Major League Baseball's postseason will get underway soon, and that means it's time for one of our annual traditions: attempting to guess at which young or otherwise unheralded player will enjoy an October breakout.
You may recall that we started doing this exercise in 2021, a fall after Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena hung his star with an historic postseason. We don't expect anyone to reach quite those heights again, but we still pay homage to the spirit of finding the "next Arozarena" by limiting our selections to non-elite prospects. In other words, you're not going to find Junior Caminero, Gunnar Henderson, or anyone of that top-25 prospect ilk here.
What you will find are four players whose play might force you to become more familiar with them before the tournament ends. (Do note that the players are presented in alphabetical order.)
1. Kyle Bradish, RHP, Orioles
Perhaps it's cheating to include Bradish, who notched four wins this season according to some versions of WAR. We had him as our breakout pick for the Orioles back in the spring, however, and we're doubling down here in the fall.
Bradish encountered one teensy-weensy little problem last season: his four-seam fastball wasn't effective. Batters hit .321 against it with a .539 slugging percentage. He addressed that issue this year with two tweaks. One, he ramped up his slider usage, to the extent that it became his primary pitch. Two, he diversified his fastball offering by leaning more on a sinker.
Bradish's four-seamer has still been the weak link in his arsenal this season. He just isn't using it as often, minimizing his chances of getting burned. Clearly it's worked since he's emerged as a well-above-average starter.
2. Yainer Diaz, C/DH, Astros
We have to be upfront about something. We don't think Diaz will catch much, if at all, during the postseason. Astros manager Dusty Baker prefers veteran Martín Maldonado, even though Maldonado's defensive metrics are actually worse than those posted by Diaz. (Catcher defense is not a solved problem, so we're open to Baker being right about Maldonado having the better mitt.)
We're including Diaz anyway because his bat could allow him to impact the game either as the DH or as a pinch hitter. He's a very strong and aggressive hitter whose profile can engender frustration for both teams on a given night. Think of him as the baseball equivalent of a "no, no, YES" shot-taker in basketball. Diaz is prone to chasing pitches he shouldn't, yet he's powerful enough to also drive those pitches out of the park from one pole to the other.
Diaz might not get more than a start here or there in the playoffs, but his ability to provide instant offense off the bench makes him worth monitoring.
3. Sal Frelick, OF, Brewers
Frelick has been considered a solid prospect since before he was drafted 15th overall in 2021. He never rose above the 30s on our lists because of concerns we had about his offensive profile: in short, we weren't sure that he was going to wind up on the sunny side of the Sam Fuld-Brett Gardner spectrum of hitters.
Frelick has, since his July debut, held his own at the plate by working counts and making contact. He's never going to be a big-time power hitter, and his 106 mph maximum exit velocity ranks near the bottom of the majors. Still, he's found success by hitting the ball on the ground or at low trajectories. From there, he leverages his plus wheels and puts pressure on the defense.
Those same legs come in handy elsewhere. Defensively, he's shown a penchant for making GIF-worthy grabs and throws (he has a very strong arm). Frelick might be second to Phillies youngster Johan Rojas in terms of young outfielder likeliest to make an incredible, name-making catch this postseason.
We'll see where Frelick's offensive output settles down the road, but for now it's easy enough to imagine him impacting the game -- through a single, catch, or stolen base -- as part of an important Brewers victory.
4. Edouard Julien, 2B/DH, Twins
Julien introduced himself to an international audience back in the spring, when he went 7 for 13 as part of Canada's World Baseball Classic squad. It took him until the summertime to establish a foothold on a big-league job, but he's since taken over as Minnesota's everyday leadoff hitter. For good reason, too.
If Julien were born 20 years earlier, then he would've been a main character in "Moneyball." He has a monk-like discipline at the plate, letting pitches located outside of the zone pass on by like leaves floating down a stream. He has the lowest chase rate and one of the lowest swing rates in the majors. When he does offer at a pitch, he's capable of striking it with authority and on a good plane. Julien's average and maximum exit velocities are unimpressive, but his percentage of batted balls that cleared 95 mph is similar to the rates posted by Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Elly De La Cruz, and other notoriously strong lads.
Julien's offensive profile is ripped from the 2003 Athletics. Alas, so is his defensive skill set. He's not a twitchy or explosive athlete. He's not a smooth operator with magical hands. He doesn't have a strong arm. But he mostly manages, and that's good enough when combined with his bat.