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Fantasy baseball 2013 draft preview: AL breakouts

At age 20, Manny Machado hit .289 with four homers and 16 RBI last September for the Orioles.

At age 20, Manny Machado hit .289 with four homers and 16 RBI last September for the Orioles.

Fantasy baseball 2013 draft prep central: Rankings, position primers and much more

If there's one advice column fantasy owners want to read before draft day, it's a list of the top breakout candidates. These are the players who will provide the biggest bang for the buck.

While a sleeper is someone who falls into the late rounds and comes cheap on draft day, a breakout is a player who has shown some flashes of brilliance but is poised to put it all together for a career year that can carry a fantasy team. Breakouts are not necessarily fantasy unknowns, but rather players who will ultimately make the biggest difference between winning and losing.

Ask those who owned Andrew McCutchen a year ago. Everyone knew he was a strong pick, ranking eighth among SI.com's 2012 preseason outfielders and 31st overall in the Top 300. McCutchen far outplayed that ranking, carrying fantasy teams by transforming from a good player into a fantasy star and an NL MVP candidate.

Mike Trout and Bryce Harper made huge ascensions into the elite ranks last year, too, but because they weren't on Opening Day rosters they fell into the late rounds on draft day. They were both sleepers and breakouts.

Sleepers are nice, but they often fall for a reason. Breakouts, on the other hand, are well-regarded names who can blossom into something even bigger. They're good players who can become great.

It's not an easy list to whittle down, because there are hundreds of players who could prove better than expected in a given year. The best place to start is in the age column, where players who've yet to reach their age-27 prime season stand poised to outperform expectations.

Here's a team-by-team look at the top 2013 breakout candidates in the American League.

AL: Breakouts | Busts | SleepersNL: Breakouts | Busts | Sleepers

AL East

Baltimore Orioles: 3B Manny Machado (20 years old)

Projection: .255/18/75/70/11/.300/.438Upside: .280/25/85/80/15/.320/.480

Machado's numbers alone won't wow you, but the fact that he posted those as a 20 year old playing in a pennant race should. Machado is one of the game's future stars, and his potential keeps him among the top 20 third basemen to target. If he could increase his walks total, we would be even more excited about his immediate potential. It's hard to know exactly what to expect from Machado, but the upside is there.

Boston Red Sox: 3B Will Middlebrooks (24)

Projection: .275/22/78/60/5/.325/.490Upside: .280/25/90/80/5

In the first half of last season, Middlebrooks looked like a rising superstar in fantasy. After his disappointing second half, it's hard to rank him in the top 15 at the third base position. That's actually good news, because it means Middlebrooks brings great potential value late. In his first full season, Middlebrooks will bring solid middle-round potential for fantasy owners.

New York Yankees: SP Phil Hughes (26)

Projection: 15/4.15/170/1.250/0Upside: 20/3.25/200/1.110/0

Hughes gets a bit of a bum rap because he pitches for the pressure-cooker Yankees and hasn't quite been the ace they'd hoped, especially considering they kept Hughes and dealt Ian Kennedy instead. Hughes can enjoy a breakthrough this year if he reaches 200 innings for the first time, though, and he's a good bet for a career year as he turns 27. The best news is that Hughes is a breakout candidate who will make it into the late rounds, so he is just as much of a sleeper as he is a breakout.

Tampa Bay Rays: SP Jeremy Hellickson (25)

Projection: 13/3.07/155/1.190/0Upside: 18/2.75/200/1.110/0

The Rays are full of potential breakout candidates, including outfielder Desmond Jennings, prospect Wil Myers and a host of pitching prospects. Hellickson, however, occupies one of our favorite categories from which to find breakouts: the third-year starting pitcher. That's the year in which a pitcher usually has the arm strength to hit the 200-inning mark, so it's fair to expect Hellickson to deliver the best season of his already impressive young career. He's already among the top 35 fantasy starters, but he's one with great room for improvement.

Honorable mention: SP Matt Moore (23). Moore carried great hype as a rookie, and while he had a good season in 2012, he didn't have the great one he was projected to deliver. We tend to prefer breakout pitcher candidates who have made 40-70 career starts, but Moore is just outside that range, at 32. Still, he can approach 200 innings and 200 strikeouts and shouldn't slip out of the top 125 players off the board on draft day.

Toronto Blue Jays: 3B Brett Lawrie (23)

Projection: .278/20/82/92/15/.336/.446Upside: .300/30/100/100/20/.375/.510

Lawrie entered his first full season in the majors with huge, arguably unattainable, expectations. He enters Year 2 with plenty to prove, playing for a loaded Blue Jays team that will allow him to drift a bit below the radar. Trust us: The elite talent is there, so if you were one of the owners who bit on Lawrie early last year, don't let someone else get the best of him as a mid-round pick now. Lawrie needs to make major strides to restore his fantasy luster, but he's fully capable of doing just that, especially playing for such an offensively potent team.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox: RP Addison Reed (24)

Projection: 2/3.25/68/1.295/33Upside: 5/2.25/80/1.050/45

Reed posted a 4.75 ERA and 1.364 WHIP as a rookie, numbers that aren't likely to impress. His power arm should. Reed saved 29 of his 33 opportunities last year after taking over as closer in May, but his second-half ERA dipped to 5.63, which should see him tumble down draft boards. If the White Sox are better than expected, Reed could capitalize on his opportunity (and velocity) and deliver a 40-save season.

Cleveland Indians: 2B Jason Kipnis (25)

Projection: .260/16/75/90/29/.335/.403Upside: .280/23/90/100/38/.365/.450

Kipnis is a 25-year-old shot in the arm for a position that's missing the likes of Jeff Kent and a healthy Chase Utley. Kipnis' age gives him a pretty good chance to better his 2012 numbers, especially if he can get his average closer to .280 and show more consistency late into the season. Consider him a top-five second baseman, and the one with the best chance to grow into more. If not for a poor second half (.233 with just three homers), his first full season in the majors would have slotted him even higher in our rankings.