Every MLB Team's Potential Breakout Star in 2020

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2018

Every MLB Team's Potential Breakout Star in 2020

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    Inevitably, the 2018 MLB season will feature breakout performances. 

    Let's gaze further ahead and pose the following query: Who will be the breakout stars of 2020?

    This exercise involves ample guesswork. Even the most talented prospects can develop more slowly than expected or not develop at all.

    Based on age, stats, scouting and a healthy dose of gut feeling, here's a look at each of the 30 teams' top 2020 breakout candidate.

American League West

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    Houston Astros: RHP Forrest Whitley

    The 17th overall pick by the Houston Astros in 2016, Forrest Whitley is an imposing presence at 6'7". His fastball can touch the high 90s with cutting action, and he also touts a curveball, a hard slider and a changeup that profile as potential plus offerings.

    That's the arsenal of a rotation-fronting stud, and Whitley enjoyed commensurate results in 2017, posting a 2.83 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 92.1 innings while ascending from Single-A to Double-A.

    The defending champions won't feel any need to rush the 20-year-old, but if he stays on this trajectory, he'll be plying his trade in Houston before long.


    Los Angeles Angels: OF Jo Adell

    A 2020 breakout may be a tad optimistic for Jo Adell. The 10th overall pick by the Los Angeles Angels in 2017 turns 19 in April. He's untested, to say the least.

    With that said, he hit .325 in two levels of rookie ball and flashed the speed, raw power and strong arm that have the Halos thinking big things.

    Not long ago, the Angels farm system was a fallow wasteland. Now, thanks to prospects such as Adell, there's hope for the future in Anaheim. 


    Oakland A's: LHP A.J. Puk

    A.J. Puk rose to Double-A last season and could conceivably make his MLB debut in 2018 for the Oakland Athletics, who are never afraid to give talented youngsters a look.

    The 22-year-old southpaw is refining his command, having posted a 4.03 ERA in 125 minor league innings last season. He also notched 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings with a mid-90s fastball, a wicked slider and an emerging changeup and curveball. 

    It'll require some patience, but the budget-conscious A's may have their cost-controlled ace-in-waiting. 


    Seattle Mariners: OF Kyle Lewis

    An ACL injury in 2016 put Kyle Lewis off his developmental pace and hampered him throughout 2017.

    Still, the 22-year-old has an excellent feel for the strike zone, legitimate power to all fields, solid defense with some limitations in range and a strong arm.

    Assuming the knee injury doesn't linger, he could get back on track in 2018, push to the higher levels of the Seattle Mariners system in 2019 and be ready to make an impact with the big league club by 2020.


    Texas Rangers: OF Leody Taveras 

    Leody Taveras has developing to do at the tender age of 19. 

    He's also a five-tool talent whom Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News opined could be the Rangers' starting center fielder when they take up residence in their new stadium in 2020.

    Taveras must grow after an intriguing, up-and-down 2017 season at Single-A, but the skill set is there for the nephew of former big leaguer Willy Taveras to be genuinely special. 

American League Central

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    Chicago White Sox: RHP Michael Kopech

    After posting a 2.88 ERA with 172 punchouts in 134.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2017, Michael Kopech might be ready for The Show right now.

    The Chicago White Sox will almost surely stash the hard-throwing right-hander and his 100-plus mph heater in the minors to start 2018, however, to avoid starting his MLB service clock.

    Add a year of seasoning in 2019, and Kopech should be prepared to singe radar guns and baffle big league hitters come 2020.


    Cleveland Indians: C Francisco Mejia

    Francisco Mejia leapfrogged from Double-A to the majors last season and sipped his cup of coffee with the Cleveland Indians.

    The 22-year-old backstop could see more extensive action in 2018, but the Indians feature the serviceable duo of Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes behind the dish.

