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With spring in full bloom, it's time for our favorite annual exercise: attempting to identify a breakout player for each team. Last year's crop saw us call our shots on Spencer Strider and Steven Kwan, while past editions have nailed Cal Quantrill, Drew Rasmussen, DJ LeMahieu, and Ketel Marte, among others.

As is always the case, we try to play this game on a high difficulty level. That means we do not include top prospects (unless when we have no other choice) or established big-league players (save for cases where we're banking on them improving in a notable way). Sorry, folks, but there are hundreds of other breakout columns across the internet that will tell you that Gunnar Henderson and Corbin Carroll might be good players as soon as this season. 

This is a subjective exercise, so keep that in mind as you scroll through.

RHP Drey Jameson: Jameson is a mustache (or an obsession with The Strokes) away from eliciting Spencer Strider comparisons. Those would be overzealous for various reasons, but they come with the territory of being a short, athletic right-hander with a fast arm and good stuff. His fastball averaged 96 mph over his four big-league appearances last season, and his slider-cutter generated a 46 percent whiff rate. Jameson's command wavers often enough that he may have to settle for being an inconsistent mid-rotation starter. We're giving him the nod because we think his good times will make it easy to tolerate his bad.
OF Sam Hilliard: Generally, it's inadvisable to bet on a hitter improving after leaving Coors Field. The Braves are hoping Hilliard will be an exception, having nabbed him from the Rockies in November. We think it's a worthwhile gambit. Hilliard possesses several loud tools, including above-average speed and arm strength and well-above-average pop. His maximum exit velocity (115.1 mph) last season put him in close company with new teammates Austin Riley and Ronald Acuña Jr. Hilliard's statistical output has been hamstrung by his tendencies to swing and miss and to hit the ball at suboptimal angles. No small peas, to be certain. Hilliard should get a fair share of burn against right-handed pitching as part of the Braves' outfield alignment. We'll see if a fresh start in a new organization can help him tap into his unfulfilled upside.
RHP Kyle Bradish: Maybe this is cheating, as Bradish's breakout started last season, in our estimation. After returning from the injured list in late July, he started 13 times and amassed a 3.28 ERA and a 2.32 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Bradish's improved pitching was accompanied by shifts in both pitch usage (he threw his slider more frequently) and mechanics (he ditched his rocker step and slid toward the first-base side of the rubber), developments that make his gains feel stickier than they might otherwise. Even if Bradish fails to maintain his late-season pace, we do think he'll top his overall 82 ERA+.
RHP Brayan Bello: Bello appeared in 13 big-league games last season, compiling a 90 ERA+ and a 2.04 strikeout-to-walk ratio, or slightly below-average marks for a starter. We think he can do better, no matter the role the Red Sox use him in. Bello has an enticing combination of arm strength and stuff: his fastballs clocked in at 96 mph or hotter on average, and his trapdoor changeup generated 44 percent whiffs. We do, however, have an inside-baseball-y concern about his four-seamer. He has a good approach angle, borne from his small stature and three-quarters arm slot, but his four-seamer itself doesn't feature good vertical break. We're going to cross our fingers and hope he'll still be able to find success with the pitch up in the zone. 
RHP Jeremiah Estrada: The Cubs added several veterans to their bullpen over the winter, cluttering Estrada's path to the Opening Day roster. It won't matter; his fastball is a chainsaw that will empower him to clear a way. Estrada's heater checks all the boxes, including top-notch velocity (and even better effective velocity thanks to his deep release point), vertical break, and spin axis. He overpowered minor-league batters last season, striking out more than 40 percent of those he faced across three levels. It's only a matter of time before Estrada gets the opportunity to do the same against MLB foes.
OF Oscar Colas: The White Sox lack appealing breakout candidates (sorry Romy González), making Colas the obvious pick. He's a former two-way player, once nicknamed the Cuban Ohtani, who signed with the White Sox for $2.7 million in early 2022. Barely a year later, he could open the year as Chicago's starting right fielder. Colas boasts above-average power and athleticism, though he's not much of a stolen-base threat. His approach will limit his on-base potential, leaving his game largely dependent on his slugging output. 
