MLB players who have graduated to stardom -- and superstardom -- in 2021

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Most breakout players in any given baseball season fall into three categories:

1. Rookies who play like stars right from the onset of their careers.

2. Young veterans who raise their games to become star players.

3. Star players who become superstars.

Who are the new stars -- and superstars -- of 2021? ESPN baseball writers David Schoenfield and Jeff Passan weigh in on 20 candidates. Schoenfield makes the case for each and Judge Jeff renders the final verdict.


Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays

The case: Not all superstars mature on the same timeline, but we were still mildly disappointed with Guerrero's first two seasons because he didn't immediately tear up the league like Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr. or Ronald Acuna Jr. Even the "two seasons" is unfair, because it was just 183 games. Guerrero came to camp in better shape and ready to rake. He leads the majors in batting average, home runs, hits, total bases and runs, and the AL in OBP and slugging. He ranks in the 98th or 99th percentile in all the Statcast hitting categories. The comparison to peak Miguel Cabrera is perhaps too easy, but it's appropriate, given their abilities to combine a high average with power and plate discipline. Or, dare I say, he has the potential to be even better than Cabrera. At age 22, Guerrero has a 177 OPS+; Cabrera at 22 was at 151.

Judge Jeff's verdict: He doesn't lead all of baseball in RBIs? And you want me to call him a superstar? All of this talk about the Triple Crown being something more than an anachronism has blended with the unending bleating of those on the Vladdy-for-MVP train to provide a truly cacophonous experience. Even then, Vlad Jr. is impossible to deny. Rare is the player who makes the double jump: from guy, over star, directly to superstar. That's Guerrero. Not gonna call him Miggy yet. Not gonna say he's MVP, either, because while the race isn't over until Oct. 3, he's got a sizable gap to overcome. But superstar? Between the performance and everything that underpins it, yup, he's there.