2014 Impact Rookies
by: Tory Hernandez (@ToryBaseball)
A condensed version of this article will appear in the RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Guide 2014 that recently went to the printer. Look for more from Tory throughout the year in his weekly column Behind the Backstop.
Forecasting postseason award winners every year is hardly an effortless task. Attempting to determine who is going to win the Rookie of the Year Award is even more ambitious. Anyone who believes they can predict the winner in each league for 2014 will have a plethora of players to choose from. The volume of young players on the cusp of stardom is staggering. The list of candidates seems almost infinite, and this testifies to a new wave of youth about to take over the game.
Here are the first-year players most likely to be in the mix for hardware at season's end.
Masahiro Tanaka, SP, NYY – At press time, Tanaka's Japanese club, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, announced that he would be posted. After agreeing to a seven-year, $155 million deal with the Yankees, he is a shoe-in to win Rookie of the Year honors in the AL. Scouts feel as though he will have an immediate impact in the show and some feel he is a better pitcher than Yu Darvish. He probably won’t rack up the same amount of strikeouts as Darvish, but there are some who feel that he will also contend for the Cy Young award in his first season.
Jose Abreu, 1B, CHW - Abreu is this year’s version of Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig. In other words, he received a huge major league contract after defecting to the United States. He hails from Cuba and will be tested as the everyday first baseman for the White Sox. Abreu has the upside to hit 30-40 home runs, and he is a favorite to win Rookie of the Year honors should he live up to his billing. Abreu doesn’t come without his warts though. He is prone to striking out, and many scouts feel that his bat speed and the holes in his swing won’t be conducive to big numbers at the major league level.
Alex Guerrero, 2B, LAD - Guerrero is another Cuban import and while he doesn't come with the hype that Abreu does, he has the talent to be an above average second baseman in the big leagues. With very little in the way of talent to block him from the big leagues after the departure of veteran Mark Ellis, it appears as though the Dodgers will hand him the job at the keystone and let him sink or swim in April. Guerrero is known as a solid pure hitter with average power and he demonstrated his hitting ability during winter ball in 2013.
Taijuan Walker, SP, SEA - The Mariners are slotting Walker into their rotation, and the expectations for him are very high. Although he does not currently have a workhorse frame, Walker is oozing with all kinds of projection. His hands are enormous, his legs extend forever and his arms look like "go-go gadget arms." His hands are so big that when he grips a baseball, it's difficult to see the seams. Long term, as Walker's body matures and he gets stronger, he'll have plenty of room to add strength without losing his flexibility. As far as pure upside goes, he is the most tantalizing name in this group and he has the kind of ability to have an immediate impact like Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez did in 2013.
Travis d'Arnaud, C, NYM - Despite his struggles in 99 at-bats with New York last season, d'Arnaud has all of the ingredients you look for in an All-Star caliber catcher. He is a great defender who will work well with his pitchers while controlling the running game. More importantly, he can hit, and hit for power. D'Arnaud's power may not show up right away in 2014, but as long as he's healthy (he wasn't for most all of 2013) he has great barrel to ball ability and hitting savvy to contribute a good batting average (~.280) with doubles pop.
Billy Hamilton, OF, CIN - Hamilton will take over the everyday job in center field for the Reds following the departure of Shin-Soo Choo. We saw Hamilton briefly late in 2013 and he showed off his prowess on the basepaths. Hamilton has blazing speed and some think he’ll make a run at 100 steals in a season during his career. There are questions about his bat though and whether he can handle playing center field every day. He developed in the low minors as a shortstop and only began playing the outfield in the last couple of years. His blazing speed will make up for any bad routes he takes though. If he hits .270-.280 and can reach base at even a .320 clip, he will probably lead all of baseball in steals and could find himself in scoring position quite often.
On the Cusp
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez was signed by the Phillies last summer, and after it was found that he had some questions about his elbow, the team restructured his contract for less money than originally anticipated. He’s not Cy Young material, but if he proves healthy this spring he'll be in the rotation for the Phillies and should be a productive MLB starter. As a result, he's another young starter to watch in 2014 with the chance to emerge as a ROY candidate.
There are many young players who have the talent to make a push for postseason honors should they earn enough playing time.
Two Astros to watch are Jonathan Singleton and George Springer. For each, there is nobody blocking their path to the big leagues, but they will both have to earn jobs in spring training. Singleton is a first baseman, and he tore up winter ball this year. Springer is a true center fielder and he nearly went 40/40 last year in the minor leagues.
Xander Bogaerts will be the everyday shortstop if the Red Sox don't re-sign Stephen Drew. If they do, he will either return to Triple-A to begin the year or split time with incumbent third baseman (and that should be stated loosely) Will Middlebrooks. If he outplays Middlebrooks for the job, or if Middlebrooks is traded, Bogaerts may end up being one of the more productive players in the lineup with regular playing time.
Wilmer Flores had a great winter ball campaign, but he's blocked by David Wright and Daniel Murphy in New York. Flores will have to prove that he can play second base every day, which would likely lead the Mets to deal Murphy in order to open up the keystone for him.
Chris Owings can flat out rake, but he'll have to win the shortstop job over Didi Gregorius in Arizona.
The starting pitching market has a few guys who, if they win jobs could have immediate impacts. Kevin Gausman, Andrew Heaney, Archie Bradley, and James Paxton all have huge upside. Gausman faltered during his callup last year with the Orioles while Heaney and Bradley would be making their MLB debuts. There are no lefties in the rotation right now in Miami and Heaney appears ready for the show. Bradley may end up being the best starter in Arizona this year when it's all said and done. Paxton doesn't have the upside as some others on this list, but he's well worth watching as a sleeper for the award.
Potential Midseason Callups
Finally, the last category includes prospects who could be called up once the Super Two deadline has passed. Generally, this is in June or July. Francisco Lindor of the Indians will be playing shortstop in Cleveland by 2015 and he could move Asdrubal Cabrera aside by mid-summer. There is a long-term opening at third base for the Twins with Miguel Sano's name all over it, and a recent physical showed no lingering issues with the UCL in his throwing elbow. Tommy La Stella could unseat Dan Uggla for the Braves. Javier Baez and Kris Bryant are future superstars and it's just a matter of when the Cubs want to start their arbitration clocks. Maikel Franco has third base being kept warm by Cody Asche, but he could be a midseason addition for the Phillies. Gregory Polanco could win the right-field job out of spring training, but more likely the Pirates will wait a few months before his debut. On the pitching end, Kyle Zimmer of the Royals and Noah Syndergaard of the Mets have frontline potential, but they won't begin the year in the majors. Keep your eye on Dylan Bundy of the Orioles, who could be back from Tommy John surgery by mid-July.