2011 MLB Predictions: 25 Breakout Stars to Watch in 2011

Jenn ZambriCorrespondent IApril 1, 2011

2011 MLB Predictions: 25 Breakout Stars to Watch in 2011

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    Opening Day has arrived, and the best part for each of the 30 major league teams is that the slate is clean.  A fresh start and renewed hope for another season have been long anticipated.

    Each player looks forward to getting back on the field and setting team goals as well as personal goals.  For some, 2011 will be the perfect time to break out and show their true potential.

    If the hard work and preparation pay off, these 25 players should have amazing seasons.

Aroldis Chapman, RP, Cincinnati Reds

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    Seeing a pitcher hit triple digits on the radar gun consistently is quite a sight.  The Reds are more than happy to stand in awe of the cannon arm of young Aroldis Chapman.

    In his short major-league stint last year, Chapman posted a 2.03 ERA in 13.1 innings with a 1.05 WHIP.  The 19 batters he mowed down probably did not even blink before they were sent back to the dugout.

    This year, big things are expected from the 23-year-old Cuban flamethrower.  Chapman will likely start out as a reliever, but he has not been ruled out as a starter yet sometime down the road.

    In the meantime, look for Chapman to light up the radar gun a lot in 2011.

Gavin Floyd, SP, Chicago White Sox

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    Once a prized prospect for the Philadelphia Phillies, Gavin Floyd was not easy to let go.  Traded to the White Sox in 2006, Floyd now appears ready to make a big impact.

    In 31 starts last year, Floyd had many ups and downs, posting a 4.08 ERA and a 10-13 record.  But near the end of 2010, the 28-year-old righty seemed to put all the pieces together.

    If Floyd can build upon the latter half of 2010, then 2011 should be a breakout year for him.

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates have been waiting for a breakout star for what seems like decades now.  Fans are hoping that third baseman Pedro Alvarez is the answer to their prayers.

    Called up to the majors last year, Alvarez got off to a shaky start.  But by September, he had begun to string hits together and showed off some power, with 16 homers in 95 games.

    Alvarez was named National League Player of the Week for Sept. 20–26 as a result and also garnered the NL Rookie of the Month for September.  That month, Alvarez hit .311 and led all major league rookies with 26 RBI in his final 27 games.

    In 2011, Alvarez is expected to put it all together and help the Pirates dig themselves out of the basement of the NL Central.

Madison Bumgarner, SP, San Francisco Giants

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    Strolling quickly through the Giants' minor-league system, Madison Bumgarner made his major league debut at only 20 years of age. He won his first World Series game at age 21 without allowing a run over eight innings of work.

    With that kind of track record, it is easy to assume that the expectations in 2011 are very high for Bumgarner.

    The Giants have a very talented starting rotation, which does not seem to faze Bumgarner.  If he can keep that poise and steady hand under pressure, Bumgarner will be scary good this season.

Jeremy Hellickson, SP, Tampa Bay Rays

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    In just 10 games and four starts last season as a September call-up, Jeremy Hellickson was impressive.  He won all four of his starts and ended the month with a 3.47 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.

    This spring, Hellickson has pitched well, despite having to overcome a strained right hamstring.

    Now healthy, Hellickson's only obstacle appears to be his fastball command.  If he can make some minor adjustments, 2011 should be a breakout year for the 23-year-old righty.

    Hellickson is expected to open the season as the Rays' No. 5 starter.

Carlos Santana, C, Cleveland Indians

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    Called up from the minors in June 2010, Carlos Santana caught a bad break. On Aug. 2, 2010, Santana was tackled while guarding home plate.  The hit resulted in a high-grade strain of his LCL and a hyperextension of his left knee that ended his season.

    In the short time he did play, Santana collected 22 RBI and posted a .401 on-base percentage.  The Indians were very impressed with the rookie's performance.

    Now fully recovered from surgery, Santana looks good and he has won the starting catcher job out of spring training.  He may also be used at first base and as a DH on occasion to keep him fresh.

    Now, if Santana can play the guitar like his namesake, that will just be a bonus for the already talented youngster.

Mike Stanton, OF, Florida Marlins

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    In 2010, Mike Stanton took the Marlins by storm with an amazing rookie debut.  Having blasted 22 home runs with 59 RBI in 100 games, it still appears that Stanton has only scratched the surface of his potential.

    That performance earned Stanton a spot on Baseball America's 2010 All-Rookie Team and he was also named an outfielder on the 2010 Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team.

    Stanton did miss the first 24 Grapefruit League games with a strained right quad, but once he returned, it was business as usual.  In his spring debut, Stanton blasted two homers and collected seven RBI.

    So not only is Stanton ready for the regular season, he is also ready to breakout as a star in Miami.

Yovani Gallardo, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

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    For the second year in a row, Yovani Gallardo was named the Opening Day starter for the Milwaukee Brewers.  The past two years, Gallardo averaged a 3.79 ERA for the Brewers and had at least 200 strikeouts in each of those years.

