Predicting Every MLB Team's Biggest Breakout Candidate in 2013

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2013

Predicting Every MLB Team's Biggest Breakout Candidate in 2013

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    A breakout season from an in-house player can sometimes play just as big a role in a team's success as any offseason signing. As such, each team enters the season with a handful of players they hope can take their games to the next level.

    A breakout player can be anything from a top prospect making a significant impact in his debut season to a young big leaguer building off of his previous success and taking his game to the next level.

    So here is every team's biggest breakout candidate for 2013, guys who could certainly be considered x-factors for their team's success this coming season.

Arizona Diamondbacks: 1B Paul Goldschmidt

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    After an impressive 48-game audition in 2011, Paul Goldschmidt entered last season with the everyday first base job in hand.

    He hit .286/.359/.490 with 43 doubles, 20 home runs and 18 steals last season as one of the more productive first basemen in all of baseball.

    The 25-year-old still has room to improve, and with Justin Upton gone he'll be counted on to be a driving force in the middle of the Arizona lineup. He earned a five-year, $32 million extension last week (h/t ESPN) so all that's left is to take that next step.

Atlanta Braves: SP Julio Teheran

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    The Braves roster is ripe with breakout candidates, as a solid argument could be made for Mike Minor, Andrelton Simmons and Evan Gattis to be the selection here.

    Teheran was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball entering last season after a huge 2011, but he took a step back last year with a 5.08 ERA in his second go-round in Triple-A.

    He was phenomenal this spring, allowing just three earned runs and seven hits over 26 innings of work while striking out 35. That earned him the No. 5 starter spot, and he'll look to emerge as the Braves' latest homegrown arm.

Baltimore Orioles: SP Chris Tillman

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    A highly touted prospect who was in the Orioles rotation as a 21-year-old back in 2009, Tillman was acquired from the Mariners back in 2008 in the Erik Bedard deal that also brought Adam Jones to Baltimore.

    Though he opened last season in the minors, he was the team's best starter by the end of the season. In 15 starts he went 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.047 WHIP.

    The 24-year-old opened the 2013 season on the disabled list with a strained abdominal, but once he gets things going, he has the stuff to be the ace of the Orioles staff and one of the breakout starters of the year.

Boston Red Sox: 3B Will Middlebrooks

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    With Kevin Youkilis struggling out of the gates last season, Red Sox fans were pushing for top prospect Will Middlebrooks to get the call early last season.

    An injury to Youkilis opened the door for a call-up, and by the time he came off the disabled list, Middlebrooks was hitting .297 with five home runs and a .906 OPS.

    That opened the door for Youkilis to be traded to the White Sox shortly thereafter, and Middlebrooks went on to hit .288/.325/.509 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI over 267 at-bats before a broken wrist ended his season in the middle of August.

    He's a legitimate 30-HR, 100-RBI threat and I expect him to be among the most productive third basemen in the league this season.

Chicago Cubs: 1B Anthony Rizzo

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    The Cubs acquired Rizzo from the Padres for hard-throwing right-hander Andrew Cashner last offseason in a deal that could wind up being one of the best in franchise history.

    After he smoked Triple-A pitching to the tune of a 1.101 OPS and 23 home runs in 70 games to open the 2012 season, he was called up on June 26 and he served as the everyday first baseman the rest of the way.

    He went on to hit another 15 home runs with a .805 OPS over 87 games in Chicago, and he represents a key piece in the rebuilding puzzle alongside Starlin Castro and Jeff Samardzija. A 30-homer season and All-Star appearance seem like reasonable expectations.

Chicago White Sox: RP Addison Reed

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    The 24-year-old Reed entered last season as the top relief pitching prospect in baseball, and he served as the team's closer for most of the season.

    It was an up-and-down rookie campaign, as he converted 29 of 33 save chances and struck out 54 hitters in 55 innings of work but posted a 4.75 ERA and 1.364 WHIP.

    The right-hander has the stuff to be one of the game's elite closers, and he should be more comfortable and productive in his second season in the ninth-inning role. 

Cincinnati Reds: 3B Todd Frazier

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    Already 26 years old last season, Frazier was not a conventional prospect, but he stepped up big for the Reds when Scott Rolen and Joey Votto both dealt with injuries.

    Over 422 at-bats, he posted an .829 OPS while hitting 19 home runs, and that was good for a third-place finish in NL Rookie of the Year.

