Each team’s most likely breakout star for ’24

Detroit Tigers

Every season has its surprise performances — it’s just a question of which players will be responsible for them.

What’s more, because “breakout” is a pretty flexible term, a lot of guys could conceivably have one, from top prospects to veterans who’ve yet to find their footing between injuries and roster crunches, to players — including one star slugger — who are joining new teams.

As we continue gearing up for the year ahead, here’s one player set up for a breakout 2024 season.

Blue Jays: C Danny Jansen
This is the biggest season of Danny Jansen’s career. Jansen, who turns 29 on April 15, is entering his final year of control with the Blue Jays and it’s difficult to overstate just how respected he is in that clubhouse, players and staff included. So much focus is on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette’s futures, but more should be on Jansen’s. Granted, Jansen has already “broken out,” he just needs to go a few months without taking a ball off the hand. Bad-luck injuries have plagued Jansen, limiting him to 86, 72 and 70 games over the past three seasons. If Jansen can get that number over 110, the counting stats will follow and the rest of baseball will take notice. — Keegan Matheson

Orioles: RHP Grayson Rodriguez
No pitcher on the Orioles’ staff showed more improvement over the course of the 2023 season than Rodriguez, who had two vastly different stints in the big leagues this year. The 2018 first-round Draft pick had a promising MLB debut on April 6 (two runs over five innings at Texas), but he struggled to a 7.35 ERA over his first 10 starts, leading to a demotion back to Triple-A Norfolk in late May. After Rodriguez returned to Baltimore on July 17, he was much improved and pitched to a 2.58 ERA in 13 second-half starts. Rodriguez has ace potential as a former top prospect, and the 24-year-old right-hander has tremendous pure stuff. He could have a special sophomore showing in 2024. — Jake Rill

Rays: RHP Taj Bradley
The Rays expected Bradley to impact their rotation at some point last season, but they weren’t betting on the former top prospect making 21 starts as a 22-year-old rookie. Injuries expedited Bradley’s debut, and further injuries created additional opportunities. Through it all, Bradley produced some uninspiring numbers: a 5.59 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 23 homers allowed in 104 2/3 innings. But the Rays see big things ahead for Bradley, and they were extremely encouraged by the electric stuff he showed, evidenced by his 28% strikeout rate. Manager Kevin Cash said the Rays expect a “much more comfortable version of Taj” next year, and that comfort should lead to success in 2024. — Adam Berry

Red Sox: RHP Brayan Bello
The easy answer would be Triston Casas, if he hadn’t already had a breakout season in 2022. So let’s turn our attention to another representative of Boston’s promising youth: Brayan Bello.

As it stands, Bello is slated at No. 2 in the rotation, behind lefty Chris Sale. After debuting in 2022, Bello had an up and down first full season in ‘23. He shined in June, holding a 2.14 ERA over 33 2/3 innings. The 24-year-old right-hander has the stuff to be a solid fixture in this rotation, it may just take some patience as he adjusts to a Major League workload.

The biggest challenge for Bello in 2024 will be finding ways to attack lefties. — Molly Burkhardt

Yankees: OF Juan Soto
It may be odd to see a three-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger in this space, but Soto is ready to take his game to another level. The 25-year-old’s star only figures to become brighter in New York, especially as he enters a contract year after which his asking price figures to be sky-high. FanGraphs projects Soto to slash .284/.425/.558 with 39 homers, a 171 wRC+ and 6.8 WAR in 2024 — all improvements over his ’23 numbers with San Diego. The Yankees would be thrilled with that, though it won’t ease the price tag to keep him. — Bryan Hoch

Guardians: C Bo Naylor
Naylor has had half of a season in the Majors and can return to Spring Training with a level of confidence he wouldn’t have had in 2023. As a young catcher, you’re not only trying to learn how to hit Major League pitching, you’re also trying to learn a new pitching staff, figuring out how to call a big league game and making successful game plans, which can be overwhelming. Now, with experience and his brother Josh, veteran catcher Austin Hedges and three former catchers on the coaching staff at his side, he should have ample resources to help break out in 2024. — Mandy Bell

