MLB: 5 breakout stars who deserve more recognition
Baseball isn’t all about immediate stardom. The game clicks at different times for different players. The following MLB breakout stars have finally hit a groove in their respective careers.
Amidst the excitement of the MLB season, it is always fun to keep a lookout for the players who go from commonplace to can’t-miss. Each year there are breakout stars, but we never know where they’ll come from. Take Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge as an example. Sure he spent his minor league career as a top prospect, yet who would have thought he’d go from hitting .179 with a .345 slugging percentage in his debut season to leading the major leagues in both home runs and MVP hype? Professional baseball is all about taking baby steps, but we rarely see a leap such as the one displayed by Judge.
Aaron Judge has been an absolute phenomenon this season, but his play has been chronicled enough elsewhere. This article is about the players who haven’t received their deserved attention. It’s about the players who can’t hit a ball 119 MPH, or didn’t go from prospect to star in the blink of an eye.
Four of the following players are at least 27 years of age. The odd man out is 25 years old. The unpredictable or sudden success stories are just as fascinating as the red carpet, prospect-to-star stories. Delayed success stories can actually be the most intriguing.
Let’s give a Tampa Bay Ray some love. Rays outfielder Corey Dickerson has caught the league by surprise. He’s been the standout member of the Tampa Bay squad in 2017, and we could go a step further and crown him a standout member in MLB.
Corey Dickerson is near the top of the American League charts in nearly every offensive category. He ranks third in the AL with a .326 batting average, fourth in slugging percentage (.583), sixth in OPS (.948), fourth in triples (3) and first in hits (94). Dickerson has been on cruise control since the start of the year, cruising at a high rate of speed.
In a strikeout league, Dickerson has found his success through contact. His BABIP is .370 and his strikeout percentage is down from each of his previous MLB seasons. He even joined the unique group of players to have earned a base hit by hitting the ball off a bounce as it crossed the plate. Dickerson did so last month against the Texas Rangers.
The 28-year-old has finally blossomed. His success came to fruition after no significant delay, but enough of a delay for the Colorado Rockies to somewhat frivolously give him away. Colorado traded Dickerson to the Rays in the 2015-2016 offseason. In return, the Rockies acquired a veteran reliever in Jake McGee and a prospect arm in German Marquez.
It’s tough to say the Rockies feel any regret as they are currently on cloud nine. Plus, German Marquez has proved to be a nice piece in the Rockies’ rotation in 2017. Nevertheless, they’re missing out on an outstanding year from their former farm talent. Who knows what Dickerson’s 2017 success would have translated to at Coors Field? Then again, maybe something clicked for him in his move to Tampa Bay. One thing is for sure, Dickerson is the real deal and the Tampa Bay Rays have benefited greatly from his leadoff presence this season.
Oakland Athletics first baseman Yonder Alonso has been quietly outstanding this season. His performance for a bad west coast team places him in the shadows of some of the better known first basemen around Major League Baseball. Believe it or not, he has played better than most of them.
Alonso has seen eye-to-eye with the two best first basemen in baseball, Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt. Alonso has stayed in the back pocket of the two, competing in OPS, home runs and batting average. Unlike Goldschmidt and Votto, Alonso has the disadvantage of playing primarily in a pitcher’s ballpark. His numbers compare with the superstars of baseball, yet most fans probably don’t even know who he is.
Of course, any breakout player is susceptible to the “how long will this last?” criticism. With Alonso, however, the question is pointless. The 30-year-old has been a model of consistency this season. His compact, quick-to-the-ball stroke has resulted in repeated contact. He has also been stellar in working the count. Put the two together and you get a fourth-ranked OBP in MLB. There have been no signs of a slowdown for the slugging first baseman.
Alonso appears to have found the art of hitting in his eighth big league season. Along with this discovery, he has carried the Oakland A’s to moderate relevance in 2017. His performance alone should jump him to significant relevance among MLB. Alonso has emerged in trade rumors recently. Perhaps his play will soon be advertised for a contender.
Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus has bloomed in his ninth big league season. Andrus has always been a nice complement to the star hitters in the Texas lineup, but not until this season has he become a go-to bat. Andrus has fluctuated in the batting order throughout his career. He would generally slot either in the bottom two spots or in the top two spots, rarely in between.
