Jun 3, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Royals first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino (9) hands his glove to the ball boy after a walk during the fourth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Eight Breakout MLB Candidates to Look for in 2024

The 2023 Major League Baseball season was a wild ride that ended with the Texas Rangers as the lone team remaining on its saddle. Along the way, some players, like right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and catcher Adley Rutschman, took their talents to the next level. Others like outfielder Corbin Carroll, shortstop Gunnar Henderson and shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. became superstars of the present and future. As the year nears completion, 2024 looks like another campaign flush with breakout talents.

Eight Breakout MLB Candidates to Look for in 2024

Two End-of-2023 Breakout Stars

Two young sensations already fully translated their talents to the game’s highest level in the latter stages of this past season and now have fans excited for their 2024 encores. Oakland Athletics second baseman Zack Gelof made an extremely bright MLB debut, claiming the everyday job at that position and providing a beacon of hope for a suffering A’s fanbase. 

He accumulated 14 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 69 games, and those numbers should only rise as Gelof enters his first full-length MLB season. Fellow rookie Evan Carter seized the Texas Rangers’ left field opening and made numerous big plays on offense and defense during the run to their first championship.

Five 2024 Possibilities

Jordan Lawler

The Arizona Diamondbacks thought highly enough of 21-year-old shortstop Jordan Lawler to promote him for their 2023 playoff push and eventually include him on their World Series roster. The Diamondbacks’ selection with the sixth overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft made a relatively fast ascent through the minor leagues, overcoming two shoulder injuries and showing off the skills that made him so highly touted as a high school prospect. 

The club’s top minor-league prospect hit .358 in 16 games with Triple-A Reno before Arizona promoted him. He struggled in his first small sample of MLB pitching, only collecting four hits in 31at-bats, but he did draw a walk and score a run in his lone World Series plate appearance. Entering 2024, Lawler will try to push incumbent shortstop Geraldo Perdomo. Yet, he may start the season at Triple-A due to the presence of Perdomo and offseason trade acquisition third baseman Eugenio Suárez.

Vinne Pasquantino

Aside from Bobby Witt Jr, the Kansas City Royals offense struggled last year. The offseason signing of outfielder Hunter Renfroe and the return of slugging first baseman Vinne Pasquantino may help the club score more runs next season. The Royals drafted the Old Dominion alum in the 11th round in 2019. The underrated player steadily advanced through the minor leagues, earning his Major League debut in 2022 after batting .277 with 18 home runs and 70 RBIs in 73 Triple-A games. His success carried over to Kansas City as he hit .295 with ten home runs, 26 RBIs, and more walks than strikeouts in his first 72 MLB games. 

Before the 2023 campaign, the fan-favorite, nicknamed the “Italian Nightmare” by franchise legend George Brett, played first base for Team Italy at the World Baseball Classic (WBC). Unfortunately, he only appeared in 61 MLB games this past season before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. Now fully healthy, Pasquantino is looking to return to his 2022 form, complete a whole MLB season, and help the Royals take the next step in their rebuilding process.

Oneil Cruz

In a boat similar to Pasquantino’s is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 6 ‘7″ shortstop, Oneil Cruz. During his 2022 MLB debut, Cruz showed he could play the position and displayed his prodigious power potential by routinely hitting the ball hard and smashing 17 home runs in only 87 games. He broke his fibula in early April and missed the rest of the 2023 season. The Pirates, who have made a couple of under-the-radar signings this offseason, need Cruz to stay healthy and improve to take the next step as a team because his ceiling is amongst the highest on their current roster.

Junior Caminero

Tampa Bay Rays’ top prospect Junior Caminero made his MLB debut in 2023 after rocketing up the minors. The 20-year-old infielder, who hit over .300 at every minor-league level, collected seven RBIs and hit his first MLB home run in only 34 games during the last part of the season. With starting shortstop Wander Franco’s situation still uncertain and starting outfielder Randy Arozarena on the offseason trade block, there will likely be an opportunity for the uber-talented Caminero to emerge as the next great Rays’ hitter in 2024.

Jung-Ho Lee/Yoshinbu Yamamoto 

South Korean outfielder Jung-Ho Lee and Japanese starting pitcher Yoshinbu Yamamotorenowned names in their native countries, are coming to the National League West this offseason. The San Francisco Giants signed Lee to a six-year, $113 million contract on December 12. On December 21, Yamamoto reportedly agreed to a 12-year, $325 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, spurning the Giants and the New York clubs. Lee’s contact-focused hitting approach and all-around skillset make him a good fit for a Giants’ club needing offensive upgrades. 

Yamamoto registers as the latest seismic move by a Dodgers organization, shaping up to be the clear winner of the offseason. With their longtime ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw’s future uncertain and Walker Buehler coming off his second Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers badly needed pitching reinforcements this offseason. Their new $700 million man, Shohei Ohtani, will only be able to hit next year. So, the team traded for and extended Tyler Glasnow and reunited Ohtani with his WBC Team Japan teammate Yamamoto. The Dodgers’ expectations next year will be sky-high as their loaded roster will likely be among the favorites to win the World Series, provided the team stays healthy and avoids another early playoff exit. 

These are just a few notable names to look out for in 2024. Some might not improve or make an impact, while other less-heralded players may break out instead. Such is the nature of professional baseball at this moment.

Main Image: © William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

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