Results tagged ‘ Billy Hamilton ’
I like to say that I love baseball and that I don’t have a favorite team, but the fact of the matter is that I was born and raised in Cincinnati and I can’t help but hope for the best for my hometown Reds. It’s hard to say that I’m disappointed in a team that won more than 90 games in three of the last five seasons, but a season without a championship isn’t an absolute success, and the Reds haven’t won the World Series since 1990. They, along with 28 other teams, get to look up at the San Francisco Giants until next Fall, but are the Reds in a position to contend in 2015?
The club finished with 76 wins in 2014, finishing 14 games out of the NL Central and in 4th place in the division. While the Cardinals reloaded by acquiring OF Jason Heyward from Atlanta, the Pirates continue to get better with experience and tremendous, young talent, and the Cubs finally opened their wallets and brought in LHP Jon Lester to anchor an incredibly gifted, young roster, the Reds were making changes in their own way. The Reds haven’t been as desolate as they were last offseason, when they basically added Skip Schumaker to the mix after losing Shin-Soo Choo to the Rangers. There was some wheeling and dealing being done by GM Walt Jocketty, but the direction of those deals was a bit odd.
The addition of OF Marlon Byrd, who has 49 home runs and an .800 OPS over the last two seasons, is an improvement over what OF Ryan Ludwick had done over the same time period (11 home runs and a .666 OPS); however, he’s 37 years old and his strikeout rate jumped to a career-high 29 percent while he posted an inflated .341 BABIP. The Byrd acquisition came after the club dealt Alfredo Simon to Detroit for RHP Jonathan Crawford and INF Eugenio Suarez, and RHP Mat Latos to the Marlins for C Chad Wallach and RHP Anthony DeSclafani. Both Simon and Latos were due to become free agents after the 2015 season, so the deals made sense for the Reds if they were heading into a rebuilding mode, but the deal for Byrd didn’t make much sense for a rebuilding team, as they traded a solid, young arm in Ben Lively to the Phillies to acquire Byrd.
Personally, the deal with the Tigers appears to be a steal. Simon never pitched the way that he had in a starting role prior to the 2014 season, and his FIP (4.33) says much more about his performance than his 3.44 ERA and 15 wins show. The fact that the Reds received the Tigers 1st round pick from the 2013 MLB Draft, Crawford, was pretty impressive, but Suarez, who rose quickly through the Tigers system and looks like a solid middle infielder to build around, in addition to Crawford was a coup.
The deal with the Marlins was a little less impressive, in my opinion. Wallach looks like a catching-version of Kevin Youkilis, posting solid K:BB rates in the minors, but DeSclafani was solid throughout his minor league career (3.23 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over 354.1 IP), but wasn’t able to miss as many bats upon his promotion to the Marlins, when he had a 6.27 ERA (3.77 FIP) and allowed 10.9 H/9 IP. DeSclafani looks like a decent back-end starter, but you’d think Jocketty could have received more for Latos than that, given the insane money that will be thrown at pitchers on the free agent market.
Still, after the deals, the Reds are out in baseball purgatory. While they acquired a couple of arms in their trades, they still only have three starters worth trusting in the rotation: Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake. Tony Cingrani is an option, but outside of the questions about his secondary stuff, you have to wonder if his shoulder will continue being an issue after it cost him some time in 2014. Outside of those four, the Reds have more question marks in the rotation, as David Holmberg, Dylan Axelrod, Daniel Corcino, and Cuban import Raisel Iglesias bring unknown skills and suspect resumes to a potentially lengthy Spring Training competition for the No.5 spot in the group.
In addition to the questions in the rotation, the Reds have to address their depth. Suarez is a very nice option to fill-in at second base and shortstop, likely a much better option than Ramon Santiago was when he was asked to take over for Brandon Phillips‘ lengthy DL stint in 2014. Brayan Pena was impressive when pushed into an unfamiliar role, filling in at first base when Joey Votto was out for so long with his knee injury, but he wasn’t productive enough to offset the loss of the team’s franchise player.
Speaking of the franchise player…who is it? Can Cincinnati count of Joey Votto? Is Jay Bruce ever going to find consistency? Is Johnny Cueto going to re-sign, and, can the Reds afford to sign him OR afford to let him leave? Is Devin Mesoraco the future of the franchise? Can Billy Hamilton hit enough to become a difference-maker to the franchise?
The Reds still have a lot of talent, but they have a lot of questions to answer, as well. Jocketty did a nice job in acquiring more arms and additional depth in his flurry of deals, but if 2015 is the last year that the team will have Cueto and a couple of other solid arms to pitch the club to a division title, did he do enough to win now? Are they trying to win now?
The offseason isn’t quite over and there are still some starting pitchers who could be solid additions to the roster (RHP Chris Young, RHP Kyle Kendrick, LHP Paul Maholm, RHP Roberto Hernandez, LHP Franklin Morales), but they certainly aren’t going to be in on RHPs Max Scherzer or James Shields.
If things break right, the Reds should be competitive enough to make a run in the NL Central, but there will be a lot of luck involved in those breaks. While Cincinnati was spoiled in the 1970’s, it just hasn’t been the same for those of us who were born after 1980. One title in a lifetime doesn’t seem like a lot, but at least it hasn’t been since 1908.
With the All-Star break starting after Sunday’s action, there are some baseball fans who are feeling like a train ran over them, weeping at the thought of discussing their fantasy baseball teams due to horrific production, numerous injuries, and running their squads with their hearts instead of their heads – sitting in last place. The cellar isn’t so bad until all of the wine is gone, but some of us have players to thank for tremendous starts to the 2014 fantasy baseball season. Not all of us can have Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Felix Hernandez, and Troy Tulowitzki, so these are the players who are helping to separate the contenders from the pretenders in the first half of the season:
Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros
Altuve is having a career year, on pace for over 220 hits and 70 stolen bases. In an era of huge swing and miss on the offensive side of the game, Altuve lacks patience but makes consistent contact, putting the ball in play to utilize his speed. He leads MLB with his 128 hits, with 20 of those coming on infield hits. With Jon Singleton and George Springer joining him in Houston this season, a glimpse into the Astros’ future is upon us.
Michael Brantley, LF, Cleveland Indians
“Dr. Smooth” has already eclipsed his previous career-high in home runs (10 in 2013) this season, and will easily surpass his career bests in several other categories, and if that wasn’t enough, he is tied for the MLB lead in outfield assists (10, though he has negative defensive value). You likely don’t earn anything for those throws, but Branley’s bat has kept an up-and-down Indians club in the AL Central race all season. His career contact rates suggest that this breakout is legit – not bad for the player to be named later in the C.C. Sabathia deal, huh?
Dee Gordon, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers
To think that Gordon was “in the mix” for the second base job this spring after the Dodgers signed Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero seems absurd when looking at his offensive impact this season. The speedster has obviously assisted fantasy players with the league-leading 42 stolen bases, but getting on base (formerly a problem) has allowed him to be driven in by Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and the other Dodger hitters. Sometime you just need a long-term look to show what you have. The Dodgers committed to him, and Gordon is rewarding many people so far this season.
Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds
I wasn’t much of a believer in Hamilton given his struggles in Triple-A last season, but he has certainly proven me wrong. While he isn’t leading the league in steals, he has certainly given the Reds an dynamic defender in center and a threat to score at will. The power is just icing on the cake for fantasy owners. His recent tear (.344/.375/.574 over the last 15 games) has not only increased his numbers, they have helped put the Reds back in contention in the NL Central.
Charlie Blackmon, OF, Colorado Rockies
Blackmon is an All-Star. He barely had a grasp on the starting left field job when spring training started, so that is about all that you need to know; however, I will share his home and road splits because I’m not so sure his value is legitimate unless you play him during long home stands –
Todd Frazier, 3B, Cincinnati Reds
Todd Frazier is the second most valuable third baseman in baseball in 2014 (based on WAR, 3.5), ahead of the likes of Evan Longoria, David Wright, and Adrian Beltre. He’s hitting for power, he’s running, and, the best part, nothing in his numbers truly suggest a regression. With the hot months ahead of us and Great American Ballpark being a notoriously friendly environment, we could easily see 30 home runs and 100 RBI next to his name at the end of the season.
Garrett Richards, RHP, Los Angeles Angels
Perhaps we should have seen this coming after Richards had one of the top fastball velocities in baseball in 2013. After all, if you consider that his average fastball was 94.8 mph in 2013, he would have ranked in the top four in baseball behind Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg, and Jose Fernandez. Good company. Better results.
Alfredo Simon, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Simon is leading MLB in the all important WIN. Ugh…the win…well, it still matters in fantasy. The FIP suggests he could see regression, but the bigger question is the number of innings he will log, as his career-high for innings was in 2011 when he reached 115.2 for Baltimore. He will likely spend some time in the Reds’ bullpen to limit those down the stretch, or a burnout is likely.
Scott Kazmir, LHP, Oakland Athletics
His career was nearly over in 2011 due to shoulder issues, he missed all of 2012 and then the solid return in Cleveland was special…but this is incredible. Kazmir deserves this success after overcoming so many obstacles, and the A’s look intelligent, as always, in their wise investment – as do fantasy owners.
Henderson Alvarez, RHP, Miami Marlins
Alvarez has a heavy fastball that he can’t blow by many, but it manages to keep the ball on the ground and in the park. That has helped him take a big step forward in his production on the mound this season. At 24, he is a strong dynasty option. He really knows how to pitch and his command will keep him relevant if and when he loses his velocity.
Rickey Henderson ruined it for everyone who came after him. He even ruined it for everyone who came before him. The career .401 on-base percentage, the 1,406 career stolen bases (most in MLB history), and the 2,295 runs scored (most in MLB history) seem to be unreasonable expectations for the No.1 spot in the order in today’s game. With strikeout numbers inflating along with the velocity of pitcher’s fastballs, is it fair to ask a leadoff hitter to post a .400 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage over .400 in 2014?