Royals: LHP Cole Ragans
He earned Royals Pitcher of the Year with just a half-season of work with Kansas City, so what is he going to do with a full season? Ragans was a massive success story for the Royals, who traded reliever Aroldis Chapman to the Rangers for Ragans and Minor Leaguer Roni Cabrera at the Trade Deadline last year. The Royals sent Ragans to Triple-A to continue building up as a starter, and it was there the 26-year-old added a slider that completely opened up his repertoire. Once Ragans was slotted full-time into the Royals’ rotation, he posted a 2.64 ERA across 12 starts and 71 2/3 innings, striking out 89 and walking just 27 batters with a 1.07 WHIP. His 1.72 ERA in August earned him that month’s American League Pitcher of the Month award. — Anne Rogers

Tigers: LHP Tarik Skubal
So far, we’ve only seen Skubal’s dominance in small servings, mostly due to injuries. He’s healthy now, has his body in a good shape thanks to hitting the weight room in rehab, and he’s coming off AL Pitcher of the Month honors for September/October to cap a 7-3 season with a 2.80 ERA in 15 starts. With Eduardo Rodriguez gone and Kenta Maeda and Jack Flaherty stepping in, there’s an opportunity for the 27-year-old Skubal to take a place at the front of Detroit’s rotation and allow the Tigers’ core of young starters to finally settle in. — Jason Beck

Twins: 3B Royce Lewis
Is it cheating to put Lewis here? Maybe. Lewis already announced himself to the baseball world in ‘23, when he couldn’t stop hitting grand slams and crushed a pair of homers in the victory that snapped Minnesota’s postseason losing streak. Lewis has hit for a career .309/.372/.548 mark despite having his two seasons broken up by a second torn ACL — and now, he finally gets a healthy offseason. He was on a 42-homer pace last year, and while that’s definitely a stretch, Lewis has proven the naysayers wrong at every step during this remarkable start to his career. — Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: 3B Yoán Moncada
The switch-hitting third baseman was a popular choice in this category entering ’23, coming off the injury-plagued struggles of ’22, and looked great playing for Cuba during the World Baseball Classic. But Moncada suffered a debilitating back injury for most of the season to the point where it looked as if he might need surgery. Moncada came back healthy on July 25 and slashed .281/.324/.464 over his final 54 games with eight home runs, 12 doubles and 27 RBIs. The ’24 season marks Moncada’s last guaranteed year at $24 million with the team holding a $25 million option and a $5 million buyout for ‘25. A fully healthy Moncada should mean a productive Moncada. — Scott Merkin

Angels: C Logan O’Hoppe
O’Hoppe is primed to be the future face of the franchise, as he’s coming off a strong rookie year and possesses strong leadership and clubhouse skills. The Angels also traded veteran Max Stassi, which allows O’Hoppe to be the club’s primary catcher with Matt Thaiss serving as his backup. There’s a chance the Angels add a veteran as insurance but O’Hoppe will be the club’s regular catcher and had strong numbers in September after missing several months because of shoulder surgery in April. O’Hoppe had an .897 OPS with nine homers and 15 RBIs in 26 games over the final month of the season to finish the year on a high note. — Rhett Bollinger

Astros: C Yainer Diaz
For Houston, this is an easy one: it’s Diaz, who will be taking over the everyday starting job behind the plate. Diaz finished fifth in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2023 after slashing .282/.308/.538 with 23 home runs and 60 RBIs in 377 plate appearances (his 23 homers were the second-most all-time by an Astros rookie). Diaz really took off at the plate when he started to get more consistent playing time as the season progressed, and it’s not a stretch to think he could top 30 homers if he gets 500 plate appearances in 2024. — Brian McTaggart

Athletics: 2B Zack Gelof
You can almost classify what Gelof did in 2023 as a mini-breakout, when he received his first call to the big leagues in July and proceeded to hit .267 with an .840 OPS, 14 home runs, 20 doubles, 32 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 69 games. If last year’s impressive cameo was any indication, Gelof might be in line to truly make his presence felt around the league as a budding star in 2024. — Martín Gallegos

Mariners: OF Dominic Canzone
After career years in 2023, can J.P. Crawford and Cal Raleigh be considered breakout candidates? The same could be said for Logan Gilbert and George Kirby on the mound, having established themselves among the American League’s best starting pitchers. Canzone, the Trade Deadline acquisition in the Paul Sewald deal, certainly falls more under the radar. But he showed big-time power as a rookie last year, has raked at every stop in the Minors and will see more playing time now that Jarred Kelenic is gone. — Daniel Kramer

