Predicting Every MLB Team's Breakout Player for 60-Game 2020 Season
By now, you probably know the parameters of the 2020 MLB season. It will be a mere 60 games long. It will feature expanded rosters in the early going. And it will include other notable tweaks such as the universal designated hitter, geographically limited schedules and a runner automatically placed on second base in extra innings.
Here's something else we'll see once baseball resumes: a number of breakout players.
By that we mean either:
- Rookies with little to no big league experience who earn a job, get hot and stay hot.
- Guys who've compiled legitimate stats at the highest level but are poised to make the leap to superstardom.
Anything can happen in such a brief campaign, and young players who struggle initially may be kept on a shorter-than-usual leash. Plus, service-time shenanigans are always a possibility.
That said, here are 30 up-and-comers (one per club) with the skills and opportunity to leave a significant mark over the 60-game sprint.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: OF Austin Hays
There won't be many bright spots in 2020 for the Baltimore Orioles, who are ticketed for another last-place finish in the American League East. But keep an eye on outfielder Austin Hays. The 24-year-old missed the entire 2018 season after undergoing ankle surgery, yet returned in 2019 and slashed .309/.373/.574 in 68 at-bats. He should be in Baltimore's Opening Day lineup.
Boston Red Sox: OF Alex Verdugo
The key return piece in the trade that sent Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Alex Verdugo could blossom into a star in Beantown. The 24-year-old hit .294 with an .817 OPS in 106 games for L.A. in 2019. He should be the Red Sox's starting right fielder and, they hope, Betts' heir apparent.
New York Yankees: 1B Mike Ford
First baseman Mike Ford played 50 games with the New York Yankees in 2019 and swatted 12 home runs with a .909 OPS. In 79 games at Triple-A, the 27-year-old hit 23 homers with a 1.007 OPS. With expanded rosters early in the season, he'll have every opportunity to make the big club and could earn extensive playing time if injuries again bite New York and/or Ford forces his way into the mix with his bat.
Tampa Bay Rays: LHP/DH Brendan McKay
Brendan McKay posted a less-than-stellar 5.14 ERA in 49 innings last season with the Tampa Bay Rays. But the 24-year-old lefty showed flashes of the talent that made the Rays take him with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft. A potential two-way player, McKay averaged 10.3 K/9 as a pitcher and collected two hits in 11 at-bats with a home run.
Toronto Blue Jays: 3B/DH Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will share the Toronto Blue Jays infield with two other second-generation big leaguers who could be 2020 breakouts: shortstop Bo Bichette and second baseman Cavan Biggio. The future is bright north of the border. But we'll highlight the 21-year-old son of Vlad, who teased his big-time power with 15 home runs in 123 games last season, yet was limited by a late-season knee injury.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: OF Luis Robert
Luis Robert went on a tear from High-A to Triple-A in 2019 and hit a combined .328 with 32 home runs, 36 stolen bases and a 1.001 OPS. Clearly, the 22-year-old Cuban phenom has nothing left to prove in the minors. The Chicago White Sox are nearly ready to transition from rebuilders to contenders, and if Robert can make an impact in the shortened season, he could be the piece who gets them there.
Cleveland Indians: OF Oscar Mercado
Oscar Mercado hit .269 with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 115 games for the Cleveland Indians in 2019. Cleveland is hoping the 25-year-old, who also posted 10 defensive runs saved in center field, will continue to develop and stabilize an outfield that has been a glaring weakness for a while.
Detroit Tigers: RHP Casey Mize
Right-hander and touted Detroit Tigers pitching prospect Casey Mize will likely begin the season on the "taxi squad," according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. That's a group of up to 20 minor leaguers who aren't on the 40-man roster but will get practice reps and be available for a call-up. The 23-year-old was the top overall pick in 2018 and posted a 2.55 ERA with 106 strikeouts in 109.1 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2019. He should at least debut for the rebuilding Tigers this season and could do more than that.
Kansas City Royals: SS Adalberto Mondesi
You can argue Adalberto Mondesi broke out in 2019, when he hit .263, led the majors with 10 triples and stole 43 bases. But the Kansas City Royals shortstop was limited to just 102 games by a shoulder injury. The 24-year-old should be fully healthy after the long layoff and could cement his status as one of the game's top speedsters this year.
