly didn't disappoint. In 88 games last season Myers hit .293 with 13 home runs and five stolen bases; if Myers can maintain that production over a full season in 2014 and hit 25-30 home runs to go along with 8-12 steals and a near .300 batting average I'd say that's breaking out.
2. Kyle Seager
Kyle Seager, 3B Seattle Mariners
Seager has now posted back-to-back seasons of 20 or more home runs and is approaching what should be the prime years of his career. Seager showed improved patience at the plate which lead to a 22 point increase in his OBP from 2012 to 2013. Seager got off to a scorching hot start last season -- he hit .293 with 15 home runs in the first half, .212 with seven home runs in the second half -- before cooling off drastically, but if he can sustain the level of play he showed in the first half for all of 2014 he will certainly have a monster season.
1. Zack Wheeler
Zack Wheeler, SP New York Mets
Wheeler was a huge prospect, and it still boggles my mind that the Mets were able to acquire him for less than half a season of Carlos Beltran. Wheeler pitched alright in his first 100 big league innings, posting a 3.42 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP, but his strikeout rates were much lower than what he's posted throughout his minor league career and his walk rates were higher. If Wheeler can get both those numbers closer to his minor league averages then he should have a very good 2014 season.
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