MLB Spring Training 2013: Every Team's Biggest Breakout Candidate
Every MLB team goes into the season with a certain number of known commodities, players they can count on to consistently produce at a high level. However, most teams need a handful of players to step up and out-perform expectations or past performance with a breakout season in order to legitimately contend.
The Oakland A's are the perfect example, as they got breakout seasons from the likes of Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick and Jarrod Parker last season and surprised with an AL West title.
Whether it is a player with big league experience taking his production to the next level or an unproven prospect coming through with significant production, every team has a handful of guys capable of breaking out each season.
With that in mind, here is who I view as each MLB team's biggest breakout candidate entering spring training and the 2013 season.
Arizona Diamondbacks: 1B Paul Goldschmidt
After tearing up minor league pitching in 2011, Paul Goldschmidt served as the Diamondbacks' everyday first baseman for their stretch run that season and hit .250 with eight home runs and 26 RBI through 156 at-bats.
He followed that up with a solid first full season in the majors, hitting .286 BA with 20 home runs, 82 RBI and 18 steals with a solid .850 OPS.
He'll be 25 this coming season, so he has plenty of room for improvement. And with Justin Upton gone, he'll be counted on even more to be a run producer.
A .300/30 HR/100 RBI season is not out of the question, as he could emerge as a force in the middle of the Arizona lineup.
Atlanta Braves: SP Mike Minor
Mike Minor already has 53 big league starts under his belt over the course of the past three years, so he is far from an unknown, but he appears ready to take a big step forward heading into the 2013 season.
His 2012 numbers aren't overly impressive, as he went 11-10 with a 4.12 ERA. However, a look at his first- and second-half splits shows he took a big step forward.
After struggling to a 5-6 record with a 5.97 ERA in the first half, Minor turned things around in a big way with a 6-4 record and 2.16 ERA in the second half of the season.
He'll open the season as the team's No. 3 starter. If Minor can in fact take the next step and Kris Medlen can pitch like he did last year, the Braves' staff will be a formidable one.
Baltimore Orioles: SP Chris Tillman
A second-round pick by the Mariners in 2006, Chris Tillman came to Baltimore in the Erik Bedard trade back in July of 2008.
Tillman was in the majors the following season at the age of 21, but he struggled to find success during his first three big league seasons, going a combined 7-15 with a 5.58 ERA over 36 starts.
He opened last season in the minors and didn't make his season debut in Baltimore until July 4, but Tillman went on to go 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA and a 1.047 WHIP in 15 starts the rest of the way.
Expect that to be a building block towards more success in 2013, as he could emerge as the ace of the Orioles staff.
Boston Red Sox: 3B Will Middlebrooks
It took an injury to Kevin Youkilis for Will Middlebrooks to get his chance at the big league level last season, but once he got the chance, he made the most of it and wound up playing Youkilis right out of Boston.
Over 267 at-bats, Middlebrooks hit an impressive .288/.325/.509 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI before a broken wrist ended his season in the middle of August.
He'll have a full season to show what he can do in 2013, and he could quickly emerge as one of the top third baseman in the American League and one of the top young hitters in all of baseball.
Chicago Cubs: 1B Anthony Rizzo
The Cubs acquired Anthony Rizzo from the Padres last offseason in a deal for hard-throwing right-hander Andrew Cashner, and it has all the makings of one of the more lopsided trades in recent memory.
After demolishing Triple-A pitching to the tune of .342/.405/.696 with 23 home runs and 62 RBI through 70 games, Rizzo made his Cubs debut on June 26.
He went on to hit .285/.342/.453 with 15 home runs and 48 RBI in the majors, and it looks as though he'll be a fixture at first base and in the middle of the Cubs lineup.
Chicago White Sox: RF Dayan Viciedo
After putting up solid minor league numbers in 2010 and 2011, Dayan Viciedo finally got a chance at everyday at-bats last season, as the White Sox's trade of Carlos Quentin opened up a spot in the outfield for him,
His .255/.300/.444 slash line was a bit of a disappointment, but Viciedo did hit 25 home runs with 78 RBI. And he is still just 23 years old, so it's likely that the Cuban defector is just scratching the surface of his offensive potential.
As his plate discipline improves (just 28 walks in 543 plate appearances in 2012), his all-around offensive game should improve as well, and he could be a 30 home run guy as soon as this coming season.
Cincinnati Reds: 3B Todd Frazier
Provided the Reds don't re-sign Scott Rolen, at which time Dusty Baker would almost certainly name him the starter and give him far more at-bats than he should, Todd Frazier will be the Reds' everyday third baseman in 2013.