There are 20 players who have over 50 at-bats out of the leadoff spot with an OPS over .780, with only four of those players having on-base percentages over .400:
Scooter Gennett: .412/.434/.686 in 51 at-bats
A.J. Pollock: .324/.400/.634 in 71 at-bats
Gregory Polanco: .362/.448/.483 in 58 at-bats
Shin-Soo Choo: .269/.409/.404 in 171 at-bats
An additional six players meet the cut with a .360 or higher on-base percentage:
Carlos Gomez: .298/.374/.560 in 168 at-bats
Jimmy Rollins: .286/.373/.529 in 70 at-bats
Kole Calhoun: .305/.366/.534 in 118 at-bats
Coco Crisp: .288/.374/.457 in 208 at-bats
Jose Altuve: .333/.369/.459 in 183 at-bats
Angel Pagan: .314/.363/.419 in 236 at-bats
At the halfway point, however, only Jose Altuve, Coco Crisp, and Angel Pagan have 10 or more steals while posting an OPS over .780 and an on-base percentage of .360 or higher.
Rickey Henderson, over his entire 25-year career (including the several years that he was “hanging on”), averaged 74 stolen bases over a 162-game season, while having his .401 career on-base percentage and a career .820 OPS.
No one will ever be Henderson, but will any manager want to put a player in the leadoff spot when they are capable of producing a .400 on-base percentage and an OPS at or near .800? Only Shin-Soo Choo meets that criteria among players with 100 or more plate appearances out of the leadoff spot in 2014, but is his speed, or lack of speed, an issue?
It seems like the norm for teams to plug the “fast guy” into a leadoff position. Michael Bourn and Billy Hamilton fit that profile in Cleveland and Cincinnati, and for several years as manager of the Reds, Dusty Baker was running Drew Stubbs out as the leadoff hitter for the same reason. Denard Span, Dee Gordon, Jose Reyes, and Ben Revere all fit the fast-guy-in-the-leadoff-spot-who-can’t-get-on-base-at-a-high-clip profile, as well. If a player is going to be a true table setter and get on base, does that player need to be fast? Could Joey Votto lead off? Could a catcher with a good eye lead off? Is clogging the bases a “thing” or just a part of the managerial “book”?
Consider that a lead off hitter is only guaranteed to lead off an inning one time in a given nine inning game, and that is the first inning…why is it important for that player to have speed? Don’t you want that hitter, as well as everyone else in a lineup, to be capable of getting on base and creating runs? Perhaps getting on base isn’t a necessary part of being a leadoff hitter. Perhaps the ability to make contact is all that any single player in baseball needs to do, at any spot in the order, to be an effective part of a lineup.
In today’s MLB, leadoff hitters can be fast, they can have plate discipline, they can have power, and they can be run producers, but very rarely are any of them the total package. So many teams want Rickey Henderson, but he’ll never happen again. Should fans just expect one of those talents and refrain from bashing their hometown leadoff hitters due to their imperfections?
The perfect leadoff hitter died with the retirement of Henderson. It is time to kill the expectations of the No.1 hitter, along with the pitcher’s win.
The beginning of the season is full of hope and joy…and when reality sets in, that hope and joy can become fear and anger. It makes fans begin to second guess their team’s season after just four games in a 162-game season. Although the first week isn’t officially over, there are already players who have developed a following of Twitter rage, a second guessing that doesn’t allow for patience, and the fear that could result in a player being added to a sell-low trade in their fantasy league after just 12 to 25 at-bats. These players have become the talk of their respective towns for the wrong reasons.
B.J. Upton, CF, Atlanta Braves
Coming into today, the league-wide swing/miss rate was 23.1%. B.J Upton has swung & missed 43.2% through today (16x in 37 swings).
— jasoncollette (@jasoncollette) April 4, 2014
Even after spending the offseason tinkering with his swing, Upton’s ability to make contact has seemed to completely vanish. Upton has gone from a 4.5 (2007) and 4.8 (2008) WAR player to having a -0.6 WAR in 2013 when he hit .184 and had a 56 wRC+. In just the second year of a five-year, $75.2 million deal with Atlanta, the outfielder, who will turn 30 in August, certainly hasn’t provided anything close to what he has been paid by Braves brass. Although it is early in the season, this type of production, or lack there of, will only force the Braves into difficult choices – like moving Evan Gattis to left while playing Jason Heyward in center and Justin Upton in right, while giving Christian Bethancourt some at-bats behind the plate – allowing Upton an opportunity to continue to alter his swing or pray to the baseball gods for some sort of guidance in what appears to be a hopeless adventure.
Can He Rebound?: Upton has had success in the past, but after his failures in 2013, it’s fair to wonder if the tools that made him a half-way decent player have eroded to the point that he can’t be considered a toolsy player anymore. If he doesn’t have tools, he can’t produce. He has talent around him to hide his issues, potentially seeing more fastballs due to the presence of Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman protecting him in the Atlanta order. I can see him rebounding, but he never was a .300 hitter. Even reaching .250 is going to be a chore, but the power and speed combination is always worth waiting on. The Braves paid a lot for him, so he’ll get a long look.
Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds
— Redleg Nation (@redlegnation) April 3, 2014
Did anyone think that Hamilton was going to hit .368 like he did in his September call-up last season after he managed to hit just .256 in Triple-A prior to the promotion? You gotta love the golden quote from “classy” St. Louis beat writer Derrick Goold on Hamilton, but his sarcasm and mocking ways aren’t all that different from Reds fans, who are already pretty upset with the breeze that Hamilton is creating near the Ohio River. During Wednesday night’s game, Hamilton’s bunting skills were quite questionable, as well, going directly to Michael Wacha and Matt Carpenter with consecutive attempts – DIRECTLY. I was talking to my wife and said the same thing that Goold said, in a different way: “Speed doesn’t matter when it’s walking back to the dugout.” Maybe Hamilton is trying to hit the ball to the gaps, maybe he is feeling the pressure of replacing an All-Star after the departure of Shin-Soo Choo…Regardless, what he is doing isn’t working, and after injuring his finger on his stolen base attempt on Friday night in New York, hitting may be even more difficult until he is 100 percent.
Can He Rebound?: Hamilton didn’t prove anything in Triple-A last season to overcome the questions in his bat. His speed helps his defense play up, but it doesn’t do anything until he starts getting on base. No one has ever had 200 hits while getting 200 bunt singles in a season, and that won’t happen this year either. Don’t be shocked to see his struggles continue, leading to Chris Heisey and Roger Bernadina manning center while Hamilton refines his craft in Louisville. He will need to get it going quickly there, as well, as Phillip Ervin could easily replace him as the center fielder of the future in Cincinnati.
Colby Rasmus, CF, Toronto Blue Jays
Colby Rasmus has 10 K’s in first 21 PA of 2014. Worth noting — Colby Rasmus had 10 K’s in first 23 PA of 2013.
— Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling) April 5, 2014
When considering that this is a contract year for Rasmus, this certainly isn’t the start that he was hoping for. After posting the highest WAR of his career in 2013 (4.8), things were looking up. With Rasmus, though, the swing and miss in his game can overshadow the large, end-of-year counting stats. At one time, Rasmus had a .361 on-base percentage and walked in nearly 12 percent of his at-bats…but that was in 2010, and Rasmus’ patience has seemed to drop while his power numbers ballooned and his defensive skills increased. Which Colby Rasmus is going to show up in 2014? That really can’t be answered, but if he is going to cash-in on his free agency after the season, he needs to get those numbers back to last year’s really quick-like.
Can He Rebound?: Rasmus, like Upton, has a lot of talent around him in Toronto. He has always had crazy abilities, but the makeup has been questioned due to his run-ins with Tony LaRussa and his defensive numbers looking so week prior to 2013. The power is legit and the payoff for success will be huge due to the lack of center field depth in free agency after the 2014 season. It would be easier to see Rasmus rebounding if he wasn’t struggling so much with making contact, while also seeing drops in his plate discipline numbers. He’s at the right age for a huge breakout, and I can see him hitting 30 home runs in 2014, but it won’t always be pretty.
Cliff Lee, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies
in 2013, JP Arencibia walked 18 times in 497 plate appearances while Cliff Lee walked 32 of the 876 batters he faced
— Cespedes Family BBQ (@CespedesBBQ) March 31, 2014
Looks like the Opening Day Cliff Lee was a temporary thing. He’s the normal Cliff Lee so far today. — Len Kasper (@LenKasper) April 5, 2014
With Roy Halladay retired and Cole Hamels on the disabled list due to shoulder woes, there was a lot expected of the Phillies’ No.1 starter this season. Even though he earned the win, in spite of allowing eight earned runs in five innings (KILL THE WIN!!!), the fans of Philadelphia can’t be pleased with how Lee looked on Opening Day. However, Lee rebounded tremendously this afternoon against the Cubs, tossing seven scoreless innings (10 hits, 6:0 K:BB) to make things a little more “normal” with a 6.00 ERA. Some may warn that the successful outing was due to the opponent, but Philly fans should anticipate more outings like Saturday’s going forward.
Can He Rebound?: He already did. Trust in him.
Jim Johnson, RHP, Oakland Athletics
I put a Jim Johnson poster on my door and now it won’t close.
— Cole Lopez (@ColeLopez77) April 3, 2014
Johnson has been, quite possibly, the worst development of the first week of the season. He had faced all of 12 batters and NINE of them had reached base – five of them scoring – heading into Saturday. He did get through an inning today while striking out two, allowing zero runs (hooray!), and allowing only one hit. After imploding in his first two appearances, it was fair to wonder if the A’s would give him the ball in the next save situation, especially with a solid bullpen in Oakland. Today was proof that they aren’t giving up on hit just yet, and with a $10 million salary for this season, it seems very unlikely that Johnson will lose his job too quickly.
Can He Rebound?: Johnson blew nine saves in 2013, lost eight games, and still managed an ERA under 3.00 while closing 50 games out for Baltimore. In fact, he has 101 saves since the start of the 2012 season. This was a lot of money for a team like Oakland to spend on a closer, which leads me to two conclusions: 1) The A’s will win a lot of games this season, and 2) Jim Johnson will remain the closer.
This is the third year that I’ve created this article (2012 and 2013) and it’s always a lot of fun. After I looked back at the 2013 version and saw that I did mediocre, I figured that it was worth trying out once again, just to see if I’m as brilliant as I like to, humbly, think that I am.
