The 2016 MLB All-Breakout Team with 1 Month to Go
It feels like it was only a few weeks ago that we were talking about potential breakout stars for the 2016 MLB season. Turns out that was a few months ago—and with only one month of regular-season action left, we've got a pretty good idea as to who the season's surprise studs are.
Our goal here is to answer one simple question: What would a team comprised of only breakout stars look like? Much of the decision-making was left to a player's individual numbers. How far above his previous career norms he's playing was a big factor, but expectations and reputation played a part as well.
The Pittsburgh Pirates' Gregory Polanco holds down right field on our All-Breakout squad. Who else made the cut? Let's take a look.
Catcher: Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals
Back in late March, as spring training was starting to wind down, the Nationals' Wilson Ramos couldn't stop singing the praises of Lasik eye surgery to the Washington Post's James Wagner.
I can see the difference now. I can recognize the pitch well and not swing at bad pitches. That make [me] feel comfortable and excited because before I was swinging at everything, balls or strikes. I was feeling very mad sometimes because I’d say, ‘That’s a very bad pitch. Why am I swinging?’ Now I feel more comfortable at the plate. I know it’s [seven] games after surgery but I can see the difference. I feel more comfortable.
The comfort is evident in his numbers.
Hitting .316 with 40 extra-base hits (19 home runs) and 67 RBI, he's not only been baseball's most productive catcher this season, but also one of the game's most consistent run producers, regardless of position. He's walking more, striking out less and set himself up for a huge payday this coming offseason.
Don't gloss over that last part. Washington manager Dusty Baker isn't.
“Just the fact that he’s not worried about free agency. … That’s what has really impressed me the most," Baker told MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr back in June. "I haven’t seen him put any pressure on himself about being a free agent. I’ve heard other guys in the past here put a bunch of pressure on themselves and then it ends up backfiring on them.”
Honorable Mention: J.T. Realmuto (MIA)
First Base: Wil Myers, San Diego Padres
Aside from appearing in this year's All-Star Game, what do Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, Wil Myers and Mike Trout have in common? They're the only four players (so far) who have put together 20-20 seasons.
To see Myers in that group is sure to come as a surprise to some, considering that he swiped only 16 bases in 235 big league games heading into Opening Day and had never stolen more than 12 in a season over parts of seven years in the minors.
Not only is the 25-year-old causing problems for the opposition when he gets on base, but he's also causing issues whenever he steps to the plate.
Myers' next home run, No. 24 on the year, will give him the team lead over Matt Kemp, who was sent to the Atlanta Braves at the non-waiver trade deadline. He leads the Padres in extra-base hits (49), total bases (222), RBI (72), runs scored (81) and is second in OPS (.817).
"He's a guy that can impact the game, can change the game, and those are the kind of guys we're trying to get here long-term," Padres general manager A.J. Preller told Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune back in July.
While he's struggled since the All-Star break, Myers has played his way onto our All-Breakout Team. It's going to take more than a few bad weeks to knock him out of the starting lineup.
Honorable Mention: None
Second Base: Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals
Heading into play Wednesday, 28-year-old DJ LeMahieu and 31-year-old Daniel Murphy sit tied for the National League lead in batting average (.344). So why does Murphy get the nod over his younger counterpart? Because LeMahieu's numbers are heavily influenced by Coors Field, where he's hitting .400 with a 1.107 OPS. On the road, he's hitting a respectable but nowhere near as impressive .288 with a .720 OPS.
Besides, what Murphy has done in his first year with Washington can't be ignored. He leads the National League in slugging percentage (.604) and OPS (.993), is second in RBI (90) and has cracked the 20-home run plateau for the first time in his career.
"Having Murph, he is a wizard for us,” Bryce Harper told reporters at the All-Star interview session, per the New York Post's Kevin Kernan. “To watch him every single day, his routine, the mentality that he has in every at-bat. He’s unbelievable. I look forward to what he has in store for us for the second half, and if he can do anything that he did in the first half, he’s the MVP in my mind.”
Murphy has been even better in the second half of the season than he was in the first, hitting .343 with a 1.054 OPS over 29 games.
Honorable Mention: DJ LeMahieu (COL)
Third Base: Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians
Sunday found the Cleveland Indians trailing the Toronto Blue Jays 2-1 with one on and two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. By the time the game's final frame rolled around, the Indians had jumped out to a 3-2 lead courtesy of a 401-foot, two-run homer off the bat of third baseman Jose Ramirez.
"Right now, there's probably nobody else I'd rather have up there in that situation," Indians ace Corey Kluber told reporters after the game, per Fox Sports' Kevin Berger.
It's been that kind of season for Ramirez, who began his career as a nondescript utility player for the Tribe but was thrust into regular playing time this season in both left field with Michael Brantley's injury and at third base with the since-released Juan Uribe's lack of production.
While the Detroit Tigers' Nick Castellanos and the Arizona Diamondbacks' Jake Lamb have more impressive counting numbers, it's Ramirez who has been the most consistent threat among our group of breakout candidates, hitting .305 with an .812 OPS on the season. He's raised his game in the second half, hitting .326 with a .902 OPS.