    Mejia has the offensive tools to supplant them, yet he's refining his pitch-framing skills and defensive capabilities. Considering the intricacies of starring as a catcher at the MLB level, we'll grant Mejia an extra couple of seasons before his true breakout.


    Detroit Tigers: RHP Franklin Perez 

    Acquired from the Astros in the Justin Verlander trade, Franklin Perez has the stuff to slot into the top tier of the rebuilding Detroit Tigers rotation.

    The 20-year-old posted a 3.02 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .220 average last season, and he rose to Double-A in the Astros system. 

    A year or two in the higher levels of Detroit's farm should bring the athletic righty to the big leagues, assuming he continues to hone his secondary offerings, including a slider and plus changeup. 


    Kansas City Royals: OF Seuly Matias

    At age 19, Seuly Matias is already displaying big-time power. Add a howitzer arm, and it's easy to see why the righty-swinging Dominican compares favorably with the likes of Yoenis Cespedes.

    Granted, he struck out 72 times in 57 rookie-level games in 2017. He also needs to improve his pitch recognition. His tools are undeniable, however.

    Assuming Matias continues his progression in the finer points of plate discipline, he could be a huge part of the Kansas City Royals' overdue rebuild. 


    Minnesota Twins: RHP Fernando Romero

    Fernando Romero lost two seasons to Tommy John surgery, which means his future is a crooked question mark.

    The 23-year-old had a promising 2017, however, as he posted a 3.53 ERA with 120 strikeouts in 125 innings at Double-A. Most importantly, he stayed healthy.

    The Minnesota Twins will be cautious with Romero, but his high-90s fastball and high-upside slider and changeup give him the makings of a top-flight MLB starter.

American League East

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    Baltimore Orioles: OF Austin Hays

    A third-round pick by the Baltimore Orioles in 2016, Austin Hays hit .329 with a .958 OPS between High-A and Double-A before getting a 20-game MLB audition. 

    The O's could put Hays on their Opening Day roster, but it would start his service clock. Instead, they should give the 22-year-old outfielder some time at Triple-A, test him with another call-up, consider promoting him in 2019 and prepare for a true breakout in 2020.

    Baltimore hasn't committed to a rebuild yet, but it will soon enough in the top-heavy American League East.


    Boston Red Sox: LHP Jay Groome

    A lat strain limited Jay Groome in 2017, but the big left-hander has the stuff to make Boston Red Sox fans salivate.

    The 12th overall pick in 2016, Groome features a high-90s heater and a devastating curveball. He'd do well to develop his changeup, and he needs to prove he can remain healthy.

    So long as he accomplishes those goals, Groome should be in the upper levels of Boston's system in no time. He'll be knocking on the MLB door soon after that.


    New York Yankees: OF Estevan Florial 

    At the moment, the New York Yankees outfield is a muddled mess, with Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and youngster Clint Frazier all vying for playing time.

    Down the road, the Yanks could turn to 20-year-old Estevan Florial. An under-the-radar prospect in New York's deep system, Florial hit .298 with 13 home runs and 23 stolen bases in 110 games between Single-A and High-A. He boasts an above-average arm, too.

    As the Yankees shed their veteran outfielders in the coming seasons and possibly trade Frazier, it's easy to imagine a space opening up for Florial.


    Tampa Bay Rays: SS Willy Adames

    After slashing .277/.360/.415 at Triple-A last season, Willy Adames is ready for his first taste of MLB action.

    He won't crack the Tampa Bay Rays' 25-man roster out of spring training, but he's on track to be a significant part of the Rays infield after impressing at every level since the 2014 deadline trade that sent him from Detroit to Tampa Bay in the David Price deal.

    The low-budget Rays are always looking for cost-controlled options. Adames fits the bill.


    Toronto Blue Jays: 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

    The son of a National Baseball Hall of Famer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is living up to his legacy in the Toronto Blue Jays system.

    The 18-year-old hit .323 with a .910 OPS between Single-A and High-A last season while flashing the power and plate discipline that made his father a generational star.

