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With the regular season just two weeks away, it's time to partake in the fool's errands of spring. That includes picking a breakout player for every team. Last year, we nailed calls on Nick Pivetta, Drew Rasmussen, Cal Quantrill, and Tony Kemp, among others. We also had a decent batting average in 2020, hitting on 13 or 14 of our 30 picks, and back in 2019, we hit on nine or 10, including DJ LeMahieu and Ketel Marte.

We're keeping the difficulty level as high as we can this year by avoiding fashionable picks, save for instances where there were no other options. Otherwise, we tried picking under-the-radar players who were likely to 1) spend ample time on the 26-man roster and 2) outperform expectations.

Obviously this is a subjective exercise -- and one that tends to skew younger and toward relievers, since there's more opportunity there --  so bear that in mind as you scroll through the picks.

2022 Breakout Candidates

Josh Rojas, UTL: We're convinced batters who marry low exit velocities with optimized launch angles are an undervalued bunch. That belief led us to pick Tony Kemp as a breakout candidate last spring, and it steered us toward Rojas this year. He ranked in the ninth percentile of batted balls hit 95 mph or harder, but in the 84th percentile of batted balls launched between 10 and 30 degrees. That combination puts him in a class with the aforementioned Kemp, Akil Baddoo, and others coming off good seasons. One catch with Rojas is his defense. The Diamondbacks, who had nothing to lose, used him far too often at shortstop given his weak arm. He responded by making a throwing error for every 20 chances he had at the position; Bo Bichette, who led MLB shortstops in throwing errors, averaged one every 37 chances. If Arizona sticks to playing Rojas at second base and in the outfield, we think he'll dink and dunk his way to a better year.

Spencer Strider, RHP: The defending world champions won't provide many opportunities to unproven quantities. We think Strider, who appeared in two games late last season, will get a chance and make the most of it. His combination of a quick arm and a deep release point gave him an effective velocity of 98.4 mph, making his fastball an elite pitch on those grounds. He's also nurtured an above-average slider thanks to an appreciable understanding of pitch design. The Braves should continue to develop Strider as a starter, but he could be an asset in the bullpen on a moment's notice.

Joey Krehbiel, RHP: We promised some deep cuts. Krehbiel, a 29-year-old with 11 big-league innings to his name, qualifies. He has a fastball he can muscle into the upper-90s, but the real selling point here is his upper-80s cutter. Krehbiel's take on the pitch featured nearly as much horizontal sweep last season as Kenley Jansen's did, and that's while packing a good deal more sink. From a pitch characteristic standpoint, it's similar to the one Adam Wainwright wields. Krehbiel has a chance to generate grounders by the bushel by deploying it an effective manner. (Then again, the Orioles allowed the second-highest OPS-against on ground balls last season, so maybe that's a point against him.)

Matt Strahm, LHP: Maybe it's unfair to pick Strahm; he's had past big-league success, including in 2018, when he posted a 2.05 ERA in 61 innings. The Red Sox don't have many other reasonable candidates, however, and the last three seasons have seen him stumble to a 92 ERA+ in 71 appearances. Strahm's low-90s fastball is similar to the one thrown by Yankees reliever Joely Rodríguez another low-slot lefty. He hasn't excelled in missing bats lately, so the Red Sox might ask him to lean into generating grounders.

Scott Effross, RHP: The Cubs have added enough veteran relievers this offseason that it might take some time before Effross gets a real look. That's fine. He waited until he was nearly 28 years old to get his first big-league taste, and he responded by striking out 18 and walking one in 14 2/3 innings. Effross is a sidearmer with a release point that, height-wise anyway, is similar to the Rays' Ryan Thompson. His sinker checks in the low-90s and his slider is a sweeper that recorded a whiff rate north of 40 percent. There's a useful middle reliever in here, and it's a matter of time before that's proved.

