Last year, prior to Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Opening Day, I compiled a list of three pitchers and three batters that I thought would break out. To establish my credibility, I will mention that I was a successful five-for-six in my predictions, including “MLB The Show” cover star Jazz Chisholm as well as his new teammate, Luis Arráez, who captured the batting title. This season I wanted to do the same before March 30’s Opening Day. Take note of these six players to impress everyone.
Starting locally with the pitchers, my first pick is one of the additions to the New York Mets rotation, Japanese star Kodai Senga. Already an established professional in Japan where he was a three-time Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star, Senga will make his MLB debut this year. He features the mysterious “ghost forkball,” a pitch that is sure to stump opponents and be a hit in Queens for years. Look for Senga to cement himself as a premier starting pitcher in his first MLB season.
Next is a member of the young and hopeful Baltimore Orioles. Félix Bautista is a 27-year-old, six-foot eight-inch force of nature. Bautista debuted in 2022, becoming the closer about halfway through the year. He was one of the best relievers in the second half, posting a 2.79 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP. With a bigger workload, look for these numbers to settle a bit, though a full season as closer could mark Bautista as top five in his position.
Perhaps it’s a cop out to pick a pitcher coming off a World Series championship where he started a combined no-hitter, but Christian Javier is undeniable. The 25-year-old Dominican debuted with the Houston Astros in 2020. In 2022, Javier became the Astros sixth starter, and was nothing short of dominant, posting a 2.54 ERA, 3.16 FIP and a .948 WHIP, an incredible statline. So yes, he’s pretty much broken out, but this year, I think he’ll go a step further, winning the Cy Young.
Now the batters. Last year, my one pick that didn’t hit, Cole Tucker, was really just a guy I liked. I’m going to try again this year with Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm. Last season, Bohm had his fair share of struggles on and off the field, but finished with a solid .280 average and respectable defense. Look, he’s got great hair and plays a flashy third base, perhaps not the most riveting pick, but one I’ll stand by confidently, nonetheless. Look for Bohm to make his mark in a new-look Phillies infield.
This next pick is a two-for-one, the Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes and shortstop Oneil Cruz. Hayes has undoubtedly become one of the best defensive third baseman in the league, but the 25-year-old needs to improve his bat from his middling .244 batting average in 2022 en route to stamping himself as a superstar.
Playing to his left, 24-year-old shortstop phenom Cruz is a bit more intriguing. Winning his starting job in the midst of the 2022 season, Cruz already has the hardest hit ball recorded in the Statcast Era at 122.4 mph. Together, the left side of the Pirates infield will certainly turn the heads they haven’t yet.
There is a buzz in the air coming from Yankees fans, thanks to New Jersey native, 21-year-old Anthony Volpe. Volpe, listed as MLB’s fifth-best prospect, has done nothing less than light up Spring Training. He has posted a .302 AVG and a 1.036 OPS — numbers about on par with reigning MVP Aaron Judge’s career stats. Volpe was recently announced to the Yankees’ Opening Day roster after his incredible spring. He is a star, and under Yankee Stadium’s lights, he’ll absolutely shine.
A list like this is hard to make because there are so many exciting players in baseball ready to break out. Hopefully these guys are all a part of that group. Here’s to the 2023 MLB season.
Featured photo courtesy of @pittsburghpirates, Twitter