Every MLB Team's Potential Breakout Star for 2020 Season
If the 2020 season is like every other season that's happened, a new wave of stars is about to come crashing down on Major League Baseball.
Let's try to guess who they'll be.
We've nominated one potential breakout star for every major league team in 2020. Their level of major league experience varies from plenty to none. What ties them all together, however, is talent that hasn't fully flourished.
We'll go division by division, starting in the American League East and ending in the National League West.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: CF Austin Hays
Though 2020 figures to be yet another dreary season for the Baltimore Orioles, they have a few young up-and-comers who should keep things interesting. One of them is their projected everyday center fielder, Austin Hays.
The 24-year-old's breakout season in the minors in 2017 was followed by an unspectacular audition in the majors and injury difficulties in 2018 and 2019. But when he's healthy, he hits. So it went with Baltimore at the end of last season, in which he laid down a nice springboard for 2020 with a .947 OPS in 21 games.
Boston Red Sox: LHP Darwinzon Hernandez
On account of their veteran-laden major league roster and shallow farm system, the Boston Red Sox forced us to choose from a small pool of breakout candidates. Practically speaking, it came down to first baseman Michael Chavis or left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez.
Unlike Chavis, who started strong and faded late, Hernandez was rising fast in the latter half of 2019. Armed with a deceptively hard fastball, the 23-year-old struck out 50 of the 129 batters he faced in relief. A future as a top-tier relief ace awaits him if he can move his walks-per-nine rate somewhere below 7.7.
New York Yankees: RHP Deivi Garcia
Could this be the year Clint Frazier finally grabs hold of an everyday spot in the New York Yankees lineup? It's certainly possible, but it's at least as likely that he'll carry on as a mere platoon hitter with significant shortcomings on defense.
Instead, we quite like Deivi Garcia's odds of earning a steady gig either as a starter or reliever. He hasn't yet made his major league debut. But after using his electric stuff to whiff 13.3 batters per nine innings in 2019, the 20-year-old should break through with the Yankees sooner rather than later.
Tampa Bay Rays: SS Willy Adames
Right-hander Tyler Glasnow was a tempting choice, but he kinda-sorta had his big break for the Tampa Bay Rays when he posted a 1.78 ERA last season. He merely needs to stay healthy so he can make more than 12 starts.
So, we'll stump for Willy Adames for what feels like the umpteenth time. Though the 24-year-old former top prospect has taken some lumps in the majors since 2018, he did find something as he hit .289/.353/.464 in the final two months of last season. More of that plus his stellar defense could make him an All-Star in 2020.
Toronto Blue Jays: 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was by far the most hyped of the young hitters who debuted with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019. In the end, he was also the biggest disappointment of the bunch. He posted a good-not-great .772 OPS and was maybe MLB's worst defensive infielder.
However, he is still only 20 years old. And between his Hall of Fame bloodline and superb production (e.g., his .331/.414/.531 slash line) in the minors, there are still reasons to believe his potential goes through the roof. If nothing else, we'd love to see him in the Home Run Derby again.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: LF Eloy Jimenez
Between Lucas Giolito, Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez, the Chicago White Sox have a few young stars who are on the up-and-up. They also have a few rookies—namely Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Michael Kopech—who should make an impact in 2020.
Still, there's something about Jimenez that makes him stand out. Specifically, it's how the 23-year-old ended last season with an .828 OPS and 31 homers despite not finding his stride until September, when he went off for a 1.093 OPS and nine homers. He'll be an elite slugger if he carries that over to 2020.
Cleveland Indians: RHP Aaron Civale
The Cleveland Indians don't have Corey Kluber anymore, so they'll need some unusual suspects to help carry their rotation in 2020. That notably means Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale, both of whom were under-the-radar contributors in 2019.
Civale, 24, looks especially interesting after posting a 2.34 ERA in 10 starts. Though he only struck out 46 batters in 57.2 innings, his sinker-cutter-slider combination proved effective at stifling hard contact. Batters averaged 86.6 mph exit velocity against him, with only four barrels out of 164 batted balls.