    In his first five spring starts this year, Gallardo allowed only four runs and posted a 1.96 ERA.  The 25-year-old righty has shown steady improvement over time and looks to be ready for a big season in 2011.

    With starter Zach Greinke set to start the year on the DL, the beginning of the 2011 season is a huge opportunity for Gallardo to break out and show what he can do.

Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati Reds

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    In his third year in the majors, right fielder Jay Bruce found his groove.  Hitting .281 with 25 homers and 70 RBI, Bruce is finally realizing his true potential.

    With a new six-year, $55 million deal under Bruce's belt, the Reds will be looking to him for some big numbers in 2011.

    And although he got off to a slow start this spring, Bruce may be hitting his stride just in time for the regular season.

Daniel Hudson, P, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Traded from the White Sox to the Diamondbacks on July 30, 2010, Daniel Hudson was having a rough year.  His 6.32 ERA in three starts for the Sox was probably not what anyone had hoped for.

    But once Hudson settled in with the D-Backs, he posted a 7-1 record and 1.69 ERA in 11 starts.  In August, he was named Rookie of the Month for the National League.

    With a four-pitch arsenal and new start in the National League, the 24-year-old Hudson is poised to have a big year.

Gordon Beckham, 2B, Chicago White Sox

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    In 2010, Gordon Beckham suffered from the dreaded sophomore slump.  After hitting .270 with 63 RBI in 103 games for 2009, Beckham batted only .252 with 49 RBI in 131 games the next year.

    But after making adjustments at the plate and recognizing his lack of discipline, Beckham hit over .300 though his first 20 games this spring.

    The 24-year-old second baseman will be anxious in 2011 to show he can revert to his 2009 form and possibly exceed that performance as well.

David Murphy, OF, Texas Rangers

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    A Houston native, David Murphy always wanted to play for his home-state Rangers.  He got his wish on July 31, 2007, when the Red Sox traded him to Texas.

    Murphy performed well and found more playing time as a result.  In 2010, he helped the Rangers reach the World Series, batting .291 with 65 RBI and 14 stolen bases.

    The increased production in 2010 earned Murphy a new one-year deal with the Rangers.  But if he is looking for anything long-term, he will need to dazzle in 2011.  With a very good spring under his belt, Murphy looks ready to do just that.

Ivan Nova, SP, New York Yankees

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    Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Yankees in 2004, Ivan Nova has gone from a toad to a prince. 

    After struggling in the minors for years, Nova was bounced to the Padres in the 2008 Rule 5 Draft only to return to the Yankees in 2009.  But a dismal spring left little hope for this prospect.

    Suddenly in 2010, a light bulb turned on for Nova as he recorded a 2.43 ERA and 1.27 WHIP over his first six starts in the minors.  He was promoted to the majors and performed well over seven starts.

    This spring, Nova has shown the Yankees that he is ready to compete.  Nova has been named to the 2011 starting rotation and he is projected to have a breakout year.

Martin Prado, OF, Atlanta Braves

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    Although he has been a solid player for several years now, Martin Prado is making a huge transition for the 2011 season.  When the Braves acquired second baseman Dan Uggla this offseason, Prado was asked to move from second to left field.

    As an All-Star second baseman, Prado had some legitimate concerns about the move.  But Prado met the challenge head on and he has not looked back.

    The Braves are fully confident that Prado is now a solid left fielder.  His lifetime .307 batting average and 100 runs scored in 2010 are good indicators that Prado should not miss a beat in the transition.

    If anything, Prado will be more motivated to show that he can be both versatile and dependable.

Danny Valencia, 3B, Minnesota Twins

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    In his rookie season with the Twins, third baseman Danny Valencia started off with a bang.  His first major-league homer came on July 26, 2010, and it was a grand slam off Zack Greinke.  At the time, Greinke was the reigning AL Cy Young winner.

    Valencia went on to bat .311 with 40 RBI in 85 games.  He also hit .394 with runner in scoring position, the best in the American League among those with at least 75 at-bats.

    As a result, Valencia was named third baseman on Baseball America's 2010 All-Rookie Team, and the third baseman on the 2010 Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team.

    This season, look for Valencia to continue where he left off in 2010.

Gaby Sanchez, 1B, Florida Marlins

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    A Miami native of Cuban descent, Gaby Sanchez feels right at home with the Marlins.  He even played college ball as a University of Miami Hurricane.

    In his first full major-league season,  Sanchez served as the Marlins' everyday first baseman and showed off his power with 19 homers and 85 RBI.

    The tear continued this spring, as Sanchez hit .389 through his first 20 games and ranked at or near the top in several major Grapefruit League offensive categories.

    Sanchez should settle right into the new season and he is expected to have a great year.

Ryan Raburn, OF, Detroit Tigers

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    In 2010, Ryan Raburn made an Opening Day major-league roster for the first time in his career.  The Tigers did not regret the move. 

    Raburn went on to hit .280 and proved to be a valuable asset, filling in for an injured Magglio Ordonez.

    This spring, Raburn hit .316 through 19 spring games and he has shown flexibility as well.  He can play second base in addition to left field and he has moved around to different spots in the lineup as well.

