Two years ago, J.D. Martinez was released by the Houston Astros, and the rest, as they say, is history. Every Tigers fan knows the story: he was snatched up and went on to post the most quintessential "breakout" season imaginable. Today, his skills with a bat are widely acknowledged and unquestioned, and in honor of his amazing season we'll try to predict which player will be the Tigers' breakout player of 2016.
Defining a breakout is tricky. What makes a player eligible for a breakout season? For one, I think he needs to have had only modest success thus far in his major-league career. Miguel Cabrera has already established himself as a generational hitter, he couldn’t break out any further if he won the Triple Crown (again). A good breakout candidate is a player primed to have the best season of his career thus far, good enough to gain some national attention. Basically, they need to do something like what J.D. Martinez did, if on a smaller scale.
Young players tend to make the best candidates, and Nick Castellanos has probably been mentioned more than any other Tigers’ player (and he won our poll last year, too). His red-hot second half of 2015, combined with his impressive prospect pedigree, has many thinking he’s ready to burst onto the national scene with a big year at the plate.
Jose Iglesias is a questionable candidate, as he hit above .300 in 2015, a year after hitting above .300 in 2013. Combined with his highlight-reel glove work, you might think he’s too established to qualify for a breakout. But outside of the Tigers' domain, Iglesias is rarely mentioned as one of the best shortstops in the league. He was left off of these top-10 lists, and ranked 14th in the league on this list. So it’s probably safe to say that he has plenty more to prove, and a breakout is still possible. Another .300 batting average and some help from the defensive metrics would go a long way towards gaining respect as a two-way player.
Other breakout candidates include James McCann and Anthony Gose, who have yet to establish themselves as mainstay regulars, but should get plenty of playing time to prove their worth. Tyler Collins could potentially fall into this category as well, though he’ll struggle to get opportunities if the other outfielders stay healthy.
On the pitching side, Daniel Norris and Shane Greene battled for the final spot in the rotation during spring training, and both have the potential to open some eyes this season. Greene won the roster spot by default -- Norris will start the season on the disabled list -- but both are likely to get plenty of innings this season. If the injury bug bites hard, Matt Boyd and Michael Fulmer are next in line both in the rotation and bullpen. The stars would need to align, but a big season from either would qualify as a breakout.
Justin Wilson fits the description better than anyone else in the bullpen, though a slew of other unproven pitchers will get an opportunity to break out. Chief among them are Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy -- both of whom have been effective over the past two seasons but have still left many skeptical. Both will start 2016 on the disabled list, and will not be used in high-leverage roles upon their return, but either could climb the bullpen hierarchy with another solid showing.