It is one of the most interesting occurrences in sports—the breakout year. This is the time when the eight point-per-game forward turns into an offensive force. This is when your backup running back becomes a touchdown machine.
In baseball, this is when the bottom-of-the-order lineup filler becomes one of the most valuable players on the team. It is very hard to predict when or to whom these years will happen, but it can be done.
Here, I'll take my best crack at it. For each MLB team, I've identified a position player or pitcher poised to have a breakout year in 2012.
The powerful first baseman for the Diamondbacks, Goldschmidt gave fans a glimpse of what he is capable of in his rookie year in 2011. His eight home runs in 48 games showed that he is capable of some serious power numbers, but that is contingent upon one thing—plate discipline.
Goldschmidt struck out in 29.9 percent of his plate appearances, compared to 11.3 percent walks. If he can raise the latter number and lower the former, his value will increase dramatically.
What to expect: .255 BA, .375 OBP, 30 HR, 100 RBI
Just one of Atlanta's many stellar pitching prospects, the 21-year-old Vizcaino looks to have all the tools necessary to be a successful major league pitcher as soon as next season. He certainly won't start 30 games for the Braves, but expect Vizcaino to have 15 or 20 as his young arm is eased into a starter's workload.
The challenge for him will be his command. In the minors, he regularly posted K/BB ratios of three and above. However, in 17 appearances in 2011, Vizcaino's ratio was a pedestrian 1.89. But with a 96 mph fastball, his development should be fun to watch.
What to expect: 8-3, 3.00 ERA, 110 IP, 100 K, 35 BB
Has he already broken out? The Orioles' stud catcher had a great year in 2011, but his .262/22/68 line was only a glimpse of his potential.
He cut down dramatically on his strikeouts last year and started to show some impressive gap and home run power. He also was a bit unlucky on batted balls (.276 BABIP, below MLB average).
If he can continue to hit the ball hard, get some balls to bounce his way and continue playing solid defense, Wieters could establish himself as one of baseball's top backstops.
What to expect: .275 BA, 25 HR, 85 RBI, 60 XBH
WHOA NOW. Carl Crawford is 30 years old. How can this be a breakout year for him?
Well, my friends, the 2012 season could see not just a return to form for CC, but also some career highs. The left fielder's struggles were well-documented last year, but Crawford finished 2011 much stronger than he started it, and he did prove that his massive contract isn't all going down the drain.
You can count on Crawford to raise his walk rate and lower his strikeout rate, and he will almost certainly continue to provide excellent defense and speed.
What to expect: .275 BA, .350 OBP, 18 HR, 75 RBI, 40 steals, 95 runs
Want a singles-hitting, slick-fielding, quick-running outfielder? Look no further than Chicago's Tony Campana, who provided the occasional spark to the Cubs in an otherwise putrid 2011 season.
The 25-year-old will start to adjust to major league pitching, bringing his K/BB ratio up from a sorry 0.27 in 2011. If given the chance to start, Campana could become an on-base machine in the mold of Brian Roberts.
What to expect: .260 BA, .335 OBP, 3 HR, 50 RBI, 30 XBH, 35 steals
In what will surely be a rebuilding year on the South Side, White Sox fans can turn to their big rookie slugger, Dayan Viciedo. He will be 23 by Opening Day, and chances are he will be hitting towards the middle of Chicago's lineup.
He still has to do some adjusting to MLB breaking pitches (negative values against slider and curveball), but his power is unquestioned.
What to expect: .270 BA, .340 OBP, 25 HR, 90 RBI, 25 doubles
In a nutshell, Drew Stubbs is Cincinnati's B.J. Upton—a rangy, strikeout-prone, ultra-talented outfielder who has yet to live up to his potential.
Can 2012 be the year that Stubbs puts it all together? I think so.
Stubbs has never been a pure contact hitter, and has had one professional season with an average above .300. But he can definitely improve on his career-worst 30.1 percent strikeout rate and his ability to get the bat on the ball, especially in the strike zone.
Stubbs has game-changing speed, so the equation is simple. Put more balls in play, and he will get on base more.
