A list of top prospects that should start the season in the majors is merely a list of the players most likely to win the Rookie of the Year award, but any number of things can go wrong. From injuries (such as Dylan Bundy in 2013) to ineffectiveness (Will Middlebrooks), pre-season lists like this will be filled with great predictions and complete busts. The goal of this list is to identify the rookie-eligible players most likely to make a mark in 2014.
|3||Xander Bogaerts||SS||Red Sox|
|10||Jackie Bradley||OF||Red Sox|
|12||Jose Dariel Abreu||1B||White Sox|
1. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, New York Yankees
Why he could be big in 2014: Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.87 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese Pacific League in 2013, which was one of the most staggering lines for any pitcher in 2013. While he is unlikely to come close to that, Tanaka’s fastball/splitter/slider combination could lead to a season in line with the debut seasons of other recent Japanese pitchers, such as Hiroki Kuroda or Yu Darvish.
What could go wrong in 2014: Not every pitcher is made for the bright lights of Yankee Stadium, and he could struggle like other Japanese pitchers who pitched for the Yankees, such as Kei Igawa or Hideki Irabu.
My prediction: Tanaka’s stuff is most similar to Kuroda, and he dominated in Japan in a manner similar to Darvish, so I’m predicting a mid-3 ERA with 150-160 strikeouts in his first season.
2. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Why he could be big in 2014: A mid-90s fastball and a nasty cutter, coupled with a solid three-start cameo in 2013 make good cases for a successful 2014 for Walker. If his curveball can be at least average and he keeps improving his command, Walker could have a season similar to Shelby Miller’s electric 2013.
What could go wrong in 2014: He walked 57 batters in 141 innings in the minor leagues in 2013, and if he does not keep his walks below that level, he could struggle mightily in his full introduction to major league hitters. Even if he does well, he will likely be on a pitch count, meaning Walker could struggle to go deep into games during 2014.
My prediction: In his first full season, Max Scherzer put up a 4.12 ERA with a 1.344 WHIP and 174 strikeouts in 170 innings. That line looks about right for Walker.
3. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
Why he could be big in 2014: Bogaerts hit .296/.412/.481 in the playoffs for the Red Sox in 2013, and he has the talent to put up a similar line right away. He could hit .290 with 20 home runs while hitting in one of the best lineups in baseball.
What could go wrong in 2014: Bogaerts struck out 106 times in 2012 and 108 times in 2013, and major league pitching could exploit his weaknesses. He only hit .250/.320/.364 in the regular season and his postseason line was inflated when he went 3/6 with three doubles in the ALCS.
My prediction: Bogaerts will go through the normal growing pains of 21-year olds who are thrust into the spotlight, but will end up hitting around .280 with 15-20 home runs.
4. Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds
Why he could be big in 2014: Speed can mask a lack of power or lower batting averages, which explains a number of careers from Juan Pierre to Vince Coleman, and Hamilton is hoping that his speed will help him get on base. Plus he hit .368 with 13 stolen bases in 22 plate appearances in 2013 during his time with the Reds.
What could go wrong in 2014: Hamilton hit .256 with 28 extra base hits in AAA in 2013 while striking out 102 times. With much better pitching and infield defense, he may struggle to get on base. Additionally, his stolen base to plate appearance ratio was inflated by numerous pinch running opportunities.
My prediction: Hamilton will hit around .250 with no ‘out of the park’ home runs and 20-25 extra base hits, but will steal 50+ bases and cause countless headaches for pitchers trying to keep him at first or second base.
5. Travis d’Arnaud, C, Mets
Why he could be big in 2014: With his role as the starting catcher in Queens set, d’Arnaud’s tools could fully show, allowing him to hit 20 home runs while hitting .275. Even if he hits .240, he could still hit 20 home runs while seeing consistent playing time.
What could go wrong in 2014: D’Arnaud has appeared in only 130 games in the past two seasons due to injury, and hit a measly .202 with one home run during his month-long introduction in 2013. Either one of those could prevent him from making much of an impact in 2014.
My prediction: D’Arnaud’s batting average will not be pretty, but he will hit 15-20 home runs and show improvement as the season progresses.
6. Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Why he could be big in 2014: Castellanos’ calling card is his bat, and he exploded in 2013, hitting 18 home runs and 37 doubles in AAA. Hitting at the bottom of the Tigers’ loaded lineup could lead to copious RBI opportunities and good overall numbers.
