MLB Players Who Will Blossom into Superstars in 2015
This is one exclusive club. Simply put, there just aren't that many big leaguers who earn the title of MLB superstar.
Players like Clayton Kershaw and Miguel Cabrera easily fit the bill, and each season, a host of rising stars aim to join the ranks. "Superstar" is a tricky term to define. For the purposes of this list, the idea is to find five big leaguers on the verge of joining that stratosphere.
The first requirement is that all the players on the slides that follow must have actually appeared in a big league game. The minors are flooded with highly talented players, but it's not fair to put them in the superstar conversation before they've actually stepped onto a major league diamond.
The second requirement is that none of the players who crack this list can be too established in the majors. The idea is to avoid including players who have already broken out. Think Anthony Rendon of the Washington Nationals, who is entering just his third season, but who earned an All-Star nod in 2014 and landed No. 5 in National League MVP award balloting. As a cutoff, any player who has already appeared in an All-Star Game is ineligible.
As a result, the five players on this list have all enjoyed some success in the major leagues, but they have yet to establish themselves as All-Star-caliber contributors. Thanks to the way these players performed in 2014 and how they have stepped up this spring, all five have the ability to take off in the upcoming campaign.
In the process of putting together this list, an array of emerging stars were taken into consideration. Here are a few of the big leaguers who just missed the cut:
- Gerrit Cole, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
- Kevin Gausman, SP, Baltimore Orioles
- Marcell Ozuna, CF, Miami Marlins
Taijuan Walker, SP, Seattle Mariners
Taijuan Walker has been flat-out nasty this spring.
The right-handed starter has yet to give up a single run in five spring outings. In 18 innings of Cactus League work, Walker has allowed just six hits while punching out 19 batters.
“He’s done okay,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, per Barry Svrluga of The Washington Post, in the understatement of the spring. As Svrluga points out, the skipper is just trying to limit the hype and expectations surrounding the 22-year-old.
The way he's been pitching this spring, Walker is finally ready to live up to the buzz he's generated ever since the Seattle Mariners snagged him in the first round of the 2010 MLB draft.
Jorge Soler, RF, Chicago Cubs
Jorge Soler has stupid power.
Just watch him swing the bat a single time—it's impossible not to notice. Last summer, the Cuban appeared in only 24 games, but he racked up the extra bases, totaling five home runs, eight doubles and a triple. That worked out to a .573 slugging percentage in an admittedly small sample size.
This spring, he's gone yard three times and has earned some lofty praise from Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon.
“He’s like Vladimir [Guerrero] with plate discipline,” Maddon said, per Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. It's an apt comparison from Maddon because, like Guerrero, Soler has a swing that can best be described as "violent."
In right field, he also has a cannon. According to Wittenmyer, Maddon dubbed the 23-year-old's arm the strongest among all the team's outfielders.
Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
It's extremely rare to find game-changers at second base.
Kolten Wong has the skill set to break that trend. There just aren't that many players who have the ability to impact the game in the field, at the plate and on the bases the way Wong does.
Last season, Wong demonstrated impressive range on defense, swatted 12 home runs in 113 contests and also swiped 20 bases. The left-handed hitter also exhibited plenty of pop in the postseason, as he connected on three home runs and three doubles in October for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Sonny Gray, SP, Oakland Athletics
Set to make his second consecutive Opening Day start, Sonny Gray is the undisputed ace of the Oakland Athletics staff.
“He doesn’t look like a veteran, but he is,” manager Bob Melvin explained, per Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. “For a guy who sat back and did his thing and performed, pitched like a veteran from the moment he was here, now he’s actually taking on a little more of that role, as he should.”
The numbers have been impressive for Gray ever since he landed at O.co Coliseum back in the summer of 2013. In 45 career outings, the 25-year-old owns a 2.99 ERA. Armed with one of the filthiest curveballs in the American League, Gray is on track to establish himself as one of the premier starters in the circuit.
Mookie Betts, CF, Boston Red Sox
Mookie Betts didn't need a lot of time to adjust to the big leagues.
Last season, after torching the minor leagues, the right-handed hitter went on to post an .812 OPS in a 52-game stint with the Boston Red Sox.
The 22-year-old, who is slated to start in center and bat leadoff, has been putting up video-game numbers this spring. In 13 Grapefruit League contests, Betts checks in with a .452 average and a .923 slugging percentage thanks to his seven doubles, two triples and two home runs.
With his ability to do damage at the plate, cause problems on the basepaths and cover all sorts of ground in the outfield, Betts is on his way to becoming one of the most dynamic young players in the majors.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.