Over the past couple seasons we have seen prospect graduates like Corey Seager, Kris Bryant, and Trea Turner break out in huge ways on the major league stage. Who is the next to join that group?
It’s no secret that young talent has been quickly making its way to the big leagues in recent years. We’ve seen incredible seasons from Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, and Kris Bryant in the past few years as a showcasing of incredible young talent. Before them it was Mike Trout and Bryce Harper doing something similar in 2012. There is never a shortage of young talent, but their seems to be quite a surplus at the top end right now.
This list contains players that have all had at least a cup of coffee in the big leagues. They are not, however, considered to be big league regulars yet. In fact, some of them may even start the season in the minor leagues. Regardless, all five of these players are primed to have a big impact on major league play during the coming season.
A couple of the players on this list are eligible to win the Rookie of the Year award, but such eligibility was not required to make this list. The purpose of this list is essentially to point out which players right on the cusp of being major league regulars will breakout during the 2017 season. While top prospects Kris Bryant and Corey Seager were able to make a clean entry to the big leagues and win Rookie of the Year awards, that’s not always the case. Other players of similar talent levels can breakout and have fantastic seasons without the ability to win a simple award.
As with any list narrowed down to five players, there were deserving players left out. Some notable players that were left off this list, but remained on the CBS Sports list of players that could win their respective Rookie of the Year awards include Yoan Moncada, Jharel Cotton, Dansby Swanson, and Jose De Leon. All four are bound to get major league playing time this coming season. All four are going to be very good players in the very near future. However, they were not included in this list of breakout players.
With that said, here is the list. They are ranked in order, although the order isn’t all that important. Regardless of where they lie on this list, they are likely going to all have very successful 2016 seasons and careers after that.
Alex Reyes is one of very few pitching prospects that has been given the “potential ace” tag. Aces are hard to find around the league at the highest level, so it makes sense that it’s hard to find an ace prospect as well. What gives Reyes that potential is the impressiveness of his raw stuff. Such is the case with most top pitching prospects. As is also the case for most top pitching prospects, finding the strike zone is somewhat of a problem.
Reyes, like other ace potential prospect Lucas Giolito, has an arsenal that features primarily a four seam fastball and curveball. Reyes’ fastball has high velocity and movement, which combines to make the pitch a plus offering. His curveball is also a plus pitch that misses bats. As a third offering he has a changeup that isn’t great but projects to be just about an average pitch. Two plus pitches and a third pitch to mix things up is about all it takes to get that ace tag.
As mentioned before, Reyes still struggles with command. It could be a mechanical adjustment or simply experience that allow Reyes to find the control of pitches he needs to reach his full potential. Regardless of how Reyes is able to find a consistent feel for the strike zone, if he does so he will rise to one of the best young pitchers in the game. The chances of Reyes doing exactly that aren’t huge, but they are enough to make him a great candidate to have a breakout season.
The Cardinals would greatly appreciate the emergence of Reyes as a top of the rotation starter. Last year they missed the playoffs because of injuries in the field and failures from the pitching staff. If they could remain healthy and receive an impressive rookie season from Reyes, they could easily return to the postseason. Reyes also has a good chance to win the NL Rookie of the Year award, which would make him the second pitcher in a row to receive one of the two Rookie of the Year awards handed out each season.
Although Dahl is listed as a center fielder, the current state of the Rockies defense means that he’ll be shoved into a corner. Dahl will likely play a majority of the season in the left field corner where his good defensive ability will play up even more than it would in center. While he could definitely handle the responsibilities of center field, his overall value will see a rise with him in a corner.
On the offensive side of things, Dahl is very skilled. When he was drafted he was thought to be a bat first type player. Clearly his prospect profile has changed with time and his increasing talent defensively, but the bat remains as solid as it was expected to be during those early reports. Dahl struggled with injuries during his time in the minors, which halted his development for some time. Now that he’s healthy and received the call-up, there doesn’t appear to be much in his way.
Dahl hits the ball hard, but isn’t necessarily a power hitter. He saw his power numbers increase during the past season, which only means he’ll greatly benefit from playing half his games in Coors field, even if the help is somewhat insignificant. With power comes the tendency to swing and miss, and Dahl is no different. However, his approach and plate discipline have improved over the past year, so there’s a chance that he can improve in those areas similar to the way that Kris Bryant has over the past couple seasons.
Like most of the players on this list, there are a couple flaws to the player’s game. If those flaws are fixed, the player will have no problem having a breakout season. Dahl is not eligible to win the Rookie of the Year award, but he could be one of the best up and comers in the game next season. If he can lower his strikeouts, increase his walks, and continue to hit for power, there’s no doubt that he would be considered a breakout player in 2017.
This is one guy on the list that it could be argued has already broken out. Last season Gary Sanchez made his way to the big leagues and made a ton of noise when he got there. He did things in his first month that Hall of Famers did not do in theirs. In small number of plate appearances (229) he hit 20 home runs with a 171 wRC+ while slashing .299/.376/.657. It was a second half of the year like we’d never seen before from a rookie, and it almost won him the Rookie of the Year award.
