MLB's All-Breakout Team for the 2013 Season
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Year after year, we watch players at different points of their career put together a season of work that makes us stand up and take notice, wondering exactly where it came from and, in some cases, where it's been.
This season has followed that blueprint.
Let's take a look at those players who have broken out in 2013, elevating their games to levels we've not seen before—and increasing the expectations that we have of them going forward.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics come courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and are current through games of August 27.
*All historical statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference's Play Index (subscription required).
*I am a big fan of the wRC+ statistic, which you will see referenced throughout this piece. Click here for a detailed explanation of what it means and how it all works.
Catcher: Jason Castro, Houston Astros
While much of the attention in Houston has been focused on second baseman Jose Altuve, Jason Castro has emerged as the team's best player in 2013.
The 26-year-old has already set the franchise record for catchers with 18 home runs and 33 doubles on the season, while his .855 OPS trails only Mitch Meluskey's .888 mark in 2000 for the highest OPS by an Astros catcher with at least 400 plate appearances in a single season.
Among his fellow catchers, Castro lands in the Top 10 on the leaderboards in nearly every offensive category, including a .498 slugging percentage that puts him in a tie with perennial All-Star and MVP candidate Yadier Molina.
His mediocre RBI total and catcher's ERA in 2013 are more the result of Castro being surrounded by a putrid lineup and catching an ineffective pitching staff than a statement on his shortcomings.
While there's plenty of work to be done in Houston before the Astros can become relevant again, Castro has established himself as one of the pieces that the team can build around.
Honorable Mention: None
First Base: Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
It's rare for a player to have two breakout seasons, but that's exactly what Chris Davis has done, transforming from a player with untapped potential to an all-or-nothing slugger to one of the best hitters in baseball over the span of two years.
On pace for 57 home runs, four shy of the American League record set by Lou Gehrig in 1961—the man Davis believes is baseball's true single-season home run champion—he is all that stands between Miguel Cabrera and a date with history, becoming the first player to win back-to-back Triple Crowns.
It's only a matter of when, not if, Brady Anderson's single-season team record of 50 bombs, set in 1996, will fall to Davis this season.
Whether or not Davis reaches that magical 61 home-run plateau, he has firmly established himself as one of the most feared players in the game today—something that seemed impossible only two years ago.
Honorable Mention: Freddie Freeman (Braves) and Paul Goldschmidt (Diamondbacks)
Second Base: Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
While he's now manning the hot corner in St. Louis, Matt Carpenter made his name this season at second base, and that's where he makes the cut on our All-Breakout team.
After establishing himself as a valuable, versatile player with a solid swing for the Cardinals in 2012, Carpenter has arguably become St. Louis' most irreplaceable position player after Yadier Molina. That's no small feat on a team with so much talent.
The National League leader in doubles (43), hits (159) and runs scored (he's the first player to crack triple digits in runs this season), Carpenter ranks among the league leaders in batting average, on-base percentage (.383) and OPS as well.
Among his fellow second basemen, Carpenter is the leader in batting average, hits, runs and doubles, with only Robinson Cano (.891) posting a higher OPS.
His 143 wRC+ puts him in a seven-way tie for 12th in baseball alongside some of the game's premier sluggers, including his teammate, Carlos Beltran, and Edwin Encarnacion.
Honorable Mention: Brian Dozier (Twins) and Jason Kipnis (Indians)
Third Base: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
Despite watching his bat slow down a bit since making the first All-Star appearance of his career, Manny Machado's numbers are still quite impressive, especially when you consider that he's only 21 years old.
No longer on pace to break Earl Webb's 82-year-old single-season doubles record of 67, Machado leads baseball with 44 two-baggers, one more than Matt Carpenter. While Machado's wRC+ of 109 is a bit lower than you'd like, ranking 12th among third basemen, it's far from terrible and is higher than those of some of his more established teammates, like J.J. Hardy (100) and Nick Markakis (91).
Using FanGraphs' advanced defensive metrics, which go back to the 2002 season, Machado is putting together the best defensive season by a third baseman that we've seen in the past 11 years:
|Manny Machado (BAL)||2013||32.1||31|
|Adrian Beltre (LAD)||2004||26.8||24|
|Nolan Arenado (COL)||2013||25.2||28|
|Pedro Feliz (SF)||2007||24.5||23|
|Joe Randa (KC)||2004||24.0||7|
The scariest thing about Machado is his age—he's only going to get better as he gets into his mid-20s and begins to hit the prime years of his career.
Honorable Mention: Nolan Arenado (Rockies) and Chris Johnson (Braves)
Shortstop: Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers
While his production at the plate has dropped off significantly since the All-Star break, Jean Segura continues to make last year's Zack Greinke trade one of the more lopsided in recent history.
Segura leads the National League in stolen bases, is tied for second in triples with nine and sits alone in eighth place on the leaderboard with 156 hits. Among qualified shortstops, only the suspended Jhonny Peralta (.822) and Ian Desmond (.802) have a higher OPS.
