MLB's All-Breakout Team for 2021 Season
It's time to announce Bleacher Report's 2021 MLB All-Breakout Team.
There are still a few weeks remaining in the regular season, but the year's biggest breakouts are already well established at this point. The All-Breakout Team will consist of one player at each position, five starting pitchers and one relief pitcher.
The idea was to focus on players who have achieved a level of success not previously seen.
With that in mind, here are a few examples of guys who don't fit that description:
- Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds is having the best season of his career, but he was a 4.2-WAR player as a rookie just two years ago. Another step forward in his development? Yes. A breakout? No.
- Tampa Bay Rays uber-prospect Wander Franco has quickly settled in as a standout at the MLB level in his rookie season. Based on his track record and long-term outlook, he's doing exactly what most expected him to do, so it's not so much a breakout as it is the culmination of his development.
Along with our picks at each position are a handful of honorable mentions who have also taken their game to another level in 2021.
Off we go!
Catcher: Eric Haase, Detroit Tigers
Catcher Eric Haase entered his age-28 season with only 26 games played at the MLB level and a forgettable .122/.170/.184 line with 20 strikeouts in 53 plate appearances.
When offseason addition Wilson Ramos (lumbar spine strain) and light-hitting Greyson Greiner (hamstring strain) both landed on the injured list in the middle of May, it left the Detroit Tigers with a hole at the catcher position.
Haase was promoted from Triple-A, and in his first 20 games following the call-up, he posted a 1.014 OPS with eight home runs and 13 RBI to effectively secure the starting job.
Aside from his work behind the plate, he has also shown some valuable versatility by playing 18 games in left field.
Honorable Mentions: Max Stassi (LAA), Tyler Stephenson (CIN)
First Base: Ty France, Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners saw enough in Evan White to sign him to a six-year, $24 million extension before he even made his MLB debut.
Despite hitting just .176 with a 67 OPS+ in 202 plate appearances as a rookie in 2020, he was still viewed as a big part of the team's future and the unquestioned starting first baseman entering this season. However, a hip flexor strain sidelined him in the middle of May, and he underwent season-ending surgery in July, opening the door for Ty France.
The 27-year-old hit .302/.362/.453 with eight extra-base hits and 13 RBI in 23 games with the Mariners last season after he was acquired from the San Diego Padres in the seven-player deal that sent catcher Austin Nola the other way.
On Opening Day, he was the No. 2 hitter and starting DH and saw sporadic time around the infield in the early going. He eventually took over as the everyday first baseman after White hit the injured list and has thrived in that role.
He is hitting .287/.360/.440 for a 126 OPS+ with 27 doubles, 16 home runs and 61 RBI, and his 3.8 WAR trails only Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (6.0), Max Muncy (5.5), Matt Olson (4.9), Paul Goldschmidt (4.9) and Freddie Freeman (4.1) among first basemen this season.
Honorable Mentions: Nathaniel Lowe (TEX), Darin Ruf (SF), Frank Schwindel (CHC)
Second Base: Jonathan India, Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds outside-the-box Eugenio Suarez at shortstop experiment was doomed from the start, but it lasted long enough for Jonathan India to break camp as the starting second baseman and quickly prove himself worthy of everyday playing time.
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 draft hit .350/.497/.717 with 21 home runs during his junior season at the University of Florida, but his prospect star had begun to fade a bit after a lackluster start to his pro career.
He hit .259/.365/.402 with 11 home runs and 44 RBI in 121 games between High-A and Double-A in 2019. Respectable numbers, but well short of what was expected from a standout college performer and an early draft pick.
However, the jump to the majors this year has gone more smoothly than anyone could have hoped for, especially after the lost 2020 season. The 24-year-old is batting .273/.379/.468 with 27 doubles, 20 home runs, 64 RBI, 85 runs scored and 3.6 WAR, hitting primarily out of the leadoff spot in the lineup.
Will that be enough to take home NL Rookie of the Year honors?