    The younger Guerrero will have to prove himself in the upper levels of Toronto's system, but so far, he looks like an apple that fell close to the HOF tree. 

National League West

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    Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Jon Duplantier

    A history of shoulder and elbow issues add uncertainty to Jon Duplantier's trajectory. The right-hander was dominant in 2017, however, as he posted a 1.39 ERA while fanning 165 in 136 innings and holding opponents to a .192 average between Single-A and High-A.

    At age 23, this will be the season Duplantier establishes himself as a riser in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. In a year or two, he should be on track to crack the rotation with his sinking mid-90s fastball and developing secondary offerings.


    Colorado Rockies: INF Brendan Rodgers

    At the moment, Brendan Rodgers is blocked at shortstop by Trevor Story and at second base by DJ LeMahieu. That could change quickly depending on injuries and circumstance, but Rodgers is ticketed for the minors at the moment.

    It makes sense, as the 21-year-old has yet to taste Triple-A. At the same time, Rogers hit .336 with a .940 OPS in the minors in 2017.

    A September call-up is a near certainty, and the 2015 third overall pick should be plying his trade at Mile High altitude full-time within the next few years.


    Los Angeles Dodgers: OF Alex Verdugo

    The Los Angeles Dodgers are a complete team, but the defending NL champions' outfield is a muddled mess. That leaves little room for prospect Alex Verdugo, who could force his way into the conversation with an epic spring but is more likely to begin the season toiling in MiLB.

    The 21-year-old made his big league debut in 2017 after slashing .314/.389/.436 in the minors. He could follow Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger on the fast track to L.A. stardom.

    We'll give him some extra time, however, and project a 2020 breakout.


    San Diego Padres: LHP MacKenzie Gore

    The third overall pick in the 2017 draft, MacKenzie Gore is in the fast lane toward MLB success with the rebuilding San Diego Padres.

    The 21-year-old posted a minuscule 1.27 ERA with a .184 opponents' average in the Arizona Fall League. He's poised for a mercurial ascent through San Diego's system. 

    The Friars won't rush him unnecessarily, but they won't hold him back, either.


    San Francisco Giants: OF Heliot Ramos

    The San Francisco Giants outfield features a pair of creaky veterans who will hit free agency after the 2018 campaign: Hunter Pence and the recently acquired Andrew McCutchen.

    That opens a lane for Heliot Ramos, the 19th overall pick in 2017. The 18-year-old wasn't a consensus first-round selection, and 2020 is a best-case scenario breakout. 

    Ramos, however, turned heads with a 1.049 OPS in the Arizona Fall League and could rise quickly through San Francisco's thin system.  

National League Central

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    Chicago Cubs: RHP Jose Albertos

    After graduating all of their top-level talent to the majors or trading it away, the Chicago Cubs farm system isn't bursting with blue chips.

    Here's an intriguing name to watch: Jose Albertos. The 19-year-old righty fanned 48 in 43 innings between the rookie level and Low-A while limiting hitters to a .184 average. His fastball sits comfortably in the mid-90s, while his changeup has the potential to be a devastating offering. 

    The Cubbies are in a win-now window with their burgeoning big league core, but Albertos could join the party before it's over.


    Cincinnati Reds: RHP Hunter Greene

    A two-way talent with the skills to stick as a hitter or pitcher, Hunter Greene is on track to break into the Cincinnati Reds rotation.

    The 18-year-old still needs to grow and mature. But he touts a triple-digit fastball and refined delivery that put him ahead of the curve, and he also has the capacity to be an above-average swinger whenever the Reds hand him a bat.

    Barring any setbacks, that speaks to a quick ascent through the rebuilding Reds system.


    Milwaukee Brewers: 2B Keston Hiura

    The ninth overall pick in the 2017 draft, Keston Hiura overcame concerns about an elbow injury to slash .371/.422/.611 between rookie ball and Single-A for the Milwaukee Brewers.

