Who's ready for next step toward superstar status?
Once the pomp and pageantry of the Opening Day experiences dies down, there will still be plenty of reasons to remain excited about the long slog that is the MLB season.
Here, then, is a lineup -- let's call it the All-Breakout Team -- of guys who have already made strong early impressions in their Major League careers and could or should enter the ranks of the elite in 2013.
(UPDATE: Some readers took issue with a few of my original selections for this list, arguing that said players -- Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton and Yu Darvish -- had already "broken out" despite my belief that they have only scratched the surface and are primed to take their games to new heights in '13. This is all subjective stuff, obviously, but I am nothing if not a man of the people... I think. So changes have been made below.)
C: Salvador Perez, Royals: Much focus will rightly be placed on Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, who could carry Kansas City's lineup if they reach their potential. But don't forget that Perez is a big, big reason why the Royals got so aggressive this winter. They see him as a star. A knee injury cost Perez the first two and a half months of 2012, but he recovered to turn in a .301/.328/.471 slash line with 11 homers and 39 RBIs. He could provide elite power from his position, though he does have to improve his walk rate. Perez is just 22 years old, so it's going to be awfully interesting to see what he does with his first full season of plate appearances.
1B: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs: What can I say? I'm biased toward the paisans, so Rizzo, a fellow Italian-American, claims this spot. It is, however, much deserved after he hit .285/.342/.463 with 15 homers in 87 games last year. Rizzo's Triple-A numbers from last season -- .342/.405/.696 with 23 homers -- lead you to believe this was no fluke. He went deep on the first pitch he saw in 2013, and there's plenty more to come. The Red Sox and Padres both traded Rizzo before he turned 23, and they'll be kicking themselves for years to come.
2B: Jason Kipnis, Indians: Kipnis, like his Tribe team, suffered a second-half slide in production in 2012, but it was wholly unfair for a guy in just his first full big league season to be such a focal point of an offense. The additions of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds should ease the pressure on Kipnis, who has the power and speed to become an elite producer at a position he's grown accustomed to after a 2010 conversion from the outfield. Kipnis had an .863 OPS in his Minors career and has the potential for that level of production in the bigs.
SS: Andrelton Simmons, Braves: As the winter free-agent and trade markets proved, there is a scarcity of impact shortstop talent in the game today. No wonder the Rangers locked up Elvis Andrus with a long-term contract despite the impending presence of top prospect Jurickson Profar. You can't be too careful with your options at such a pivotal position. That's what makes the 23-year-old Simmons such an exciting talent -- one who evaluators believe has the talent to become the best shortstop in the game by season's end. Not bad for a guy who was a pitching prospect just three years ago. He gets on base, he limits his strikeouts and, after a solid showing in his first 49 Major League games last year, he's ready to become the new star of the left side of Atlanta's infield. Anyone who watched him play for the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic got a glimpse of what Simmons can do.
3B: Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays: Lawrie is on the disabled list with a rib cage injury. Not a good start for a guy who missed more than a month with an oblique issue last season and whose durability is under constant scrutiny given the high-speed way he plays the game. Whatever. I still think Lawrie's going to have a monster year in an intriguing Jays lineup. Teammate Mark DeRosa said it's no stretch to compare Lawrie to the next guy on this list, and that's a high compliment. Lawrie's power took a dip in '12. He pounded more balls into the ground, and the injury issue certainly compromised his production. Once Lawrie is back up to speed, I'm anticipating a 20-plus-homer season.
LF: Chris Carter, Astros: I had Bryce Harper in this spot initially. The rationale was that as historic a teenage season as he had in 2012, Harper did slump a good portion of the summer and -- in mind and body -- should be ready to ascend into the MVP discussion in '13. Understanding, though, the argument from some readers that he already "broke out," let's give the nod here to Carter, who had a .514 slugging percentage in 260 plate appearances with the A's last year and now has a legit everyday opportunity with Houston. Carter is a viable 30-homer threat.
CF: Desmond Jennings, Rays: After a strong rookie showing in a small sample size in 2011, Jennings had a disappointing '12, as his walk rate declined and he suffered a knee injury that cost him a month. Durability is a question mark with Jennings, but he has 20-homer, 40-stolen-base potential if he can stay on the field and be disciplined at the plate. The Rays were very encouraged by his spring showing, and they're counting on big things from him in the leadoff spot this season.
RF: Dominic Brown, Phillies: I'm asking Brown to shift from left to right. I think it's worth it to get his bat in this lineup. He had a stirring spring, benefiting from some changes in his swing he and hitting coach Wally Joyner put in place. And now that Brown is fully recovered from hamate bone surgery in '11 and has a spot in the Phils' lineup thanks to Delmon Young's spring injury, this looks like it could be the year he capitalizes on his long-touted potential. I initially had Giancarlo Stanton here, not because he wasn't already on the mainstream radar but because it is entirely realistic to suggest he'll hit 50 homers this season.
SP: Matt Moore, Rays: Yu Darvish is ready to leap into the American League Cy Young Award discussion this season, which is why I originally had him here. But because Darvish, by virtue of the hoopla surrounding his entry to the Majors, is obviously not new to the national consciousness, let's give our starting nod to Moore. He was sensational at the tail end of '11 but so-so in spurts in '12. But Tampa Bay knows how to develop young pitching, and I expect improved command from the get-go from Moore this season, particularly after the second-half adjustments he demonstrated last season. The Rays might miss James Shields' ability to eat innings, but Moore has greater upside.
RP: Greg Holland, Royals: We saw some sensational closer performances from the likes of Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Fernando Rodney last year, and so it was easy to miss a development like the one in Kansas City, where Holland took over the closing duties for a bad Royals team and really took a liking to the role. Holland had some bumps in the road in 2012 -- most notably when he tried to pitch through a rib fracture in April -- but he showed flashes of the dominant ninth-inning option he could become. Holland has a 11.6 strikeouts-per-nine and a 3.08 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 145 2/3 innings in the bigs.