Honorable Mentions: Tony Kemp (OAK), Abraham Toro (SEA)
Third Base: Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves
No Ronald Acuna Jr.? No Marcell Ozuna? No problem.
After a disappointing, injury-plagued first half, the Atlanta Braves have seized control of the NL East race thanks to a busy trade deadline and the ongoing breakout of third baseman Austin Riley.
A first-round pick in 2015, he burst onto the MLB scene in 2019 when he posted a 1.101 OPS with nine home runs and 25 RBI in his first 18 games in the majors, but he quickly cooled off and dealt with injuries down the stretch as a rookie.
That was followed by a .239/.301/.415 line and 86 OPS+ last season that left many Atlanta fans clamoring for an upgrade at the hot corner during the offseason. Patience is a virtue.
This year, the 24-year-old is hitting .297/.369/.521 for a 131 OPS+ with 26 doubles, 29 home runs and 89 RBI, and has played in 141 of 142 games.
He also has a .987 OPS with 15 home runs and 47 RBI in 53 games since the All-Star break.
Aside from his offensive production, Riley has taken a significant step forward at third base, too, going from a liability to a plus defender.
Don't be surprised if his name pops up on the back end of more than a few NL MVP ballots,
Honorable Mentions: Santiago Espinal (TOR), Patrick Wisdom (CHC)
Shortstop: Willy Adames, Milwaukee Brewers
Willy Adames was a 3.9-WAR player in 2019, so he has provided plenty of value in the past.
However, most of that value came from his defensive work at shortstop, and the strides he has made at the plate since he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in May make him the obvious choice at shortstop.
The 26-year-old was hitting just .197/.254/.371 with 12 extra-base hits in 142 plate appearances when the Tampa Bay Rays shipped him out in exchange for relievers J.P. Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen.
Since the trade, he's hitting .294/.375/.529 for a 140 OPS+ with 25 doubles, 17 home runs and 51 RBI.
The Brewers were 21-23 before his first start with the team on May 22, but they went 60-28 before he landed on the Injured List on Sept. 5 with a left quad strain.
Nevertheless, not since Yoenis Cespedes was traded to the New York Mets at the 2015 deadline has a player made such a profound impact on his new team's offense.
Honorable Mentions: J.P. Crawford (SEA), Nicky Lopez (KC), Amed Rosario (CLE), Edmundo Sosa (STL)
Outfielder: Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles
Cedric Mullins established himself as a prospect to watch when he hit .273/.321/.464 with 37 doubles, 10 triples, 14 home runs and 30 steals in 124 games in his full-season debut at Single-A in 2016.
He saw his first big league action in 2018, but he hit just .225/.290/.342 for a 72 OPS+ in sporadic action spanning 115 games and 418 plate appearances over the last three years.
The 26-year-old was the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter on Opening Day this year, and he wasted no time getting his breakout season going. He started with an 11-game hitting streak, tallying five multi-hit games during that stretch, and just like that, he was off to the races.
It looked like he might be leveling off when he put together a lackluster month of May, but that was followed by a .380/.452/.720 line and 17 extra-base hits in June. He was also the starting center fielder for the American League in the All-Star Game.
It is now abundantly clear that Mullins is a star in the making, and he has a chance to be the first 30/30 player in Baltimore Orioles history.
He is hitting .300/.367/.539 for a 141 OPS+ with 33 doubles, 29 home runs, 56 RBI, 85 runs scored and 28 steals in 35 attempts. All of that, along with his solid defense in center field, has made him a 5.4-WAR player in 2021.
Outfielder: Tyler O'Neill, St. Louis Cardinals
Tyler O'Neill has long tantalized with his raw power potential.
He slugged 32 home runs at High-A Bakersfield in 2015 when he was still a member of the Seattle Mariners organization. He also had a 31-homer season at Triple-A in 2017, the year he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals at the deadline in exchange for Marco Gonzales.
He had 21 home runs in 450 plate appearances in the big leagues entering the 2021 season, but he had hit just .229/.291/.422 with a 34 percent strikeout rate in 171 games.
