American League Rookie Roundup: Late Breakouts Turning Heads in 2024

The early goings of the season have given us several players who have made the most out of their career second chances. Here are five whose strong starts could precede delayed star turns.
Minnesota Twins pitcher Simeon Woods Richardson has made the most of his opportunities with his third different organization.
Minnesota Twins pitcher Simeon Woods Richardson has made the most of his opportunities with his third different organization. / Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Rookie Roundup, a weekly check-in on baseball’s best and most interesting first-year players. Last week, we dove deep into the electric debut of Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Paul Skenes. Next up is a look at well-traveled American League rookies who have impressed after long, winding paths to the big leagues.

Progress is not always linear. Baseball is full of stories of players who burst onto the scene with a bang—Tony Conigliaro, Mark Fidrych, Jeff Francoeur, Grady Sizemore, Chris Coghlan, the list goes on—that ultimately were derailed for one reason or another. On the flip side, other players’ careers sometimes get off to inauspicious starts before they find their footing further down the road—oftentimes after extended stints in the minor leagues or bouncing around from team to team in search of the right environment.

The early goings of the 2024 campaign have already given us plenty of examples of the latter taking shape. In the American League, we have several rookies who took the long way to The Show and are now thriving in their current situations. Here are five late breakouts worth keeping tabs on that are making the most of their opportunities.

Wenceel Pérez, OF, Detroit Tigers

Signed: 2016, international free agent (DET)

Debuted: April 8, 2024

The lone player on this list who made his big-league debut this season and has only played for one franchise, Pérez signed with the Tigers at 16 years old and logged nearly 2,500 minor league plate appearances before finally reaching the majors six weeks ago. Always a patient hitter in the minors, he’s displayed poise at the dish since his call-up, walking at an 11.3% clip through his first 29 games to support a .301/.377/.527 slash line. The switch-hitter’s power is a bit limited, but Pérez runs well and has a good approach from both sides of the plate. It took nearly a decade, but Detroit might have found an everyday player to help contribute as the franchise pushes for contention following seven straight losing seasons.

Simeon Woods Richardson, SP, Minnesota Twins

Drafted: 2018, pick No. 48 (NYM)

Debuted: Oct. 22, 2022

The New York Mets traded Woods Richardson just over a year after drafting him in the second round, sending him to the Toronto Blue Jays as part of the Marcus Stroman deal. He was shipped to the Twins two years later in the José Berríos trade, and had logged just 9 2/3 major league innings before this season.

Getting traded twice and putting up mixed results in the minors caused the right-hander to tumble down the annual prospect rankings lists, but Woods Richardson has put up encouraging numbers as part of Minnesota’s pitching staff. The 23-year-old has allowed two runs or fewer in five of his six starts this season, seizing control of the Twins’ No. 5 spot in the rotation. His slider has been key to his breakthrough: hitters are batting just .182 against it, with Woods Richardson throwing it 27.6% of the time.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Cooper Criswell
Criswell has been a savior for a Red Sox rotation that's been set back by injuries. / Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Cooper Criswell, SP, Boston Red Sox

Drafted: 2018, pick No. 391 (LAA)

Debuted: Aug. 27, 2021

Pre-COVID-19 pandemic, Criswell looked like a nice late-round find for the pitching-starved Los Angeles Angels, striking out nearly a batter per inning across 21 starts at High-A in 2019. He had more mixed results in the upper levels in ‘21, though he did appear in one game at the major league level that season. The Angels designated Criswell for assignment in ‘22, and he was claimed off waivers by the Tampa Bay Rays, who ultimately DFA’d him a year later after he posted a 5.73 ERA in 33 relief innings.

The Red Sox signed Criswell to a one-year, $1 million contract last winter, and he’s looked like an incredible bargain so far. Elevated to the starting rotation after a rash of injuries left Boston thin on pitching, Criswell has a 2.76 ERA through 29 1/3 innings. He does it all through command and deception: none of Criswell’s four pitches average more than 90 mph. Despite lacking overpowering stuff, the 27-year-old has 28 strikeouts with only seven walks, and induces ground balls at nearly a 50% clip.

Korey Lee, C, Chicago White Sox

Drafted: 2019, pick No. 32 (HOU)

Debuted: July 1, 2022

Once upon a time, Lee was the future franchise catcher for the Houston Astros. He was the third catcher selected in the 2019 draft after Adley Rutschman and Shea Langeliers, though it’s taken him slightly longer to secure regular playing time than his contemporaries.

A strong 2022 season at Triple A led Houston to call Lee up to the majors, though he hit just .160/.192/.240 in a brief 12-game stint. The Astros traded him to Chicago a year later for veteran pitcher Kendall Graveman, and Lee again struggled against big-league pitching. He’s put together a better showing this go-around, cutting down on his strikeouts and putting up a .791 OPS through 32 games with the White Sox in ‘24. Lee seems to have wrested the starting job from veteran Martín Maldonado, so it will be interesting to see how he’s able to handle everyday catching duties as he tries to put together a breakout season.

Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Jonny DeLuca
DeLuca has been on a tear since joining the Rays after beginning the season on the injured list. / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Jonny DeLuca, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

Drafted: 2019, pick No. 761 (LAD)

Debuted: June 7, 2023

DeLuca had the makings of another Los Angeles Dodgers success story before the team shipped him to the Rays along with Ryan Pepiot as part of the Tyler Glasnow trade. The former 25th-round pick posted a .294/.390/.566 slash line across Double and Triple A for the Dodgers in 2023, eventually earning a brief 24-game call-up to the big leagues. Acquired by Tampa Bay last December, DeLuca appeared to have a strong shot at making the roster out of spring training but suffered a broken hand on a checked swing in March and began the season on the injured list.

It didn’t take long for DeLuca to pick up where he left off, as the Rays called him up after a six-game minor league stint on May 3. He’s hit .279/.392/.512 in 51 plate appearances, with seven walks and just seven strikeouts to go along with two homers and four stolen bases. Glasnow might be dominating for Los Angeles, but DeLuca and Pepiot (3.68 ERA in seven starts) have been productive since landing in Tampa Bay.


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Nick Selbe

NICK SELBE

Nick Selbe is a programming editor who also provides MLB and college sports coverage for Sports Illustrated. Nick, who has written about the MLB postseason and All-Star Game for SI, previously worked for MLB Advanced Media, Yahoo Sports and Bleacher Report. He graduated from USC in 2014.