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Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

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Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

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OPINION: Ten biggest breakouts in the 2024 MLB season

OPINION: Ten biggest breakouts in the 2024 MLB season

 

EAST LANSING- As we approach the 75-game point of the MLB season, teams and players alike are exceeding or failing to meet the lofty expectations league-wide.

It is so frequent that we see young players or even rookies burst onto the scene in ways we don’t expect and give fans a glimpse of their true capabilities as potential franchise cornerstones. There are some pitchers and hitters who have sizzled so far this season, and we’re in June now, so all of the flukes have been fished out. Let’s take a look at my ten biggest breakout players thus far in 2024 (All stats recorded are as of the end of play on June 20).

      1. Luis Gil (NYY) 

 

ERA: 2.77  W-L: 9-2 SO: 97 WHIP: 0.98

 

The Yankees are home to the best record in baseball, and that is in large part due to the contributions of the best rotation in baseball. Luis Gil, a key piece of the Yankees rotation, has been nothing short of incredible in his rookie season in Pinstripes. The Yankees just got Gerrit Cole back, but Gil has stepped up admirably in the reigning Cy Young winner’s absence.

Before a rough outing against the Orioles yesterday, the 26-year-old flamethrower was 6-0 with 51 strikeouts across his previous seven starts, sizzling early in his first long stay in the majors. Gil is 11th in the MLB in earned run average while being second in wins and leads all qualified starters with a .164 batting average against.

His advanced statistics are also indicative of his dominance, with the rookie phenom in the 83rd percentile in whiff rate and the 91st percentile in strikeout rate. If he keeps playing at this level, Gil and Cole look to be a dangerous duo at the top of Aaron Boone’s rotation for years to come in the Bronx.

     2. Mason Miller (OAK)

 

ERA: 2.14 SV: 27 W-L: 1-1 SO: 59 WHIP: 0.83

 

The A’s have pleasantly surprised people this season due to their surplus of young talent, and Mason Miller is the cream of the crop. Miller was a fixture in Mark Kotsay’s starting rotation last season but has thrived following a transition to the bullpen in year two.

Miller has taken over as the new Athletics closer and has dazzled all season. The 25-year-old’s blazing fastball and swording slider have contributed to his sustained success out of the pen, serving practically unhittable pitches to opposing hitters. Miller leads all closers with 59 strikeouts and an immaculate (unqualified) 15.8 strikeouts per nine innings, en route to cementing himself as one of the most feared closers in all of Major League Baseball.

The former third-round draft pick is in the 100th percentile in chase rate, whiff rate, and strikeout rate. Miller has been incredible thus far, and his nasty pitch repertoire gives the A’s one of the most trusted arms in baseball to close games out for the foreseeable future

     3. Steven Kwan (CLE)

 

BA: .396 HR: 5 RBI: 20 R: 43 OPS: 1.013

 

The AL Central-leading Cleveland Guardians might have a modern-day Tony Gwynn on their hands, as Steven Kwan has been immaculate thus far in 2024.

Kwan was placed on the IL for the majority of May, but since his re-activation on June 2, he has been blazing hot. Kwan’s average is up to an impeccable .396, as the 26-year-old is slashing 491/.569/.691 over his last 15 games. Kwan hit five homers in all of 2023 and has already matched that total in just over 200 plate appearances in 2024. In his third season in the big leagues, Kwan leads the MLB in three-hit games while having missed nearly a month of action.

The rising star’s biggest asset is his plate vision, landing in the 100th percentile for both whiff and strikeout rate and in the 94th percentile for chase rate among all qualified hitters. In a lineup where Jose Ramirez follows it is important to get runners on, and Kwan has been a true catalyst to offensive success in Cleveland. 

     4. Garrett Crochet (CHI)

ERA: 3.25 W-L: 6-6 SO: 124 WHIP: 0.95

 

There has been little to be excited about for White Sox fans this season, but Garrett Crochet has been one of the lone bright spots on the South Side. Following the trade of Dylan Cease to San Diego, there were mammoth shoes to fill in the Sox rotation.

After getting an Opening Day nod against the Tigers in which he struck out eight and only allowed one run, the rookie southpaw showed glimpses of his potential, which only skyrocketed over time. Over his last seven starts, the former first-round pick racked up a 1.71 ERA and 60 punchouts to just 11 walks.

Crochet’s been propelled to success by a killer fastball which is among the 91st percentile among all pitchers and has helped Crochet be in the 97th percentile in strikeout rate. The 25-year-old also leads the MLB in strikeouts per nine innings among qualified pitchers, fanning 12.6 batters across a full-game pace, and is second only to Tyler Glasnow in strikeouts in 2024. It seems there is a new ace at Guaranteed Rate Field, with Crochet likely going to continue to make his presence felt early and often.

     5. Ezequiel Tovar (COL) 

BA: .280 HR: 11 RBI: 35 R: 39 OPS: .783

 

Yet another case of a shining star on a struggling team, Ezequiel Tovar established himself as the Rockies’ shortstop of the future without a shadow of a doubt. The 22-year-old has light-tower power, with 11 home runs on the season (less than halfway through the year) just a year removed from having 16 home runs altogether.

He has come back down to earth a bit following an immaculate start to the season but has still been highly productive nonetheless. Tovar has left the yard six times in the last month, with a .278/.292/.516 slash line over that span. The cardinal flaw to Tovar’s game is that he doesn’t walk very often, landing in the third percentile in walk rate, but the second-year shortstop has crafted out a strong sophomore campaign nonetheless.

Between Tovar and Ryan McMahon, the Rockies are building a strong foundation for the long term in their infield. There’s a new sheriff in town at Coors Field, and only better days are in his future. 

