October Breakout Candidates for Each MLB Playoff Team
In 2002, a young reliever struck out 13 batters in 5.2 regular-season innings of work before going 5-1 in 11 postseason appearances. An outfielder with 41 hits in his first 116 big league at-bats caught fire in the 2007 World Series, finishing 7-for-16. After allowing three earned runs in 14 innings split between the rotation and the bullpen, a future starting pitcher got the final out of the 2008 ALCS. And last year, after tallying a 4-1 record in nine regular season starts, a starter posted that same 4-1 record in the playoffs and was named NLCS MVP.
As you may have figured out, the players described above are Francisco Rodriguez, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Price and Michael Wacha. It seems that each October, a prospect or two fresh out of the minors takes the game by storm on its biggest stage.
Which minor leaguer will come out of nowhere and lead his team to post-season glory? Let's take a look at each MLB playoff team to find out.
Detroit Tigers: Relief Pitcher Blaine Hardy
Hardy, a former 22nd-round draft pick of the Royals out of Lewis and Clark State College, has been a key contributor to Detroit’s shaky bullpen since his June big league debut. He has a 3.49 FIP in 39 MLB innings with a 52.2% ground-ball rate. Hardy’s fastball only reaches 89, but he counters that with a 79 mile-an-hour change. Lefties are hitting only .203 against Hardy, who could initially see playoff action as a lefty specialist.
Los Angeles Angels: Outfielder Tony Campana
Campana is more of a journeyman than a prospect, but he could make a huge impact on the playoffs as a pinch runner (see Dave Roberts, 2004). Campana has appeared in 257 games for the Cubs, Diamondbacks, and Angels, and Los Angeles acquired him mid-season from Arizona. The lefty, listed at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, has stolen 66 career bases in 75 attempts. Given the Angels’ old, slow lineup, Campana should see some opportunities to help Mike Scioscia’s ball club manufacture runs much like Chone Figgins did in 2002.
Oakland Athletics: First Baseman Nate Freiman
Freiman, a Duke graduate with 71 hits in 301 plate appearances, made a name for himself in 2013 with an 18th-inning walk-off single off Mariano Rivera. After bouncing around from the Rangers to the Padres to the Astros, the right-handed slugger has found a home by the bay. He hits lefties well, with a .279 average and all nine of his career homers against southpaws. In a game where a late-inning pinch-hit blast could be the difference, Duke’s all-time home run king could be the guy to deliver.
Baltimore Orioles: First Baseman Christian Walker
The Orioles had Chris Davis locked in at first base until the slugger received a 25-game substance policy suspension. While utility man extraordinaire Steve Pearce will get the bulk of stars at first base, Walker will be his primary backup. A two-time College World Series champ at South Carolina, Walker hit 30 homers in three seasons in Columbia, and 26 homers in the minors before being called up in late September. He’s tallied only three hits in 18 big league at-bats, but one of them was, you guessed it, a big fly. Want an unlikely home run hero with big game experience? Look no further.
Kansas City Royals: Relief Pitcher Brandon Finnegan
Finnegan started the 2014 baseball season as a starter, striking out 134 in 105 innings and leading TCU to the College World Series. The Royals drafted him and deemed five starts in high A followed by eight relief appearances in AA sufficient minor league seasoning. Finnegan struck out 10 in seven relief innings for the big club, using his fastball, which averages out at 92, as well as his changeup and slider. Finnegan appears to be following a David Price path, and this starter of the future will make an impact in this postseason out of the KC bullpen.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Outfielder Joc Pederson
A September call-up looking for at-bats in the Kemp-Puig-Crawford outfield equation, Pederson disappointed in his brief late-season appearances, recording four hits and 11 strikeouts in 28 at-bats. But hey, at least he caught high school buddy Jeremy Lin’s first pitch. The Dodgers still think the lefty can contribute, especially after he hit .303 and swatted 33 big flies at AAA this year. Pederson will have opportunities to become a pinch-hit hero, especially in the NL.
San Francisco Giants: Outfielder Chris Dominguez
Dominguez dropped 61 jacks in three seasons at Louisville, then hit 21 this year in AAA. He’s San Francisco’s power-hitting prospect, except he’s not a lanky lefty like Pederson: he’s a 6-5, 235 pound righty. Dominguez had one hit in his first 17 at-bats for the Giants, but that one hit was a bomb in Petco Park off Ian Kennedy. The Giants would take another one of those this post-season.
St. Louis Cardinals: Outfielder Randal Grichuk
Acquired from the Angels in the David Freese trade, the outfielder picked right before Mike Trout smacked 25 homers in AAA and made infrequent appearances with the big club. He’s battling with Oscar Taveras for the starting right field job in St. Louis, and hitting .320 in 50 September at-bats, including homers on consecutive days against Cincinnati, surely helped his cause. Grichuk took longer to get to the big leagues, but he’ll have as many opportunities to make an October splash as Trout.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Relief Pitcher John Holdzkom
The Pirates found Holdzkom on the independent league scrap heap after the righty was cut by the Mets and Reds. He’s looking like a solid find after 27 strikeouts in 21.2 AAA innings translated to 14 punch outs in nine innings for the big club. Jason Grilli and, later, Ernesto Frieri, have both failed miserably at the back of the Bucs’ bullpen, but the righty with an average heater of 95.5 might do the trick. Not bad for a guy who ended 2013 with the Amarillo Sox.
Washington Nationals: Relief Pitcher Blake Treinen
A former Oakland prospect dealt to the Nationals in the confusing John Jaso and Mike Morse three-team trade, Treinen projects as a starter long-term but Washington could use his 95 mph heater in their shaky bullpen. Surprsingly, Treinen doesn’t strike out a ton of hitters, but the South Dakota State product has been effective at the big league level, posting a 2.49 ERA in 50 innings split between the rotation and the bullpen. He’s much better against righties, who hit only .237 against him, but Treinen is the guy every manager wishes he had for the 15th inning of a tight playoff game: a minor-league starter with solid stuff.