Andrew Vaughn, 1B/LF: Vaughn, the third pick in the 2019 draft, has to hit and then hit some more to atone for being a right-handed hitter with a limited defensive profile. (That's our kind way of saying "he's a first baseman.") He didn't hit and then hit some more last year; rather, he finished his freshman season with a 92 OPS+ and with just 15 home runs in 469 plate appearances. Better days should be coming. It's not this simple, but Vaughn's percentage of batted balls over 95 mph (47.3 percent) and between 10 and 30 degrees (31 percent) were almost identical to the rate of Mets slugger Pete Alonso (47.4 percent; 30.2 percent). Some of the other names in Vaughn's neighborhood included Jesse Winker, Max Muncy and Ji-Man Choi. It's to be seen if he'll develop into the middle-of-the-order slugger the White Sox had hoped he would on draft night, but there's no sense in throwing in the towel yet.

Jake Fraley, OF: Put a star next to Fraley, who was recently acquired in the Jesse Winker trade. If he's used exclusively against right-handed pitching, he has a chance to be a nifty addition. Last season, his OPS versus righties was .815, or better than the marks posted by fellow lefty-swinging outfielders Christian Yelich and Michael Conforto. Maybe Fraley doesn't keep up that pace, but the Reds owe it to themselves to find out.

Steven Kwan, OF: Kwan isn't for everyone, but he's a fascinating prospect who should get a shot in Cleveland's outfield. He split last season between Double- and Triple-A hitting .328/.407/.527 with 12 home runs and five more walks than strikeouts. Despite that impressive rate of production, he's failed to make headway on most prospect lists ( the exception being Eric Longenhagen's at FanGraphs ) because of translatability concerns. Kwan is on the smaller side (he's listed at 5-foot-9) and until last year he had seldom shown over-the-fence power. (His 12 homers were a new career best.) We've referenced the Sam Fuld-Brett Gardner spectrum before on similar players -- outfielders who lack pop while displaying good contact and on-base chops -- and it applies here; there's a chance big-league pitchers will feel unthreatened and pound him with strikes, compromising his command over the strike zone and reducing his offensive potency. Believers in Kwan cite his unreal bat-to-ball skills (in terms of making contact and grinding out at-bats) and increased juice as reasons to think he can make it work. Non-believers think he's probably a fourth or fifth outfielder. We won't know which side was right for a while, but it's not every day you have a non-top prospect who is so interesting.

Connor Joe, OF: You can quibble with Joe's inclusion by arguing he broke out last season, when he posted a 117 OPS+ in 211 trips to the plate. Fair enough. The Rockies are slim pickings, however, and that's less than half a season of playing time. (Besides, we're the arbiters of these things; not the faceless "you.") Joe, who has spent time with six organizations since the start of the 2017 season, has an optimized launch angle and just a so-so exit velocity. That combination seems particularly useful in Coors Field, where he can spray and dump balls into the spacious outfield.

Riley Greene, OF: We don't like taking top prospects in these pieces because it feels cheap. Sometimes, like in the case of this current Tigers team, we have no choice. Greene recently was ranked by CBS Sports as the sixth best prospect in the minors .

Seth Martinez, RHP: Like the Tigers, the Astros don't have many good candidates for a piece like this. We're going with Martinez, a former minor-league Rule 5 pick, based on a few factors. He has a strong track record of success in the minors despite pitching in some unfriendly environments. He also gets nearly seven feet of extension on his pitches, which allows his 90 mph fastball to play up, and creates optical illusions with his sweeping, upper-70s slider. Martinez has been a starter throughout his professional career; we'd be interested in seeing him used as a multi-inning reliever.

Daniel Lynch, LHP: Lynch had a miserable 2021. He was too hittable in 27 appearances across Triple-A and the majors, resulting in an ugly 81 ERA+ in his first 68 big-league frames. We're sticking by his side because we still believe in his stuff. He has a fastball with more than 15 inches of induced vertical break, as well as a gyro slider that generated whiffs on more than 40 percent of the swings taken against it. An idealized Lynch is a middle-of-the-rotation starter; we think he'll move closer to that form before this season is out.

Brandon Marsh, OF: Let's keep this nice and simple. Six batters with at least 150 plate appearances launched a higher percentage of their batted balls in the 10-to-30 degrees window than Marsh did. Only one of those six, someone named Joey Votto, hit a higher percentage of their batted balls at 95 mph or higher. Assuming Marsh can get his strikeout rate in check (he punched out in 35 percent of his big-league plate appearances, well above his minor-league rates), we think he could be this year's Kyle Tucker .

Evan Phillips, RHP: Phillips, on his fourth team since the start of the 2018 season, is a 27-year-old with a career 6.68 ERA. We think he could become a fixture this year thanks to a sweeping slider that features more than 15 inches of break. For perspective on what a pitch like that can do for a fella, consider that the only relievers with at least that much break on their slider (and with more than 20 innings last season) were Ralph Garza Jr. (122 ERA+), Collin McHugh (256 ERA+), Adam Ottavino (113 ERA+), and Kyle Crick (96 ERA+). We feel like it's a decent bet that Phillips will improve upon his own career ERA+ (66) provided he gets the chance on the loaded Dodgers .

Jesús Sánchez, OF: Sánchez was once described to CBS Sports by an evaluator as the "best prospect nobody wanted." The Marlins eventually traded for him, and now he seems set to assume a bigger role with the major-league team. The book on Sánchez has been that he can impact the baseball, but that it's often at suboptimal angles, hampering him from tapping into his impressive raw power. It's either Sánchez or lefty reliever Sean Guenther for this spot; we'll take our chances with Sánchez.

Jake Cousins, RHP: The Brewers had three of the five pitchers (minimum: 20 innings pitched) likeliest to miss bats last season, in Josh Hader (No. 1), Devin Williams (No. 3), and -- you guessed it -- Cousins (No. 5). The man of the capsule was pitching in the American Association as recently as 2020. Now, he's about to see his Q score skyrocket thanks to a nasty slider that coerced a 51 percent whiff rate last season. Cousins is certain to be death on right-handers because of an extreme release point that sees him stand on the far third-base side, land closed, and release from a lower slot. He also generates nearly seven feet of extension on his pitches, creating an optical illusion that, at least so far, batters have been unable to overcome.

Trevor Larnach, OF: Larnach had a disappointing introduction to the majors, finishing last season with an 88 OPS+ that can be blamed on a swollen strikeout rate. We think he's worth keeping tabs on heading forward, with a chance at developing into a middle-of-the-order slugger. Indeed, we inadvertently made the case for Larnach breaking out back in January, when we analyzed Seiya Suzuki's ball-tracking data. The short version is that he has a patient approach and he hits the ball hard. There are worse foundations for a young hitter to have.

Nick Plummer, OF: The Mets don't have many true "breakout" candidates, leaving us to reach for Plummer. Truth be told, he might not get an opportunity to show his stuff given the Mets' projected roster. Oh well. Plummer is a former first-round pick who had disappeared from prospect lists. He raised his stock enough last season to earn a big-league deal as a minor-league free-agent. Some scouts have expressed reservations about him becoming more than a reserve outfielder, but crafting these breakout lists is a lot like being a Mets fan: ya gotta believe.

Kyle Higashioka, C: As with their NYC neighbors, the Yankees' roster is full of veterans. Higashioka himself will celebrate his 32nd birthday two weeks into the season. We're rolling with him anyway because he hit the ball much better last season than his topline statistics and his 71 OPS+ indicate. For instance, Higashioka's percentage of batted balls that were 95 mph or harder was within a percentage point of cold-corner sluggers like Matt OlsonBobby Dalbec and Pete Alonso. His average exit velocity also improved, from 88.1 mph for his career to 90.5 mph. One drawback is that his raw launch angle was one of the highest in the majors among batters with 200-plus trips to the plate, yet it should be noted that Mike Zunino just made an All-Star Game with an even more dramatic tendency to hit the ball in the sky. We agree the idea of Higashioka soaring to such heights after a 71 OPS+ season is unlikely, except Zunino himself had posted OPS+ of 66, 45, and 85 in the preceding three seasons. Hit the ball hard often enough and eventually good things will happen.

Zach Logue, LHP: We made the argument for Logue, who could start the season in the rotation if the A's trade away Frankie Montas and/or Sean Manaea, as part of our Matt Chapman trade analysis: "Logue, 25, popped up on the prospect radar last season after he improved his velocity and amassed a 3.67 ERA and a 5.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 125 innings split across Double- and Triple-A. He still doesn't throw hard, but there's a difference between sitting in the low-90s and working in the high-80s. Logue's best pitch is his changeup and he creates deception with a lower arm slot. In a vacuum, he projects as a back-end starter. The A's, thanks in part to playing in a cavernous ballpark, have received better-than-expected mileage from other finesse flyball lefties in the past, including Cole Irvin last season. Logue ought to get his shot at outperforming his scouting report soon, perhaps even out of the gate as a member of the A's remade rotation."

Alec Bohm, 3B: Bohm's defense at third base will fit right in with the rest of the Phillies' bat-first lineup. His bat might, too. Bohm's performance on line drives last season appears unsustainably poor. His batting average on them was well below the league standard, and his slugging percentage rivaled the likes of Luis Arráez, Matt Duffy and Elvis Andrus -- or, not exactly Ruth, Gehrig, and Meusel. True, Bohm's single-digit launch angle isn't optimized, but that shouldn't preclude him from doing better -- perhaps much better -- than he did last season.

Mitch Keller, RHP: Sometimes you have to give a player one more chance. And then give them one more chance after that. Keller, who will turn 26 before Opening Day, has amassed a 71 ERA+ in his first 39 big-league starts. He spent the offseason working hard and gaining velocity. Beats us if it'll translate into regular-season results this time, but we kept picking Nick Pivetta and it eventually paid off.

Ha-Seong Kim, INF: Kim isn't the flashiest defender. He's not out there stretching the limits of what people believe a shortstop can do, the way Javier Báez does. He is, nevertheless, a quality defender who makes all the plays with strong technique. Now that Kim has had time to adjust to life in America and in the majors, we think it's possible that his bat ticks up, too. We're basing this primarily on soft factors, human factors, rather than any underlying hint found in his data. If Kim's bat does perk up, he's going to be a nifty little player.

Jakob Junis, RHP: We laid out our belief in Junis at the onset of the offseason while wishing to see him morph into a sinker-slider reliever: "Junis altered his slider last season, throwing it two miles per hour harder and reducing the active spin from 62 percent to 38 percent. That combination allowed him to miss a higher rate of bats (40 percent) and generate better in-play results. Junis was ineffective overall, however, because opponents hit .296 off his four-seam fastball and .370 against his cutter."

Wyatt Mills, RHP: Mills is a sinker-gyro slider submarine reliever with a number of things working in his favor. His pitches have mirrored spin, making it tougher for batters to differentiate between them out of his hand. Additionally, both pitches benefit from seam-shifted wake, a fancy way of saying they move independent of their spin. Oh, and by the way, he generates nearly seven feet of extension -- that is, he releases the ball almost an NBA center-sized distance from the rubber. Add it all up, and Mills is a nightmare of optical illusions.

Drew VerHagen, RHP: Eric Longenhagen dissected some of the changes VerHagen made during his time in Japan. Really, we're picking him for two reasons: 1) the Cardinals are lean in alternates; and 2) he's a ground ball pitcher who will be chucking in front of the infield that last season converted the second highest percentage of worm killers into outs.

Tommy Romero, RHP: Romero split last season between Double- and Triple-A, accumulating a 2.61 ERA and a 4.68 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 110 innings. He may end up pitching in relief with the big team, but he has a special fastball from a high release point. Tom Seaver used to say the fastball is both, the most and second most important pitch. After Drew Rasmussen's success last season, who are we to question that wisdom?

Glenn Otto, RHP: Andy Ibáñez, Texas' probable starting third baseman, had too good of a run to end last season to include. We're rolling instead with Otto, who came over as part of the Rangers' return on Joey Gallo. Otto has good stuff, but has suffered through command and health woes during his professional career. He might end up in the bullpen; that's fine, he'll probably find a fair amount of success there.

Yusei Kikuchi, LHP: Maybe it's nonsensical to include a player who made the All-Star Game last season, but Kikuchi finished the season with a 94 ERA+. That raised his career figure to 86. The Blue Jays made a $36 million bet they can get more from his left arm. We think they might. Michael Ajeto, one of the better public-facing pitching analysts going, explained how on Baseball Prospectus .

Patrick Murphy, RHP: Murphy throws hard and he has a devastating curveball that mirrors his heater's spin. There's probably an effective reliever in here, and that's enough to lead the way for a Nationals team that remains in transition.