MLB 2011: 10 Breakout Players Everyone Should Be Talking About
As we officially enter the third month of the MLB season, we have the usual story lines: The Red Sox and Yankees are battling for control of the American League East, Roy Halladay is looking like his usual Cy Young form and the New York Mets are still a mess of an organization.
Saturday afternoon baseball and Sunday night baseball are still populated by the same big-market teams that we are used to seeing. However, hidden away on the pages of stats and box scores, there are several players breaking out that no one is really talking about.
These guys may not be leading their teams to the World Series, but they are putting up big numbers and at least helping your fantasy teams.
There are plenty of names out there, but I've narrowed it down to a worthy 10.
Bob Levey/Getty Images
.293 AVG, 16 HRs, 44 RBIs, 38 Runs, 4 SBs
Jay Bruce has been overshadowed by the success of teammate Joey Votto over the past few years. He has been a steady hitter with a .263 career average to this point. The power has always been expected from Bruce, but in his first three seasons in the big leagues, his career high was 25 homers.
Well, here comes the power.
In May alone, Bruce launched 12 bombs and drove in 33 runs. He swung one of the hottest bats in the Major League for the month of May. Bruce still has a ways to go before the season is over, but right now he is on pace to shatter his career totals and officially launch himself into stardom.
If he is able to keep up this kind of hitting, it gives the Reds one of the most dangerous one-two punches in the MLB.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
5-1, 2.57 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 74 Ks
In Sanchez's rookie year, he threw a no-hitter against the Arizona Diamondbacks that ended the longest no-hitter drought in MLB history. The future couldn't appear any brighter for the young righty. He started 17 games that year finishing with a solid 10-3 record and 2.83 ERA.
Anibal's sophomore season didn't go as smoothly.
He had Dr. James Andrews perform Tommy John surgery in 2007. He started only 32 games over the course of the next three years. It appeared that he would never have a chance to reach his potential.
Finally in 2010, Sanchez was able to produce a full season of baseball with modest numbers.
It appears now that Sanchez has recaptured the magic of his rookie campaign. He is tied for 11th in strikeouts with the likes of Jon Lester and Dan Haren. He has pitched just as well as any other ace in baseball.
Hopefully he can keep it up and give Marlins fans something to cheer about.
J. Meric/Getty Images
.370 AVG, 9 HRs, 30 RBIs, 34 Runs, .430 OBP
After joining Tampa Bay in 2009 in the swap for Edwin Jackson, Matt Joyce became a utility outfielder. When he only played 11 games in 2009 and 77 in 2010, it appeared that his fate was set. Then Manny Ramirez tested positive for performance enhancing drugs (again) and opened the door for more playing time.
Joyce took advantage.
He has a great month of April, but really turned it on in May.
He hit .414 with seven home runs over the course of the month. With the absence of Evan Longoria, Joyce has stepped in to become a great middle-of-the-lineup bat for the Rays.
Joyce is still only 26 years old, so he has some room to grow. His ceiling is still undetermined, and we can't be sure if he will keep up elite numbers for the rest of the season. However, if he does, this would just be another great move by the Rays management to keep their low-budget team in contention.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
6-2, 2.42 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 66 Ks
When you think of dominating pitching in Seattle, you think of one name: Felix Hernandez. However, so far this year the King has been out-pitched by 21-year-old Michael Pineda.
Pineda has been downright nasty for the first two months of the season.
Most runs he has allowed in one game? Four against the Rangers.
Most walks he has allowed in one game? Five against the Yankees this past Friday. Even though it was his season high, he had allowed only two over his past four starts before that.
Pineda has had no issues striking hitters out either. His lowest total in one game was four, in his first start of the season. Since then he has had three nine-strikeout games and 62 Ks total.
As long as the Mariners protect their young arm, which they have proven they can with Felix, their pitching staff is going to be looking fantastic over the next few years.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
.296 AVG, 10 HRs, 36 RBIs, 35 Runs, 7 SBs
The Cleveland Indians have been one of the biggest surprises of the young season. Leading the charge is their young shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. He has been consistently contributing offensively in five categories for the Indians.
Cabrera has been a decent hitter for the Indians in his short career with a .286 career average. The rest of his numbers this year are not even close to his other averages.
The most home runs he has hit in one season was six through 131 games. Cabrera has apparently found his power stroke as he is on pace for 31 home runs. Now I don't believe that he will reach that number, but even hitting 20 is a huge upgrade from what they were getting from him.
His speed numbers are even up as he has averaged nine steals a year over the past three seasons. So far he has swiped seven without being caught.
It appears that the Indians have a bright future with their young talent, and Cabrera is prepared to lead the way.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
7-1, 1.51 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 38 Ks, 11 BBs
Jair Jurrjens has spent three full seasons in the MLB and has been the picture of inconsistency.