3B Spencer Steer: Part of the deadline return on Tyler Mahle, Steer played in 28 games down the stretch. He didn't perform well at the plate (he had a 72 OPS+ and more strikeouts than hits), but he did show off his versatility by making five-plus appearances at three positions: first, second, and third base. Of course, we're not picking Steer as a breakout candidate because he can stand here and there on the dirt; we're picking him because we think better days lie ahead for him offensively. He combines a disciplined approach with solid contact chops, and he's been a menace to lefties in the past. The Reds have myriad good infield prospects on the way, so Steer will need to make the most of his age-25 season if he doesn't want to fall by the wayside sooner than later.
OF Will Brennan: Choosing a lefty outfielder with promising bat-to-ball skills in this slot worked out last year -- why not go back to the well? Admittedly, Brennan is, at best, a watered-down version of Kwan. His contact rate isn't Arraezian, and he doesn't run nearly as well. He does possess more strength than Kwan does, however, and he still connected on nearly 90 percent of his in-zone swings. That last part helps reveal the biggest difference between Brennan and Kwan: whereas Kwan maintains a tight zone, keyholing pitches up and in, Brennan swings at everything. Put another way, Brennan chased 35 times in his 11-game cameo late in the year, while Kwan chased fewer than 35 times in a month three times. Anyway, please excuse our tangent. Brennan doesn't have to be Kwan 2.0 to be worth the selection; he just needs to provide the Guardians with a lefty complement to Oscar Gonzalez in right field.
OF Sean Bouchard: Out-of-towners had no reason to pay heed to the Rockies last September, but there was an interesting development in those games as it pertained to Mr. Bouchard. He started in left field on a daily basis, posting a 157 OPS+ fueled by a borderline passive approach that saw him walk in more than 20 percent of his plate appearances. Here's a complete list of batters with at least 95 plate appearances who swung less often than Bouchard did: Daniel Vogelbach, Mike Ford, Juan Soto, Jonah Bride, and Josh VanMeter. It's hard to succeed if taking pitches is your only hustle (unless you're Gregory Blakemoor Norton), and It stands to reason that Bouchard is more like Ford or VanMeter than he is Vogelbach, let alone Soto. We're not enamored with any other options with the Rockies, though, so we're going to let it roll.
OF Matt Vierling: The key to being a good golfer is mastering the short game, not the long game (or so they say). We consider Vierling's selection the latter. He hit the ball hard often last season, he was just seldom rewarded for it. To wit, he ranked 216th (out of 218 batters) in wOBA on batted balls with an exit velocity of 95 mph or greater. You don't have to be a data whiz to appreciate that Vierling is heading for positive regression. The Tigers' new front office seems to agree, having acquired him as part of the Gregory Soto trade with the Phillies.
LHP Parker Mushinski: Breaking onto the Astros roster isn't easy to do, but last year's pick Seth Martinez found a way and we suspect Mushinski will too. He's a short, strong lefty who spammed batters with a good curve during a seven-game cameo last season. Mushinski's hammer featured more induced vertical break than every Astros pitcher except one (Hunter Brown), and he showed a feel for locating it in the zone. He doesn't throw particularly hard, yet his fastball spin rate ranked in the 95th percentile. That combination should be enough for Mushinski to become a solid left-handed option in relief. 
OF Nate Eaton: Before anyone asks: Vinnie Pasquantino was too good for too long last season to qualify. Eaton is an OK alternative, and he satisfies the law that any ballplayer with the "Eaton" surname must have a first name that's five letters or shorter. (The Eatons in MLB history have been named Adam, Zeb, Craig, and now Nate.) This Eaton is a speedy infielder who seems more useful in the outfield, where he can leverage his range and strong arm into GIF-worthy plays. He doesn't make a lot of loud contact at the plate, but he does hit it on a line often. That, plus the extra value provided by his defense and baserunning (he swiped 11 bases on 12 tries), earns him the nod. 
RHP Zack Weiss: Middle relief is a sanctuary for late-career breakouts. Weiss, 31 come June, has made all of 13 big-league appearances despite spending time with five organizations. We think he'll add to that total in a big way in 2023. Weiss' sweeper was highly effective during a brief run in the majors last season, and would have had the fifth highest whiff rate among that particular pitch type (min. 100 thrown). His mid-90s fastball, meanwhile, had the highest IVB on the Angels staff, checking in around 19 inches. We will note that the spin profiles of those pitches don't align in a mirrored way, so perhaps they won't end up being as effective as they should be in a vacuum. We'll find out.
