As far as picks to click in 2016, we did the pitchers over the weekend, so now let's take a look at the hitters. Much like the pitchers, last year’s hitters picks to click involved some big hits -- thank you, Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Xander Bogaerts -- and perhaps let's not dwell on how things didn't work out so well with Oswaldo Arcia and Michael Saunders. Keeping in mind that we'll have no carry-overs or repeats from last year, who have I got this year?
Sano is just a half-season into his big league career, but he made an immediate impression last year while coming back from a 2014 season lost to an elbow injury. After belting 15 homers in Double-A to earn a promotion, Sano hit 18 homers to help keep the Twins in the American League wild-card hunt down the stretch. So that's already a big splash from a player who has populated top 10 prospects lists for several years, but it prefigured even more to come. How much more? I'm tabbing Sano as the top breakout hitter in baseball because he'll be just 23 years old in 2016 and already has a shot at winning the AL home run crown.
How good is that shot? Even Steamer's comparatively conservative projection puts Sano at 34 homers, with Mike Trout leading the way with 37 blasts. Taking it up a notch, Bill James' projection for Baseball Info Solutions pegs him at 37, behind Trout and Jose Bautista with 39 apiece, and Chris Davis with 40 if he's a member of the Baltimore Orioles. But Davis isn't an Oriole (yet), Bautista is headed into his age-35 season and has had a number of injury-marred seasons, and Trout might get pitched around a lot in a thin Los Angeles Angels lineup.
So, while the 2014 injury delayed his arrival, Sano is just beginning to come into his own. He won't just be the centerpiece in a much-improved Twins lineup, he'll be an instant MVP candidate. And if I'm going to pick anybody to win the American League home run crown in 2016, I'm picking Sano, here and now.
A year ago, Soler was a Cuban import pegged for a huge rookie season after slugging .700 in the minors in 2014. But his 2015 season ended up being a disappointment because he never really got on track, first losing a month midyear to a sprained ankle, then most of a second month down the stretch to a strained oblique that threatened to end his season. But Soler followed that up with a torrid October, tearing up the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets and reminding everyone why the Cubs paid $30 million for him in the first place. The Cubs obviously recognize what they have, keeping him in the face of ubiquitous offseason speculation that he'd be dealt, and should reap the benefits of that commitment in the next five seasons. Sixty extra-base hits and a .500 slugging percentage should both be in reach, starting now.
Looking at just OPS, I'm sure that the numbers don't seem very much like a breakout, especially since Freeman looks like a fairly well-known quantity at this point of his career. Nevertheless, 2016 will be a big year for Freeman. He's seen his OPS slip in consecutive seasons after his huge 2013 campaign (.897 OPS), but he managed a .195 isolated slugging rate -- almost a career high -- last year despite losing time (and power) to persistent wrist problems, in addition to losing time to an oblique strain. If he was capable of nearly showing off career-best slugging despite a power-sapping wrist injury, what do you think he's capable of when he's healthy? Freeman is only going to be 26 years old in 2016, in the prime of his career. Expect career highs in the power department on top of his exceptional plate coverage; a bad Braves team might limit him to down-ballot consideration in the National League MVP vote.
We've been waiting on Myers to finally bust out for a while, what with his staggered arrival in 2013 before winning AL Rookie of the Year with the Tampa Bay Rays, and then losing big chunks of both of the past two seasons with wrist problems, breaking his right wrist in an outfield collision in 2014, then needing mid-season surgery on his left wrist to remove a bone spur. As noted before with Freeman, wrist injuries can be devastating for power hitters, but 2016 should be Myers' chance to finally put up a healthy season for the first time since that Rookie of the Year campaign and tap into the power that made him a top-tier prospect. Given that opportunity and a chance to settle in at first base, he'll finally deliver the first of a few 30-homer seasons.
