15 biggest breakout stars of the MLB season
Jose Ramirez, 3B, Indians
Ramirez was already making a name for himself in 2016, hitting a surprising .312 with some pop for the eventual American League champions. There were questions as to whether he could follow up with a similar performance, and he did much more than that. Ramirez has maintained pretty much all his 2016 numbers while adding even more power, with his 29 home runs easily marking a career high. Ramirez went from very good player to AL MVP candidate, and is at the core of everything Cleveland does well.
Felipe Rivero, RP, Pirates
Until 2017, Rivero had always been regarded as one of those relievers with a great arm but lacking in control good enough to make him a reliable late-inning option. That got fixed in 2017, and not coincidentally, Rivero became one of baseball’s elite closers. His walk rate fell from 5.9 per nine innings to 2.5, he still struck out over a batter an inning, and his ERA has dropped from 4.09 to 1.72. As long as he can limit the walks, he profiles as an elite reliever for years to come.
Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Orioles
Entering his fifth MLB season, Schoop was regarded as a solid second baseman who had some pop but did not walk much or hit for a high average. He’s still not exactly one for the walks, but he’s proven everything else had much more to come. He has already hit a career-high 32 homers, while his average has risen to a career-best .299. He plays solid defense at the position as well, and it’s him — not Manny Machado nor Adam Jones — who has put up the best offensive season of any Orioles position player.
Luis Severino, SP, Yankees
At the age of 23, Severino in 2017 became the ace of the Yankees more or less out of the blue. After a year that saw him split time between the rotation and the bullpen — and not looking particularly good in either role — he promptly dominated out of the rotation, posting an ERA that hovered around three. He has struck out 221 batters and walked only 50. Not only has Severino anchored the Yankee rotation, but he has also emerged as a player who will likely feature on most AL Cy Young ballots — and deservedly so.
Travis Shaw, 3B, Brewers
The Boston Red Sox had quickly decided that Shaw was not going to be their answer at third base, and elected to include him in a trade for reliever Tyler Thornburg. Shaw made them regret it. In his first season with the Brewers, Shaw has hit .273 with 31 home runs, tying him for first on the team with fellow surprise Eric Thames. Meanwhile, the Red Sox spent much of the season trying desperately to fill an offensive black hole at third base. Perhaps they wish they could have this one back.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Blue Jays
Smoak is one of those post-hype players, a former top prospect who was once the centerpiece of the Texas Rangers’ trade for Cliff Lee. The switch-hitting first baseman never lived up to expectations in Seattle, but he finally had his breakout year in Toronto at the age of 30. His 38 home runs and .271 average are both career bests, and he made his first All-Star team as a result of his great performances. Smoak may never be the superstar he once looked destined to be, but more seasons like this will make him one of the sport’s more feared hitters.
George Springer, OF, Astros
Springer has always been highly regarded, but 2017 saw him take the step from good player to star. For the first half of the year, Springer was keeping pace with Aaron Judge. Though he faded a bit in the second half, his numbers remain impressive — he has a .285 average with 33 home runs, helping him make his first All-Star appearance. Jose Altuve has always been the undisputed star of the Astros, but now Springer can share that mantle with him.
Eric Thames, OF, Brewers
Thames hit 11 home runs in a remarkable April, his first month in MLB since returning from Korea to take one last shot at the majors. Thames’s pace slowed after that, but the impact was already made; he set the tone for a surprising season that has seen Milwaukee in playoff contention right down to the end. Thames still is a co-leader of the Brewers with 31 home runs, got the team off to a good start, and has still contributed since. He definitely deserves a nod for his breakout season.