OF James Outman: Miguel Vargas is too highly regarded as a prospect to make the cut, which leaves us in with Outman. He's a good athlete with a strong arm and above-average power potential. We do have reservations about how often he swings and misses, and he's consistently punched out in more than a quarter of his plate appearances as a minor-league player. There's a chance his whiff tendencies overwhelm his game. There's also a chance that he provides everywhere but batting average, making him a solid center-field option. The Dodgers could pair him with Trayce Thompson, if mostly for stylistic purposes.
OF Bryan De La Cruz: De La Cruz is going to be a popular pick in breakout columns, and for good reason. He occupies the sweet spot wherein his underlying indicators are promising, and his past production is decent without seeming insurmountable (he has a career 106 OPS+). He's easy money, basically. De La Cruz hits the ball hard and he hits it at an optimized angle, boding well for his chances of contributing average and slugging. He does strike out a fair amount without walking often, and that'll limit his on-base capability. Still, it seems like a matter of time before he drops his first 20-homer season -- if he times it right, he just might hit .290 that year, too.
LHP Robert Gasser: When the Brewers acquired Gasser in the Josh Hader trade, we wrote that the Brewers "have had success getting more from seemingly so-so profiles with funky arm actions or release points, making him one worth monitoring." We're doubling-down here by predicting that he plays a role with the big-league club this season, even if it's just in relief. Let's go full nerd for a sentence by noting that Gasser imparts more than 15 inches of induced vertical break on his low-90s fastball from a 63-inch release height. In layman's terms, that gives him a similar movement and deception profile to a small group of pitchers, albeit one that features a current and a former Brewer in Freddy Peralta and Trevor Gott. Gasser probably isn't going to become a lefty Peralta, but we think his fastball's efficacy will surprise.
RHP Louie Varland: Whatever happens with Varland's big-league career, the fact that he'll have one at all makes him a player development win for the Twins. This is someone who was selected in the 15th round of the 2019 draft out of Concordia College -- that's located in St. Paul, by the way. Varland may not have a plus pitch in his arsenal, but we think his stuff will play up because of his deception and location. His release point is only about two inches higher than teammate Joe Ryan's (he of the invisiball), and it plays hotter than its raw velocity reading because of how far he's able to get down the mound. We'll see if Varland can find himself in the Opening Day rotation; at minimum, he's a boo-boo away from possibly solidifying himself as a back-end starter.
RHP Elieser Hernández: Bryce Montes de Oca will be a popular breakout pick for the Mets; we dig his stuff, we're just skeptical his command will let him flourish. We'll roll instead with Hernández, who has a nasty little habit of his own: giving up too many home runs. He's yielded 37 long balls in 139 innings during the Pandemic Era, or about 2.4 per nine innings. Surely that can't hold, right? At minimum, moving him into a relief capacity should help.
LHP Matt Krook: If you know of Krook, it's probably because of his involvement in the trade that sent Evan Longoria from one bay area to another. He never found traction with the Rays organization, but he's spent the last few seasons with the Yankees, and he's now on the cusp of breaking into the majors. Krook has a good three-pitch mix, including a swing-and-miss slider. He's always struggled to keep his walk rate in check, though it helps that we're talking about five walks per nine instead of a truly comedic figure. The Yankees have some out-of-option arms to sort through, including Deivi García and Albert Abreu. If they shed either, they could slot in Krook as a second lefty.
SS Nick Allen: The only thing separating Allen from being known as one of the best shortstops in baseball is his bat. Alas, he offers no reason to think he'll slay that dragon anytime soon. He doesn't hit the ball hard or hit it at optimized angles; he doesn't make contact or command the strike zone at an extreme rate; he just beats the ball into the ground over and over, making a lot of outs in the process. We enjoy watching Allen playing defense, so we're rooting for him to have a few surprisingly good offensive campaigns in the process -- or at least enough to keep him in the lineup. We're just not optimistic. 
RHP Erich Uelmen: Depending on how you define the parameters of a "sweeper," Uelmen may have had the second-highest whiff rate of any in the majors (min. 100 thrown). He comes at hitters from a drop-down slot that gives him similar release heights as those employed by Paul Sewald, Seth Martinez, and other viable big-league relievers. We suspect the Phillies will ask him to throw his sweeper more than he did last season (29 percent), and we won't be surprised when he becomes a solid middle-relief option.