    With an dislocated shoulder likely to keep Ryan Ludwick on the sidelines for a while, Frazier will likely step into the cleanup role to break up left-handed hitters Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. He'll be counted on once again to be a major run producer.

Cleveland Indians: 3B Lonnie Chisenhall

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    Lonnie Chisenhall has dealt with injuries the past two seasons but remains a high-upside young hitter.

    The 24-year-old hit .400/.456/.667 with four home runs and 12 RBI this spring, and with Jack Hannahan gone in free agency, the third base job is all his this year.

    In his last full season back in 2010, Chisenhall hit .278/.351/.450 with 17 home runs and 84 RBI in Double-A. He has the upside to be a plus bat in the lower half of a veteran-heavy Indians order this year.

Colorado Rockies: 2B Josh Rutledge

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    A third-round pick in 2010 out of the University of Alabama, Josh Rutledge got his chance last season when shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit the disabled list, and he made the most of it.

    The rookie hit .274/.306/.469 with eight home runs and 37 RBI over 277 at-bats, and that was enough for the team to make him the everyday second baseman this season with Tulowitzki back in the lineup.

    He had an .846 OPS with 13 home runs and 14 steals in 87 games in Double-A last season before being called up, so the potential is certainly there for him to be a plus offensive option at second base.

Detroit Tigers: SP Rick Porcello

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    Promoted directly from High Single-A to the Tigers rotation to kick off the 2009 season, Rick Porcello has been in the majors since the age of 20.

    In four big league seasons, he's gone 48-42 with a 4.55 ERA. He beat out Drew Smyly for the No. 5 spot in a talented Tigers rotation this spring.

    He went 10-12 with a 4.59 ERA last season, but he encountered some bad luck as opponents had a .347 BABIP against him. The sinkerballer seems primed for a breakout season after a strong spring, and he has as much experience as any 24-year-old pitcher out there.

Houston Astros: LF Chris Carter

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    An imposing slugger at 6'4" and 245 pounds, Carter was long one of the top power-hitting prospects in the game. He finally broke through last season in a platoon role with Brandon Moss in Oakland.

    The 25-year-old hit 16 home runs over 218 at-bats, and the A's opted to use him as a trade chip this winter when they acquired Jed Lowrie from the Astros.

    He'll be a key run producer in the middle of a thin Astros lineup this season, and playing in the hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park and seeing regular at-bats, he could be in for a big season.

Kansas City Royals: 3B Mike Moustakas

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    The No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 draft, Mike Moustakas joined the ranks of the game's elite prospects in 2010 when he hit .322/.369/.630 with 36 home runs and 124 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A.

    After a subpar 89-game stint with the Royals in 2011, Moustakas hit .242/.296/.412 last season with 20 home runs and 73 RBI as a 23-year-old.

    He hit .394/.429/.718 with five home runs this spring and opens the year as the Royals cleanup hitter. He's one of a number of homegrown players seemingly on the cusp of taking the next step this season. A breakout year would be a big help in their push towards contention.

Los Angeles Angels: CF Peter Bourjos

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    The Angels' everyday center fielder in 2011, Peter Bourjos hit .271 with an AL-high 11 triples and a 4.5 WAR (h/t FanGraphs) while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.

    However, he was forced to take a step back last season with the emergence of Mike Trout. He saw just 168 at-bats as a bench player last season.

    With Torii Hunter gone via free agency, Bourjos finds himself in the everyday lineup once again this season. The 25-year-old will serve as a speedy second leadoff hitter out of the No. 9 spot in the Angels order.

Los Angeles Dodgers: RP Paco Rodriguez

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    A second-round pick out of the University of Florida last June, Rodriguez signed quickly and dominated in the minors before earning a September call-up.

    In 21 appearances between High-A and Double-A, the left-hander posted a 0.92 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 19.2 innings of work. That was followed by 11 appearances with the big league club, where he had a 1.35 ERA and six strikeouts in 6.2 innings.

    With Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Scott Elbert all opening the season on the disabled list, Rodriguez earned the team's final bullpen spot this spring, and if he continues to pitch like he did last year, he could be a valuable late-inning arm by season's end.

Miami Marlins: SP Jose Fernandez

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    The No. 14 pick in the 2011 draft, Jose Fernandez went 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 134 innings between Single-A and High-A during his first pro season last year.

