Who will be the MLB's 2011 breakout rookie?

By Kris Hughes

Each summer, there is a professional baseball rookie that emerges from the pack, playing well above expectations and providing a pleasant surprise to their teams.

There was little doubt in 2010 about the summer’s best rookies.

San Francisco Giants phenom catcher Buster Posey took home the National League Rookie of the Year award, earning 129 total points in voting, with Atlanta Braves slugger Jason Heyward coming in a close second with 107 points.

Texas Rangers flame-throwing closer Neftali Feliz won the American League honors in a landslide, earning 122 total points in voting.

Several upstarts could make instant contributions to the success of their respective teams during the summer of 2011.

Let’s take a look at three guys who are on our radar as the first pitches are thrown to kick-off the 2011 MLB season:

Aroldis Chapman, Pitcher- Cincinnati Reds

Even though his time in a Reds uniform last summer was brief, Aroldis Chapman made a spectacular first impression.

His 105-mph fastball (the fastest recorded pitch in major league history) in a September 2010 game against the San Diego Padres said all it needed to say: I’m here and here to stay.

Chapman isn’t the type to back down from anyone, and no matter where he lands in the Reds’ pitching staff this summer, he will be a force to reckon with.

The Reds are at a crossroads whether to start the young Dominican lefty, or work him into a setup or closer’s role as his career continues.

With a poor 2010 team ERA of 4.01, it would seem at first glance Chapman would be best suited for the starting rotation, but with the loss of holds specialist Arthur Rhodes to the Texas Rangers in the off-season, he could also step into a setup role for Reds closer CoCo Cordero.

Look for Aroldis Chapman to continue his strong performance in 2011, and emerge as one of the National League’s top young talents.

Brandon Belt, First Baseman- San Francisco Giants

Former Texas Longhorns star and San Francisco Giants’ top prospect, Brandon Belt has surprised many in the baseball world by being named the opening day first baseman for the defending World Champions.

Apparently, the Giants believe he is ready, in spite of those in the baseball media who aren’t quite as convinced

The element of Brandon Belt’s game which could benefit the Giants most quickly is his big bat.

As a member of the Giants’ AA affiliate in Richmond, Belt was hitting an electric .337 with nine homers and 37 RBI’s prior to a late-season call-up to Fresno where he struggled, hitting only .229 over 61 at bats.

Belt was solid, but not spectacular in spring training, hitting .282 with 3 homers and 13 RBIs.

If Brandon Belt can reach his full potential while under the bright lights of the league’s hottest market, he could easily be in the running for NL ROY come the season’s end.

Jeremy Hellickson, Pitcher- Tampa Bay Rays

With Matt Garza’s departure to the Chicago Cubs, rookie right-hander Jeremy Hellickson slides into the Tampa Bay Rays’ No. 5 slot as a starter in a loaded rotation.

Helickson has the makeup and stuff to have an instant impact on a pitching rotation which should be one of the strongest overall in the American League.

Hellickson’s absurd .217 OBA in the minors says almost all it needs to say: he’s almost impossible to hit.

In spite of his small stature, Hellickson has complete command over a variety of pitches and throws hard enough to earn respect from seasoned major league hitters.

If Jeremy Hellickson reaches his potential in 2011, an already deep Rays staff could become the deepest in the American League.

While Chapman, Belt and Hellickson are among the first-tier of 2011’s rookie crop, history has shown unknown players can emerge and become impact guys for their respective clubs without anyone prediciting it.

Is there anyone we are missing who will compete for the 2011 Rookie of the Year awards?

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