    That's good news for Milwaukee, which jettisoned some high-level prospects this winter, including outfielder Lewis Brinson.

    Hiura has to continue raking at the higher levels, but the 21-year-old's hit tool places him on a collision course with the Brewers' big league roster.


    Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Mitch Keller

    The Pittsburgh Pirates kicked off a rebuild this offseason by trading ace Gerrit Cole and franchise outfielder Andrew McCutchen.

    They'll be scouring the minor leagues for reinforcements, and they could unearth a gem in right-hander Mitch Keller.

    The 21-year-old needs more minor league action to hone his array of pitches, but his upper-90s fastball and curveball are nearly ready for prime time. He demonstrated as much by striking out 116 in 116 innings with a 3.03 ERA between High-A and Double-A.


    St. Louis Cardinals: C Carson Kelly

    St. Louis Cardinals franchise catcher Yadier Molina is inked through 2020, which would appear to block Carson Kelly. That'll be Molina's age-37 season, however. As much as he's meant to the Cards, it's Kelly should have a chance to supplant him as the heir apparent.

    The 23-year-old posted an .834 OPS at Triple-A last season, but his strong arm and exemplary pitch-calling and blocking abilities are his most noteworthy attributes. 

National League East

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    Atlanta Braves: OF Ronald Acuna

    Despite being only 20 years old, Ronald Acuna soon could be ready to help the Atlanta Braves.

    That's how impressive Acuna was as he rose from Single-A to Triple-A while hitting .325 with 21 home runs and 44 stolen bases across all levels. It's possible he'll see big league action in 2018.

    The league tends to adjust to young hitters, however, and we'll allow for some growing pains before Acuna emerges as a star at the MLB level.

    Whether it happens in 2019 or 2020, it feels like something in the vicinity of a foregone conclusion.


    Miami Marlins: OF Lewis Brinson

    The Miami Marlins restocked their farm system with a flurry of trades this winter. Fans are right to bemoan the tearing down of the franchise, but the Fish added some interesting pieces.

    At the top of that list sits center fielder Lewis Brinson, who came over from the Brewers in the Christian Yelich deal. Brinson is 23 years old and sipped his cup of coffee last season with Milwaukee, meaning his breakout could come soon.

    He wobbled in his MLB audition, however, and he's still working on his plate discipline. In another few seasons, he might be a standout for Miami.


    New York Mets: LHP David Peterson

    The 20th overall pick by the New York Mets in 2017, lefty David Peterson projects as a possible mid-rotation starter or an impact bullpen arm.

    The 22-year-old features a mid-90s fastball and a bat-missing slider, a combo that could turn him into a reliable setup man or even a possible closer.

    Either way, the 6'6" southpaw is a name to follow in a so-so Mets system.


    Philadelphia Phillies: RHP Sixto Sanchez

    Sixto Sanchez can tease 100 mph with a fastball that features sink and movement. His breaking and offspeed offerings are works in progress, but he's only 19 years old.

    Sanchez tossed 95 innings between Single-A and High-A. He needs to build stamina before he sniffs the major leagues.

    The Phils won't hesitate to test and promote him as they angle for a return to relevance, though, and Sanchez seems to be up for the challenge.


    Washington Nationals: OF Juan Soto

    Assuming outfielder Victor Robles breaks out prior to 2020 with the (likely) exit of Bryce Harper, Juan Soto could be next in line.

    The 19-year-old lefty swinger hit .351 with a .919 OPS in 32 games at rookie ball and Single-A. He possesses the bat speed and pop to be a middle-of-the-order force. 

    The Nationals are all about winning with Harper in his probable swan song. Going forward, they can turn to Soto.

    "He's an outstanding hitter," Nationals vice president of international operations Johnny DiPuglia said, per Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post. "So I think if he plays a full year, I think this guy really goes up the charts." 


    All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference