2024 MLB Breakout Candidates

Which players will make the leap in 2024?

As part of baseball’s never-ending cycle, we are conditioned to look ahead toward better days. The beauty of the sport lies in its unpredictability, where even in a world where the Yankees, Mets, and Dodgers invest over a billion dollars in payroll, the championship round can feature the plucky Arizona Diamondbacks. In this world of unpredictable results, it is always fun to try and anticipate who these surprise teams and players may become in a given season.

In this regard, the 2024 season is primed to be a launching pad for players who can make the proverbial leap and become household names. Development is rarely linear in baseball, and so it can become frustrating to predict when someone will realize his full potential if it ever happens. This is why even as it is likely that some (or many) of these predictions will not come to fruition, we are focusing on 10 youngsters who have already started to pave their way in MLB, with the goal of making next season one to remember.

As a note, there are no rookies included in this list, as any impact from them is already a natural breakout for their franchises.

Bo NaylorCleveland Guardians

After entering the league known mostly as Josh Naylor’s younger brother and teammate, Bo Naylor established himself as Cleveland’s primary catcher. With a first-round pedigree, the organization has always had high hopes for Bo, and he started showing some promise with a solid .237/.339/.470 slash line over 67 games, highlighted by a strong batting eye and plenty of pop for a backstop. However, he also showed signs of a young catcher adapting to the major leagues, allowing 88% of potential base stealers to reach, along with 18 wild pitches in only 505.2 innings behind the plate. Now with former catcher Stephen Vogt as manager, it will be very interesting to see how Naylor can become better acquainted with the nuances of handling a pitching staff and develop as a hitter at the same time. At the very least, there is a good chance that he and his brother will continue to deliver some heartwarming highlights.

Matt McLainCincinnati Reds

The Reds as a whole are a good bet to break out in 2024, as most of their core is made up of young players with high ceilings. Among them, he is maybe the best bet to stand out from relative obscurity and become a star. He was drafted out of high school in the first round by Arizona in 2018, but decided to play college ball — only to again be taken in the first round, this time by the Reds in 2021. His fast track to the majors will see him play this season at age 24, with a still-developing skill set that saw him finish fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting. McLain’s combination of speed and power (43 extra-base hits and 14 steals in only 89 games) along with strong defense around the middle infield should make for an excellent sophomore season in Cincinnati. As long as he figures out a way to curtail his swing-and-miss tendencies, McLain can become a big difference-maker in 2024 and one of the best farm systems graduates that the Reds have produced in recent memory.

MacKenzie GoreWashington Nationals

As another first-round talent, expectations for MacKenzie Gore have always been high, even as his development has been far from smooth. Following a brief debut with the Padres in 2022, his pedigree was enough to make him an important piece in the Juan Soto trade. His debut for the Nationals came in 2023, in which he showed a steady mix of frustrating starts and tantalizing stuff. Gore had almost as many starts allowing 4 or more runs (8) as he had with 0 or 1 run (10), but he seemed to get better as the year went on, finishing with a 3.26 ERA over his final four turns. Gore’s potential is based on his nasty stuff, which led him to a 10 K/9 rate last season, albeit with a 3.8 BB/9 that produced several long innings. As Washington continues to become relevant again, they need pitchers like Gore to take a step forward, and 2024 is a good bet for that to happen.

Jordan WalkerSt. Louis Cardinals

As a 20-year-old getting the nod on Opening Day, Jordan Walker appeared to signal a new era of Cardinals baseball, full of speed and athleticism. He lived up to the early expectations, starting his career with a 12-game hit streak that included a couple of homers and a powerful OPS. It all went downhill from there, as pitchers started figuring him out and concerns about his defense in right field were enough to get him demoted to the minors on April 24. Even as he returned in early June and stayed on the roster throughout the summer, Walker never took off, swallowed up by St. Louis’ mediocre season. His defense made him a negative-WAR player, but his bat still produced a 114 OPS+, which is impressive for a hitter his age. Heading into 2024, the Cardinals hope that their team-wide reboot is fueled by Walker taking a step forward in year 2, especially when it comes to defense. Being yet another first-round talent with tools to spare, he appears primed to achieve many things this season.

Taj BradleyTampa Bay Rays

While the Rays have earned a reputation as a pitching factory, it is safe to say that Taj Bradley was rushed to a starting role in the major leagues. While his minor league numbers made him a top prospect in the organization, injuries to several Rays starters forced the team to debut Bradley as early as April 12. Even as he won his first three outings, it became clear that Bradley was not a finished product, struggling through several starts and even going back down to AAA in August. The final numbers paint the picture of a young pitcher still learning the ropes: 5.59 ERA, 4.79 FIP, 3.4 BB/9, 11.1 K/9. The biggest issue in his debut season came in the form of long balls, as Bradley allowed 23 in only 104.2 innings, and suppressing them will be the key to unlocking his development. With Tyler Glasnow now gone, there is a clear path for Bradley to be a bigger piece for Tampa Bay’s rotation, as he will start the season at the tender age of 23.

