From rookies bursting onto the scene to former top prospects reaching their potential to long-established veterans finding new levels of success, every season has its share of breakout stars. While brief, the 2020 campaign was no different in this regard.
On Sunday, MLB Network counted down 2020’s best breakouts. Here’s a rundown of the 25 players who made the list.
Establishing his “Airbender” changeup as
Arozarena didn’t make his 2020 debut until Aug. 30, but he takes the No. 2 spot on this list after swatting seven homers over 76 plate appearances in the regular season and following that up with a postseason run for the ages. The rookie slugger set playoff records for hits (29) and homers (10), and he posted a .377/.442/.831 slash line under the bright lights of October, helping Tampa Bay reach the World Series.
Building on a strong showing after making his MLB debut late in 2019 (six homers, .885 OPS), Lewis continued to display plus power last season while proving to be a capable defender in center field. The 25-year-old won the American League Rookie of the Year Award after finishing first among rookies in homers (11), runs (37) and FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (1.7).
With Mike Soroka and Cole Hamels missing much of the season due to injuries, the Braves were in great need of a rotation boost when they summoned Anderson from the Minors in late August. The 22-year-old righty obliged, recording a 1.95 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP and 41 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings.
After bouncing between the rotation and the bullpen for the Dodgers over his first four seasons, Maeda was traded to the Twins last February and emerged as Minnesota’s ace in 2020. Earning a second-place finish in the AL Cy Young Award race, Maeda led MLB with a 0.75 WHIP and went 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA, 80 strikeouts and 10 walks in 66 2/3 innings.
Hernández was only slightly better than league average over 2018-19 (107 OPS+), but he made notable strides in ’20. Ranking among the big league leaders in hard-hit rate (53.1%) and barrel rate (18.0%), Hernández produced 16 homers with a .919 OPS (146 OPS+) in 50 games, helping the upstart Blue Jays reach the postseason for the first time since 2016.
The man standing tall on the mound at the end of the World Series? None other than Urías, who closed out Game 6 of the Fall Classic with 2 1/3 perfect innings to put the finishing touches on a spectacular postseason and give the Dodgers their first title since 1988. After recording a 3.27 ERA across 55 frames in the regular season, Urías went 4-0 with one save, a 1.17 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 23 innings during the playoffs.
On the heels of an 8.82 ERA over 49 innings in 2019, Burnes tweaked his repertoire last season and became one of MLB’s most effective hurlers, earning a sixth-place finish in the NL Cy Young Award voting. The right-hander was especially dominant in his final eight starts, allowing one or no earned runs in six of them and recording a 1.65 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP and 64 strikeouts over 43 2/3 innings.
Robert entered 2020 amid considerable hype and largely lived up to it, making his presence felt all over the field. While a September swoon caused his OPS to drop more than 220 points, Robert slugged 11 homers, stole nine bases in 11 attempts and won a Gold Glove Award.
The Braves won all but one of Fried’s 11 starts in 2020, as the left-hander allowed no more than three earned runs in any outing. All told, Fried went 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 56 innings for the NL East champions.
After playing just nine games in 2016 and making zero MLB appearances over ’17-18, Solano re-emerged to hit .330 over 81 games in ’19. He kept it up last season — his age-32 campaign — slashing .326/.365/.463 (128 OPS+) for the Giants. The performance earned the veteran a Silver Slugger Award.
The universal designated hitter allowed the Mets to get both Pete Alonso and Smith in the lineup on a regular basis in 2020, and the latter took advantage of the increased playing time, posting a .316/.377/.616 slash line with 10 homers and 21 doubles over 199 plate appearances. The 25-year-old tied for fifth among qualifiers with a 169 OPS+ — one point better than Angels superstar Mike Trout and three points higher than AL MVP Award winner José Abreu.
Despite the condensed schedule, Voit set a career high with 22 homers in 2020, leading the Majors and keeping the Yankees’ offense on track during a year in which Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu and Gio Urshela missed a combined 96 games and Gary Sánchez and Gleyber Torres struggled.
