Every baseball season seems to feature at least a few players who surprise us, sometimes because they have been off the radar and sometimes because they are just emerging from the minor leagues.
Each week this offseason, we’ll look into the crystal ball and examine two players who could be next season’s surprise standouts. This week, we begin with players from the two worst teams in baseball in 2017: the Tigers and Giants.
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Giants: Christian Arroyo, SS/3B
2017 stats: .192/.244/.304, 125 AB, 3 HR, 5 2B, 32 K, 8 BB
Christian Arroyo definitely underwhelmed when he made his MLB debut this season, first earning a callup on April 24. The 22-year-old shortstop stuck around until early June, but his sub-.200 hitting earned him a trip back to Triple-A Sacramento. On the first of July, he took a pitch off of his left hand that ultimately ended his season.
Why he could break out: What’s encouraging about Arroyo is that, before the promotion to the big leagues, he was mashing in Triple-A. Through the first three weeks of the season, Arroyo was hitting .439 with three home runs. After he returned to Sacramento from the majors, he continued to hit Triple-A pitching with ease. The understandable concern is whether his prowess at the plate was at least partially a gift of luck. In Arroyo’s 25 games in the minor leagues, his BABIP was .427, an obviously untenable number. That dropped to .231— a similarly unlikely mark to stand for very long — during his time with the Giants.
Arroyo’s BABIP anomaly last season aside, he still has the makings of a very good hitter. Though never much for power, Arroyo has always hit for extra bases. He had 36 doubles with Double-A Richmond in 2016 and 28 for High-A San Jose the year before. Arroyo has a career .779 OPS in the minors, and given the lack of depth the Giants have at third base going into 2018, Arroyo is a likely candidate for that position. He re-injured his hand during a Dominican Winter League game just last week, but Arroyo still figures to report to spring training healthy, and if he brings his bat with him this time, he will be worth watching.
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Tigers: Jeimer Candelario, 3B
2017 stats: .283/.359/.425, 127 AB, 3 HR, 9 2B, 30 K, 13 BB
Until he was traded from the Cubs in July, Jeimer Candelario was stuck below Kris Bryant on the depth chart. The 23-year-old was a piece of the deal that sent Alex Avila and Justin Wilson to the Cubs, and fans in Detroit got a glimpse of their return when he reported to Triple-A Toledo and went 2 for 6 with a home run and a double on Aug. 2. In a one-game visit to the big-league club six days later, Candelario hit a single and scored a run against the Pirates.
Why he could break out: When rosters expanded in September, Candelario returned to Detroit and hit .341 in the final month of the season. This stretch of games gave the best look at his potential, as he never saw a similar opportunity while with the Cubs. There, he hit well below .200 in a brief July 2016 stint and in separate callups in May and June of this year.
With the Tigers, Candelario is not blocked by a former NL MVP, and he showed in September that he can thrive with consistent plate appearances. Like Arroyo, he will not anchor a lineup with power, but he hits for extra bases regularly. Candelario hit 36 doubles in Triple-A in 2017 and 39 between Double-A and Triple-A the previous year. The key for Candelario will be regular time in the lineup for the Tigers in 2018. If that happens, he will provide some spark for a Detroit offense that scored a 19th-ranked 735 runs in 2017.
Next week: A look at who has the best shot to break out for the Phillies and White Sox.