9 Breakout Players of 2017
I think sports writers who make predictions as soon as one season ends about the next season are absurd. But after my hometown Orioles lost, and I needed something to distract me. And as a reader, I absolutely DEVOUR these columns. Because, what better way to fill the six lonely months between seasons with trying to figure out what will happen in the other six months!
So, I figured I’d give this a try as a shout out to fans of teams not named the Indians, Dodgers, Blue Jays, or Cubs right now, with perhaps the most absurdly hard thing to predict: players that will go from being nobody to somebody.
I mean, speaking of the Cubs, I could go on a limb and say the Cubs will be really good next year, as will the Red Sox, and the Nationals, and the Dodgers, and sure, one or even two of those guesses might end up being wrong, but I’m likely to at least get 50% right. And for posterity’s sake, I have the Tigers and the Astros in the other two divisions. Team predictions are generally safe bets with a couple of horrible ones always thrown in.
I could predict Kershaw for Cy Young and then take a massive leap in the AL, and go with, say, Yu Darvish, despite his playoff disappointment, but again, I like my odds in one of those categories. Trout finally getting another MVP he deserves and Buster Posey returning to form in the NL. But player predictions are pretty easy too, especially with Kershaw and Trout around.
See what I did there?
Anyway, in terms of breakout players, I am trying to be pretty strict and focus on people who did NOT already break out THIS year, even if perhaps you hadn’t noticed. That takes out Christian Yelich of the Marlins who I think will continue to build and become an MVP candidate. No Wil Myers from the Padres, making his first all star team already. Even Alex Bregman, the Astros rookie, doesn’t get a nod because he is already expected to be a star and has been hailed as such. Jonathan Villar already had his 60 plus steals. And you’ve been living under a rock if you are a baseball fan who hasn’t heard of Gary Sanchez.
No, I want a more challenging task. One that can really make me look bad next year.
And let’s get this out of the way. I snubbed Dansby Swanson. I just don’t think he’s gonna break out next year – I think he’s gonna have some growing pains. Which is probably gonna be the stupidest thing I say all off-season.
What I came up with instead was probably a few guys you have never heard of, and some you may have been talking about a lot earlier this year or in years past but you have probably forgotten.
1. Mike Foltynewicz, Atlanta Braves
No, I don’t know how to pronounce his last name. And he’s a bit of a flier so I hate to start here but the dude took a big step forward in his second full season in the majors. He managed 123 innings in 22 starts after only 86 in 15 the year before, which means he is primed for a good leap 150/160, enough to be the guy everyone is talking about towards the end of next year as becoming a top tier pitcher. He’s a former first rounder, he will be entering his age 25 season, about when pitchers tend to start putting it together, and his strike out to walk ratio this year alone puts him in Jake Odorizzi, Marcus Stoman, and Dallas Keuchel territory. Not exactly cream of the crop performers, but all guys you want on your team. In other words, I don’t see Foltynewicz as a Cy Young candidate or anything, but emerge as The Braves’ #2 starter next year.
2. Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks
I bet if I asked you who was 4th in the National League in Strikeouts in 2016, you wouldn’t have guessed Robbie Ray. Of course he was also 8-15 with a 4.90 ERA so you definitely had no reason to notice him. In case you don’t think strikeouts are a good qualifier of quality pitchers, Ray was 8th in xFIP (excepted fielding independent pitching) which is one of those fancy new stats that looks at what SHOULD have happened instead of what DID happen that you will just have to trust me is a pretty excellent identifier of a quality hurler. Just ahead of Ray on this list: Archer, Stroman, Cueto. Just behind Ray: Lester, Kluber, Price. Pretty good company.
I also think the Diamondbacks are going to be a LOT better next year, with Pollock back and Greinke back to form. So that will help you notice Ray as their new #2.
3. Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds
The guy who never broke out will finally break out, and will be in a season long rat race with Buxton of the Twins (see below) for the stolen base crown. Did you know if Billy Hamilton played in all 162 games this year or last year, he would have had 80 stolen bases in each season. 80. That’s 1980s territory. But here’s the most important stat. He raised his OBP by nearly 50 POINTS in 2016. It was .321, which was not brilliant, in fact, if he had enough plate appearances, it would have put him tied with Chris Carter, Addison Russell, and Marcell Ozuna for 98th place in the majors. All of those guys had strong offensive seasons, but at least in the case of the first two they are all also united by having unnatural home run power for their positions. Hamilton will never have that.
