Which hitters are ready to rise?

Which hitters are ready to rise?

Hitters have a confounding way of emerging a year or two after they're initially expected to shine.

In 2004, once fans and writers grew tired of projecting big things from Adrian Beltre, the 25-year-old finally -- almost defiantly -- broke out with an MVP-caliber campaign to snap several seasons of mediocrity.

To a lesser degree, Andruw Jones carried that mantle in 2005, launching a career-high 51 homers after seeming to "settle" into the 30-35 range. And last year, it was Minnesota teammates Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau who became household names following their highly publicized debuts.

In an age in which today's fresh face is touted as the next superstar, it tends to take a few seasons until the hype fades and a breakthrough year occurs.

Last season's exceptional rookie class only raises the bar for this year's crop. And while top outfield prospects Delmon Young and Chris Young possess the skills to produce 20-homer/20-steal seasons, it's extremely unlikely that the collective group of 2007 newbies will match their predecessors.

Instead, breakout bats are more common among players in the "post-hype" phases of their careers. Fitting the description to a tee is Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore, who, at 24 years of age, enters his fourth Major League season with a legitimate shot at 35 jacks and a career high in stolen bases.

Other young players likely to make a leap in 2007 include the following:

OF Alex Rios, Toronto Blue Jays
Although it was Vernon Wells who received the bulk of attention in Toronto last year, fellow outfielder Rios was neck-and-neck with the center fielder prior to the All-Star break, delivering all-around production to the tune of a .330 batting average, 15 homers and 11 steals.

A staph infection in his leg brought Rios' dream season to a crashing halt in June, though, and severely hampered his production the rest of the way. Still, his healthy first half provided enough of a preview for 2007, as his power surge was supported by improved plate discipline and a greater fly-ball rate than the season before.

While Wells, Frank Thomas, Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay render Rios "just another right-handed bat" in the Blue Jays lineup, expect that dynamic to change soon. Turning 26 on Feb. 18 in a fearsome offense, Rios has all the ingredients of a five-tool breakout performer, which makes 25 homers and 25 steals reasonable goals.

OF Carlos Quentin, Arizona Diamondbacks
While veterans Shawn Green and Luis Gonzalez were clogging up the D-backs' corner outfield spots the past two seasons, blue-chip prospect Quentin patiently waited in the Minors, during which time he lashed out at Triple-A pitchers with a plus-.500 slugging percentage.

Finally given his first whiff of regular at-bats in September, the former Stanford stud didn't disappoint, roping 11 extra-base hits for a .571 slugging percentage to close the season. Now, with Green and Gonzalez both elsewhere, Quentin steps into an everyday right-field job in the heart of Arizona's budding lineup. The combination of his advanced plate selectivity and thunderous power could very well give the D-backs their first 100-RBI man since 2003.

OF Brad Hawpe, Colorado Rockies
Strangely enough, Coors Field actually limited Hawpe's production in 2006. The humidor effect -- which reduced the amount of home runs hit in Colorado last year -- held Hawpe to a pedestrian .454 slugging percentage at home, which paled in comparison to his impressive .571 mark on the road.

The LSU grad enters his age-27 season in 2007, which traditionally produces career years.

Sure, he'll need to improve his subpar showing against left-handers (.232 AVG in 2006), as do most lefty hitters his age. Nonetheless, his strong plate skills, potent lineup protection and added big-league experience suggest Hawpe's ready to become a top-flight run producer.

OF Jeremy Hermida, Florida Marlins
In a year in which rookie talent seemed to grow on trees, how is it that the preseason National League Rookie of the Year favorite was one of the few that didn't produce big-time? Even quirkier, nearly every Marlins' first-year player outside of Hermida had successful debuts.

Like most disappointments, though, injuries were at the root of Hermida's difficult 2006 campaign, as hip and ankle woes limited the right fielder to a meager .700 OPS.

He flashed a glimpse of his high upside in a healthy June, batting .345 with 11 doubles, justifying at least some of the hype that surrounded him at the start of the season.

Expected to return to full strength in Spring Training, Hermida has the advanced strike-zone judgment, baserunning smarts and budding pop to turn 2006 into a distant memory. Remember, he drew a staggering 111 walks as a 21-year-old at Double-A Carolina.

While it would certainly be ironic if Hermida outperformed every second-year Marlins player, including reigning NL Rookie of the Year Hanley Ramirez, it wouldn't be all that surprising, either. Look for a convincing comeback from the five-tool 23-year-old.

3B Mark Teahen, Kansas City Royals
One of the Royals' few bright spots in an otherwise tough 2006, Teahen quietly established himself as the team MVP. Were it not for his stumbling out of the gate with a paltry .195 batting average through May -- which prompted a demotion to Triple-A Omaha -- the 25-year-old third baseman might have made an even bigger impression in the talent-laden American League Central.

Teahen's brief stint in the Minors seemed to alter his offensive outlook, as he'd return to the Majors a new man. Over the final four months of last season, the California native hit .313, swiped eight bases and cranked 16 long balls in just 316 at-bats.

Third base mega-prospect Alex Gordon is likely to push him to the outfield before 2007 is through, but not before he has a chance to represent Kansas City in the All-Star Game. After making considerable strides at the dish in his first two big-league seasons, Teahen brings a newfound swagger that should yield around 30 homers, 90 RBIs and a dozen or so steals in his first 500-at-bat season.

1B Adam LaRoche, Pittsburgh Pirates
Everything appears to be trending in the right direction for LaRoche, who's generated more homers, RBIs and runs every year since arriving in the Majors in 2004.

While not many players can claim an improvement after getting traded from Atlanta to Pittsburgh, as LaRoche was during the offseason, the left-handed-hitting first baseman will aim to build upon his outstanding second half, which saw him finish fourth behind Ryan Howard, David Ortiz and Travis Hafner with a robust .651 slugging percentage.

Alongside the imposing Jason Bay, LaRoche has the pop to make history in 2007, potentially becoming the first Pittsburgh player to club 40 homers since Willie Stargell did so in 1973.

Whether Bay beats him to the punch, the two should give the Pirates their best shot at snapping the organization's 14 straight losing seasons in 2007.

Alex Cushing is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.