10 breakout candidates ready to make the leap this season

February 29th, 2024

Today is Leap Day, so it’s a good time to ask: Which players will make "the leap" in 2024?

What do we mean by that? We’re talking about breakouts -- players who are ready to take the significant step of turning potential into reality. Our MLB.com panel picked 10 young players -- five hitters and five pitchers -- who are ready for it.

These players were touted prospects and have already experienced some success in the Major Leagues, sometimes flashes, sometimes for an extended period. Now is the time to put it all together and ascend to stardom.

Here are 10 breakout candidates to watch in 2024.


What constitutes a breakout is open to interpretation. But each of these five hitters meets the following criteria:

  • Seasonal age of 27 or younger in 2024
  • Got 300-plus plate appearances in 2023
  • Did not reach either a 120 OPS+ or 3 WAR

1) CJ Abrams, SS, Nationals
Key stat: 47 steals in 51 attempts in 2023

It’s easy to forget how young Abrams still is, because he only just turned 23 in December, and stealing 47 out of 51 tries is elite-level baserunning. But what about the bat? You could look at his 2023 as A) unimpressive, because a 95 OPS+ is below average, or B) a huge step forward, because he had a 75 OPS+ at 21 the year before. We are somewhat cautiously buying the improvement in plate discipline (41% chase rate in April, 29% in September) and there’s some very promising under-the-hood pitch recognition steps forward. Even just a minor continuation of that trend would make him a very valuable hitter; he is, again, just 23.

-- Mike Petriello

2) , 1B, Tigers
Key stat: 16 homers in final 48 games of 2023

After posting a .649 OPS over his first 221 games at the big league level, Torkelson finally found the stroke that convinced the Tigers to select him first overall in the 2020 MLB Draft. The first baseman salvaged his second MLB season with a scorching finish, producing 16 homers and a .921 OPS over his final 48 games. Torkelson ended up ranking in the 94th percentile of MLB in hard-hit rate and tying for seventh overall with 62 barrels on the year, which suggests there could be many more Tork Bombs to come in 2024.

-- Thomas Harrigan

3) , INF, Reds
Key stat: 119.2 mph max exit velo as a rookie

In some ways, Elly broke out last year, tallying 13 homers and 35 steals -- including three in just three pitches! -- in 98 games as a rookie, while stacking up impressive feats like pulverizing a baseball 119.2 mph (the third-highest exit velo of the MLB season) and throwing one 99.8 mph (the fastest Statcast-tracked infield assist). In other ways, the 6-foot-5 switch-hitter showed flaws -- like a 33.7% strikeout rate -- that will need to be improved if he’s going to translate uncanny raw tools into legitimate skills. He's only 22, so the hope is De La Cruz continues making adjustments like he did as he raced through the Minor Leagues. Arguably nobody is more electric on the diamond, fitting because EDLC will be a must-watch player with a chance to shine every time he takes the field.

-- Jason Catania

4) , 3B, Rangers
Key stat: .867 postseason OPS on Rangers' WS run

Jung was an All-Star as a rookie last season, so that's pretty good by itself, but the full breakout is coming. It might have happened already if Jung's second half wasn't derailed by a broken thumb in August. But the 26-year-old's postseason run -- Jung batted .308 with three homers and an .867 OPS for the World Series champs -- should help convince you that the All-Star Jung who had 19 homers and a 126 OPS+ at the break is the real Jung. Especially when you see that he also hits the ball hard and in the launch angle sweet-spot more than most big league hitters while playing an excellent third base.

-- David Adler

5) , RF, Cardinals
Key stat: .304/.363/.490 slash line in Sept./Oct.

The glass-half-empty view might see Walker’s 2023 as a disappointment for an elite prospect, given his roughly replacement-level WAR. Zoom out, though, and the picture is brighter for the soon-to-be 22-year-old. Most players who hit as well as Walker did (114 OPS+) as big league regulars at that age go on to stardom. The 6-foot-6 Walker can crush the baseball with almost anyone, and his plummeting ground-ball rate (56.9% through June, just 41.6% after) suggests more production is ahead. Walker’s biggest issue in 2023 was shaky defense in right field -- understandable for a natural third baseman. But with hard work and more experience, Walker (80th-percentile sprint speed) has the athleticism to adjust in a hurry.

