One of the benefits of getting performance-enhancing drugs out of baseball is that it has once again become a young man’s game. Players who are deep into their 30s can’t produce the way they used to anymore, which has leveled the playing field and created more opportunities for younger players to shine.
Every year, a new crop of youngsters takes the league by storm and emerges as the stars of tomorrow. While we didn’t get a full season in 2020 to check out some of the game’s promising young stars, that won’t be the case in 2021.
Let’s take a look at some of the young players we believe will become the breakout stars this season.
Franchy Cordero, Red Sox
The 26-year-old Cordero has spent parts of four seasons in the majors, only to accumulate a mere 284 at-bats. He never got an extended opportunity to prove himself with the Padres and was limited to 16 games with the Royals last year because of an injury. But an offseason trade to the Red Sox will afford him an opportunity to play every day and start living up to his potential.
Cordero has an incredible combination of speed and raw power, giving him incredible upside if everything comes together for him. With his ability and the opportunity to play that should come to him in Boston, Cordero has a chance to finally fulfill his potential.
Luis Robert, White Sox
Robert showed flashes of his ability in 2020, hitting .233 with an OPS of .738 over 56 games as a rookie. But we expect to see a true breakout performance from him in 2021.
After all, the White Sox gave him a six-year, $50 million contract before he made his debut in the big leagues, and so the best is yet to come.
With a little experience under his belt, Robert should improve his approach at the plate and his consistency in addition to being someone who hits towering home runs. Keep in mind that Robert stole nine bases last year and won the Gold Glove, so he’s far from just a power hitter.
Over 162 games, we’re expecting to see a star blossom in the Windy City.
Jo Adell, Angels
There’s no getting around the fact that Adell had a terrible debut in the big leagues last season. Over 38 games, he hit just .161 with an OPS of .478. It was not the kind of season the Angels envisioned for a player who they’ve held in such high esteem for a long time.
However, there’s no reason to write off such a talented player who will turn just 22 in April. Just being in the majors last season meant Adell was well ahead of the development curve. Even if he begins the season in triple-A to get a little more seasoning after the Halos acquired Dexter Fowler this winter, Adell will be back in the majors at some point in 2021.
If the Angels show a little patience with him, Adell will be poised to break out at some point this season.
Gavin Lux, Dodgers
There’s a reason why the Dodgers have refused to trade Lux, even making him untouchable when they acquired Mookie Betts last year. In fairness, we didn’t see that in the 19 games Lux played last season, hitting just .175. But the future remains bright for the 23-year-old second baseman.
If Cody Bellinger remains in center most days and Max Muncy is the primary first baseman, Lux will have a chance to play every day at the keystone. Between double-A and triple-A in 2019, Lux hit .247 with an OPS of 1.028, which was helped along by 26 home runs. There's nothing he has left to prove in the minors and should benefit greatly from a normal spring training.
With Betts, Bellinger, Muncy, and others, the Dodgers don’t need Lux to be a star, which means he’ll be able to relax and just worry about himself, which should help him come into his own and become just another all-star caliber bat in the Los Angeles lineup.
Evan White, Mariners
If you’re not familiar with White, you clearly didn’t pay attention to last year’s Gold Glove Awards because White won the award as a rookie. Unfortunately, his offense lagged behind, hitting just .176 with an OPS of .599. However, that was to be expected from a player who had just 18 at-bats in triple-A.
White is a far better hitter than he showed last year, and now that he has a little more experience against big-league pitching, he’ll be better prepared to take a step forward in 2021.
We already know that he’s an accomplished defensive player, so when White’s offense comes along, he’ll be well on his way to becoming a star and Seattle’s first baseman of the future.
Casey Mize, Tigers
As the first overall pick in the 2018 draft, the Tigers have high hopes for Mize.
After mowing down batters in the minors during the 2019 season, Mize made the leap to the big leagues in 2020. The results were far from ideal, as Mize registered a 6.99 ERA over seven starts. But there were flashes of his exceptional talent, most notably carrying a no-hit bid into the 6th inning against the powerful White Sox in September.
The Tigers are hopeful that it’ll only be a matter of time until Mize delivers those kinds of performances regularly. Even if he doesn’t hit the ground running in 2021, he’s a great candidate to settle in during the second half of the season and start to establish himself as Detroit’s ace of the future.
A.J. Puk, Athletics
In Oakland’s rotation, Jesus Luzardo is the big name, but Puk could just as easily become the team’s breakout star in 2021.
The southpaw stands 6-foot-7 and has shown electric stuff when he hasn’t been sidelined by injuries. Over 10 relief appearances in 2019, Puk struck out 13 in 11.1 innings and posted a 3.18 ERA.
Thanks to those injuries, he remains a little under the radar. But if he can stay healthy in 2021, Puk could solidify a spot in the back-end of Oakland’s rotation and show that Luzardo isn’t the only future A's ace on their staff.
Ryan Mountcastle, Orioles
Mountcastle made a strong impression with the Orioles last season, although he largely flew under the radar.
After hitting .333 with an OPS of .878, he figures to play a prominent role in Baltimore’s lineup moving forward, providing some much-needed protection for Trey Mancini.
When he hit 25 home runs at triple-A in 2019, Mountcastle was named the MVP of the International League, so there’s no reason to think that his success in the majors last year was a fluke or just a small sample size.
He’s a serious slugger who has a legitimate chance to be an all-star in 2021.
Triston McKenzie, Cleveland
No matter how many frontline pitchers Cleveland trades away, there is always another young ace waiting in the wings. This year, it’ll be McKenzie’s turn to fill a vacancy and emerge as another ace.
A year ago, the 23-year-old made six starts and two relief appearances, striking out 42 over 33.1 innings posting a 3.24 ERA. He limited opposing batters to a .179 batting average and had an incredible WHIP of 0.90. It’s worth mentioning that he did all of that coming off a lost 2019 campaign in which he didn’t pitch at all because of injuries.
In a way, last season was all about McKenzie shaking off the rust. This year, he figures to take things to a new level and become Cleveland’s next young ace.
Brady Singer, Royals
The numbers say that Singer posted a modest 4.06 ERA as a rookie in 2020. But those numbers don’t do justice to the progress he’s made since being the national player of the year at the collegiate level in 2018.
Singer was electric in the minors in 2019 and started to come into his own last September. Over his final four starts of the season, he allowed just four runs on nine hits over 24 innings. That stretch of games began with 7.2 hitless innings against Cleveland in mid-September.
Singer has the stuff to be one of the best pitchers in baseball, and with the way he finished 2020, he’s in a position to blossom into a star during the 2021 season.
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