Andrelton Simmons excelled for the Braves last year.
It's difficult to predict who might emerge from a good season to a great season, let alone contend for an MVP or Cy Young Award, but MLB has several players on the rise who could reach such heights.
Let's break it down by position and put together an all-breakout team for 2013.
Who will develop from a top prospect into a major league contributor? Who could make the jump from contributor to star?
Last year, the Pittsburgh Pirates' Andrew McCutchen and New York Mets' R.A. Dickey were two players who emerged as breakout stars.
McCutchen was a candidate for National League MVP through most of the season, while Dickey went on to win the NL Cy Young Award.
Who will be this year's McCutchen? Who looks like the next Dickey?
All of the following players could make a notable impact in 2013 from their respective positions, and there very well could be an MVP or Cy Young candidate among them.
Having to replace All-Star Prince Fielder at first base for the Milwaukee Brewers, Mat Gamel went into last season with a tremendous amount of pressure on him.
While the team did sign third baseman Aramis Ramirez to replace some of the power and run production that left with Fielder, Gamel had to prove that he could be a full-time solution for the Brewers at first base.
Unfortunately, Gamel tore the ACL in his right knee while chasing a foul pop-up in early May.
But Gamel has another opportunity to show he should be included in Milwaukee's future plans. The 27-year-old infielder takes over for Corey Hart, who recently underwent knee surgery and will miss four months.
While Gamel has hit .229 with a .671 OPS in 106 major league games, he's one year removed from an excellent season in the minors. In 545 plate appearances with Triple-A Nashville in 2011, Gamel hit .310 with a .912 OPS, 28 homers and 96 RBI.
The Colorado Rockies had few bright spots last season.
One of them was DJ LeMahieu, who established himself as the Rockies' second baseman after the team dealt Marco Scutaro to the San Francisco Giants at the trade deadline.
LeMahieu appeared in 81 games for Colorado, batting .297 with a .742 OPS, 12 doubles, two home runs and 22 RBI in 247 plate appearances.
Prior to being called up to the majors, LeMahieu hit .314 with a .764 OPS, 14 doubles and 31 RBI in 61 games with Triple-A Colorado Springs.
LeMahieu isn't guaranteed a starting job, as he'll compete with Josh Rutledge in spring training. But if their 2012 performances provide any preview of how 2013 will go, LeMahieu—a natural second baseman—should ultimately emerge from Scottsdale, Ariz., as the Rockies' starter at the position.
Did Andrelton Simmons already have a breakout year in his rookie season for the Atlanta Braves?
Perhaps, but Simmons only played in 49 games after being called up from Double-A Mississippi to replace the ineffective Tyler Pastornicky. The 23-year-old Simmons missed two months due to a broken finger suffered while sliding into second base.
When he was in the lineup, however, Simmons excelled. He batted .289 with a .751 OPS, three home runs and 19 RBI in 182 plate appearances.
According to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, Simmons also played excellent defense at shortstop. He saved 10 runs more than the average player at the position, though it should be noted that Simmons only logged 426 innings in the field.
Simmons is assured of being the Braves' starting shortstop this season. He's also projected to be the team's leadoff hitter after Atlanta acquired Justin Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Simmons showed he could play in the majors last year. But this season, he should emerge as one of the best shortstops in the National League.
When the Baltimore Orioles called up 20-year-old Manny Machado from Double-A Bowie in early August, many thought the team was making a big mistake.
The O's were in a tight race with the New York Yankees for the AL East and a wild-card playoff spot. They needed veteran help in the infield.
Not only was Baltimore calling up a kid before he was ready for the majors, but the team was playing him at third base instead of shortstop. Machado had only played third base in two games during his minor league career.
But the Orioles looked smart for taking a chance on Machado's talent, rather than sticking with mediocre experience. In 51 games, he hit .262 with a .739 OPS, seven home runs and 26 RBI.
Machado also played good defense at third base, according to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating. He saved nearly five runs more than an average defender at the position.
What sort of performance could Machado be capable of during a full major league season?
In his first full season as a major leaguer, Jesus Montero showed the run-producing capability that made him a top prospect for the New York Yankees and a trade target for the Seattle Mariners.
Alternating between catcher and designated hitter for the Mariners in 2012, Montero hit .260 with a .685 OPS. He also compiled 20 doubles, 15 home runs and 62 RBI in 553 plate appearances.
While his long-term future might not be suited to catcher, he's the best Seattle has at the position for now. The roster is stocked with players who could make good first basemen or designated hitters, with Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez and Justin Smoak.
That leaves Montero behind the plate, even if his defensive skills might be lacking.
With the Mariners moving in the fences at Safeco Field, Montero's offensive numbers—especially from a power standpoint—should improve. Catcher isn't a position known for its offense throughout MLB, so that gives Seattle a luxury most teams don't have.
Darin Ruf could begin the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley rather than the Philadelphia Phillies, which could obviously prevent him from having a breakout year.
The Phillies want to give Ruf a shot to be the left fielder. According to CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury (via The Good Phight), the team thinks highly enough of Ruf that it preferred to pursue outfielders capable of playing right field (presumably eliminating Alfonso Soriano from consideration).