When Dexter Fowler was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in February, it opened up a starting spot in the outfield, and O'Neill has seized his opportunity.
The 26-year-old is hitting .276/.346/.520 for a 139 OPS+ with 22 doubles and 25 home runs. And after winning a Gold Glove in 2020, he again ranks as one of the best left fielders in baseball, tallying 10 DRS and a 7.6 UZR/150 to go along with six outfield assists.
Could he be the next target for an early extension in St. Louis?
Outfielder: Adolis Garcia, Texas Rangers
No one is surprised to see rookies like Wander Franco, Casey Mize and Randy Arozarena front and center in the AL Rookie of the Year conversation.
The same can't be said of Adolis Garcia.
The 28-year-old outfielder was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals for cash considerations before the 2020 season and looked like little more than organizational depth for a Texas Rangers team in transition at the start of the year.
He started off slow but caught fire in May, hitting .312/.348/.633 with 11 home runs and 27 RBI in 28 games to earn the everyday center field job, and earned a spot on the AL All-Star team as a reserve.
His production has tapered off since the All-Star break, but he still has a 106 OPS+ with 22 doubles, 29 home runs, 79 RBI, 70 runs scored and 10 steals in a 3.2-WAR season.
A .291 on-base percentage and 31.1 percent strikeout rate raise some red flags about his long-term upside, but he is a clear AL Rookie of the Year candidate and one of the biggest surprises of 2021.
Honorable Mentions: Akil Baddoo (DET), Robbie Grossman (DET), Myles Straw (CLE), LaMonte Wade Jr. (SF)
Starting Pitcher: Freddy Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers
More than a few eyebrows were raised when the Milwaukee Brewers signed Freddy Peralta to a five-year, $15.5 million extension that includes a pair of club options prior to the 2020 season.
He had a 5.29 ERA and 1.46 WHIP in 2019 but showed swing-and-miss stuff with 115 strikeouts in 85 innings while pitching in a swingman role. That was enough for the front office to roll the dice on a long-term deal.
He took a step forward during the shortened 2020 campaign with a 3.99 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 47 strikeouts in 29.1 innings, and that has proven to be the jumping-off point for a huge breakout season.
The 25-year-old has been a dominant No. 3 starter behind Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes in the Milwaukee rotation, going 9-4 with a 2.69 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 172 strikeouts in 127 innings. He has allowed only one hit six different times, and his .157 opponents' batting average is the lowest in the majors among pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings.
All of that while earning a $1.3 million salary.
Starting Pitcher: Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox
After pitching just 42.1 innings and struggling to a 5.74 ERA in 2019 and 2020, Carlos Rodon was non-tendered by the Chicago White Sox at the start of last offseason.
He ultimately landed back on the South Side on a one-year, $3 million contract and won the No. 5 starter job over Reynaldo Lopez with a strong spring training performance.=
Expectations were high for Rodon when he was taken No. 3 overall in the 2014 draft, and while he showed flashes of living up to his potential early in his career, a bevy of injuries kept him from settling into a spot in the rotation.
The left-hander tossed a no-hitter against Cleveland in his second start of the 2021 season, and he built off that historic outing to emerge as a bona fide AL Cy Young candidate for a White Sox team running away with the AL Central race.
The 28-year-old has not pitched beyond five innings in each of his last six starts as the White Sox manage his workload ahead of the postseason, but he is still having a Cy Young-caliber season. In 22 starts, he's gone 12-5 with a 2.38 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 175 strikeouts in 124.2 innings.
With free agency looming once again, he's due for a hefty raise and some multi-year security.
Starting Pitcher: Logan Webb, San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants gave pitcher Logan Webb a long leash during his first two seasons in the majors, and now they are reaping the rewards of that gained experience.
The 24-year-old was knocked around to the tune of a 5.36 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in 94 innings in 2019 and 2020. His 4.15 FIP during that span provided some reason for optimism, though, and he consistently showed impressive raw stuff.
Everything has clicked this year, and he's been a major part of a surprise rotation in San Francisco.