In his first full season, he was a decent 13-10 with a 3.68 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP. Then in 2009 he appeared to break out with a fantastic season with a 2.60 ERA and 1.21 WHIP.
It looked like the Braves had found themselves another gem to add to their staff.
In 2010, Jurrjens suffered a rash of injuries that limited him to only 20 starts and his ERA and WHIP fell to 4.64 and 1.39 respectively.
Just like that, Jair's 2009 campaign was forgotten by most. Now healthy, it appears he is back to his '09 form.
He has only allowed 11 walks over nine starts. Those are incredible numbers.
Jurrjens isn't completely shutdown. He allows his fair share of hits, but more importantly he doesn't hurt himself. You will have to beat him to score runs, which is a quality that more teams wish their pitchers had.
We have a few more months to go before we decide which Jair Jurrjens is the real deal, but for now, Braves' fans can enjoy their talented young pitching staff.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
.322 AVG, 9 HRs, 35 RBIs, 29 Runs, .401 OBP
Another Florida Marlin making his way onto the breakout list. Gaby Sanchez has found his stroke playing first base for the young Marlins. Sanchez put in his first full season last year putting up solid numbers (.273 AVG, 19 HRs, 85 RBIs).
Sanchez has found his power stroke as he has already launched nine homers on the season. He is currently on pace for 27 long balls, which is perfectly attainable.
Even with Hanley Ramirez's offense disappearing, Sanchez has been able to find quality pitches to hit.
This could be just the start for Sanchez. He probably won't develop into a 40 home run threat anytime soon, but there are not many left in the post-steroid era.
If the Marlins would spend a little money and hang onto some of this young talent they have, the future may be a little brighter in sunny Florida.
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
6-2, 2.80 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 67 Ks
Shaun Marcum is one of my favorite "hidden gems" in baseball.
He quietly put up solid numbers in the brutally tough AL East for his three full years in Toronto. He averaged 11 wins, 3.73 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 137 strike outs. Those are more than respectable numbers considering the lineups he was facing.
Marcum did miss all of 2009 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2008. He has clearly bounced back and finally escaped the dangers of the American League for the more manageable NL Central.
Zack Greinke was touted as the big signing for the Brewers this off season, but he has been out pitched by the stealthy Marcum.
Marcum has shown the potential to become a dominant pitcher. His success may be contributed mostly to his move to the NL Central, but regardless he has become one of the big breakout candidates of 2011.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
15 Saves (19 SVOs), 3.00 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 40 Ks
Closer is the most volatile position in baseball.
It is amazing how many closers have gone from being one of the best in the league to being a middle reliever in another bullpen the next year. It is one of the reasons that guys like Mariano Rivera are so amazing.
Rookie reliever Craig Kimbrel was able to take over the closer role for the Atlanta Braves this season. He hasn't been perfect, blowing four saves so far, but he is still third in the league in completed chances.
He also leads all closers in strikeouts with 40. Kimbrel has shown that he has the dominating stuff to be that late inning, shutdown guy teams want.
We have seen how crucial it is for closers, and pitchers in general, to be in control mentally and emotionally on the mound in order to be successful. Kimbrel has been able to handle that stress so far as at the young age of 23.
The Braves have a chance to make the playoffs this year, so it will be interesting to see if Kimbrel can hold up for the rest of the season. If so, hopefully he will be able to show more consistency for the rest of his career than the rest of his peers have.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
.312 AVG, 13 HRs, 40 RBIs, 34 Runs, 14 SBs
This is what we have been waiting for with Matt Kemp.
Kemp had shown a ton of promise and potential thus far in his young career but has struggled to reach it. We've seen flashes and glimpses, but the consistency that fantasy owners and Dodger fans have been looking for has yet to be seen.
Kemp's talents first showed in 2007 when he had 292 ABs and hit .342 with 10 HRs and 10 SBs.
Again improving in 2008 and in 2009 Kemp just missed a 30-30 season (26 HRs, 35 SBs).
Then in his first 162 game season, Kemp regressed. His average dipped almost .50 points and his steals were almost cut in half. The power was still there as he hit a career high 28 homers, but the season went to show that maybe he wasn't ready to put it all together.
Kemp has been on an absolute tear over the first two months of the season. He has contributed in all five categories and been one of the few bright spots on the Dodgers roster.
He is currently on pace for a monster 37 HR, 40 SB season and in the early discussion for NL MVP.
Is 40-40 out of the question? I believe so. I'm not sure Kemp has the consistent power to hit 40 homers. However, 30-30 is certainly in reach and is an elite statistical group.
After last season's regression, I believe Dodger's fans can enjoy a sigh of relief. Matt Kemp has arrived.