Top 2024 Breakout Candidates for Each Team in the NL West

Brandon Pfaadt will hope his postseason breakout persists in 2024, while Michael King tries to maintain his success as a full-time starter.

Brandon Pfaadt of the Arizona Diamondbacks looks on against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning in Game Seven of the Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park.
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 24: Brandon Pfaadt #32 of the Arizona Diamondbacks looks on against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning in Game Seven of the Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park on October 24, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The five clubs in the NL West couldn’t be more different from one another heading into the 2024 season, but here’s one thing they have in common: They’re all counting on young players to break out as full-time contributors.

The Dodgers need some fresh arms to step up to fill out the rotation. The Diamondbacks are counting on several youngsters taking another step forward to help them defend their NL pennant.

Meanwhile, the Giants will need plenty of breakout performances if they’re going to return to contention, and the Padres need just as many lucky breaks to make up for all the talent they lost this winter.

Then there are the Rockies. Even if everything breaks right, they don’t have a path to the postseason. Still, it would make the season a lot more enjoyable in Colorado if the team had a few more exciting players to root for.

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Wrapping up Just Baseball’s series of potential breakout players to watch in each division, here are the top breakout candidates in the NL West for 2024.

Arizona Diamondbacks Breakout Candidate: Brandon Pfaadt (RHP)

2023 Stats: 19 games (18 starts), 96 IP, 5.72 ERA, 5.18 FIP, 0.3 fWAR

Pfaadt made his highly-anticipated debut for the Arizona Diamondbacks last May, but his rookie campaign wasn’t nearly as successful as the D-backs might have hoped. To be fair, just about every rookie season in Arizona over the past 26 years would pale in comparison to Corbin Carroll’s phenomenal performance… but I digress.

In 19 outings, Pfaadt averaged five innings per start with a 5.72 ERA and 5.18 FIP. His overall numbers look a lot better if you remove a handful of dreadful outings in May and June, but even so, he looked more like a back-end starter than the first-division No. 3 he was hyped up to be.

Then October hit.

Pfaadt pitched to a 3.27 ERA and 3.35 FIP in five postseason starts. His strikeout rate skyrocketed from 8.81 K/9 in the regular season to 10.46 K/9 in the playoffs. Manager Torey Lovullo kept him on a tight leash, but even so, the way he pitched against the Dodgers, Phillies, and Rangers – three of the top offenses in the game – was admirable.

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If Pfaadt keeps shoving like he did in the playoffs, the Diamondbacks will have one of the better starting rotations in the National League. That’s a lot to ask of the youngster, but there’s a reason this guy was a top-100 prospect at this time last year.

Honorable Mention: Alek Thomas (CF)

As Thomas enters his third big league season, he has yet to make much of an impact for the Diamondbacks. However, it’s important to remember that he’s only 23 years old and won’t turn 24 until the end of April. He’s just getting started.

Thomas has run a shockingly low .268 BABIP over the past two years, which is especially surprising for a player with his speed and groundball tendencies. If his BABIP rises and he continues to build on the power he showed last season, he could approach a league-average level with the bat. Combine that with his good baserunning and strong center field defense and you’ve got a pretty useful ballplayer.

Colorado Rockies Breakout Candidate: Ryan Feltner (RHP)

2023 Stats: 10 starts, 43.1 IP, 5.82 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 0.9 fWAR

If you’ve read any “breakout candidate” pieces from other sources this offseason, Feltner probably wasn’t the name you saw next to the Colorado Rockies. That’s fair. He’s hardly an exciting choice.

However, the more exciting choices for Colorado already had their breakouts last year, namely Nolan Jones and Ezequiel Tovar. Feltner might not be anything more than a back-end starter, but if he can establish himself as a reliable rotation piece over a full season in 2024, the Rockies should be thrilled.

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Over the past two years, Feltner has tossed 140.2 innings with a 5.82 ERA and a 4.58 FIP. A skull fracture and concussion kept him out for most of the 2023 season, but he is healthy entering 2024, and a spot at the back end of the Rockies’ rotation is his to lose.

Entering spring training, he spoke to Thomas Harding of “Last year was supposed to be my breakout year… But everything happens for a reason. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it. I’m trying to look at the positive side of it. I’m more ready than I’ve ever been.”

