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GIBBY Awards shine light on 10 who broke out at the plate

Batting champ Altuve, young sluggers Rendon and Rizzo among nominees
MLB.com

Another wave of great hitters burst onto the Major League scene in 2014. Whether it was young players making their mark for the first time or others who simply had not hit their stride in previous years, a number of players had breakout seasons at the plate.

The 10 nominees for MLB.com's Greatness in Baseball Yearly (GIBBY) Award for Breakout Hitter of the Year come from various hitting styles, ranging from power hitters who pushed for league-leading homer totals to contact hitters going for -- and in one case, winning -- a batting title.

Another wave of great hitters burst onto the Major League scene in 2014. Whether it was young players making their mark for the first time or others who simply had not hit their stride in previous years, a number of players had breakout seasons at the plate.

The 10 nominees for MLB.com's Greatness in Baseball Yearly (GIBBY) Award for Breakout Hitter of the Year come from various hitting styles, ranging from power hitters who pushed for league-leading homer totals to contact hitters going for -- and in one case, winning -- a batting title.

Either way, these 10 nominees made a strong push to become household names this summer:

• Astros second baseman Jose Altuve reached the point this year where it was almost surprising if he didn't reach base in any given at-bat. Altuve hit a Major League-best .341 while also leading the American League with 56 steals. It wasn't all infield hits either, as Altuve notched 47 doubles -- the third-highest total in the Majors.

"He had one of the most impressive seasons in the history of the Houston Astros, and, quite frankly, in recent baseball history," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "He deserves all the accolades and all the recognition for it -- 24-year-old guy who's been able to accomplish this in his career. For us, for the Astros, we're excited what the future holds, and he means everything to this franchise right now."

Michael Brantley hit his stride at the plate in his sixth season with the Indians. His 20 homers doubled his previous career high, while he also put up personal bests in doubles (45), RBIs (97), stolen bases (23), batting average (.327), on-base percentage (.385) and slugging percentage (.506). The first-time All-Star was one of just five players with at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases this past season.

"You're seeing a kid grow up as a baseball player right in front of our eyes, and go from being a good player to one of the better players in the game," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Brantley's breakout season. "That's really exciting."

• In just his second year in the Majors -- and first full season -- Rockies outfielder Corey Dickerson led all National League players (minimum 400 at-bats) with a .567 slugging percentage. He also finished fourth in the NL in batting average (.312) and OPS (.931). In all, Dickerson clubbed 24 homers to go along with 27 doubles, six triples and 76 RBIs.

Lucas Duda entered the season locked in a battle with Ike Davis for the Mets' starting job at first base. In fact, Duda gave way to Davis for the Opening Day start before the Mets ultimately decided to trade Davis and make Duda their full-time first baseman. Duda responded by posting a career-best 30 home runs and 92 RBIs. Those totals were good for the third and fifth most in the NL, respectively.

Dee Gordon's role with the Dodgers was very much up in the air entering the season, but it didn't take him long to solidify himself as a fixture in the Dodgers' lineup. Gordon, whose previous career high for games played was 87 in 2012, went on to appear in 148 games -- and his first All-Star Game -- this year. He finished the year hitting .289, while leading the Majors in both stolen bases (64) and triples (12).

Josh Harrison played an integral part in helping the Pirates reach the postseason for a second straight year. The 27-year-old finished second in the NL with a .315 batting average, all while making starts at five positions throughout the year. Harrison also made his first career All-Star appearance despite not being an everyday starter until mid-May.

• After three disappointing years with the Astros, J.D. Martinez realized his potential and broke out in a huge way with the Tigers in 2014. Martinez revitalized his fading career, hitting .315 with 23 home runs and 76 RBIs. Martinez had signed a Minor League contract with the Tigers just prior to Opening Day and didn't make his season debut until April 21.

Devin Mesoraco established himself as one of the top offensive catchers in the Majors with his breakout campaign in 2014. He hit 25 homers and 25 doubles while driving in 80 runs -- all career highs for the Reds backstop. Despite being limited to just 114 games, his 25 home runs were the most by any catcher in the Majors.

• Nationals second baseman Anthony Rendon took a huge step forward during his sophomore season, hitting .287 and scoring an NL-best 111 runs in 2014. He also chipped in 21 home runs, 83 RBIs and 39 doubles. Rendon also did his best to help the Nats extend their season deeper into October, hitting .368 with a .400 on-base percentage in the club's NL Division Series loss to the Giants.

• Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo this year displayed the offensive prowess that had made him such a highly-touted prospect earlier in his career. Rizzo broke out with 32 home runs and a .286 average over 140 games in 2014 after hitting just .233 with 23 home runs over 160 games the year before in his first full big league season. He finished second in the NL in home runs and third in OPS (.913).

Major League Baseball's A-listers will take home 2014 GIBBY trophies -- the ultimate honors of the industry's awards season -- based on votes by media, front-office personnel, MLB alumni, fans at MLB.com and the Society for American Baseball Research.

This year's GIBBY Awards feature nominees in 23 categories. Individual honors will go to the MLB MVP, in addition to the year's best Starting Pitcher, Hitter, Closer, Setup Man, Rookie, Breakout Hitter, Breakout Pitcher, Bounceback Player, Defensive Player, Manager, Executive and Postseason Performer.

GIBBY trophies also will be awarded for the year's top Play, Outfield Throw, Storyline, Hitting Performance, Pitching Performance, Oddity, Walk-Off, Cut4 Topic, Regular-Season Moment and Postseason Moment, with video available via MLB.com's Must C highlight reels.

Over the past several seasons, fans have cast millions of votes across the GIBBY categories -- none of which are restricted to individual league affiliation. That's how you know the GIBBYs consider the best of the best.

All 30 clubs are represented among the award candidates. In fact, every team will have multiple nominees to begin voting -- a testament to the parity of talent around the game.

Several categories -- Play, Oddity, Walk-Off and Cut4 Topic -- will each open balloting with at least one nominee per club. After a week, the four lists will be pared to 10 finalists per group by an expert panel.

Fans can vote as many times as they want through Nov. 21 at 11:59 p.m. ET by visiting mlb.com/gibbys, and winners will be announced live on MLB Network and MLB.com on Dec. 6.

Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Corey Dickerson, Lucas Duda, Dee Gordon, Josh Harrison, J.D. Martinez, Devin Mesoraco, Anthony Rendon, Anthony Rizzo