Picking MLB's 'All-Breakout' Team for 2012
Every year we see players, both young and old alike, put forth performances that rank as the best of their careers, and 2012 is no different.
When it clicks, it clicks, and neither age nor experience can determine when it's going to happen.
From ballyhooed prospects to aging journeymen to those who are so plain that they don't engender a description at all, this year's breakout team runs the gamut.
Let's meet the starting lineup, as well as the five-man rotation and who we'll be calling upon in the ninth inning to wrap it all up.
Catcher: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
2012 Stats: 132 G, .333/.407/.546, 22 HR, 92 RBI, 1-for-2 SB
This is the season people were waiting for Buster Posey to have, and one that some think he could have put together in 2011 had he not gotten injured.
Posey, 25, is second in the National League in on-base percentage, third in batting average (second if we discount Melky Cabrera's season, something commissioner Bud Selig absolutely must do) and finds himself in the top 10 of multiple categories.
En route to the first 100 RBI season of his career, Posey has already set career highs in every offensive category except triples, stolen bases and being hit by a pitch.
Not only is Posey a legitimate MVP candidate in 2012, but he's put the rest of the league on notice that he's going to be one for years to come.
Others Considered: A.J. Ellis (Dodgers)
Preseason Picks: Devin Mesoraco (Reds) and Jesus Montero (Mariners)
First Base: Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
2012 Stats: 139 G, .279/.382/.565, 40 HR, 102 RBI, 13-for-16 SB
It's taken him eight years, but Edwin Encarnacion has finally put up the power numbers that most around the game felt he was capable of as a 22-year-old rookie with the Reds back in 2005.
He's become a force in the middle of the Blue Jays lineup, ranking second in all of baseball in home runs and is among the top 10 in both OPS, RBI and slugging percentage.
A healthy Toronto lineup that features Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie and a then-30-year-old Encarnacion in the heart of the order will be a force to be reckoned with in 2013.
Others Considered: None
Preseason Picks: Mat Gamel (Brewers), Paul Goldschmidt (Diamondbacks), Bryan LaHair (Cubs), Ike Davis (Mets), Yonder Alonso (Padres) and Brandon Belt (Giants)
Second Base: Darwin Barney, Chicago Cubs
2012 Stats: 140 G, .261/.306/.368, 6 HR, 39 RBI, 6-for-7 SB
My original choice was Houston's Jose Altuve, but upon further review, the Cubs' Darwin Barney is worthy of the award seeing as how he has emerged as the best defensive second baseman in MLB.
At the end of August, Barney broke former Padres second baseman David Eckstein's National League record of 113 consecutive games played without an error, and he has played well over 1,000 consecutive innings without committing an error.
His superb glove work finds him leading all second basemen in fielding percentage, range factor, DRS, UZR and UZR/150.
While that's an impressive feat, you have to consider how Barney plays defense. He's not one to sit back and let the ball come to him; rather, he's aggressive, attacking the ball and going all-out to record an out for his pitcher.
He's not going to win any Silver Slugger awards or contend for a batting title, but Barney isn't an automatic out with the bat either.
Others Considered: Jose Altuve (Astros) and Jason Kipnis (Indians)
Preseason Picks: Kipnis
Third Base: Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners
2012 Stats: 139 G, .258/.318/.422, 18 HR, 81 RBI, 13-for-18 SB
After narrowly beating out Alex Liddi for a spot on the Mariners bench in spring training, Kyle Seager was called upon in only the second game of the season to start at third base as incumbent Chone Figgins was pushed to left field to replace injured starter Mike Carp.
The 24-year-old Seager seized the opportunity, becoming the first Mariners third baseman to drive in at least 80 runs in a season since Adrian Beltre finished the 2007 season with 99. Defensively, Seager has been solid, though certainly not up to Beltre's standards—then again, few third basemen are.
Seager, along with second baseman Dustin Ackley and catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero, gives the Mariners a solid trio of youngsters for them to build a lineup around moving forward.