    Late-spring injuries to Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi opened up a pair of spots in the Miami rotation, and the team opted to give the 20-year-old Fernandez the job.

    According to a piece in the Sun Sentinel, Fernandez will remain with the big league club as long as he's pitching well, though he'll be limited to 150 to 170 innings this season. That should still be enough for him to emerge as the best starter on the team.

Milwaukee Brewers: SP Marco Estrada

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    In the four seasons leading up to 2012, Marco Estrada went a combined 4-9 with a 5.08 ERA over 65 appearances (nine starts), as he was used primarily as a long man out of the Nationals and Brewers bullpens.

    In his first extended look as a starter last season, he made a total of 29 appearances (23 starts) and went 5-7 with a 3.64 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 138.1 innings.

    He's the No. 3 starter behind Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse in the Brewers rotation, and if the 29-year-old can build off of last season's performance, it would go a long way in helping the team's postseason chances.

Minnesota Twins: CF Aaron Hicks

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    With Ben Revere and Denard Span shipped out in separate trades this offseason, the Twins entered camp with two open spots in their outfield and top prospect Aaron Hicks seized one of them.

    He hit .370/.407/.644 with four home runs and 18 RBI this spring, including a three-homer game against the Phillies.

    Over five minor league seasons, he's hit .271/.379/.421. His mix of speed and on-base skills should make him an impact table-setter for the Twins this year.

New York Mets: 1B Ike Davis

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    Though he managed to slug 32 home runs and drive in 90 runs last season, Ike Davis still has plenty of room to break out in 2013.

    He hit just .201/.271/.388 in the first half and was on the verge of being demoted at one point, but he rebounded with a solid second half and finished the season as a dangerous bat in the middle of the Mets lineup.

    As long as he can avoid another early-season slump, Davis should improve on his numbers across the board in 2013, even with a weak lineup around him. That would be enough to make him one of the better power threats in the National League.

New York Yankees: CF Brett Gardner

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    Brett Gardner has already proven himself as one of the best defensive outfielders in the game and a dynamic base stealer. Now he's looking to emerge as a more complete all-around offensive player.

    Power will likely never be a part of his game, but he has a .355 career on-base percentage and has the tools to be a .300 hitter over a full season.

    With so many injuries to the Yankees offense entering the season, someone is going to have to step up alongside Robinson Cano. I think Gardner can be that someone in his new spot atop the Yankees lineup.

Oakland Athletics: SP Brett Anderson

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    Generally when a pitcher earns the Opening Day nod from his team on the mound, he's already broken out, but I don't think we've seen anywhere near what Brett Anderson is capable of to this point in his career.

    The left-hander went 11-11 with a 4.06 ERA as a 21-year-old rookie in 2009, finishing sixth in AL Rookie of the Year voting and showing signs of a promising future.

    However, injuries have limited him to just 38 total starts in the three seasons since, though he's pitched well when he's been on the field (14-14, 3.20 ERA).

    As long as he stays healthy, I think Anderson has an outside chance to be a Cy Young candidate atop the A's rotation this season. I'm not saying he'll win it, but he could finish top 10 in the voting and push for top five.

Philadelphia Phillies: RF Domonic Brown

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    The No. 4 prospect in baseball entering the 2011 season, according to Baseball America, Domonic Brown was the heavy favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year honors that season.

    Instead, he was sidelined to open the season by a broken hamate bone, and he's spent the last two seasons trying to get his career back on track.

    With two open spots in the Phillies outfield this spring, Brown made the most of his chances this spring and hit .356/.414/.633 with seven home runs. Still only 25, there's no reason to think he can't still tap into his vast potential.

Pittsburgh Pirates: LF Starling Marte

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    A raw prospect when he signed out of the Dominican Republic, Marte took a major step forward and announced himself as a top prospect in 2011 when he posted an .870 OPS with 12 home runs and 24 steals in Double-A.

    He made his big league debut last July and showed enough for the team to make him the everyday left fielder and leadoff hitter entering the season.

    A .303/.363/.462 hitter during his time in the minors, Marte seems more than capable of being a .300 hitter in the majors right off the bat, and something in the neighborhood of 15 home runs and 30 steals is a possibility as well.

