These 9 former prospects could blossom in ‘24

March 3rd, 2024

Development isn't always linear in baseball. A player can look like a surefire breakout candidate heading into a particular season, but sometimes that breakout doesn't happen.

For some players, it never happens. Then there are those who break out a year or two later, long after the hype train has moved on to a new wave of promising young players.

The nine players below were among the top breakout candidates entering 2023, but none lived up to expectations, in large part due to injuries. With better health, we could see these post-hype youngsters blossom in 2024.

, LHP, Brewers
Before missing 2023 while recovering from left shoulder surgery, Ashby (a fourth-round Draft pick in 2018) looked like he was going to be the latest success story for a Milwaukee organization that has shown a knack for developing arms drafted outside of the first round (see Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff). Although he finished 2022 with a 4.44 ERA, he had a 26.5% strikeout rate and a 57.4% ground-ball rate behind it, contributing to a 3.75 expected ERA. Following the trade of Burnes to the Orioles, the door is open for the 25-year-old Ashby to earn a spot in the Brewers’ rotation this season and get back on the path toward becoming a valuable starter for the club.

, SP, Marlins
With an arsenal that features a 93 mph changeup, Cabrera can be incredibly tough to hit. The right-hander had a .199 expected batting average against in 2023, ranking in the 93rd percentile. However, he still has some serious control problems to iron out to take his game to a higher level. Among pitchers who faced at least 400 batters last season, only Michael Kopech (15.4%) had a higher walk rate than Cabrera’s 15.2%. He also needs to prove he can stay healthy for a full season, having missed time with right elbow tendinitis in 2022 and a right shoulder impingement last year. If he can harness his stuff and stay on the mound, he could yet develop into a frontline starter for the Marlins, assuming they don't end up trading him.

, OF, Marlins
Chisholm owns a lifetime .304 on-base percentage and has missed 205 games combined over the past three years, so he has a lot to prove in his age-26 season. However, there’s no denying his potential. It’s why he was picked to be the cover athlete for MLB The Show 23. Chisholm has averaged 28 homers and 32 steals per 162 games during his career, and he made a successful switch from second base to the outfield last season, grading out as an above-average defender in center field (in terms of Statcast’s fielding run value metric) despite never playing there as a professional before 2023. If he puts it all together, he could be a big-time star for the Marlins.

, SS, Pirates
While Cruz’s undisciplined approach at the plate led to some struggles during his 2022 rookie season, it was hard not to become enamored by his potential. Shortstops who stand 6-foot-7, can run like the wind and hit absolute rockets don’t come around all that often. He also showed signs of improving his plate discipline late in the year, leading to increased expectations for 2023. However, Cruz fractured his left fibula in a home-plate collision on April 9 and missed the rest of the year. Back to full health, the 25-year-old has a chance to be a special player for the Pirates in 2024.

, RHP, Reds
Nearly seven years removed from being selected second overall in the 2017 MLB Draft, Greene has yet to put it all together to become a dependable starter for the Reds, much less a frontline arm. The flamethrowing righty looked to be getting there last season, but he spent more than two months on the injured list with a right hip issue during the summer and struggled upon returning, putting a damper on his final numbers. He’ll enter 2024 with a career 4.62 ERA and 96 ERA+ over 46 starts for Cincinnati. That said, as long as he is throwing 100 mph gas on the regular and striking out more than 30% of the batters he faces, his potential will continue to tantalize. He’s still just 24 years old, after all.

, LHP, Reds
Another Cincinnati first-round Draft pick, Lodolo actually outperformed Greene by a significant margin when the two were rookies in 2022. Lodolo made 19 starts for Cincinnati that year and posted a 3.66 ERA with 131 strikeouts and 39 walks over 103 1/3 innings, including a 2.75 ERA across his final nine starts. The left-hander opened 2023 as the Reds’ No. 2 starter behind Greene but was limited to seven starts by a stress fracture in his left tibia. Lodolo isn’t a lock to be part of the Reds’ rotation on Opening Day in 2024, but he should be a factor sooner rather than later.

, SS, Dodgers
It’s been nearly four years since Lux was ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 overall prospect, but he still only has 273 big league games under his belt. After taking a step forward at the plate in 2022 (109 OPS+) while seeing regular playing time in a utility role, Lux was slated to take over as the Dodgers’ starting shortstop in place of Trea Turner, who signed with the Phillies as a free agent. However, he tore the ACL in his right knee early in Spring Training and ended up missing the entire season. While the Dodgers had a splashy offseason with the additions of Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow and Teoscar Hernández, they didn’t bring in another shortstop, showing faith in Lux as their starter at the position entering 2024.

, 1B, Royals
Pasquantino’s second big league campaign was cut short when he underwent surgery last June to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, which had been causing him issues prior to 2023. Entering his age-26 season, the first baseman will look to cement himself as an integral member of the Royals’ core of young position players led by star shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. Pasquantino has shown promise over his first 133 games in the Majors, slashing .272/.355/.444 with 19 homers and a 122 OPS+ while striking out in just 11.7% of his plate appearances.

, 2B, Rockies
Nearly nine years after the Rockies selected him third overall in the 2015 MLB Draft out of high school, Rodgers has appeared in just 317 big league games. The infielder has dealt with a myriad of significant injuries during his Colorado career, including a dislocated left shoulder that cost him most of 2023. Given how infrequently he’s been healthy, it’s easy to forget that he was a 4.3-WAR player (per Baseball-Reference) as recently as 2022, pairing roughly league average offense with dazzling defense at second base. Now 27, Rodgers is entering a make-or-break season with the Rockies.