What to expect: .270 BA, .350 OBP, 25 HR, 90 RBI, 45 steals
Let's put this one out there: I am madly in love with Lonnie Chisenhall's swing. It is fluid, compact and baseball's equivalent of watching a Victoria's Secret model walk down a runway.
But the Indians' third baseman has much to learn, especially when it comes to plate discipline. He did more hacking in 2011 than a British tabloid, but that should calm down in the coming year.
Given a full season, expect him to adjust to MLB pitching and cut down on his strikeouts, put more balls in play and use that beautiful swing to put up some nice numbers.
What to expect: .290 BA, 15 HR, 75 RBI, 30 doubles, 0.50 BB/K
The centerpiece of the Ubaldo Jimenez deal, lefty Drew Pomeranz gave a brief glimpse of his potential at the end of the 2011 season. In four starts, he established the fact that he has a great, moving fastball that he can command extremely well. That is usually a great starting point for a pitcher.
As always, his numbers were slightly inflated because of his environment, but expect Pomeranz to become one of those rare Rockies' pitchers who conquers Coors Field.
What to expect: 20 starts, 115 IP, 9-6, 3.40 ERA, 2.80 K/BB
Make no mistake— Doug Fister will not be as dominant in 2012 as he was down the stretch this season. However, that doesn't disqualify him from having a breakout season next year.
The righty didn't do anything extraordinarily well last year, a great sign that he can continue his success in the future. The difference last year was Fister's fastball, which grew in run value from 8.7 to 23.6.
Expect a great season in 2012.
What to expect: 30 starts, 220 IP, 15-7, 3.10 ERA, 160 K
It's hard to find a bright spot on the Astros, thus making it tough to predict who will become a bright spot. But if statistics are any indication (hint: they are), Matt Downs might be heading for a productive couple of seasons.
The 27-year-old infielder hit 10 home runs with a .276 average in just over 200 at-bats. His strikeouts were up, so their regression could mean an even more productive year for him.
What to expect: 400 AB, .280 BA, 12 HR, 50 RBI, 15 steals
There is plenty of excitement to be had in the Show Me State. While the Cardinals defend their World Series title in the eastern part, the Kansas City Royals are rolling out their next line of future All Star players.
This year, we could see the rise of Mike Moustakas, the Evan Longorian third baseman for the Royals.
Moose's huge late-season improvement in 2011 showed that he is growing quickly as a hitter. Look for his on-base numbers to jump in a full season.
What to expect: .275 BA, .340 OBP, 20 HR, 85 RBI, 25 doubles
What is it with fish-themed baseball players and the Angels? A decade after Tim Salmon graced the outfield for the Angels, young Mike Trout will assume the role of the future of the organization.
The 20-year-old actually could have done much better in 2011 if not for a BABIP 50 points below the league average. He hits line drives at a prolific rate, and showed an advanced level of pitch recognition.
2012 could be a truly special year for Trout.
What to expect: 450 AB, .285 BA, .350 OBP, 18 HR, 75 RBI, 30 steals
Now that Clayton Kershaw has his Cy Young, the Dodgers will turn to some of their newer, younger arms to start stepping up to support the clear-cut ace of the team.
One pitcher likely to do so is 21-year-old Nathan Eovaldi, a righty who struggled with command in his limited time in the majors in 2011. However, he was likely simply going through growing pains adjusting to major league hitters.
If he can improve on his 1.15 K/BB and 25.5 percent line drive rate, Eovaldi's great repertoire of pitches could prove to be very effective.
What to expect: 20 starts, 125 IP, 8-6, 3.25 ERA, 110 K, 50 BB
Again, one might qualify Stanton's 2011 season as a breakout performance. But if you look closely, Stanton still has plenty of room to grow, and that is just downright scary.
The 22-year-old middle linebacker—er, outfielder—has always been a chronic whiffer, and 2011 was a down year for him in terms of swinging and missing. He also rolled over many pitches, causing a low line drive rate and high ground ball rate.
Some slight swing adjustments could turn Stanton from a good power hitter to one of the game's most complete players.
