MLB: Picking the Early Breakout Stars of the American League Central

Chris Schad@@crishadContributor IIIApril 13, 2013

MLB: Picking the Early Breakout Stars of the American League Central

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    April is a tricky month to figure out the game of baseball. Usually, fields are thawing from the absurd amount of snow they've received while the players have the same time trying to live up to their offseason hype.

    In the American League Central, that comparison is accurate to what's going on in the division.

    Behind the Detroit Tigers, who are the heavy favorite to win the division, the other teams in the central have spent time trying to figure out who they are.

    That has led to some players coming out of nowhere to carry their teams to unexpected starts. It also has seen some highly regarded veterans showing that their best is yet to come.

    Here are some players who have turned themselves into household names during the first two weeks of the season.

Minnesota Twins: IF Eduardo Escobar

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    The Twins are expected to be the doormat of the AL Central but have found themselves hovering around the .500 mark for a majority of the first two weeks.

    A lot of that has had to do with the presence of utility infielder Eduardo Escobar.

    A relative unknown when spring training began, Escobar forced his way onto the Twins roster and has performed to the point where he will stick around.

    In six games, Escobar has hit .545/.545/.909 with a home run and five runs batted in, highlighted by a walk-off double on April 2 against the Tigers.

    Escobar is clearly living the dream, but can it continue throughout the 2013 season? It's doubtful. 

    The 24-year-old Venezuelan is a career .242 hitter in the major leagues and only hit .227 in 14 games with the Twins a season ago.

    While his versatility is great for a team that has struggled to find a consistent double-play combo for the past decade, Escobar is not the next great Twin in waiting.

Chicago White Sox: RP Addison Reed

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    When it comes to winning the division, the team at the top will need a strong closer. It's the reason why the Tigers started re-thinking their closer-by-committee approach and re-signed Jose Valverde to a minor league deal.

    There has been a great amount of turnover at the closer position throughout the division over the past couple seasons, but the White Sox have a long-term answer in Addison Reed.

    Reed has already racked up three saves on the season and has done so in dominating fashion. Over his first four appearances, he has yet to allow an earned run and has given up one hit to go with a couple of walks.

    After a 29-save rookie season, Reed has learned from his mistakes and appears to be ready to lock down the spot for the next several seasons.

    With Reed's being 24-years-old, the Sox have a reason to be optimistic when carrying close leads into the ninth inning.

Kansas City Royals: RP Kelvin Herrera

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    It appears that the White Sox aren't the only ones thinking they have a long-term answer at closer.

    Entering the season, the Kansas City Royals were hoping that Greg Holland could turn his brilliant second-half performance into a breakout 2013 campaign.

    That hasn't been the case in the early part of the season, as he's registered a 3.66 WHIP over four appearances, so manager Ned Yost has turned the back end of the bullpen into a royal rumble thanks to Kelvin Herrera's dominating performance.

    Herrera put up solid numbers in 2012 but was taking a back seat to Holland because nothing was wrong with the closer position at the time. This season, he's taken a step forward with 10 strikeouts and a 0.69 WHIP in five games (4.1 innings).

    The closer job in Kansas City is still leaning toward Holland, but if he keeps mimicking a tight-rope act in the ninth inning, Herrera will take over and slam the door for a talented Royals team.

Cleveland Indians: SP Justin Masterson

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    The Cleveland Indians are a tough team to pick a breakout star for because they haven't met their expectations.

    This was supposed to be an improved team after the signings of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourne, but the team has floundered to a 4-5 start.

    With several players struggling, the breakout star is Justin Masterson by default.

    I've thought highly of Masterson's talents for about a year now, but when it seems he's on the verge of breaking out, he turns into a walk machine.

    The beginning of this year has been no different, as Masterson has walked seven batters in 13 innings. However, he's been effectively wild, as he's given up five hits and teams haven't found another way to get on base against the 28-year-old righty.

    The Indians need somebody to take ownership to the top spot of the rotation, and 2013 will be the year that Masterson finally does it.

Detroit Tigers: CF Austin Jackson

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    It's a tough time picking who's breaking out on the Detroit Tigers as well. Because the team is so established, many of their impact talents have already broken out and are expected contributors.

    When it comes to Austin Jackson, however, he is just scratching the surface.

    The 26-year-old center fielder has gotten off to a fast start, hitting .370/.431/.391 in the Tigers' first 10 games. He's also been setting the table for their potent lineup by scoring 13 runs despite stealing only one base in the first two weeks.

    The argument for Jackson to keep getting better is a good one. Not only is he a young talent about to enter the prime of his career, but he also has professionals around him and one of the greatest defensive center fielders of all time in Torii Hunter as his mentor playing in right field.

    No matter how slow the Tigers get out of the gate in April, they'll still have a stranglehold as the favorites to win the AL Central.

    Jackson has the potential to turn that stranglehold into a death grip.