American League East
1st: Tampa Bay Rays
2nd: New York Yankees
3rd: Boston Red Sox
4th: Baltimore Orioles
5th: Toronto Blue Jays
Last year, I went with Toronto, which was an absolute nightmare. They still have a lot of offensive talent, but they don’t have the rotation depth (even with Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez knocking on the door) to compete in this division. I really like the Orioles and I even think that Ubaldo Jimenez can make it work in Baltimore, but I’m hesitant to expect a repeat from Chris Davis in 2014 and we still don’t know the second base situation will work out or when Manny Machado will be full strength. The top three in the East are nearly replaceable parts, as you could put them in any order and look like a genius. For me, Boston doesn’t have the goods this year, having not replaced Jacoby Ellsbury with a legitimate part (Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley, Jr.) and a veteran team another year older screams regression. The Yankees are a mess at second after losing Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners, but they added enough parts to look like a team on the rise. The Rays nearly stood pat, but I think that will work for them. A full season from Wil Myers and the tremendous arms in David Price, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb make them a force. While re-signing James Loney was the highlight of their offseason, the Rays are still strong enough defensively and in the rotation to win this division. The only worry is injuries, as their minor league system hasn’t produced many stars as they’ve moved to the back-end of drafts due to their major league success.
American League Central
1st: Detroit Tigers
2nd: Cleveland Indians
3rd: Kansas City Royals
4th: Chicago White Sox
5th: Minnesota Twins
The Central was quite competitive in 2013, as the Tribe and Royals finally pushed the Tigers and made the division look respectable once again, though Chicago and Minnesota were two of the worst teams in all of baseball. Things still look bleak for the latter two teams, as they are both slowly rebuilding by developing their own talent or acquiring talent in trades. The Twins will be a force to be reckoned with within the next couple of seasons when Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano (who will miss all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery), Alex Meyer, and others begin reaching Target Field, and the White Sox will be better with solid, young, major league-ready talent in Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson, and Jose Abreu being acquired or signed within the last year. Regardless, this division will be a three-way battle in 2014. The Royals will come up a bit short after losing Ervin Santana‘s production to free agency. While Santana struggled to find consistency throughout his career, Yordano Ventura, no matter how good he may be in his rookie season, likely won’t be able to repeat Santana’s 3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 211 innings in his age-23 season in the No.5 starter role. I’m expecting huge things from Eric Hosmer and tremendous improvements out of Mike Moustakas and his new swing, but the rotation isn’t strong enough to contend with the other offenses in this division. The Indians may not win 92 games again this year, but the have the offensive firepower to be a contender. Even with lackluster seasons from Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Bourn, and Nick Swisher in 2013, Cleveland rocked. They’ll struggle due to rotation losses, much like the Royals, needing to replace both Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir‘s innings, but Danny Salazar should continue to establish himself as an electric arm, albeit with around a 170 to 180 innings limit. The Tigers will remain the class of the AL Central due to their rotation. Even after trading Doug Fister, the Tigers were able to replace him with the young lefty Drew Smyly, and the Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez trio should be good for over 600 innings and 600 strikeouts in 2014. Rick Porcello‘s drastic improvements last year leave him heading towards his free agency after the 2015 season, so if he is determined to strike it rich, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him be the 2nd best pitcher on the staff this season. Miguel Cabrera may be all that they need, but rookie Nick Castellanos can swing it, Austin Jackson is looking at a breakout season, and Ian Kinsler, even if he is just mediocre away from Arlington, is more than capable of devastating opposing pitchers. The Tigers may be a 100-win team in 2014.
American League West
1st: Los Angeles Angels
2nd: Oakland Athletics
3rd: Texas Rangers
4th: Seattle Mariners
5th: Houston Astros
Houston is brutal, but you have to trust in the processes that GM Jeff Luhnow brought with him from the St. Louis Cardinals. He has quickly turned the minor league system around for the Astros and there is tremendous talent on the way up, but Houston looks like a 95 to 100 loss team once again in 2014, though there are some pieces who will show themselves useful to the organization in Jason Castro, Dexter Fowler (likely trade bait), Brad Peacock, and Jonathan Villar (a poor man’s Everth Cabrera). Seattle improved tremendously and will field a winning team, but they don’t have the talent to overcome the class of the division. The Mariners have plenty of young talent in Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Brad Miller, and Dustin Ackley who will be valuable, but they also have glaring weaknesses in Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders locked into starting roles. If Seattle continues to add pieces over the next couple of seasons to their strong, young core, they’ll get there. The Rangers have been very good for quite some time, and they made the Kinsler trade with Detroit to bring back the big bopper that they lost when Josh Hamilton left for Los Angeles. Prince Fielder should be tremendous in Texas, likely rebounding to the 35 to 40 home run power that we used to see in Milwaukee, while the trade opened up a spot for Jurickson Profar at second. With Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios still around and the additon of Shin-Soo Choo, the Rangers should be very tough to keep off of the scoreboard, but with injuries to Derek Holland and Matt Harrison (whose back still isn’t right), the Rangers will heavily lean on Yu Darvish and youngster Martin Perez. They’ll need a lot of help from Colby Lewis (who missed all of 2013) and Tommy Hanson (a shoulder injury away from being out of the league) to be competitive. The A’s have lost A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker to injuries (Parker is out for the season) already this spring, but they still have solid depth in their rotation with Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Dan Straily, Tommy Milone, and Jesse Chavez to be solid in the rotation, especially with their spacious home field. Yoenis Cespedes should provide a full season with 30/30 potential, Josh Donaldson can really hit a baseball and pick it in the field nearly as beautifully, and Josh Reddick has a healthy wrist and will want to prove that he is more the 2012 version (32 HR/85 RBI) than last year’s version (12 HR/56 RBI). The A’s are dangerous, and while they don’t look like much offensively in parts of the order, Billy Beane continues to do quite a bit with the talent that he and his operations staff are able to find and get the most out of. The Angels have had a rough go of things in the Albert Pujols era. Mike Trout is now the centerpiece of the team, but the club has continued to put pieces around him, adding David Freese at third, and a couple of solid young arms to a depleted rotation in Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. The minor league system is still a hot mess, but the Halos have quite a bit of talent that, if healthy, will allow them to be a dominant team once again. I’m betting on Pujols, Trout, Josh Hamilton, Jered Weaver, and C.J. Wilson in carrying this team back to the top of the West in 2014.
American League Wild Cards
New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics
National League East
1st: Washington Nationals
2nd: Atlanta Braves
3rd: Miami Marlins
4th: Philadelphia Phillies
5th: New York Mets
I may be a bit of an optimist when it comes to the NL East, but I’m seeing things a bit differently than most. The Mets offense is horrendous and they haven’t had a full season of David Wright in two of the last three seasons – plus, Wright’s now on the wrong side of 30. The outfield is a cluster of mediocrity, featuring an aging Curtis Granderson and Chris Young, while the club seems to think that Eric Young, Jr. is an everyday corner outfielder. The rotation is also ugly after losing Matt Harvey late last year. Zack Wheeler is still a work in progress, but a team in need of a rebuild signed Bartolo Colon and Daisuke Matsuzaka to fill their rotation voids. I don’t see it working. The Phillies also feature aging players, and it’s hard to see full seasons out of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley again in 2014. The rotation is hurting a bit with Cole Hamels having shoulder issues and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez looking like garbage after signing out of Cuba, but Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett should continue to be productive. I’d like to see Domonic Brown have another season like 2013 to make Ruben Amaro, Jr. look worse than he already makes himself look with his horrific contracts and clueless way of running the team, after letting Brown waste away for so long in the Phillies’ minor league system. I like the Marlins this year. The rotation is very good: Jose Fernandez is an ace; Henderson Alvarez may not strikeout a ton of guys, but he keeps the ball down and pounds the strike zone; Nathan Eovaldi has an upper-90’s fastball and looks promising; Jacob Turner is up and down like most young starters, but he was once a future No.1 or No.2; A.J. Ramos and Steve Cishek are good at the back-end of the bullpen, and you can’t not like Giancarlo Stanton mashing in the middle of the order. The club will get some offensive help with Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Garrett Jones (only against RHP) in the lineup. They won’t be above .500, but they should be better than the Mets and Phillies in 2014. The Braves are hurting in the rotation after losing Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen to Tommy John surgeries in the last few weeks; however, they still have Julio Teheran, Mike Minor (when he’s over his injury around the second week of April), and Alex Wood, with Gavin Floyd coming back from Tommy John surgery by mid-May. They just need to make it through the first month, and they have enough offense to do that. Jason Heyward is a monster who has struggled, but I’m expecting huge things out of him this season after injuries limited him to 104 games last season. Justin Upton and B.J. Upton will likely rebound, as well, and Freddie Freeman looks to be an MVP candidate after having a breakout season at the age of 23 in 2013. Andrelton Simmons could only build on his breakout 2013, and Atlanta is either going to get a rebound from Dan Uggla or production out of his eventual replacement, Tommy La Stella, at second. The Braves will be great, but not was good as the Nationals. This team is setup to win games and win lots of them. Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister present a top four of a rotation that can’t be matched by another club in Major League Baseball. Bryce Harper is jacked and looks primed to reach 30-plus home runs at the age of 21 and Jayson Werth will team with him in the middle of the order to cripple opposing pitchers. Ian Desmond is one of the top offensive shortstops in baseball and Anthony Rendon should establish himself as an All-Star level producer at second this season. Ryan Zimmerman is still a defensive wizard, and, if he can stay on the field, he can come close to 30 home runs and 90 RBI at the hot corner. The Nationals, like the Tigers, are capable or exceeding 100 wins.
