16 teams, 16 players set for Oct. breakout

September 28th, 2020

We’ve reached the postseason, and with it, the brightest of stages in baseball. Who will shine the most? Oftentimes, you learn a lot about a player you didn’t previously know much about because of his tremendous performance when it counts the most.

Here’s a look at one player from each postseason-bound club whose name you may very well know by heart by the end of October.

AMERICAN LEAGUE (in order of playoff seed)

Lowe, whose last name rhymes with wow and not low, has dealt with people getting his name wrong, even during last year’s All-Star Game. But that could all change this October. Lowe has 14 home runs this season and is clearly the Rays’ best hitter. Lowe won an AL Player of the Week Award this season and was in the running for the American League MVP Award before hitting a midseason slump. If the Rays’ offense gets hot over the next few weeks, Lowe will likely be leading the way. -- Juan Toribio

Jesús Luzardo isn’t the only exciting A’s rookie who graduated to the big leagues this season. Get ready to find out about his batterymate, Murphy. From his cannon of an arm to his majestic power -- four of his seven home runs this season have traveled at least 422 feet -- Murphy is a backstop who brings the complete package. The 25-year-old ranks third among AL rookies in FanGraphs WAR (1.3) and he’s bound to make at least a couple of eye-opening plays, either on offense or defense. -- Martin Gallegos

Those who missed Duffey’s breakout 2019 are forgiven, because there’s still plenty of time to appreciate the dominance of Minnesota’s unlikely bullpen ace. An ineffective starter as recently as '16, Duffey posted a 7.20 ERA out of the bullpen in ’18 before fully buying into the elevated fastball craze and adding velocity to his breaking ball. That helped him blossom into the fifth-most valuable reliever in baseball in last year’s second half, per FanGraphs. His numbers are improved across the board this year with career bests in ERA (1.88), FIP (2.56) and WHIP (0.79), and he’s manager Rocco Baldelli’s go-to reliever in the tightest spots. -- Do-Hyoung Park

Karinchak made five appearances for the Indians as a September callup last year before becoming a regular in the Tribe’s bullpen in 2020. Some may have seen clips of his wicked curveball while scrolling through social media, but his stuff will soon get national attention throughout the postseason. When he is in command of his fastball, he’s nearly untouchable, as it averages around 95 mph to offset his 12-to-6 curve. The combination of the two pitches has racked up a whopping 53 strikeouts in 27 innings. -- Mandy Bell

Who is that masked man? After years of hearing his name in rumors and struggling to crack the Yankees' crowded outfield mix, Frazier has finally broken through, establishing his place as an impact big league regular while exhibiting a newfound maturity. Lauded for bat speed that general manager Brian Cashman famously called "legendary," Frazier has been one of the toughest outs in a fearsome Yankees batting order. Tireless efforts have improved his defense markedly -- pitchers no longer hold their breath when the ball is hit to Frazier, who has patrolled both outfield corners with aplomb. -- Bryan Hoch

Last year, Angels slugger Mike Trout raved to Astros pitching coach Brent Strom about Valdez’s stuff. That was hard to believe considering he had a 4.60 ERA and was averaging nearly six walks per nine innings in his first 34 career appearances. Valdez put it all together in 2020 with the help of a psychologist and maturing after becoming a father. Armed with one of the best curveballs in baseball, the left-hander went 5-3 with a 3.57 ERA in 11 games (10 starts) with a 1.12 WHIP. He’s probably Houston’s best starter entering the playoffs. -- Brian McTaggart

White Sox:
There’s no telling how much the 21-year-old southpaw actually will be used out of the bullpen, when considering Crochet had thrown 3 1/3 innings total for the University of Tennessee in 2020 before joining the White Sox from their alternate training facility in Schaumburg, Ill. But the team’s top pick in the '20 Draft has been absolutely electric since reaching the Majors, throwing 24 pitches at 100 mph or above in his first three scoreless innings. Crochet has a nasty slider and a better-than-talked-about changeup to go with that high-octane fastball in his repertoire, which sounds an awful lot like Chris Sale’s arsenal when he first joined the White Sox in the same year he got drafted ('10). -- Scott Merkin

Blue Jays:
Two weeks ago, catcher Kirk was just the Blue Jays’ No. 6 prospect who’d never seen a pitch above the Class A Advanced level. Now, he’s one of their most exciting young hitters who’s already established himself as an option for DH reps or even a potential start behind the plate. With one of the most advanced and patient plate approaches in the entire organization and plenty of pop, Kirk has earned this moment by playing well beyond his age of 21. He’d also offer the Blue Jays a great option off the bench late in games given his high contact rate and, while he won’t be stealing any bases with his 5-foot-8, 265-pound frame, the young Mexican catcher has become a fan favorite seemingly overnight in Canada. -- Keegan Matheson

NATIONAL LEAGUE (in order of playoff seed)