Speaking of interrupted introductions, Franco gave the Phillies a half-season taste of what they'll be getting from the hot corner for years to come, slugging .497 in 80 games after getting his own service time-minded call-up in late May, and then losing a month to a wrist injury, but he's already showing that he's fine during winter ball in the Dominican. Healthy, Franco will rip 60 extra-base hits and give Phillies fans something to cheer about beyond getting to see Aaron Nola pitch every five days or so.
I looked in the aggregate, and the projection systems are pegging Panik to lose ground. So what's he doing here? Because Matt Duffy wasn't the only Giants infielder showing an unexpected power spike last year, putting up .143 isolated slugging and eight homers in just 100 games before his season-ending back injury. I'm willing to argue that, like Duffy, Panik also achieved a new level of performance: He boosted his walk rate as well as his power, cut his strikeouts, and provided top-notch defense at second base. That's a guy you want more of and in 2016, the Giants should get it, blowing those projections away as he joins Duffy and Brandon Crawford in an infield populated by reliably improving yet surprisingly underrated homegrown products.
This is more of a counting stats pick, because Grichuk broke out last year in a part-time role with the Cardinals, ripping 47 extra-base hits in just 103 games. That wasn't growth so much as a reminder that sometimes talents have the tools to succeed, even if getting on base consistently isn't one of their skills. Grichuk might struggle to get his OBP far beyond .300, but with full-time play, he should be good for up to 30 home runs plus Gold-Glove-worthy defense to help keep him in the lineup. Put all of that together and you've got a really good win-now player on one of the game's perennial win-now franchises.
A big part of the payoff in last summer's trade that put current center field star Carlos Gomez in Houston, Santana might be stretched defensively in center field, but he may be as ready as he'll ever be right now. Even allowing for the PCL's hitter-friendly ballparks, you're talking about a guy with a .921 OPS in almost a thousand at-bats at Triple-A -- and that was all as a 21- and 22-year-old. There are question marks to erase because there's still a lot of swing-and-miss in his swing (especially against off-speed and breaking stuff), and his combination of size (standing 6-foot-5) and a plus throwing arm ultimately profiles as a better fit in right field than center. But somebody has to play between Ryan Braun and Khris Davis. The Brewers aren't going anywhere in the meantime, and Miller Park is one of the friendliest parks to right-handed power hitters. Having already expended his rookie eligibility, Santana will be an eminently playable sophomore, with the upside possibility of a 20-homer season from a man up the middle.
Dyson is no spring chicken, having already turned 31, but it looks like the Royals are finally going to give him a shot at a full-time role. Unlike most everyone else on this list, that won't lead to breakout power or big-time counting stats in almost every department, but his glove alone might be worth two wins and his baserunning might net him a stolen-base crown with 50 or more bags. And if any team is willing to challenge convention and let him try, even starting from a traditionally offense-oriented lineup slot like left field, it's probably the Royals.
10. Byung Ho Park, Twins: .951 career OPS in Korea
OK, I know, I'm breaking my own rule on not picking rookies for this. And Park had not yet come stateside from the Nexen Heroes of the Korean Baseball Organization, so you won't find a projection for him in this year's Bill James Handbook. But after seeing what Jung Ho Kang did with the Pittsburgh Pirates last year (delivering an .816 OPS), it's hard not to expect similarly big things from a guy who hit 52 and 53 homers in the past two years respectively for Nexen. When I asked ESPN Insider's Dan Szymborski for a peek at what ZiPS might project, an OPS around .800 and 27 home runs was on the table, which is well worth talking about here. Between Park and Byron Buxton, the Twins should have a tandem with the talent between them to take home the AL's Rookie of the Year award in 2016.
Additional power picks: A healthy Mark Trumbo should be good for 30 home runs in Baltimore. Brett Lawrie does an exceptional job putting balls in the air and into the seats in left field. Now that he has a great target in the Cell's short porch, he'll never have a better opportunity to put up his first 20-homer season than in his first year with the Chicago White Sox.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.