Others Considered: David Freese (Cardinals), Mike Moustakas (Royals)
Preseason Picks: Pedro Alvarez (Pirates), Freese, Brett Lawrie (Blue Jays) and Moustakas
Shortstop: Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals
2012 Stats: 113 G, .292/.328/.518, 23 HR, 67 RBI, 17-for-22 SB
Heading into the season, people knew that not only did Ian Desmond have speed and 10-to-15 home runs in his bat, but that in the end, he'd strike out more than 100 times and struggle to get on base or hit for a decent average.
While the 26-year-old Desmond has struck out more than 100 times and continues to flash his speed on the basepaths, he's also set new career highs in doubles, home runs and RBI while remaining on pace to set new full-season career bests in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS.
Desmond's defense leaves plenty to be desired, though. While his fielding percentage is one of the lowest among everyday shortstops, his UZR/150 of 6.3 is close to that of Jimmy Rollins, who is tied for seventh in fielding percentage for shortstops.
Defensive issues aside, Desmond, who made the All-Star team for the first time in 2012, is one of the better hitting young shortstops in the game and someone who figures to see his numbers improve as the Nationals continue to add pieces to their lineup.
Others Considered: Zack Cosart (Reds)
Preseason Picks: Mike Aviles (Red Sox), Dee Gordon (Dodgers)
Left Field: Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics
2012 Stats: 112 G, .288/.348/.488, 19 HR, 71 RBI, 16-for-19 SB
OK, so maybe Yoenis Cespedes hasn't looked exactly like the Bo Jackson clone we were led to believe he was coming out of Cuba this winter, but that doesn't mean Cespedes has been a disappointment in Oakland.
Quite the opposite actually. The 26-year-old leads the A's in both batting average and on-base percentage while he trails only Josh Reddick in the power categories (home runs and RBI).
Others Considered: Dayan Viciedo (White Sox)
Preseason Picks: J.D. Martinez (Astros), John Mayberry Jr. (Phillies), Logan Morrison (Marlins) and Viciedo
Center Field: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2012 Stats: 123 G, .331/.397/.565, 27 HR, 77 RBI, 45-for-49 SB
Miguel Cabrera is a great hitter—there's no doubt about it.
But how anyone can say that Mike Trout isn't the best player in baseball right now is beyond me.
Trout leads the American League in batting average, leads all of baseball in runs scored and stolen bases and is sixth in on-base percentage and fourth in OPS. He has more home runs than Prince Fielder and as many RBI as Robinson Cano.
Oh, and he's only 20 years old.
Others Considered: Dexter Fowler (Rockies)
Preseason Picks: Fowler and Bryce Harper (Nationals)
Right Field: Josh Reddick, Oakland Athletics
2012 Stats: 139 G, .250/.313/.472, 28 HR, 76 HR, 11-for-12 SB
While many believed that Josh Reddick, acquired from the Red Sox this past winter in the deal that sent closer Andrew Bailey to Boston, was nothing more than a glorified fourth outfielder, some thought he was a player who only needed a chance to play on a daily basis to be successful.
While he's been largely invisible since the All-Star break, the 25-year-old has proven that those in that second group were accurate. Reddick has set new career highs in every offensive category this season. His 28 home runs rank fourth among all right fielders, and he leads the A's in home runs, RBI and hits.
Reddick has also been solid in the field, and his 13 assists on the season rank second among all right fielders, trailing only the Royals' Jeff Francoeur.
Others Considered: Norichika Aoki (Brewers), Jason Heyward (Braves)
Preseason Picks: Brennan Boesch (Tigers), Bryce Harper (Nationals), Heyward and Ben Revere (Twins)
No. 1 Starter: R.A. Dickey, RHP, New York Mets
2012 Stats: 30 G (29 GS), 18-5. 2.68 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 205 IP, 166 H, 197 K, 23 QS
As I said in the beginning of the article, age means nothing when it comes to a player enjoying their breakout season. When something clicks, it clicks, and you can be 23 years old or, in the case of R.A. Dickey, 37 years old when it all comes together.
Utilizing a power-knuckleball, Dickey is far and away the best pitcher on not only the Mets but in all of baseball, as his name litters the top of the leaderboards in virtually every major pitching category.