Elvis Andrus has consistently batted second or third in the lineup this season. Depending on matchups, he rotates with outfielder Nomar Mazara in the third spot. In today’s game, teams look to either the second- or third-place spots in the batting order to store their best hitters. Andrus has been the Rangers’ best hitter in 2017. He has some major competition now that Adrian Beltre has returned, but Andrus has swung even better with Beltre’s protection in the lineup.
Andrus, who had 35 career home runs prior to 2017, already has seven home runs this season. He should surpass his career high of eight home runs shortly. The 28-year-old was no slouch in 2016 either, as he slashed .302/.362/.439. However, Andrus appears to have peaked in confidence in 2017, as if he realizes his true importance to the Rangers’ success. His statistics are impressive, ranking 24th in MLB in doubles, seventh in triples and 17th in hits. Andrus is also on pace to shatter his previous career high in RBI, already with 38.
The critics were knocking on Elvis Andrus’ door after his eye-sore debacle in Game 4 of the ALDS two seasons ago. There was talk of trading Andrus and murmurs of a wasted contract with Texas. Andrus officially hit rock bottom in his MLB career that afternoon in Toronto. He endured what probably felt like an eternal offseason post-2015, but he came back better than ever. A great 2016 and an outstanding 2017 have put Andrus back on the map as one of the league’s top shortstops. Through the Texas Rangers’ up-and-down season, Andrus has shined the brightest of all Rangers.
Starlin Castro was supposed to play a crucial part in the Chicago Cubs’ rebirth. Unfortunately, the Cubs had too much help on the way, and they quickly lost patience with Castro. Well, who is laughing now? Both sides I guess. The Cubs won themselves a World Series, while Starlin Castro has become a star in pinstripes.
The Yankee second baseman has been remarkable in 2017. He has seen a vast improvement in practically every offensive statistic. Castro is hitting a career-high .321 as June nears a close. His OBP ranks 25th in the American League, and he is currently slugging at a career high .504. Castro has endured a power surge ever since arriving in New York.
Castro’s career high in the home run category was 14 during his six years in Chicago. He instantly surpassed that mark by knocking 21 with the Yanks last season and he already has 12 in 2017. Castro fits perfectly in a power-heavy Yankees lineup, in a hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. The success of his teammates has placed many RBI opportunities in his crosshairs. Castro has not disappointed, already having driven in 44 runs this season.
Starlin Castro’s time had been cut off prematurely in Chicago; however, he has found a home in New York. If it weren’t for the younger Yankees making a splash – Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez – Castro would be getting more props around the league. Before our very own eyes, we are seeing Castro become the very player he was expected to become when he was a prospect with the Chicago Cubs. The New York Yankees sure are glad Castro’s belated success has taken place while wearing pinstripes.
The Baltimore Orioles have their share of bombers in the lineup. Manny Machado, Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Adam Jones – all well-known power threats throughout the league. Though all of the above have taken a back seat to another teammate in 2017.
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While power is the meat on the bone for the Baltimore Orioles, the team’s offense is often weighed down by inconsistency. Their well-known power threats are equally known for strikeouts and slumps.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop has been one of the few consistent Orioles this season. Through the ups and downs displayed by the majority of the lineup, Schoop has stayed true. He has upgraded from a doubles hitter to a home run hitter, and has managed a good batting average and on-base percentage through the transition.
Schoop has shined brightly primarily in the sixth spot in the Oriole lineup. He’s slashed .292/.344/.542 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI this season. In comparison to his competition, Schoop has more than held his own. He ranks in the top five among MLB second basemen in nearly every offensive statistic, including number one in home runs and tied for second in doubles. He has kept pace with two of the game’s purest hitters, Daniel Murphy and Jose Altuve.
It was only a matter of time before Jonathan Schoop would emerge as an elite bat. His 6’1″, 225 lb. frame is significant for a second baseman. His build projects great power and his quick hands allow for good contact. Schoop is the complete package and he is beginning to play like it. The Orioles hope some of their bigger-named players start to hit, but an even greater hope is for Jonathan Schoop to continue on his rapid pace.