Top 2024 Breakout Candidates for Each Team in the NL East

There's no shortage of talent in the NL East. Here are five names who could break out in a big way for their teams in 2024.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 29: Jarred Kelenic #10 of the Seattle Mariners holds up a "Believe" sign after the game against the Oakland Athletics at T-Mobile Park on September 29, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. The Mariners won 4-2. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Corbin Carroll and Gunnar Henderson took home Rookie of the Year honors in their respective leagues in 2023. You might call them “breakout” players because they truly did “break out” in their first season in the big leagues.

There’s only room for two award winners, though, which naturally excludes other less-heralded but still tremendous breakout campaigns from last year. Among them? The Orioles’ Kyle Bradish, the Mets’ Kodai Senga, the Rockies’ Nolan Jones and the Cubs’ Justin Steele come to mind.

So what does 2024 have in store for potential breakout players? Let’s dive into five names worth watching in the NL East.

Atlanta Braves Breakout Candidate: Jarred Kelenic, OF

2023 Stats: 105 G, 416 PA, .253/.327/.419, 11 HR, 49 RBI, 108 wRC+, 1.3 fWAR

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Jarred Kelenic was once a top prospect whose talent drew comparisons to Mike Trout.

Those days are probably in the rear-view mirror, but that doesn’t mean Kelenic can’t find a groove with the Atlanta Braves in 2024 after being traded from the Seattle Mariners this past winter.

Kelenic’s big league career has been interrupted by demotions to Triple-A due to lackluster performance and even freak injuries such as when he fractured his foot after kicking a water cooler in 2023.

Despite those circumstances, however, Kelenic is still just 24 years old with a chance to hit the reset button on an Atlanta Braves team that is nothing short of a juggernaut. He’ll have a chance to win their starting left field job outright, with the Braves deciding not to reunite with veteran Eddie Rosario while also trading his potential competition, Vaughn Grissom, to the Boston Red Sox in a deal for lefty starter Chris Sale.

If Kelenic can capitalize on this change of scenery while hitting behind some of baseball’s most talented players, his long-awaited breakout season may finally arrive.

Honorable Mention: Pierce Johnson, RP

Going from Coors Field to Truist Park is about as good as it gets for a pitcher. And after the Colorado Rockies dealt reliever Pierce Johnson to the Atlanta Braves at last summer’s trade deadline, the strikeout artist rewarded his new team’s gamble with a sparkling 0.76 ERA and 32 strikeouts over 23.2 relief innings down the stretch.

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Considering Johnson had a 6.00 ERA in Denver, that’s quite the turnaround. And we’re expecting Johnson to use those last two months of 2023 as a springboard for further success with the Braves in 2024.

Philadelphia Phillies Breakout Candidate: Johan Rojas, OF

2023 Stats: 59 G, 164 PA, .302/.342/.430, 2 HR, 23 RBI, 109 wRC+, 1.4 fWAR

Personnel shifts have necessitated reinforcements for the Phillies at various positions around the diamond, but especially in their outfield.

Nick Castellanos and Brandon Marsh (who just underwent a knee procedure) are the two best outfield options currently on Philadelphia’s roster, with Bryce Harper now at first base and Kyle Schwarber becoming the full-time designated hitter. That opens the door once again for Johan Rojas, who took complete advantage of his first crack at the big leagues in 2023.

Rojas, of course, won’t be alone in his pursuit of a starting job. He’ll be joined by veterans Jake Cave and Cristian Pache in a spring battle to break camp with the Phillies. But out of those three, none offers more total upside than Rojas.

Regression is probably due for Rojas’ bat in 2024 (his .268 xWOBA in 2023 indicates this), but that’s still better than either Cave or Pache’s offensive potential at the dish, while also providing outstanding defense.

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Ultimately, Rojas will need his bat to shine through once again if he’s to win back his job in 2024. Should that occur, we know the talent is there for him to become a potential breakout player for the Phillies.

Honorable Mention: Orion Kerkering

Orion Kerkering doesn’t just have a unique name; he also possesses a devastating, 80-grade slider that could become a true weapon out of the bullpen for manager Rob Thomson in 2024.

Kerkering only made three regular-season appearances in 2023 but they were electric (3.00 ERA, 1.26 FIP, 42.9 K%). The Phillies didn’t make any major acquisitions to fortify their relief corps ahead of this season, either, so they’re counting on the soon-to-be 23-year-old to make an impact right away.

