10 Young Players on the Verge of Becoming MLB Stars

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2016

10 Young Players on the Verge of Becoming MLB Stars

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Established stars give an MLB team a base to build around, put fans in the seats and, more times than not, give the team an identity of sorts.

    However, young players breaking through and becoming stars that often prove to be the difference in whether or not a team emerges as a contender.

    All 30 clubs have at least a handful of promising young players who are either establishing themselves in the majors or trying to make the leap as top prospects.

    Ahead is a look at 10 young players who are on the verge of becoming stars in the league.

Other Potential Breakouts to Watch for in 2016

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    Ketel Marte
    Ketel MarteWinslow Townson/Associated Press

    Position Players

    • 3B Nick Castellanos, DET
    • LF Michael Conforto, NYM
    • SS Francisco Lindor, CLE
    • SS Ketel Marte, SEA
    • 2B Rougned Odor, TEX
    • RF Stephen Piscotty, STL
    • RF Gregory Polanco, PIT
    • C J.T. Realmuto, MIA
    • LF Miguel Sano, MIN
    • C/LF Kyle Schwarber, CHC
    • RF Jorge Soler, CHC

    Pitchers

    • SP Jose Berrios, MIN
    • SP Kevin Gausman, BAL
    • RP Mychal Givens, BAL
    • SP Tyler Glasnow, PIT
    • SP Andrew Heaney, LAA
    • SP Raisel Iglesias, CIN
    • RP Corey Knebel, MIL
    • SP Steven Matz, NYM
    • SP Lance McCullers, HOU
    • SP Joe Ross, WAS
    • SP Taijuan Walker, SEA

RP Silvino Bracho, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    2015 Stats

    LevelGW-LSVERAWHIPBB/9K/9IPWAR
    A+/AA432-1191.600.8881.813.050.2-
    MLB130-011.461.0542.912.412.10.4

    Overview

    No doubt an obscure name to baseball fans who don't closely follow the Arizona Diamondbacks, reliever Silvino Bracho has a chance to become the game's next star reliever.

    The Diamondbacks opted against pursuing a big-name closer this winter, instead deciding to once again go with veteran Brad Ziegler in that role, and a strong late-season debut by Bracho could be part of the reason why.

    The 23-year-old has never seen his name pop up on top prospect lists, as is so often the case with relief pitching prospects, but he's been nothing short of dominant every step of the way through the Arizona system.

    In parts of four minor league seasons, the Venezuela native posted a 1.52 ERA, 0.870 WHIP, 12.8 K/9 and an impressive 8.12 K/BB ratio.

    His combination of command and stuff is rare in a young pitcher, and while he doesn't have elite fastball velocity (92.9 mph, per FanGraphs), he does possess the fastball-slider combination that so often leads to success in the late innings.

    With Ziegler in the final year of his contract, Bracho could secure his place as the closer of the future with a strong full season in a setup role.

C Travis D'Arnaud, New York Mets

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats

    LevelGBA/OBP/SLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    MLB67.268/.340/.485641412413101.7

    Overview

    The R.A. Dickey trade already stings for the Toronto Blue Jays, as right-hander Noah Syndergaard was terrific as a rookie and has the potential to emerge as one of the best starters in the game in years to come.

    It could look an awful lot worse, though, if Travis d'Arnaud, who was also included in the trade, can find a way to stay healthy for an entire season.

    When he has managed to make it onto the field, d'Arnaud has often flashed the tools that made him one of the game's top catching prospects throughout his time in the minors.

    However, a partial tear of his PCL (2012), a fractured foot (2013), a concussion (2014) and a sprained elbow (2015) have cost him significant chunks of each of the past four seasons.

    That coupled with the presence of another promising young catcher on the New York Mets roster in Kevin Plawecki, who could conceivably push for playing time, makes d'Arnaud a risky pick of sorts to breakout.

    However, his 12 home runs in 239 at-bats last season are tough to ignore, and he added three more during the postseason, as he has elite power potential for the position.

    He's also shown an advanced approach at the plate, evidenced by his solid walk rate (8.6 percent) and low strikeout rate (18.3 percent), as he is by no means sacrificing contact for power.

    An .800 OPS and 20-plus home runs are well within reach if he can stay healthy.

3B Maikel Franco, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    2015 Stats

    LevelGBA/OBP/SLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    AAA33.355/.384/.5395012424152-
    MLB80.280/.343/.497852214504511.7

    Overview

    When Maikel Franco followed up a breakout 2013 season in the minors with a disappointing .257/.299/.428 line in a full season for Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2014, there was some concern that he was perhaps not the elite prospect that the Philadelphia Phillies had envisioned.

    However, it's fair to say those concerns have been put to rest after his terrific performance in his first extended taste of big league action.

    Despite tallying just 335 plate appearances, Franco ranked among the Phillies' team leaders in home runs (14, second), RBI (50, tied for second), doubles (22, tied for third) and WAR (1.7, third among position players).