San Diego Padres: 2B/3B Jedd Gyorko

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    The No. 71 overall prospect entering the season, according to Baseball America, Gyorko has driven in 100 runs each of the past two seasons in the minors.

    He played his way into a starting role this spring. He continues to transition from his natural position of third base, where he's blocked by Chase Headley, to second base.

    He's a legitimate impact run producer, and while his bat would have played just fine at third base, he's now likely to be one of the most productive offensive second baseman in the game as soon as this season.

San Francisco Giants: 1B Brandon Belt

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    Drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 draft out of the University of Texas, Brandon Belt turned in a phenomenal first pro season the following year when he hit .352/.455/.620 with 23 home runs and 22 steals over three levels.

    After seeing sporadic playing time in 2011, Belt was the Giants' everyday first baseman last season, and he hit a solid .275/.360/.421. However, he showed minimal power with just seven home runs and 56 RBI in 411 at-bats.

    The 24-year-old hit .410/.432/.833 with eight home runs and 19 RBI this spring, and he seems primed to take a major step forward as a power hitter and run producer in 2013. A .300 average with 20 home runs and 80 RBI seems like a realistic projection, with potential for more.

Seattle Mariners: 1B Justin Smoak

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    The Mariners acquired Justin Smoak at the deadline in 2010—he was the key piece they received from the Rangers in the Cliff Lee deal.

    Expected to be a key run producer in the team's lineup long-term, Smoak has hit just .227/.304/.382 during his time with the Mariners.

    Hidden behind a .217/.290/.364 line last season, Smoak hit .341/.426/.580 with five home runs in the season's final month after shortening his swing.

    He followed that up with a strong showing this spring, hitting .407/.455/.797 with five home runs, and all signs point to him turning a corner in his development at the age of 26.

St. Louis Cardinals: SP Shelby Miller

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    Taken with the No. 19 pick in the 2009 draft, Shelby Miller has been the Cardinals' top pitching prospect since Day 1 with the organization, and he finally appears ready to make a serious impact with the big league club.

    With Kyle Lohse gone in free agency and Chris Carpenter injured, Miller won the No. 5 spot in the rotation this spring. He has a real shot at NL Rookie of the Year honors.

    The right-hander has legitimate ace potential, and he should join Adam Wainwright atop the rotation sooner rather than later. 

Tampa Bay Rays: SP Alex Cobb

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    Though he opened last season in the minors, Alex Cobb wound up being a key part of the Rays rotation, making 23 starts and going 11-9 with a 4.03 ERA.

    That was enough to earn him a rotation spot heading into spring training, and he proved why in allowing just eight earned runs while striking out 28 in 25.2 innings this spring.

    He doesn't get the attention of teammates David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore, but there are few if any No. 4 starters with the upside of Cobb entering the 2013 season.

Texas Rangers: CF Leonys Martin

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    The Rangers signed Leonys Martin, a Cuban defector, to a five-year, $15.5 million deal back in May of 2011. He has moved quickly, as expected.

    Last season, he hit .359/.422/.610 with 12 home runs and 10 steals in Triple-A, and following the departure of Josh Hamilton, he was given a chance to win a starting job this spring.

    He hit .359 this spring to beat out Craig Gentry for the starting job, and now the 25-year-old will look to prove he belongs as an everyday big leaguer.

Toronto Blue Jays: 3B Brett Lawrie

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    Brett Lawrie was a trendy pick to break out last season, and had it not been for a strained oblique (among other injuries), he likely would have.

    As it was, he hit .274/.324/.405 with 11 home runs and 13 steals over 494 at-bats, but the 23-year-old third baseman is capable of so much more.

    He opens the 2013 season on the DL with a rib cage injury, but he remains a superstar in the making. If he can stay healthy, this could be the year he takes that next step towards being one of the game's most dynamic offensive threats.

Washington Nationals: LF Bryce Harper

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    After hitting .270/.340/.477 with 22 home runs and 18 stolen bases as a 19-year-old rookie and capturing NL Rookie of the Year, most players would have been officially broken out.

    Then again, Bryce Harper isn't most players.

    After a strong spring that saw him moved to the No. 3 spot in the team's lineup, Harper launched a pair of solo home runs on Opening Day.

    He has the highest ceiling of any offensive prospect in recent memory, and a .300 BA, 30 HRs and 100 RBI as a 20-year-old and a serious run at the NL MVP seem like perfectly reasonable predictions.