Baseball has never had more young stars than it does today. But who will be the next Pete Alonso, Jack Flaherty or Cody Bellinger? Here are five 2020 breakout candidates:
Gleyber Torres, SS, New York Yankees
Torres has been raved about since the Yankees acquired him from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade in 2016. Ask any Cubs fan, and they’ll tell you trading their brightest prospect for their first World Series title in 108 years was worth it. But Torres is no longer a prospect.
As we saw in his sophomore 2019 campaign, he’s as good as advertised. A two-time All-Star, Torres is moving full-time to shortstop, his natural position, now that Didi Gregorius signed with the Phillies. He’s already a mature hitter, with a veteran’s two-strike approach, and his defense will improve as he settles into one position. Starring as the shortstop for the next Yankees World Series team? That sounds like one of the game’s elite players to me. Oh, and Joe Buck wanted me to remind you that Gleyber’s only 23.
Yoan Moncada, 3B, Chicago White Sox
Moncada was arguably the most improved position player of 2019. He posted a 141 OPS+ in 2019, meaning he was 41% better than league average, up from his mark of 96 the year before. Alex Bregman (162) and Anthony Rendon (153) were the only two third basemen in the majors with a better OPS+ than Moncada. This drastic improvement is no fluke, either. He cut his strikeout rate to 27.5%, down from 33.4%, and his 92.8 mph average exit velocity was in the top 3% in all of baseball, according to Statcast. If he continues getting better and the White Sox finally contend, Moncada will secure his status as one of baseball’s next great third basemen during a golden age for the position.
Eugenio Suarez, 3B, Cincinnati Reds
One of the game’s truly great power hitters, Suarez’s breakout season likely would have been 2018 had he played for a more competitive team. And his performance last year, when he hit 49 home runs with a 134 OPS+, would have just been a continuation of that. But, the Reds were dreadful two years ago and were disappointing in 2019, and despite some down-ballot MVP votes, Suarez has yet to truly get his due. That should change this season. The Reds are expected to contend in the NL Central and at least compete for a wild-card, with Suarez slotted in as their third or fourth hitter.
Dakota Hudson, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Flaherty was the undisputed ace of the Cardinals last season with one of the best second-half pitching performances in MLB history. But Hudson, their No. 2 starter, also deserves praise for his role in stabilizing the pitching staff as the Cardinals chased down the Cubs and Brewers to win the NL Central. He had a 3.35 ERA in 33 games (32 starts) and finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.
One of the true remaining sinkerballers, Hudson takes advantage of his elite infield defense, which is why his 4.93 FIP was significantly higher than his ERA. While most of baseball is abandoning the sinker, Hudson has stuck with it because his isn’t just a lesser version of his four-seamer. Instead, his sinker had 2.6 more inches of sink—or 12% more sink—than similar sinkers thrown at his velocity, per Statcast. Such movement could hurt him at times when he lost his command—he led the majors with 86 walks—but if he learns to better control it, Hudson and Flaherty could be the Cardinals’ best rotation duo since Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.
Lance McCullers Jr., RHP, Houston Astros
Now that Gerrit Cole has signed with the Yankees, the Astros have a rotation spot to fill. Back from Tommy John surgery, McCullers looks to be Cole’s replacement. Let’s not forget how good McCullers was when he first came up with Houston as a 21-year-old in 2015. The next year, he had 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He was an All-Star in 2017 when the Astros won the World Series. His curveball was one of the best in the game before he got hurt, and he threw it no less than 46.6% of the time in any year from 2016-18. Working with and learning from future Hall of Famers Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke can only help the still-emerging McCullers have a breakout 2020 campaign.