Rangers: RHP Owen White
We look to the Minors, where Owen White, the Rangers’ No. 8 prospect, should be the next man up in a thin big league rotation. The right-hander looked primed for the big leagues after a breakout 2022 campaign in which he posted a 3.59 ERA across High-A and Double-A, but he then faltered to a 4.22 ERA in ‘23 as he made his transition to Triple-A. White was pushed into brief big league service with two relief appearances in ‘24, but didn’t have the chance to fully stick around. White has all the tools to be a frontline starter if he can get back to his 2022 form, and while he may not be on the Opening Day roster, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him in Arlington soon thereafter. — Kennedi Landry

Braves: OF Jarred Kelenic
In Seattle, Kelenic was always going to deal with the pressure of being the top prospect the Mariners gained when they dealt All-Star closer Edwin Díaz to the Mets. Yeah, the Braves have made a significant financial investment (nearly $17 million) in Kelenic’s future. But he should be free from the pressure he felt while playing with the Mariners. He’ll have the potential to hit 20-plus homers while sitting near the bottom of a lineup that features Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley and Matt Olson. Having the chance to work with Chipper Jones and the Braves’ many other hitting instructors should also help this left-handed slugger begin to realize his great potential. — Mark Bowman

Marlins: RHP Anthony Bender
Left-handers Braxton Garrett and Andrew Nardi were big reasons for the club’s surprising 2023 success, so whose turn is it to break out in ’24? This is tricky, because nearly the entire roster is set to return. Prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2022, Bender had evolved from an Independent League find to a reliable high-leverage option (145 ERA+ with nine saves) through his first 82 Major League outings. If Bender can return to form, he would provide a right-handed complement to southpaw Tanner Scott in the late innings. — Christina De Nicola

Mets: C Francisco Alvarez
Alvarez was still exceedingly raw when the Mets brought him back to the Majors this April at age 21. The Venezuelan rookie showed flashes of brilliance regardless, and showcased a defensive acumen that was better than advertised. But Alvarez finished with just a .209/.284/.437 slash line, leaving plenty of room for improvement. Now, with more than a full year of experience and some additional maturity, Alvarez is the exact kind of player who could develop into a star in 2024. The Mets will give him every opportunity to do so. — Anthony DiComo

Nationals: LHP MacKenzie Gore
Gore, the third overall pick in the 2017 Draft, is poised to be a key member of the Nats’ rotation of the future. He went 7-10 with a 4.42 ERA in 27 starts (136 1/3 innings) last season – an increase of 13 starts and 62 1/3 frames from an injury-hampered rookie year in 2022. Among National League southpaws, Gore ranked fifth with 171 strikeouts (9.9 K/9). The 24-year-old southpaw is looking to build on that momentum in his second full season with Washington. — Jessica Camerato

Phillies: 2B Bryson Stott
The Phillies have a few candidates here. Stott, Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh, Cristopher Sánchez and Orion Kerkering are the most obvious. But Stott gets the nod because he seems to be a good few months from making his first NL All-Star team. Stott batted .280 with 15 home runs, 62 RBIs, a .747 OPS and 104 OPS+ in 2023. He was a Gold Glove finalist. He finished with 4.3 WAR, which was tied with Zack Wheeler for the team lead. People know Stott, but they don’t really know him yet. A big start and everybody will. — Todd Zolecki

Brewers: RHP Abner Uribe
Perhaps 2023 was the flamethrowing reliever’s breakout season, but it was just a partial season. Called up right before the All-Star break, Uribe didn’t allow a run in 27 of his 32 Major League appearances, held opponents to a .154 average with a 1.76 ERA and threw 10 of the 11 fastest pitches in Brewers history as tracked by Statcast, which has data back to 2008. That’s the sort of heat that makes Uribe look like Milwaukee’s eventual successor to All-Star Devin Williams. For now, Uribe’s role has grown into a bona fide late-inning weapon. — Adam McCalvy

Cardinals: RF Jordan Walker
When Walker made the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster with an electrifying spring and started his MLB career with hits in his first 12 games, few would have imagined he would have failed to get a vote for the NL’s Rookie of the Year. However, that happened after he was briefly demoted and struggled with his defense. Walker vowed he would pocket those lessons learned and use them to springboard him forward in 2024. At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, Walker is too physically gifted to not make enormous strides in Year 2. The guess here: 25 homers and 75 RBIs. — John Denton

Cubs: LHP Jordan Wicks
When the Cubs picked Wicks in the first round of the 2021 Draft, there was a strong belief that he was polished enough to move swiftly up the organizational ladder. The 24-year-old lefty lived up to that billing, reaching the rotation in Chicago by August of last season in the thick of a playoff chase.

