For the past four months we have been treated with blistering cold weather, endless snowfall, creaky backs due to the strain shoveling imposes, and uncomfortable walks outside, eager not to step on a patch of ice. Fret no more because as the temperature begins to slightly warm up and the sea of green starts its on pour in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day, one thing is for certain: the 2014 Major League Baseball season is rapidly approaching.
Commence long-toss, batting practice, bullpen sessions, and back-orders of sunflower seeds. Spring Training has always been a time where baseball players get into game shape, into a rhythm, and condition themselves for the grueling 162-game marathon. Fresh new faces look to make their mark on the diamond and create a name for themselves. A renewed hope of optimism is cast over every squad and both players and teams can go in a number of different directions. With that in mind, let’s take a look at five breakout candidates for the upcoming season.
1. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves
Already regarded as the best defensive shortstop in the game, Simmons is highly touted as the shortstop of the future for the Atlanta Braves, as evidenced with his new seven-year contract signed just last month. The defensive wiz hit only .248, but managed to pop 27 doubles and six triples, while belting a respectable 17 homers. According to FanGraph’s Wins Above Replacement, he was notched at 4.7, third best among qualified shortstops. With more seasoning and experience, Simmons’s offensive numbers will come around and he will be primed to take the next step forward. A steady, stabile Atlanta lineup will only produce more run-scoring opportunities for Simmons. Pair that with his glove, and you have a star ready to shine in 2014.
2. Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins
The Miami Marlins do not have many bright spots, but outfielder Christian Yelich is certainly one of the exceptions. He was called up to the big league club in July of last year and quickly impressed coaches with his speed and all-around game. He only appeared in 62 games down the stretch, but immediately proved he was here to stay. Yelich composed a .288 average and a .360 OBP over those games, while swiping 31 bases. The one knock on him last year was his deficiency to left-handed pitching. According to CBS Sports, Yelich accumulated a .362 average in 149 at bats against right-handers, while hitting just a paltry .165 in 91 at bats against southpaws. Naturally, if Yelich can amass more production against left-handed pitching, he will undoubtedly improve on the small sample numbers and become a force to be reckoned with at the plate. More chances to succeed will only make him a more complete player. The Florida sun will continue to shine on this Miami phenom.
3. Jurickson Profar, 2B, Texas Rangers
Profar is yet another young gun rising in the baseball world. 2014 will be his third season, although he played in just nine games in 2012. Many believe this is the season where he puts it all together and performs the way he’s capable of playing. Last year, Profar was stuck in neutral playing behind both Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus in a utility role. Now that the Rangers traded away Kinsler to the Detroit Tigers, one of their key members for several seasons, General Manager Jon Daniels and Manager Ron Washington have put all their eggs in the basket with Profar. He now has the opportunity to be their everyday second baseman. With slugger Prince Fielder and new arrival Shin-Soo-Choo in the mix now, the Rangers lineup looks dangerous as ever. Add veteran Adrian Beltre and Profar to the equation and it will be rousing to see what the 20-year-old can amass in his first full season.
4. Gerrit Cole, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
Gerrit Cole was one piece of the puzzle that attributed to the Pittsburgh Pirates overachieving and making their run to the postseason for the first time in 10 plus years. Fans should have good reason to get excited over this future ace as he was called up last season and pitched only 117 innings. However, he pitched to a 3.22 ERA, 100 strikeouts, and a 1.17 WHIP. The Pirates have a young core with an established manager in Clint Hurdle, which will only expedite his growth and maturity. Cole has a steady arsenal of pitches, namely his fierce, buzzing fastball, and has been in the spotlight since coming out of UCLA. Look for 2014 to be his official coming out party where he’ll be blowing fastballs past opposing hitters, garnering Cy Young votes, and settling into Minnesota for a few days during the All-Star Game.
5. Khris Davis, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Davis is not a household name by any means, but he is going to get his first shot at starting for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014. There must be something about him considering General Manager Doug Melvin announced to the public that asterisk star outfielder Ryan Braun is officially moving to right field, according to the Milwaukee Brewers official website. This means that Davis will be the everyday starting left fielder and a chance to prove what he’s worth. During the Braun suspension last year, Davis was plugged into the lineup and had 153 plate appearances. He made the most out of them, compiling 10 doubles, 11 home runs, and a .596 slugging percentage. More playing time for Davis will result in better numbers over the course of a full season and his power stroke has the ability to deck 30 plus homers. To put the small sample size in perspective, According to Baseball Reference, Davis’s .596 slugging percentage would have netted him in third place in the majors behind notable mashers Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis (ironic?) if he amassed enough appearances to qualify. Davis will look to put his potential to use over 162 games, provided he stays healthy, and the Brewers are certainly counting on the 26-year-old.
Please note: All statistics and numbers within this write-up came from Baseball Almanac, CBS Sports, and Baseball Reference.