National League Central
1st: St. Louis Cardinals
2nd: Cincinnati Reds
3rd: Pittsburgh Pirates
4th: Milwaukee Brewers
5th: Chicago Cubs
The Cubs will be difficult to deal with in 2015, when Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Mike Olt, and Arismendy Alcantara are officially within their everyday lineup; however, in 2014, Chicago will, once again, be the red-headed stepchild of the NL Central, taken out back and beaten in the wood house, or any other form of describing a team that will be laughably bad. If Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo bounce back, they could win 65 to 70 games, but if they’re both as bad as they were in 2013, this is a 100 loss team. The Brewers will be better in 2014. Management has spent money and, while the minor league system rivals the atrociousness of the Angels’ system, Milwaukee has Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, and Khris Davis in the lineup to be productive offensively. Wily Peralta should build on his late season success from 2013, and the veteran leadership in the rotation from Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, and Matt Garza should lead to an above .500 season. The Brewers just don’t have the depth to overcome injuries to the rotation or the everyday lineup, so they’ll likely run into some trouble in 2014, especially if they’re counting on 200 innings from Garza. The Pirates surprised everyone by winning 94 games in 2013, but they aren’t going to stop there. Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, and Gerrit Cole look like the core of a franchise that will be capable of winning several divisions in a row in coming seasons. With Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell, and Gregory Polanco on the way, this club should only get better. Unfortunately, the loss of A.J. Burnett could take its toll on the rotation. Cole and Charlie Morton are effective, Francisco Liriano and Wandy Rodriguez, however, haven’t shown much consistency for health or production over their careers. If things break right, the Pirates could be right where they left off, but that’s a big “if”. The Reds lost a lot of production when Shin-Soo Choo signed with Texas. Billy Hamilton will utilize his thoroughbred-like speed to steal bases and score runs, but he doesn’t have the power or on-base skills that Choo brought to the club. With Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in the middle of the order, the Reds have plenty of pop, and if Brandon Phillips rebounds a bit (hard to say with 100-plus RBI, but the average and on-base numbers were rough), the offense should still be in good shape, especially with production from Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier. The rotation is still solid. A healthy Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Tony Cingrani will battle the Washington Nationals for a starting staff ERA title. The scary injury to Aroldis Chapman hurts the bullpen for the next six to eight weeks (his real-life health is more important considering what happened), but J.J. Hoover, Sean Marshall, and Jonathan Broxton have each closed games before. The window is closing in Cincinnati quickly, though, so they could make some moves to make a late season push. St. Louis and the “Cardinal way” is frustrating to watch as a lifelong Cincinnati native and Reds fan, but you have to appreciate their success. The team is setup to be dominant once again. Strong offensive output from Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina, and Matt Adams will carry the team, while Jhonny Peralta, Peter Bourjos, and Kolten Wong make adjustments to new leagues or life in the majors. The club has a .300 hitting, 30 home run talent waiting in the wings in Oscar Taveras if an injury strikes in the outfield or an infield corner, but the rotation depth is what makes them unbelievably good. Joe Kelly, who had a 2.28 ERA over 15 starts in 2013, may not even be in the rotation. Adam Wainwright could be joined by Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, and Carlos Martinez. Any other team would likely be starting Trevor Rosenthal, but the Cards can let him close thanks to their rotation depth, which hasn’t even included Jaime Garcia, who is, once again, battling shoulder woes…but he could be ready to pitch again soon. The Cardinals are a tremendous example of a team that can compete while consistently drafting in the last half of each round, while not having an unreasonable payroll number. They should be envied by fans and replicated by other organizations.
National League West
1st: Los Angeles Dodgers
2nd: San Francisco Giants
3rd: Arizona Diamondbacks
4th: Colorado Rockies
5th: San Diego Padres
The Padres are a solid team with a lot of good talent, but the NL West is quite competitive, and the Padres home park may continue to be their own worst enemy. They’ll have an advantage for their pitchers, but they just don’t have enough offensive talent to overcome Petco’s offensive squashing ways. Chase Headley quickly returned to form in 2013 after a breakout 2012 and Carlos Quentin, once again, showed that he is productive and very, very fragile. The Friars will have full seasons out of Yonder Alonso and Everth Cabrera, with some power production from young second baseman Jedd Gyorko, but Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and Tyson Ross will struggle to win games due to the rest of the talent, or lack thereof, around them. The Rockies may finally have an appropriate way to attack their own offensive environment in Coor’s field, finding and developing pitchers who can pound the bottom half of the strike zone, drafting and developing pitchers like Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler in the minor league system, but they’re still a year or two away from overcoming the pitching talent that they currently are rostering at the major league level. Still, they’ll win games thanks to Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer, Wilin Rosario, and Nolan Arenado powering home runs. The Diamondbacks continue to deal away tremendous young talent to compete at the major league level, acquiring Mark Trumbo from the Angels this winter. Trumbo will add great power to a lineup already featuring NL MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt, and with Martin Prado and Miguel Montero in the lineup, the D’backs should score plenty of runs. The rotation lost Patrick Corbin to Tommy John surgery, but they had Randall Delgado out of options to step into the rotation, with Archie Bradley near-ready in Triple-A. Wade Miley, Bronson Arroyo, and Trevor Cahill should provide solid innings, while Brandon McCarthy could be the wild card in the teams success due to his dominance when healthy, though he can’t always be counted on. The bullpen in Arizona is dynamite, featuring Addison Reed at closer, with J.J. Putz, Oliver Perez, and David Hernandez as setup men. The Giants have pitching for days, but still have trouble finding offense. Pablo Sandoval will be a free agent after this season and utilized that motivation to finally show up to spring training in shape. Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence should continue to produce, while they are hoping that Mike Morse can return to his powerful 2012 form rather than whatever it was that showed up last season. Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain could be Cy Young candidates, while the Giants will hope that Tim Hudson and Tim Lincecum can return to their former Cy Young candidacy days. The Dodgers…do they ever have a loaded roster! All-Stars all over the field: Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, and Matt Kemp will lead the club offensively, while manager Don Mattingly finds a creative way to rotate four very good outfielders between three spots, with a fifth, Joc Pederson, nearly ready to produce when called up from the minors. The rotation is very deep and the bullpen is the deepest in baseball. Clayton Kershaw needs no explanation, and Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, and Paul Maholm should be very productive in a forgiving home ballpark with an electric offense supporting them. Five pitchers with closing experience in the bullpen make it nearly a guarantee for success. A payroll with no end makes the Dodgers capable of adding pieces if a need were to arise, as well.
National League Wild Cards
Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds
World Series Prediction
Washington Nationals over the Detroit Tigers in six games
American League MVP
Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
He’ll finally do enough to get the votes that went to Miguel Cabrera the last two years. He has easily been the best all-around player in the game since the start of the 2012 season. At just 22, it’s scary to think of what he will become in his prime if he, fingers crossed, stays healthy.
National League MVP
Jason Heyward, OF, Atlanta Braves
There’s just something about a guy coming off of any injury plagued season who didn’t live up to expectations that makes me want to go with him here. He’s not Joey Votto, Bryce Harper, or Andrew McCutchen, but Heyward will be doing a lot of the things that made Shin-Soo Choo so valuable for the Reds in 2013: getting on base as the leadoff hitter, hitting for power, and stealing bases. I could see Heyward posting a 30/30 season out of the leadoff spot in Atlanta while driving in close to 90 runs and scoring over 100. The numbers will add up to make him one of the top players in baseball, leading Atlanta to an NL playoff matchup with the Nationals.
American League Cy Young
Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers
Yu Darvish will be your trendy pick because of all of those strikeouts, but Verlander has shown that he still has something left, striking out nearly 11 per nine over his final six starts before striking out over 12 per nine over his three playoff starts. With negotiations with Max Scherzer being completely thrown out, Verlander is the man in Detroit, and he is going to show why once again.
National League Cy Young
Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants
Kershaw, like Darvish, would be the easy pick. I picked Bumgarner last year, and one of these years, I’m going to look smart for sticking with him. Bumgarner’s hits per nine (6.5) was the lowest of his career last year, and that number continues to fall each season, while his strikeout rate continues to increase, while he reached 8.9 in 2013. He’s just 24 and he has the home ballpark and the stuff to continue to improve his already impressive numbers.
American League Rookie of the Year
Xander Bogaerts, SS/3B, Boston Red Sox
Bogaerts showed that he is advanced beyond his years in the playoffs last season, helping Boston win another World Series with his impressive play. He hasn’t shown the power yet, but Bogaerts could be a 25 to 30 home run hitter in coming seasons, and his youth is a welcome addition to the aging Red Sox roster.
National League Rookie of the Year
Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds
Vince Coleman once stole 100 bases with a .581 OPS. If Billy Hamilton is on base enough to steal 100 bases, he’s going to score enough runs to create value for himself and the Cincinnati Reds. I’ve seen him run in person and it doesn’t seem real. He’ll have more infield hits than some teams will combine for. Even if he isn’t successful, Hamilton doesn’t have any true competition for at-bats beyond Chris Heisey (who likely can’t handle center field) and Roger Bernadina (who hasn’t been able to handle a job). He’ll maintain the job and be quite productive due to his speed, but if he ever gets a leg injury and loses that tool, he has no role and no business in baseball.
Random Bold Predictions
1. Bryce Harper will hit more home runs than Miguel Cabrera.
4. Grant Balfour will have more saves than whoever closes for Baltimore, and the Orioles will look even more ridiculous for backing out of the contract that they signed with him than they already do.
5. Drew Smyly will win more games in Detroit than Doug Fister wins in Washington.
6. B.J. Upton will hit over .260 and will hit at least 15 home runs while stealing 25 or more bases.
7. Devin Mesoraco will provide more value offensively than Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina provide offensively AND defensively in Tampa…which will show just how bad Dusty Baker messed with the former top prospect in Cincinnati by not playing him daily.
8. Hector Santiago will win 14 or more games to solidify an iffy Angels rotation.
9. Yoenis Cespedes will post an OPS over .920 and will be a top 5 AL MVP candidate at seasons end.
10. Giancarlo Stanton will hit over 40 home runs while walking over 90 times.
11. Drew Hutchison will be the most valuable Toronto Blue Jays starter until they shut him down in September.
13. Someone who wasn’t on the Mets’ Opening Day roster will lead the pitching staff in wins.
14. Dan Uggla posts his typically ugly batting average and strikeouts, but rebounds to 25 or more home runs and close to 90 RBI.
Alex Cobb, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays – last year was really what he can do, now, we get a full season of it.
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals – 25 or more home runs, close to 20 steals, top 10 AL MVP candidate.
Hector Santiago, LHP, Los Angeles Angels
Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Baltimore Orioles
Henderson Alvarez, RHP, Miami Marlins
Drew Hutchison, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
Prospects to Watch
This has nothing to do with my Top 100 list, but you will find some familiar names and others that will be players to keep an eye on, especially if they’re on your favorite team or if you’re in a keeper fantasy baseball league.