Detroit Tigers: RHP Casey Mize
The Detroit Tigers somehow seemed even worse than their 47-114 record in 2019. Though they don't project to be much better, the 2020 season should have at least one silver lining: They're ready to start harvesting some fruits from their farm system, including 22-year-old right-hander Casey Mize.
The Tigers drafted Mize at No. 1 overall in 2018, and he's since become arguably baseball's best pitching prospect. Even if his major league debut doesn't come until later in 2020, his outstanding three-pitch mix (fastball, slider and splitter) and sharp control should lead him to immediate success.
Kansas City Royals: RHP Brady Singer
Likewise, the Kansas City Royals should also pluck some exciting pieces from their farm system this season. Right-handers Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar are already knocking on the door, and left-hander Daniel Lynch isn't far behind.
Singer, 23, looks particularly ready to break into the rotation after posting a 2.85 ERA in 26 starts in the minors last season. At 6'5", 210 pounds, he's certainly built like a frontline pitcher. He also has solid control with a plus fastball and slider as well as a changeup that's coming along.
Minnesota Twins: RHP Brusdar Graterol
The Minnesota Twins have retained much of a roster that produced a record 307 home runs and 101 wins in 2019. Moreover, they also boast an elite farm system that's headlined by a handful of players who should be stars in the near future.
Brusdar Graterol's stardom seems especially imminent. The 21-year-old debuted in relief at the end of 2019, and he's a candidate to end up in the rotation at some point in 2020. Once there, his triple-digit fastball and hard slider may be all he needs to start blowing hitters away on a regular basis.
American League West
Houston Astros: OF Kyle Tucker
In right-handed prospects Forrest Whitley and Jose Urquidy, the Houston Astros have two strong candidates to fill the void in their rotation left by Gerrit Cole's departure to New York. However, neither is as close to stardom in the majors as fellow youngster Kyle Tucker.
After posting a .909 OPS with 34 homers and 30 steals at Triple-A last season, the 22-year-old kept right on producing with an .857 OPS, four homers and five steals in 22 games for the Astros. He'll soon supplant Josh Reddick as Houston's everyday right fielder if he stays on that trajectory.
Los Angeles Angels: OF Jo Adell
The Los Angeles Angels have perhaps MLB's best offensive duo after pairing Anthony Rendon with three-time American League MVP Mike Trout. Yet their lineup will get even deeper when they call up 20-year-old outfielder Jo Adell, which should happen in the not-too-distant future.
Adell ended 2019 as MLB.com's No. 5 prospect after posting an .834 OPS, 10 homers and seven steals across three minor league levels. He's ready to be a five-tool threat in the majors right now, so the only question is whether the Angels want to forgo service-time games and simply put Adell on their Opening Day roster.
Oakland Athletics: LHP Jesus Luzardo
The Oakland Athletics are giving former top prospect Franklin Barreto what feels like a long-awaited shot at a regular infield gig this spring. Yet more interesting is what's going on with their starting rotation, particularly as it pertains to 22-year-old southpaw Jesus Luzardo.
The A's were tempted to put Luzardo in their Opening Day rotation last year before a shoulder injury nixed the idea. But Luzardo continued his domination of the minors—where he owns a 2.53 ERA—when he got healthy, and he was painting with 99 mph heat with the A's by the end of the year. Because he also boasts a plus changeup and sharp control, he's ready to seize his opportunity.
Seattle Mariners: 1B Evan White
The Seattle Mariners are going to let the kids play this year, and it's hard to pick only one who's worth monitoring. We were tempted to go with outfielder Kyle Lewis, yet his penchant for strikeouts led us to the same conclusion the Mariners themselves reached not too long ago: Evan White is ready.
Though he hasn't yet made his major league debut, the Mariners effectively made White their everyday first baseman for 2020 when they inked the 23-year-old to a six-year extension in November. A bold move, to be sure, but White's defense, athleticism and hitting acumen should justify it in short order.
Texas Rangers: LF Willie Calhoun
Though the Texas Rangers' star-studded rotation will be primarily responsible for carrying them in 2020, they might have a better offense than expected if a few things break right. To name just a few: Joey Gallo staying healthy, Rougned Odor gaining consistency and Willie Calhoun breaking out.