But with Philadelphia acquiring Delmon Young and tabbing him as the right fielder, that leaves Domonic Brown and John Mayberry Jr. to compete for/share left field. That gives the Phillies an opportunity to send Ruf down to Triple-A and play more in the outfield. He's been a first baseman for most of his career.
If Brown doesn't come through, however, Ruf will almost surely get a chance. His bat is certainly potent enough to warrant a regular spot in the lineup.
Last season with Double-A Reading, Ruf hit .317 with a 1.028 OPS, 32 doubles, 38 home runs and 104 RBI. As a September call-up to Philadelphia, he batted .333 with a 1.079 OPS, three homers and 10 RBI in 12 games.
Now that the Arizona Diamondbacks have cleared up their outfield logjam by trading Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves, it looks reasonably certain that Adam Eaton will open the season as the team's starting center fielder.
In 22 games with the D-Backs last season, Eaton made a respectable showing. While he batted only .259, a .382 on-base percentage (OBP) boosted him up to a .794 OPS. A broken hand knocked him out of the lineup with a few games remaining in the season.
His performance with Triple-A Reno was truly impressive, however. In 119 games, Eaton hit .381 with a .456 OBP and .995 OPS. He hit 46 doubles, drove in 45 runs and stole 38 bases.
With Jason Kubel and Cody Ross joining him in the Arizona outfield, Eaton provides balance with his speed and ability to get on base. The sluggers in the D-Backs lineup can crank the ball out of the park. Eaton will give them someone to drive in.
Wil Myers received more press this winter for being the trade chip that would fetch the Kansas City Royals a veteran starting pitcher than his skills as a top prospect.
However, it probably doesn't need to be said that Myers must be a star in the making if he could yield a pitcher like James Shields in trade.
Instead of being the right fielder of the future for the Royals, Myers is now the next young star to come for the Tampa Bay Rays.
As is their usual move, the Rays will keep Myers in the minors at the beginning of the season. That will prevent him from accumulating major league service time and allow the Rays to keep him for an additional season before he becomes a free agent.
With Tampa Bay signing Kelly Johnson, Ben Zobrist will likely get the majority of playing time in right field. But after Myers is called up, Zobrist could then move to left field, and Matt Joyce would probably become the Rays' fourth outfielder.
The Rays won't likely be able to keep Myers in Triple-A for long.
As he demonstrated last year in Omaha, Myers is ready for the majors now. In 99 Triple-A games, the 22-year-old outfielder hit .304 with a .932 OPS, 24 home runs and 79 RBI.
Welcome to the American League, Houston Astros!
Also welcoming the transition to the AL will be Brett Wallace, who will no longer have to worry about playing first base and can concentrate solely on batting as a designated hitter.
The Astros did sign Carlos Pena, who could be the team's DH. But Pena is an excellent defensive first baseman, so it stands to reason that manager Bo Porter will take advantage of those skills.
After being projected as a future star for the St. Louis Cardinals, then the Oakland Athletics followed by the Toronto Blue Jays, Wallace hasn't quite developed into an impact player with the Astros. But he did have his best performance last season, compiling a .746 OPS with nine home runs and 24 RBI in 254 plate appearances.
Wallace has done all he can at Triple-A. He batted .300 with an .885 OPS in his second season with Oklahoma City. Now that he has the opportunity to stay in the lineup as a DH, Wallace has to show that he can make a significant contribution.
Otherwise, it might finally be time for the Astros to move on.
Jeff Samardzija made a strong transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation in 2012 for the Chicago Cubs.
After appearing in 75 games the previous season, the 28-year-old made 28 starts for the Cubs. He finished with a 9-13 record but posted a 3.81 ERA.
Most importantly, Samardzija showed he could be a strikeout pitcher as a starter, punching out 180 batters in 174.2 innings. That averaged out to 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest rate of his career.
With Ryan Dempster dealt away at the trade deadline and Matt Garza struggling with an elbow injury, Samardzija emerged as the Cubs' No. 1 starter. He'll likely assume the role as the rotation's ace this season—especially if Garza is eventually traded.
Could Samardzija emerge as one of the top starting pitchers in the NL in 2013? If he progresses as he did last year, it looks like a very real possibility.
Bruce Rondon might have a better chance than any other reliever to emerge as a breakout star this season.
The 22-year-old will be given the opportunity to be the closer for the Detroit Tigers. That puts him in position to save many important games for a team expected to contend for the World Series.
Is that too much responsibility to place upon a reliever who's never pitched in the majors before? The Tigers don't seem to think so, according to the Detroit News' Lynn Henning. Rondon will be given every chance to win the closer job in spring training.
With a 102-mph fastball and accompanying slider, Rondon mowed down 66 batters in 53 innings while zooming from Single-A Lakeland to Triple-A Toledo last season. The next natural step is the major leagues.
The Tigers have a need for a dominant closer after letting Jose Valverde go to free agency. The team is ready to go with a young fireballer in that role following years of investing money in free-agent closers such as Troy Percival, Todd Jones and Valverde with mixed results.
Going with Rondon is a risk for the Tigers, but they're betting on his talent. Taking that approach with Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Joel Zumaya has worked pretty well for Detroit.
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