One of the best aspects of the baseball season is watching young players emerge as the game’s newest stars. Now, as a new MLB season draws near, we’re on the verge of seeing new faces experience their breakout moment in 2020.
In some cases, a breakout season involves a well-known player. Whether due to early struggles to begin their MLB career or injury, a new season provides a fresh start and a chance to live up to or even exceed expectations.
It’s also about young players who got their first taste of the majors this past season, learning how to adjust to the game and spending time with MLB coaches. Now that they’ve settled in and used this past offseason to prepare themselves as MLB players, they are ready to step up and deliver breakout campaigns.
Here are the eight players we think are poised for breakout seasons in 2020.
Shohei Ohtani, two-way player, Los Angeles Angels
The American League Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2018, baseball fans didn’t get to see the two-way phenom pitch this past season. Now that he’s nearly fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, the 25-year-old can take off in 2020.
At the plate, we’re talking about a season where he could hit the 30-homer mark with double-digit steals and a .900 OPS. That’s an All-Star player on its own and doesn’t even factor in his pitching. Ohtani posted a 3.31 ERA and struck out 63 batters in 51.2 innings in 2018. Even with limitations post-TJS recovery, his impact as a starter and reliever will be incredible. Don’t be surprised if Ohtani finishes the season on a few MVP ballots.
Keston Hiura, second baseman, Milwaukee Brewers
Just two years after being selected with the No. 9 pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, Hiura made his MLB debut with the Brewers. The 23-year-old quickly made his mark as a rookie, blasting 19 home runs and posting a .938 OPS in 84 games.
If the Brewers didn’t manipulate his service time by limiting him to 84 games, he at least could have made a case to be NL Rookie of the Year. Now entering his first full season and locked into a spot in the heart of Milwaukee’s batting order, Hiura can hit 30-plus homers with 80-plus RBI. We could soon be talking about him as one of the best, young infielders in baseball.
Jesus Luzardo, starting pitcher, Oakland Athletics
Oakland is loaded with exciting arms in its rotation, but Luzardo will likely be the best of the bunch. He made his MLB debut in September and the southpaw quickly put his incredible repertoire on display with a 16/3 K/BB ratio in his first 12 innings.
The 22-year-old is regarded as one of MLB’s top pitching prospect thanks to exceptional command, a dominant fastball and an arsenal of pitches to pair with it. He’s been coached up by Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, too. He is Oakland’s ace of the future and it wouldn’t surprise us if he earned that role by midseason, which would be remarkable on a playoff contender.
Bo Bichette, shortstop, Toronto Blue Jays
While Vladimir Guerrero Jr. drew most of the national attention this past season, it was Bichette who delivered the far better season by a Blue Jays’ rookie. In fact, the young shortstop quickly established himself as a rising star in only 46 games.
Bichette is gifted with a rocket arm and he provided us with just a glimpse into his power potential. The 21-year-old posted a .930 OPS in his 196 at-bats as a rookie, while crushing 18 doubles and 11 homers. It will start coming together even more for Bichette this season and he’ll prove why he’s just as valuable to Toronto’s future as Vlad Jr.
Dinelson Lamet, starting pitcher, San Diego Padres
The Padres didn’t land a front-line pitcher to add to their rotation this season. Instead, the front office is putting its faith in Lamet. The 27-year-old comes with durability concerns and his 4.07 ERA last year doesn’t inspire confidence, but don’t let that fool you.
Lamet regularly blew away batters in 2019 with a 33.6% strikeout rate and an incredible 14% swinging-strike rate across 73 innings. The 6-foot-4 righty showed glimpses of brilliance in his first season back from Tommy John Surgery and could be even better this season without any limitations. Lamet is capable of posting a sub-four ERA with 180-plus strikeouts and becoming an excellent No. 3 starter for the Padres.
Eloy Jiménez, outfielder, Chicago White Sox
Yankees fans will forever be grateful to the Chicago Cubs for trading them Gleyber Torres. That feeling of elation will likely be felt even more so by White Sox fans when they watch Jiménez become a transcendent star.
The 6-foot-4 slugger crushed 31 homers with a .828 OPS in his first MLB season. He finished 22nd in the league with a 15.1 HR/AB ratio, ahead of Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr, Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto and All-Stars like Freddie Freeman and J.D. Martinez. We’re not just talking about a player capable of hitting 40-plus homers, Jiménez can post a .900-plus OPS and will hit for a high average. If the White Sox make it into the postseason this year, which is a possibility, Jiménez will be the driving force.
Eduardo Rodriguez, starting pitcher, Boston Red Sox
Boston’s fan base needs something to feel hopeful about for the 2020 season. Fortunately, there’s a Rodriguez they can actually love. The Red Sox need someone to step in as their No 2 starter and the 26-year-old southpaw is the perfect candidate.
After struggling in the first half of 2019 (4.65 ERA), Rodriguez turned things around coming out of the All-Star Break. He held opponents to a .239 batting average with a 2.95 ERA over his final 100.2 innings, stepping in as Boston’s ace when it needed one. Given the long-term concerns with Chris Sale, the Red Sox will be relying on E-Rod even more in 2020.
Gavin Lux, second baseman, Los Angeles Dodgers
The rich seem to get richer every year. Even if you look beyond the Dodgers’ acquisition of Mookie Betts, bringing Lux into their 2020 lineup was already going to provide a boost. Now this lineup is about to become even more intimidating to opposing pitchers.
When you talk about players who were born to hit, that’s exactly who Lux is. He posted a .347/.421/.607 slash line with 25 doubles and 26 homers in 113 MiLB games before getting called up to the majors. Scouts profile him with an elite hit tool, excellent power and the kind of instincts and intelligence that are rare to find. He’s going to do incredible things in his rookie season and this lineup is so deep that he’ll be hitting in the bottom half of the batting order.