Last season a few of us landed on David Lough as the 2009 breakout performer and wow we're we right. He flew thru Wilmington, Arkansas and appears to be ready to start opening day in Omaha quite a jump for a off the radar "Non-Prospect". So who do I predict to breakout this season?
Starting Pitcher - Tyler Sample- Many with good reason have spotted Hayenga as the potential springboard guy this season so I won't jump on that bandwagon as well. But I'll spot another Burlington Bee Right hand starter. Sample had better peripherals than Hayenga last season and also finished the season very strong. Sample improved his control quite a bit from his '08 season in the Arizona Rookie league which will help tremendously in the Midwest League that is known for high strikeout to walk ratios. Sample has the body of a workhorse at 6'7 and 245 lbs and a good fastball 92-94 and a possible plus knuckle-curve. Those two pitches should be enough to pitch well in the Midwest league if he maintains the control he showed last season. If Sample makes a similar move forward to what he did last season then he might find himself in Wilmington late in the season where he'll need to show a better change up to be successful.
Positional Player- Johnny Giavotella- As we saw with Bianchi in '08 the Carolina League can be difficult to adjust to for minor leaguers and that was the case for Johnny. Gio suffered to a low BABIP for the season which was extremely low in April(.250) and May(.263) but maintained a patient approach (11.8% BB%) and despite only hitting .258 carried a .351 on base percentage. Expect Giavotella to bounce back in the hitter friendly Texas league if he maintains his patient line drive approach.
Relief Pitcher - Chris "Disco" Hayes- Disco is just too intelligent to not build on his performance at AAA last season. Actually hitters were pretty lucky hitting off Disco to the tune of .367 with a career low 50.3% ground ball rate. Expect both of those numbers to change this season as Disco should move his GB rate higher as he has done in every repeat job season of his career as well as a dip in BABIP. Omaha should have a pretty decent defense behind him with the likes of Irving Falu 2b Wilson Betemit SS, Alex Gordon/Kurt Mertins and a pretty athletic outfield BA/Jarrod Dyson, David Lough, Jordan Parraz and Buck Coats. Disco is heavily reliant on defense and that crew should help him out quite a bit.
Besides these 3 keep an eye on Mario Santiago, Matt Mitchell and Hilton Richardson to also make jumps. I try not to pick guys in the Top 10 as breakout performers because good performances are more expected out to those type players. When I'm talking about breakout as well I am talking about seasons that could vault these guys into the ranks of Top 10 type prospects or move to the major league level in the case of AAA guys. Predicting these are never easy as it is as much about focus and player desire as it is actual skill level.