MLB

MLB Players Who Will Blossom into Superstars in 2016

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistMarch 28, 2016

MLB Players Who Will Blossom into Superstars in 2016

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    Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

    The term "superstar" gets thrown around way too liberally these days. It should be reserved for a select few players who not only impact the game in multiple ways, but also have something extra—an immeasurable trait that sets them apart from their peers.

    Some might call it arrogance or swagger, but that's not it. There's just something different with these players, something special that executives, fans, pundits and teammates can't quite put their fingers on.

    Were we compiling a list of players who could blossom into superstars, there would be far more leeway to include a fairly large number of candidates: 10 at least, maybe more. But we're not interested in could. We're interested in will—players who will become big league superstars between Opening Day and the end of the regular season.

    To be considered for this exercise, a player:

    • Must have a realistic chance to become a full-blown Cy Young Award/MVP candidate in 2015. In other words, we're looking for a player who's a complete package, not just a one-trick pony like an all-or-nothing hitter or a pitcher who throws heat and nothing else.
    • Must never have placed in the top 10 in Cy Young or MVP voting.
    • Must never have won one of the major individual awards (Cy Young, MVP or Rookie of the Year).
    • Must not have more than five years of MLB service time.

    Got it? Good.

    With that out of the way, let's take a look at five players destined for the highest level of stardom an active player can attain.

Honorable Mention

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    Maikel Franco
    Maikel FrancoKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    There were really only a handful of players who garnered serious consideration for inclusion on this list, and cutting things down to only five wasn't particularly easy.

    While some of these players don't meet all our criteria in 2016, they've got bright futures and are a step (or two, in some cases) away in their development from making a strong push to be considered superstars.

    • OF Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
    • SP Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox
    • SS Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
    • SP Luis Severino, New York Yankees
    • SP Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals
    • SP Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners

CF Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

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    Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

    What do Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and Mike Trout all have in common? None of them were able to put together the kind of season Mookie Betts delivered in 2015. Betts was the only outfielder—and one of only two players—to finish the year with at least 15 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 40 doubles.

    That's what you call well rounded.

    "Betts hasn't shown a single standout skill in his first full season," Bleacher Report's Zachary D. Rymer wrote back in October, "but he's made it clear that he's the kind of player who's going to be good at everything."

    He finished two home runs shy of a 20-20 season, ranked ninth in the American League with 68 extra-base hits and got some support in the American League MVP vote. A seasoned veteran would be thrilled with that kind of season, much less a 23-year-old who's still years away from his prime.

    Betts is only going to get better. He's a player with no glaring weakness and a seemingly unlimited ceiling. It wouldn't be at all surprising if he was in the thick of the MVP discussion alongside Trout and the other usual suspects as the regular season winds down.

LF Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    He's always going to be overshadowed by Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh's outfield, but Starling Marte continues to demand more and more of the spotlight with his play.

    Sure, he's overly aggressive at the plate, swinging at the sixth-highest percentage of pitches in the majors while tying Addison Russell and Nelson Cruz for the 13th-highest swinging strike percentage. Strikeouts—and a lack of walks—are always going to be a part of his game.

    But he still hits for average—.287 in 2015, .283 over parts of four big league seasons—and has begun to flash his power, hitting a career-high 19 home runs last season. Along with his big-time speed—three consecutive seasons with at least 30 stolen bases—Marte can hurt opposing pitchers in a number of ways.

    "He ranks 14th among position players in WAR over the past three seasons," writes ESPN.com's David Schoenfield, "ahead of players such as Jose Bautista, Anthony Rizzo, Alex Gordon, Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Davis."

    Nobody bats an eye when one of those names is touted as a superstar or potential MVP candidate, and Marte's name belongs right alongside them, even if his counting numbers aren't as impressive. His defense, where he flashes an impressive glove and even more impressive arm, makes up the difference.

    He's a player in the prime of his career who's capable of delivering a 20-30 season at the plate while approaching triple digits in both runs scored and RBI while playing half his games in one of the game's most pitcher-friendly venues. He provides Gold Glove-caliber defense in what is arguably baseball's best outfield.