    If not for a fractured left wrist that he suffered on Aug. 11 when he was hit with a pitch, those numbers would have been even better, as he missed all but the final three games of the season.

    Franco is never going to be a standout defender at the hot corner, and the defensive metrics were not kind to him this past season (minus-8 defensive runs saved, minus-17.0 ultimate zone rating per 150 defensive games), but it's his bat that is going to make him a star.

    He will need to adjust to being the focal point of the Phillies offense, as a lack of protection in the middle of the lineup could lead to teams pitching around him.

    There's no question he's a big piece of the Phillies' long-term plans, though, and the potential is there for him to be a perennial 30-homer, 100-RBI threat.

SP Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats

    LevelGSW-LERAWHIPBBKIPWAR
    AA/AAA1810-42.391.0521892109.1-
    MLB136-23.591.197196877.21.9

    Overview

    It will likely be another long season for the Philadelphia Phillies, but there is plenty of reason for hope going forward, andalong with Maikel Francoyoung right-hander Aaron Nola has legitimate star potential.

    The No. 7 pick in the 2014 draft out of LSU, Nola was viewed as one of the more polished arms in the class and was expected to move quickly through the minors.

    He did just that, needing a little over a year and just 164.2 innings of work down on the farm before he made his MLB debut on July 21.

    A couple of shaky outings in September, where he allowed a combined 12 earned runs in nine innings of work, inflated his ERA, but in his other 11 starts, he was 6-1 with a 2.49 ERA and 1.078 WHIP.

    Nola won't turn 23 until June 4, so even as a college pitcher who spent time in the minors, he's still well ahead of the developmental curve at this point.

    He'll likely earn the Opening Day start this season for a young Phillies team, and while the role of staff ace is a big one for someone his age, he should be up to the task.

    "Good arm. Power slider. Power changeup. I think he has a bright future," Yankees veteran Alex Rodriguez said after striking out against him last spring, per Ryan Lawrence of Philly.com"The Phillies should be very excited about him."

    Love him or hate him, Rodriguez has seen a lot of pitchers over the course of his 21-year career, so there's something to those comments.

SP Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox

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    Jennifer Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats

    LevelG/GSW-LERAWHIPBBKIPWAR
    AAA2/21-03.601.20041310.0-
    MLB26/239-63.751.44371139139.11.6

    Overview

    Carlos Rodon was the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft heading into his junior season at North Carolina State, but after missing some time with shoulder issues, he wound up slipping to No. 3 overall, where the Chicago White Sox happily scooped him up.

    He pitched all of 34.1 innings in the minors before making his MLB debut on April 21 last season, and after beginning his career with three relief appearances, he officially joined the rotation on May 9.

    After showing flashes in his first few months as a starter, but often struggling with his command, it all seemed to finally click for Rodon on Aug. 11, when he allowed four hits and one walk while striking out 11 in seven scoreless innings against the Los Angeles Angels.

    That kick-started a fantastic finish to the season, as he went 5-2 with a 1.81 ERA and 1.079 WHIP over his final eight starts.

    Even during that impressive stretch, he was still walking batters at a 3.5 BB/9 clip, and he finished the season with a 4.6 BB/9 walk rate overall, so his control will need to improve if he's going to reach his full potential.

    There's an awful lot to like about the 23-year-old already, and if he can build off of his strong finish to 2015, the White Sox could very well have another lefty ace on their hands to pair with Chris Sale.

SS Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats

    LevelGBA/OBP/SLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    AAA11.318/.326/.4771441971-
    MLB142.242/.307/.3891152913546043.3

    Overview

    When Kris Bryant is crushing home runs off one scoreboard and Kyle Schwarber is landing balls on top of the other, it's easy to overlook just how good Addison Russell was in his rookie season for the Chicago Cubs.

    With a hole to fill at second base, the Cubs threw Russell into the fire on April 21.

    The 21-year-old was playing in his sixth career game at second base when he made his big league debut, but that didn't stop him from playing Gold Glove-caliber defense at the new position (9 DRS, 13.8 UZR/150) while learning on the fly.

    Then he made the full-time move to shortstop, where he figures to be a staple for the next decade, and he graded out even better (10 DRS, 20.4 UZR/150) back at his natural position.

    Those 10 defensive runs saved look great on the surface, but they're even more impressive when you consider he spent just 471.1 total innings at shortstop.

    For perspective, here's how that stacks up on a DRS-per-inning basis last season with shortstop DRS leaders Andrelton Simmons (25), Brandon Crawford (20) and Nick Ahmed (20).

    • Russell: 0.0212
    • Simmons: 0.0195
    • Ahmed: 0.0192
    • Crawford: 0.0167

    Then there's the matter of his offensive game, which quietly came on after the All-Star break when he posted a .744 OPS with 13 doubles and eight home runs.

    A big step forward at the plate could be coming in his sophomore season, and if he can post those kinds of numbers over a full season while playing similar defense, he will be a 5.0-6.0 WAR player.

