5 Breakout Players from 2023 Who Are Picking Up Where They Left Off 

These five breakout players finished strong in 2023 and are continuing their momentum early into the 2024 season.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - APRIL 03: Cole Ragans #55 of the Kansas City Royals pitches against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 03, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

We’re officially off and running with the 2024 MLB season, but some players aren’t letting us forget how good they were in their 2023 breakout performances.

For these five, specifically, this season will mean proving to the baseball world that their impact and production across small sample sizes last year wasn’t flukish. And while this will be easier said than done over 162 games, a strong start gives us reason to confide in their abilities.

Here are five breakout players from 2023 who appear to be picking up where they left off to begin 2024.

Cole Ragans

Cole Ragans was one of Just Baseball’s top breakout candidates heading into 2024 and early on, he’s delivering the goods.

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Traded to the Kansas City Royals last summer for Aroldis Chapman (who helped the Texas Rangers win a World Series), Ragans, a former first-round pick by the Rangers, blossomed into a quality starting pitcher in the season’s final two months with a 2.64 ERA (2.49 FIP) in 12 outings. Other metrics also favored his initial performance with the Royals, such as his 11.2 K/9 and 0.4 HR/9 in those 12 starts.

And those strong results have carried into Ragans’ first two starts of 2024, where he’s compiled a 1.46 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. In fact, his most recent outing against the Baltimore Orioles might’ve been his best showing yet, as the 26-year-old held the defending AL East Champions scoreless over 6.1 innings at Camden Yards.

If he continues to pitch at an ace level throughout the 2024 season, the Kansas City Royals would have to be pleased with that.

Nick Pivetta

Nick Pivetta wasn’t a breakout player in the traditional sense last season, but he finished on a high note with a 3.30 ERA in eight second half starts following a pedestrian 4.83 ERA in the first half.

A big reason for the decrease in ERA? An uptick in strikeouts (12.5 K/9 vs. 10.6 K/9) while limiting traffic on the base paths (0.96 WHIP in the second half, down from a 1.30 mark in the first half). And he’s been effective in maintaining those trends to start 2024, with a sparkling 0.82 ERA and 13 strikeouts in his first two starts of the season.

The Red Sox won’t be very good in 2024 and after losing Lucas Giolito to injury prior to Opening Day, their rotation depth was already stretched thin. That only places a heightened importance on Pivetta continuing to round into his second-half form throughout this season.

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Spencer Steer

If not for “Elly Mania” or the parade of position player prospects the Cincinnati Reds called up to the big leagues in 2023, perhaps more of the spotlight would shine on Spencer Steer.

Steer, acquired by the Reds with fellow infielder Christian Encarnacion-Strand in 2022 in a trade that sent right-hander Tyler Mahle to the Minnesota Twins, became an offensive force in his first full big league season. To that end, his 23 home runs, 118 wRC+ and 2.1 fWAR over 156 games in 2023 made him arguably the most consistent threat in Cincinnati’s lineup as well.

So you guessed it: he’s off to a hot start to begin 2024.

Though the sample size is limited, Steer’s 212 wRC+ in six games already includes a clutch extra-inning grand slam against the Phillies. That’s how you make your presence felt.

If the Reds are going to contend for a playoff spot in 2024, they’re going to need Steer’s middle-of-the-order production to remain at a high level, particularly as their younger players begin to assert themselves and the growing pains that accompany that development.

Yainer Diaz

No team churns out homegrown talent year after year like the Houston Astros have (though teams like the Atlanta Braves are getting close). And we can now add catcher Yainer Diaz to that list.

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Diaz, 25, had a breakout of his own in his rookie season, with a 23 home runs and a 127 wRC+ in 104 games (good for 2 fWAR). Never mind the fact that those are solid offensive numbers on their own; Diaz plays a position that is typically starved for offense. That only made his output more impressive upon further reflection.

Now that he’s replacing veteran Martin Maldonado (who signed with the Chicago White Sox), the Astros will finally receive above-average offense from the catcher position thanks to Diaz, whose two long balls and 271 wRC+ in his first seven games played this season are a testament to his hit tool.

Diaz is projected to finish the 2024 season with 2.3 fWAR, meaning Houston can hope for similar production to last season. Let’s just hope regression doesn’t set in too quickly.

CJ Abrams

CJ Abrams already looks like the Washington Nationals’ shortstop of the future after his breakout in 2023 (2.1 fWAR, 18 home runs), his second full season in the big leagues.

Acquired in the groundbreaking Juan Soto trade between the Nationals and Padres in 2022, the 23-year-old Abrams still has plenty of room to grow, which potentially gives him the highest ceiling of any player listed here.

And he’s off to a fast start in 2024, with two home runs and three stolen bases in just six games played (his OPS is up to 1.074 in the small sample).

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If you’re excited about Abrams, you should be. FanGraphs is pegging the shorstop to finish with 2.3 fWAR the rest of the way, a figure which appears even gaudier on a bad Nationals team. And don’t forget about that blazing speed; he’s also projected to finish the season with 37 stolen bases.

Abrams’ hot start in 2024 should only constitute the beginning of another big campaign.