Raimel Tapia, OF, Colorado Rockies
David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies
Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Lucas Sims, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals
Nick Williams, OF, Texas Rangers
Nomar Mazara, OF, Texas Rangers
Alberto Tirado, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Victor Sanchez, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Phillip Ervin, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Hunter Harvey, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Franchy Cordero, SS, San Diego Padres
Alexander Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Spring statistics don’t really mean much to anyone, that is, of course, unless those numbers are being used to determine a position battle. I like to see young players who are getting long looks and veterans coming off of injuries prove their health and worth by admiring their feasting on lesser competition. While there are many out there that think that spring training is a waste of time and that the statistics don’t mean anything, they do mean a little something – especially to these players. (Statistics as of 3/20/2014)
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
.396/.412/.667, 19 H, 7 2B, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 2 SB, 5:2 K:BB in 48 AB
Why Spring Matters for Castellanos: The rookie third baseman is going to need to pick up some of the offensive production that was lost when the Tigers traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for a non-Arlington-version of Ian Kinsler. Kinsler has a career .242/.312/.399 line away from the spacious confines of the Ballpark at Arlington and a .304/.387/.511 line at home. Comerica Park is NOT Globe Life Park in Arlington, and with the injury to Jose Iglesias (who may or may not be offensively capable), the Tigers need more players to step up to allow Miguel Cabrera to be an MVP candidate again in 2014. Castellanos doesn’t have the prospect shine of Byron Buxton or Xander Bogaerts, but he is going to hit. He always has. The fact that he is hitting while re-adjusting to playing third base, having been switched to the outfield just two years ago from the hot corner, is a positive sign. Additionally, he just turned 22 at the beginning of March. Castellanos may never hit 30 home runs and he may struggle to hit .300 due to contact and discipline questions, but if the Tigers are going to maintain solid offensive production, they’ll need this young man to hit the way that he has this spring. There may be some growing pains, but this production is very encouraging.
Dustin Ackley, OF, Seattle Mariners
.457/.490/.696, 21 H, 6 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, 6:3 K:BB in 46 AB
Why Spring Matters for Ackley: After hitting .304/.374/.435 in the second half of 2013 (208 plate appearances), Ackley deserved a long look this spring. When the Mariners signed Robinson Cano and Corey Hart and traded for Logan Morrison, it was worrisome that the M’s could have squeezed their former top pick the way that they have their current middle infielders with the Cano signing. An already crowded, though hideous, outfield could still be impacted if Morrison and Hart man the corners with Justin Smoak at first, but the hope for all baseball enthusiasts is that Ackley gets 500 at-bats while playing a single position, something that the former top prospect hasn’t had an opportunity to accomplish in his very shifty career. The month of March has been very kind to Ackley and he should be locked into an everyday role, especially with Franklin Gutierrez out for the year (not shocking) and Michael Saunders floundering last season so badly. His gap power and on-base skills will make him a surprisingly valuable asset in the Mariners push towards contention in 2014.
Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City Royals
.450/.521/.875, 5 2B, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 1 SB, 6:6 K:BB in 40 AB
Why Spring Matters for Moustakas: Moustakas’ career appeared nearly dead when the Royals signed a perfect platoon partner, Danny Valencia, to pair up with the former top prospect. Then, Moustakas went and played winter ball and worked on his swing…and now this. Maybe it was the fire under the sphincter that Moose needed to get his career on track, maybe the alterations were enough, or maybe he’s a late bloomer like the man that he replaced at the hot corner, Alex Gordon. Gordon was nearly out of the league until a breakout in 2011 at the age of 27, but Moustakas, 25, doesn’t deserve to be given up on just yet, either. Perhaps Moustakas has found the swing that led to 36 home runs and a .999 OPS at the age of 21 in 2010. He may still have some issues against the toughest of left-handed pitchers, but this could be the year.
Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds
.325/.413/.450, 13 H, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 9 SB, 12 R, 6:6 K:BB in 40 AB
Why Spring Matters for Hamilton: He’ll never replace Shin-Soo Choo and his ability to get on base, but when Hamilton gets on base, he’s nearly a lock to score. I am not sure how he managed to hit a home run, as the Reds should be instituting push-ups like Willie Mayes Hayes from the great American classic Major League. Hamilton’s wheels will make him a game-changing talent until an injury is to arise. It is highly unlikely that he’ll hit at this rate in 2014, but even a .250/.310/.325 line would afford him enough opportunities on the base paths to score close to 100 runs while stealing 50 or more bases. It may not seem mathematically realistic, but you need to see Billy run in person to gain an understanding of his actual speed. The walks and contact rate is encouraging, and while Great American Ballpark doesn’t have the thin air of the desert, it is still a launching pad – Hamilton just needs to keep the ball on the ground to better utilize his legs and to avoid the push-ups.
Madison Bumgarner, LHP, San Francisco Giants
0.00 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 17 IP, 10 H, 16:2 K:BB
Why Spring Matters for Bumgarner: Spring doesn’t really matter much for Bumgarner, I just hope that people see this and realize that he is capable of winning the 2014 National League Cy Young award. The 2014 season is his age-24 season and he already has incredible numbers. His hits per nine fell to a career low in 2013 (6.5) and his strikeouts per nine were a career high (8.9). The dominance in his 17 spring innings will be what you’ll see in 2014. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stole the award from Clayton Kershaw. There weren’t eight pitchers in the NL better than him, regardless of the Cy Young voting.
Hector Santiago, LHP, Los Angeles Angels
2.76 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 16.1 IP, 11 H, 19:6 K:BB
Why Spring Matters for Santiago: Thanks to Joe Blanton being terrible and the Angels minor league system being even worse, Santiago was a lock for the rotation when he was acquired from the White Sox in the Mark Trumbo deal. Santiago, though, is a very interesting pitcher in 2014. He has some friendly ballparks in the American League West and he has the stuff to post nearly a strikeout per inning. Add in an impressive offense and Santiago could be one of the more surprising No.4 starters in baseball. He has shown the strikeout stuff and how hard he is to hit this spring, and if he can cool the walks a bit, which have always been an issue for him, the 26-year-old will continue to be effective for the Halos.
Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
1.76 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 15.1 IP, 8 H, 9:3 K:BB
Why Spring Matters for Martinez: The Cardinals just aren’t fair. Joe Kelly, who only went 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA over 15 starts in 2013, is battling one of the club’s former top prospects for the No.5 spot in the Cards’ rotation. Nicknamed “Little Pedro” due to his stature and stuff being similar to future Hall of Fame right-hander Pedro Martinez, this 22-year-old Dominican future star has shown just how unhittable he is when he can manage to control his impressive arsenal. Many will wonder if his best long-term role will be the bullpen due to injury risks and how his stuff plays up in short bursts, but Martinez is much more valuable over 200 innings, and the Cardinals continue to have the depth to plug him into the rotation and reap the benefits of their minor league system. Martinez won’t look like Michael Wacha did down the stretch last season, but that is because he’ll be making a name for himself on his own in 2014.
Over the last nine games of the season, the Cincinnati Reds were 2-7, including their National League Wild Card loss in Pittsburgh, which would be their fifth loss against the Pirates in the nine game span. Needless to say, after a disappointing collapse in the 2012 National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, the collapse at the end of the 2013 season wasn’t pleasing to the fans, or the front office. Dusty Baker was canned shortly thereafter, replaced by pitching coach Bryan Price, who, in his first year as manager, has been dealt with the task of rebuilding a roster with a lot of question marks into a perennial power, all the while continuing to look up at the St. Louis Cardinals, who have built a system of winning from within.
Now, the Reds must replace their lead-off hitter, Shin-Soo Choo, who only managed a .423 on-base percentage and 107 runs scored while reaching base 305 times by hit, walk, or hit-by-pitch, after watching Choo run to the Texas Rangers in free agency for seven-years, $130 million.
Certainly, it wasn’t within the budget to re-up with Choo at $18.7 million per year, not with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips combining to make $33 million in 2014, $38 million in 2015, and $45.5 million in 2016, that is, of course, if one of them isn’t traded. The Reds have long had a payroll between $80 and $100 million under current owner Bob Castellini, but is it time to start questioning what the long-term goal of the franchise is, after sputtering around the free agent market while trying to replace their best lead-off hitter since Joe Morgan and Pete Rose were flapping and flopping around Riverfront Stadium. Whether television contracts and Major League Baseball Advanced Media revenue will allow the “small-market” Reds to increase their payroll further is a valid question, but with Matt Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Mike Leake under team-control through 2015, and Homer Bailey headed towards free agency after the 2014 season, how else can the team remain contenders, especially with St. Louis constantly reloading and the Chicago Cubs reaching their contention window, just as the Reds is becoming questionable?
This offseason was difficult, clearly. The Reds couldn’t be in on Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, or any other big-name free agent, but with very little money to spend, GM Walt Jocketty could have been more active in the trade market, or at least the minor league free agent route. Dick Williams, the VP of Baseball Operations, told me during the Reds’ caravan that the club lost out on Grady Sizemore due to his relationship with one of Boston’s trainers, who had been with Cleveland during his time there. While Sizemore wasn’t a lock to produce, or stay healthy, he fit the bill as a low-cost centerfield option. He wasn’t a leadoff hitter, though, at least he hadn’t shown those skills since his last somewhat healthy season, 2009. Which left the club with little choice but to give their in-house candidate, Billy Hamilton, the job.
The issue with Hamilton, though, is that, though he has otherworldly speed, is he capable of thriving long-term in center, a position that he has been playing since the start of the 2012 season. His experience in Triple-A left a lot to be desired, as he posted a .256/.308/.343 triple-slash, stealing 75 bases and scoring 75 runs in 123 games for Louisville. We all know about his brief September audition, when Dusty Baker allowed him to receive all of 22 plate appearances, while Baker pinch-ran him often to allow the speedy Mississippian to accumulate 13 stolen bases in 14 tries.
In addition to plugging Hamilton into center, here is the laundry list of exciting moves that the Reds have made this winter:
November: Signed LHP Manny Parra, 2B Skip Schumaker, and C Brayan Pena to major league contracts; Signed OF Mike Wilson, LHP Nick Schmidt, and RHP Ross Ismail to minor league contracts; Signed C Max Ramirez, LHP Lee Hyde, and 3B Rey Navarro to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;
December: Signed 3B Ruben Gotay and RHP Trevor Bell to minor league contracts; Invited non-roster RHP Jose Diaz and 2B Kristopher Negron to Spring Training; Signed RHP Chien-Ming Wang, C Corky Miller, and SS Argenis Diaz to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training; Acquired LHP David Holmberg from Arizona for Ryan Hanigan;
Well, Choo’s production won’t be replaced by Hamilton, speed or no speed. Even if Hamilton increases his on-base percentage to .340 over 600 plate appearances, he doesn’t have the patient approach that Choo had, and, while he can move himself from base to base with his wheels, he just won’t be on as often. If Choo’s production is a clear downgrade, where are they upgrading?