He's a bit beyond prospect status, as he was 26 last season, but Frazier showed plenty of reason for optimism moving forward during his rookie season.
In 422 at-bats, he hit 19 home runs with 67 RBI and posted an .829 OPS. With that experience under his belt and a position to call his own, Frazier could take another big step forward this coming season.
Cleveland Indians: C Carlos Santana
For the past two seasons, the Indians have been waiting for Carlos Santana to turn his terrific plate discipline and tremendous potential into star-caliber production.
He's topped the 90-walk mark each of the past two seasons and has a .363 on-base percentage for his big league career. However, that is off-set by a .247 career average.
There is reason to believe this will be the season Santana finally breaks out, as he hit .278 with 13 home runs and 47 RBI over last season's final three months and may have turned a corner in his development.
Colorado Rockies: SP Drew Pomeranz
The only regular Rockies starter with an ERA under 5.00 last season, Drew Pomeranz went 2-9 with a 4.93 ERA over 22 starts in his rookie season.
Those numbers don't look great, but he opened last season as the No. 30 prospect in baseball (according to Baseball America) for a reason.
Pomeranz has the ceiling to be a staff ace, and after taking his lumps as a rookie, he could be in line for major improvement in his second full season in the majors.
Detroit Tigers: RP Al Alburquerque
While flame-throwing prospect Bruce Rondon is the front-runner to land the vacant closer job in Detroit, don't count out Al Alburquerque just yet.
With a 13.5 K/9 mark over 56.2 major league innings and a solid 1.129 WHIP, Alburquerque has proven capable of not just getting guys out but dominating them in the process.
If he can win the closer's job this spring, he could excel closing games for one of baseball's best teams. There will certainly be plenty of save chance in Detroit this season for whoever wins the job.
Houston Astros: RF J.D. Martinez
J.D. Martinez had a strong first half last season, hitting .240 with 11 home runs and 49 RBI as one of the lone bright spots for the Astros leading up the All-Star break.
However, he managed just six RBI and no home runs over 121 at-bats in the second half as he battled an injured left hand.
The Astros are desperate for someone with some run-production ability, and Martinez could step forward and be the driving force in the middle of their lineup. He's still just 25 years old and looks to be a solid building block.
Kansas City Royals: SS Alcides Escobar
For all intents and purposes, Alcides Escobar broke out last season, as he raised his average from .254 in 2011 to .293 and did it while swiping 35 bases and playing stellar defense at shortstop.
However, I think there is still room for more improvement from the 26-year-old, and another step forward would make him an All-Star-caliber shortstop and a table-setter atop the Royals lineup.
The prize of the Zack Greinke deal, this could be the year that Escobar finally shows why he was so highly thought of when that deal was made.
Los Angeles Angels: CF Peter Bourjos
After a solid season in 2011 in which he led the AL with 11 triples and hit .271 with a 4.8 WAR, Peter Bourjos was forced to the bench last season with Mark Trumbo moving the outfield and Mike Trout claiming a starting job.
However, with Torii Hunter gone in free agency and Kendrys Morales traded to the Mariners, Bourjos will once again be an everyday player as the team's center fielder.
Defense is his biggest asset, but Bourjos has the potential to be a second leadoff hitter batting out of the No. 9 spot, and, at 25 years old, he has upside.
Los Angeles Dodgers: SP Hyun-Jin Ryu
For the record, I think the Dodgers' signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu to a six-year, $36 million deal was one of the worst of the offseason and he will struggle to find success in the MLB without overpowering stuff.
However, given a rotation spot on a team looking to contend, Ryu could put up big numbers if he can demonstrate pinpoint control and make the most of his opportunity.
In seven seasons in the Korean League, Ryu has gone 98-52 with a 2.80 ERA and 1,238 strikeouts in 1,269 inning of work.
Miami Marlins: SP Jacob Turner
Jacob Turner was the key acquisition in the deal that sent Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Tigers at the deadline, and he was terrific in seven starts with the Marlins down the stretch.
The 21-year-old had a 3.38 ERA and 0.984 WHIP and looked the part of a future staff ace during his time in Miami.
Now, with Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle traded and free-agent-to-be Ricky Nolasco likely on the move at some point this season, Turner could be anchoring a young Marlins staff by the end of 2013.
Milwaukee Brewers: SP Marco Estrada
Originally drafted by the Nationals, Marco Estrada was selected off waivers by the Brewers in February of 2010, though he was used sparingly at the big league level that season.
