The Biggest Emerging MLB Star at Every Position Entering 2016
Every year finds new MLB players living up to their potential or exceeding even the loftiest expectations, delivering a fresh crop of emerging stars to the baseball world.
Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa went from potential stars to legitimate studs upon their arrival in the big leagues last season, while Jake Arrieta and Carlos Carrasco finally figured things out in their late 20s.
To be considered for inclusion on our emerging stars squad, a player must have already made his major league debut and meet the following criteria:
- Has never made an All-Star team
- Has never won a major award: MVP, Cy Young or Rookie of the Year
- Has yet to celebrate his 30th birthday
While that helps to whittle down the field of contenders, it still leaves us with far more worthy candidates than available spots. Who made the cut?
Let's take a look.
Catcher: Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs
While Kyle Schwarber figures to spend most of his time in left field, he still considers himself a catcher and, according to MLB.com's Carrie Muskat, so do the Cubs. So he remains fair game to plug in behind the plate on our squad of emerging stars.
Really, as long as his windshield-crushing power is in the lineup, it doesn't matter where he's playing. Already a star in Chicago, Schwarber could become one of the game's biggest attractions if he can figure out how to hit left-handed pitching, allowing him to remain in the lineup on a daily basis.
Given his advanced approach at the plate and his success against southpaws in the minors—admittedly from a small sample—there's reason to believe he will.
Travis d'Arnaud, New York Mets; J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins
First Base: Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
While he's yet to hit 20 home runs in a season, Eric Hosmer is coming off his most productive year at the plate, setting new career highs in on-base percentage (.363), OPS (.822), RBI (93), runs scored (98) and extra-base hits (56), raising his walk rate and lowering his whiff rate.
With Hosmer just entering the prime of his career, it's not a stretch to think the 26-year-old will finally crack the 20-home run plateau in 2016 while hitting triple digits in both RBI and runs scored. But Hosmer's ability to impact a game goes beyond the box score.
As the recipient of three consecutive Gold Glove Awards, Hosmer has also cemented himself as one of the on-field leaders for the defending world champions.
Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants; Travis Shaw, Boston Red Sox
Second Base: Logan Forsythe, Tampa Bay Rays
Among qualified second basemen, Tampa Bay's Logan Forsythe finished the regular season tied with Jason Kipnis for the highest wRC+ (126), while only a pair of All-Stars—Robinson Cano (21) and Brian Dozier (28)—hit more home runs than his 17, a new career high.
Forsythe set multiple career bests during his breakout campaign last year, and while it'd be easy to dismiss his production as a fluke given his age, it's entirely possible that the 29-year-old will build off his first season with regular playing time and match—or improve on—those numbers in 2016.
Rougned Odor, Texas Rangers; Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles
Shortstop: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
One of baseball's top prospects put up gaudy numbers down the stretch in Los Angeles last season, hitting .337/.425/.561 with 13 extra-base hits (four home runs) and 17 RBI over 27 games. Over a full 162-game season, that'd work out to 78 extra-base hits (24 home runs) and 102 RBI.
Not too shabby for a 21-year-old playing shortstop in one of the world's biggest media markets.
The preseason favorite for National League Rookie of the Year has all the tools to not only become a perennial All-Star but also one of the game's biggest attractions.
Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox; Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
Third Base: Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies
A fractured wrist cost him two months of the 2015 regular season, but Maikel Franco left little doubt that he's a big part of Philadelphia's future, hitting .280 with 37 extra-base hits (14 home runs), 50 RBI and an .840 OPS over 80 games in 2015.
Despite his limited playing time, Franco's ability to make consistent contact, his advanced approach at the plate and tremendous raw power make him part of an elite group of players, as FanGraphs' Carson Cistulli points out:
Consider: among batters who recorded 300-plus plate appearances in 2015, only seven produced an isolated power figure above .200 and a strikeout rate below 16%. Franco was one of them. The other six? Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Manny Machado, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, and Anthony Rizzo. That's an encouraging peer group.
Entering his first full season in the majors, the 23-year-old is poised to become one of the game's most impressive young sluggers.
Matt Duffy, San Francisco Giants
Left Field: Michael Conforto, New York Mets
Michael Conforto made his major league debut just over a year after the New York Mets selected him 10th overall in the 2014 draft, and he didn't disappoint. He played above-average defense in left field while hitting .270/.335/.506 with 23 extra-base hits (nine home runs) in 194 plate appearances.