SS Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats

    LevelGBA/OBP/SLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    AA/AAA125.293/.344/.487147371876814-
    MLB27.337/.425/.5613384171721.8

    Overview

    How weak is the shortstop position in the National League?

    Corey Seager played a grand total of 27 games at the big league level last season, and his 1.8 WAR was tied for eighth at the position.

    He's probably not going to hit .337 over a full season, at least not as a rookie, but Seager should immediately become one of the game's elite offensive shortstops.

    The 21-year-old will likely be the NL Rookie of the Year favorite, and he could wind up making an impact similar to what Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor did in their debuts this past season.

    As for his ceiling, his 2014 numbers in the minors were awfully impressive, as he hit .349/.402/.602 with 50 doubles, 20 home runs and 97 RBI, and he could approach that level of production in his prime.

    For 2016, though, he seems to be the likely No. 2 hitter in a solid Dodgers lineup, and if he can come anywhere close to replicating his 12.4 percent walk rate from last season, he should score plenty of runs.

    As his 6'4" frame continues to fill out, a move to third base could eventually become a necessity, but for now, he projects as an above-average defender at shortstop on top of his offensive game.

SP Luis Severino, New York Yankees

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    Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats

    LevelGSW-LERAWHIPBBKIPWAR
    AA/AAA199-22.450.997279899.1-
    MLB115-32.891.203225662.11.9

    Overview

    In years past, there's a good chance Luis Severino would have been traded away for veteran talent, but with the New York Yankees' newfound commitment to developing in-house talent, it now looks like they may have a homegrown ace on their hands.

    Severino joined the Yankees rotation on Aug. 5 last season, and he didn't miss a beat after dominating Double-A and Triple-A hitters to start the year.

    He tallied eight quality starts in 11 total games, and if you remove one rough outing against the Toronto Blue Jays (2.1 IP, 6 H, 6 ER), he was 5-2 with a 2.10 ERA and 1.100 WHIP in his other 10 starts.

    Perhaps the most impressive start of all came on Sept. 22, when he held that same Blue Jays team to three hits and two earned runs over six innings just 11 days after the shelling.

    That's the kind of progress you love to see from a young pitcher.

    Still just 21 years old, Severino has been arguably the fastest-rising player in the game over the past two years.

    He started the 2014 season in Single-A with just 17.2 innings pitched above the rookie league level, but he simply out-pitched the competition every step of the way to force himself onto the big league roster.

RF George Springer, Houston Astros

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats

    LevelGBA/OBP/SLGH2BHRRBIRSBWAR
    MLB102.276/.367/.45910719164159163.8

    Overview

    George Springer has been teasing future stardom with his mix of power and speed since the Houston Astros selected him No. 11 overall in the 2011 draft.

    In his last full season in the minors in 2013, he hit .303/.411/.600 with 37 home runs, 108 RBI and 45 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A.

    He followed that up with a terrific rookie season, posting an .804 OPS and hitting 20 home runs in 295 at-bats, but his debut ended abruptly when he suffered a quad strain on July 20 and missed the rest of the season.

    Springer again seemed to be on the doorstep of stardom last season when he put together a huge month of June, hitting .321/.387/.518 with six home runs, 12 RBI and 19 runs scored.

    However, the injury bug reared its ugly head once again when he was hit on the hand with a pitch on July 1, costing him the rest of July and August.

    He picked up right where he left off once he returned, hitting .304/.373/.464 over his final 112 at-bats and helping the Astros secure a playoff spot, so it's clear that health is all that's holding him back from a true breakout performance.

    On a team level, the Astros were 57-45 with Springer in the lineup, compared to 29-31 without him, so that speaks to his value as a catalyst.

SP Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

    2015 Stats

    LevelGSW-LERAWHIPBBKIPWAR
    MLB44-01.670.96361827.01.3

    Overview

    Many had Marcus Stroman pegged as a potential breakout star heading into last season, but a torn ACL suffered during spring training seemed like it would end his 2015 campaign before it started.

    Instead, Stroman made a ridiculously fast recovery from the injury, rejoining the Toronto Blue Jays rotation for four brilliant starts down the stretch.

    That was enough to earn him the No. 2 starter spot in the postseason rotation, and he went 1-0 with a 4.19 ERA and 1.345 WHIP over three starts in his first taste of playoff baseball.

    There were serious questions whether the 5'8" right-hander would be able to stick as a starting pitcher coming out of Duke, but that didn't stop the Blue Jays from grabbing him with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2012 draft.

    Stroman keeps hitters off balance with a deep repertoire, as he threw five different pitches at least 10 percent of the time last year, according to FanGraphs.

    His fastball-slider combination is his bread and butter, and if he can turn his changeup into a legitimate third offering, he could take that next step.

    He'll be asked to step up as the ace of the staff now that David Price is gone, and everything about his game—from the power stuff to the bulldog mentality—should serve him well in that role.

    All standard stats and WAR totals courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, while defensive metrics come per FanGraphs.

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