Top 2024 Breakout Candidates for Each Team in the AL Central

There is plenty of young emerging talent in the AL Central. Here are five names who could break out in 2024.

Royce Lewis of the Minnesota Twins celebrates in the dugout after hitting a home run during game four of the Division Series against the Houston Astros on October 11, 2023 at Target Field.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 11: Royce Lewis #23 of the Minnesota Twins celebrates in the dugout after hitting a home run during game four of the Division Series against the Houston Astros on October 11, 2023 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

Last season, Gunnar Henderson unanimously won the 2023 American League Rookie of the Year Award. The runner-up was Cleveland Guardians right-handed pitcher Tanner Bibee, who finished in second place with 67 total points. In addition to Bibee, the AL Central also boasted Minnesota Twins second baseman Edouard Julien, who finished seventh in AL ROTY voting.

While neither player walked away with any hardware, they still had breakout seasons and solidified themselves as building blocks for their respective teams. This year, several more players in the AL Central could establish themselves with huge breakout seasons.

So, which players in the AL Central can we expect to break out in 2024?

Let’s dive into each team’s breakout candidates, sorted by 2023 standings.

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Minnesota Twins Breakout Candidate: Royce Lewis

2023 Stats: 58 G, 239 PA, .309/.372/.548, 15 HR, 52 RBI, 2.4 WAR

We were able to see a glimpse of what Royce Lewis is capable of last season, but not the entire season. Still, considering Lewis lost the 2020 minor league season to the COVID-19 pandemic (like a lot of young players) and the majority of his next two seasons due to a pair of right ACL surgeries, he was finally able to show the world what he has the potential to do in the early part of the 2023 campaign.

The former No. 1 overall pick from the 2017 MLB Draft now has an official position at third base and a clean bill of health going into the 2024 season. Expectations for Lewis are very high. In fact, Mike Petriello of believes he is a dark horse AL MVP candidate. This all makes him an easy choice as the top breakout candidate for the Twins.

Honorable Mention: Louie Varland, P

In the past, Louie Varland hasn’t been able to convince the Twins that he is a consistent starter for their rotation. Last season, he finished with a 4-3 record, posted a 4.63 ERA, 71 strikeouts, and a 1.22 WHIP. The Twins trading with the San Francisco Giants to bring in Anthony DeSclafani makes the battle for the fifth spot in the starting rotation interesting, but Varland arguably has the higher ceiling.

Late last season, Varland was dominant as a reliever, which has the fans and front office talking about whether long-term he is a starter or a reliever. It is a possibility that whoever wins the final starter slot in Minnesota, the other may see some time as a reliever.

It’ll likely come down to how Varland performs this spring to see who starts the season in the rotation. So far this spring, Varland has pitched four scoreless innings and is coming off an appearance yesterday where he recorded four of his six outs via strikeouts.

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Whichever way Minnesota decides to deploy him, expect Varland to have a great season whether it’s as a reliever or back-end starter in their rotation.

Detroit Tigers Breakout Candidate: Tarik Skubal

2023 Stats: 15 GS, 80.1 IP, 2.80 ERA, 102 strikeouts, 0.90 WHIP

The Detroit Tigers are looking to improve this season and be more competitive in the AL Central race. Leading the charge in Detroit will be left-handed pitcher Tarik Skubal.

Skubal has yet to pitch a qualified season in the majors, but he is approaching 2024 as a dark-horse Cy Young candidate.

One could argue that Skubal already had his breakout season in 2023. However, others believe we are just scratching the surface of what the southpaw can do on the mound.

Skubal had an expected ERA of 2.28 last year and his 2.00 FIP was the best mark in baseball among pitchers who threw at least 80 innings. The Tigers are hoping they can contend this year in a wide-open AL Central and having an ace like Skubal is a big reason for that belief.

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Honorable Mention: Sawyer Gipson-Long, RP

Sawyer Gipson-Long is one of a handful of Tigers prospects who have already spent time in the majors. In his four starts in the big leagues last year, he posted a 2.70 ERA, 26 strikeouts, and a 1.10 WHIP — a solid stat line. Before we get attacked, yes, he faced the Royals, A’s, Angels, and White Sox in those 20 innings, but regardless, he put together some quality work on the mound.

