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10 players to watch in the 2021 MLB postseason

Randy Arozarena had an October for the ages last year, setting major league records for hits (29), home runs (10) and total bases (64) in a single postseason while leading the Tampa Bay Rays to the World Series. Not bad for a rookie who wasn’t called up until August.

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Arozarena and the Rays are back in the playoffs after winning the American League East, and while the baseball world is eager to see what the cowboy boot-wearing outfielder can do for an encore, here’s a look at 10 other players — one from every team in this year’s postseason field — who could be poised for their own breakouts.

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Wander Franco made his MLB debut in June.

Winslow Townson/AP

Winslow Townson/AP

Tampa Bay Rays: Wander Franco

Baseball’s No. 1 prospect has continued to live up to the hype since his dazzling debut June 22, when he doubled, homered, drew a walk, scored two runs and drove in three. The 20-year-old, switch-hitting shortstop matched Frank Robinson’s record for the longest on-base streak (43 games) by a player 20 or under. Don’t count on Franco breaking any of Arozarena’s postseason records, but if the Rays are to return to the World Series, he figures to play a major part.

Winslow Townson/AP

Tim Anderson is the heartbeat of a talented White Sox roster.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Chicago White Sox: Tim Anderson

The bat-flipping, slick-fielding Anderson is the heartbeat of a White Sox roster loaded with talent and looking to advance in the playoffs for the first time since it won the World Series in 2005. The shortstop and leadoff hitter was 9 for 14 with a pair of doubles in Chicago’s three-game wild-card series loss to Oakland last year and showcased his flair for the dramatic in August, when he hit a walk-off home run into the corn at MLB’s Field of Dreams Game in Iowa. The postseason deserves an iconic bat flip. Anderson is a likely candidate to provide it and is one of the many reasons Chicago is a legitimate title contender.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Yordan Alvarez was the American League rookie of the year in 2019.

David J. Phillip/AP

David J. Phillip/AP

Houston Astros: Yordan Alvarez

After winning American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2019, Alvarez endured a nightmarish 2020 season, missing the start of the shortened campaign after testing positive for the coronavirus, returning for two games and then having surgery on both knees. The Cuban-born slugger returned to form this year and in May became the fastest player in the expansion era (since 1961) to reach 100 career RBI. Alvarez hit .241 in 65 postseason plate appearances as a rookie. He should be more comfortable in his second trip to the playoffs.

David J. Phillip/AP

Bobby Dalbec has been on a tear since the all-star break.

Winslow Townson/AP

Winslow Townson/AP

Boston Red Sox: Bobby Dalbec

Coupled with the eight home runs he hit last season, the rookie first baseman reached 30 career homers in one fewer game than Hall of Famer Ted Williams, so he’s doing something right. Dalbec has been on a tear since the all-star break, with 15 home runs and an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .955. Rafael Devers, J.D. Martinez, Hunter Renfroe and Xander Bogaerts have carried Boston’s offense for much of the season, but Dalbec provided a spark from the bottom half of the lineup. Can it continue in October?

Winslow Townson/AP

Joey Gallo is the ultimate three-true-outcomes slugger.

John Minchillo/AP

John Minchillo/AP

New York Yankees: Joey Gallo

Shaving his beard to abide by the Yankees’ facial hair policy after he was acquired at the trade deadline was a small sacrifice to make in exchange for his first taste of the postseason. Gallo, who spent the first 6½ seasons of his major league career with the Texas Rangers, is the ultimate three-true-outcomes slugger. He leads the American League in walks and strikeouts, and while he’s hitting only .199, he has 38 home runs. If he gets hot in the playoffs, the Yankees will be a tough out.

John Minchillo/AP

Austin Riley's Atlanta Braves face the Milwaukee Brewers in the NLDS.

David Zalubowski/AP

David Zalubowski/AP

Atlanta Braves: Austin Riley

Reigning MVP Freddie Freeman led the National League in runs, and second baseman Ozzie Albies continued to solidify his name among the game’s best young players, but Riley was just as responsible for keeping Atlanta’s offense chugging along after Ronald Acuña Jr. was lost for the season in July. After hitting .239 last year, improved plate discipline and some batted-ball luck contributed to a .303 average this year to go with 33 home runs and 107 RBI.

David Zalubowski/AP

Willy Adames was traded to Milwaukee in May.

Jeff Roberson/AP

Jeff Roberson/AP

Milwaukee Brewers: Willy Adames

Adames was dreadful in the playoffs for the Rays last season, hitting .136 with four extra-base hits and 25 strikeouts in 20 games, and the shortstop was hitting only .197 when Tampa Bay traded him to Milwaukee for a couple of relief pitchers May 21. The Brewers were 21-23 at the time but won 17 of their next 21 games and cruised to the NL Central title. Adames finished with 25 home runs and an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .818. If he can overcome the strained left quadriceps that has bothered him since August, Adames, who has claimed he never saw the ball well at Tropicana Field, could lead the Brewers on a deep playoff run.

Jeff Roberson/AP

LaMonte Wade Jr. is a former Maryland standout.

David Zalubowski/AP

David Zalubowski/AP

San Francisco Giants: LaMonte Wade Jr.

The Giants were full of surprises en route to winning the NL West. Wade, a former Maryland standout, was perhaps the biggest of them all. Acquired from the Minnesota Twins a week before spring training to provide outfield depth, Wade played in 109 games. He earned the nickname “Late-Night LaMonte” for his late-game heroics, including a .571 average in the ninth inning or later and six game-tying or go-ahead hits in the ninth inning, the most in a season in the past 40 years. With Brandon Belt recovering from a thumb fracture, Wade could see time at first base in addition to the outfield.

David Zalubowski/AP

Will Smith has hit 15 of his 25 home runs in the second half of the season.

Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Los Angeles Dodgers: Will Smith

Smith got off to a slow start in his third major league season, but the 26-year-old catcher has been one of the better hitters in the Dodgers’ stacked lineup since the all-star break. Smith has hit 15 of his 25 home runs in the second half, with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .936. He’ll look to carry his hot streak into the playoffs as the Dodgers try to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Yankees won three straight from 1998 to 2000.

Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Tyler O'Neill and the St. Louis Cardinals won 17 consecutive games in September.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

St. Louis Cardinals: Tyler O’Neill

After winning a Gold Glove last season, the 26-year-old O’Neill came out of nowhere to hit 34 home runs for the surging Cardinals, who won 17 consecutive games in September to clinch the National League’s second wild card. O’Neill added 15 stolen bases and leads St. Louis in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.912), which is impressive considering he hits in a lineup that also features Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

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