2015 Season Previews: Chicago Cubs

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks!

Chicago Cubs

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 82-80 (2nd in NL Central, 14th in MLB)

Manager: Joe Maddon (1st season with Chicago, 781-729 in 11 seasons overall)

Top Three Players: 1B Anthony Rizzo (4.7), LHP Jon Lester (3.6), RHP Jake Arrieta (2.6)

Bounce-back Player: LHP Travis Wood

Wood posted an atrocious 5.03 ERA and 1.53 WHIP over 31 starts and 173.2 innings in 2014. He saw an increase in his walks (3.94 per nine) and a decrease in runners left on base (66.5 percent), both of which were career worsts. In addition to those numbers, Wood saw his strikeouts per nine reach career-high levels (7.57) and his home run per fly ball stayed below the league average (8.8 percent), so it wasn’t all bad; however, the highly inflated .320 BABIP, which was much higher than the career .278 BABIP. Wood doesn’t allow many home runs, he manages to keep the ball down (though, not at elite levels with a 33.2 percent ground ball rate), and he is entering his age-28 season, the supposed prime of his career, with only 738 major league innings on his arm. With a rapidly improving roster behind him and Jon Lester as a mentor, Wood is capable of an enormous, undervalued, and overlooked season.

Soler is just as good and capable of better than Bryant in 2015
Soler is just as good and capable of better than Bryant in 2015

Fantasy Player to Watch: OF Jorge Soler

All eyes will be on Kris Bryant whenever he is promoted from Triple-A, especially after his monstrous Spring Training, but Soler deserves just as much focus. The 6’4″ Cuban right fielder has a powerful swing and a solid approach at the plate. While he may never hit .300, he is more than capable of producing an on-base percentage over .370 in his first full season, as the 23-year-old sets himself up for tremendous opportunities to succeed. The biggest issue for Soler has been his inability to stay healthy, as the 2014 gave him the most plate appearances of his brief career when he reached 333 plate appearances over four levels, including 97 with Chicago. While everyone jumps at Bryant, do yourself a favor and grab Soler, who, if healthy, is likely to outproduce Bryant due to starting at the major league level on Day One.

Offseason Overview: The Cubs made several additions this winter. They added OF Dexter Fowler in a deal with Houston, 2B Tommy La Stella in a deal with Atlanta, re-signed RHP Jason Hammel, bought low on former All-Star catcher Miguel Montero, and, of course, made the huge splash in free agency by signing LHP Jon Lester. The Cubs made simple additions to improve their roster, teaming up the veterans with the superb group of young talent on hand. Now, Chicago has a more than capable leadoff hitter in Fowler (career .366 OBP) to set the stage for SS Starlin Castro, 1B Anthony Rizzo, Soler, and Montero in the meat of the order, with more help on the way if/when Bryant and Javier Baez are ready in the next month or so. Oh yeah…they got one of the best managers in baseball, as well.

The Verdict: To jump from 76-86 to 82-80 doesn’t seem like a big deal, but that would put the club in 2nd place in the division (based on PECOTA projections). This team is capable of a few more games than that, especially if they have consistency out of Rizzo, Castro, Fowler, and Soler. With utility-man Arismendy Alcantara filling a Ben Zobrist role, the Cubs have enough depth on the major league roster and within their system to overcome some injuries. