MLB Players Who Have Made the Greatest Sudden Leaps to Stardom in 2013

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistJune 15, 2013

MLB Players Who Have Made the Greatest Sudden Leaps to Stardom in 2013

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    Over and over last season, baseball fans were told that having a pair of players explode into stardom the way Los Angeles' Mike Trout and Washington's Bryce Harper did doesn't happen all the time and that the duo's accomplishments should be celebrated.

    Not to take anything away from those spectacular youngsters, but that's not entirely true.

    Every season, a handful of players elevate their games to another level, seemingly becoming stars overnight. Sure, most of those players don't reach the level of superstardom that Trout and Harper have, but they become stars nonetheless.

    While the 2013 regular season is still about a month away from reaching its halfway mark, there has been no shortage of players who have morphed into stars right before our eyes, becoming recognizable names to even the most casual fans of America's pastime.

    Let's take a look at which players have taken that gigantic step forward. 


    *Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of and current through games of June 14.

Domonic Brown, RF, Philadelphia Phillies

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    In the span of two-and-a-half months, Domonic Brown has essentially erased the first three frustrating seasons of his major league career.

    Brown, who celebrates his 26th birthday in September, ranks second in the National League in home runs with 19. He is on pace to go deep 45 times this season—a total that would put him among a handful of players who finished their age-26 season with as impressive a power display since 2000:

      Team Season HR
    Ryan Howard PHI 2006 58
    Alex Rodriguez TEX 2002 57
    Albert Pujols STL 2006 49
    Richie Sexson MIL 2001 45
    Domonic Brown PHI 2013 45 (proj.)

    But don't be fooled. Brown isn't an all-or-nothing player: He either hits a home run or goes bust, ranking among the National League leaders in slugging percentage (.556), RBI (48) and OPS (.876). 

    Despite his impressive numbers on the year, Brown's name is noticeably absent from the 15 outfielders listed in the latest National League All-Star voting update released by MLB on June 9. That said, Brown has to be all but guaranteed a spot on the squad as a reserve.

Patrick Corbin, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Over the past two weeks, we've read a lot of things about players selected in the 2013 MLB draft, and even more about what kind of player each one projects to be at the major league level.

    Patrick Corbin is proof that those projections are, well, an inexact science.

    Consider what Baseball America (subscription required) said about his future heading into the 2012 season: "Corbin will move to Triple-A in 2012 and be in line for a promotion if there's an opening at the major league level. He projects as a No. 4 starter."

    Someone forgot to tell him that.

    Unbeaten in 13 starts, Corbin is one of three pitchers in baseball with a 9-0 record. His 2.28 ERA ranks sixth in the National League and eighth among all major league starters, while his 1.07 WHIP ranks 11th in the Senior Circuit, 19th in all of baseball.

    The only thing working against Corbin at this point is the recent history of Arizona's aces. Both Ian Kennedy and Wade Miley have gone from scintillating one year to average the following season. Corbin will need to buck the trend if he hopes to remain in the conversation as one of the best pitchers around.

Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles

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    There was never a doubt that Chris Davis could hit for power, something he proved again in 2012 when he hit 33 home runs for Baltimore in its surprising run to a playoff berth.

    Nobody saw his transformation into Miguel Cabrera coming.

    That's exactly what Davis has become—a mediocre fielder at a corner infield spot who is one of the premier hitters in the game.

    As a matter of fact, only Cabrera (2,355,128) has received more votes for the American League All-Star team than Davis (2,084,274), according to the latest results released by MLB on June 8.

    Davis leads all of baseball in home runs (23), slugging percentage (.697) and OPS (1.111), ranks third in doubles (22), second in RBI (60) and fourth in batting average (.335).

    He's on pace to finish the season with 102 extra-base hits, a total that would put him in some pretty rarefied air since the American League's first season in 1901:

      Team Season XBH
    Babe Ruth NYY 1921 119
    Todd Helton COL 2000 103
    Hank Greenberg DET 1937 103
    Rogers Hornsby STL 1922 102
    Chris Davis BAL 2013 102 (proj.)

    Even if he falls off that pace, Davis is likely to finish the season with a historic total—tied for fifth place are Frank Robinson and Alfonso Soriano, who each had 92 extra-base hits in 1962 and 2002, respectively.