Miami Marlins Breakout Candidate: Eury Perez, SP

2023 Stats: 19 GS, 91.1 IP, 3.15 ERA, 10.64 K/9, 3.05 BB/9, 1.4 fWAR

One could argue Eury Perez was already in the midst of a breakout season in 2023 after making his much-anticipated debut with the Miami Marlins last May.

Unfortunately, a lower back injury and an innings limit forced the 20-year-old phenom to prematurely end his year. He had struggled in four September starts prior to that injury, with a 5.19 ERA in those outings. That made sense given he had already doubled his total innings output by then, tossing 128 frames between the minors and majors.

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The Marlins will understandably handle Perez with caution as he (arguably) represents their best pitching talent while ace Sandy Alcantara is shelved for 2024 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Even before his September injury issues, Miami opted to shut him down just before the All-Star break before reinstating him in early August.

If Perez can stay healthy and build up his innings even more this season, he could have the biggest year of anyone on this list by a long shot. That’s how talented he is.

Honorable Mention: Anthony Maldonado

Most people don’t yet know who Anthony Maldonado is, but he’s a name to watch for the Marlins this season.

Maldonado, 25, was excellent in Triple-A last year, pitching to a superb 1.76 ERA in 46 innings while notching a strikeout rate of nearly 40%. That was enough to convince Miami to protect him from being selected in the Rule 5 draft last December.

The Marlins have a bounty of talented arms on their pitching staff, but Maldonado should nonetheless be in a prime position to nab a bullpen spot out of spring training this year.

New York Mets Breakout Candidate: Brett Baty, 3B

2023 Stats: 108 G, 389 PA, .212/.275/.323, 9 HR, 68 wRC+, -0.5 fWAR

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To say that Brett Baty has had an unceremonious start to his big league career would be understating things.

After a disappointing debut in 2022 with a 69 wRC+ and -0.1 fWAR, albeit in just 42 plate appearances, 2023 wasn’t better. In fact, Baty was sent back to Triple-A mid-season, which tells you what the New York Mets thought of his performance.

Fortunately for Baty, the Mets didn’t seek an external upgrade at third base this winter. And with fellow organizational top prospect Ronny Mauricio sidelined for 2023 with an ACL tear, it appears the 24-year-old has an inside track to the starting third base job to begin 2024.

If Baty comes anywhere close to his ZiPS-projected wRC+ of 102 and fWAR of 2.0 this season, the Mets would have to be thrilled with that. But for a former top-20 prospect in baseball, there is even more of a ceiling to dream on with Baty.

Honorable Mention: Mark Vientos

Vientos, like Baty, was a promising Mets prospect who has yet to deliver results at the highest level. But part of the reason New York didn’t acquire a designated hitter in free agency is because they believe Vientos and his raw power can be the answer.

The 24-year-old has just 10 career home runs in 274 plate appearances, but he did hit six in the month of September last year. Vientos is projected to hit 22 long balls in 506 plate appearances in 2024, per ZiPS. That would certainly constitute a breakout season for Vientos.

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It’s also worth mentioning the emergence of catcher Francisco Alvarez, who hit 25 home runs in his rookie season. Alvarez already broke out last year, as we ranked him inside the top 10 of our list of the top catchers in baseball. Still, at just 22 years old, the sky is the limit for Alvarez with the Mets.

Washington Nationals Breakout Candidate: Stone Garrett, OF

2023 Stats: 89 G, 271 PA, .269/.343/.457, 9 HR, 115 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR

In a forgettable 2023 season for the rebuilding Nationals, a few names stood out: Lane Thomas, CJ Abrams and Stone Garrett.

Garrett’s road to the Show was a long one, as he was drafted by the Miami Marlins in the eighth round of the 2014 MLB Draft. He made his debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2022, eight years later. But it wasn’t until last season in Washington D.C. that we would get a glimpse of what Garrett could offer on the diamond.

The 28-year-old recorded a surprising 115 wRC+ and 1.2 fWAR in 89 games played with the Nationals in 2023, while flashing some power with nine home runs.

Garrett likely won’t be ready for Opening Day in 2024 as he recovers from a fibula injury, but when he does return, he should once again see a path to regular playing time on a talent-deficient Nationals roster. A strong performance akin to his 2023 results could even lead to him being mid-season trade bait.

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Honorable Mention: Keibert Ruiz

We gave a nod to Ruiz in a recent article about underrated players on bad teams heading into 2024.

Just 25, Ruiz is slowly becoming one of the better young catchers in baseball and is projected to finish with above-average offensive production in 2024, per ZiPS. On the flip side, his defense was subpar in 2023, but we also anticipate improvement on that side of the ball with more big league experience.