He's become such a factor on the field that the joking comparisons to his more famous entertainer namesake have faded for Will Smith the catcher. Smith made a power impact with a midseason callup last year, but this year’s version has turned into a barrel-smashing, yet disciplined master of the strike zone. His OPS is in Mookie Betts territory. He’s landed in the middle of a star-studded batting order -- ahead of reigning National League MVP Cody Bellinger -- and the short season eliminated chances of last year’s late fade. Now he needs to take those offensive refinements into October, a stage on which he was completely overmatched last year by Nationals pitchers (.327 OPS). -- Ken Gurnick

If you haven’t learned of Anderson through the first six starts of his career, then you likely aren’t a Yankees fan. Anderson allowed one hit while tossing six scoreless innings against the Yankees during this Aug. 26 MLB debut. A few weeks later, he limited the Nationals to one hit over seven scoreless frames. The 22-year-old right-hander ranks among MLB’s leaders in Sweet Spot Percentage and Expected Slugging Percentage. He could soon become much more widely recognized, as he’s expected to get the start in the important Game 2 of the Wild Card Series. -- Mark Bowman

Early in Spring Training, Cubs manager David Ross named Kris Bryant as his new leadoff hitter, hoping to end a multiple-season search for consistency at the top. That plan was eventually scrapped in August with injury setbacks and subpar production impacting Bryant’s season. One of the surprises of this campaign, however, was the reemergence of Happ as a trusted offensive performer. After hitting .311 with a 1.021 OPS in September 2019, Happ hit .294 with a 1.041 OPS through August this year. He earned the everyday job in center field and Ross handed Happ the keys to the leadoff spot, too. While Happ’s offensive tear cooled down this September, his showing this season helped shore up some of the shortcomings from Chicago’s star hitters. -- Jordan Bastian

You may know Grisham already from his eighth-inning error for Milwaukee in last year’s Wild Card Game that sparked the Nationals’ unprecedented World Series run. Grisham is eager to make a different name for himself this October. After arriving in San Diego via trade last November, he has been one of the Padres’ most valuable players, serving as leadoff man and setting the table for Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado. Grisham is patient and decisive at the plate, and a serious NL Gold Glove Award candidate in center field. Oh, and he’s only 23 -- another reason to believe in the Padres’ bright future. -- AJ Cassavell

You may have heard of Reyes four years ago when he was a top prospect ready to make a name for himself in the Majors, but three years of injuries saw the right-hander fade from those expectations, and the Cardinals just wanted to see what he could do this year. What he did makes the Cardinals all the more excited to have him at the back end of their bullpen. Reyes notched his first save of the season with Sunday’s postseason-clinching win, but he’s appeared in plenty of high-leverage situations for St. Louis this year, working in tandem with lefty Génesis Cabrera for a left-right combination. Reyes was hurt by walks early in the season, but he’s been very effective lately, striking out 14 in his last seven outings (9 1/3 innings). While the triple-digit fastball generates much of the excitement, Reyes has a curveball and changeup that he can throw for swings-and-misses. -- Anne Rogers

Marlins: Pablo López
Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. told manager Don Mattingly before Summer Camp to keep an eye on López, because he felt the 24-year-old was “about to soar.” López has overcome personal tragedy, the death of his father, this summer. He showed mental toughness during the stretch the Marlins were shut down for eight days due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In Miami’s first game after that, he beat the Orioles. López was on the wrong end of history on Sept. 9, in Miami’s 29-9 blowout loss at Atlanta. He gave up seven runs in 1 2/3 innings that day. But in his three starts since then, he posted a 1.56 ERA in 17 1/3 innings, including five scoreless innings in beating the Braves last Thursday. -- Joe Frisaro

When Garrett takes the mound, as he says, he ceases to be Amir and goes by “A.G.,” becoming a force of nature that takes no prisoners. The 28-year-old left-handed reliever, who has been in the league since 2017, is animated on the mound, known to let out an exuberant yell before heading back to the dugout after recording a crucial out. He’s been able to back it up this season as he retired the first batter he faced 17 of 19 times. Left-handed batters are 1-for-21 against him this season and right-handers are 8-for-38. -- Mark Sheldon

The numbers are rather silly. One hundred batters faced, 53 strikeouts, eight hits. One earned run in 27 innings, and none in his last 20 outings. A fastball that got up to 98.8 mph and a high-spin changeup sitting around 84 mph that isn’t like any other changeup in the game. Williams is a right-handed reliever for the Brewers, but the changeup acts like a left-handed curveball, some say. Rob Friedman, otherwise known on Twitter as the esteemed @PitchingNinja, dubbed it, “The Airbender.” Whatever one calls it, it’s one of the most devastating pitches in baseball; during the regular season, opponents went 2-for-62 with 41 strikeouts in at-bats against Williams that ended on a changeup. -- Adam McCalvy