Every year in the MLB, there are players who build a reputation in the league by putting together some consistently productive games, which could be considered a breakout year. An example from 2020 is Randy Arozarena, who provided seven homers for the Rays in the last month of the regular season, and took his hot streak into the playoffs. Here is a player from each team in the NL Central who can have a breakout season in 2021.
Chicago Cubs: Nico Hoerner (INF)
Nico Hoerner is in a race for the second base spot with the Cubs. Even if he doesn’t start, he should get a solid amount of playing time when an infielder gets an off day given his position flexibility. In just 68 big league games across 2019 and 2020, Hoerner is slashing .247/.309/.333. Although he played a majority of his innings in the middle infield, he also appeared at third base, center field and left field. This gives the 23-year-old plenty of opportunities for at-bats in 2021.
Cincinnati Reds: Tyler Stephenson (C)
At the time of writing, Baseball-Reference has Tyler Stephenson listed as a “Catcher, Pinch Hitter and Designated Hitter.” It seems like Stephenson can get a chance at the starting catcher spot over Tucker Barnhart, but either way it looks like the Reds really want to get him at-bats. He has only played in eight big league games, but has already put up some notable numbers with a slash line of .294/.400/.647. It’ll be interesting to see how the Reds utilize Stephenson this year.
Milwaukee Brewers: Orlando Arcia (SS)
Although Orlando Arcia is a veteran entering his sixth big league season, and he has been a solid defender, he hasn’t had the offensive numbers to match. He did have his highest OPS (.734) in a single season last year by slashing .260/.317/.416. However, this was only through 59 games, so it is tough to tell how his slash line could have been with a full season. He has a lot of big league experience, and he is still just 26-years-old, so he could still have a breakout season at the plate that could help him in his career.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Mitch Keller (RHP)
Mitch Keller has 16 starts across 2019 and 2020, and has had two very different seasons. He struggled in 2019, posting a 7.13 ERA in 48 innings pitched. The 24-year-old allowed 72 hits and 38 earned runs with a WHIP way up at 1.833. He turned things around drastically in 2020. Through five starts, Keller had a 2.91 ERA in 21 2/3 innings. A huge difference is that he allowed 9.8 less H/9, going from 13.5 to 3.7. If Keller can continue to have those 2020 numbers this season, it could really help him have a breakout year in 2021.
St. Louis Cardinals: Harrison Bader (CF)
Similar to Arcia, Harrison Bader has been in the league for multiple seasons and has some crazy defensive highlights. His hitting hasn’t been up to par with that defense, although his 2020 line of .226/.336/.443 is a step in the right direction. His .779 OPS from last year is a single-season best. His second best was a .756 OPS in 2018 when he finished sixth for NL Rookie of the Year. This was in 50 games, so if he can put up similar numbers through a full season, he could be in a spot to breakout.
Featured Image Courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.