-- Andrew Simon


For these five pitchers, the criteria were similar to those above:

  • Seasonal age of 27 or younger in 2024
  • 75-plus innings pitched in 2023
  • Did not reach either a 120 ERA+ or 3 WAR

1) , RHP, Orioles
Key stat: 2.58 ERA in 13 starts after recall from Triple-A

The easiest way to pick a breakout is to find a player who already showed glimpses of it, and Rodriguez certainly qualifies. The No. 11 pick in the 2018 Draft struggled badly in his debut in 2023, carrying a 7.35 ERA when he was demoted back to Triple-A in May. Two months later, he returned, and he was great, allowing a mere .227/.284/.306 line in 13 remaining starts. Even better, we know exactly what changed, which is important when you want to know why results have improved. The 4.35 full-season ERA won’t stand out, but among starters who faced 200 batters after his recall, only 11 were better. The breakout isn’t coming. It’s already begun.

-- Mike Petriello

2) , RHP, Dodgers
Key stat: 98.9 mph average fastball velocity (4-seamer/sinker)

The Dodgers have Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow in the fold and will eventually get both Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw back from injury, but it’s not that crazy to think that Miller could be their best starter in 2024. His arsenal, which includes a pair of fastballs that regularly touch triple digits, is that impressive. It also helps that he has already enjoyed some level of success in the Majors, finishing his rookie season with a 3.76 ERA, a 3.51 FIP and a 3.72 K/BB ratio over 124 1/3 innings.

-- Thomas Harrigan

3) , RHP, Reds
Key stat: 54 career K's on 100+ mph pitches

Between De La Cruz and Greene, we're hyped about the young Reds this year. Despite being the No. 2 pick in 2017 and having an incredible right arm, Greene owns a 4.62 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP as a big leaguer and has endured injuries. Yet in only 46 career outings, he’s registered the most strikeouts (54) on pitches thrown 100-plus mph of all starters in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008). Plus, the 6-foot-5 24-year-old has a 12.0 career K/9 rate and is working on adding a curveball and a splitter to his repertoire. If even one of those offspeed pitches sticks and Greene stays healthy, he’s primed to turn potential into production.

-- Jason Catania

4) , RHP, Astros
Key stat: 10.3 K/9, 26.8% strikeout rate in 2023

Brown, aka Mini Justin Verlander, didn't quite pitch like his three-time Cy Young-winning rotation-mate in 2023. Brown had a 5.09 ERA in 31 games (29 starts), but there's reason to believe his 2024 will look more like his dominant debut late in 2022 -- and more like Verlander.

For one thing, Brown's strikeout numbers are very encouraging: He had 178 K's in 155 2/3 innings last season. And the 25-year-old's stuff supports that 10.3 K/9. Brown's fastball averages 96 mph with above-average rise, his slider averages 91 mph, his curveball gets five inches of drop more than an average curve and he has a nice upper-80s splitter with good running action, too.

-- David Adler

5) , RHP, D-backs
Key stat: 3.27 ERA in 5 postseason starts in 2023

Despite his 5.72 ERA as a rookie, one could argue that Pfaadt already broke out. After taking some serious lumps early on, and enduring a couple of demotions, he returned to the D-backs' rotation on July 22, and over the rest of the regular season (11 games, 10 starts, 58 2/3 innings), he posted a 4.14 ERA, 3.89 FIP and 64-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That earned Pfaadt a spot in Arizona’s postseason rotation, and he more than held his own during the team's run to the World Series.

Pfaadt's success came not just with experience but with real, tangible adjustments. At 25, the opportunity is ripe for Pfaadt to make that work over a full season.

-- Andrew Simon