Before I start this article, let me tell you how I define breakout. A breakout player is one who has the pedigree to perform at a high level, but for some reason, has yet to reach the level of performance bestowed on him yet. Or, it could just be a player how has shown flashes of top level performance, but has yet to put everything together.
With that said, here are my picks for 2013 Breakout Hitters for 2013:
Salvador Perez, KC
I have to say I scoffed when I read that the Royals had signed Perez to a long term deal last season, as I really didn't know too much about him. Apparently, they did, and they locked him up for good reason. Perez is a fine defender behind the plate, and probably an even better at the plate. In 289 at bats last season, he hit .301-.328-.471 with 11 HRs, 16 doubles, 38 runs and 39 RBI. He doesn't strike out a lot (8.9% in 2012) and doesn't walk at all (3.9% in 2012), so his value as a hitter will come from him swinging it at the dish, and as far as I can tell, he can do that with the best of the fantasy catchers.
Here is what I projected for him in my 2013 consensus rankings writeup:
2013 Projection: If he can stay healthy, Perez should put up a season where he hits .300 with 15-17 HRs and 65 RBI in 2013.
He could easily exceed that projection in the young Royals lineup this season.
Eric Hosmer, KC
Another Royal on this list, and he is a popular choice to breakout this season by other fantasy writers, and I agree. It could be because I own him in my AL-only keeper league, but he was very unlucky in 2012. Hosmer hit just .232-.304-.359 with 14 HRs, 65 runs, 60 RBI and 16 stolen bases last season. Yeah, the stolen bases are nice, but the batting average, HRs, runs and RBI were disappointing. His .255 BABIP was the 7th worst in all of baseball last season, amongst qualified hitters.
Here is what I projected for him in my 2013 consensus rankings writeup:
2013 Projection: I expect Hosmer to hit .280 with 22 HRs, 75 runs, 90 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 2013. I may be high on the stolen base total, but if he just improves his BABIP, he will have more opportunities in 2013.
He has the bat to exceed my projection above, and I would not be totally shocked to see him hit .300 with 25 HRs and 100 RBI, as he has the potential to compete for the league MVP one of these years.
Neil Walker, PIT
In 530 at bats in an injury-shortened 2012 season, Walker hit .280-.342-.426 with 14 HRs, 62 runs, 69 RBI and 7 stolen bases. His power, as measured by ISO, inched up from .134 to .146, and his BABIP increased as well, from .315 to .326. He is entering his age 27 season, and could boost his power and RBI totals in an improving Pirates lineup. Manager Clint Hurdle also wants the team to run more this season, so Walker could reach double digits in stolen bases after stealing 7 in 129 games last season.
Zack Cozart, CIN
Cozart disappointed many a fantasy owner last season after receiving many preseason votes for National League Rookie of the Year. Many predicted a 15 home run, 15 stolen base season from him last season, and he met expectations on the power totals, but Dusty Baker did not give him the green light too often on the base paths. I see the power repeating in 2013, but he will need more than four stolen base attempts to reach double digits in 2013. He stole 30 bases in 34 attempts in AAA back in 2010, so he has the speed to steal double digit bags, and calls Great American Ball Park home, so his power should continue to translate into double digit homers.
Manny Machado, BAL
Machado made it to the big leagues as a 20 year old, just two years after being drafted as the 3rd pick in the 2010 draft. He held his own in his 51 games, hitting .262-.294-.445 with 7 HRs, 24 runs and 26 RBI, but saw his walk rate plummet to below 5%. He also plays in a hitter friendly park, so he should flash more power over a 162 game schedule in 2013. Here is what I wrote about Machado in our 2013 Consensus Third Base Rankings:
2013 Projection: I see Machado hitting .260 with 16 HRs, 70 runs, 75 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 2013. He should be drafted around the 15th round in mixed leagues and 7th-8th round in AL only leagues.
A 15 home run and 15 stolen base season is pretty good considering his age, but Machado has the potential to better that, and in a big way. He has the talent to put up a 20-20 season as a 20 year old.
Desmond Jennings, TB
Jennings struggled in his sophomore season, hitting .246-.314-.388 with 13 HRs, 85 runs, 47 RBI and 31 stolen bases in 132 games. He may not ever hit 20 home runs in a season, but he has the speed to steal 40+ bases, or even more, in his prime. Jennings turned 26 back in October, so he is entering his peak years. I see him putting up a 15 home run, 35 steal season in 2013. Should he improve his walk rate, he could easily top the 40 stolen base mark, as he was very efficient on the base paths in 2012, stealing 31 out of 33 stolen base attempts. Toss in 100+ runs scored and he could put up a breakout season in 2013.
Cameron Maybin, SD
Cameron Maybin was once one of the top prospects in the game, but he was pushed to the big leagues too fast, missing some valuable learning experiences in the minors. Now with his third team, Maybin is looking to show us all that he can reach the potential many thought he could reach when he was drafted back in 2006. He has shown some improvement at the plate over the last few seasons, and already has a 40 stolen base season under his belt. But, the power? It's been a disappointment, but the team has moved the fences in at Petco Park this season, so he has a shot at improving his power totals. To do that, he will need to start hitting more balls in the air though. I see him putting up a 15 HR, 40 stolen base season in 2013, with a chance for more than that.
Domonic Brown, PHI
Brown, like Maybin, is another former top prospects who has struggled at the big league level. Unlike Maybin, he has never been given an every day job in the big leagues, but that should change this season. What he has going for him is that he has a very good idea when he steps up to the plate, as his plate discipline is excellent. Let's take a look:
2010: 70 plate appearances, 7.1% walk rate, 34.3% strikeout rate
2011: 210 plate appearances, 11.9% walk rate, 16.7% strikeout rate
2012: 212 plate appearances, 9.9% walk rate, 16.0% strikeout rate
Brown has show improvement in his plate discipline in the little time Charlie Manuel has used him over the last three seasons, and is having a solid spring thus far. I know the old adage, that spring training doesn't matter, but for a guy like Brown, it does matter. Having a good spring is the difference between a starting job and a bench role. I see Brown putting up a 20 HR, 15 stolen base season for the Phillies this season.
Justin Maxwell, HOU
Maxwell has solid tools, but there is a lot of swing and miss in his approach at the plate. He hit 18 home runs and stole 9 bases in 352 plate appearances last season, and should be an everyday outfielder in the rebuilding Astros lineup this season. While he strikes out in over 30% of his plate appearances, he does know how to take a walk, as his 9.1% walk rate shows. He also quietly put up a .232 ISO last season. I can see Maxwell putting up a 25 home run, 15 stolen base season in every day duty in 2013.