Minnesota Twins: OF Byron Buxton
How long have we waited for Byron Buxton to officially arrive? After being selected second overall in the 2012 draft, the toolsy Minnesota Twins outfielder struggled after his debut in 2015. In 2017, he seemed to put it together with 16 home runs, 29 stolen bases and a Gold Glove for his play in center field. But injuries and inconsistency have limited him to just 115 games in the past two seasons combined. He's still only 26 years old and has all the talent to be a star. We're giving him one final ride on the breakout wagon.
American League West
Houston Astros: OF Kyle Tucker
Houston Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker is blocked from left to right by Michael Brantley, George Springer and Josh Reddick. All three are set to hit free agency after this season, so Tucker might have to wait one more year for his shot. Yet, the 23-year-old hit 34 home runs with a .909 OPS at Triple-A in 2019 and then hit .269 with an .857 OPS in 22 games with Houston. If an injury or underperformance opens a regular spot, expect Tucker to seize it.
Los Angeles Angels: OF Jo Adell
In his age-20 season last year, Los Angeles Angels prospect Jo Adell went from High-A to Triple-A and hit a combined .289 with 10 home runs, 27 doubles and an .834 OPS in 76 games. He has a shot to earn regular playing time with the Halos in 2020, especially with a hot start, and could join Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Otani to form a potent middle-of-the order combo.
Oakland Athletics: LHP Jesus Luzardo
Jesus Luzardo threw 12 innings in six appearances with the Oakland Athletics last season and posted a 1.50 ERA with 16 strikeouts. That, after he posted a 2.53 ERA with 10.8 K/9 in 195.2 MiLB innings between 2017 and 2019. The 22-year-old left-hander has the varied arsenal and advanced feel for pitching to become an ace for the small-market A's, who love nothing more than cost-controlled talent.
Seattle Mariners: RHP Logan Gilbert
The Seattle Mariners plan to take full advantage of the taxi squad to continue the development of their prospects, per Shannon Drayer of ESPN Seattle. There's ample talent in a farm system Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked No. 2 in the game. Keep an eye on 23-year-old right-hander Logan Gilbert, who posted a 2.13 ERA with 11 K/9 between Single-A and Double-A last season and could make an impact with the M's.
Texas Rangers: OF Willie Calhoun
In 83 games with the Texas Rangers in 2019, Willie Calhoun hit 21 home runs with an .848 OPS. During the 2020 60-game slate, the 25-year-old has a chance to emerge as a top-tier hitter after flashing plus power and superlative contact capabilities.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: RHP Kyle Wright
Before the 2020 Grapefruit League slate was interrupted, Atlanta Braves right-hander Kyle Wright had allowed three runs in 13.1 innings with three walks and 15 strikeouts. It was a strong spring start for the 24-year-old fifth overall pick from 2017. If he can pick up where he left off, he could earn a spot in Atlanta's rotation and follow Mike Soroka as the Braves' next breakout hurler.
Miami Marlins: 2B Isan Diaz
After hitting .305 with 26 home runs and a .973 OPS in 102 games at Triple-A last season, second baseman Isan Diaz hit just .173 in a 49-game audition with the Miami Marlins. The 24-year-old possesses undeniable pop, however, and should get regular reps for the rebuilding Fish this season.
New York Mets: SS Amed Rosario
Is Amed Rosario finally ready to live up to the hype and emerge as one of the best shortstops in the game after uneven MLB stints with the New York Mets in 2017 and 2018? The 24-year-old indicated the answer might be "yes" with a hot finish to the 2019 campaign. After the All-Star break, Rosario slashed .319/.351/.453 (compared to .260/.299/.414 in the first half). If he can build on that success this year, look out.
Philadelphia Phillies: OF Roman Quinn
Various injuries have limited Roman Quinn during his Philadelphia Phillies career, but if he can stay healthy, the 27-year-old has a shot to win the starting center field job. Before spring training was interrupted, Quinn was hitting .261 with two home runs and two doubles. His chief center field competition, Adam Haseley, was hitting .143 with only one extra-base hit. In 109 career games with the Phils, Quinn has stolen 23 bases in 28 attempts.