He pitched mostly out of the bullpen in 2011, making 43 appearances (seven starts) and going 4-8 with a 4.08 ERA and 8.5 K/9.
Estrada began last season in the bullpen as well, but was in the rotation by the end of April. He went on to make 29 total appearances (23 starts) and go 5-7 with a 3.64 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 138.1 innings of work.
Though he is a journeyman of sorts, Estrada is still just 29 years old. And after turning a major corner last season, the Brewers will be counting on him to step up behind Yovani Gallardo in what will be a very inexperienced Milwaukee rotation.
Minnesota Twins: 1B/RF Chris Parmelee
After hitting .355 with four home runs and 14 RBI in a 21-game cup of coffee in 2011, Chris Parmelee was a trendy pick to surprise in what was to be his first full big league season last year.
Instead, he tallied just 192 big league at-bats and hit just .229 with five home runs and 20 RBI, as injuries and a demotion to Triple-A limited his numbers.
With Denard Span and Ben Revere traded this offseason, he has the inside track on the starting right field job. And with 91 home runs and an .820 OPS in seven minor league seasons, there is no doubt he has the tools to make an impact with the bat.
New York Mets: SP Matt Harvey
One of the game's top pitching prospects entering last season, Matt Harvey lived up to that billing when he finally received a call-up to the majors.
Though his 3-5 record didn't reflect it, Harvey was fantastic on the mound with a 2.73 ERA and 10.6 K/9 over 10 starts in New York.
Now, with R.A. Dickey traded to Toronto and Johan Santana likely in his final season with the Mets, the rotation will soon belong to Harvey and a collection of other young pitchers. Expect him to take a big step towards being the present and future staff ace in 2013.
New York Yankees: SP Phil Hughes
So many players on the Yankees' roster are on the downswing of their careers, but one player just entering the prime of his career is right-hander Phil Hughes.
The 26-year-old has an 18-win season in 2010 to his credit, and he went 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA last year. But with a 4.68 ERA in his career as a starter, it's safe to say he has yet to live up to the lofty expectations the team had for him.
Last year was the best season of his career from a peripheral standpoint, as he trimmed his walk rate from 3.3 BB/9 in 2011 to 2.2 in 2012. If he can just find a way to limit the long ball (35 HR allowed in 2012), he has all the making of a prime breakout candidate.
Oakland Athletics: 2B Scott Sizemore
Perhaps the biggest unknown of anyone on this list, Scott Sizemore missed all of the 2012 season with a torn ACL after entering camp as the front-runner to be the starting third baseman.
He was acquired in a trade with the Tigers in May of 2011, and he went on to hit 11 home runs with 52 RBI and a .778 OPS in 93 games with the A's that season.
Now, with the emergence of Josh Donaldson at third base and the struggles of Jemile Weeks, Sizemore enters 2013 as the lead candidate to man second base.
He is capable of hitting .270 with 20-plus home runs. While those are middling number at third base, they could make him an impact bat at second base, and he would be another in a series of breakout journeymen in Oakland.
Philadelphia Phillies: LF Dominic Brown
Dominic Brown entered the 2011 season as the favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year honors after hitting .327/.391/.582 with 20 home runs and 17 steals between Double-A and Triple-A the previous season. Instead, a broken hamate bone in spring training kept him off the Opening Day roster, and he struggled to find his groove the rest of the season.
Last year, his minor league numbers were solid again, but he hit just .235 over 187 at-bats when given a chance in Philadelphia.
All of the tools are still there, and he is still just 25 years old, so there is no reason to give up on him just yet. He'll have every chance to claim an everyday job in the outfield this spring. And now, two years later, he could finally turn in the breakthrough campaign everyone expected in 2011.
Pittsburgh Pirates: RP Jason Grilli
A 36-year-old journeyman reliever is generally not the first person who comes to mind when the word "breakout" is thrown around. But Jason Grilli has a great chance to make a name for himself outside of Pittsburgh this coming season.
An average pitcher at best following the 2009 season, with a 4.74 ERA in 238 career appearances, Grilli suffered a serious knee injury the following spring and missed all of the 2010 season.
The Pirates took a flier on him in 2011, and over the past two seasons, he has a 2.76 ERA over 92 appearances with a gaudy 12.5 K/9 mark. That earned him a two-year, $6.75 million contract from the Pirates this offseason.
Following the trade of Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox, Grilli will serve as the team's closer this season. On a Pittsburgh team that will likely play a number of close games and with strikeout stuff, Grilli could pile up the saves.