Is Devin Mesoraco set for a breakout season, replacing the putrid production that Ryan Hanigan provided in 2013? Is Todd Frazier going to post an .829 OPS, as he did in 2012, or something similar to his .721 OPS from 2013? Is Zack Cozart even worth starting anymore, given his career .680 OPS over 1,256 plate appearances? Ryan Ludwick had a nice 2012 and his 2013 was ruined due to his Opening Day shoulder injury, but was he ever worth a two-year, $15 million extension, especially when you consider it was back-loaded with an option for 2015, making him guaranteed $13 million, including his 2015 buyout? Brandon Phillips, 103 RBI or not, saw his OPS fall to .705 in 2013. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce seem like locks for success, but Bruce continues to be one of the streakiest players in all of baseball, while Votto’s patience seems to have overtaken his ability to actually produce at his 2010 MVP level ever again.
As far as the rotation, it remains pretty deep, but once you get past the top five, there are question marks. While that wouldn’t be a huge deal for most clubs, you have to remember that Johnny Cueto only had one full season and he immediately got hurt in the first game of the 2012 playoffs. Bailey, Latos, and Leake are very good options, and Tony Cingrani was impressive, even with just one good pitch, but having Wang, Francis, and nothing else as fallback options is rough, which may lead to the club rushing top prospect Robert Stephenson if there was an injury in 2014, not to mention how the rotation is going to function if Bailey leaves via free agency or Cueto’s 2015 option isn’t picked up. Who will be starting games and why don’t the Reds have options waiting like the Cardinals?
The bullpen is still built to dominate, as Aroldis Chapman is as shutdown as it gets. A full season of Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton, a former closer in his own right, serving as a setup man, and J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure, Manny Parra, and Alfredo Simon rounding out the group helps the Reds bullpen look tremendous for another season…but a bullpen doesn’t have a lot of value if they aren’t protecting more leads than deficits.
The Reds haven’t been active enough. The Reds haven’t drafted enough high-ceiling talent. The Reds haven’t had enough success on the international market.
The Reds are a lot like the Milwaukee Brewers, locking up talent for just a little while, and then watching that talent and the contention window fly way in the breeze. You see, the Brewers were a competitive team until Prince Fielder left. They traded a lot of good, young talent to acquire Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia to help them contend. They bought in to that window and went for it. It is hard for a small-market to commit a lot of money to talent like Greinke and Sabathia, only to watch them leave for big-markets once they hit free agency, but the revenue that comes with a playoff run or a World Series title would alleviate a lot of those dollars. The Brewers, then, went into quite a funk the last several seasons, and they have yet to recover, but the worst part is that their farm system is terrible. If Ryan Braun doesn’t rebound, the club still has Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, but the rest of the organization is quite barren.
The Reds are a lot like the Brewers because they haven’t had many successful recent drafts. While a lot of the key names on the major league roster are homegrown, there isn’t a whole lot of depth currently in the minor league system. The Reds did trade a couple of solid young players (Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, and Brad Boxberger) to acquire Mat Latos and Choo (Didi Gregorius and Drew Stubbs), but outside of Stephenson and Hamilton, much of the high-level talent was in Low-A or the Rookie levels last season, specifically Phillip Ervin, Jesse Winker, and Nick Travieso.
So, what will happen when 2015 rolls around without an Oscar Taveras waiting to take over left field for Ludwick? Who fills the rotation without a Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon ready to step in for A.J. Burnett? Who will push Todd Frazier at third base without a Kris Bryant or Javier Baez?
While the Reds and Brewers have weaker farm systems and question marks at several spots, the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates have done it right. They have managed to stay active and have taken risks with draft picks to make sure that they are getting the talent necessary to maintain solid depth within their organization. Sure, the Pirates and Cubs have had higher picks due to their lack of success over the years, but the Cardinals have a lot of talent and they haven’t had a season below .500 since 2007, while making the playoffs in 11 of the last 18 seasons, including four World Series and two titles.
The conservative nature of the current regime in Cincinnati may not look awful as the Reds compete in 2014, but when Chicago, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis have their high-level minor league talent stepping in within the next two to three seasons, Reds fans will forget about the nightmares that Albert Pujols used to bring, and will instead be kept awake by Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Gregory Polanco, Oscar Taveras, and others who will make their names in the depths of the thriving systems in the rest of the National League Central. Meanwhile, the Brewers and Reds will continue to cry small-market when they have, instead, chosen to be smarter at the right times.
There are still names on the free agent market that can help the Reds contend, but none of them will make them as good as they were last season, in 2012, or in 2010, when Cincinnati has reached the playoffs. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at this point to scrap what has been built. Instead, run out there with what you have and hope for the best, which, apparently, was Walt Jocketty and Bob Castellini’s plan all offseason.
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins; 12/18/1993
Buxton is the minor league version of Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout. He has tools across the board and could continue to move quickly, likely reaching Target Field by the end of the 2014 season. While he isn’t the pure hitter that Taveras could be, Buxton has the skill set that will fill stadiums and force Minnesota into contention…if they could get some solid pitching.
2. Xander Bogaerts, SS/3B, Boston Red Sox; 10/1/1992
Bogaerts forced himself into the Red Sox immediate plans and has played a major role for the Sox in the 2013 postseason. The young infielder could take the everyday job at short in 2014 with Stephen Drew reaching free agency, and his production up the middle could make him one of the top fantasy shortstops this side of Troy Tulowitzki.
3. Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals; 6/19/1992
Taveras is the best pure hitter in the minors, but he needs to stay on the field to show his true abilities. With Carlos Beltran headed towards free agency, it will be interesting to see how the Cardinals handle Taveras going into the 2014 season. With Matt Adams producing solid numbers in a limited role, it could force Allen Craig to the outfield, which would force Taveras to Triple-A or to center field in place of Jon Jay. Wherever he is, expect big things.
4. Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins; 5/11/1993
Sano has amazing power and he has maintained his power production as he has climbed the minor league ladder. With Sano and Buxton, the Twins have a new duo that will likely outproduce the numbers that Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer put up in their prime, and with Sano having hit 90 home runs before his 21st birthday in the minors, it will be very hard for the offensive-starved Twins to wait for his massive power ability.
5. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners; 8/13/1992
Walker is a freakishly gifted athlete as a pitcher, and if he can maintain consistency in repeating his mechanics and release, he could supplant Felix Hernandez as the Mariners’ No.1 starter at some point over the next few seasons. He has tremendous stuff and once he gains a better understanding of how to pitch with it, he will soar. He has very little left to prove in Tacoma and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him start the season with Seattle, especially after the Mariners seem all-in after signing Robinson Cano. Keep in mind, Walker has put up these solid numbers after becoming a pitcher in his senior year of high school, which was a little over three years ago now.
6. Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks; 8/10/1992
A lot of Bradley’s success had to do with his ability to throw more strikes. He went from walking 5.5 per nine in 2012 to 4.1 in 2013, and if he maintains that type of growth in the upper minors, he’ll be ready for Chase Field in no time. With the stuff that he has, you’d like to see him allow fewer base runners, but there was a time that I doubted Matt Harvey and Clayton Kershaw for the same reasons. I won’t be doing that again.
7. Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros; 9/22/1994
Correa has a great skill-set, one that prompted a lot of Alex Rodriguez comparisons when he was the No.1 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft. Unfortunately, the comparisons may never stop for Correa, who may have to be linked to Buxton, who was taken No.2 overall in the 2012 Draft, over the rest of his career. Fortunately for Correa, he is also capable of All-Star level production, so this won’t become a Sam Bowie versus Michael Jordan issue for the Houston Astros. Correa is likely in for an absolutely incredible breakout in 2014 as the doubles head over the wall and he continues to make solid adjustments at the plate. Like Bogaerts, he could be as elite as they come at shortstop, likely arriving by mid-2015.
8. Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs; 12/1/1992
Swinging hard and quick, Baez unravels his coiled body and creates impressive power…which comes with impressive strikeout totals, as well. With Starlin Castro signed long-term, Baez is going to likely be moved off of shortstop, but he has the stick to play third or an outfield corner. The Cubs are aggressive in how they handle their prospects, but we’ll have to see if the Theo Epstein regime is going to be wise with the cost-efficiency and service-time issues that could arise by allowing Baez to get some time in at Wrigley in 2014. He could force their hand, though.
9. Addison Russell, SS, Oakland Athletics; 1/23/1994
The A’s were SUPER aggressive with Russell in 2013, starting the season with the California League (high-A) affiliate after getting just 58 at-bats for the club’s low-A squad in 2012 and getting all of 217 at-bats in his first professional season. He did so well in 2013 that he was bumped to Triple-A to assist with Sacramento’s playoff push, and while he was over-matched, it shows just how highly Oakland thinks of him. He may get lost in the dynamic shortstop shuffle, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Russell in the majors first, producing solid overall numbers and bringing life to the Oakland lineup.
10. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians; 11/14/1993
Lindor will have tremendous value for the Indians with his above-average defensive skills, but it won’t stop there. While Lindor won’t be a middle-of-the-order talent like Bogaerts and Correa, he has the skill-set to be a very effective leadoff hitter, while having the contact skills to be a great No.2 hitter, setting the table for Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana, likely by mid-2014.
11. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles; 1/6/1991
Gausman wasn’t on my original list because I assumed that he had been rostered by the O’s for too long to still qualify; however, you know what happens when you assume…Gausman is an absolute monster, capable of hitting triple-digits while working 95-98 with his fastball. His slider is an out pitch, as are the two variations of his changeup. Due to being a college arm with such electric stuff, Gausman could easily receive comps to Justin Verlander, and while those are high expectations, it wouldn’t be hard to envision that type of production if everything clicks. As is, he’s quite capable of being the top pitcher from this list.
12. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets; 8/29/1992
The stuff is off the charts, at least the fastball, and with further development of his secondary stuff, Syndergaard will be a tremendous No.2 starter for the Mets. The haul from the R.A. Dickey trade certainly took a major bump upwards when Syndergaard showed such drastic improvement, and after reaching Double-A in 2013 and the injury to Harvey, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the tall right-hander get a shot before the All-Star break in 2014.
13. Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds; 2/24/1993
Stephenson’s numbers were absurd in 2013. I saw a start in Dayton that he looked like he was toying with the opposition, but that seems to be the norm for him. He has a tremendous fastball, touching triple-digits several times during the 2013 campaign, and he earned promotions (a quick one from the pitching-deadly California League) by succeeding. The Reds will likely slow down the process and keep him in Double-A most of the 2014 season, but he could be a reliable starter by 2015, just in time for the possible loss of Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto.
14. Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates; 11/18/1991
Gerrit Cole has taken the reigns from Taillon as the Pirates’ No.1 starter, but he does have the skills to help guide Cole and the Bucs to another postseason appearance in 2013, likely joining the rotation mid-season like Cole and developing the final touches on his stuff at the major league level. Taillon doesn’t look to have the ceiling that Cole does, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t special. The 2013 season was a bit disappointing statistically, so the 2014 season will go a long way in determining the long-term outlook on this young man.
15. Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates; 9/14/1991
Like the Pirates need another gifted outfielder. With Andrew McCutchen in center and Starling Marte in left, Polanco will likely man right, providing Pittsburgh with three outfielders capable of playing center field while producing solid numbers across the board. Polanco, though, looks like a better all-around player than Marte, showing gap power, speed, and a very good approach at the plate. He may not be an MVP candidate like “Cutch”, but he’ll provide value in Pittsburgh for quite some time as a definitive upgrade over the Jose Tabata, Garrett Jones, and Travis Snider parade that has provided very little value over the last several seasons.
16. Albert Almora, OF, Chicago Cubs; 4/16/1994
Almora, like Baez, has tools and skills to become an elite talent at the major league level, although, unlike Baez, Almora is more of a contact and gap-power hitter and not the light-tower power that his counterpart possesses. In a small sample, he showed something that a lot of Cubs’ prospects don’t…plate discipline. With his ability to make solid contact, he looks like a solid top-of-the-order player, but he could very well grow into something much more. If nothing else, Almora will provide Gold Glove defensive ability.
17. Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF, Detroit Tigers; 3/4/1992
Castellanos did take a few more walks in 2013, so that is a great step in his development, as his long swing and inability to take a walk was a concern for many prospect graders in the past. With the trade of Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers, it looks like Castellanos will move back to third base, with Miguel Cabrera sliding back across the diamond to first. As a corner outfielder, Castellanos’ production was likely a bit lacking, but with just a few consistent producers at the hot corner, a young player like this capable of 15-20 home runs and 30-plus doubles is a nice addition to the field. If he maintains his improved approach, Castellanos could be a real candidate for the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year.
18. George Springer, OF, Houston Astros; 9/19/1989
Like Castellanos, Springer takes some shots due to his strikeout totals; however, his all-around game could still allow for success at the major league level. Just three home runs shy of posting a 40/40 season in 2013, Springer would have likely had a bigger impact on the Astros winning games than any of the group of Brandon Barnes, J.D. Martinez, L.J. Hoes, Robbie Grossman, and Trevor Crowe that helped Houston lose 111 games in 2013. While it seems unreasonable to expect 40/40 production in the majors, Springer could provide seasons of 25 HR/25 SB annually, which will be quite valuable once the club’s elite prospects join him in Houston and the Astros begin contending in the next few years.
19. Jonathan Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies; 11/5/1991
Despite taking some medication for ADHD and looking like a potential slider in the 2013 MLB Draft, the Rockies jumped at the chance to draft Gray and his incredible fastball and the results were nothing short of sexy. Coor’s Field will continue to be a question mark when it comes to the ceiling of pitching prospects for Colorado, but I can’t remember a time that the Rockies have had a pitcher like this. Lockdown, shutdown stuff like Gray’s will be very useful if the Rockies are ever going to contend in the NL West. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Gray in the top five at the end of next season, possibly even the mid-season lists, and his electric fastball and slider should suit him well in the thin, Denver air.
20. Carlos Martinez, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals; 9/21/1991
Martinez has earned a lot of Pedro Martinez comparisons due to his size and being a Dominican Republic native, but the stuff is also involved in those comps. Carlos Martinez is quite capable of dominating in the majors in 2014, but he still needs a rotation spot, and that is the lone reason for his ranking. The Cardinals depth is scary, as Trevor Rosenthal and Martinez appear bullpen bound for the next several seasons with Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, and Jaime Garcia ahead of them on the depth charts, and while a trade seems easy to say as a bystander, why would you deal any of those guys? Martinez will be dominant in whatever role he fills, but he slides to 20 due to his unknown future role.
21. Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays; 4/1/1992
Sanchez is the pitching equivalent to Oscar Taveras: Electric, game-changing stuff…he just can’t stay on the field. In 2013, it was the shoulder, which is always scary when it comes to a pitcher with a high-90’s fastball, that led to Sanchez missing time. Beyond the injuries, the walks are also an issue. The issues are obvious in Sanchez and his inability to reach his ceiling, but the fact that he has the stuff to be a No.1 starter and he is entering his age-21 season, they’re worth holding out for. The Jays will hope that this is the year that he puts it all together.
22. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals; 7/14/1994
After having Tommy John surgery, Giolito came back with a vengeance in 2013, showcasing the electric arm and stuff that made him the 16th overall pick in 2012, despite possessing said cranky elbow at the time of his selection. Giolito has No.1 stuff, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Washington be very aggressive with the 6’6″, 225 pound right-hander, likely starting him in Low-A Hagerstown, with a brief appearance for High-A Potomac by years end.
23. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles; 11/15/1992
Bundy missed all of the 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but he was near the top of everyone’s lists prior to the injury. With the going success rates of the surgery, Bundy could jump right back to where he was when he returns this season. The Orioles will be very cautious with him, but he should be looked at a lot like Stephen Strasburg was – he was an ace-level talent who was hurt, had surgery, and was thought of an ace again once healthy.
24. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Kansas City Royals; 9/13/1991
Zimmer struggled for some time last season before everything just clicked and he was an absolute monster. There is an adjustment period in many prospects, and the Zimmer who was electric and dominant is the pitcher that the Royals and the rest of us should expect going forward. If the Royals are competitive in 2014, Zimmer will be a viable option to guide them to the playoffs down the stretch.
25. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Chicago Cubs; 1/4/1992
Bryant’s long-term position remains a mystery, but wherever he ends up, he will likely be producing All-Star level numbers, with a whole lot of swing and miss ability. The Cubs have quite a few middle infield options (Junior Lake, Javier Baez, Starlin Castro, Arismendy Alcantara, Darwin Barney) and someone will be moved to third (likely Baez), but Bryant at first, left, or right is just as potent. The transition to a different position could lead to some offensive struggles, but the fans on Sheffield Avenue and Waveland Avenue will see quite a few home runs starting sometime in 2014, as Bryant quickly rises through the Cubs strong offensive system. .
26. Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago Cubs; 2/25/1992
27. Austin Meadows, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates; 5/3/1995
28. Hunter Harvey, RHP, Baltimore Orioles; 12/9/1994
29. Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals; 6/3/1991
30. Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers; 4/27/1994
31. Travis d’Arnaud, C, New York Mets; 2/10/1989
32. Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres; 8/18/1992
33. Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds; 9/9/1990
34. Mark Appel, RHP, Houston Astros; 7/15/1991
35. Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros; 9/18/1991
36. Alex Meyer, RHP, Minnesota Twins; 1/3/1990
37. Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers; 4/21/1992
38. Clint Frazier, OF, Cleveland Indians; 9/6/1994
39. Matt Wisler, RHP, San Diego Padres; 9/12/1992
40. Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers; 2/3/1994
41. Max Fried, LHP, San Diego Padres; 1/18/1994
42. Kyle Crick, RHP, San Francisco Giants; 11/30/1992
43. Andrew Heaney, LHP, Miami Marlins; 6/5/1991
44. Eddie Butler, RHP, Colorado Rockies; 3/13/1991
45. Garin Cecchini, 3B, Boston Red Sox; 4/20/1991
46. Colin Moran, 3B, Miami Marlins; 10/1/1992
47. Jackie Bradley, OF, Boston Red Sox; 4/19/1990
48. Michael Foltynewicz, RHP, Houston Astros; 10/7/1991
49. Kohl Stewart, RHP, Minnesota Twins; 10/7/1994
50. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays; 5/1/1991
51. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Baltimore Orioles; 4/7/1993
52. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates; 8/23/1993
53. James Paxton, LHP, Seattle Mariners; 11/6/1988
54. Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals; 10/10/1990
55. Raul Mondesi, SS, Kansas City Royals; 7/27/1995
56. Jorge Alfaro, C, Texas Rangers; 6/11/1993
57. D.J. Peterson, 3B, Seattle Mariners; 12/31/1991
58. Phillip Ervin, OF, Cincinnati Reds; 7/17/1992
59. Lucas Sims, RHP, Atlanta Braves; 5/10/1994
60. Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees; 12/2/1992
61. Henry Owens, LHP, Boston Red Sox; 7/21/1992
62. Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals; 8/3/1992
63. Nick Williams, OF, Texas Rangers; 9/8/1993
64. Arismendy Alcantara, 2B/SS, Chicago Cubs; 10/29/1991
65. Jesse Winker, OF, Cincinnati Reds; 8/17/1993
66. C.J. Edwards, RHP, Chicago Cubs; 9/3/1991
67. Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers; 8/12/1996
68. Trevor Bauer, RHP, Cleveland Indians; 1/17/1991
69. Jonathan Schoop, 2B/SS, Baltimore Orioles; 10/16/1991
70. J.P. Crawford, SS, Philadelphia Phillies; 1/11/1995
71. Sean Manaea, LHP, Kansas City Royals; 2/1/1992
72. Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays; 3/27/1990
73. Blake Swihart, C, Boston Red Sox; 4/3/1992
74. Erik Johnson, RHP, Chicago White Sox; 12/30/1989
75. A.J. Cole, RHP, Washington Nationals; 1/5/1992
76. Alen Hanson, SS, Pittsburgh Pirates; 10/22/1992
77. Alberto Tirado, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays; 12/10/1994
78. Lance McCullers, RHP, Houston Astros; 10/2/1993
79. Eddie Rosario, 2B/OF, Minnesota Twins; 9/28/1991
80. Rafael Montero, RHP, New York Mets; 10/17/1990
81. Zach Lee, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers; 9/13/1991
82. Miguel Almonte, RHP, Kansas City Royals; 4/4/1993
83. Enny Romero, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays; 1/24/1991
84. Victor Sanchez, RHP, Seattle Mariners; 1/30/1995
85. Matt Barnes, RHP, Boston Red Sox; 6/17/1990
86. David Dahl, OF, Colorado Rockies; 4/1/1994
87. Reese McGuire, C, Pittsburgh Pirates; 3/2/1995
88. Brian Goodwin, OF, Washington Nationals; 11/2/1990
89. Jake Marisnick, OF, Miami Marlins; 3/30/1991
90. Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies; 8/26/1992
91. Alex Colome, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays; 12/31/1988
92. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, Boston Red Sox; 9/9/1989
93. Chris Owings, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks; 8/12/1991
94. Joey Gallo, 1B/3B, Texas Rangers; 11/19/1993
95. Jorge Bonifacio, OF, Kansas City Royals; 6/4/1993
96. Mike Olt, 1B/3B, Chicago Cubs; 8/27/1988
97. Dorssys Paulino, SS, Cleveland Indians; 11/21/1994
98. Trey Ball, LHP, Boston Red Sox; 6/27/1994
99. Clayton Blackburn, RHP, San Francisco Giants; 1/6/1993
100. Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers; 6/5/1989
As fantasy baseball managers await the landing spots of the remaining big-name free agents, they should also be using this time to look for players who will take giant steps towards stardom during the 2014 season. We have all seen the dominance of Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera over the last two seasons, but how many people saw Paul Goldschmidt going from a 2.9 WAR player in 2012 to a 6.4 WAR player in 2013? Last February, I wrote this same article and listed Goldschmidt, Matt Moore, Chris Tillman, Chris Johnson, Carlos Gomez, Salvador Perez, and Dexter Fowler, while missing on Kyle Kendrick and Ike Davis. That’s not a bad percentage if you ask me, so we’ll give it another go for 2014. Here are some names to watch in the 2014 Major League Baseball season.
