The 2016 MLB season featured newfound standouts such as Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Gary Sanchez. So, who’ll make the leap next season? Let’s have a look at the ten most likely candidates.
10. Byron Buxton
Sometimes, the rise to the upper echelon of the majors occurs a bit later than expected. For Buxton, 2016 was supposed to be the one in which he would break out. Instead, the former No. 2 overall draft pick was perceived as a temporary bust. In 92 games with Minnesota, he batted .225, drove in 38 runs and struck out 118 times.
With that said, every once in a while, a highly-rated prospect never comes to fruition. That won’t the case here.
Buxton did show flashes of talent in 2016, and he can continue to thrive thanks to a spacious home park that’ll allow him to utilize his speed both on the base paths and in center field.
9. Nick Castellanos
It’s hard to tell right now if the Detroit Tigers’ intention going into the offseason is to rebuild or shed salary.
This franchise has a better chance of regressing than improving, but Castellanos is on the opposite trend. He raised his batting average 30 points from the year prior (.255 to .285) and slugged a career-best 18 home runs, despite being limited to 110 games.
Thanks to the potential of having a strong supporting cast in the lineup, Castellanos has the opportunity to become a .300 hitter. The problem is, will that lineup look drastically different (and less potent) come the spring?
8. Dansby Swanson
Do you think the Arizona Diamondbacks are regretting the deal they made last winter? The one that sent Shelby Miller from the Atlanta Braves to the desert in exchange for Aaron Blair, Ender Inciarte and Swanson (the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft).
Miller was supposed to be Arizona’s No. 2 starter, only to crater to a 7.14 ERA over three months and earn himself a trip to AAA.
Conversely, the 22 year-old Swanson began his season in the minors, then made his way up to AA before jumping to the majors in August.
He logged 129 at-bats with the Braves, managing a .302 average and made several defensive gems that provided Braves fans with a glimpse of the future. Come this time next year, the Diamondbacks will have really felt the pain.
7. Ryan Schimpf
If someone hits 20 home runs over 89 games in San Diego, does it make sound? The impact of Schimpf’s truncated season wasn’t exactly monumental, most likely because of the lowly club he was on.
However, if given a full season, it might be difficult for anyone to overlook him. Schimpf came to the Padres in June at age 28. It was a struggle at first until he hit his stride in July. That month, he drilled nine homers and tallied 17 RBIs. August saw him knock out seven more and drive in 20.
One major improvement that will need to be made is plate discipline, as Schimpf batted .217 and fanned on 105 occasions.
6. Billy Hamilton
The 1980s featured the last great era of base stealers. Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, and Vince Coleman were the predominant thieves.
Since then, there hasn’t been many players who could control a game by way of speed. Hamilton, who once swiped 155 bags in the minors, is capable of doing that.
But in order to steal a base, you first must get on base. This has been the underlying problem for Billy since coming to the majors in 2013. His reached just 29 percent of the time in 2014 (when he was second in the Rookie of the Year ballot), and only 27 percent the season after (with a .226 batting average).
However, he steadily improved to a .321 on-base percentage in 2016. Should that trend continue, his steal total (58 last year) will go up as well.
5. Tyler Naquin
The pressure of the postseason can both accelerate and stunt a young player’s development.
For Naquin, there was plenty of time for both. The Cleveland Indians’ run to the brink of a title didn’t feature much in the way of contributions from their rookie outfielder, although he did have a pair of doubles in the ALCS against Toronto.
His playoff experience may be most remembered for a key misplay with Lonnie Chisenhall in the first inning of Game 6 of the World Series, which allowed two Chicago Cubs runner to score. What you should remember is a rookie season which included a .296 batting average and an .886 OPS in 321 at-bats.
4. Alex Reyes
For a franchise that has become renowned in recent years for its ability to produce young talent seemingly out of nowhere, here’s a change of course.
This Cardinals prospect isn’t sneaking up on anyone. Instead, Reyes should be front and center as a part of the St. Louis rotation come 2017 alongside Adam Wainwright and Mike Leake. If he doesn’t get an immediate starting spot, he’ll at least be a key member of the bullpen.
That’s because his 2016 cameo, which included 52 strikeouts and a 1.57 ERA in 12 appearances, has Cards fans pleading for an encore.
3. Andrew Benintendi
The era of David Ortiz may be over, but the Boston Red Sox still have plenty to look forward to.
Benintendi proved he has a bit of Big Papi in him when he launched a home run in his first postseason at-bat in Cleveland. It was only his third home run since debuting on Aug. 2, but his instant impact came in the way of a .324 average over his initial 21 games and .295 for his two months with Boston.
Not bad, considering he was starring for the University of Arkansas less than two years ago. His ascension to stardom might lead him to become the AL’s top rookie, although his greatest competition for that honor may be in his own clubhouse.
2. Aaron Sanchez
A 15-2 record, an AL-leading 3.00 ERA, an All-Star appearance and a seventh-place finish in the Cy Young Award voting. You could say Sanchez has already emerged as one of baseball’s best young pitchers.
However, it’s important to consider that his outstanding 2016 performance came on a short leash. The 24-year-old, in just his third big league season, was held back by the Blue Jays late in the season for fear of overuse.
Now that the restrictions are likely off for next year, Sanchez should have the ability to reach his full potential. It won’t be surprising if Sanchez is among the top three for the Cy Young in 2017.
1. Yoan Moncada
Following in the footsteps of Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig, Moncada is set to be the next sensation to hail from Cuba.
From the time the Red Sox signed him at age 19 in 2015 for $31.5 million, hype was abundant. With great fanfare, he arrived to the big leagues in early September, but didn’t factor much into Boston’s run to the AL East title or in its ALDS loss to the Indians.
Once he gets enough experience, all indications point to that he’ll resemble something like Manny Machado—although he’s not quite there defensively. One particular scout had high praise for Moncada, though, and said the following about him:
“He certainly has the ability, but I think when he learns to use the (left-field) wall (at Fenway Park) next year, it will happen then.”
Joining Benintendi, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr., Moncada gives the Red Sox a great young group of outfielders. Is it too soon to make them the favorite to win the American League? We don’t think so.