Predicting sleepers in upcoming baseball seasons is never an easy task, but this year, a few players stand out as potential breakout performers. Let's take a look at three players who have a great chance of exceeding expectations in 2014.
Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants With so many options at the first base position, Belt likely won't be drafted until later in the draft, but don't overlook him as a solid utility hitter. In fact, he's not a bad option as a starting first baseman, based on his fantastic performance during 2013's second half.
After the All-Star break, Belt was one of the best hitters in the majors, batting .326 with a .915 OPS. Most of that can be attributed to a much-improved line drive rate (21.5% to 27.7%) and a decreased fly ball rate (43.9 to 38.2).
Belt's power is a bit limited due to the cavernous dimensions of AT&T Park, but that shouldn't prevent him from hitting 20-30 home runs. Additionally, with the Giants seeing the return of Angel Pagan, combined with Belt's position in the middle of the San Francisco lineup, RBIs won't be at a premium like they were in 2013.
Rick Porcello, SP, Detroit Tigers Few pitchers showed as much improvement as Porcello did from 2010-2013. His ERA decreased in each of those years and, despite increasing his innings-pitched total by 2/3 of an inning from 2012 to 2013, he allowed 41 fewer hits between those years.
Porcello also has the benefit of playing on a team with a fantastic lineup, as the Tigers ranked second in the majors in runs in 2013. That always gives Porcello a certain amount of value, as he's constantly a legitimate threat to win 15 games. (He had 14 in 2011, 13 in 2013.)
Porcello might not post fantastic numbers, but he's a solid late-round pick. Even better, RotoChamp projects him to post a 3.86 ERA. If he can reach that number, a win total in the high teens is not out of the question.
Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals Wong had a tough time during his stint with the Cardinals last season (.153 BA, .363 OPS), but don't let that dissuade you. In the minors, especially at the higher levels, Wong showed the ability to consistently reach base, compiling a .301 BA, .365 OBP and 186 runs in 280 career minor-league games. (He batted .303 with 68 runs in 107 games at Triple-A in 2013.)
Wong also has the opportunity to produce, given his current situation. He's hitting eighth in one of the best lineups in the majors, and the batters ahead of him all get on base at respectable rates. (Yadier Molina: .359 OBP in 2013, Jhonny Peralta: .358 OBP, Peter Bourjos: .333 OBP)
But Wong's value isn't in his RBI potential. Rather, it's his ability to score runs, and those who hit behind him give him the opportunity to do just that. And with Matt Carpenter, a hitting (and doubles) machine, and MLB.com's No. 2 prospect, Oscar Taveras, hitting first and second, respectively, Wong should be in a position to score a solid amount of runs.
Finally, Wong has potential to steal a respectable amount of bases. In Triple-A last season, Wong swiped 20 bases in 107 games, while being caught just once, translating to just over thirty steals in a 162-game season.
Steal Wong in the late rounds and reap the benefits.