Who Are This Year's Potential Breakout Players?

March 28, 2013

For the most part, Spring Training statistics provide little predictive value. Many players use that time to play into shape and to work on specific aspects of their game, such as developing a specific pitch. Often, players face less than major-league quality opponents. On top of that, the sample sizes are so small in Spring Training that, even if teams played them as they do the regular season, it would be difficult to predict performance levels for the rest of the season.

However, we have found one element of spring training performance that has some predictive value: power spikes. Players that show a 200-point increase in their slugging percentage over their career levels have performed significantly above their career marks in the upcoming season 60 percent of the time.  Jose Bautista in spring of 2010 is the most famous recent example. Last season, the predictions nailed the breakout performances among catchers in Carlos Ruiz, Jonathan Lucroy, and A.J. Pierzynski. Cody Ross, Billy Butler, and Tyler Colvin also enjoyed career years.

Here’s the list of 2013 breakout candidates (with a minimum of 200 regular season at-bats and 40 spring training at-bats through March 26, 2013):


Slugging Percentages of Top Breakout Candidates
Hitter, Team Spring Career Difference
Brandon Belt, Giants .906 .418 .488
Justin Smoak, Mariners .811 .377 .434
Howard Kendrick, Angels .833 .428 .405
Ryan Raburn, Indians .833 .430 .403
Nick Hundley, Padres .773 .390 .383
Rick Ankiel, Astros .780 .422 .358
Michael Morse, Mariners .824 .492 .332
Mike Moustakas, Royals .726 .395 .331
Brent Lillibridge, Cubs .675 .350 .325
Mark DeRosa, Blue Jays .725 .412 .313
Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians .725 .421 .304
Kevin Youkilis, Yankees .778 .482 .296
Domonic Brown, Phillies .675 .388 .287
Mitch Moreland, Rangers .727 .441 .286
Wilin Rosario, Rockies .805 .522 .283
Dexter Fowler, Rockies .705 .427 .278
Alex Gordon, Royals .714 .439 .275
Craig Gentry, Rangers .618 .355 .263
Gaby Sanchez, Pirates .683 .420 .263
Bryce Harper, Nationals .730 .477 .253
Juan Francisco, Braves .692 .440 .252
Elvis Andrus, Rangers .604 .353 .251
Brandon Crawford, Giants .577 .333 .244
Steve Clevenger, Cubs .523 .281 .242
Melky Cabrera, Blue Jays .655 .414 .241
Lucas Duda, Mets .660 .427 .233
Raul Ibanez, Mariners .700 .470 .230
Luis Cruz, Dodgers .600 .371 .229
Gerardo Parra, Diamondbacks .625 .400 .225
Freddie Freeman, Braves .671 .449 .222
Peter Bourjos, Angels .614 .402 .212
Ben Francisco, Yankees .636 .425 .211
Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks .636 .432 .204
Lorenzo Cain, Royals .615 .412 .203

COMMENTS (9 Comments, most recent shown first)

1:07 PM Apr 2nd
What constitutes *significant*?

I'd like to see more specifics. Id prefer the article say the players improved their X stat by at least Y points and let us decide how significant that is.​
2:12 PM Mar 29th
I share some of the skepticism of other posters here. I would suggest a few questions:

1 What OVERALL percentage of regular players can be expected to improve significantly over their career marks in any given year?

2. How many of the 60% who improved in the original study (although not, it seems, last year) were under 28 years old, that is, in the age range in which improvement can be expected to continue?

3. An unknown number of "break-out" seasons relied upon chemical enhancement of the players' ability.

8:17 AM Mar 29th
It'd be fun to break into this list a little bit, by weeding out some of the players who won't break out. I mean, we all know who Kevin Youkilis is, and we can probably predict he isn't going to rise to another level of ability.

On the other hand, the younger players on the list are interesting potential breakouts. While I am not convinced that Elvis Andrus is going to come out and hit 25 HR in 2013, I'm on board with the likes of Moustakas and Dom Brown breaking out.

It's interesting to see Freeman and Harper on the list: young players with established power, who are showing an improved offense in the spring. They seem the logical 'breakouts', but I don't know that I'd count either one as particularly surprising.

It's a fun list to tinker with.....and potentially useful for fantasy players.

9:09 PM Mar 28th
Listing 34 players as potential "breakout" players is, well, giving yourself the best of it. Based on the first comment below, however, what it looks like we have here is mostly a random result.
7:37 PM Mar 28th
Three names appear on both the 2012 and 2013 lists: Melky Cabrerra, who improved his Slugging Percentage by 118 points (but an asterisk might need to be applied in this case), Alex Gordon, who improved his SLG by 21 points; and Ryan Raburn, who dropped 202 points (from .456 to .254).
9:22 AM Mar 28th
I decided to take a look at John's breakout predictions from last year. He mentioned 29 players. Seven improved upon their career Slugging Percentage thru 2011 by 50 points. Eight were 50 points below their career percentage. Five were within 10 points.
9:16 AM Mar 28th
Jd, I'm not sure that they are trying to predict power spikes. Just very improved seasons. Breaking down a little more could provide some better predictions but you or I could do that.
8:29 AM Mar 28th
"Breakout" should be specified as a guy with a known, consistent level of play who suddenly plays much better. Guys on this list like Harper, Rosario, Chisenhall, and Moustakas will just be continuing to improve, as you might expect a talented, young player to do.
Others on this list you could discredit for other reasons. Can Aaron Hill really boost his stats that much this season? He's been pretty good lately. Why/How would Bourjos become a power hitter? That's not his game. Same with Cain and Andrus.

I don't know, I'd color code it by player 'type' and see if that yields a % better than 60.
8:05 AM Mar 28th
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