In every MLB season, players at every position establish themselves as a top player in the game, despite not being mentioned in any talks as someone of that caliber. Now that the season is about a third of the way through, the sample size is starting to reach a level where there is enough information to prove if their level of success is sustainable across an entire season.
For a player to be considered a breakout player, they are expected to perform at a much higher rate than their previous seasons in the majors, or blow the field away as a rookie, cementing themselves as a high-caliber player from day one. Breakout players are commonly 26 years old or younger, but there have been some late bloomers this season that have taken longer to find their stride in the majors.
This list will consist of one infielder, one outfielder, one starting pitcher, and one relief pitcher who have established themselves as some of the top MLB players in 2023.
Nolan Gorman, 2B/DH, St. Louis Cardinals
Slash line: .272/.360/.555
The 19th overall pick in the 2018 draft had lofty expectations to live up to as a big-time bat that could easily hit 30 home runs in a season. Gorman is in his first full season in the majors and looks to be living up to the hype that cemented him as one of the top players in St. Louis’ farm system. In 51 games this season, the 23-year-old has been one of the most consistent bats in a lineup that has surged in recent weeks. Gorman played 89 games with the Cardinals in 2022, in which he found some success with 14 homers, just 1 more than his current total in 2023. His defense has pushed him more into the role of a designated hitter, but his bat is a critical part of the lineup and should continue to be for years to come.
Brent Rooker, LF, Oakland Athletics
Slash line: .260/.365/.509
In an abysmal season for Oakland, Rooker has been one of the few bright spots for the team with the worst record in baseball. His incredible start to the season saw him near the top of the league in major stat categories like OPS, OPS+, and wRC+. The 28-year-old has had stints in the majors with Minnesota, San Diego, and Kansas City since 2020, but never to the extent of success that he’s had in 2023. Rooker could be a hot commodity at the trade deadline for a team in need of a big bat going into the postseason, and with Oakland’s willingness to trade top players in recent years, this could become an interesting development.
Mitch Keller, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
W-L: 7-1 ERA: 3.25 IP: 74.2 SO: 93 WHIP: 1.09
Quietly becoming one of the top pitchers in the National League, Keller has established himself as the ace of a Pittsburgh staff that has struggled mightily in recent seasons. The addition of a cutter to his arsenal has been a major part of his success, moving from throwing his fastball and slider nearly 80% of the time in 2022 to becoming a four-pitch pitcher this season has kept hitters off balance. Pittsburgh jumped out to an early division lead in the NL Central, with Keller playing a large part in that as he continues his impressive season, most notably with a complete-game shutout against Colorado on May 8th.
Yennier Cano, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
W-L: 1-0 ERA: 0.93 IP: 29.0 SO: 30 WHIP: 0.59
This pick shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Cano has been the most dominant pitcher in the majors this season. His fastball-changeup combo has put him in the category of top relief pitchers in baseball, coming off a 2022 season with Minnesota and Baltimore in which he finished with an 11.50 ERA in 13 appearances. His dominance has played a huge role in the breakout of Baltimore as a team, who currently sit in second place of the powerhouse AL East, just 4 games behind Tampa Bay. Cano has hardly allowed any hard contact this season, as he has not allowed a home run in 23 appearances and is in the 85th percentile in barrel rate and 91st in xSLG.