But lets just be conservative here and say he only raises his OBP again by 20 points, as he gets a little better again with another season under belt. Well now he’s 72nd, just ahead of Brian Dozier, and behind people like Jason Kipnis and Brandon Crawford. Throw in that he was 7th in Center Fielders in Defensive War in 3/4 of a season in a position he is still mastering ahead of defensive luminaries like Ender Inciarte, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Jason Heyward and remember that amazing speed and you have an all star on your hands.
4. Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies.
I basically wrote this article for this guy. I am so siked that the Rockies have their first ace since Ubaldo Jimenez (I don’t want to talk about him right now.) I want the Rockies to be good – they have such an odd and hard situation to overcome with the ballpark and developing pitching and it looks like they might be finally turning it around with some great organizational philosophy shifting. Remember that xFIP stat? Will Gray was no Robbie Ray this year, but pitching in Colorado of all places he nestled nicely in at 16th behind Bumgarner, Sale, and Kyle Hendricks and ahead of Tanaka, Arrieta, and Kenta Maeda.
Let’s put it more simply. He actually had a better ERA at home then on the road. That’s like when we praise Arenado for hitting great outside of Coors too, but, you know, the opposite. Gray also seems to have run out of gas in August and September, but if you take his May/June/July, he struck out 102 batters in 101 innings to 32 walks and held batters to about a .210 batting average.
5. Orlando Arcia, Milwaukee Brewers
He is the National League version of Francisco Lindor, a Gold Glover to be, but with a potential for a sneaky good bat. His major league numbers were pretty sad looking this year. But he was the youngest player in the National League when he was called up, so…
Actually, I’m just gonna leave it there. Just look at the guy. When you play defense like that, you get a chance to improve as a hitter, like Lindor has. He’s next.
6. Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins.
Yes, THAT Byron Buxton. The one that seems destined to be one of the biggest talent busts in baseball history.
Didn’t notice, did you? In September, after coming back from the minors after a SECOND stint, Byron Buxton had a .936 OPS. And that was before he hit two more home runs in the final two games of the season in October.
We know he’s a gold glove outfielder with breathtaking speed (just watch his inside-the-park home run on the final day of the season.) BUT. Extrapolate his final month into a full season in the lead-off spot, and you have a 54 home run, 132 RBI, 144 Run, all time great season. I’m not predicting this. Just saying. You, of course, would also expect over 200 strike-outs from him at this point in a full season. So there’s that. Its gonna be fun to watch, whatever happens.
7. Sean Manaea, Oakland Athletics.
Ack, more pitching.
OK, simply put, if you took away April and May this guy would have won the ERA crown in the AL this year. SO to walk ratio? 3.35, would have been good for 14th in the AL had he qualified just behind Quintana, Archer, and Smyly.
And all this as a rookie. A rookie who, by the way, was a top 50 prospect before the season started, a decidedly under-the-radar one.
Of course, if this guy is right, sorry Oakland fans, Manaea will definitely be a well known name next year.
8. Tyler Glasnow, Pittsburgh Pirates.
This guy wasn’t under the radar before the season as prospects go and there was great anticipation for each of his call-ups, and the results were three starts over two stints in which he failed to get out of the 5th innings and a 6.35 ERA as a starter.
But then, in his final start of the season he one-hit St. Louis over 5 innings. Granted he still walked 4, and his issue remains to be a perceived lack of aggressiveness with dynamic stuff. I will confidently hedge a bet on overcoming that problem for a 6’ 8”, 225 LB guy who was named Minor League Baseball’s Pitcher of the Year two times in the last three seasons, with a 1.87 ERA in 20 starts in 2016, with Ray Searage, the “Pitch Doctor” to guide him through it.
9. Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers.
Yes, THAT Jurickson Profar. Former #1 Overall Prospect Jurickson Profar.
Its good to go out on a hunch, but with Odor, Andrus, and Beltre blocking Profar in the infield, I think the Rangers let Beltran, Desmond, AND Gomez walk and open next year with an OF of Mazara, Choo, AND… Jurickson Profar. Or, perhaps, something like this guy’s Javier Baez-esque theory. He has completely stumbled down the stretch after looking like he was finally going to pay off on his promise with a .337 batting average through his first 100 or so plate appearances. So really, I have no reason to be positive, I just have a hunch. The Rangers seem to develop position players with the best of them and I think he’s next. Sometimes you have to just go with your gut, against all better judgement.
After all, these prediction articles are complete BS anyway.