What we haven’t seen yet from Sanchez is a full season of this type of production. While he probably won’t reach quite the same level of offensive production over the period of a full season, there’s reason to believe that his hot August and September weren’t just flukes. Sanchez has always been lauded for his abilities with the bat, dating back to his younger days as a prospect. His raw power is one of his plus tools, which was on full display last season.
Defensively, Sanchez has good and bad parts of his game. He can hold runners with ease because of his incredibly strong and accurate throwing arm. In terms of framing, scouts don’t think there’s a whole lot to be excited about. As he gets more experience under his belt, however, he will likely improve in terms of calling games and working with his pitchers. With the help of his superb arm, he can be a very good defensive catcher in the future. In terms of just 2017 value, the arm will likely be the only defensive tool that impresses.
If Sanchez can continue to hit at a high level, and for power, during the coming season he will definitely be considered a breakout player. There’s even a small chance that he could hit upwards of 30-40 home runs in his first full season. That would be quite an awe-inspiring feat for a player of his age. In a baseball landscape where catchers that can hit the ball and also field the position are few and far between, the Yankees have found themselves a good one. Not only was he great in 2016, but there’s reason to believe he can improve and breakout over his first full season in pinstripes.
Bregma, like Sanchez, is not eligible to receive the Rookie of the Year award this coming season. However, unlike Sanchez he didn’t have a magnificent start to his major league career. In fact, it started with one of the worst starts we’ve seen from a rookie of such a high prospect pedigree. Bregman started his major league career with a 1 for 19 stretch that ultimately led to him slashing just .264/.313/.478 during his 219 major league plate appearances. Those numbers are no slouch for a typical rookie, but the expectations for Bregman were relatively high.
Bregman was the 2nd overall pick just a few years ago in the 2015 MLB Draft. He was selected right after another player who very easily could have made this list, Dansby Swanson. Bregman’s abilities at the plate were what enticed the Astros to draft the shortstop from LSU, but his defense is no slouch either. While he has been moved away from his natural position, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t be successful at third base defensively.
On the offensive side of the game, there’s relatively no worry at all that he’ll one day be among the best hitters in the league. In fact, he may even reach All-Star level during the coming season. His swing is level and provides him with plenty of power as well as line drives in the gaps. Not only can he hit line drives and for power, but he spreads his hits all over the field. The power has been a recent addition to his arsenal, which is what helped him shoot up the prospect lists as well as the minor league system.
The power has been a welcome addition to Bregman’s abilities, but it has the potential to improve even more in the coming season. If he can improve in that area, it would make it incredibly easy to be considered a breakout player. Especially if his home run total rises above 25 and his ISO hangs around .200. The rest of his arsenal projects to stay basically the same in the coming season. Remaining the same, however, is still incredibly good and sets him up to indeed be the breakout player that many, myself included, expect him to be during the 2017 season. Adding a breaking out Bregman to an already fantastic, young Astros offense would be lethal in the American League West.
As if the Boston Red Sox needed any more help from young stars, they have another rising star in their midst. After getting a short amount of time with the big league club, shortened even more by injury, Benintendi solidified his place as the Red Sox top prospect. Yes, even above the now White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada. He was impressive both in the field and at the plate. Thanks to the shortened time from injury, he is eligible to win the Rookie of the Year award this coming season. In fact, I’d bet that he has the best odds of anyone to win it.
Benintendi has always been regarded as one of the best hitting prospects out there. In his final year of college ball he beat out number one and two picks in the same draft Alex Bregman and Dansby Swanson for the Golden Spikes award. That alone speaks volumes about the hitter that Benintendi has always been. With the help of bulking up, adding a little power, and simply just improving in the minor leagues he has become one of the best prospects in baseball. Like Bregman, he does almost every single thing right.
If the Red Sox didn’t already have two natural center fielders on the team, Benintendi would be in line to get some starts at the position. Instead, he will make things look incredibly easy on defense in left field. His defense is just an added bonus to his excellent hitting ability, but it’s more valuable than just an add on skill. This all helps round Benintendi out as a player.
Unlike his young power-hitting contemporaries, Benintendi doesn’t have a tendency to swing and miss. He has a great approach at the plate as well as a good feel for the strike zone that drew him comps offensively to Kyle Schwarber in that sense. While he won’t provide the same raw power of Schwarber, the generally great hitting ability is similar. That’s high praise for a player with just 100 or so plate appearances in the big leagues.
While the rest of the players on this list are all great and bound to have wonderful 2017 seasons, Benintendi is the one that stands out. It won’t hurt to play on a great team that provides him with plenty of protection and cushion in the lineup. In a hitter friendly park there’s no reason to believe that Benintendi won’t have a fantastic breakout season. And he just might get himself a piece of hardware in the AL Rookie of the Year award.