Thursday, February 7, 2013
Seven potential breakout players in 2013
By Jim Bowden
He had a solid rookie year, but Hosmer is primed for true a breakout year in 2013.
There’s an old scouting adage: “He’ll tell us when he’s ready.”
While that mainly pertains to gauging minor league players and their major league readiness, it also applies to young major leaguers trying to live up to their potential and looking for that “breakout” season.
It’s that season when all the tools, talent and abilities come together to fulfill the many high expectations on all the scouting reports. It offers the talent evaluators confirmation that they got it right while proving the critics wrong.
Take a look at the breakout seasons Matt Kemp, Andrew McCutchen and Carlos Gonzalez enjoyed over the past several years. Long regarded as five-tool players with elite physical talent, their teams and fans waited and waited for the corresponding elite production to come. It happened for a 24-year-old Kemp in 2009, when he hit 26 homers with 101 RBIs and won his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards after slowly increasing his production since his major league debut in 2006. Likewise, the same explosion happened for Gonzalez in 2010 at age 24, and then for McCutchen in 2012 at age 25.
The 2013 season should be no different. Here are seven individuals, all just about the same age as our aforementioned trio, who have barely scratched the surface of their massive potential and are primed to be among baseball’s breakout players in 2013.
With six years of experience, Upton is primed to finally reach his potential. He’s different than Kemp, McCutchen and Gonzalez because he’s already had a successful start to his career that includes two All-Star appearances, a Silver Slugger Award and a top-five showing in 2011 NL MVP voting. He has the potential to produce 35 homers and 100 RBIs annually, but he has yet to put together a consistent year from start to finish that would really signify his arrival. Being traded to the Atlanta Braves might just be the trigger. Playing beside his brother B.J. and surrounded in the lineup with other elite young players such as Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman could spur him to bring his game to another level. The Diamondbacks didn’t believe in him and he will be motivated to show them that they were wrong to trade him.
2. Eric Hosmer | 1B | Age: 23
Hosmer burst on the scene with an impressive rookie season in 2011. Then like so many young major league hitters, he struggled in his second season as the league found some holes and exposed him. It was a learning experience for him, and now that he knows how pitchers are going to approach him, he’ll adjust thanks to great hand-eye coordination, explosive hip torque and perhaps the game’s strongest wrists and forearms. I expect Hosmer to hit something in the neighborhood of 25 home runs and have a considerable impact in the Royals' quest for their first winning season since 2003.
Most of the attention on the Toronto Blue Jays this season will probably be focused on their new leadoff hitter, shortstop Jose Reyes, as well as some of their other big-name acquisitions. The Blue Jays are finally relevant again, and Lawrie’s breakout season could come outside the limelight. With Edwin Encarnacion having his breakout season last year and the addition of Melky Cabrera, Lawrie undoubtedly will get pitches to hit and do some damage. A .300 season with 18-20 home runs is a realistic projection for this passionate, high-energy player.
I will never forget the day the Baltimore Orioles acquired Tillman along with outfielder Adam Jones in a package for left-hander Erik Bedard. I distinctly remember my scouting department singing Jones’ praises as they projected the type of All-Star center fielder he has become over the past two years.
However, the scouts also marveled over Tillman. They maintained if Tillman found command of his pitches, he will develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter. Indeed, it’s been a long time trying to get there. In his first three years in the major leagues (2009-2011) his ERA was north of 5.40 while going 7-15 with a WHIP of 1.55. Certainly, the stats and trends were not consistent with the scouting reports. In 2012, he started to show maturity and understanding of the strike zone as he reduced his WHIP to 1.05, allowing just 66 hits in 86 innings while going 9-3 with a 2.93 ERA -- finally stats that started to mirror his projections. This season he should become a 12- to 15-game winner and finally reach the 150-180 innings pitched range.
He has all the attributes to be a future All-Star catcher capable of winning multiple Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. He is already one of the best defensive catchers, possessing impressive game-calling, framing and blocking skills. He can shut down a running game, catching 42 percent of baserunners attempting to steal, which would have led the AL had he qualified. He shows maturity beyond his years and has the potential of producing 20 home runs with a high batting average. The key for him will be health, as he missed much of last year after tearing a meniscus.
Rosenthal showed off his dominant stuff in the 2012 postseason, when he allowed just one hit in 6 2/3 innings pitched. His 98-101 mph fastball and sharp, late-breaking downer curveball were flat-out nasty. He was so impressive that he clearly gave the impression that he could become one of the league’s best closers at the level of Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman. The Cardinals, however, will allow him to compete with Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly for a rotation spot in place of the injured Chris Carpenter.
Many say Rosenthal might be best suited for the back end of the bullpen, and the Cardinals don’t necessarily have a need there with closer Jason Motte and eighth-inning reliever Mitchell Boggs. But with his type of velocity and breaking ball, if Rosenthal can carry that through a second or third time through the lineup, he could break out as one of the league’s great starting pitchers this year.
B.J. Upton left for the Atlanta Braves via free agency, which finally turned center field over to Jennings. He has always had the potential of being an 18- to 20-homer center fielder with 40-plus stolen bases, and this could be the year he accomplishes it. Jennings will have to prove to manager Joe Maddon he can handle the leadoff spot by being more patient and seeing more pitches per at-bat. He needs to wait for a pitch he can handle while increasing his walk rate and on-base percentage. He also is a good fielder and possesses great speed and range. The only question for Jennings: Will it be this year or next? To better their pennant chances, the Rays better hope it’s this year.