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Five MLB breakout candidates: Jackson Holliday, Evan Carter and more

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As we get closer to baseball finally returning — we are now just a little more than a week away from the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres kicking things off in Korea — I have chosen five MLB position players who I believe are primed for breakout years in 2024.

These five players, chosen in no particular order, are younger guys who I believe are destined to become stars in the big leagues and who I expect to take big steps toward that level this coming season. 

Remember, last year at this time I was hyping up a certain Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder named Corbin Carroll and starting the #MVPCC campaign. Carroll might not have won MVP, but a landslide National League Rookie of the Year win and surprise playoff run to the World Series is a pretty good consolation prize.

Let’s get to it, starting with someone who has not even played an MLB game yet, but who should do so very, very soon.

Jackson Holliday, Baltimore Orioles

2023 stats (minor leagues): .323/.442/.499, 12 home runs, 75 RBIs, .941 OPS 

Holliday should be on the Orioles’ Opening Day roster coming out of spring training. Regardless, he will be in the majors before long. He’s the No. 1 prospect in baseball and knows what it takes for consistent success at the highest level — just look at his dad, seven-time All-Star Matt Holliday. 

Like his father, Jackson is an absolute star who seems destined for a long, successful MLB career. Unlike his father, Jackson hits from the left side of the plate. I believe this guy will be a do-it-all superstar for many years, and that journey should start when he makes his MLB debut on March 28 in Camden Yards against the Los Angeles Angels.

Evan Carter, Texas Rangers

2023 stats (regular season, 23 games): .306/.413/.645, five home runs, 12 RBIs, 1.058 OPS

This is probably the most familiar name on this list to most baseball fans because of what Carter did in the postseason last year to help the Texas Rangers win their first World Series. Yet Carter has still only played 23 MLB regular-season games. I was so impressed last October with how much he excelled on baseball’s biggest stage despite his lack of experience and his age — only 21 years old.

Carter has discipline at the plate beyond his years, along with incredible speed and superb outfield defense. He can do it all, and he has already proven as much. I can’t wait to see a full season of Evan Carter in the majors and believe he has an excellent chance to win American League Rookie of the Year in 2024.

Five breakout players for MLB’s 2024 season

Elly De La Cruz, Cincinnati Reds

2023 stats (98 games): .235/.300/.410, 13 home runs, 44 RBIs, .710 OPS

De La Cruz’s first stint in the major leagues was essentially the opposite of Evan Carter’s. Whereas Carter became a key spark in a World Series championship team despite not much initial fanfare when he first arrived in the major leagues in September, De La Cruz’s debut with the Reds in June was met with an incredible amount of hype. And De La Cruz initially delivered but then struggled mightily as the season continued.

Is he going to bounce back? Is his approach going to be different? Is he going to cut down on strikeouts and put more balls in play? De La Cruz can do it all. He broke the Statcast-era record for the hardest throw across the infield last season. He has an extremely rare combination of light-tower power and blazing speed. Now, he just has to put it all together, and this is the year to do it. 

The Reds need De La Cruz to be that face-of-the-franchise-type guy this year. As his teammate Jonathan India told me in a recent interview, the team is taking on a no-excuses mindset this season as they attempt to make the playoffs for the first time in 2020 and first time in a 162-game MLB season since 2013. Nothing can help propel them towards that goal more than De La Cruz living up to his incredible potential more consistently.

Cincinnati Reds’ Jonathan India on postseason chances & young core

Riley Greene, Detroit Tigers

2023 stats (99 games): .288/.349/.447, 11 home runs, 37 RBIs, .796 OPS

Greene has not really had a clean slate yet in his career. He was originally supposed to debut with the Tigers on their 2022 Opening Day roster, but foot and elbow injuries have limited him to just 122 total games over the past two seasons. He was still effective when healthy, though, with a career .271 batting average, 37 doubles, 16 home runs and 79 RBIs. I have long felt that Spencer Torkleson was the crown jewel of this Tigers youth movement, and I still believe in the 2020 MLB Draft No. 1 pick. But I believe Riley Greene has shown what it takes to be an All-Star in this league on both offense and defense, and I’m excited to watch him take another step this coming season.

Francisco Alvarez, New York Mets

2023 stats (123 games): .209/.284/.437, 25 home runs, 63 RBIs, .721 OPS

I’m so excited for Alvarez’s first full MLB season. I think his average and plate discipline will improve — I expect far better than a .721 OPS out of him next season. Yet he still had 25 home runs, and I think he will beat that number as well. Alvarez said recently he wants to break the Mets franchise record for home runs by a catcher, currently held by Hall of Famer Mike Piazza with 200. I believe he will make a lot of progress towards that goal in 2024 — and help a Mets team with far fewer expectations compared to last year compete for a playoff spot.

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Ben Verlander is an MLB Analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the “Flippin’ Bats” podcast. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization. Follow him on Twitter @BenVerlander.


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