Players have reported, pictures are being taken, and games start by the end of the week. Before long, Opening Day will be upon us, with its new hope and wistful view of each team starting the season tied for first place.
For whatever reason you watch baseball though, the rise of a new star is always a captivating storyline. Even if you’re not an Angels fan, it would be tough not to appreciate what Mike Trout has done for instance. Or what Mookie Betts did last season.
While there may not be any breakouts as big as Trout or Betts this season, there are still plenty of candidates to reach notoriety. While Trout and Betts are clearly more than just breakouts—they’re bonafide superstars—maybe one or two players from this list ends up on their level. Perhaps one of them ends up on the Jose Ramirez level instead. At 24-years-old, Ramirez is coming off of a huge breakout in 2016 and probably isn’t just a flash in the pan. Either way, look for these players to impress in their 2017 campaigns, draft them in your fantasy leagues, and tell your friends and co-workers ‘I knew them before you’:
Still technically the Red Sox’s top prospect, Benintendi had 118 plate appearances with the big club last season and factored into one of the most feared outfields in all of baseball. Now that management has seen that the 22-year-old has what it takes, the left field job is Benintendi’s to lose in spring training.
The lefty has had trouble in his very young career facing left-handed pitching. Over 33 plate appearances against like-handed pitchers, Benintendi has reached base just eight times and struck out 12. That hasn’t stopped Red Sox skipper John Farrell from suggesting that Benintendi may compete for the two-spot in the batting lineup however; John Tomase of WEEI reports:
“Could Andrew Benintendi bat second? “It’s a possibility, no doubt,” Farrell said. Farrell likes the idea of breaking up four righties atop the order, and acknowledged that Benintendi could be a candidate for that spot, though nothing has been decided.”
Usually reserved for the best hitter in the lineup, the two-spot would certainly give Benintendi a platform on which to shine. However, surrounded by a cast of great hitters, blending in a bit might help Benintendi reach his full potential.
Revisionist history will retroactively appoint Cotton as the prize of the Josh Reddick and Rich Hill trade; at least from the Athletics’ perspective. When everyone wrote up the trade—including us—as it happened, Cotton was largely an after-thought. After all, Frankie Montas and Grant Holmes were the ones on prospect rankings.
As it turns out though, the then-24-year-old Cotton made five starts for the Athletics down their home stretch. While it may have been meaningless in the standings, Cotton generated swings and misses at an alarming rate. While his last start of the season he faced what seemed like some control issues, Cotton still wrapped up his 2016 campaign with a 3.76 FIP—good enough for 10 percent better than the league average.
Helping Cotton’s breakout candidacy along is the fact that A’s skipper Bob Melvin thinks he already has the fourth spot in the rotation:
Melvin says Jharel Cotton has "leg up" on No. 4 starter job, but has to go out and earn it in spring. #Athletics— Joe Stiglich (@JoeStiglichCSN) February 16, 2017
Of anyone on this list, Bregman has the most major league service time accrued—though barely. At 217 plate appearances, the 22-year-old promising infielder for the Astros appears to have the third base job on lock in spring training.
A large portion of Bregman’s success in the minors rode on the fact that he seemed to have very keen plate discipline. In Double-A for instance, Bregman walked nearly 15 percent of the time, and struck out less than 10 percent of the time. Against major league pitching though, Bregman seemed to lose a bit of that; striking out nearly a quarter of the time and drawing walks seven percent of the time. By the last month of the season, Bregman had gotten to his worst point, walking just three percent of the time.
Bregman’s valley didn’t seem to faze him though, as his walk rate dipping seemed to coincide with his most productive month at the plate. Slashing .323/.344/.629 for the months of September and October, Bregman hit 60 percent better than the league average despite seeming to be allergic to walks. If Bregman can find a harmonious center between his torrid slugging and his seemingly elite plate discipline, the Astros may have a genuine superstar at the hot corner.
Like Benintendi, Glasnow is still technically the top prospect in his team’s system, despite making appearances for the Pirates last year. Glasnow got his first call-up in July as an injury replacement. In his two July starts, Glasnow allowed five earned runs over 8.1 innings. It was a less-than-ideal start to the then-22-year-olds career.
However, once rosters expanded, Glasnow was on his way back up. Making three good appearances from the bullpen, Glasnow earned two starting gigs to finish up the season. Over 13 September innings, Glasnow worked a strikeout rate above 25 percent and a FIP 12 percent better than the league average.
While his chances of making the Pirates’ rotation out of spring training appears somewhat remote, it’s just a matter of time before his skillset is required by the big club once again.
Perhaps the thing that helps a breakout candidate the most is the chance of playing for a breakout team; and no one on this list has that going for them as well as Arcia.
While Benintendi and Bregman may play for teams considered to be the favorites in their respective divisions, the Brewers are near the bottom of the NL Central looking up. However, thanks to some savvy moves from David Stearns and the rest of their new front office, there’s a chance the Brewers turn some heads this year. Who better to benefit from that than a potential star at the most premium position?
The 22-year-old shortstop had just one fewer plate appearance than Bregman last season, but performed quite a bit worse. Slashing .219/.273/.358, Arcia’s 2016 is forgettable. However, scouts still approve of his fielding and his speed. While Arcia may be the longest shot on this list for a breakout, he may also stand to gain the most.
Are there other breakout candidates that we missed? Ones that you’re keeping your eye on? Feel free to Well, Actually us in the comments.