Villar, Puk among 10 MLB players poised for breakout in 2023

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Regular season baseball is almost here.

With the World Baseball Classic over and spring training nearing its conclusion, we’re now just over a week away from opening day.

Rosters are being finalized after nearly a month of preseason action, as several young stars are set to star in the big leagues.

Here are 10 MLB players – six hitters and four pitchers – who are primed for a breakout season in 2023:

George Kirby, Mariners

While Julio Rodriguez stole the show as AL Rookie of the Year for Seattle, Kirby quietly put together a strong campaign. He debuted in May and made 25 starts over the season, going 8-5 with a 3.39 ERA, 133 strikeouts and just 22 walks in 130 innings. Kirby, 25, has All-Star potential in just his second season.

Andrew Vaughn, White Sox

The former No. 3 pick hasn’t yet established himself in Chicago, with two inconsistent seasons to start his career. Vaughn was moved all over the field, playing the corner outfield and every infield position except shortstop. Now that Jose Abreu is gone, he’ll be Chicago’s everyday first baseman – his natural position. That consistent role should help Vaughn at the dish.

Alec Bohm, Phillies

Bohm’s rollercoaster career in Philadelphia reached a new high in 2022. After expressing some displeasure with the city, he finished his season strong (.280, 72 RBIs in 152 games) as the Phillies made a run to the World Series. Star slugger Bryce Harper is set to miss a few months, so even higher expectations will be placed on the 26-year-old third baseman in 2023.

Brayan Bello, Red Sox

Don’t let Bello’s record (2-8) and ERA (4.91) from last season fool you. Boston’s top pitching prospect was unlucky throughout his 13 appearances (11 starts) after being called up in July. He had a 2.94 FIP, which essentially is a calculation of ERA based on things a pitcher can control. The 23-year-old right-hander will start the season on the IL, but he’s expected to return sometime in April.

Seiya Suzuki, Cubs

Injuries cost Suzuki some games during his rookie year, but his first year in the United States was an overall success – 14 home runs, 46 RBIs, .770 OPS in 111 games. While he’ll miss the start of 2023 with an oblique injury, he should return by late April or early May. After a productive offseason, 28-year-old outfielder has high expectations for year two in Chicago.

A.J. Puk, Marlins

The Athletics traded their former first-round pick to the Marlins this offseason, where Puk now enters a critical season. The southpaw will turn 28 in April, but he’s only played one full MLB season. In 62 relief appearances last year, Puk had a 3.12 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 66.1 innings. He’ll be expected to produce even better numbers for a Miami squad looking to make a postseason run.

Oneil Cruz, Pirates

One of the most polarizing players in baseball, Cruz had some electrifying moments as a rookie. The 6-foot-7 (!) shortstop had the hardest-hit ball of 2022 while totaling 17 home runs and 54 RBIs in 87 games. On the negative side, Cruz hit .233 with 126 strikeouts – which easily would’ve led the league if he played a full season. Those physical tools are too tantalizing to overlook, though.

Dustin May, Dodgers

In 2019 and 2020, May shined in limited action as a supporting character for the Dodgers. The hard-throwing righty was expected to star in 2021 after winning a World Series ring, but he had to undergo Tommy John surgery in the opening months of that season. May, 25, returned for six starts at the end of 2022 and now he’ll have a full season of presumed health.

David Villar, Giants

With Evan Longoria out of the picture, third base belongs to Villar in 2023. The 26-year-old slugger hit 36 combined home runs last season between Triple-A and MLB. He debuted for the Giants in July and finished the season with nine home runs and 24 RBIs in 52 games. To build even more hype, eight of those nine home runs came in the final 29 games of the season.

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