     6. Riley Greene (DET) 

 

BA: .256 HR: 14 RBI: 37 R: 49 OPS: .835

 

After the 2023 season, it was Spencer Torkelson and not Riley Greene who Tigers fans expected to take the leap in 2024. Torkelson has struggled to the point where a demotion to AAA was necessary, whereas Greene is enjoying a breakthrough season in the Motor City.

Greene has already hit more homers in 2024 than he did the entirety of 2023, with 14 bombs so far this year to his 11 from last year.  The former top-five pick has been magnificent as of late, with four home runs and a .281/.349/.614 slash line across his last 15 games. The Tigers have seen their fair share of offensive inconsistencies, especially with Kerry Carpenter out long-term, but Riley Greene is as consistent as they come at the top of AJ Hinch’s lineup. 

Greene is in the 88th percentile for chase rate and the 91st percentile for walk rate, as well as the 78th percentile for average exit velocity, which has contributed to his stout .350 on-base percentage in 2024. Greene is only 23 and has the potential to be one of the best outfielders in the MLB going forward, and this season he has shown why that is. 

     7. Cole Ragans (KC) 

 

ERA: 3.13 W-L: 4-5 SO: 109 WHIP: 1.15

 

The Royals are heavily pushing the Guardians for the AL Central crown, and that is due to their rotation. Ragans, Seth Lugo, and Brady Singer have all been great so far in 2024, but it’s Ragans who has taken the throne as the Royals long-term ace. After being traded from the Rangers to the Royals midway through last season for Aroldis Chapman, the former first-round pick dazzled upon seeing extended usage, earning a full-time gig in Kansas City’s rotation. Ragans was even called upon to start on Opening Day, striking out nine and earning two runs across six innings against the division rival Twins.

However, Ragans has been pitching his best as of late. Across his last seven starts, the 26-year-old southpaw has 52 strikeouts and a 1.88 ERA in 43 innings. Ragans pitched for a quality start in each of his last four starts and made light work of the A’s in his last outing. Ragans’ damaging fastball has been a catalyst for destruction on the hill, with his fastball maxing out at 96.1 miles per hour and in the 84th percentile for fastball velocity among all qualified pitchers.

Ragans is in the 88th percentile in both chase and whiff rate and is 11th in baseball in strikeouts per nine. After his acquisition, Ragans has had a seamless transition to being a starter in Kansas City and the Royals have seemingly hit the jackpot with Ragans. 

      8. Tanner Houck (BOS) 

 

ERA: 2.14 W-L: 7-5 SO: 94 WHIP: 0.97

 

Heading to Beantown, there is a blossoming star in Alex Cora’s rotation at Fenway Park. Houck is tied with Corbin Burnes for fourth in the MLB in ERA and first in the American League, despite finishing 2023 with a sub-five ERA. Houck’s pursuit of a bounce-back season came in full swing from his first time on the mound this season, where he diced the A’s up, striking out ten in six innings of scoreless ball.

Houck’s biggest asset on the hill is his control, having walked only 17 batters in 96 and two-thirds innings so far in 2024. The 27-year-old is not as much as a strikeout pitcher as many other elite starters, but Houck possesses one of the best off-speed pitch repertoires in baseball, with his breaking run value in the 100th percentile and off-speed run value in the 96th percentile. Houck holds a 4-1 record and a 2.03 ERA across his last seven starts, en route to establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball so far this season who will push for the AL Cy Young award.

The Red Sox may have lost an ace last offseason after trading Chris Sale but added a new one with Houck developing into what the Red Sox faithful expected. 

     9. Jordan Westburg (BAL)

 

BA: .279 HR: 11 RBI: 43 R: 38 OPS: .839

 

Staying in the AL East, the Orioles have struck gold in their own right. On a Baltimore team with a surplus of young talent including the likes of Adley Rutchsman, Gunnar Henderson, Ryan Mountcastle, and Colton Cowser, it was Westburg who was second to Henderson for the team lead in OPS.

The 25-year-old Westburg began to turn heads with an everyday role in one of the best lineups in baseball for Brandon Hyde’s squad. In 68 games in the big leagues last season, Westburg hit three home runs, whereas in 2024 Westburg’s pop started to show, hitting 11 dingers through the same number of games played. In just his first full season in the big leagues, both Westburg and Henderson have the same batting average while Westburg has a higher OPS than Rutchsman, who was the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball back in 2022.

Westburg has burst onto the scene and has been especially hot as of late, with a .280 batting average and a .520 slugging percentage over his last seven games.  On an O’s team that has seen a revolving door at third base since Manny Machado was traded, Westburg has been a pleasant surprise with his 2024 production, being firmly in the mix for AL Rookie of the Year.

     10. Jarren Duran (BOS) 

 

BA: .277 HR: 6 RBI: 33 R: 50 SB: 19 OPS: .813

 

Returning to Fenway Park to round out this list is one of the most under-appreciated players in Major League Baseball. Just two years removed from a season where he hit .221, Duran is a major aspect as to why the Red Sox are pushing for an AL Wild Card spot.

The 27-year-old is a great leadoff hitter for Boston as someone with good plate vision and an absolute wizard on the basepaths. Over his last 15 games, Duran is slashing .333/.400/.591 with eight of his 19 steals coming during his recent hot streak. Duran is also fifth in the MLB in doubles, as the hits keep pouring for the fourth-year man who has yet to miss a game this season. Duran is also in the 88th percentile or better in batting run value, fielding run value, and base running run value, as the young stud is making his presence felt in every way for the 40-35 Red Sox.

Duran’s defense in center field is a large part of his value, with his six outs above average better than 96% of other MLB players on the diamond. Like Kwan, with an elite third baseman succeeding you in the lineup, it makes it easier to do your job, and Rafael Devers and Duran have done a phenomenal job righting the ship in Boston.

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