Who Is The Breakout MLB Hitter Of 2023?

Image credit: Bobby Witt Jr. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

This is one of eight burning questions comprising Baseball America’s 2023 MLB Season Preview. To see the full preview, click here

Matt Eddy—Riley Greene, OF, Tigers. Drafted fifth overall in 2019, Greene had his 2020 season wiped out by the pandemic but then hit his way to Triple-A in 2021. He looked like a lock for the Tigers’ Opening Day roster last season, but a broken foot suffered late in spring training set him back. When Greene reached Detroit in mid June, he managed to hold his head above water but did not exactly dominate. That probably should have been expected for a 21-year-old whose development had been dysregulated by the pandemic and then an injury. But what is encouraging about Greene’s growth potential is that his barrel rate, zone-contact rate and chase rate were all better than the MLB average.  

Josh Norris—Gabriel Moreno, C, D-backs. Acquired in the deal that made Daulton Varsho a Blue Jay, Moreno has shown throughout his time in the minor leagues that he’s an exceptionally pure hitter. If his power returns nearly two years after a wrist injury, he could be a force in the desert. 

Carlos Collazo—Bobby Witt Jr. SS, Royals. There’s something about Bobby Witt that I just can’t quit. There’s nothing wrong with being a league average hitter as a 22-year-old shortstop in the bigs, but I know there’s upside for significantly more and I’m betting Witt takes the next step in his sophomore season. 

Kyle Glaser—Andrew Vaughn, 1B, White Sox. Vaughn has handled himself well as a hitter in the major leagues despite being rushed and being forced to play out of position. Now that he gets to slide back to his natural first base, watch for him to break out and become the offensive monster predicted out of the draft. 

Ben Badler—Vinnie Pasquantino, 1B, Royals. We started to see it last year in a partial season with Pasquantino, who hit .295/.383/.450 in 72 big league games. Now we could see him take the next step and put himself in the conversation among the top five first basemen in baseball.

Geoff Pontes—Lars Nootbaar, OF, Cardinals. Few players were better in the second half of the season than Nootbaar. Over his final 67 games Nootbaar hit .240/.366/.480 with 10 home runs, a strikeout rate of 16.7% and a walk rate of 16.7%. The wildest part is Nootbaar’s batting average on balls in play was unusually low at .248. If Nootbaar’s batted ball luck regresses back to the norm, he could be a potential star breakout in 2023. 

Chris Trenkle—Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Tigers: Torkelson had an abysmal rookie season, posting a 77 OPS+, but I’m betting on pedigree here. I think Torkelson and Riley Greene will form an exciting top-of-the-lineup combo in Detroit this season.

Savannah McCann—Oneil Cruz, SS, Pirates. There is no doubt that Cruz has a ton of power in his 6-foot-7 frame—his average exit velocity is in the 91st percentile among MLB players and has maxed out at 122.4 mph. In addition to his raw power, the Pirates’ shortstop is quick and has a ton of basestealing ability. The home run potential is there, however, there have been questions about his consistency. While he tops out as one of the hardest hitting players in the league, he struck out almost 35% of the time. If Cruz’s plate discipline improves and his launch angle moves to a league average 12%, joining the 30-30 club is a real possibility.  

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