6 MLB Players Primed for 2021 Breakout Seasons

Abbey MastraccoContributor IApril 6, 2021

6 MLB Players Primed for 2021 Breakout Seasons

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    If baseball history is your thing, then Sunday night's matchup between the Los Angeles Angels and the Chicago White Sox was for you. Angels' two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani finally got to pitch and hit in a major league game that was years in the making.

    Pitchers who rake are usually more of a novelty. But not Ohtani. 

    He became the first pitcher to hit second in the lineup since Jack Dunleavy did it for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1903. Since the designated hitter became available in the American League in 1973, only a handful of pitchers have hit for themselves in games hosted by AL teams. Ken Brett did it twice in 1976; Andy Sonnanstine hit for himself in 2009 as the result of a mistake on the lineup card; and Madison Bumgarner, then with the San Francisco Giants, hit for himself in an interleague game against the Oakland A's in 2016. 

    This could be the year Ohtani finally breaks out. Here are five other players poised for big seasons as well. It's a small sample size after only a handful of games, but these six players are making some noise as the season gets underway.

LF Clint Frazier, New York Yankees

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Clint Frazier was once a can't-miss prospect, part of the rise of the Baby Bombers. Then there were injuries and issues stemming from a concussion that kept him out of action. He was also buried on the depth chart with the New York Yankees boasting a loaded outfield.

    But he was a Gold Glove finalist in right field last season when he played in place of the injured Aaron Judge, leading manager Aaron Boone to award him the starting left field job this season. Now, Frazier looks like he's ready to prove that he can produce as an everyday player.

    In the Yankees' opening series against the Toronto Blue Jays, he went 4-for-9 with two doubles, two walks and two runs scored. However, he did had trouble tracking down fly balls in the sun during the series, but those few misreads don't seem to be indicative of a larger problem.

    When asked if he thinks he's a good left fielder by ESPN's Marly Rivera as part of an ongoing dialogue between the two about the position, he didn't hesitate to assert himself. 

    "Yeah, yeah, yeah," he said, emphatically. "Three yeahs." 

    The confidence is there. Frazier is continuing to make the most of his opportunities.

3B Ke'Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Pirates' top prospect started off his major league career with a bang, launching a two-run homer in his first at-bat of the season. Through two games, he went 1-for-5 with a walk and that home run, giving Pirates fans a glimmer of hope for the future. The 24-year-old is only 26 games into his big league career, but he's already the face of the franchise. 

    However, he hit his first stumbling block Saturday. The knob of the bat hit his wrist, and while X-rays came back negative, an MRI showed inflammation. He was placed on the 10-day injured list. 

    Hayes is still the front-runner for the NL Rookie of the Year award. The son of former MLB third baseman Charlie Hayes is a five-tool player that can breathe some much-needed life into the Pittsburgh organization. This injury doesn't sound like anything serious, so Hayes should still get a chance to pick up where he left off when he returns.

RHP Ian Anderson, Atlanta Braves

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    Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

    Ian Anderson started six games for the Atlanta Braves last season to fill in for Mike Soroka when he went down with an injury. Anderson was so impressive he earned NL Rookie of the Year votes. He went 3-2 with a 1.95 ERA in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and didn't surrender an earned run in the postseason until his fourth start.

    Anderson didn't miss a beat as he began his 2021 campaign. He limited the Philadelphia Phillies to one earned run on four hits and struck out seven over five innings of work. 

    MLB Pipeline ranks Anderson as the Braves' second-best prospect behind outfielder Cristian Pache. He throws a hard fastball with good movement and relies on his changeup to mix speeds. Command was an issue for him as he developed—Anderson walked 65 batters between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019—but he did a good job of limiting the free passes last season and walked only two in his first start. 

    Manager Brian Snitker said he'll need to adjust his style to the league as he goes along, but if he can continue to do that this season, then he should be able to cement his spot in a very good Braves rotation.

RHP J.P. Feyereisen, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The right-handed reliever was once part of the same trade that brought Frazier to the Yankees from Cleveland in exchange for Andrew Miller in 2016. The Yankees then traded Feyereisen and Brenny Escanio to the team from his home state for international bonus pool money in September 2019, and Feyereisen became just the 10th Wisconsin-born player to play for the Brewers the following season. 

    His 2020 numbers were nothing to write home to River Falls about. He put up a 5.79 ERA in six games. But the 28-year-old was nearly unhittable in spring training and managed to grab one of the final roster spots before the Brewers broke camp. He allowed only a single hit in 9.2 innings—a solo home run—he walked two and struck out 17. 

    Feyereisen was finally able to pitch in front of his family at American Family Field over the weekend and he’s thrown two scoreless innings so far this season. He’s part of a deep bullpen, so if he keeps pitching the way he has this year, he should help the Brewers get deep into the postseason.   

1B Jared Walsh, Los Angeles Angels

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Ohtani hasn't been the only two-way player in Angels camp the last few years. Jared Walsh, who was drafted in the 39th round of the 2015 draft, was also used as a pitcher and a first baseman in spring training by Los Angeles in 2019 and 2020. 

    The 27-year-old Walsh was a surprising bright spot for the Halos last season after slashing .293/.324/.646 with a .971 OPS. This year, he has to prove that the performance wasn't just a fluke. He did his best to do exactly that, hitting two home runs, including a three-run walk-off shot, in the Angels' Sunday night victory over the White Sox.

    The encouraging part about Walsh is that he only struck out only 15 times in 99 at-bats last season. He puts the ball in play. Maybe he won't be able to match his 2020 OPS, but he's going to get more chances to produce. Walsh has first base locked down with Albert Pujols limited to a reserve role in what could be the final year of his historic career.    

RHP/DH Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Ohtani was once known as the Babe Ruth of Japan, but until Sunday he had been unable to show MLB the full range of his talents.

    The 26-year-old was named the 2018 AL Rookie of the Year, but the Angels were careful with him because of injuries. He didn't hit on days he pitched and he had pitch limits. He didn't pitch at all in 2019 because of Tommy John surgery and he made only two appearances in 2020. 

    But Sunday night, he was finally unleashed. He hit 101 on the gun. He hit a solo home run to help his own cause. He threw an array of filthy breaking pitches. 

    But that will only continue if he stays healthy. 

    There were concerns about his health yet again Sunday night after a collision at home plate with Jose Abreu. A stellar outing was ended by a laborious two-thirds of an inning and a couple errant throws. But the Angels won anyway, and the club says Ohtani was not seriously injured. 

    He finished his first outing allowing three runs (one earned) on two hits, walking five and striking out seven over 4.2 innings. 

    Ohtani is doing things on a baseball field this generation has never seen, and he'll probably continue to do so this season since manager Joe Maddon has lifted all restrictions.   

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