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February 13, 2013

The Lineup Card

9 Breakout Candidates

by Baseball Prospectus

​1. Ruben Tejada
Ruben Tejada had pretty big shoes to fill last season, stepping in as the Mets’ shortstop after Jose Reyes left for the Marlins as a free agent. Tejada didn’t make anyone forget Reyes, as he hit .289/.333/.351 with one home run in 501 plate appearances. Tejada contributed just 1.5 WARP, had a .249 True Average, and was below average defensively with a -4.6 Fielding Runs Above Average. However, there is anecdotal and statistical evidence to suggest Tejada will improve in 2013. For one, he is just 23 years old. He also had a fine .360 on-base percentage in 376 plate appearances in 2011. Scouts don’t believe Tejada will ever win a Gold Glove, but they feel he is better defensively than the advance metrics suggest. Tejada isn’t likely to become a star, but he has a chance to be an above-average fielding shortstop capable of hitting .300 with the plate discipline to match that .360 OBP of two years ago. That might not get Tejada to Cooperstown, but it gives the Mets a solid young piece for their rebuilding efforts. —John Perrotto

2. Matt Moore
PECOTA is rather bearish on Moore, predicting a drop in innings, a rise in ERA, and just 1.0 WARP after a 2.7 WARP rookie season that boded well for the future. Yet it also forecasts a 71 percent Improve Rate, and I think that's more like it. With a lively fastball that averages over 95 mph, and strong secondary offerings (curve, changeup), Moore looks like he might be nearly ready to step into James Shields' big No. 2 shoes behind David Price, forming a power-lefty duo at the top of Tampa Bay's rotation. Look more closely at Moore's monthly splits from last year, and there's perhaps even greater cause for optimism. He struggled early, as rookie pitchers often do, and carried an ERA over 5.00 into late May. But in the ensuing three-month stretch, from May 28-August 30, Moore found a mid-season groove. Over 106 1/3 innings, he compiled a 2.88 ERA, allowing 88 hits and striking out 106 batters while averaging nearly 6 1/3 innings per start. The walks remained high (42 over that time, on the way to a 4.1 BB/9 rate for the season), and that's where Moore will have to improve if he's to break out. Yet his control through the minors was very good, a sign that he was simply learning how to work the strike zone against big-leaguers in 2012. He had a rough September (5.48 ERA), possibly the result of simple fatigue, as he set a career high for innings pitched in a season. A year stronger and a year wiser, he's one to watch in 2013. —Adam Sobsey

3. Johnny Giavotella
One of the reasons the Royals are a fun team to hope on is that they are young at nearly every position and have the potential for a breakout performance at nearly every position. One exception is right field—Wil Myers would have taken care of right field, but his talents were needed as currency. The other exception is second base, where Chris Getz is at the top of the depth chart. The Royals seem intent on making a run for it this year, adding veterans Ervin Santana and James Shields to the rotation, but didn't upgrade at second this offseason, the natural fix to have targeted. The reason might be as simple as a barren free-agent market for middle infielders, but I prefer to think that the Royals simply know what I think I know: That Johnny Giavotella is going to do something good this year, finally.

Giavotella is the Getz alternative. He's currently the understudy because he's been terrible as a major-league ballplayer, hitting .242/.271/.342 in a couple extended looks with the big club. It's hard to believe that is the same guy who has been steadily line-driving and base-on-ballsing the Pacific Coast League to death over the past two years. With Omaha, Giavotella is a .331/.391/.477 hitter, a little guy with credible pop, a strikeout every 10 plate appearances and a hard-to-hit strike zone.

In the majors, he's opted out of that plate discipline and his BABIP has plummeted and he's been terrible. Admittedly, the major-league sample might be more persuasive—even if it's a third as large. But the Royals are banking their 2013 hopes on upside, and Giavotella could be a big part of that. Few positions offer a larger gap between the 2012 baseline and the 2013 upside than second base, if Giavotella can replicate his Triple-A success. —Sam Miller

4. Mike Minor
The seventh overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Minor raced through the Braves' minor-league ladder and flashed the stuff and command to develop into a mid-rotation starter in each of his first two stints with the big club. Growing pains hindered the 25-year-old southpaw during the first three months of the 2012 season, when he was felled by the long ball in May (10 home runs in 25 innings) and struggled to find the strike zone in June (17 walks in 27 2/3 innings), but come the Dog Days of summer, Minor became a force in the Braves rotation.

Last year's breakout darling, Kris Medlen, may have stolen the show for Atlanta for much of the second half, but Minor quietly logged a 2.16 ERA, while allowing just seven homers and 16 walks in 87 1/3 innings. The secret, according to the southpaw himself, was harnessing his deep arsenal, which features four pitches that he uses more than 10 percent of the time. In particular, after coughing up several home runs off of his changeup during the latter part of his disastrous May, and being skipped once in the rotation by manager Fredi Gonzalez, Minor increasingly turned to his fastball versus left-handed batters and relied more on his curveball to put away righties. The result: After allowing at least two homers in five of his first 15 starts and issuing at least three walks in nine of them, he didn't surrender more than one home run in any of his last 15 trips and committed the three-or-more walk sin only once.

