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Five potential breakout players for 2022

With patience and opportunity (innings or plate appearances), these five young players could break through and become key contributors

MLB: OCT 12 NL Division Series - Brewers at Braves Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

At the moment, we don’t know if we will get to enjoy an MLB season in 2022. Negotiations between the league and the Players Association have picked up, and there is some hope that games aren’t lost.

In the meantime, we will use some 2021 numbers and trends to try and identify five potential breakout candidates for the upcoming season.

Aaron Ashby, P, Milwaukee Brewers

A single outing in June (four earned runs in two thirds of an inning while making his major league debut) ruined Aaron Ashby’s ERA for the season, which finished at 4.55. But we have to take a deeper look to realize he was quite a weapon down the stretch for the Brew Crew.

Ashby was used as a multi-inning reliever. Coming from the bullpen, he had a 4.50 ERA, but he held hitters to a .183/.272/.324 line and struck out 30 foes in 20 frames.

There is a chance he makes the Brewers’ rotation, but that could be a difficult task given how great and deep the unit is. Ashby can hit the high 90s, has a phenomenal slider, and is good enough to excel as a starter or as a multi-inning reliever.

Bobby Dalbec, 1B, Boston Red Sox

Some young players need more patience and at-bats than others to reach their potential and fully develop. Dalbec, who hit .240/.298/.494 with 25 homers and a 107 wRC+, was a disaster in the first half, with a .219/.264/.409 line, a 76 wRC+, and a 36.8 K%. However, manager Alex Cora stuck with him, and he was fantastic after the break.

During the second half, Dalbec slashed .269/.344/.611 with a 149 wRC+ and a 31.3 K%. His true talent level is probably somewhere in between but much closer to his second-half self. He should have a role in Boston but will have to hit to hold off Triston Casas eventually. He could get traded, too, but he seems to have turned a corner.

Jarred Kelenic, OF, Seattle Mariners

Last season was a roller-coaster for Kelenic. When he was in the minors, he was at the top: he slashed .320/.392/.624 with a 143 wRC+ in 143 Triple-A plate appearances, with nine homers and six steals. His end-of-the-season numbers in the majors were poor: .181/.265/.350 with a 28.1 K% and a horrid 73 wRC+.

However, some stats could be pointing towards a breakout in 2022. For example, his .216 BABIP is obviously low. Though he manufactured his bad luck to an extent, he still mustered .310 xwOBA. That’s a bit below average, but he deserved better than he got.

More encouraging was his 135 September wRC+: yes, his bat finally showed up in the final month of the season. In September, Kelenic hit .248/.331/.524 with a .854 OPS and seven round-trippers. He is Seattle’s best hope until Julio Rodríguez arrives, and Kelenic will likely reward their patience in 2022.

Gavin Lux, 2B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers

Lux has been touted as a can’t-miss prospect for years. Last season, he hit .242/.328/.364 with just a 91 wRC+: uninspiring, to say the least.

However, he slashed .284/.385/.388 with a .773 OPS and a 112 wRC+ in the second half. The average and on-base percentage finally showed up, and his minor league performance suggests some power should come, too. A .270/.350/.440 season with 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases seems well within reach.

Triston McKenzie, P, Cleveland Guardians

Triston McKenzie had a 3.24 ERA in 2020, but we won’t consider it a full breakout because he logged just 33.1 innings back then. Last season, he finished with an ugly 4.95 ERA, but there is potential for much more in 2022.

He looked lost in the first couple of months in 2021, and couldn’t throw strikes. He handed 7.30 (!) walks per nine frames and had to go to the minors to get his act together. After the break, his BB/9 went all the way down to 2.29 in 70.2 innings.

For a stretch between August 10 and September 14, McKenzie threw 39 innings with a 1.38 ERA, a 1.71 FIP, 10.15 K/9, and 1.15 BB/9. That’s how dominant he can be.

Andrés Chávez loves the game of baseball and writes about it at Beyond the Box Score, Pinstripe Alley, and other sites. He is on Twitter as @andres_chavez13