Washington Nationals: OF Victor Robles
Victor Robles hit .255 with 17 home runs and 28 stolen bases in 2019 for the Washington Nationals. You could call that a breakout. But he was frequently overshadowed by fellow young outfielder Juan Soto, who made the jump to superstardom. The hyper-talented 23-year-old Robles could join Soto in the stratosphere this season, which would seriously boost the Nats' title-defense odds.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: INF/OF Ian Happ
With defensive versatility and solid pop, Ian Happ has teased star potential since he debuted with the Chicago Cubs in 2017 and hit 24 homers in 115 games. But after struggling last spring, he started the 2019 season at Triple-A and wasn't called up until late July. The 25-year-old enters this year with a chance to be the Cubs' regular center fielder, though he may also see action in the infield.
Cincinnati Reds: OF/INF Nick Senzel
The second overall pick by the Cincinnati Reds in 2016, Nick Senzel made his MLB debut in 2019 and slashed .256/.315/.427 with 12 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 104 games. The 24-year-old's ceiling is much higher than that. If he can prove it this season—whether he plays in the infield or outfield, where Cincinnati has many options—it'll help the Reds remain in the hunt in a competitive division.
Milwaukee Brewers: 2B Keston Hiura
Keston Hiura slashed .303/.368/.570 with 19 home runs in 84 games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2019 and flashed the plate discipline, power and advanced hit tool he consistently displayed in the minor leagues. Hiura should see regular time at second base—even in a crowded infield—and with the addition of the universal DH, the Brewers will keep his bat in the lineup.
Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Mitch Keller
The Pittsburgh Pirates figure to be bottom-dwellers in the NL Central, but Bucs fans can get excited about a possible breakout by Mitch Keller. The 24-year-old posted a 7.13 ERA in 11 starts last season for Pittsburgh, but he struck out 65 in 48 innings and teased the top-shelf stuff that makes him a potential ace.
St. Louis Cardinals: OF Dylan Carlson
In 2020 spring training version 1.0, top St. Louis Cardinals prospect Dylan Carlson was 10-for-32 with three doubles, a triple and six walks and looked ready to take on MLB pitching. Now, the 21-year-old switch-hitter could begin the season with regular at-bats for the Cardinals, especially in place of fading veteran outfielder Dexter Fowler.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Luke Weaver
After posting a 4.79 ERA in 233 innings for the Cardinals between 2016 and 2018, right-hander Luke Weaver lowered that figure to 2.94 over 12 starts with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019. A forearm injury sidelined him in late May, but he returned for an appearance in September. Assuming he stays healthy, the 26-year-old should be a key member of the Snakes staff.
Colorado Rockies: OF David Dahl
A first-round pick (10th overall) by the Colorado Rockies in 2012, outfielder David Dahl has shown flashes in three stints with the Rox in 2016, 2018 and 2019. Last season, he hit .302 with 15 home runs but was limited to 100 games by injuries, which have hampered him throughout his career. If he stays off the injured list over a 60-game sprint, the 26-year-old could become a legitimate star for a Colorado club in transition.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 2B Gavin Lux
The Dodgers have several young players who could break out this season, including powerful catcher Will Smith and hard-throwing right-hander Brusdar Graterol. But we'll give the nod to second baseman Gavin Lux. The 22-year-old hit .313 with an .896 OPS at Double-A and .392 with a 1.197 OPS at Triple-A in 2019 before hitting .240 in 23 games with L.A. It was enough to earn him a spot on the playoff roster, and he even hit a home run as a pinch hitter in the division series.
San Diego Padres: SS Fernando Tatis Jr.
In 84 games with the San Diego Padres in 2019, Fernando Tatis Jr. slashed .317/.379/.590 with 22 home runs and 16 stolen bases. If a back injury hadn't cut his season short, he could have streaked to an NL Rookie of the Year Award, and the breakout business would be over. Now, the 21-year-old can use the abbreviated 2020 season to prove he's healthy and ready to keep raking.
San Francisco Giants: OF Jaylin Davis
Top prospects such as catcher Joey Bart and outfielder Heliot Ramos could get looks from the San Francisco Giants, but both are probably at least a year away from making a significant big league impact. Instead, we'll highlight Jaylin Davis, who hit 35 home runs with a .987 OPS in 126 minor league games last season and has drawn praise from new Giants manager Gabe Kapler. Davis turns 26 on July 1 and is no one's idea of a blue chip, but on a rebuilding San Francisco team, he should get an opportunity.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.