Minor's impressive second half was buoyed by a likely-unsustainable .252 BABIP, but while he should not be expected to maintain his 2.16 post-All-Star-break ERA over a full season, the strides that he took during that span seem legitimate. Meanwhile, the Braves' brotherly offseason figures to give Gonzalez's squad one of the best defensive outfields in the league — an asset that is music to Minor's ears, because he was the league's third-most-extreme fly-ball pitcher last year, inducing grounders on only 35.4 percent of the balls put in play against him. Between his own improvement and the team's additions, all of the pieces are in place for Minor to thrive. He was barely a replacement-level pitcher on the aggregate in 2012, amassing just 0.1 WARP, but a 2.5-win effort could very well be on the way. —Daniel Rathman

5. Jason Kipnis
PECOTA gives Jason Kipnis a 10 percent chance of breaking out in 2013, i.e., seeing his production improve by at least 20 percent. This means that nine out of 10 times, it won't happen. But what about that 10th?

Kipnis turns 26 on the season's second day and has shown the ability to hit at the highest level. His first full big-league campaign didn't live up to expectations created by his 2011 cup of coffee, and he tailed off in the second half. Still, he owns a career 863 OPS in the minors and hit well with runners in scoring position last year. That latter fact is just me trying to rationalize my choice, but the former is important: Kipnis' track record coming up through the Indians system matters.

Now that he's gotten some experience and proven that he can hold his own in the big leagues, it's time for him to take the next step and go all... uh, his top PECOTA comp is Warren Morris. No, not that. Scott Sizemore? No. Marcus Giles? Well, there was that one season. Sure, let's say Kipnis goes all Marcus Giles on the world and hits .285/.360/.450, which is somewhere between his 80th and 90th percentile projections.

Doubt me? Last year in this space, I said Brandon Belt would hit .280/.370/.480. He hit .275/.360/.421.

Okay, not the best example. But this time I can feel it in my alimentary canal: Kipnis will break out in 2013. —Geoff Young

6. Travis Snider
The change-of-scenery effect—wherein players fail to play up to their potential, change teams, then live up to their potential—is a difficult thing to prove. If the player changes teams and fails again, he probably just isn’t that good anymore. If the player changes teams and succeeds, his success may have been inevitable. Whether we can prove it or not, it seems to be a wise, roll-of-the-dice sort of strategy.

The Pirates took a stab at a change-of-scenery guy last July, when they acquired Travis Snider from Toronto in exchange for reliever Brad Lincoln. Snider, not so long ago, was praised for his sound approach at the plate and a quick, controlled bat. Things got out of whack, but Snider maintains the abilities that made him a top prospect and, when the Pirates acquired him, he was excited to be a part of a “contending organization.” (What a difference an offseason makes.)

Snider enjoyed a splendid first month with the Bucs, posting a .287/.370/.402 line through August. His .353 batting average on balls in play screamed regression, but he did draw 11 walks on that span. The now-25-year-old was oddly terrible against right-handed pitching in 2012, and some regression there, coupled with the ability to hit southpaws, should bode well for Snider in 2013. It isn’t incredibly likely, but Snider could have a very strong year ahead of him in 2013. The physical ability is there, and if he finds a way to make things work, he could break out this season. —Hudson Belinsky

7. Salvador Perez
The encouraging thing about forecasting a breakout for Salvador Perez is that he doesn't have to get much better. He just has to stay healthy and play what would be his first full season in the major leagues, and he should be at an All-Star level. He hit .301/.328/.471 last year, and the poor walk rate was nothing new. But the power from a premium position should make Perez a much bigger name by this time next year.

By the way, what if of the prospect dream class of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Wil Myers, Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer, John Lamb, Mike Montgomery, etc., one guy from that era of development became a very-good-or-better Royal and that was Sal Perez? —Zachary Levine

8. Chris Carter
While I’m sad he’ll no longer play half his games five minutes from my house, I’m thrilled that Chris Carter, a personal white whale of mine, will (likely) be a full-time starter for the first time in his career. I’ve long been a fan of his prodigious power—I once saw him hit a home run that cleared the pavilion in center field at Stockton’s Banner Island Ballpark, possibly the most ridiculous batted ball I’ve ever seen during game action.

Carter slugged .514 over the course of 260 PA last year, his age-25 season. In 2013, he should see regular playing time with Houston and will have the Crawford Boxes in his sights for half his plate appearances. If he can build on the adjustments he made last year with Oakland, then 30 bombs and a respectable on-base average are very real possibilities. Carter is a potential bright spot in what promises to be a fairly dim Astros season. —Ian Miller

9. Eric Hosmer
Last year was a humbling season for Hosmer, who emerged as the poster child for a talented young lineup that took a big step back from 2011. Hosmer followed his fine debut season by getting off to a slow start in 2012 and never really recovering. He had a 670 OPS before the All-Star break, and a 654 after it. His BABIP gained a lot attention as it dropped from .314 to .255, though you can't dismiss a line-drive rate that fell five percent below the MLB average as bad luck. His isolated power was down as well. Any way you slice it, Hosmer just had a tough time making hard contact with the ball. None of this has altered the Royals' view of Hosmer as a foundation player, and it's hoped that the team's change in hitting coaches will benefit Hos.

The 2012 season was one for adjustments, and Hosmer was slow to make them. There is too much talent and track record (albeit in the minors) for a repeat of Hosmer's sophomore slump. PECOTA is forecasting a .272 TAv that is much closer to his rookie season of .281 than his second season of .242. That would be a disappointment, though. The Royals' push for contention is built around three notions: An upper-tier lineup, a dominant bullpen, and an average rotation. The last of those three has gained the most attention, and it might also be the most far-fetched. However, it almost seems like it's taken for granted that Royals will field a first-division lineup, as if 2012 never happened. If the young position players don't develop into top performers, then all the consternation over the rotation will be moot. Hosmer is in the middle of that—the Royals need him to resume his star trek, and I think he'll be up for the challenge. —Bradford Doolittle

9 comments have been left for this article.

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