Calhoun, 25, initially struggled to live up to being the Rangers' big get in the 2017 trade of Yu Darvish. But that changed last year, as he showed a rare ability to mix regular contact (15.7 K%) with good power (.524 SLG%) en route to an .848 OPS and 21 homers in only 83 games. Any more of that, and he could pull off a 30- or even 40-homer season in 2020.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: 3B Austin Riley
The Atlanta Braves already have three young stars in their everyday lineup in Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson. With Josh Donaldson now absent from third base, they'll be trusting Austin Riley to become a star in his own right at third base in 2020.
Much will depend on Riley, 22, cutting down on his strikeouts after he whiffed 108 times in only 297 plate appearances last year. But if he can, he should do plenty of damage with his power. Despite his limited exposure, he rarely put the ball on the ground and averaged 94.1 mph on his fly balls and line drives en route hitting 18 homers last season.
Miami Marlins: RHP Sixto Sanchez
The Miami Marlins are still another team that won't be anywhere near good in 2020 but that at least has some young stars to put in place. Their farm system is quite good and notably highlighted by a quartet of players nearing major league readiness.
Among them is 21-year-old righty Sixto Sanchez. His small stature (6'0", 185 lbs) and electrifying stuff have earned him comparisons to Pedro Martinez, and he doesn't have much left to prove in the minors after dominating with a 2.53 ERA at Double-A in 2019.
New York Mets: 1B/OF Dominic Smith
After winning 86 games in 2019, the New York Mets are looking to step into 90-win territory in 2020. That could happen if their offense lives up to its low-key outstanding potential, and a notable part of that equation is 24-year-old slugger Dominic Smith.
Smith is a natural first baseman who's blocked by reigning National League Rookie of the Year Pete Alonso. But he has an avenue to at-bats in left field, and it'll be hard for the Mets to deny him if he continues hitting like he did in 2019. In 89 games, he posted an .881 OPS with 11 home runs.
Philadelphia Phillies: 3B Scott Kingery
Like the Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies might still sign Donaldson or acquire a star third baseman from another team. Or they could leave the position in the hands of Scott Kingery, which wouldn't be the worst idea in the world.
Kingery enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular, breakthrough with a .788 OPS and 19 homers as a utility guy in 2019. Yet the 25-year-old did some of his best hitting (i.e., an .877 OPS) at third base, and it was also by far his best defensive position. A full-time gig at the hot corner may fully unlock his potential.
Washington Nationals: 3B/2B Carter Kieboom
Trea Turner is dug in at shortstop. But sans Anthony Rendon, the rest of the Washington Nationals infield will be filled by some combination of Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera, Starlin Castro and Eric Thames in 2020. A depth chart like that is just waiting to be upset by a young up-and-comer.
For instance, Carter Kieboom. The 22-year-old is the best prospect in Washington's otherwise dismal farm system, and he's certainly ready for the majors after posting a .902 OPS at Triple-A in 2019. Whether it's at third base or second base, he stands a strong chance of breaking through this season.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: CF Ian Happ
The Chicago Cubs roster is loaded with players who have already been there and done that. Their farm system, meanwhile, doesn't have a whole lot outside of infielder Nico Hoerner, whose diminutive power limits his upside.
So, back to the "Ian Happ is a breakout candidate" well we go. In his defense, he's still only 25, and his 2019 season had a happy ending after he spent most of it in the minors. He posted an .898 OPS and enjoyed a huge surge in the season's final week. Evidently, he's not yet a lost cause.
Cincinnati Reds: CF Nick Senzel
Though the Cincinnati Reds added much-needed depth to their offense by signing Mike Moustakas and Shogo Akiyama, there was one question left by those deals: Where is Nick Senzel supposed to play?
The Reds might clear that up by trading Senzel. If they don't, the 24-year-old could be a super-utility player whose bat necessitates everyday action. He was a top-10 prospect just last year, after all, and he started his major league career with a solid .833 OPS over his first 42 games. He deserves a chance to continue that good work.
Milwaukee Brewers: SS Luis Urias
Though the Milwaukee Brewers have experienced a ton of turnover, it might be for the better if their collection of assorted youngsters comes through in 2020. Because Keston Hiura already somewhat achieved stardom with a .938 OPS and 19 homers in only 84 games last year, Luis Urias is our guy.