    He has developed into a legitimate MVP candidate and could be the only player standing between Cabrera and a second consecutive Triple Crown, a task that nobody else in the American League seems capable of performing.

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    To say that Paul Goldschmidt has effectively replaced the production that Arizona lost when it traded Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves this past winter would be doing the 25-year-old first baseman an injustice. He hasn't merely replaced Upton; he's become one of the game's premier hitters.

    The numbers don't lie:

      Goldschmidt NL Rank MLB Rank
    BA .303 13 22
    OBP .388 9 15
    SLG .558 5 9
    OPS .946 4 7
    BA RISP (25 AB min) .419 5 6
    HR 15 4 10
    RBI 59 1 2
    R 44 7 13
    BB 33 5 16

    While he had his breakout season in 2012, Goldschmidt has taken his game to new heights in 2013.

    He's been dubbed "Ivan Drago" by Eric Hinske, "America's First Baseman," by the Arizona bullpen—two things that Yahoo! Sports' Tim Brown took a more in-depth look at in a recent column.

    With his penchant for delivering in the clutch and his overall numbers on the season, it's hard to argue with either of those nicknames.

Carlos Gomez, CF, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Carlos Gomez began his ascension to stardom in 2012, hitting .260 with 19 home runs and 37 stolen bases, falling one bomb shy of the first 20-20 season of his career.

    This season, the speedy 27-year-old center fielder has taken his game to another level entirely, as he has become the best player in baseball. If you're a believer in the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) statistic, then that statement is an indisputable fact:

      Baseball-Reference ESPN FanGraphs
    Gomez's WAR (MLB Rank) 4.5 (1) 4.5 (1) 4.3 (1)

    He ranks among the National League leaders in a number of categories, including batting average (.324), slugging percentage (.590), OPS (.953), home runs (11) and stolen bases (13).

    Defensively, Gomez has the second-highest UZR/150 (35.0) among any outfielder in the game, trailing only Arizona's A.J. Pollock (39.1), who has logged 100 fewer innings than Milwaukee's center fielder, while his 16 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) is tops among all outfielders, according to FanGraphs.

    He's hitting for average, power and utilizing his speed not only to cause problems when he's on base, but also to keep the opposition off the basepaths by making tremendous plays in the middle of Miller Park's expansive outfield.

    Anyone who doesn't believe that Gomez has become a bona fide star simply hasn't been paying attention.

Matt Harvey, RHP, New York Mets

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    New York has been home to some of the biggest stars to ever toe the rubber in baseball history. Names like Christy Mathewson, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Whitey Ford only begin to scratch the surface of the talent on the mound that we've seen in the Big Apple over the years.

    As far as the New York Mets are concerned, two names stand out above the rest: Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden.

    Both took the baseball world by storm in their first major league season, winning the NL Rookie of the Year award (Seaver in 1967, Gooden in 1984), appearing in their first All-Star Game and garnering support in the MVP race as well.

    While Matt Harvey is in his sophomore season, he too has commanded the attention of baseball fans from around the world with his phenomenal performance, which, amazingly enough, blows Seaver and Gooden away.

    Take a look at the trio's numbers through the first 24 starts of their careers:

      Age ERA WHIP IP H/9 BB/9 K/9
    Harvey 24 2.30 1.00 156.1 6.3 2.6 9.9
    Gooden 19 3.08 1.21 158.0 7.4 3.5 11.0
    Seaver 22 2.95 1.20 173.2 8.2 2.5 6.0

    Even with Harvey being the oldest of the group, those are impressive numbers he has racked up.

    This season, his stats are as good as any starter in baseball—including the two best pitchers on the planet, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander:

      ERA WHIP IP H/9 BB/9 K/9
    Harvey 2.04 0.91 97.0 6.4 3.9 10.6
    Kershaw 1.88 0.98 100.1 6.3 2.5 8.6
    Verlander 3.41 1.30 87.0 8.8 2.9 10.4

    Again, that's pretty impressive.

    With this year's All-Star Game being held at Citi Field and the very real possibility of Harvey starting the game for the National League, he is on the verge of exploding into superstardom.

Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles

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    In a recent column, ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription required) writes that Baltimore's 20-year-old phenom, Manny Machado, belongs in the conversation with Los Angeles' Mike Trout and Washington's Bryce Harper when it comes to who the best young player in baseball is.

    One National League executive took it a step further, putting Machado ahead of his more well-known counterparts:

    "I’d have Machado at No. 1 because he is more graceful, with flowing athletic skills -- poised and athletic easy-action skills are able to make adjustments as required for longevity, like Jeter and early A-Rod, and like Chipper Jones’ graceful swing."

    It's hard to argue against that assessment.

    Machado leads all of baseball with 99 hits and 32 doubles while ranking fifth in the American League in batting average (.327) and seventh in runs scored (45).

    His 4.3 WAR leads the American League, according to both Baseball-Reference and ESPN, while FanGraphs has his number at 3.4, tied with the aforementioned Trout for fourth in the American League and seventh in all of baseball.

    The most impressive part of Machado's game?

    He has quickly become the best fielding third baseman in baseball, leading all players at the position in both UZR/150 (28.2) and DRS (16), according to FanGraphs—no small feat when you consider that he is technically a shortstop playing out of position.

    It's safe to say that Machado won't be moving off the hot corner anytime soon. He belongs in the discussion of who the best player in baseball under the age of 23 is.

Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

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    While we know that trade rumors are just that—rumors—when they come from a credible source, there's often some truth behind the rumor that is being reported.

    For example, take this report that ESPN's Jayson Stark (subscription required) filed 24 hours before the non-waiver trade deadline last season:

    The Cardinals have never been more open to dealing their onetime top prospect, Shelby Miller. But his stock has plummeted dramatically. "We've lost interest. I know that," said one NL executive. "The stuff coming out of his hand isn't as good. And the body doesn't look good. He's gotten a little heavy, and he's not the same guy."

    Through the first two-and-a-half months of the 2013 season, it's safe to say that the Cardinals are glad they never pulled the trigger on a deal—and that unnamed NL executive is kicking himself for passing on the chance to grab Miller when he had it.

    Miller, 22, has been remarkable for St. Louis this season, giving the Redbirds as good a one-two combination atop their rotation with Adam Wainwright as any team in baseball.

    His seven wins on the season find him in a three-way tie for eighth in the National League; Miller's other numbers put him among the league leaders in ERA (2.21), WHIP (0.97) and strikeouts (91).

Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    No player on this list has become a star as quickly as Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who accomplished that feat within the first week of his major league career.

    The 22-year-old Cuban defector's numbers over his first 11 major league games tell the story of how such a meteoric rise is possible: a .479/.500/.771 slash line, 23 hits—six of them for extra bases, including four home runs—and 10 RBI.

    Part of that has to do with an unsustainable .536 BABIP and the fact that more than 57 percent of the fly balls that he has hit have landed in the outfield stands. Sooner rather than later, Puig is going to come back down to earth.

    That said, there's little doubt that Puig is the real deal. And his ability to produce at the major league level very well may signal the end of Andre Ethier's tenure in Los Angeles, forcing the Dodgers to eat much of the veteran's contract and accept a package for less than market value in return.

Jean Segura, SS, Milwaukee Brewers

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    With a career .313 batting average over parts of six minor league seasons, the Milwaukee Brewers knew they were getting a quality bat in Jean Segura when the team traded Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels for the 22-year-old shortstop at last year's trade deadline.

    But not even the most optimistic Brewers fan could have predicted that Segura would be this good, this soon.

    His .331 batting average, .530 slugging percentage and .895 OPS all rank among the 10 highest in the National League and trail only Colorado's currently injured Troy Tulowitzki among major league shortstops.

    Staying at the position, only Tulowitzki (16 HR, 51 RBI) and Baltimore's J.J. Hardy (13 HR, 40 RBI) have bested Segura (10 HR, 30 RBI) in run production, while his 19 stolen bases trails only San Diego's Everth Cabrera, who leads all of baseball, regardless of position, with 31 swipes on the season.

    He leads the National League with 89 hits (second in baseball to Manny Machado) and is tied with teammate Carlos Gomez for the MLB lead in triples with eight.