Jan. 12, 2017
2017 Baseball's Breakout Players at Each Position
C- J.T. Realmuto (Miami Marlins): Realmuto had a great year in 2016, but I expect him to maintain, if not improve in 2017. At only 25 years old, Realmuto has plenty of room for growth, but he is moving in the right direction. He has a rare combination of on base potential, speed, and power at the catching position. While I am a little worried about his .357 BABIP in 2016, his 8.8% HR/FB ratio tells me he could really tap into his power potential moving forward. There are plenty of decent offensive players in the Marlins lineup in 2017, so Realmuto should have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs or score himself. While he isn’t the most exciting breakout player, the catching position is a tough position to get excited about except for the top 3-5 players.
Projection: .290 BA, .340 OBP, 15 home runs, 65 runs, 65 RBIs, 13 stolen bases
Other Potential Breakout: Tom Murphy
1B- Greg Bird (New York Yankees): After missing all of 2016 due to a torn shoulder labrum, Bird will come back better than ever in 2017. This smooth swinging lefty is the perfect fit for the Yankees lineup. Yankee Stadium is known for its favorable right field short-porch for left-handed hitters, which should bode well for Bird’s power. With this new youth movement in New York, Bird will fit right in and will blossom in the middle of their lineup. If he can stay healthy, it would not surprise me to see Bird finish in the top-12 for first base production in 2017 due to his above average plate discipline and favorable home field.
Projection: .255 BA, .352 OBP, 27 home runs, 83 RBIs, 79 runs, 2 stolen bases
Other Potential Breakout: Justin Bour
2B- Devon Travis (Toronto Blue Jays): If Devon Travis could stay healthy, there is no doubt in my mind he would be a top-8 second baseman. While he is only 25 years old, he has battled injuries throughout his entire young career. In his 432 plate appearances in 2016, he proved his 2015 season was no fluke. His plate discipline could use some work, but that should improve with time. His ability to provide consistent contact inside and outside of the zone is a special trait for a player his age. He is a very unique hitter in that he only has average speed, but his contact ability has led to a high career BABIP. This doesn’t worry me as much since it has been a trend his entire minor and major league career. After losing Edwin Encarnacion and potentially Jose Bautista, Travis will need to step up and provide consistent offensive production in Toronto’s lineup. 2017 could be the year Travis finally breaks out and plays a full season.
Projection: .300 BA, .344 OBP, 16 home runs, 67 RBIs, 70 runs, 10 stolen bases
Other Potential Breakout: Jurickson Profar (utility, but eligible at second base)
3B- Miguel Sano (Minnesota Twins; also eligible in right field): Sano is probably my favorite breakout candidate on this list. He had a great rookie year in 2015, but his sky-high .396 BABIP and a few other metrics screamed regression after his first 335 professional plate appearances. He went through a bit of a sophomore slump in 2016, but he also battled a few nagging injuries, and played in an absolutely terrible lineup. In 2016, he saw a large drop in his walk rate, increase in his strikeout rate, and a very large drop in both batting average and on base percentage. Sano’s ability and makeup is too good to not rebound from this tough season. The Twins lineup is starting develop as they have young stars in Max Kepler and Bryon Buxton, but they also have a strong core of veterans that includes Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier. These four, along with Sano, could surprise some people in 2017. Sano will come out hot in 2017 and I don’t believe he will ever cool down. His power potential and ceiling could put him in a very elite group of players in 2017.
Projection: .245 BA, .337 OBP, 37 home runs, 84 RBIs, 68 runs, 2 stolen bases
Other Potential Breakout: Ryon Healy
SS- Tim Anderson (Chicago White Sox): Anderson is the definition of boom or bust player. His abysmal walk rate and questionable plate discipline is a legitimate concern, but the talent is there. His unique combination of speed and power could take this shortstop a long way, but just imagine if Anderson could somehow find a way to take a few more walks and strikeout just a little less. Considering he should see every day at-bats in 2017, it would not surprise me if Anderson’s increase in experience did help him in a few of these categories. Even if he doesn’t progress in his plate discipline issues, he still has the talent to put up an above-average year. I’m not as excited about this player as I am about others on this list, but he definitely has the potential for a breakout season.
