HomeTrending MLB NewsThree National League players poised for breakout seasons

Three National League players poised for breakout seasons

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The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres opened the MLB season on March 20-21 in South Korea, but 24 other teams will take the field for the first time in 2024 on Thursday. In preparation for Opening Day, here are three National League players who could be on their way to a breakout season.

Catcher Francisco Alvarez, New York Mets

The 22-year-old burst onto the scene as one of MLB’s top young offensive catchers last season, but inconsistent play prevented him from making a full-fledged breakout. Across 123 games in 2023, Alvarez slashed .209/.284/.437 with 25 home runs, the second-most by a catcher in his age-21 season or younger, behind only Johnny Bench, per MLB.com’s Sarah Langs

Considering his production at the plate mainly fluctuated on a month-to-month basis, a 35-homer season could be within reach for Alvarez in 2024 as he gains more experience and confidence. 

Having caught for future Hall of Famers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander early in his career should also benefit Alvarez when calling games for a Mets rotation filled with question marks this season. However, he’ll have to continue improving at keeping opposing base-runners in check, an area he struggled mightily in as a rookie. 

After posting an abysmal 13.2% caught stealing rate in 2023 (MLB average is 19%), Alvarez led the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues in runners caught stealing with five this spring, according to MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo. Of course, spring training stats don’t always translate to the regular season, but if Alvarez maintains his progress in this department, he could quickly emerge as one of the better all-around catchers in baseball. 

Shortstop Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh Pirates 

Many expected 2023 to be the 6-foot-7 shortstop’s breakout year, but his season lasted only nine games due to a broken left fibula suffered during a collision at home plate. There’s plenty of reason to believe Cruz will finally be able to come into his own after showing promise as a rookie in 2022. Cruz slashed .233/.294/.450 that season with 17 HR and 54 RBI in only 87 games.

Now that he’s fully healthy, Cruz has already picked up where he left off at the plate, hitting a spring training-leading seven home runs while posting a slash line of .261/.333/.739. With his freakish blend of power and speed, Cruz could ultimately hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in 2024, assuming he can stay on the field. 

First baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Cincinnati Reds 

While his teammate Elly De La Cruz is a breakout candidate in his own right, Encarnacion-Strand doesn’t get as much attention despite having a promising start to his MLB career.

The 2021 fourth-round pick hit .270/.328/.477 with 13 home runs and 37 RBI across 63 games in 2023. Although those are respectable marks, Encarnacion-Strand’s finish to the season is particularly noteworthy. Over 23 games spanning September and October, Encarnacion-Strand showcased his power, posting a .963 OPS with eight home runs and 18 RBI, but he also had a stellar .301 batting average.

As mentioned earlier, spring training results should be treated with caution, given the limited sample size, though Encarnacion-Strand’s stats suggest he’ll look more like the hitter he was at the end of last season in 2024. In 51 at-bats, Encarnacion-Strand collected 17 hits, five homers and 14 RBI while posting a batting average of .333 and an OPS of 1.166. 

Given that Great American Ballpark has been the most home run-friendly MLB stadium in seven of the past eight seasons, according to Forbes, don’t be surprised to see Encarnacion-Strand near the top of the HR leaderboard this summer.

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