One of the consistently wonderful aspects of professional sports are the players that really blossom into superstar quality athletes during a season. These players aren’t part of the preseason hype by the mass media but make a name for themselves with their play on the field.
As we embark on a historical, abbreviated 60-game season next week, here is a list of one player on each AL West club that may be ripe for a 2020 breakout.
Houston Astros – Josh James
Josh James’s name has been lost in the shuffle among the Houston Astros’ ranks of All-Star-caliber starters the past several seasons but things could change for him this season. The departure of Gerrit Cole and the aging of other key starters provide James a great opportunity to expand on his 2019 success in 2020. While Lance McCullers Jr. returns from injury and Jose Urquidy gets the bulk of breakout press, James could be the one who steals the show in 2020.
James pitched 48 of his 49 games for the Astros out of the bullpen last season but should start the season in the back end of the Astros’ rotation behind Verlander, Greinke, McCullers, and Urquidy in 2020. James struck out 100 would-be hitters in 61.1 innings last season and has registered an amazing 21 strikeouts in 11 postseason innings the past two Octobers.
Los Angeles Angels – Dylan Bundy
Brian Goodwin and Tommy La Stella had breakout seasons last year but two pitchers look to surprise baseball fans from the Angels’ staff in 2020. Dylan Bundy was a top draft pick and prospect that suffered injuries and never met his potential in Baltimore. The Angels acquired him in December and he has teamed up with Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway. He now looks to have reinvented himself. His success coupled with the health of Andrew Heaney and Shohei Ohtani are key in the Angels’ chances to reach the postseason in 2020.
Jacob Barnes already had a breakout of sorts with Milwaukee between the 2017 and 2018 seasons but his performance dropped off the map in 2019 between stints in Milwaukee and Kansas City. Joe Maddon likes Barnes’ make-up and he could give the Angels’ late-innings options of Hansel Robles, Ty Buttrey, Keynan Middleton, and Cam Bedrosian an additional boost and surprisingly strong bullpen.
Oakland Athletics – Sean Murphy
While pitchers Jesus Lazardo and A.J. Puk are obvious top pitching prospects that are likely to factor into the 2020 Oakland rotation and bullpen, it’s their promising young catcher that could break out this year. 25-year-old Sean Murphy made his MLB debut last season for Oakland, appearing in 20 games and hitting .245 with four home runs in 60 plate appearances. His bat was off to a great start in the first spring training and without the presence of another veteran catcher should get a chance to prove himself every day this season.
Murphy will benefit from hitting in a lineup with a lot of good hitters and continue to improve his defensive side of catching as game-caller and controlling the baserunning in the coming years. Fantasy baseball owners would be smart to snatch Murphy up in the late rounds if looking for a second catcher.
Seattle Mariners – Kyle Lewis
The 2020 Seattle Mariners have a slew of young prospects that could see starting roles. First baseman Evan White, second baseman Shed Long, and outfielders Jake Fraley and Kyle Lewis all look to play substantial roles for Seattle this year. Kyle Lewis was the 11th overall selection of the 2016 draft by Seattle so he’s hardly an unknown commodity to Mariners fans. However, since Mitch Haniger is still recovering from his injuries, Lewis has a golden opportunity to get a full, 60-game season of plate appearances as the club’s starting right fielder.
Expect Lewis to ultimately challenge Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley for appearances if Haniger returns to the lineup in 2020. Lewis has speed, power, and good defensive prowess and promises to be an exciting part of the Seattle youth movement in the coming years.
Texas Rangers – Jonathan Hernandez
A lot is made out of the Texas Rangers’ strong starting rotation last season and heading into this season. This is usually accompanied by the list of starting pitchers Lance Lynn, Corey Kluber, Mike Minor, Kyle Gibson, and Jordan Lyles. However, the name most people in baseball will be familiar with in the Rangers’ rotation by the end of this season and for years to come is 24-year-old Jonathan Hernandez.
Hernandez provided Rangers fans with a brief nine-game preview last season and he was rolling in the club’s first Spring Training before everything shut down for four months. Hernandez will need to get better with his command but he demonstrated some adjustments and improvement this spring. Hernandez should creep into the Rangers’ 2020 rotation and become a key component in their run for the postseason this year. If the Rangers do decide to keep Hernandez out of the rotation, don’t be surprised to see the young hurler factoring into games out of the Texas bullpen.