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#pounditSaturday, February 4, 2023

15 biggest breakout stars of the MLB season

Cody Bellinger

Every baseball season sees new players emerge as stars and huge contributors to their teams. Some of them are rookies or young players who have everything finally click for them, while others are journeymen who somehow put it together at a later stage in their career.

Here is a look at 15 MLB players who have enjoyed breakout seasons.

Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, Dodgers

Bellinger arrived to some fanfare in late April, but few could have expected the production that he offered the team. Bellinger became an instant power source, belting an NL rookie record 39 home runs. That figure comfortably leads the Dodgers, and his .270 average ensures that he is not simply a high-power, low-average slugger. Bellinger has been a huge part of the Dodgers’ historic season, and few could have predicted that at the start of the season.

Archie Bradley, RP, Diamondbacks

Once a top-ten draft pick as a starting pitcher, Bradley reinvented himself as an elite reliever in 2017, helping stabilize the Arizona bullpen as they make a run to the playoffs for the first time in six years. Bradley has posted an impressive 1.41 ERA, striking out 76 in 70 innings and issuing only 18 walks. He has served as Fernando Rodney’s setup man, but truth be told, he has been the team’s best reliever — and he looks like he has the chance to be a future closer.

Michael Conforto, OF, Mets

The Mets’ season has been such a mess that Conforto’s exploits have largely gone overlooked. He’s come back strong, especially after the Mets made their lack of trust in him clear last season. The 24-year-old firmly established himself as a regular in 2017, hitting .279 with 27 home runs before his season met a premature end due to a major shoulder injury. The hope is that he’ll be able to come back healthy and strong next year and replicate these numbers. If he can, he looks like a star in the making.

Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees

Without a doubt the breakout star of the entire season. Judge became the first rookie ever to hit 50 home runs, overcoming a mid-season slump to put himself firmly in the MVP conversation. It’s not just the power that draws Judge the accolades, though; it’s the totality of his overall offensive game. He leads the AL in walks, is batting .283, and has demonstrated that there’s much more to him than amazing power — though he’s got plenty of that, too.

Corey Knebel, RP, Brewers

Knebel entered the 2017 season with two career saves and a 4.03 lifetime ERA to his name. He promptly became an All-Star for a Brewers team that proved to be the breakout club of the season. Knebel has racked up 38 saves with an ERA of 1.58. He also has one of the league’s elite strikeout rates — 122 in 74 innings. He’s a bit prone to walks, which can cause some headaches, but he tends to be so overwhelming most of the time that it doesn’t matter all that much.

Jimmy Nelson, SP, Brewers

Nelson actually led the National League in losses in 2016. To say that he’s come a long way would be an understatement. Nelson lowered his ERA by over a full run in 2017, becoming Milwaukee’s most reliable starting pitcher with a 3.49 mark. A huge improvement in his strikeout rate was a major catalyst — his 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings completely obliterates his previous career best of 7.5, set in 2015. The only downside is the season-ending shoulder injury he suffered on a pickoff play.

Tommy Pham, OF, Cardinals

Pham only had 314 big league at-bats to his name before the 2017 season, and the body of work was not particularly good. In a season that has seen several of the team’s more reliable names have down years, Pham has ended up pacing the Cards, hitting .310 with 23 home runs and 23 stolen bases, making him a versatile threat. He’s graded out positively as an outfielder as well on the defensive side of things. He’s just a solid all-around player — the kind that every single team could find use for.

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