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Who is poised for superstardom in 2017?

February 4, 2017

"Super" weekend that this is, let's try to identify some of baseball's soon-to-be superstars, players who are bound and determined to occupy a more prominent place in the public consciousness.Because "super" -- and, for that matter, "star" -- is subjective, I'm going with the following qualification: None of the players

"Super" weekend that this is, let's try to identify some of baseball's soon-to-be superstars, players who are bound and determined to occupy a more prominent place in the public consciousness.
Because "super" -- and, for that matter, "star" -- is subjective, I'm going with the following qualification: None of the players listed here have been All-Stars yet, but all of them could conceivably find themselves in the thick or the fringes of the MVP or Cy Young conversations in 2017.
Andrew Benintendi (Red Sox) and Dansby Swanson (Braves)
After breaking into the bigs within a few weeks of each other in 2016, these two enter '17 with secure spots in an everyday lineup. So they have the potential to be this year's Corey Seager -- who finished third in the National League MVP Award voting while winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
Benintendi is Boston's left fielder after a 34-game sample in which he posted a .295/.359/.476 slash line. Like outfield mate Mookie Betts, who finished second in the American League MVP Award voting last year, Benintendi gets on base and hits for power while limiting his strikeouts, and though he missed some time with a knee injury, you've got to like how he fit in so well on a postseason club.
Swanson has more swing and miss in his game, and it remains to be seen whether his Braves are ready for prime time. So he might be a reach for this list. But at the very least, Swanson is an above-average defender at a premium position, and his 115 OPS+ made for an awfully encouraging 38-game sample.

Trea Turner (Nationals) and Alex Bregman (Astros)
These two are an extension of the Benintendi/Swanson conversation, with the only difference being that they exceeded their rookie limits in 2016.
Turner has game-changing speed and on-base ability, and so it's not hard to draw a line between his skillset and that of newly elected Hall of Fame member Tim Raines. After the Nats' offseason maneuvering, Turner will be back where he belongs at shortstop, but the fact that he put up a .937 OPS and 144 OPS+ while learning a new position in center at the big league level is pretty stunning.
Bregman began his big league career last summer with a 1-for-34 funk, then he spit out a .308/.355/.562 slash line in his last 41 games. It was an amazing adjustment from a kid who never let himself get overwhelmed, and it bodes well for his first full season lining up to Carlos Correa's right at Houston's hot corner.

Carlos Carrasco, Indians
After getting some down-ballot AL Cy Young Award love in 2015, Carrasco looked like a safe bet to vie for the honor in '16. But early in the year, he strained his hamstring, and late in the year, his hand was broken by a comebacker, putting him on the sidelines for the Tribe's run to the World Series.
Despite the injuries, the right-handed Carrasco put up a 3.32 ERA and 141 ERA+ in 25 starts, and his three-year ERA+ is 134 with 9.8 strikeouts per nine and a 1.07 WHIP. Approaching his 30th birthday, he's never been an All-Star, but he's definitely a stud.

Correa, Astros
OK, this one admittedly feels like cheating, because Correa won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2015 and can probably already be described as a star, if not a superstar. But because of his "bad year" (his words, not mine) in '16, Correa didn't appear in his first All-Star Game and therefore fits the qualification.
How bad was the bad year? Not bad at all. In his age-21 season, Correa had a 123 OPS+ (23 percent better than league average). In Major League history, only three other shortstops aged 21 or younger posted an OPS+ at least that high: Rogers Hornsby (169 in 1917), Arky Vaughan (146 in '33) and Alexander Rodriguez (161 in '96). If Correa were to put up an AL MVP Award-worthy season in an improved Astros lineup in 2017, it would surprise absolutely nobody.

Christian Yelich, Marlins
Yelich's career has been strong from the very beginning. He actually posted identical 118 wRC+ marks in 2013, '14 and '15. That's called "consistency," kids.
But last year, at 24, Yelich stepped up his power game, belting out a career-high 21 homers and 38 doubles. In doing so, he kicked the wRC+ mark up to 130 and served notice that his pure offensive skillset is graduating to the next level. The Marlins took notice and moved Yelich into the No. 3 spot of their lineup. And if their offense is as good as they project it to be in 2017, he will undoubtedly be a big part of that.

Julio Urias, Dodgers
Probably not a serious NL Cy Young Award contender, simply because the Dodgers will be reasonably careful with his innings in his sophomore season. But in his last 13 starts of his rookie 2016, the left-handed Urias posted a 2.73 ERA while striking out 77 batters in 69 1/3 innings.
Somewhere in that span, he mixed in his 20th birthday. It's absurd how young this guy is and how good he can be.

James Paxton, Mariners
"I feel like this is my season to take off," Paxton recently told reporters. And we're inclined to believe him.
Long touted as one of three key pieces to the M's rotation future (Taijuan Walker has since been traded, and Danny Hultzen's shoulder didn't cooperate), the 28-year-old Paxton has had hiccups with minor injuries and confidence issues. But in 2016, after a surprising Spring Training demotion to Triple-A, the left-hander made serious strides in his strikeout (8.7 per nine innings) and walk rates (1.8 per nine innings) while putting up a respectable 3.79 ERA and 107 ERA+ in 20 starts.
With a fastball in the upper 90s and improved secondary stuff and what profiles as an improved defensive supporting cast, Paxton could be bound for a breakout.

Gary Sanchez, Yankees
Sanchez became the first player since Wally Berger (1930) to homer 20 times in his first 51 big league games, and that can be a bittersweet achievement for a young kid playing in the nation's largest media market. The pressure on Sanchez to live up to his newfound billing as the "face of the franchise" in his first full season will be immense and ultimately unfair. He'll be 24 years old and likely hitting third in the lineup for the Bronx Bombers.
But after that power display and his terrific defensive work (Sanchez threw out 40.6 percent of attempted base thieves), how could we not include the kid here?

Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays
A regular candidate on lists such as these one year ago, after his star turn in the 2015 postseason, Stroman went on to a ho-hum '16 in which he was healthy enough to post 204 innings but not dominant enough to rate as anything more than league-average on the statistical scale. There were, however, some really encouraging signs in the second half, when he began throwing his slider and cutter more frequently.
While Stroman's 4.37 ERA for the season wasn't anything special, he put up a 3.24 mark in his last 13 starts. So while he did take some lumps in his first full season back from that awful knee injury of '15, let's give the little man some love again.

Javier Baez, Cubs
We don't know how, exactly, mad scientist Joe Maddon is going to use the versatile Baez in 2017, but he started every game of the Cubs' postseason run at second base, and his defense was often incredible.
Certainly, we'll need to see more with the stick before Baez can go from super sub to superstar. His NL Championship Series showing, when he went 7-for-22 with four doubles to earn co-MVP honors with Jonathan Lester, was a window into what the 24-year-old kid can accomplish, but his World Series showing, when he struck out 13 times in 30 at-bats, was a window into his limitations. But the upside here is very real. Super, even.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.