A legitimate contender for the National League Cy Young Award, he leads the NL in ERA and complete games while ranking second in wins, innings pitched, strikeouts, WHIP and winning percentage.
Others Considered: Yu Darvish (Rangers)
Preseason Picks: Darvish
No. 2 Starter: Chris Sale, LHP, Chicago White Sox
2012 Stats: 27 G (26 GS), 17-6. 2.78 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 175 IP, 142 H, 173 K, 17 QS
I'd say that the transition from relief pitcher to starting pitcher has gone pretty well for Chris Sale, wouldn't you?
Sale, a 23-year-old southpaw, leads all White Sox starters in wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, while his 17 quality starts trail only Jake Peavy's 20 for the team lead.
A first-time All-Star in 2012, Sale's 173 strikeouts rank seventh in the American League while he ranks third in four other pitching categories: wins, winning percentage, ERA and WHIP.
There's no question that Sale is a major reason why the White Sox have enjoyed the level of success that they have in 2012, and he has left little doubt that not only is he the best starting pitcher on the south side of Chicago, but in the entire city.
Others Considered: Matt Moore (Rays)
Preseason Picks: Moore
No. 3 Starter: Wade Miley, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
2012 Stats: 29 G (26 GS), 15-10. 3.10 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 177 IP, 171 H, 127 K, 17 QS
Viewed as nothing more than a back-of-the-rotation arm entering the season, 25-year-old southpaw Wade Miley has instead been Arizona's most consistent starting pitcher in 2012 and a big part of their rotation going forward.
Miley's ERA is ninth-best among starting pitchers in the National League, and his WHIP is 10th. His 15 wins put him in a six-way tie for fourth place in the league, tied with names such as the Phillies' Cole Hamels and the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg.
Others Considered: Ross Detwiler (Nationals) and Jarrod Parker (A's)
Preseason Picks: Parker
No. 4 Starter: Scott Diamond, LHP, Minnesota Twins
2012 Stats: 23 G (23 GS), 11-7. 3.46 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 148.1 IP, 162 H, 79 K, 14 QS
For a team that was desperate for quality starting pitchers, Scott Diamond has been a godsend for the Twins in 2012.
The 26-year-old lefty leads the team in wins and ERA, although that isn't necessarily a gigantic achievement considering the state of the Twins' starting rotation.
That's not to say that Diamond hasn't had an excellent season, because he has. But he's played the role of ace for the Twins when he's best suited as a middle-of-the-rotation arm, so it's fair to wonder whether he'll be able to repeat this performance in the future should he find himself matched up with aces on other teams.
Others Considered: Tommy Milone (A's)
Preseason Picks: Michael Pineda (Yankees)
No. 5 Starter: Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals
2012 Stats: 32 G (26 GS), 15-7. 3.95 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 157.1 IP, 154 H, 157 K, 14 QS
He's been in and out of the rotation lately, but 25-year-old right-hander Lance Lynn has been an integral part of the Cardinals rotation in 2012, stepping up when Chris Carpenter went down with an injury in spring training and emerging as a viable rotation candidate for 2013 and beyond.
Lynn leads the Cardinals in wins (tied for fourth in the National League), and his winning percentage ranks ninth among qualified starting pitchers.
Others Considered: Lucas Harrell (Astros)
Preseason Picks: Brian Matusz (Orioles)
Closer: Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
2012 Stats: 62 G, 2-1. 2.83 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 60.1 IP, 50 H, 36 K, 42-for-45 SV
One of the few closers who isn't a flame-throwing strikeout artist, 29-year-old Jim Johnson has been the rock at the back end of what has been one of the best bullpens in baseball all season long.
Johnson's ability to keep the ball on the ground—his 63.8 ground-ball percentage is the best among closers—has been an integral part of his success and shows that perhaps the Orioles' oft-maligned defense isn't quite as bad as some would have you believe.
He trails Tampa Bay's Fernando Rodney by one save for not only the American League lead, but for the most saves in baseball as well. There is little question that without Johnson shutting things down in the ninth inning, the Orioles would not find themselves in the middle of a heated race for the AL East pennant.
Others Considered: Ernesto Frieri (Angels)
Preseason Picks: None