After missing all of 2018 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Lamet showed promise over 14 starts in ’19 (4.07 ERA, 12.9 K/9). The right-hander found another gear in ’20, riding his blazing fastball and top-notch slider to a 2.09 ERA, a 0.86 WHIP and 93 K’s in 69 innings.
Candelario’s success was arguably the biggest positive of the 2020 season for the rebuilding Tigers. After struggling across ’18-19 (.216/.312/.372), Candelario hit .297/.369/.503 this past season, as his hard-hit rate (47.1%) and barrel rate (10.3%) reached career-high levels.
With Gerrit Cole departing as a free agent and Justin Verlander undergoing Tommy John surgery, Valdez was thrust into a key role in 2020. He capitalized on the opportunity. After leading Houston in innings (70 2/3) and finishing with a 3.57 ERA and a 76-to-16 K/BB ratio in the regular season, the left-hander added a 1.88 ERA over 24 innings in the playoffs.
Traded to the Halos after recording a 5.13 ERA with a 1.9 HR/9 rate for the Orioles over 2018-19, Bundy found new life on the West Coast. The right-hander not only posted the best K/BB ratio of his career (4.2) but also yielded just five homers in 65 2/3 innings (0.7 HR/9), contributing to a 3.29 ERA.
The third overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, Bohm never appeared above Double-A before getting called up to the Majors in ’20, but he looked MLB-ready upon his arrival in mid-August. Producing a .338 average and an .881 OPS over 44 games, Bohm received nine of the 30 first-place votes in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting and tied for second place with the next man on this list.
Acquired alongside Tommy Pham in the trade that sent Hunter Renfroe and two Minor Leaguers to the Rays in December 2019, Cronenworth ended up outperforming both Pham and Renfroe this past season. Settling in as San Diego’s starting second baseman, Cronenworth hit .285 with four homers and an .831 OPS (128 OPS+) over 192 plate appearances, and he tied Bohm for second in the voting for the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
After playing for three teams (Mets, Dodgers, Rays) in 2019, d’Arnaud signed a two-year deal with the Braves last offseason and had the best season of his career at age 31. With MLB’s second-best hard-hit rate (57.8%) and 10th-highest sweet-spot rate (42.2%), d’Arnaud batted .321/.386/.533 with nine homers and 34 RBIs in 44 games and won a Silver Slugger Award.
The Padres dealt Eric Lauer and Luis Urías to the Brewers last offseason, getting back Zach Davies and Grisham, who would become one of the most valuable players in baseball in 2020. The 24-year-old tied for 16th among MLB position players with 2.3 fWAR, as he produced 10 homers and 10 steals and played Gold Glove defense in center field.
A year after spending the entire first half in the Minors, Happ was instrumental in helping the Cubs win the NL Central in 2020. While Kris Bryant, Javier Báez and Kyle Schwarber each posted an OPS+ below 90, Happ led the club with a 131 mark, hitting .258/.361/.505 with 12 homers in 57 games.
Tucker was one of two Minor Leaguers to produce a 30-30 season in 2019 (Robert was the other), and he brought his power-speed blend to the Astros’ everyday lineup this past season. The 23-year-old had 27 extra-base hits — including nine homers and an MLB-leading six triples — to go along with eight steals and a 123 OPS+ over 58 games.
Gallen has quickly established himself as one of MLB’s most consistent starters since his 2019 debut. The right-hander set a record by beginning his career with 23 consecutive starts in which he allowed no more than three earned runs, and he finished his second season with a 2.75 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP and a 10.3 K/9 rate over 72 innings.
With a distinct over-the-top delivery that makes his curveball especially tough to hit, Karinchak baffled MLB hitters in his rookie season. Among pitchers who threw at least 20 innings in 2020, only Devin Williams had a higher strikeout rate than Karinchak (48.6%), and just three hurlers — Williams, Liam Hendriks and Brad Hand — had a lower FIP (1.52).