San Diego Padres: 2B/3B Jedd Gyorko
Though he has yet to make his big league debut, Jedd Gyorko has a chance to make a serious impact in San Diego this coming season.
The 24-year-old followed up a .333/25 HR/114 RBI season in 2011 with a .311/30 HR/100 RBI season last year between Double-A and Triple-A.
Though his natural position of third base is blocked by Chase Headley, Gyorko began transitioning to second base last season and could win the starting job out of camp. If he does, he could immediately become one of the best offensive second baseman in the game and an impact bat in the Padres' ever-improving lineup.
San Francisco Giants: 1B/OF Brandon Belt
Many called for the Giants to upgrade at first base this offseason after Brandon Belt had just seven home runs and 56 RBI last season in 411 at-bats.
However, he hit a solid. 275/.360/.421, displaying the ability to draw a walk and flashing some pop with 27 doubles and six triples.
He may never be more than a 20 home run guy, but Belt has the plate discipline and contact skills to be a .300 hitter, and a .300/20 HR/90 RBI season is well within reach as he continues to settle into life in the big leagues.
Seattle Mariners: C Mike Zunino
Like Jedd Gyorko in San Diego, Mike Zunino has no big league experience and in fact has just 190 plate appearances under his belt as a pro after being selected third overall in last year's draft.
However, his .360/.447/.689 slash line with 13 home runs and 43 RBI in 44 games between Low Single-A and Double-A have put him on the fast track to Seattle.
Zunino should take over as the Mariners' everyday catcher at some point in 2013, and he has an outside shot at winning the job with a strong spring. He'll immediately be one of the best offensive catchers in baseball and should hold down the position in Seattle for the next decade.
St. Louis Cardinals: 1B Allen Craig
An argument can certainly be made that Allen Craig broke out last season, as he hit .307 with 22 home runs and 92 RBI and finished 19th in NL MVP voting in his first full season in the majors.
However, preseason knee surgery limited him to just 119 games, so he managed to put those numbers up over just 469 at-bats.
Perhaps it's just my curiosity to see what type of numbers Craig can put up over a full season of at-bats, but I think he is capable of ranking among the league's elite run producers this coming season. Just entering his prime, Craig could be a legitimate MVP candidate in 2013.
Tampa Bay Rays: SP Matt Moore
Expectations and hype surrounding Matt Moore were high enough last season that his 11-11 record and 3.81 ERA with 175 strikeouts over 177.1 innings of work were actually somewhat of a let down.
Still, those are fantastic numbers for a 23-year-old rookie. And with James Shields traded to Kansas City. the Rays will be relying on Moore to take another step towards being the ace-caliber pitcher he's expected to become.
If his 700 strikeouts in 497.1 innings of work in the minors are any indication of how dominant he can be, there is still plenty of room for Moore to improve, and there is reason to expect significant improvement in 2013.
Texas Rangers: CF Leonys Martin
Provided they don't make a last-minute push to sign Michael Bourn, the Rangers will enter the season with Cuban defector Leonys Martin as the starting center fielder.
Signed to a five-year, $15.5 million deal back in May of 2011, Martin put up stellar numbers in the minors last season.
The 24-year-old hit .359/.422/.610 with 12 home runs and 10 steals in 55 Triple-A games last season, and he is more than capable of hitting .300 with double-digit home runs and steals this coming season.
Toronto Blue Jays: 3B Brett Lawrie
Brett Lawrie ranked near the top of many potential breakout lists entering last season, but like most players on the Blue Jays' roster, he battled injuries last season.
He still managed to finish with a .273/11 HR/48 RBI/13 SB line over 125 games, and, combined with his stellar defense, it was good for a 4.1 WAR.
However, Lawrie is capable of far more. With a vastly improved supporting cast in the Blue Jays lineup, there is no reason why he can't rank among the most productive third baseman in all of baseball this coming season.
He's a 30/30 season waiting to happen—it's just a matter of time for the 23-year-old.
Washington Nationals: 1B/OF Tyler Moore
It remains to be seen if he'll see enough at-bats to make an impact, but if Tyler Moore can work his way into the starting lineup one way or another, he has serious power.
After hitting 31 home runs in back-to-back minor league seasons in 2010 and 2011, Moore spent the bulk of 2012 in the majors and managed 10 home runs in just 156 at-bats with a .840 OPS.
It will likely take an injury to Adam LaRoche or one of the team's outfielders, but if Moore can get the at-bats, he could make a lot of noise in the Nationals lineup.