    Marte has all the makings of a superstar. While McCutchen may ultimately prevent Marte from garnering enough support in MVP voting to actually win the award, the 27-year-old is going to be more than a footnote at the end of a voter's ballot.

3B/RF Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    One trait that all superstars share is an unwavering confidence in their own abilities. Some are able to internalize it, like Mike Trout, while others, like Bryce Harper, wear it on their sleeve, leading some to believe that they're arrogant or cocky.

    Miguel Sano of the Minnesota Twins might be more Harper than Trout based on his recent comments to Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci, in which he said he believes he can be an All-Star, earn MVP and win the Triple Crown if he stays healthy. His maturity level was also addressed in a Star Tribune article by Patrick Reusse.

    But the one thing that's not in question is Sano's ability to hit, and the 22-year-old's bat speaks louder than anything else.

    Among rookies who made at least 300 plate appearances last season, only four hit more home runs than Sano's 18 (all with significantly more playing time), while St. Louis' Randal Grichuk (.548) was the lone first-year player to best his .530 slugging percentage.

    It's that power that will propel Sano to superstar status. Even if he struggles defensively at a new position (right field), he'll hit for a high enough average (.260 to .270) while clearing the wall 30-plus times and driving in 100-plus runs to announce his arrival as a perennial MVP candidate.

RF George Springer, Houston Astros

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Overshadowed in Houston last season by Carlos Correa's arrival, Dallas Keuchel's excellence and the team's resurgence was George Springer's continued development—specifically the work he put in to alter his approach at the plate.

    As a result, his contact rate soared and his strikeout rate dropped, and while he hit for slightly less power, Springer saw significant increases in his batting average and on-base percentage along with the reduction in strikeouts.

    "He became a more well-rounded hitter," Astros manager A.J. Hinch explained to the New Haven Register's David Borges. "Some of that was due to his swing change. He took ownership of hitting at the top of the order and really embraced that. It was good to see him evolve as a player and not buy into the fact that he’s either a home run-or-nothing guy."

    While he didn't clear the yard as often as he did in 2014, Springer still found himself on pace for a 30-30 season before a broken wrist knocked him out of action for two months. Entering his age-26 season—the unofficial start of a player's prime—it wouldn't surprise anyone if he pulled it off in 2016.

    Then again, a 30-30 season could be selling Springer short if he stays healthy. Could he become the fifth member of baseball's 40-40 club and the first new entrant since Alfonso Soriano in 2006? It's not crazy to think he might.

    "We talk a lot about the type of athletes we've got," Hinch told Borges. "I don't know that we've got a better combination of power and speed and athleticism than George."

SP Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Whether you believe he's a Norse god or a Marvel superhero, Noah Syndergaard wielded his National League-leading 97.7 mph fastball like a hammer in 2015, laying waste to the competition en route to 166 strikeouts over 150 innings of work. He upped the ante in the playoffs, whiffing 26 in 19 frames.

    But to label Syndergaard a flamethrower and nothing else would be a mistake, for the 23-year-old has multiple weapons at his disposal, including a changeup and slider that have both looked significantly better this spring than they had in the past.

    "He learned a lot and learned fast in the major leagues," Mets manager Terry Collins told MLB.com's Anthony DiComo. "He asked a lot of questions. He asked the right questions. And he got better."

    After pitching to a 3.59 ERA over his first nine major league starts, Syndergaard posted a 3.05 ERA over his final 15 regular-season outings. He was especially dominant in five July starts, allowing only five earned runs over 34 innings (1.32 ERA), striking out 38 while holding the opposition to a .161/.225/.254 triple-slash line.

    With his first full major league season ahead of him, Syndergaard seems a lock for 200-plus innings, 200-plus strikeouts and peripherals that thrust him into the thick of the National League Cy Young Award race, right alongside his more celebrated rotation-mates, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.

    Hit me up on Twitter to talk all things baseball: @RickWeinerBR.

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