Those are certainly encouraging words.

Honorable Mention: Brenton Doyle (CF)

Doyle already broke out as a defender and baserunner last season, stealing 22 bases and posting 16 OAA in center field. As for his bat? Well… no one ever expected him to contribute much with the stick.

That said, I’m hopeful Doyle can do better than the horrendous 43 wRC+ he posted last season. Maybe he can only get that number up to a pitiful 63, but that would still be a massive improvement. Statistically speaking, the difference between a 43 wRC+ and a 63 wRC+ is the same as the difference between a 90 wRC+ and a 110 wRC+.

If Doyle can just hit like an awful big leaguer (instead of a pretty good little leaguer), his defense and baserunning can make him a playable everyday center fielder.

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Los Angeles Dodgers Breakout Candidate: Bobby Miller (RHP)

2023 Stats: 22 starts, 124.1 IP, 3.76 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 2.8 fWAR

You could argue Bobby Miller already broke out last year, but I’m pretty sure 2023 was just the appetizer. Miller will enter the 2024 season with a full-time job in the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation and a chance to establish himself as a top-25 arm in the game.

Miller put up 2.8 fWAR last year across 22 starts. If he takes a small step forward and makes an extra eight starts, we could be looking at a four-win pitcher. That sounds pretty nice next to Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow, and Walker Buehler in the Dodgers rotation.

Honorable Mentions: Gavin Stone (RHP) and Emmet Sheehan (RHP)

The Dodgers bulked up their rotation in a big way this winter, but they’ll still need one of Stone or Sheehan to step up and play a meaningful role. Hopefully for L.A., one of these two young righties will take that opportunity and run with it.

San Diego Padres Breakout Candidate: Michael King (RHP)

2023 Stats: 49 games (9 starts), 104.2 IP, 2.75 ERA, 3.13 FIP, 2.2 fWAR

King is in a similar position to fellow NL West righty Miller. You might think he already broke out last year, but just wait until you see what he can do over a full season.

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King has longer error bars than Miller, but his performance last season was even more remarkable. In 40 appearances out of the bullpen, he posted a 3.08 ERA. Upon moving to the Yankees’ rotation full-time in late August, he pitched to a 2.02 ERA in seven starts.

The sample size is small, but the underlying numbers support King’s transformation into a legitimate rotation piece; there’s a reason the San Diego Padres asked for him as part of the return package for Juan Soto. The ZiPS projection system thinks he could put up 2.8 fWAR over a full season of work in 2024. That’ll play.

Honorable Mention: Luis Campusano (C)

After a slow start to his big league career, former top prospect Campusano burst onto the scene in 2023. In 49 games, he posted a 134 wRC+ while playing solid, if unspectacular, defense behind the plate.

The lumbering backstop won’t be able to maintain a .331 BABIP in the long term, but as long as he keeps his strikeout rate low and continues to pull the baseball, he can be an above-average offensive catcher.

San Francisco Giants Breakout Candidate: Patrick Bailey (C)

2023 Stats: 97 games, 353 PA, .644 OPS, 78 wRC+, 13 DRS, 17.4 FRM, 2.8 fWAR

I know what you’re thinking: What is this, another guy who already broke out in 2023?

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I feel you, but hear me out. Bailey was the most valuable defender in baseball (per FanGraphs) over 97 games last year. Can you imagine what he could do over a full season?

According to Baseball Savant, the San Francisco Giants catcher produced 18 fielding runs in 2023. Dating back to 2016, just 24 other players have had such a productive defensive season. Only Bailey accomplished the feat in fewer than 800 innings.

So, allow me to repeat: Can you imagine what he could do over a full season?

Honorable Mention: Jordan Hicks (RHP)

Fireballing right-hander Hicks has appeared in more than 200 games since his rookie season in 2018. Only a small handful of those appearances were starts, and suffice it to say, they didn’t go so well.

However, no one can deny that Hicks has tremendous stuff. The Giants gave him a four-year, $44 million guarantee with a plan to convert him into a starting pitcher, and they wouldn’t have done so if they didn’t think he could pull it off. Maybe the whole experiment will be a disaster, but it’s hard not to get excited thinking about Hicks hitting triple digits out of the rotation.