Every spring, major league baseball teams gather in Florida and Arizona to knock off the rust and get ready for the 162-game grind that is the regular season. While spring training is necessary for all pitchers to get their arms ready and hitters to get their timing at the plate, this time is even more critical for younger players.
Spring training not only presents these young players with the opportunity to show their team what they can do, but also lay the groundwork that will hopefully pay off at either the plate or on the mound once the season starts. With that in mind, here is Athlon’s list of players who appear to be in prime position to breakout for their respective team in 2013.
Baseball's Top 15 Breakout Players for 2013
Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies have been hopeful of big things from Brown since he hit .327 with 20 home runs in 93 games between Double- and Triple-A in 2010. Unfortunately, things have yet to pan out for him at the plate, as he’s managed to hit just .236 in 433 at-bats in the majors with 12 home runs and 93 strikeouts. Still, Brown is only 27 and after tinkering with his swing and mechanics at the plate, he may be finally ready to put it all together. He has already mashed six home runs during spring training and has made steady improvement with his defense as well. Brown has all but locked up one of the starting corner outfield spots for the Phillies and could hit 20-25 home runs this season if he gets 500 at-bats.
Lorenzo Cain, OF, Kansas City Royals
At first glance, Cain’s 2012 numbers (.266-7-31, 10 SB) look anything but impressive, but don’t lose sight that the young outfielder played in just 61 games last season. Adjust these rates over a full season (162 G or 650 PA) and you get 18 home runs and 26 stolen bases, along with more than 80 RBIs and 70 runs scored. In fact, if Cain can stay healthy and show some improved plate discipline (56 SO in 61 G) in what would be full his first full season in the majors, it’s possible that the 27-year-old could provide a 20-home run, 30-stolen base season.
Alex Cobb, P, Tampa Bay Rays
In a Rays rotation that featured eventual American League Cy Young winner David Price, reliable workhorse James Shields, 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson and fellow young arm Matt Moore, Cobb more than held his own in 2012. The righthander went 11-9 with a 4.03 ERA in 23 starts last season, his first full one in the majors. His development was one of the reasons the team was willing to part with Shields in the offseason, and if his spring training numbers (14 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 23 SO in 19 1/3 innings so far) are any indication, he could be in for a big 2013 campaign.
Adam Eaton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
While he may not directly be the reason, Eaton’s presence and the production he provided (.259-2-5) in his late (85 at-bats) audition last season somewhat attributed to Arizona trading fellow outfielders Justin Upton and Chris Young during the offseason. Slotted for leadoff in manager Kirk Gibson’s lineup, Eaton was adept at getting on base during his time in the minor leagues (.456 on-base percentage over three seasons) and he walked just as many times (14) as he struck out (15) last September in the majors. He also stole 98 bases and hit a total of 24 home runs in the minors, so between his ability to get on base, steal a bag and occasionally drive one out of the park, he appears to have all the tools needed to be a dynamic and productive catalyst atop the Diamondbacks’ lineup.
Matt Harvey, P, New York Mets
The No. 7 overall pick of the 2010 MLB Draft arrived last July and didn’t disappoint. Harvey struck out 70 in 59 1/3 innings and posted a 2.73 ERA in 10 starts. He pitched no fewer than five innings in any one start and allowed two or fewer unearned runs on seven occasions. He’s picked up in spring training (2.95 ERA, 24 SO in 18 1/3 innings so far) right where he left off and, barring injury, should be among the National League’s strikeout leaders. In fact, if everything comes together and a few breaks go his way, Harvey could be a dark horse candidate to win the NL Cy Young award.
Adeiny Hechavarria, SS, Miami Marlins
A key piece of the trade that sent Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and others to Toronto, Hechavarria will be the Marlins’ everyday shortstop in 2013. One of the Blue Jays’ top prospects, the Cuban will turn 24 in April and although his glove is a little more developed than his bat at this point, he is expected to hit soon enough. In parts of two seasons at Triple-A, Hechavarria hit .327 with 26 doubles, eight home runs and 74 RBIs. He made his major-league debut last August and hit .254 with eight doubles and two home runs in only 126 at-bats. If anything, Hechavarria should get plenty of at-bats and the opportunity to display his all-around game this season.
Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
The top prospect in Baltimore’s system, Machado arrived earlier than expected when he made the jump from Double-A to the majors in August at just 20 years old. On top of that, the Orioles shifted their shortstop of the future over to third base, a position he played just two games at in AA prior to his call up. The third overall pick of the 2010 MLB Draft didn’t disappoint with his glove or bat, however, as he made just five errors in 51 games at the hot corner and hit .262 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs. For now, Machado will remain at third base, a position he should be even more comfortable at following his big-league indoctrination last season.
Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Everyone knows about Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, but Marte may make a name for himself this season as well. The 24-year-old outfielder made his debut last July and provided a glimpse of the potential across-the-board contributions he can offer when he posted a .257-5-17 line with 12 stolen bases in less than 200 plate appearances. Penciled in as the Pirates’ starting left fielder, Marte could be capable of producing a 15-home run, 20-stolen base type of season, and that appears to be his floor, not ceiling.
Jurickson Profar, 2B/SS, Texas Rangers
Even if Profar doesn’t make the Rangers’ Opening Day roster, it’s simply a matter of when and not if for the game’s top prospect. The 20-year-old will get his chance at some point this season, and it’s highly likely that once he does come up he will stay. A .276 hitter in three minor-league seasons, Profar did collect his first career home run among three hits in 17 at-bats with the Rangers at the end of last season. The fact the Rangers reportedly discussed trading All-Star shortstop Elvis Andrus during the offseason to make room for Profar should be all you need to know about their expectations for the young infielder.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
Despite a brutal 49-game introduction (.141-1-9 with 46 SO) to the big leagues with San Diego in 2011, the Cubs traded for the left-handed hitting Rizzo last January, believing him to be their future first baseman. After tearing up Triple-A once again (.342-23-62 in 70 G), the Cubs called him up last June and he proceeded to post a .265-15-48 line in a little more than half a season. Now entrenched in the No. 3 spot in manager Dale Sveum’s batting order, production along the lines of a .280 batting average, 25 home runs and close to 100 RBIs from the 23-year-old isn’t out of the question, especially if he continues to improve his production against southpaws (.208-4-17 in 101 AB last season).
Bruce Rondon, P, Detroit Tigers
Rondon is one of the reasons why the defending AL champion Tigers chose not to bring back closer Jose Valverde, who saved 35 games in 2012. The 22-year-old righty from Venezuela zoomed through Detroit’s minor-league system in 2012, striking out 66 batters in 53 innings across all three (A, AA, AAA) levels. Virtually handed the closer’s gig before spring training even started, Rondon struggled out of the gates down in Lakeland, Fla., but he has shown signs of improvement while maintaining his high-strikeout (15 in 8 2/3 innings) rate. If he’s given the opportunity to close for a Tigers team that’s expected to contend for another AL pennant, Rondon could be in line to rack up a lot of saves, not to mention strikeouts.
Justin Ruggiano, OF, Miami Marlins
On the heels of a massive multi-player trade with Toronto that netted the Marlins a bevy of prospects, opportunity knocks for more seasoned players in 2013, like Ruggiano. Last season, he hit .313 while providing both some pop (13 home runs) and speed (14 stolen bases) in less than 300 at-bats. That also represented the most playing time he had received in his four major-league seasons, but that should change in 2013. Back issues sidelined him at the start of spring training, but if he can show he’s healthy he should be the Marlins’ everyday center fielder this season. If he gets the chance to play a full season, Ruggiano could end up producing one of the quietest 20-home run, 20-stolen base campaigns in the majors.
Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves
Simmons made his major-league debut last June and promptly seized the Braves’ starting shortstop job by the throat. Besides providing Gold Glove-caliber defense, complete with a canon for an arm, Simmons showed he could handle the bat too. In June, he hit .333 with three home runs and 14 RBIs as he was named the National League’s Rookie of the Month. Everything was going smoothly for Simmons until he broke a bone in his right hand sliding into second base on July 8. The fracture kept him out until Sept. 10 and he hit just .275 following his return. The Braves are excited to see what Simmons can do over the course of a full season, as evidenced by the likelihood that he will bat leadoff in a lineup that added Justin and B.J. Upton during the offseason.
Julio Teheran, P, Atlanta Braves
One of several young promising arms in the Braves’ minor-league system, Teheran has taken full advantage of his time on the mound in spring training. The 22-year-old from Colombia has allowed just three earned runs on seven hits in 20 innings so far, while walking only six and striking out 25. While he may not have originally been a part of the Braves’ rotation plans, it’s looking more and more likely that Teheran will be one of manager Fredi Gonzalez’ starters come Opening Day.
Jacob Turner, P, Miami Marlins
The big prize in the trade that sent Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to Detroit last July, Turner provided a glimpse of his potential in his seven-start audition for the Marlins. Even though he went just 1-4 in his starts, he posted a tidy 3.38 ERA and even more impressive 0.98 WHIP as he allowed just 33 hits and nine walks in 42 2/3 innings, while also striking out 29. Despite his early struggles in spring training, Turner is expected to be a part of the Marlins’ starting rotation and, more than likely, will establish himself as the team’s ace.