By: Daniel Multz
With the postseason over, the award season and offseason are waiting in the wings. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the top breakout performers of 2018.
16) Jose Leclerc – Texas Rangers
In his second full season in the Majors, Leclerc pitched to a 1.56 ERA with a 0.85 WHIP and just one homer allowed over 57.2 innings. Leclerc is only 25 with four more years of control. He was one of the only bright spots on a 67-win Rangers team this season.
15) Mike Foltyniewicz – Atlanta Braves
Having never had more than 10 wins, 154 innings, or an ERA below 4.31, ‘Folty’ set career highs and lows in everything one would want to: 13 wins, 2.85 ERA, 31 starts, 183 innings, only 130 hits, 202 strikeouts, and a 1.08 WHIP. With three years of team control left, the 26 year-old first-time All-Star should lead the Braves pitching for years to come.
14) Eugenio Suarez – Cincinnati Reds
The 26 year-old had already been Cincinnati’s third baseman for three seasons, but this was the year he took the major leap forward. A 23-point jump in average (.260 to .283), a 64 point OPS-leap (.828 to .892), a first All-Star nod and career-highs with 34 homers and 104 RBIs. Suarez is locked up until 2025 to lead this team offensively.
13) Matt Chapman – Oakland A’s
Chapman’s rookie campaign made it clear how strong of a defender he is, but a .234 average wasn’t a great offensive showing. That changed this year: .278 average, 24 homers, 42 doubles and 100 runs scored, not to mention the great defense. He’s proven to everyone that he’s a cornerstone of this A’s team.
12) Max Muncy – L.A Dodgers
Muncy was seriously considering retiring from baseball after rough seasons in 2015 and 2016. Smacking 35 homers with a .391 OBP, and .973 OPS in 137 games playing multiple positions for L.A and their World Series Run is more than L.A could’ve ever imagined getting from Muncy, whose still only 27 with four more years of control
11) Miles Mikolas – St. Louis Cardinals
The now 30 year-old, Mikolas had a 5.32 ERA in three big league seasons before going to Japan after 2014. Four years later he returned and surprised everyone with his All-sSar season. 18 wins, 2.83 ERA in 32 starts and 200 innings, a 1.07 WHIP and just 29 walks. The hard-throwing control-artist has four more years of team control to spend in a developing young Cardinals rotation
10) Jesus Aguilar – Milwaukee Brewers
His first four years in the Majors had been nothing special and then 2018 came around. On a Brewers team full of great performances, Aguilar hit 35 homers, drove in 108 runs with an .890 OPS and received his first All-Star nod. Four more years of control means four more years of dingers for Milwaukee’s first baseman.
9) Alex Bregman – Houston Astros
The 24 year-old infielder had a strong season last year while fellow infielders Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa stole most of the show. But Bregman took a major stop forward and had the best season of the three in 2018. Hitting .286 with 31 homers, 51 doubles, 103 RBIs, 105 runs and 96 walks was quite the breakout campaign. To think that he’s only 24 and can get better than this!
8) Kyle Freeland – Colorado Rockies
Freeland not only had a great sophomore season, but deserves extra recognition for how well he pitched at Coors Field. Freeland pitched to a 2.40 ERA in 15 home starts with a little over one homer per nine innings. Add on his strong 3.23 road-ERA and Freeland ends up with a Cy Young deserving campaign. Even if he doesn’t get it, he proved he’s a young ace in the making.
7) Edwin Diaz – Seattle Mariners
‘Sugar’ has already logged two strong relief seasons with Seattle but his 2018 campaign was not only his best by far, but good enough to garner Cy Young votes. Diaz saved 57 games, good for second all time for a single season, pitching to a 1.96 ERA, striking out 124 in 73.1 innings with a 0.79 WHIP. Only one closer had a better season then Diaz in 2018 and he’s coming up soon.
6) Trevor Bauer – Cleveland Indians
Bauer’s 2018 numbers were better in EVERY way. Bauer pitched to a career-low 2.21 ERA with a career-high 221 Ks in a career-high 175.1 innings while allowing a career-low nine homers. Bauer made his first All-Star team in what was shaping up to be a Cy Young season for him. If he keeps up the 2018 pace next year, he’ll be a second ace for Cleveland along with Corey Kluber.
5) Javier Baez – Chicago Cubs
The defensive wizard finally had the breakout offensive campaign Cubs fans have been waiting for. Prior to 2018, Baez never had an OPS above .800 and was nestled in the .270s for average. Baez hit .290 with 34 homers, 111 RBIs to lead the NL, 9 triples, 21 steals and 101 runs scored in 2018 to shatter all past notions about his hitting. Baez is only 25, the best may be yet to come.
4) Aaron Nola – Philadelphia Phillies
Nola’s fourth big league season was his first full one and his best by far. His previous career-low 3.54 ERA was blown away by the 2.37 mark Nola reached in 2018, good for second in the NL. Nola also won 17 games, pitched 212.1 innings giving up just 149 hits and pitching to a 0.98 WHIP. If the 25 year-old keeps this up for the next three years, then in the tossup NL-East, Nola will be leading the Phillies all the way.
3) Blake Treinen – Oakland A’s
Even though Treinen has put up strong seasons in the past, he took 10 steps forward beyond that in 2018. Treinen pitched to a 0.78 ERA, going the final six weeks of the season without allowing an earned run, recording 38 saves and allowing 46 hits in 80.1 innings with 100 strikeouts. This was one of the best relieving seasons of all time, and Treinen established that at his best, he is one of if not the best right-handed bullpen arm in baseball.
2) Blake Snell – Tampa Bay Rays
Snell’s first two seasons consisted of struggling to get quick outs while also having command issues That all changed in 2018. Snell won 21 games with a 1.89 ERA in 180.2 innings. He also struck out 221 batters while his walks/9 dropped from 4.1 to 3.2, a good step in the right direction. Snell may be the last remaining traditional starting pitcher on a Rays team that patented the “opener” this season and his job is still vital to this team’s success.
1) Christian Yelich – Milwaukee Brewers
Yelich was a .290 hitter in his five years in Miami, but the one part to Yelich’s game that only developed this year was the home run power. Yelich hit 36 bombs, blowing his career high of 21 out of the water (pun intended), while also setting career-highs with a .326 average, 110 RBIs, 118 runs scored, a 1.000 OPS, and 187 hits. Yelich has at least two more years to spend anchoring Milwaukee’s lineup, now as one of the best hitters in baseball.
Just Missed: Nicholas Castellanos (DET), Kirby Yates (SD), Ryan Brasier (BOS), Joey Wendle (TB), Adalberto Mondesi (KC), Luke Voit (NYY), German Marquez (COL)