What to expect: .270 BA, .365 OBP, 40 HR, 115 RBI, 35 doubles, 10 steals
Milwaukee has a pretty complete team full of guys who have, for the most part, already broken out. But there may be a hidden gem in Milwaukee's bullpen by the name of Tim Dillard.
At 28, he is no blue-chip prospect. He is a junk-balling sidearmer, whose stuff compares favorably with Tampa Bay's J.P. Howell (remember, the guy who always got David Ortiz out in 2008?), which is precisely why I see him as a potential breakout candidate.
Dillard had a 4.08 ERA in '11, but also had a 2.82 xFIP. If he keeps pitching well, luck will move in his favor and he could become a very reliable late-inning lefty specialist.
What to expect: 50 appearances, 3-1, 2.75 ERA, 40 K, 10 BB, 10 Holds
By the end of 2012, almost 250 years after Paul Revere rode through New England, America will see another Revere running all over the Americas. This time, however, he will be a ballplayer from Minnesota.
Ben Revere showed all the signs of becoming a terrific leadoff-type hitter in 2011, and made great strides in developing.
His improved pitch recognition, strikeout avoidance and ability to hit line drives will only cause more improvement for the young outfielder.
What to expect: .310 BA, .370 OBP, 2 HR, 50 RBI, 50 steals, potential Gold Glove
Hit by the injury bug in 2011, New York's favorite Ike will come back in 2012 with a vengeance, making up for lost time.
A year after he hit 19 home runs and drove in 71 in a stellar rookie campaign, Davis played only 36 games in 2011. He showed much of the same potential that he had the year before—good plate discipline, a slight strikeout problem and a great ability to create run-scoring opportunities.
If the Mets can keep him healthy all year, he could really become a stud.
What to expect: .285 BA, .370 OBP, 23 HR, 90 RBI, 80 walks, 38 doubles
I'm not saying that Jesus Montero is going to realize his Frank Thomas-like potential in 2012, but there will definitely be a step forward for the young Yankee. He showed an advanced ability to recognize and deal with offspeed offerings, and was hitting line drives at a prolific rate in his limited exposure in 2011.
He will be able to cut down on his strikeouts, which were high in '11. He's got all the talent in the world, and the world might have to accept it soon.
What to expect: .280 BA, .370 OBP, 25 HR, 90 RBI, 30 doubles
Oakland fans, get ready for the next big thing. I'm calling it now: Fautino de Los Santos will be a force to be reckoned with out of the bullpen in 2012.
So why do I think a 25-year-old with a 4.32 ERA last year can become dominant? For one, he had a 3.26 xFIP, a sign that he wasn't being helped by defense. Second, his K/BB rate was lower than usual and it was still 2.7, meaning anything higher would be quite good. Finally, he has three pitches, two of which had positive values. His slider's value was only -0.3.
I see improvements coming across the board for De Los Santos, and a potential role as a shutdown reliever.
What to expect: 60 appearances, 3-1, 2.80 ERA, 70 K, 25 BB
Like De Los Santos (see previous slide), Schwimer showed signs of potential dominance despite a shaky showing in 2011. In 14 appearances, he registered an ERA of over 5.00, but his xFIP was 3.87. His BABIP was off-the-charts high, so that will regress towards league average.
What does all this stat-speak mean? In short, the only direction for him to go is up—very far up. It will take a slight improvement in fastball command, but Schwimer can be a great workhorse reliever for the Phils.
What to expect: 45 appearances, 2-2, 3.10 ERA, 60 K, 18 BB
For a team full of young talent, it may be surprising that an underperforming prospect may end up becoming a breakout star in 2012. Jose Tabata, a once-promising 23-year-old outfielder, has been less-than-stellar in his time in professional baseball.
But this past season, Tabata showed signs that he can become a well-rounded player. His plate discipline improved, and though his power numbers were down from what one would expect, he was still doing a good job hitting line drives.
If his development as a hitter continues, he could end up becoming a valuable asset for the up-and-coming Pirates organization. He could be Pittsburgh's Andres Torres.
What to expect: .275 BA, 15 HR, 70 RBI, 25 steals, 25 doubles
While Adrian Gonzalez has continued to be a masher in Boston, San Diego has been struggling mightily to replace his production. One of the main sources of that production was supposed to be Anthony Rizzo, a first baseman who was acquired in that trade. However, Rizzo failed to produce in 2011, at least in the majors.
