Unknown MLB Players Who Will Have Breakthrough Years in 2014
Every year, a handful of players across Major League Baseball emerge from relative obscurity to become key contributors for their respective teams and household names to baseball fans across the country.
The breakout performance of guys like Chris Davis and Matt Harvey stole the headlines, but those two were relatively well-known around the league heading into the 2013 season.
On the other hand, the likes of Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Jean Segura, Oakland A's third baseman Josh Donaldson, Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Patrick Corbin and Seattle Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma were all relatively unknown leaguewide heading into the year and emerged as stars.
So who could step up this season and announce themselves to the baseball world? Here is a look at five guys who may not be known to everyday baseball fans outside of their home cities but could see that change in 2014.
LF Henry Urrutia, Baltimore Orioles
2013 Combined Stats
Henry Urrutia was certainly not as high-profile of a signing as fellow Cuban-defector outfielders Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jorge Soler, but he could be the next to make a significant impact at the big league level.
The 26-year-old dealt with some visa issues after signing with the Baltimore Orioles for a $778,500 bonus, but he finally began his pro career last April at the Double-A level. He ended last season in Baltimore, earning a trip to the Futures Game in between, and he looks to have a bright future.
He followed up the 2013 season with a terrific showing in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .377/.434/.551 with three doubles, three home runs and 15 RBI over 69 at-bats. David Lough may currently be penciled in as Baltimore's starting left fielder, but don't be surprised to see Urrutia play his way into regular at-bats in left or as the designated hitter.
SP Cory Luebke, San Diego Padres
*2012 Major League Stats
*Missed all of 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on May 23, 2012.
There are certainly more than a few questions surrounding just how much Cory Luebke can contribute for the San Diego Padres in 2014, considering he has not thrown a pitch since April of the 2012 season. That said, he showed flashes of being an impact starter before undergoing Tommy John surgery, and if he's fully healthy, he could be in for a big year.
The left-hander served as a valuable swingman for the Padres in his first full season in the league in 2011, appearing in 46 games (17 starts) and going 6-10 with a 3.29 ERA and 154 strikeouts in 139.2 innings of work.
Set to join the rotation full time in 2012, he was 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA through his first five starts when injury struck. He'll have to earn a rotation spot this spring, but don't be surprised if he joins Andrew Cashner atop the San Diego rotation in 2014.
2B Scooter Gennett, Milwaukee Brewers
2013 Combined Stats
Incumbent second baseman Rickie Weeks hit just .209/.306/.357 with 10 home runs through 350 at-bats for the Milwaukee Brewers last season before missing the final 48 games following left hamstring surgery.
That injury opened things up for prospect Scooter Gennett at second base down the stretch, and he ran with the opportunity. The 23-year-old doesn't have much power, but with a .297/.337/.409 line over four minor league seasons, it's clear he does have some offensive skills.
Considering Weeks makes $11 million this coming season, and given the fact that Gennett hit just .154 against left-handed pitching last season, a platoon between the two seems to be the most likely scenario. Gennett should see the bulk of the at-bats, though, and he could very well take a cue from Jean Segura last year and make a name for himself with a breakout year.
SP Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians
2013 Combined Stats
Signed by the Cleveland Indians out of the Dominican as a 17-year-old, Danny Salazar entered the 2013 season ranked as the team's No. 6 prospect, according to Baseball America.
The right-hander pitched above the Single-A level for the first time in 2012, going 5-2 with a 2.36 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over 22 starts between High-A and Double-A. Then he took a big step forward this past season, as his strikeout rate rose from 7.8 in 2012 to 12.5 over 20 minor league starts in 2013.
After making his debut on July 11, Salazar was optioned back to the minors. He was recalled on Aug. 7, though, and stayed in the rotation for the remainder of the regular season.
The 23-year-old then took the ball in the team's Wild Card Round playoff game. Though he took the loss by allowing three runs in four innings of work, the future looks incredibly bright for him, and that experience will be invaluable.
CF Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates
2013 Minor League Stats
The only player on this list who has yet to see major league action, Gregory Polanco may very well end up making the biggest impact of anyone included here this coming season.
Polanco shot up prospect lists following the 2012 season, as he hit .325/.388/.522 with 16 home runs, 85 RBI and 40 steals spending the whole season at the Single-A level as a 20-year-old.
He finished this past season ranked as the No. 13 prospect in baseball by Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com and capped off the year by winning Dominican Winter League MVP honors earlier this week.
He'll likely start the season in Triple-A, but it won't be long before he's pushing Jose Tabata for the everyday right field job in Pittsburgh.
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