Who could be some of baseball’s breakout stars in the MLB playoffs?
As we move into the post season, the focus is on the big names, but here are a few players to keep your eye on that you may not know yet
Every year, the playoffs come with built-in storylines. Some are destined to be the hero, others the goat. And then there are those players who come seemingly out of nowhere, almost as if rising out of the mist to take the world by storm.
Freddie Freeman was last year’s chimera. Long known and loved in Atlanta, he was seen around the league as no more than a solid first baseman. Good bat, good fielding, nothing more. And then came the 2021 playoffs and Freddie rose to prominence, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot, printing his name on the national consciousness and ultimately earning a new contract and a move across the country to Los Angeles.
Atlanta team mate Eddie Rosario did likewise with a 14-hit, nine-RBI National League Championship Series, which earned him the MVP award for the series and led to Rosario bagging himself a two-year, $18 million contract extension.
This year’s playoffs are following a new format, with 12 teams involved and more games to be played, meaning that there are certain to be upstart players who will make their mark on the game in October. Here is our take on some of the ones to keep your eye on.
Michael Harris II, Atlanta Braves
The young, 21-year-old Georgia native has had an incredible rookie run for the Braves, so good in fact, that he and the organization agreed an 8-year contract extension worth at least $72 million in August.
He is being considered for the Rookie of the Year award and his numbers bear that accolade out, hitting 19 home runs, hitting .306 with an OPS of .882 in 392 at-bats.
When he has gotten on base, the threat just increases, having stolen 19 bases in only 21 attempts, he has the speed to make life uncomfortable for any pitcher who becomes lackadaisical in keeping him in check. Harris has been instrumental in Atlanta’s late run at the Mets in the NL East and will certainly give pitchers all kinds of trouble in the playoffs.
Lars Nootbaar, St. Louis Cardinals
The eighth-round pick in 2018 has been around the organization for a few years and has impressed the top brass enough to earn a spot in the outfield, even if his numbers have not exactly been eye-catching. All that changed, however, with the August trade deadline, when Harrison Bader was sent to the Yankees for Jordan Montgomery, giving Nootbaar his first extended action as an everyday baseball player and he came to life to meet the challenge.
He has hit .228 with nine home runs since deadline day, but his real contribution has been on the defensive side of the ball, where he has gunned down nine runners at the plate on throws from right field.
At the plate, while his numbers may not exactly excite the reader, his discernment should. He is a highly disciplined hitter, who gets more walks than strikeouts, and can make solid contact. If he improves his bat control even slightly, his average should jump 100 points and home runs will follow.
Spencer Strider, Atlanta Braves
Drafted by the Braves in 2020, Strider has already had a breakout season in Atlanta, moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation in May and becoming the first MLB rookie in a decade to record 200 strikeouts, and the fastest rookie to ever reach that mark.
Leaning on a fastball and a slider, the Clemson grad is recovering from a muscle strain and is expected to return to duties for the playoffs. With the pitching duel that is going on in the National League, with the Mets, the Dodgers, and the Braves bunching together the majority of baseball’s top arms, Strider is one who will stand his ground with the best of them.
Amed Rosario, Cleveland Guardians
Picked up from the Mets as part of last season’s Lindor trade package, Amed Rosario is now completing his first full season as the Guardians’ short stop. After an abortive attempt to move him into the outfield in 2021, he managed to take over the middle infield duties from Andrés Giménez and has never looked back.
During the Guardians’ surge toward the top of the AL Central, Rosario tied a club record by becoming the third hitter in franchise history to have two four-hit games in the same day, during a doubleheader sweep of the Twins on September 17th.
He is a top leadoff man, leading the league in triples with nine, and has the speed to make any hit a single. In a lineup that is designed around the Guardians’ ability to get on base, Rosario is the top of the heap.
Evan Phillips, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have one of the most fearsome bullpens in baseball, but with that bullpen now arm-weary and depleted going into the back end of the season, the True Blue Dodger fans will be looking for some good news. And it is provided in the form of Evan Phillips.
Through August, Phillips pitched 11.2 innings and maintained a clean sheet, a perfect 0.00 ERA. During that run, he had a streak that included retiring 29 consecutive batters. For the season, he has allowed only 29 hits, which places him fourth in baseball, and is tied for second in earned runs, having surrendered just eight.
With the Dodgers leaning more heavily than perhaps they would like to on Julio Urías and Tony Gonsolin, it is a relief for them to know that they have a mop-up man who is as dependable as the sunrise.