He hit .331 with 26 home runs and 101 RBI in the minors, though. It was clear that Rizzo had problems adjusting to MLB pitching, striking out in 30.1 percent of his at-bats and whiffing at over 14 percent of all pitches.
Once those numbers level off, though, we should see some of the promise that Rizzo has shown.
What to expect: .270 BA, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 25 doubles, 10 steals
The slick-fielding on-base machine for the Giants, Brandon Belt only was able to do one of those two in 2011.
Belt didn't quite show what San Francisco saw in him on offense last year, but if trends mean anything, Belt's return to averages will cause a great spike in production next year. He had an OBP of over .400 in 2010 and over .450 in the minors in 2011, so that is a promising sign.
If he can take some more walks, Belt should be a huge offensive presence for the Giants.
What to expect: .280 BA, .400 OBP, 15 HR, 85 RBI,
In just 90 games, the former UNC Tar Heel and current M's second baseman showed that he is ready to become the top-of-the-lineup threat that everyone in Seattle had hoped he'd become. Ackley struck out more than is typical for him, but that can be expected for anyone breaking into the league.
Aside from that, he showed advanced plate discipline and pitch recognition and displayed excellent gap power. It will be exciting—scary, almost—to see what he can do with a full season.
What to expect: .300 BA, .400 OBP, 15 HR, 70 RBI, 35 doubles, 10 steals
Scrabble, as St. Louis lefty Marc Rzepczynski shall forever be known, might just make a name for himself on the basis of something besides his name. In the playoffs, the nation got a glimpse of the excellent job he can do out of the bullpen, most notably for a devastating slider.
With what should be an increased role in 2012, the timing is right for Rzepczynski to rise from a novelty to a truly valuable reliever as the Cardinals look to repeat.
What to expect: 70 games, 75 IP, 3-3, 2.60 ERA, 65 K, 25 BB
The conveyor belt of excellent starting pitching that is the Tampa Bay Rays may have churned out its finest product yet. Matt Moore, the super-talented lefty, burst onto the scene late in 2011, dominating major league hitters in his limited time in the bigs.
Faced with what will likely be a starting spot in the rotation, Moore's innings will be capped, but his potential will not. If he can continue to mow down hitters like he was doing late last year, the Rays could have something very special.
What to expect: 24 starts, 150 IP, 11-8, 2.75 ERA, 140 K, 55 BB
When Ron Washington repeatedly went to Scott Feldman in crucial situations in the playoffs, one thing came to my head: he really likes this guy.
Feldman, a 28-year-old righty, had a so-so campaign in 2011, posting a 3.99 ERA in 32 innings for the AL Champions. But he started to induce more and more ground balls, perhaps showing that he can become a valued late-innings out guy to get to the combination of Mike Adams and Neftali Feliz.
Expect Feldman to be used extensively in 2012.
What to expect: 60 games, 5 starts, 80 IP, 5-2, 3.10 ERA, 60 K, 25 BB
If you're a Toronto fan, you probably went gaga over what Lawrie did in just 43 games in the majors last year.
If you don't know, the third baseman absolutely raked, hitting .293 with nine home runs and 25 RBI in that short stint.
Next year, he will be fully healthy, and if he can turn some of his infield pop-ups (13.2 percent) into line drives, the Blue Jays could instantly be the owners of one of baseball's best all-around third basemen.
What to expect: .285 BA, .350 OBP, 25 HR, 90 RBI, 30 doubles, 20 steals
Although it is entirely possible and actually quite likely that Bryce Harper will start 2012 in the minors, chances are that he will not remain there for long. Between the needs of the big league club and the growing demands of the fans, Harper will play in the majors in 2012 for a significant amount of time.
Is he ready? Well, there's nothing to say he isn't.
Harper struggled slightly in AA, but he had the same swing, same ability to get on base and same awe-inspiring power. That should all translate just fine to the majors.
What to expect: 400 AB, .270 BA, .330 OBP, 15 HR, 60 RBI, 15 steals, 20 doubles