Segura's 116 wRC+ puts him in a tie for third among his counterparts on the left side of the infield, higher than those posted by All-Star-caliber players like J.J. Hardy (100), Asdrubal Cabrera (89) and Jimmy Rollins (77).
He's still a work in progress defensively, but Segura's unexpected power and ability to change the game with his speed gives him the nod over a defensively superior Andrelton Simmons.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Crawford (Giants) and Andrelton Simmons (Braves)
Left Field: Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies
Just as we were about to permanently affix the "bust" label to the back of Domonic Brown's jersey, the 25-year-old has finally begun producing like the player many thought he could become.
Brown's 27 home runs rank third in the National League, his .519 slugging percentage fifth and his 80 RBI eighth—among left fielders, only Alfonso Soriano has him beat in home runs (28) and RBI (84), while Carlos Gonzalez's .591 slugging percentage is the only one higher than his.
He leads Philadelphia in nearly every offensive category, and while his defense has been less than stellar, Brown has made up for it with his production at the plate.
Honorable Mention: Starling Marte (Pirates)
Center Field: Carlos Gomez
Sure, Carlos Gomez strikes out too much and has been in a funk since making the first All-Star appearance of his career, but that doesn't change the fact that the 27-year-old has broken out and become one of the game's premier center fielders in 2013.
Tied for second in baseball with nine triples and among the National League leaders in stolen bases and slugging percentage (.519), Gomez has been one of the few bright spots in a miserable season for the Milwaukee Brewers.
His 130 wRC+ is the fourth-highest among center fielders, ahead of players like Adam Jones (125) and Jacoby Ellsbury (107). The argument could be made that Gomez is the best defender at the position in the game.
While he trails A.J. Pollock in UZR/150 by a significant margin, 36.8 to 21.8, Gomez has an equally impressive lead over the rest of the field in DRS, with his 28 double that of the player in second place, Ellsbury, who has 14.
Honorable Mention: None
Right Field: Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
While it's not quite on the level of Fernando-mania that swept through baseball in 1981, Puig-mania has taken the sport by storm in 2013, with the Dodgers' rookie right fielder quickly establishing himself as one of the most electrifying and exciting players in the sport.
The exploits of his historic first month have been talked about ad nauseam, but it's not as if Yasiel Puig's success this season was only limited to June.
Since July 1, Puig has hit .299/.374/.476, and while his power numbers are down (six home runs and 14 RBI over his last 48 games), the 22-year-old phenom continues to be an integral part of Los Angeles' success this season.
Puig is no slouch defensively, either, ranking sixth with a 7.9 UZR/150 and ninth with seven DRS among players who have logged at least 550 innings in right field this season. The cannon attached to his right shoulder has made for more than a few highlights along the way as well.
Honorable Mention: Will Venable (Padres)
Starting Pitcher: Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Matt Harvey would have 15-17 victories on the season if he had been pitching in front of a major league-quality lineup, but his mediocre win-loss total does absolutely nothing to diminish what the 24-year-old right-hander has done in 2013.
Only one other pitcher in baseball history has put together a season with an ERA of 2.30 or lower, no more than 31 walks and at least 191 strikeouts—Cy Young, who accomplished the feat twice, in 1904 and 1905.
Harvey ranks second in the majors in ERA, third in WHIP and fifth in strikeouts, putting himself in the thick of the race for the NL Cy Young Award.
That is, until everything came crashing down around him earlier this week.
Harvey's season is over, and his 2014 campaign looks like it will as well, as he sits on the disabled list with a torn UCL in his right elbow and likely will require Tommy John surgery, keeping him out of action until 2015.
While it does nothing to alleviate the disappointment that Harvey and Mets fans feel, with the high success rate of the surgery, he should be back as good as he ever was when he toes the rubber once again.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Corbin (Diamondbacks), Jose Fernandez (Marlins) and Shelby Miller (Cardinals)
Relief Pitcher: Mark Melancon, Pittsburgh Pirates
Pitching for his fourth team in four years, Mark Melancon was a relatively nondescript middle reliever heading into 2013, someone that nobody paid much attention to when he was included in the trade that sent Joel Hanrahan from Pittsburgh to Boston before the season started.
We're paying attention now.
Melancon has been phenomenal in a Pirates uniform, whether it was as a setup man for All-Star closer Jason Grilli or in the ninth inning, replacing his injured teammate.
Despite spending the past month in the closer's role, Melancon's 26 holds rank third in the National League, fifth in all of baseball. His 0.91 ERA leads all pitchers with at least 40 innings of work on the season, his 0.83 WHIP seventh.
When you consider that the 28-year-old brought a career 4.07 ERA and 1.26 WHIP with him to Pittsburgh, what he's been able to do this year is nothing short of miraculous.
Honorable Mention: Luis Avilan (Braves), Edward Mujica (Cardinals), Paco Rodriguez (Dodgers) and Alex Torres (Rays)