Wicks, 24, ended his campaign with a tough outing in Milwaukee (six runs in 1 2/3 innings) that skewed an otherwise strong MLB debut. In his first six starts, he went 4-1 with a 3.00 ERA, showing poise and showing off a six-pitch arsenal that includes an elite changeup. — Jordan Bastian

Pirates: SS Oneil Cruz
Given the already high praise he’s garnered, it’s hard to believe that Cruz has yet to reach 100 games in MLB. A fractured tibia in April last season ended his year in heartbreaking fashion. He’s at a career .751 OPS so far, and anyone who has seen his raw tools knows he’s capable of more than that.

“I’m going to set my bar high from last year and do things I can’t even imagine right now,” Cruz said in September. “I’m going to be in a good spot mentally and physically, and it’s going to be a special year.” — Jake Crouse

Reds: INF Matt McLain
McLain was one of several rookies who made the Reds a better club after his May 15 promotion but he was also overshadowed by the more dynamic Elly De La Cruz. In 89 games last season, McLain batted .290 with an .864 OPS, 16 home runs, 50 RBIs and 14 steals. However, he missed all of September with an oblique strain and was unable to contribute down the stretch. One sign of the spark the 24-year-old brought Cincinnati: the club was 18-22 before his arrival and went 50-42 until he was injured.

Expected to be fully healthy by Spring Training and likely an everyday player at either second base or shortstop, McLain has a good chance to really break out in his sophomore season with his 2023 experience behind him. — Mark Sheldon

D-backs: OF Alek Thomas
From his first game in the big leagues, it was clear that playing center field was not going to be a problem for Thomas. With his speed, fearlessness and ability to get good reads on balls off the bat, Thomas has been a human-highlight reel on defense.

Offensively, it has been more of a challenge for Thomas at times, but after a demotion to Triple-A where he made some adjustments to his approach during the 2023 season, Thomas began to hit better and the postseason was a coming out party of sorts for him as he hit four homers, including a crucial game-tying blast in Game 4 of the NLCS. — Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: RHP Bobby Miller
Miller was pressed into big league service sooner than expected last season due to a rash of injuries in the Dodgers’ starting rotation, and he responded by getting off to a historically good start. His overall numbers on the season ended up being pretty solid, too, as he recorded a 3.76 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 22 starts. With a bit of MLB experience under his belt, the former top 100 prospect with the 100 mph fastball could be in for a big 2024. — Sarah Wexler

Giants: LHP Kyle Harrison
Harrison, who is ranked the Giants’ No. 1 prospect by MLB Pipeline, experienced some growing pains after breaking into the Majors in 2023, but he delivered one of the most electric performances of the year when he struck out 11 over 6 1/3 scoreless innings in his home debut against the Reds. The Giants believe the 22-year-old southpaw has all the necessary tools to develop into a frontline starter, so if he can take another step forward in 2024, San Francisco could have another homegrown ace to pair with Logan Webb for years to come. — Maria Guardado

Padres: RHP Michael King
Is it possible to be the headliner in a trade package for Juan Soto… and still be underrated? The Padres certainly feel that’s the case with King, who was dominant in New York last season upon his move to the rotation.

“It was really exciting,” said general manager A.J. Preller. “Combination of stuff with command. … He was one of the better relievers in the league last year. And, honestly in the last two months of the season, was one of the top starters, too.”

Indeed, King posted a 2.23 ERA with 5.67 strikeouts per walk as a starter. Considering the track record of pitching coach Ruben Niebla, King could be poised for a huge 2024 season. — AJ Cassavell

Rockies: OF Nolan Jones
Can a player have two breakout seasons? From his call-up in late May through Aug. 2, Nolan Jones was batting .269 with nine home runs – solid rookie figures. But from Aug. 4 through season’s end, Jones sizzled at .321 with a 1.019 OPS and 11 homers, and became a factor in the National League Rookie of the Year race. The difference? Jones began crushing early-count pitches that he hardly swung at when he first arrived, and corrected an issue with missing pitches in the strike zone. What will Jones do with greater knowledge? — Thomas Harding

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