2013: .248/.296/.396, 27 2B, 6 3B, 17 HR, 59 RBI
2014 prediction: .277/.332/.435, 33 2B, 5 3B, 19 HR, 67 RBI
You know, this isn’t a huge leap forward in offensive numbers in my prediction, but it is possible that Simmons becomes a lot more than that. Simmons isn’t a speed demon on the base paths like a Jean Segura or Elvis Andrus, but whatever happened with his swing in 2013 that created power could be what separates him from shortstops not named Troy Tulowitzki. Simmons is already an elite defender and when he hit 17 home runs in 2013, after having a previous career-high of six (combined in Double-A and the majors in 2012), he became quite a factor offensively, as well. When considering the counting stats that came out of Simmons with a .247 BABIP, what could he do with a league average BABIP? Then, factor in his 29 extra-base hits in 67 games in the second half, when he posted a 120 sOPS+, and you could see the evolution of his game going even further. Simmons may never become a truly elite offensive player, but his ability to put the bat to the ball will eventually lead to more balls in play, and that means more production. Is the power for real? We’ll find out this season, but if it played in 2013 with very little help in the lineup from Dan Uggla, Jason Heyward, and B.J. Upton, imagine what his counting stats could look like when he sees better pitches.
2013: .289/.360/.481, 39 2B, 4 3B, 17 HR, 67 RBI
2014 prediction: .294/.373/.521, 33 2B, 3 3B, 27 HR, 92 RBI
Belt finally received over 500 plate appearances in 2013 and he posted a 142 OPS+, elevated by his .915 OPS in the second half. He turns 26 in April and he is physically maturing into a player that even Bruce Bochy can’t bench, despite Michael Morse signing with the Giants and being an atrocious left fielder. It will be hard for Belt to duplicate his .392 BABIP from the second half of 2013, but he has managed an extremely high BABIP over his career from the minors through last season, so a full season of a .351 BABIP (the number he has duplicated the last two seasons) would likely lead to further offensive improvements. Even in a difficult home ballpark, Belt seems poised for an extreme breakout.
Kole Calhoun, Los Angeles Angels, OF
2013: .282/.347/.462, 7 2B, 2 3B, 8 HR, 32 RBI in 222 plate appearances
2014 prediction: .275/.356/.481, 29 2B, 5 3B, 19 HR, 81 RBI
In a season that was devastated by zero pitching and very little production out of high-priced stars Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols, the Angels did have a couple of bright spots – of course, Mike Trout, but fellow outfielder Kole Calhoun opened some eyes late in the year. With Mark Trumbo out of the picture, Calhoun will ever a star-studded lineup, and while he isn’t going to post numbers similar to those of his teammates, he will be quite productive. At 26, Calhoun is a little older than your typical “new prospect” entering their first full season in the bigs, but he was a college bat who moved pretty quickly through the Halos’ system, never appearing in a game in Double-A. With solid plate discipline and plenty of protection, Calhoun could improve upon the 126 wRC+ that he posted over the second half of the season, when he solidified himself as a reliable option for the Angels. Think of him as a better version of Cody Ross with a much better supporting cast.
Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins, OF
2013: .288/.370/.396, 12 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 10 SB in 273 plate appearances
2014 prediction: .310/.375/.435, 34 2B, 6 3B, 12 HR, 71 RBI, 22 SB
Yelich may not make for an elite defender wherever he ends up, but the guy has an impressive approach and enough speed to make himself useful on the base paths. Having just turned 22 years old at the beginning of December, there could be some harsh adjustments, but Yelich has been able to adjust as he has flown through the Marlins’ minor league system, slashing .313/.387/.499 over 1,292 plate appearances. Yelich will never be a 30-homer producer, as I tend to think of him as a Mark Grace-like hitter, but Grace made three All-Star appearances and fell just short of 2.500 career hits. Yelich will be a very effective asset for Miami and fantasy teams alike…immediately. Considering that Yelich was the 30th most valuable offensive player in baseball in the second half (which is his entire career, based on FanGraphs), why should anyone think otherwise?
2013: .253/.319/.341, 18 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 31 RBI
2014 prediction: .285/.347/.439, 29 2B, 4 3B, 15 HR, 68 RBI
The epitome of buying low, Ackley’s career hasn’t really worked out to this point, but after he hit .304/.374/.435 in the second half of 2013 (208 plate appearances), he has earned himself another look, with the Mariners or whoever he gets traded to if Seattle signs another outfielder. The club has already re-signed Franklin Gutierrez to take some at-bats away from Ackley, but he never seems capable of staying on the field. Ackley was the 2nd overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft and he still has the tools to prove that he was worthy of that pick. It’s possible that the shifting from position to position has been a challenge to him as he adjusts to life in the majors, and with Robinson Cano now at second base, and Logan Morrison and Corey Hart capable of playing first base, Ackley is now a center fielder. He has gap power, solid on-base skills, and, finally, an opportunity (barring any unforeseen trades or signings).
2013: 3-8, 3.17 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 125 IP, 119:44 K:BB
2014 prediction: 9-6, 3.34 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 165 IP, 171:52 K:BB
The Padres have a very crowded rotation, with Ian Kennedy, Josh Johnson, Andrew Cashner, and Robbie Erlin locked into rotation spots. Ross will be in a group with Eric Stults, Casey Kelly, Cory Luebke, and Burch Smith, battling for the fifth spot in the rotation, but after his solid second half, the 6’6″, 230 pound right-hander deserves the longest look. Ross has always bounced around from the bullpen to the rotation, but in his 13 starts down the stretch last season, Ross posted a 2.93 ERA and 0.99 WHIP over 80 innings, posting an 85:23 K:BB, along with a 9.6 K/9, the highest of his career. His slider became a swing and miss pitch with his mid-90’s fastball, and he could be very useful for the Padres or another club in 2014. Since he is eligible for arbitration for the first time, he is still cost effective (for the time being), but he took a large step forward in maintaining a role last season, and it would be a shame for him to lose that role after pitching so well. Keep an eye on him this spring and make sure to verify what San Diego does with him. With so many other options and the Padres success in finding bullpen arms from the depths of the world, if he isn’t starting, they need to move him for some offensive assistance.
Jhoulys Chacin, Colorado Rockies, RHP
2013: 14-10, 3.47 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 197.1 IP, 126:61 K:BB
2014 prediction: 17-9, 3.20 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 212 IP, 165:58 K:BB
Sometimes, to go forward, you must first step back. Chacin’s entire career has been a group of backwards steps. His fastball has lost velocity, his K/9 has gone from 9.0 in 2010 to 5.7 in 2013, and his career-best ERA is still his 2010 season (3.28). However, the fact of the matter is that Chacin knows how to pitch in Coor’s Field, he just has to stay healthy. He fell short of 200 innings again in 2013 due to back spasms landing him on the 15-day DL in April, but this is going to be the year! Chacin has cut back on the use of his curveball and change, both of which are highly affected by the thin air of Denver, instead, utilizing his slider more. He has started pitching to contact, which explains the low strikeout totals, but he seems to have enough stuff to rebound to become a useful strikeout pitcher in fantasy formats, although his average fastball dipped to 89.8 mph in 2013. The Rockies have an interesting club and a very good defensive group to assist their pitchers. If everyone stays healthy and Chacin takes his current pitching skills and combines it with how he used to pitch, he could become quite an asset, being capable of tempting the opposition to swing for contact and swing and miss whenever he wants them to.
2013: 3-5, 5.66 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 47.2 IP, 49:13 K:BB
2014 prediction: 11-9, 3.22 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 176 IP, 182:68 K:BB
Gausman, in my opinion, is the second coming of Justin Verlander, just a little smaller in stature. At 6’3″, 190 pounds, Gausman still has the size to drive towards home and get extreme velocity, which he does with a fastball that can hit triple-digits. He sits 95-98 with his fastball, he has two excellent varieties of his changeup, and a projectable slider, all of which make him capable of becoming an elite starter in the majors. The Orioles are going to contend again in 2014, and the reason for that will be a 23 year-old right-hander out of LSU whose introduction to MLB wasn’t as sexy as the rest of his career will be. It starts now.
Some Minor Leaguers/Rookie-Eligible players who could make an impact:
Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks, RHP
Robert Stephenson, Cincinnati Reds, RHP
Alex Meyer, Minnesota Twins, RHP
Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays, RHP
Oscar Taveras, St. Louis Cardinals, OF
Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins, 3B
Jameson Taillon, Pittsburgh Pirates, RHP
Jake Odorizzi, Tampa Bay Rays, RHP
Jackie Bradley, Jr., Boston Red Sox, OF
Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners, RHP
James Paxton, Seattle Mariners, LHP
Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds, OF
Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox, 1B
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Philadelphia Phillies, RHP
Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets, RHP
Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers, 3B
Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals, RHP