His power continued to play in the postseason, with three of his six playoff hits clearing the yard, including a pair of home runs against Kansas City in Game 4 of the World Series. With those blasts, Conforto joined Hall of Famer Gary Carter as the only Mets to go deep twice in the same Fall Classic game.
While he struggled in limited action against left-handed pitching (3-for-14) last season, the 23-year-old figures to face southpaws more often in 2016. “Oh, he can hit lefties," Mets hitting coach Kevin Long told the New York Daily News' John Harper. “I’ll put everything I’ve got on that one."
Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates; Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins
Center Field: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
While he figures to start the season in right field for Boston, Mookie Betts spent his first full season in the majors patrolling center field at Fenway Park and certainly has the chops to stick at the position, so that's where we'll slot him on our squad.
Betts ranked ninth in the American League with 68 extra-base hits, a total that trailed only Mike Trout (79), J.D. Martinez (73) and Jose Bautista (72) among AL outfielders. The 23-year-old's combination of power and speed (21-of-27 in stolen base attempts) make him an ideal table-setter atop Boston's lineup.
A career .291 hitter over 786 at-bats, Betts has all the makings of a perennial .300 hitter and 20-20 candidate for years to come.
Randal Grichuk, St. Louis Cardinals; Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays
Right Field: George Springer, Houston Astros
Back in 2013, a 23-year-old George Springer became the first minor league player in four years to record a 30-30 season.
Had he not missed two months of the 2015 regular season after an Edinson Volquez fastball broke his wrist in early July, chances are he'd have become the majors' first 30-30 club member since 2012. At the time of the injury, Springer had 13 home runs and 14 stolen bases over 75 games.
"Because he hasn't played 150 or 155 games in a year, there's certainly (the assumption that) the numbers would increase if we could keep him on the field for that length of time," Astros manager A.J. Hinch told Dick Scanlon of the Associated Press (via the News & Observer).
Considering he bats between All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve and reigning AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa, the opposition has little choice but to pitch to Springer, who figures to deliver his best season to date—and perhaps finally gain entry into that exclusive 30-30 club.
Ender Inciarte, Atlanta Braves; Stephen Piscotty, St. Louis Cardinals; Jorge Soler, Chicago Cubs
Designated Hitter: Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins
One of only three rookies to appear in at least 80 games and post a slugging percentage above .500, Miguel Sano's .530 mark and 36 extra-base hits (18 home runs) in just about half a season left little doubt that the 22-year-old is going to be a force in the middle of Minnesota's lineup for years to come.
A third baseman who spent most of his time as the Twins designated hitter last season, Sano is set to be the team's everyday right fielder in 2016, a position he should be able to handle with relative ease thanks to his athleticism and strong, accurate throwing arm.
C.J. Cron, Los Angeles Angels; Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers; Richie Shaffer, Tampa Bay Rays
Starting Pitcher: Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
Noah Syndergaard looked anything but overwhelmed by his first taste of the big leagues in 2015, emerging as one of the 20 best starting pitchers in baseball by the time the regular season came to a close.
"He showed in his rookie season that he can handle control, whiffability, hittability and durability," wrote Bleacher Report's Zachary D. Rymer, "all of which should cement him as a top-of-the-rotation starter in the very near future."
As New York's No. 3 starter behind Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, Syndergaard effectively used a five-pitch arsenal to keep batters off balance, whether it was setting up his off-speed offerings with a blazing fastball that averaged a National League-high 97.7 mph, per Baseball Prospectus, or vice versa.
In fact, only five rookie pitchers in baseball history have logged at least 150 innings with a better K/9 rate than Syndergaard's 9.96 mark—and none of them walked fewer batters than the 31 free passes he issued.
Lance McCullers Jr., Houston Astros; Luis Severino, New York Yankees; Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays
Relief Pitcher: Cody Allen, Cleveland Indians
Perhaps more impressive is the fact that Allen allowed nine of his 23 earned runs on the season in April, pitching to a 2.02 ERA over the campaign's final five months, a stretch that saw him hold the opposition to a .192/.254/.272 slash line.
Allen would finish the year with a FIP (1.82) that was more than a run lower than his ERA (2.99), not only indicating that he was the victim of some bad luck along the way, but that he is deserving of mention when discussing the game's elite closers.
Carter Capps, Miami Marlins; Roberto Osuna, Toronto Blue Jays; Hector Rondon, Chicago Cubs
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