Nearly two months into the MLB season, it’s safe to say that we’ve seen plenty of things that we didn’t expect. That includes a number of young and previously unproven players coming to the forefront and making an impact on their team.
Granted, some of this year’s breakout stars were top-rated prospects who we expected to become difference-makers sooner or later. But others have come out of nowhere to provide an unexpected lift for their teams. Of course, time will tell whether any of these players having staying power, but for now, they appear to be MLB’s stars of tomorrow.
Let’s take a look at the breakout stars who have impressed us the most in 2021.
20. Dylan Carlson, Cardinals
For the Cardinals, it was just a matter of time until Dylan Carlson broke through. It’s starting to happen this season, even though Carlson is still just 22.
Even if there are a few more bumps in the road ahead, it’s clear that he’s starting to fulfill his potential.
19. Adolis Garcia, Rangers
Adolis Garcia is one of the players who isn’t getting enough attention this year. He had just 23 at-bats in the majors heading into the season and now he’s got a .942 OPS and is arguably the best player the Rangers have.
At 28, it’s been a long journey for the Cuban defector, but he’s making something of himself in the majors.
18. Bryan Reynolds, Pirates
It’s been easy to miss Bryan Reynolds, who has been lost in the shuffle in Pittsburgh. To be fair, he put together a strong season in 2019, and after a rough 2020 campaign, he’s back to being one of the best players on a bad team.
17. Pablo Lopez, Marlins
Pablo Lopez is one of many young arms the Marlins have in their possession. Granted, going 6-4 with a 3.61 ERA in 11 starts last year was impressive. But Lopez has been even better this season, looking like someone who could pitch at a high level over 30-plus starts per season.
16. Carson Kelly, Diamondbacks
It wasn’t easy being the heir apparent to Yadier Molina in the Cardinals organization all of those years, especially since Molina still hasn’t retired. But Carson Kelly has found great success in Arizona. Despite missing time on the IL, Kelly has an OPS over 1.000 and is on his way to becoming one of the best hitting catchers in baseball.
15. Cedric Mullins, Orioles
The Orioles were expecting some of their young players to break out this season, although Cedric Mullins wasn’t necessarily who they were expecting. Nevertheless, he’s emerged as the team’s center fielder and leadoff hitter of the future, making him a critical part of the rebuilding process in Baltimore.
14. Carlos Rodon, White Sox
Keep in mind that Carlos Rodon was once the third overall pick in the draft who’s always been good but not great. It also looked like he was close to done after the past two seasons. However, everything has clicked for him in 2021.
Spurred on by his no-hitter, Rodon has a 1.29 ERA over his first eight starts, and at 28, he’s finally fulfilling his potential.
13. Zach Eflin, Phillies
Zach Eflin has been in the majors since 2016 when he was just 22 and had some solid seasons. But he’s taken a big step forward in now his sixth season with the Phillies. His WHIP is down and his strikeout rate is up.
While he’s still overshadowed by Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, Eflin is starting to make a name for himself.
12. Yermin Mercedes, White Sox
There are probably hardcore White Sox fans who didn’t know who Yermin Mercedes was before the season. For better or worse, that’s no longer the case league-wide. His issue with unwritten rules aside, the guy can hit, even if it took him until age 28 to get his chance.
11. Jazz Chisholm, Marlins
Jazz Chisholm’s energy has made him one of the most exciting players in baseball.
Still just 23 with less than 200 at-bats under his belt, the Bahamian still has a lot of room to grow. Not only is he producing with the bat but his speed makes him one of MLB’s must-watch players.
10. Jared Walsh, Angels
We knew Jared Walsh could hit after posting a .970 OPS last year. But it was easy to write that off as an aberration for the player who was selected in the 39th round of the 2015 draft.
However, Walsh has made it clear that last year was no fluke. He’s on his way to becoming a bonafide star.
9. Freddy Peralta, Brewers
Freddy Peralta has been in the majors since he was 21, and now three years later, he’s starting to realize his potential.
In the past, he’s been useful out of the bullpen. But now his electric stuff is playing well as a starter. He’s striking out batters at the rate of a late-inning reliever but doing it over the course of five or six innings every time out.
8. Aaron Civale, Indians
Two years ago, Aaron Civale posted a 2.34 ERA over his first 10 starts in the majors, so it’s not shocking to see him return to that level. But it’s now clear that he’s the next frontline starter to come out of Cleveland’s farm system.
Civale has seven wins in his first 10 starts and is out-performing reigning Cy Young winner Shane Bieber, which is no small accomplishment.
7. Ryan McMahon, Rockies
The Rockies have remained high on Ryan McMahon through a few disappointing seasons, but he’s finally having a breakout campaign in 2021.
Yes, he hit 24 home runs in 2019. But he’s on pace to shatter that number this season and become a key building block for Colorado.
6. Trent Grisham, Padres
Few people are tying San Diego’s success to Trent Grisham, but he’s having an outstanding season and has played an important role for the Padres. As a former first-round pick, it’s not surprising to see Grisham succeed. Just keep in mind that he has the best OPS on San Diego’s roster outside of Fernando Tatis Jr. and is quietly blossoming into a star.
5. John Means, Orioles
To his credit, John Means won 12 games and posted a 3.60 ERA two seasons ago, so the Orioles knew that he was going to be good. He struggled with his father’s death during the 2020 season but has turned into a completely different pitcher this year.
Even if you take away his no-hitter, he’s been brilliant and pitching like someone who could be a perennial Cy Young candidate for the next five years.
4. Alex Reyes, Cardinals
This season has been a long time coming for Alex Reyes, who made his debut in 2016 a few weeks shy of his 22nd birthday. He’s dealt with injuries and has had to adjust to a move to the bullpen. However, Reyes is a perfect 14 for 14 in save situations and has a nice ERA of 0.69, potentially making him the league’s next great closer.
3. Trevor Rogers, Marlins
Just 23, Trevor Rogers made seven starts last season with a 6.10 ERA. But everything has been different this year. Not only has he emerged as the ace of a Miami rotation that had no shortage of candidates but he’s also looked like a Cy Young candidate and could have plenty of room for improvement given his age.
2. Austin Riley, Braves
Good thing the Braves didn’t sign Josh Donaldson to a long-term deal a couple of winters ago. Austin Riley has exploded in his third season in the majors, out-performing most of the other stars in Atlanta’s lineup.
Along with Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies, Riley is forming a young core that will lead the Braves for many years to come.
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
In fairness, we knew that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was going to become a star. After showing flashes of it last year, he’s completely busted out of his shell. He’s gone from a .791 OPS in 2020 to an OPS over 1.100 this year. He’s posting better numbers than his father, a Hall of Famer, did at the same age and should now be considered among the best hitters in baseball, period.
Photo: Getty Images