OF Cal Mitchell: Mitchell exceeded the league-average mark when it came to both hitting the ball 95 mph or harder and hitting it between 10 and 30 degrees. You wouldn't know it based on his putrid slash line over more than 200 trips to the plate. The Pirates have a lot of other young outfielders vying for big-league at-bats, so he'll need those underlying measures to turn into results sooner than later, lest he find himself on a flight back to Triple-A. 
RHP Angel Felipe: Felipe, formerly a minor-league free-agent signing, has the kind of massive arm strength that allows him to sit in the upper-90s. His slider is toxic to opposing bats and resulted in a strikeout rate exceeding 12 per nine innings last season in the upper minors. With those two things going for him, you might wonder why he hasn't already established himself as a late-inning fixture. The answer is command. Felipe's arm action is longer than a Lucy Ellman sentence, and contributes to him having little idea where the ball is heading once it leaves his hand. It's easy to type "if Felipe finds more command …" but the delivery doesn't suggest that's likely. We're picking him anyway because we're not sure there's a more appealing option in San Diego.
INF Brett Wisely: The Giants obtained Wisely from the Rays in a minor November trade. He's a short lefty hitter with experience all over the infield. He doesn't have a plus tool in his box, and he can't touch lefties; what he can do is provide average and on-base chops versus righties. The Giants have done well during Gabe Kapler's managerial tenure to get the most from seemingly underwhelming platoon types. It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, if Wisely or former top prospect Isan Díaz work their way into a timeshare at the keystone -- nor if they end up faring better than anyone expected.
RHP Matt Brash: Brash has big-time stuff, including a pair of swing-and-miss breaking balls and a hot fastball. He wasn't able to locate those pitches well enough last season to entice batters to expand their strike zone on a consistent basis, or to avoid walking almost six batters per nine. Brash's delivery doesn't inspire confidence he'll ever have even average command, but he's shown enough strike-throwing ability in the past for us to slot him in here.  
RHP Wilking Rodriguez: The Cardinals took Rodriguez from the Yankees as part of the Rule 5 Draft. He hasn't pitched in the majors since 2014, when he was a 24-year-old member of the Royals, but he showed impressive raw stuff during his time in Mexico -- as in, an upper-90s fastball, a mid-90s cutter, and a hammer curve. The Cardinals are one of the best organizations in the sport at identifying talent. Rodriguez has a chance to reaffirm that by pitching his way onto the Opening Day roster and later into a high-leverage role. 
INF Jonathan Aranda: Aranda had an unpleasant introduction to the majors last season, putting up a 75 OPS+ while notching nearly as many strikeouts (23) as total bases (25). We don't think those numbers were an accurate representation of how he performed. For example, he posted a 91 mph average exit velocity against right-handed pitchers, yet he batted under .200 when he had the platoon advantage. It's true that Aranda hit the ball into the ground a lot, but the Rays have had a lot of success pairing that kind of hitter with the Tropicana Field turf -- be it Yandy Díaz, Manuel Margot, or even Harold Ramírez. We'll grant that maybe it won't end up being Aranda who joins that group; maybe it's Curtis Mead (too well-regarded to make the cut here) or someone like Grant Witherspoon. We just think this is one of those rare profile-team matchups that one should always be mindful about.
RHP Glenn Otto: We're picking Otto for a second consecutive year with the caveat that we want to see him in the bullpen. The Texas-born righty coming in and spamming his swing-and-miss slider in short spurts probably represents his finest chance at becoming more than an up-and-down type. Even if we're wrong on that front, Otto might need to move to the bullpen to find a spot on the big-league roster -- after all, the Rangers spent the offseason adding one veteran starter after another, pushing him on down the depth chart.
INF Addison Barger: Barger doesn't have an easy path to playing time given the presence of Bo Bichette, Whit Merrifield, and Santiago Espinal, but he should debut at some point this year. Barger provides above-average pop from the left side and has enough defensive chops to play either side of the second-base bag. He's been prone to strikeouts throughout his career, punching out in more than 25 percent of his plate appearances dating back to when he reached A-ball. If he can keep his whiffs in check, he should have a real opportunity at carving out a long-term role on the big-league roster.
RHP Jordan Weems: If only we had foreseen Joey Meneses' breakout coming last summer. Oh well. Weems has good stuff, including a rising mid-90s fastball. Blame it on his command or his lack of mirrored-spin offerings, but his arm talent hasn't led to solid results at the big-league level. He'll celebrate his 31st birthday come November, so it's time to figure it out (or not).