While obscene breakouts like Jose Bautista are often stretched decades apart, each season brings new stars that are able to develop/refine areas of their game—turning weaknesses into strengths.
Curtis Granderson has finally conquered left-handed pitching, Jacoby Ellsbury learned the importance of remaining quiet and balanced and Cliff Lee once bounced back from the minors with new-found confidence and command.
Who will take that next step in 2012 from role guy to star or star to bona fide superstar? Whose true potential will finally be realized?
We will aim to answer those questions for you with five excellent players under 30 who will jump into a new stratosphere this season.
Some important criteria in compiling the list include:
1. Must be under 30 years old: no rebounding veterans like Dan Uggla and Jayson Werth.
2. Must have completed at least one full season in MLB (150-plus games or 30-plus starts): no Matt Moore, Jesus Montero, Brett Lawrie and other brand new prospects.
3. Cannot solely be “improving” based on 2011 injury: must significantly jump above career trends, as opposed to reestablishing a previous performance base.
4. No “horrendous” to “decent” improvers need apply: jumping from a 6.50 ERA to 4.50 is a massive improvement, but this is focusing solely on game-changers.
Feel free to make the case for any of these omissions in the comment section or add more of your own, as I would love to debate some baseball with all of you.
Here we go, starting off with reigning World Series MVP.
2012 Stat Projection: .290, 23 HR, 100 RBI, 40 2B
Coming off a scorching postseason with 5 HR, 21 RBI and a 1.258 OPS, David Freese should only continue to blossom in 2012.
He is confident and clutch, and will be asked to contribute much more after the loss of superstar slugger Albert Pujols.
My gut tells me he’s up for the challenge, and his first season of 500-600 at-bats will pay dividends.
2012 Stat Projection: 15 W, 225 K, 3.50 ERA, 210 IP
Brandon Morrow still has some of the most lethal stuff in baseball and his arm is finally conditioned for a full season of starting after 30 starts a year ago.
His numbers improved in virtually every category but ERA in 2011. He will finally break out and approach his limitless potential in 2012.
We’ll start comparing him to Zack Greinke instead of A.J. Burnett after this year.
2012 Stat Projection: 19 W, 200 K, 3.30 ERA, 225 IP
Derek Holland had a rock-solid season and even better playoff run in 2012, and showed he can and will buy into Nolan Ryan’s pitch count philosophy—throwing 110-plus pitches 12 times.
He will finally overcome his bout with inconsistency with improved command of his breaking pitches, as a year ago he had as many shutouts (four) as starts of fewer than four innings pitched.
Holland will be an All-Star and ultimately Texas’ ace by midseason.
2012 Stat Projection: .315, 40 HR, 115 RBI, 50 2B
Justin Upton is already a star and the face of a franchise. The scary thing is he has not even come close to his ceiling yet.
Upton will jump from established young star to the second-best hitter in the entire National League behind Matt Kemp this year, as his ability to cut down strikeouts and turn mistakes into damage will ascend even further.
He’s still just 24, but I predict a 2012 NL MVP Award for Upton on his way to his first 40-home run season.
2012 Stat Projection: .275, 35 HR, 110 RBI, .900 OPS
Dealt from the Dodgers to Indians in one of the worst trades of the last decade, Carlos Santana is coming off 27 HR, 79 RBI and .808 OPS in his first full MLB season.
These totals ranked him second, fourth and sixth, respectively, among catchers, but he’ll finish first in both HR and RBI this season.
He may not hit .300, but his solid walk rate and raw power will take him to the next level, especially as maturity begins to balance out his strange left/right splits over his first two seasons.