Opening Day is Monday. Opening Night is Sunday. The beginning of the season is so close that you can taste it. The 2012 season saw several players burst into the consciousness of fans across baseball, from Mike Trout to Bryce Harper to Chase Headley to Andrew McCutchen to Martin Prado to Aaron Hill. Players break out of their shells every year, and here are ten players that I think are in a prime position to have a breakout year in 2013 and potentailly contend for an MVP award.
1) Andrelton Simmons, Braves
Simmons burst onto the scene last year with the Braves, amassing 2.2 fWAR in 49 games thanks to a glove at shortstop that was out of this world. Simmons added competent offense as well, putting him higher in the consciousness than all-glove no-bat players like Brendan Ryan, and his game improved even more with an incredible showing for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. This year, Simmons will be the leadoff hitter for a potent Braves lineup, and he could have an absolute field day hitting in front of Jason Heyward and Justin Upton. If his offense and defense keep progressing as you'd expect from a 23-year old, Simmons might be the league's new big superstar.
2) Kyle Seager, Mariners
Quick, who led the Mariners in homers last year? That's right, it was Seager, with 20. Seager was the bright spot on a pitiful Seattle offense, and he's going to have some help in the lineup this season after the acquisitions of Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse. With Seager and outfielder Michael Saunders at the top of their lineup, it's a very real possibility that the Mariners could have a pair of 20/20 hitters leading off their order, and Seager could very well be a top five third baseman in the league this season.
3) Salvador Perez, Royals
Perez has only played 115 games in his career, but the 22-year old is already inked long-term by the Royals, and his production has been jarring in those 115 games: .311/.339/.471 with 14 homers. That's a great line coming from anyone, but coming from a 22-year old catcher? He's probably already a top ten catcher in the league, and considering that 2012 featured incredible years from catchers Buster Posey and Yadier Molina and that incumbents like Miguel Montero, Matt Wieters, and Joe Mauer are still incredibly good, that's quite a superlative for Perez.
4) Domonic Brown, Phillies
Brown has never gotten much of a shot in the majors...until this year. Brown caught fire this spring for the Phillies, and Delmon Young's slow recovery from ankle surgery has opened the door for Brown to bust through and make his mark in the majors. He's fully recovered from a broken hamate bone suffered in 2011, and there's no highly-paid Hunter Pence to block him this year. At 25, it might be time to go big or go home for the former elite prospect.
5) Matt Moore, Rays
I don't know how fair it is to label Moore as a breakout candidaten after the oodles of hype dumped upon him before a slightly disappointing 2012 rookie campaign. But in the second half of last season, Moore cut his ERA by nearly a run and a half, got his home run issue under control, and dropped his opponents wOBA by a whopping 55 points. I don't think it would be a stretch to say that he'll be Tampa Bay's second best starter this year behind David Price after the departure of James Shields.
6) Matt Harvey, Mets
Harvey made ten starts in the majors in 2012, and was phenomenal: 70 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings with a 2.73 ERA. The 2010 first-round pick is already penciled in as New York's #2 starter behind Jon Niese due to the injury issues that Johan Santana and Shaun Marcum are dealing with. With a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, Harvey has all of the potential to be New York's next big superstar on the mound.
7) Jason Kipnis, Indians
Kipnis burst onto the scene last year for Cleveland, and looks like an important building block for their future after hitting 14 homers, stealing 31 bases, and walking at a 10% clip. Kipnis, along with Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and catcher Carlos Santana, gives Cleveland a young, but established, presence up the middle, and when you throw in center fielder Michael Bourn, they're loking pretty talented in the heart of the diamond. Offense won't be an issue for the Indians this year, and Kipnis is going to be a prime reason why.
8) Cameron Maybin, Padres
Maybin had a solid year for the Padres in 2011, his first with the club, and earned a five-year contract extension from the team. He took a step bak last year, but improved along with the rest of the team in the second half. Once an elite prospect in the game, Maybin's speed and defense in center field make him a perfect player for Petco Park, and if he continues to build on the second half of his 2012 season, Maybin could start to remind people of Shane Victorino in his prime.
9) Starling Marte, Pirates
Marte's 2012 rookie year was filled with ups and downs. On one hand, he had five homers, 12 stolen bases, and played amazing defense in left field during his 47 games in the majors. On the other hand, he struck out 50 times and walked just eight times in those 47 games. He's just 24, and had himself a pretty solid spring for Pittsburgh. He doesn't have the overall ceiling that McCutchen has in center, but compared to other options the Pirates have trotted out in recent years, he's a gem. Pittsburgh's outfield is in good shape this year with Marte, McCutchen, and a Travis Snider/Jose Tabata platoon, but I think Marte takes a gargantuan leap forward this season.
10) Bud Norris, Astros
Yeah, we get it: the Astros aren't going to be good this season. But Norris is the last real remaining trade chip on their team, and he seems to be a lock to be dealt by the trade deadline. Whatever team gets him is going to be getting a pretty nice pitcher, A 28-year old who strikes out a batter per inning with a low to mid-90s fastball is a solid commodity in today's game, especially when he has two years of team control left after 2013. I think he's going to take a giant step forward in the first half of this season and be one of the most tantalizing pieces on the trade market in July.
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