Projection: .292 BA, .327 OBP, 16 home runs, 51 RBIs, 83 runs, 24 stolen bases
Other Potential Breakout: Orlando Arcia
LF- Andrew Benintendi (Boston Red Sox): I believe this breakout truly hinges on where Benintendi hits in the Red Sox lineup, but they would be crazy to not put his bat at the top. Benintendi might have some of the best pure contact skills in the league and he is only 22 years old. His smooth swing from the left side hits the ball to all fields, which keeps defenses off balanced and provides many run scoring opportunities. His brief time in the big leagues in 2016 was an impressing, but what he could do with a full year of at bats could be even more special. Personally, I’d like to see Benintendi hit in the #1 or #2 spot in the lineup, but I’m not sure he will get that opportunity at the start of the season. His pure baseball instinct and ability to adapt to pitches inside and outside of the zone could provide a lot of flexibility for the Red Sox in their lineup in 2017.
Projection: .295 BA, .352 OBP, 20 home runs, 79 RBIs, 85 runs, 16 stolen bases
Other Potential Breakout: David Dahl
CF- Kevin Kiermaier (Tampa Bay Rays): Kiermaier had a sneaky good season in 2016, but I believe he could improve even more heading into 2017. He posted great numbers in 2016, but his .278 BABIP tells me his numbers could be much better next season. He stole 21 bases in 2016 and has above-average speed, which is why his low BABIP confuses me. He also posted 12 home runs last year on a career average HR/FB ratio, which suggests this is expected. Not only is Kiermaier an asset at the plate, but his fly ball routes and ground covered in the outfield is also a great asset to the Rays.
Projection: .268 BA, .343 OBP, 13 home runs, 52 RBIs, 70 runs, 23 stolen bases
Other Potential Breakout: Byron Buxton
RF- Josh Bell (Pittsburgh Pirates; also eligible at first base): In Bell’s 152 plate appearances, he made quite an impression. The biggest impression he made on me was his incredible plate discipline. He posted a 13.8% walk rate compared to a 12.5% strikeout rate, which is right in line with his minor league career. I don’t foresee Bell putting up top notch power numbers, which could hurt his value at first base or right field, but his ability to get on base and work the count could make him a very consistent and reliable player. His swing is very level and compact, which will lead to more line drive and gap power, but I believe with more experience, he could develop 20+ home run power.
Projection: .279 BA, .371 OBP, 18 home runs, 64 RBIs, 57 runs, 3 stolen
Other Potential Breakout: Hunter Renfroe
SP- Aaron Nola (Philadelphia Phillies): In April and May of last season, it looked like Nola was well on his way to a breakout season after posting a sub-3.00 ERA. Unfortunately, from June until the end of the season, he was tagged for a 5.00+ ERA. Looking back at his season, his numbers don’t look pretty on the surface, but I have found a few hidden gems while digging deeper. In his 111 innings pitched, he had a 4.78 ERA, but he had a 3.08 FIP. Out of all starting pitchers with over 100 innings pitched, no pitcher has as big of a difference between their ERA and FIP as Aaron Nola. This suggests that Nola ran into a lot of bad luck on batted balls (confirmed by his opposing .356 BABIP) or his defense behind him was sub-par. The Phillies are starting to develop some of their younger talent, which means Nola could see some extra run and defensive support behind him in 2017. Considering he had a 9.81 K/9 rate and a 2.35 BB/9 rate, it looks like he has the ability to truly breakout in 2017 if he can get lady luck back on his side.
Projection: 175 IP, 13-10 record, 3.32 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 181 strikeouts
Other Potential Breakout: Lance McCullers Jr.
RP- Kyle Barraclough (Miami Marlins): In 72.2 innings pitched in 2016, Barraclough had a 2.85 ERA, 6-3 record, 1.22 WHIP, and 113 strikeouts (14.0 K/9). As a reliever, it doesn’t get much better than that. Unfortunately for him, A.J. Ramos has done a pretty good job in the closer role, but it would not surprise me to see Barraclough get a few opportunities this season, or maybe even take over the role if Ramos struggles. It is worth noting the Marlins signed Brad Ziegler, which could hurt Barraclough’s chances, but I personally believe his talent is too much to be ignored. Regardless, Barraclough’s impressive strikeout rate should take him far, but if he wants to become an elite reliever, he must figure out his control issues (5.45 BB/9 in 2016). Outside of his walks, all other important statistics look very appealing. He had a 2.11 FIP (compared to his 2.85 ERA), 74.8% left on base percentage (league average is ~72%), and he induced a 52.1% ground ball rate. While last year was definitely a breakout year for this right-handed pitcher, this season could take him to the next level if he starts to get save opportunities or gets traded.
Projection: 69 IP, 6-2 record, 107 strikeouts, 1.16 WHIP, 7 saves
Other Potential Breakout: Raisel Iglesias