    But in 2011, look for Raburn to carve out his niche on this team and put up some solid numbers.

Shaun Marcum, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

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    After undergoing Tommy John surgery after the 2008 season and missing all of 2009, Shaun Marcum made a comeback in 2010 with the Blue Jays. 

    After Roy Halladay went to Philadelphia, Marcum became the go-to guy.

    Marcum ended the season with a 13-8 record and a 3.64 ERA.  Then this past December, he was traded to the Brewers.

    This spring training, Marcum struggled with some shoulder soreness but now appears to be pain free.  He is penciled in as the No. 2 starter for the Brewers.

    If Marcum can stay healthy, this change to a more competitive team should spark a great season for the righty.

Daniel Bard, RP, Boston Red Sox

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    Many consider Daniel Bard to be the future closer for the Red Sox.  Last year, he posted 1.93 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 74.2 innings.  He was also first in the AL in holds with 32. 

    Bard also became the third Sox reliever all-time to record an ERA under 2.00 while throwing at least 70 innings.

    The hard-throwing righty has had a few erratic outings this spring, but the Sox expect him to be solid by the start of the season.

    At only 25 years of age, Bard has a lot of potential.  The 2011 campaign should be a breakout year for him.

Chris Johnson, 3B, Houston Astros

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    The Astros gave rookie Chris Johnson the opportunity last season to claim the starting job at third base.  Johnson met the challenge, batting .308 for the year with 11 homers and 52 RBI.

    As a young club in the process of rebuilding, Johnson's 2010 season was a real boost to the Astros' future hopes.  They are counting on a big follow-up year from Johnson.

    Johnson comes from a baseball family.  His father, Ron Johnson, is a former major leaguer and current first base coach for the Red Sox. 

    Odds are good that the young slugger has an idea of what to expect in 2011, which may help him avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.

    Look for Johnson to have a big year for the Astros.

Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs

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    At just 21 years of age, shortstop Starlin Castro seemed to come out of nowhere in 2010, batting .300 in his rookie campaign for the Cubs.  Castro also became the first major league player to be born in the 1990s.

    Now the Cubs think they have a future superstar on their hands.  The three-run homer he smacked in his first major league at-bat may have been the first indication.

    Others took note as well.  This offseason, Castro was named the shortstop on both the Baseball America's 2010 All-Rookie Team and the 2010 Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team.

    After a torrid spring this year, Castro is expected to excel beyond his rookie numbers in 2011.

Gio Gonzalez, SP, Oakland Athletics

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    Since his major-league debut in 2008, lefty Gio Gonzalez has made steady and marked improvement each year, taking a 7.68 ERA in 2008 to 3.23 in 2010. 

    Gonzalez's WHIP has gone down to 1.31 and batters are really struggling against him.

    Gonzalez has been wild at times, but at only 25 years of age, this is not an issue.  In fact, this spring Gonzalez has held the opposition to a .181 batting average while striking out 25 in his first 21 innings pitched.

    As he has become more experienced and improved in most areas, 2011 should be a breakout season for Gonzalez.

Kila Ka'aihue, 1B, Kansas City Royals

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    While the Royals already have a solid first baseman in Billy Butler, Kila Ka'aihue could earn some playing time or serve in a DH role this year.

    As Ka'aihue has absolutely torn up the pitching in spring training this year, he has earned a spot on the team.  In his first 56 at-bats, Ka'aihue hit seven home runs, collected 20 RBI and batted .411.

    The 27-year-old Hawaii native has posted an OPS above 1.000 in two of his past three minor league seasons and a .463 on-base percentage in Triple-A last year as well.  Ka'aihue is poised to have a huge 2011 season.

Brett Gardner, OF, New York Yankees

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    After quietly working his way to a starting spot in the Yankees outfield the past few years, Brett Gardner is ready to break out.  He may even be supplanting superstar Derek Jeter in the leadoff spot in the Yankees lineup.

    Although Gardner struggled with a wrist injury in 2010, he still set career highs in many offensive areas.  With 47 steals for the year, Gardner is now considered one of the fastest players in the game.  This year, he will certainly make a lot of pitchers nervous when he reaches base.

    Those 47 steals ranked third in the AL and Gardner's 97 runs scored ranked ninth.  In 2011, Gardner will look to improve those numbers and keep the opposition on their toes.

Ricky Romero, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

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    When Ricky Romero was sidelined with a strained right oblique muscle after a violent sneeze in April 2009, his rookie season, many questioned if this lefty had the goods.  But Romero climbed back in and had a decent year.

    His sophomore season was even more impressive.  Romero started 32 games and ended with a 14-9 record and 3.73 ERA.

    This spring, Romero has had some control issues and also a sore finger to contend with.  But while working out the kinks, Romero has said he feels great and he is ready to go.

    The Blue Jays are counting on Romero  and have officially named him their Opening Day starter, which is a huge honor for a young pitcher. 

    Now the Jays need only to make sure there is plenty of Kleenex around for Romero, just in case.