The first and most obvious candidate for a breakout campaign in 2013 is third baseman Brett Lawrie.
The 23-year-old righty is a former first-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers, but was acquired by the Blue Jays prior to the 2011 season for Shaun Marcum. He crushed his way through the minors, culminating with a .353/.415/.661 slash and 18 home runs in 69 games for Toronto's AAA-affiliate, Las Vegas, in 2011.
That performance earned him a call up late in 2011, and he has since acquired just over a full season's worth of playing time in the majors with 168 games played over the last two seasons.
The numbers haven't been very impressive, but we must remember Lawrie is still adjusting to the majors and is still only two seasons removed from a full year in Double-A. He's also been asked to learn a new position, but has settled in quite well at third base.
In 168 games, Lawrie owns a solid .278/.336/.446 batting line along with a .781 OPS and 110 OPS+ (which adjusts OPS based on the player's ballpark and where 100 is defined as league-average). He also has 20 home runs, 34 doubles and 20 stolen bases to date.
In just over 700 career plate appearances—just about a full-season's worth of work—he has already shown he can hit in the .280 range and has the look of a potential perennial 20/20 hitter.
Now going into his second full season, he appears ready to build on his solid start and looks poised to meet the high level of potential scouts see in him. Lawrie has all the tools to be an All-Star caliber hitter and 2013 could be the year those tools translate into big production on the stat sheet.
Bill James forecasts an improved campaign in which Lawrie will hit 18 home runs, score 96 runs and rack up 21 stolen bases while hitting .289. The potential is there for Lawrie to do that and more.
He may have only hit 11 home runs last season, but he also tacked on 26 doubles and battled with a string of nagging injuries—including an oblique strain which forced him onto the disabled list in August—all season long. It's very possible these nagging injuries affected his swing and could explain why he saw a sudden, drastic spike in his ground-ball rate.
As Michael Beller of Sports Illustrated notes, Lawrie's groundball rate of 50.4 percent was much higher than his usual rates and that this number appears to be an anomaly. As Beller optimistically states, "the good news is he never hit a ton of ground balls in the minors. With the information we have about him, we can safely bet that 2012 was the outlier, not 2011."
With Lawrie on track to be healthy for the start of the upcoming season and taking into account his minor league track record, we should see his fly-ball rate rise to his career average, and with it should come increased power production.
Despite a somewhat disappointing campaign, Lawrie showed some signs of improvement over last season. Beller points out his contact rate "jumped to 83.6 percent from 77.9 percent" and his swing-and-miss rate was better than league-average. Lawrie's walk rate also nearly doubled from the first half to the second half of the season.
Finally, Lawrie has shown to be a very good defensive third baseman. He still makes a handful of errors as he becomes more accustomed to handling the hot corner, but his 6.5 UZR was sixth-best in all of baseball last season and he showed great range at the position.
Lawrie has long been considered a five-tool talent and 2013 could be the year he flashes all those tools simultaneously in a breakout campaign. He has 20-plus home run power and at full health in 2013, we could see his home run total potentially double from a year ago. Add that to the fact that he has stolen 20 bases in his short career, and Lawrie could be on the cusp of a 20/20 season.
With a full year of seasoning under his belt and with better focus and health, Lawrie could be poised to move into the upper-echelon of third basemen in 2013. He has the power, speed, contact-hitting ability and defensive prowess to be one of the best in the game.
He's still only 23 and his best days may still be a few years away, but the underlying improvement last season and his minor league track record bode well for a potential breakout this season. Don't be surprised if Lawrie is an All-Star candidate this July.