Honorable Mention: Nick Castellanos (DET), Jake Lamb (ARI)
Shortstop: Aledmys Diaz, St. Louis Cardinals
Shortstop is the only position where we can point to five legitimate candidates for the starting spot on our All-Breakout squad: the St. Louis Cardinals' Aledmys Diaz, New York Yankees' Didi Gregorius, Tampa Bay Rays' Brad Miller, Colorado Rockies' Trevor Story and Milwaukee Brewers' Jonathan Villar.
But the nod goes to Diaz, who stood out as the best of the bunch before landing on the disabled list with a fractured thumb in early August.
Diaz leads the Cardinals with a .312 batting average and is third on the team in OPS (.898), trailing only Matt Carpenter and Brandon Moss. Among qualified shortstops, Diaz trails only the Los Angeles Dodgers' Corey Seager—the likely NL Rookie of the Year—and the Baltimore Orioles' Manny Machado in adjusted offense, per FanGraphs.
Honorable Mention: Brad Miller (TB), Trevor Story (COL)
Left Field: Adam Duvall, Cincinnati Reds
Acquired in last year's trade that sent Mike Leake to the San Francisco Giants, Adam Duvall flashed his power down the stretch for the Cincinnati Reds in 2015, hitting five home runs in 27 games. But he also hit .219 and struck out 26 times, giving no hint of the player he was about to become.
Duvall still isn't hitting for average (.243), but he is fourth in the NL in home runs (28) and sixth in RBI (82). That power propelled him to his first career All-Star Game appearance in July. He attributes his success to a change he made during the offseason.
“A mental adjustment,” Duvall told John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle back in June. “Staying on the ball a little longer, seeing the ball as long as I can, keeping the swing short and tight, focusing on driving the ball through the gaps and trying to be explosive when I make the decision to swing. Everything after that is out of your control.”
Duvall has been one of the few bright spots in a season the Reds would rather forget, offering hope that he can be a part of the franchise's resurgence.
Honorable Mention: Nomar Mazara (TEX)
Center Field: Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox
It's been some ride for Jackie Bradley Jr., who went from heir apparent to Jacoby Ellsbury in center field at Fenway Park to the Boston Red Sox's latest bust to weak-hitting, defensive-minded outfielder to all-around stud in the span of four years.
It'd be enough to drive weaker individuals out of their minds—or out of the game entirely. But not Bradley.
“The lesson really is for guys not to give up on themselves,” Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis told Sports Illustrated's Ben Reiter back in July. “It would have been easy for Jackie to go to Triple-A and say, ‘Man, I want out. It’s not gonna work here for me. Blah, blah, blah.’ He didn’t. He just kept playing.”
Bradley has posted an impressive .275/.355/.509 triple-slash line to go along with 54 extra-base hits (21 home runs) and 72 RBI while still providing solid defense in center field.
Honorable Mention: None
Right Field: Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates
When Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle decided to let Gregory Polanco play against left-handed pitching, it gave the 24-year-old a new level of confidence in his abilities.
“I feel much more comfortable this year because I’m facing more lefties,” Polanco recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Stephen J. Nesbitt. “The more you face them, the better you get and the better you see them."
Polanco hasn't just improved against southpaws—he's improved, period.
While he's not running as often as he has in the past, Polanco has already set new career bests in home runs (19) and RBI (70) and carries a solid .278/.345/.503 triple-slash line into the stretch run.
Honorable Mention: None
Starting Pitcher: Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers
“He’s making it increasingly difficult to keep his innings down,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press, about the team's plan for stud rookie pitcher Michael Fulmer moving forward.
Difficult? Try impossible.
Fulmer has played the role of savior for the Tigers this season, going 10-4 with an American League-leading 2.58 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and 104 strikeouts over 125.2 innings of work spanning 20 starts. With Jordan Zimmermann battling injuries and inconsistency, Fulmer's emergence has been huge for Detroit.
He's become the team's ace, its stopper and someone the Tigers need on the mound every fifth day if the team has any shot of reaching the playoffs, much less advancing in them. There's not another rookie pitcher in the game you can say that about.
That and his numbers are why Fulmer's breakout might be the biggest of them all.
Honorable Mention: Kyle Hendricks (CHC)
Relief Pitcher: Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays
Alex Colome hasn't just walked through the door that Brad Boxberger's injury opened. The 27-year-old ripped it off its hinges and smashed it to pieces, taking the closer role in Tampa Bay.
Colome has blown only one of his 29 save opportunities on the year, pitching to a 1.83 ERA and 0.99 WHIP with 56 strikeouts over 44.1 innings of relief. His 28 saves rank fourth among AL closers, trailing only Baltimore's Zach Britton, Detroit's Francisco Rodriguez and the Chicago White Sox's David Robertson.
Honorable Mention: Seung-hwan Oh (STL)
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