breakout MLB players

Four Breakout MLB Players Living Up To Draft Slot

Every year, Major League Baseball (MLB) teams picking at the top of the annual amateur draft hope that the highly-regarded players they select develop into at least everyday starters with a chance of further greatness, justifying the club’s decision to draft and give them multi-million dollar signing bonuses. 

While draftees to the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Football League (NFL) immediately start with their new teams, all professional baseball players, even the top-tier draft picks, begin their adventure in the Minor Leagues. From there, their development usually falls within the following three outcomes: rapid ascent to MLB stardom, steady minor-league development and initial MLB struggles before success at the top level, or minor league busts who, due to injuries or poor performance, fail to translate their amateur success to the professional game. Philadelphia Phillies’ outfielder Bryce Harper, San Diego Padres’ third baseman Manny Machado, and Pittsburgh Pirates’ rookie right-handed pitcher Paul Skenes are three examples of elite MLB prospects who did not take long to become must-watch superstars. On the other hand, former number-one overall draft picks Mark Appel and Brady Aiken are two of the biggest pitching prospect busts in the past decade. Those two disparate groups tend to generate the most attention, leaving fewer people paying attention to the group in the middle full of highly touted athletes who take a bit longer to learn how to showcase their skills.

Former Top Picks Turning Heads


1. JJ Bleday 

May 17, 2024; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Oakland Athletics center fielder JJ Bleday (33) hits a double against the Kansas City Royals in the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

In his first full season with the Oakland Athletics, 26-year-old center-fielder JJ Bleday is finally living up to his vast potential that convinced the Miami Marlins to select the Pennsylvania native with the fourth overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. Before turning professional, Bleday played collegiate baseball at Vanderbilt University from 2017-2019. The Southeastern Conference Player of the Year helped his school win the 2019 NCAA Division 1 Baseball Tournament, batting .347 with 27 home runs and 72 RBIs. Bleday overcame a rough start to his professional career with the COVID pandemic wiping out his 2020 season, so he didn’t record his inaugural MLB hit until his debut on July 23, 2022. Throughout his initial 65 MLB games, he swatted his first five MLB home runs but largely struggled, only batting .167.

Following that season, the A’s acquired Bleday from the Marlins in exchange for fellow former first-rounder, left-handed pitcher A.J. Puk. Bleday made his Oakland debut in May 2023 and showed promise in 82 games (10 home runs, 27 RBIs) before ending the season on the injured list. This year, Bleday is positively impacting both sides of the ball for the A’s. He has seized the everyday centerfield job and is an average defender out there, while at the plate his at-bats are getting better, resulting in more extra-base hits and offensive impact. Most recently, he homered in three straight games (May 22-24) and has eight home runs and 22 RBIs in 54 games, proving to be a good source of offense for his improved team. The A’s hope that Bleday has not reached his ceiling and can ascend further as he gets increasingly comfortable against MLB pitching

2. Colton Cowser 

Mar 12, 2024; Sarasota, Florida, USA; Baltimore Orioles center fielder Colton Cowser (17) singles during the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

For the Baltimore Orioles, 2024 was supposed to be the year of shortstop Jackson Holliday after catcher Adley Rutschman in 2022 and Gunnar Henderson last year. Instead, another rookie hitter, Colton Cowser, has garnered much acclaim and respect from the fanbase. All those years of losing resulted in the Orioles having multiple years of top-ten draft picks, which they used on high-quality players, who have helped remake this team’s farm system from among the worst to one of the best in the league.

One of those is Cowser, the club’s selection out of Sam Houston State University with the fifth overall pick in 2021. The highest-drafted player in his college’s history made a fairly rapid ascent up the Orioles minor-league ladder; the advanced, underrated college hitter reached Triple-A in his first professional season. Cowser spent most of last year finding success at the top level of the minor leagues before making his MLB debut, hitting.114 with zero home runs and four RBI in his first 26 Orioles games. However, opening this season as Baltimore’s starting left fielder, he has taken advantage of the opportunity to play every day in the Majors. Nicknamed “The Milkman” because of the start of his last name, Cowser is off to a hot start, already totaling six home runs and 23 RBIs as part of his team’s loaded lineup.

3. MacKenzie Gore

May 18, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Nationals pitcher MacKenzie Gore (1) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres had to pay a pretty penny to acquire Juan Soto from the Washington Nationals on August 2, 2022. While Soto is now on the New York Yankees, the top two prospects that headlined the Padres’ six-player return package to the Nationals–shortstop CJ Abrams and left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore– are two of their current team’s key players this year. Abrams, San Diego’s first-round pick in 2019, broke out last season, showing off his electric power-speed combination (18 home runs, 47 stolen bases) in his first full year as a starting shortstop.

He is off to a strong start this year, continuing to refine and mature his multifaceted abilities. On the other hand, Gore is truly breaking out to begin this year. The third player drafted in 2017 has always had the talent, but now his results are starting to reflect his ability. Gore took his lumps last year, going 7-10 with a 4.42 ERA in 27 starts. He is off to a much better start in his second season in Washington D.C, pitching to a 3-4 record with a 3.04 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 10 starts. If  Gore continues pitching this well, it won’t be long before the Nationals’ promising ace is seen as one of the best left-handed hurlers league-wide.

4. Jo Adell 

May 25, 2024; Anaheim, California, USA; Los Angeles Angels outfielder Jo Adell (7) singles against the Cleveland Guardians during the fourth inning at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Hui-USA TODAY Sports

Jo Adell may be putting it all together for the Los Angeles Angels in the wake of four seasons in which he had difficulties translating his minor league success to the Major Leagues. The club’s first-round pick in 2017 cemented his status as one of the top outfield prospects in the sport during his minor league days, leading the Angels to envision him starring alongside Mike Trout in their future outfield. However, he did not perform well in limited MLB action in 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023, appearing in fewer than 100 Angels games each season. This year, with Shohei Ohtani now on the Los Angeles Dodgers and Trout and third baseman Anthony Rendon injured once again, Adell has stepped up. He has cut down on the strikeouts and although his batting average is still low (.227), ten home runs is already a season-high for the 25-year-old onetime top prospect. 

These are just a few past first-rounders now finding their footing in the world’s toughest professional baseball league. Some of them will complete numerous successful seasons. For others, this productive stretch may be just one shining moment in their careers that will ultimately fall short of expectations. Such is the nature of a sport where pitchers are now throwing harder and batters swinging faster and stronger than ever before.

Main Image: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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great,informative and well written article

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