No matter how many free agents you sign or big trades you make, the best way for any team to improve immediately is to have breakthrough seasons from their young players, that season in which it all comes together for them ... that season they make the leap. We saw Christian Yelich do it a couple of years ago, and Ketel Marte last year (among others). It’s when a good, promising player becomes a great one. It’s what we’re all waiting and hoping for.
With that in mind, we take a look at the breakout candidate for every team, the player each team is hoping makes The Leap this year. They’re not superstars yet ... but they might be soon.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B: He didn’t take over the league instantly when he showed up last year. He may well have been saving that for this year.
Orioles -- John Means, LHP: OK, maybe “superstar” is too ambitious here. But Means was an All-Star in 2019, and he could be even better this year.
Red Sox -- Andrew Benintendi, LF: He’s been more “good” than “great” to this point in his career, but we know the talent is there. If the Red Sox are going to surprise folks in the post-Mookie Betts era, they’ll need Benintendi to find a new level.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians -- Oscar Mercado, CF: Mercado was a godsend for a team that desperately needed outfield help last year. If the Indians are going to hang in this year, they may need him to take an even bigger step forward.
Royals -- Adalberto Mondesi, SS: He led the Majors in triples (10) and stole 43 bases -- despite only playing 102 games. Imagine if he played 162.
Twins -- Byron Buxton, CF: If he can even play 140-plus games in a season, he has MVP potential. But will it happen before it’s too late?
White Sox -- Eloy Jiménez, LF: He was starting to really put it together late in the year, and he obviously has light-tower power. He might be the best candidate on this entire list, a dark horse to hit 50 homers.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels -- Shohei Ohtani, RHP/DH: He’ll be back on the mound early in the season on a team poised to contend. This is what we were all waiting for.
Astros -- Kyle Tucker, RF: He’s been on top prospects list for so long he kind of feels like a bust, even though he’s just 23 years old and had a 30-30 season in the Minors last year.
Athletics -- Ramón Laureano, CF: We’ve all seen the highlights of his rocket arm, and he’s always had OBP skills. Now let’s see what goes down when he gets to play a full season.
Mariners -- Justus Sheffield, LHP: He hasn’t had the best results lately, but everyone watching him can see what he’s capable of. A huge part of the Mariners’ future.
Rangers -- Joey Gallo, OF: Last year was supposed to be his breakout season, and it would have been had injuries not bitten him. If he can stay upright, 2020 is the year.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves -- Mike Soroka, RHP: He made his big splash last year, and now the restrictions are off. Can he be an old-school Atlanta ace?
Marlins -- Sandy Alcantara, RHP: He was an All-Star last year, but he proved durable in the second half, perhaps even more impressive and important.
Nationals -- Victor Robles, CF: He’s already among the best defensive center fielders in baseball, and there’s potential for more with the bat.
Phillies -- Scott Kingery, 3B: Last year was more like what the Phillies had in mind when they extended him before he played his first big league game. Can he make a proportionally larger jump in 2020?
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers -- Keston Hiura, 2B: The Brewers lost a lot of talent this winter, and they are counting on Hiura (who hit .303/.368/.570 in 84 games last year) to help fill that void.
Cubs -- Ian Happ, CF: He’s the youngest regular on an increasingly older team, and he may be the only guy who can play center field every day.
Pirates -- Mitch Keller, RHP: The Pirates might not have a ton to showcase this year, but Keller (65 strikeouts in 48 innings last year) will be a must-see every start.
Reds -- Nick Senzel, CF: The Reds brought in a lot of veterans with hopes of winning the division this year, but their hopes rest as much on Senzel, their most hyped prospect in recent years who hasn’t quite figured it out.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs -- Luke Weaver, RHP: We’ve seen what he can do in a brief stint, posting a 2.94 ERA in 64 1/3 innings last year. But a forearm injury sidelined him for much of the season. Can he put it together for 150-plus innings?
Giants -- Tyler Beede, RHP: There really isn’t anyone to choose from on this veteran-laden team, so I’ll select the 2014 first-round pick who struck out roughly a batter per inning last season.
Padres -- Fernando Tatis Jr., SS: Clean up the defense and stay in the lineup all year, and you’re looking at an MVP candidate.
Rockies -- David Dahl, OF: If there were ever a time to finally have that “wow” season we were promised when he was high on prospects lists, now is it.