Urias, whom the Brewers acquired from the San Diego Padres in November, went into 2019 as a well-regarded prospect before falling flat with a .655 OPS in the majors. Yet he's still only 22, and his career .305/.403/.511 batting line at Triple-A suggests his upside shouldn't be taken lightly.
Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Mitch Keller
Between their 93 losses and former players such as Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows finding stardom elsewhere, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a rough time in 2019. From the way things look, 2020 won't be much better.
Mitch Keller might be worth watching, however. Sure, he posted an ugly 7.13 ERA in the majors last year. But the 23-year-old righty also struck out 65 batters in only 48 innings, which he came by courtesy of a mid-90s fastball and good spin on all his pitches. With stuff like that, he can work wonders in 2020.
St. Louis Cardinals: OF Dylan Carlson
Dexter Fowler is set in right field. But with Marcell Ozuna afloat on the free-agent waters and Harrison Bader standing on less-than-solid ground in center field, the St. Louis Cardinals outfield otherwise looks ripe for conquest by heretofore unheralded players.
We're keeping a keen eye on 21-year-old prospect Dylan Carlson. He wasn't on many radars heading into 2019, but he is now after hitting .292 with a .914 OPS, 26 homers and 20 steals at Double-A and Triple-A. The Cardinals won't be able to keep him on the farm much longer, and he'll become an immediate Rookie of the Year favorite when he does get the call.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Zac Gallen
It's a bit early to talk about spring training position battles, but the race for the final spot in the Arizona Diamondbacks rotation will be one to watch. It'll be between right-handers Luke Weaver and Zac Gallen, both of whom posted sub-3.00 ERAs in limited action last season.
Gallen, 24, looks particularly promising. He was already quietly making a name for himself when the D-backs nabbed him from the Marlins in July, and he finished with 96 strikeouts in only 80 innings. Unless something happens to his deadly changeup, more of the same is in order for 2020.
Colorado Rockies: 2B Ryan McMahon
If the Colorado Rockies follow through with a trade of Nolan Arenado, they'll have an opening at third base for top prospect Brendan Rodgers. But until that day comes, their best hope for a breakout performance in 2020 resides with Ryan McMahon at second base.
McMahon, 25, didn't find success in the majors in 2017 or 2018, but 2019 was a different story. He popped 24 homers in 141 games, and he ended the year on an upswing with an .826 OPS in the second half. Because both his exit velocity and hard-hit rate ranked in the 90th percentile or better, it clearly wasn't Coors Field doing all the work.
Los Angeles Dodgers: LHP Julio Urias
The Los Angeles Dodgers entered the offseason with a whole bunch of money and prospects to put toward signings and trades. But after several months of nothing, it's looking like their incumbents will have to do more than just pull their weight in 2020.
That includes former uber-prospect Julio Urias, who's finally ready for regular starts after getting sidetracked by shoulder surgery and a domestic-violence suspension in recent years. He's pitched to a 3.18 ERA when he has gotten the ball in the majors, and his peripheral stats for 2019 were stellar. The 23-year-old should finally achieve stardom this season.
San Diego Padres: C Francisco Mejia
The Padres trusted that Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack were ready to break out last season, and they did. With plenty of talent still remaining in their second-ranked farm system, there are any number of prospects who might follow their fine examples.
And yet our eye is on Francisco Mejia. He was a breakout candidate going into last season, yet he failed to make a grand impression in 79 games. The 24-year-old did, however, find a groove with an .866 OPS in the second half, in which his strikeout rate went down and his power output went up. If he picks up from there, he can become one of baseball's most dangerous offensive catchers.
San Francisco Giants: RHP Logan Webb
With Madison Bumgarner gone and only Kevin Gausman in to replace him, the San Francisco Giants have room for youngsters to settle into the back end of their rotation. First up are right-handers Tyler Beede and Logan Webb, the latter of whom has our eye.
Albeit in only 63.1 innings, Webb posted a 1.85 ERA in the minors last season before joining the Giants for the stretch run. Though his initial results in the majors weren't great, he could find his footing in 2020 with enough help from his plus fastball-slider combination.