Francisco AlvarezNew York Mets

With the Mets falling apart despite having the highest payroll in MLB history, it makes sense that one of their few bright spots was a player making the league minimum. The ascent of Alvarez to become the team’s starting catcher was remarkable, leading all NL catchers in homers with 25. However, this came as part of an all-or-nothing approach, as Alvarez struck out in 26% of his plate appearances, leading to a subpar .284 OBP that would have ranked him in the bottom 1% of hitters had he qualified for the batting title. The upside for Alvarez is still huge, considering that he will start 2024 at only 22 years old and presumably play for a better Mets team. While his power has never been in doubt, his defense was polished enough as a rookie to suggest he can become one of the best all-around catchers in the game, and this season he should get every chance to become a beloved figure around Queens.

Grayson RodriguezBaltimore Orioles

With the Orioles becoming one of the most pleasant surprises of 2023, their player development machine was in full force. Most of the accolades came in the form of position player graduations, as their pitching staff was mostly middling. As part of this youth movement, Grayson Rodriguez emerged as the biggest hope from the mound, as his prospect pedigree remained intact when he made his season debut on April 5. It took him almost a month to earn his first win, and then the second became disastrous, including three starts that yielded at least six earned runs allowed. While a six-week demotion to AAA was not ideal, it served as a reset for Rodriguez, who came back to post an impressive 2.58 ERA over his final 13 starts and help Baltimore secure the AL East. He was unable to carry that momentum into the playoffs, as he took the loss in Game 2 of the ALDS, ceding 5 runs in less than 2 innings. However, that may serve as a learning moment for Rodriguez, who is now expected to be a solid #2 pitcher in Baltimore’s rotation. If he can carry the gains he made following his return to the majors, he has the chance to become a dark-horse Cy Young candidate in the AL.

Kyle HarrisonSan Francisco Giants

As the biggest prospect in the Giants organization, Harrison’s development has been steady and closely guarded, as the team avoided rushing him to the big leagues. When he finally made his debut in 2023, we could only catch a glimpse of his potential, with seven uneven starts that featured a brilliant outing (6.1 scoreless innings and 11 strikeouts against the Reds), and a terrible one (4 homers and 6 runs allowed in 5.2 innings in San Diego). While his overall numbers were inflated by that rough outing, a few positive signs emerged from his brief debut, including a low WHIP and plenty and swing-and-miss offerings, which were always the traits that made him such a highly-regarded southpaw. While the Giants may still take a cautious approach with Harrison and keep him on an innings cap, his performance may be the X factor for a team desperate for someone to step up and become Logan Webb’s co-ace. Entering 2024 at age 22, the lefty will try to join the list of homegrown San Francisco aces of the 21st century.

Logan O’Hoppe – Los Angeles Angels

While most of the players on this list were popular prospects and high draft picks, Logan O’Hoppe is a true underdog in many ways. He was drafted by Philadelphia in the 23rd round back in 2018 (when the draft went that many rounds deep!), then developed as a catcher in their system before arriving in Anaheim as part of the Brandon Marsh trade in 2022. He would debut later that year in a cup-of-coffee kind of stint, only to become a surprising contributor to the team in 2023. Over his first 16 games, O’Hoppe posted an .886 OPS while securing the starting catcher position, only to suffer a devastating shoulder injury that left him inactive until a late August return. His final 35 games were not as productive as he battled back from injury, but he still posted a respectable .759 OPS with 10 homers. As the Angels navigate a post-Ohtani world where Mike Trout’s status seems uncertain in terms of availability, O’Hoppe has the chance to step up and become a key player in Anaheim. Early reports suggest that he is fully healthy and able to handle full catching responsibilities, which is encouraging for a franchise that needs every possible contribution.

Royce LewisMinnesota Twins

In terms of post-hype prospects, there may not be a better case than Royce Lewis. He was the first overall pick in 2017’s draft, expected to become the face of Minnesota baseball following the retirement of Joe Mauer. However, his development was never as smooth as planned, as injuries and ineffectiveness delayed his MLB debut until a brief cameo in 2022. With his 2023 start coming until May 29, Lewis made an immediate impact by hitting a 3-run homer, which he would follow up with two other 3-run dingers and four (!) grand slams before the end of the season. While injuries still played a part in his season, he ended with a remarkable 2.4 WAR in only 58 games played, adding four homers in the postseason. Lewis is on a mission to become a star in Minnesota, and he should get a shot to cement his path with a big 2024, as long as he avoids the injury bugs that have plagued him during his young career. Even as he is unlikely to keep mashing grand slams every other week, he has the tools to become a special player.

Pablo Figueroa

Pablo Figueroa is a Baseball Writer here at Pitcher List, with experience as a writer since 2013. He lives in Aguascalientes, Mexico - proud home of Los Rieleros. When he´s not thinking about baseball , he's a husband, owns two dogs, watches random episodes of The Sopranos , plays padel, and works on his day job to pay the bills.

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