Arena: 2017 MLB breakout candidates
Young players are taking over the game of baseball, as a new era is being ushered in. Players like Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Bryce Harper are taking over as the era of the likes of David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera and Derek Jeter comes to a close. New phenoms are being called up every year and make noise sooner than expected.
Here is a list of five must-watch young players who will breakout this season.
Byron Buxton, CF, Minnesota Twins
Buxton is overdue for a breakout season.
A five-tool player with an atypical combination of power-hitting and blazing speed, Buxton has the ability to be a regular in the 20-20-20 club. The former No. 2 overall draft pick has played 138 games over two seasons in his career and has only a .220 Batting Average across 427 At-bats, but he dominated AAA ball with a .327 BA.
Buxton is playing on an inept Twins team that will likely be in the league’s cellar throughout the season, but nobody should sleep on the impact he will make for his team. The Twins are known to season their prospects until they are completely ready to make an impact on the team, so his limited playing time on a bad team last year should not set off any alarms.
The 23 year old should have a Jason Heyward-esque sort of impact in the outfield once he becomes a lineup regular, where his impressive range should save Minnesota pitchers a ton of runs, while his ability to stretch doubles into triples due to his blazing speed is invaluable. Buxton has not made a big impact yet, but this season he should command the spotlight he deserves.
Edwin Diaz, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Edwin Diaz took over the Mariners' closer role last season and proceeded to blow away opposing hitters.
The underrated pitcher put up fantastic numbers in AA, but did not end up on the national radar due to his limited time as a closer for a small-market team. Diaz struck out 88 batters in only 51 ⅔ innings, ending with a phenomenal 15.3 strikeouts per nine innings. It remains to be seen if those numbers are sustainable, but if he can come close to replicating them, everyone will be hoping on the Diaz bandwagon.
The right-handed relief pitcher has two dominant pitches: a fastball that can reach 98 MPH and a silky smooth slider that fools batters. The Mariners are a sleeper playoff pick, so Diaz may have ample opportunities for saves. I would even go as far as suggesting that the young up-and-comer will be top five in the MLB in saves this season.
Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta Braves
The Braves' anointed savior is not going to sneak up on anyone, but Dansby Swanson should help the Braves become somewhat watchable this year. Expect Swanson to immediately step into the starting shortstop role and join the era of new young shortstops who are dominating the league.
The former No. 1 overall draft pick shows great bat-speed and promising power and slashed a .302/.361/.442 line in his 38 game major league call-up last year. He also is a very capable baserunner and could make a living as the Braves’ new leadoff hitter.
Swanson has an immensely high ceiling and could lead the league in batting average and rack up multiple gold glove awards over the course of his career. Atlanta will likely still be terrible this year, but bringing in their presumed prodigal savior should help fill the seats at brand new SunTrust Park. It would be surprising if Swanson does not capture the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros
Bregman hit eight home runs and put up 34 RBIs in only 49 games last season, despite struggling with his mechanics in his initial transition to the big leagues. These numbers he put up would stretch out to approximately 26 homers and 112 RBIs over a full season. Sounds exactly like the missing piece the Astros need to get over the hump from good to great.
Bregman is one of the last high picks the Astros have from their much-maligned days toiling in obscurity at the bottom of the MLB standings, but now the script has flipped and the third baseman should fill out a roster that is stacked with other young talent.
Bregman has an unconventional swing, but he has great instincts at the plate and is developing more and more as a power hitter with each passing year. Bregman could be the catalyst for a deep Astros playoff run.
Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
The 20 year old phenom is expected to be the next great in a long line of historically dominant Dodger pitchers.
Urias debuted last season with a ton of hype, but struggled to find his footing off the bat. He finished the season starting 15 games and going 5-2 with a 3.39 ERA. His fastball has natural movement and can hit up to 97 MPH, while his curveball and changeup are impressive for his age. Despite his arsenal of plus pitches, however, Urias did not exactly put up the numbers expected, lasting no longer than six innings in any contest.
He likely will not start the season in the regular rotation as a result of an innings limit the Dodgers have decided to impose on their young pitchers to avoid injuries in a similar way to how the Washington Nationals dealt with Stephen Strasburg in 2012. Strasburg pitched from the start of the season with an innings limit in place and hit the limit just prior to the Nats' playoff push. With the young stud on the sideline, their playoff aspirations were severely dimmed.
The Dodgers will not rely on Urias as heavily, but look for them to keep him in the minors at the beginning of the season so that he can stay in the lineup in the playoffs. Urias is the x-factor for a Dodger team expecting to be World Series contenders.