For the long term, Gipson-Long likely projects as a fourth or fifth starter in the rotation. However, he could be a decent relief option for the Tigers in 2024, once he recovers from a left groin strain. He doesn’t overpower hitters on the mound, but he can induce a lot of swings and misses with his changeup and slider. Gipson-Long is a name to watch this season in Detroit.

Cleveland Guardians Breakout Candidate: Bo Naylor

2023 Stats: 230 PA, 11 HR, 32 RBI, .237/.339/.470, 2.4 fWAR

It’s funny to think that Bo Naylor has played just half a season’s worth of games in the majors.

The 24-year-old catcher had an incredible 28-game stretch to end the ’23 season. From August 19th through the end of the season, Naylor’s 1.113 OPS led the AL (min. 90 PA). He also hit .321 with eight doubles, seven home runs, and 18 RBI in that time.

Playing alongside an improving Cleveland team and a new coaching staff, not to mention his brother, should give Naylor a ton of confidence as he enters his first full season. Coming into 2024, he should have enough resources to help him break out.

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Honorable Mention: Gabriel Arias, UTL

The Guardians have themselves a friendly position battle at shortstop, between Gabriel Arias and Brayan Rocchio. Arias has more big league experience, but he still has more to prove if he wants to beat Rocchio, one of the top prospects in the Guardians’ organization.

If Arias wins, he’ll get to show what he can do in a regular role at a key position. Meanwhile, if Rocchio wins the shortstop job, Arias will likely find himself more in right field. That should take some pressure off him and allow him to focus on his offense.

Chicago White Sox Breakout Candidate: Andrew Vaughn

2023 Stats: 615 PA, 146 hits, 21 HR, 80 RBI, .258/.314/.429, 0.3 fWAR

Andrew Vaughn, 25, will do what he can to help the White Sox improve in 2024. Although his offense took a bit of a step back, he looked much more comfortable playing first base than he did in the outfield. If Vaughn can hit like he did in 2022 (113 wRC+) while playing a full season at first base, this could be the year he finally puts it all together.

Honorable Mention: Dominic Fletcher, OF

The White Sox recently acquired Dominic Fletcher in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and so far this spring, he has been the team’s new leadoff hitter.

Last season, in 102 plate appearances, he posted a .301/.350/.441 line in his first season as a major leaguer. He spent most of the year at Triple-A Reno. There, he hit .291/.399/.500 with 10 homers in 334 PA.

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Fletcher could fill the desperate need for a new leadoff hitter in Chicago, and he brings a quality bat to the plate to replace Tim Anderson, who had a rough 2023. A 26-year-old Fletcher steps into Chicago in 2024 with low expectations for both himself and the team. If he can continue to limit his strikeouts and continue to hit for a high average, we could see him become one of the best lead-off hitters if not in the AL, the division in 2024.

Kansas City Royals Breakout Candidate: Cole Ragans

2023 Stats (Combined between TEX and KC): 29 G, 96 IP, 3.47 ERA, 113 K, 1.16 WHIP

Cole Ragans pitched incredibly for a struggling Royals team last year, posting a 2.64 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 11.18 K/9 in his 12 starts in Kansas City. He has already shown off that same dominance in 2024, with a quality performance to open up his spring against the Los Angeles Angels. He struck out five and walked none in two scoreless innings.

He then followed that up yesterday by pitching three scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and one walk, to go along with three more strikeouts.

It is clear to see how great Ragans can be, and honestly, if you’re choosing one player in the division as a potential breakout player, he is likely the leading candidate.

In 2024, Ragans will be looking to incorporate a two-seamer/sinker into his arsenal, and if he gets comfortable with his new pitch, the AL Central could be in a whole lot of trouble. This could be the year we watch him become one of the better pitchers in all of baseball.

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Honorable Mention: Maikel Garcia, 3B

Maikel Garcia is looking to take the next step in 2024. In 123 games last season, he quietly recorded 126 hits, a .272 average, and 23 stolen bases. The Royals, for their part, have shown they believe in Garcia. He didn’t have the best start last year at Triple-A Omaha, but they decided to call him up to the bigs anyway.

Since moving to third base, Garcia has shined brightly. Last season, when Bobby Witt Jr. needed a day off at shortstop, Garcia would move over to take his spot. He also practiced in the outfield. Indeed, he is willing and capable to play anywhere his team needs him to.

Garcia put together a pretty good rookie year, and now he finds himself another asset for the Royals to build around, along with Witt and Ragans.