The Right Age: Four MLB Players Ready to Break Out

Nino CollaSenior Writer IFebruary 26, 2008

There is a ongoing trend in terms of breakout players.

While some blossom very young, and start their careers off at ages like 22 and 23, some are on the normal path to being great players.

Not everyone is Miguel Cabrera or Albert Pujols. Not everyone plays for a bad team that gets the chance to play early, or have the benefit of an open position.

That's the case with most of these guys. They've been road blocked by older players or they play on teams that are just too good to mess around with.

So James Loney, Edwin Encarnacion, and Billy Butler, while I think you are all primed for breakout years, you don't exactly meet the criteria here. Still keep an eye out for those three young hitters. Taking after guys like Miguel Cabrera isn't that bad of a road though.

I've taken four examples that best resemble this year's breakout hitters, and then compared the year before they broke out to the 2007 of all the potential breakouts. The four examples all have requirements from their breakout year which is listed along with their age.

Here they are: 

Ryan Howard - 2006 Age 27 - 500 AB, 30 HR, 100 RBI

Michael Young - 2003 Age 27 - 600 AB, 10 HR, 50 RBI, 100 R, .300 AVG

Matt Holiday - 2006 Age 26 - 500 AB, 30 HR, 100 RBI 

Jason Bay - 2005 Age 26 - 500 AB, 30 HR, 100 RBI

Those four reached those plateau's during their breakout years. These next four have the potential to do the same or come very close. 

The Ryan Howard

Ryan Garko - Age 27 

Last Year: 484 AB, .289 AVG, 21 HR, 61 RBI

Ryan Howard's 2005: 312 AB, .288 AVG, 22 HR, 63 RBI

No one will ever have the breakout season Ryan Howard had in 2006. He hit everything out of the park and won the MVP Award. Lightning doesn't strike twice, especially not with Ryan Garko.

But Garko has power. He is more of a doubles hitter than a homerun hitter. Progressive Field plays to his strengths, however, and makes a lot of his doubles into homeruns.

Is he going to hit 30 homers and knock in 100 runners? He has the potential. Garko might reach 500 at bats this year, because he will be the first baseman right from the get-go, but he still loses a little time due to Kelly Shoppach playing catcher when Paul Byrd pitches.

Was this the best choice to represent Ryan Howard? Probably not, but they are really similar in terms of how they got to where they are. Both were stuck behind other first baseman. Last year was Garko’s first full season and he really wasn't a full time starter. Ryan Howard’s first full time as a starter was his MVP year. 

Batting Garko third would be the best move, but Eric Wedge isn't going to tinker with success. Garko is going to put up better numbers than last year and that entails hitting at least 25 homers and knocking in close to 100.

Expect the Indians run production to go up, that means Ryan's will too. He won’t put up Ryan Howard numbers, but the situation is the same and he is poised to start mashing the ball.

The Michael Young

SS Yunel Escobar - Age 26

Last Year: 319 AB, 5 HR, 28 RBI, 54 R, .326 AVG

Michael Young's 2002: 573 AB, 9 HR, 62 RBI, 77 R, .262 AVG

This is a rather different comparison. Michael Young had an okay year in 2002. It wasn't until 2003 that he just absolutely lit the world on fire. His average was stellar; he was hitting the ball all over the park. Young was scoring plenty of runs atop that Ranger lineup.

Yunel Escobar was a utility guy last year. He played several positions due to injuries and Bobby Cox just couldn't find the guy playing time.

Now Edgar Renteria is gone and the job at shortstop is all Escobar's. Much like how the job was Michael Young’s after Alex Rodriguez got traded.

Escobar is projected to be hitting atop the Braves' lineup. So with guys like Chipper Jones, Mark Teixeira, and Jeff Francoeur hitting behind him, he is sure to score a lot.

His .326 average is real impressive and it leads me to believe he can do more of the same, just like Michael Young did in 2003. He should hit around the same number of home runs, but the key is scoring runs and average. Escobar can do both and will do both.

The Matt Holliday

3B Josh Fields - Age 26

Last Year: 373 AB, .244 AVG, 23 HR, 67 RBI

Matt Holliday's 2005: 470 AB, .307 AVG, 19 HR, 87 RBI

The numbers of Josh Fields and Matt Holliday are off in many spots. 100 AB’s, 70 some batting average points, 4 HR, and 20 RBI separate Fields from Holliday.

Yet, if you look at what Holliday did in the games that year and then look at what Fields did in his little run; it’s the best projection that you can find for Josh Fields.

Fields will get the full year now to show what he has. He struggled mightily after Joe Crede went down and it wasn't until more towards the end of the year that he started to really hit the ball.

The average won't be as phenomenal as Holliday's was because Fields never really hit for that high of an average even in the minors, but he will hit a lot of homeruns in Chicago's ballpark.

If Orlando Cabrera makes a positive impact, combined with the collective efforts of Nick Swisher, Paul Konerko, and Jim Thome, Fields will have no problem knocking in close to 100 runs.

Holliday went on to have another great year after that and is regarded as one of the best outfielders in the game at this point. Certainly Fields won't mind the comparison. 

The Jason Bay

OF Corey Hart - Age 26

Last Year: 505 AB, .295 AVG, 24 HR, 81 RBI (140 Games)

Jason Bay's 2004:  411 AVG, .282 AVG, 26 HR, 82 RBI (120 Games)

A 20 game difference but the statistics of these two are uncanny.

Hart stole more bases last year, but he should end up with around the same amount Bay did.

Both played limited time prior to breaking out, but now Hart will be in the lineup everyday. Add 50-60 more possible AB’s for Hart, plus improvements and he could reach that 30 HR mark. He may not be able to get as close to 100 RBI, it all depends on where he bats.

Both guys are legit stat stuffers. They can do everything from steal bases to hit homeruns. Hart will follow the mold that Jason Bay did. He has surprising power, with speed, a deadly combination for a corner outfielder.

Hart's average should be around .300 like it did last year as well. 

So there you have it. Four players you need to watch out for and a legit comparison to last year. Ages 26-29 are really prime years for baseball players. Now that these players have hit that 26-27 year old mark, and are full time players, look out.