In 22 starts, he's gone 10-3 with a 2.80 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 132 strikeouts in 125.1 innings, trimming his walk rate (4.0 to 2.3 BB/9) and raising his strikeout rate (7.6 to 9.5 K/9), relative to the numbers he posted last season. He has nine quality starts in 12 appearances since the All-Star break.
His wipeout slider has been one of baseball's most dominant strikeout pitches, limiting opposing hitters to a .152 average and .238 slugging percentage while racking up 73 strikeouts and logging a 46.2 percent whiff rate.
With club control through the 2025 season, Webb is the future ace of the staff in San Francisco.
Starting Pitcher: Trevor Rogers, Miami Marlins
The Miami Marlins took left-hander Trevor Rogers with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2017 draft. He was the fourth high school pitcher selected that year after Hunter Greene (No. 2, CIN), MacKenzie Gore (No. 3, SD) and Shane Baz (No. 12, PIT).
The 23-year-old debuted last year with a 6.11 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in seven starts, but he earned a spot on the NL All-Star team this year while emerging as the early front-runner for NL Rookie of the Year honors.
With a mid-90s fastball, plus changeup and a swing-and-miss slider, he has the stuff to be a rotation staple for years to come in a Marlins rotation loaded with young, controllable arms.
He spent the entire month of August on the family medical emergency, bereavement and restricted list, returning on Sept. 4 and making a pair of 4.1 inning starts so far this month as he tries to ramp back up for the stretch run.
All told, he is 7-7 with a 2.73 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 138 strikeouts in 118.2 innings over 22 starts, and with a strong finish, he still has a shot at taking home top rookie honors in the National League.
Starting Pitcher: Chris Flexen, Seattle Mariners
After a forgettable three-year run with the New York Mets, where he posted an 8.07 ERA in 68 innings, Chris Flexen spent the 2020 season pitching for the Doosan Bears in the Korean Baseball Organization.
He went 8-4 with a 3.01 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 132 strikeouts in 116.2 innings in his lone season overseas and parlayed that into a two-year, $4.75 million contract with the Seattle Mariners that includes a team-friendly $4 million team option for 2023.
The 27-year-old has returned to the majors a changed pitcher, going 11-6 with a 3.73 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 107 strikeouts in a team-high 156.2 innings for an upstart contender.
He doesn't miss a lot of bats, but he has chewed up innings this season while logging a 111 ERA+, and he'll be a low-cost middle-of-the-rotation option for the next two years.
Honorable Mentions: Dylan Cease (CWS), Nestor Cortes Jr. (NYY), Luis Garcia (HOU), Cole Irvin (OAK), James Kaprielian (OAK), Tyler Mahle (CIN), Alek Manoah (TOR), Shane McClanahan (TB), Tylor Megill (NYM), Casey Mize (DET), Cal Quantrill (CLE), Tarik Skubal (DET), Huascar Ynoa (ATL)
Relief Pitcher: Jonathan Loaisiga, New York Yankees
From unlikely All-Star Andrew Kittredge to Rule 5 pick Garrett Whitlock to unexpected trade deadline mover Kendall Graveman, there have been more than a few out-of-nowhere standouts among relief pitchers this season.
However, none has made a bigger impact than Jonathan Loaisiga.
The starter-turned-reliever has been an invaluable multi-inning weapon for the New York Yankees, filling a wide variety of roles in the bullpen on his way to leading all relievers with an impressive 3.0 WAR.
The 26-year-old has a 2.25 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 8.7 K/9 in 54 appearances, and he's tallied nine wins, five saves and 18 holds.
With presumptive late-inning arms Zack Britton and Darren O'Day both missing significant time, he has stepped up big alongside Chad Green and Aroldis Chapman to help anchor the bullpen.
Honorable Mentions: David Bednar (PIT), Emmanuel Clase (CLE), Kendall Graveman (HOU), Andrew Kittredge (TB), Jordan Romano (TOR), Paul Sewald (SEA), Ranger Suarez (PHI), Garrett Whitlock (BOS)