What could go wrong in 2014: Castellanos hit .264 in 2012 and .276 in the minor leagues in 2013, with a total of 218 strikeouts. Improved pitching could lead to substantial struggles, leading to a short leash on a team with World Series aspirations.
My prediction: He may not hit much higher than .270, but Castellanos will hit 30 doubles and 15 home runs, which will lead to solid production as part of a potent lineup.
7. Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Why he could be big in 2014: Ventura finally put together the consistent season envisioned by the Royals when they signed him in 2008. His September cameo was successful, and he could spend the season unleashing his triple digit fastball with great success.
What could go wrong in 2014: If you believe the Royals will actually start Bruce Chen and Danny Duffy instead of Ventura, then he could be relegated to AAA to start the season. Additionally, Ventura’s strikeout totals have never fully meshed with his fastball, so major league hitters could hit him hard, similar to many other flamethrowers.
My prediction: Ventura opens the season with the Royals and puts up a mid-3 ERA with a few too many walks and only 140 strikeouts while his innings are managed.
8. George Springer, CF, Houston Astros
Why he could be big in 2014: Springer hit .303 with 37 home runs and 45 stolen bases between AA and AAA in 2013, showing that he had nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. With his power/speed combination, Springer could go 30/30, even if his batting average leaves something to be desired.
What could go wrong in 2014: Springer has struck out 319 times in 271 professional games, and is surprisingly raw for a now-24 year old that played three years of college baseball. Pitchers could exploit the holes in his swing and he could struggle to keep his batting average above the Mendoza line.
My prediction: Springer will hit .230, but he’ll hit 25 home runs and steal 25 bases while becoming the starting centerfielder for the Astros.
9. Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
Why he could be big in 2014: Wong could easily hit .280 with 20 stolen bases while a part of one of the best lineups in the major leagues. His line in AAA - .303 with 21 doubles, 8 triples and 10 home runs – is well within reach for 2014 at the Major League level.
What could go wrong in 2014: He will likely hit eighth for the Cardinals, and will need to remain patient while being pitched around in front of the pitcher. Additionally, Wong looked overmatched during his trial, hitting .153 in 62 plate appearances in the major leagues. He could hit .240 with little power, which would open the door for Mark Ellis and Daniel Descalso to take playing time.
My prediction: Wong will only hit .270 with a handful of home runs, but he’ll play a steady second base and steal 10-15 bases. This will keep him in the lineup, where he can rack up runs and RBI.
10. Jackie Bradley, CF, Boston Red Sox
Why he could be big in 2014: Bradley is scheduled to open the season as the Red Sox’s centerfielder and there is no alternative in sight. Bradley could hit .275 with 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases while playing gold glove defense. It is not elite production, but he will still be a solid contributor.
What could go wrong in 2014: He hit .189 during his trial in 2013, and the Red Sox will not tolerate another poor start. There is always the possibility that Victorino will shift to centerfield, allowing the Red Sox to start Mike Carp or Jonny Gomes full time.
My prediction: He will hit .280 with 25 doubles and a few home runs, but his 15 stolen bases and solid defense will keep him in the lineup.
11. Josmil Pinto, C, Minnesota Twins
Why he could be big in 2014: Pinto’s sizzling 2013 makes a very strong case that he is ready to be a bat-first catcher who will allow Joe Mauer to move to first base full time in 2014. Pinto could hit .280 with 10-15 home runs, making him a solid catcher who could be part of a very potent lineup for years to come.
What could go wrong in 2014: Pinto has only played 40 games above AA, and pitchers may begin to exploit his flaws. Additionally, he had six walks to 22 strikeouts with a .440 BABIP, suggesting a drop in production.
My prediction: He may only hit .260, but he’ll hit 20 doubles and 15 home runs, making him a solid but not spectacular catcher.
12. Jose Dariel Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox
Why he could be big in 2014: Abreu, who turned 27 in January, could be the odds-on favorite for the AL Rookie of the Year, as he had three consecutive years of 30+ home runs in Cuba, despite a season that is fewer than 100 games. His power is unquestioned, and he could mash in the middle of a revamped White Sox lineup.
What could go wrong in 2014: While his power is unquestioned, there are substantial questions about Abreu’s ability to make consistent contact against the higher quality pitching in the Major Leagues.
My prediction: Abreu will hit 30 home runs but he will struggle to hit above .240, which will make him a mediocre option. He will receive consistent playing time, as Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko will not be much better options.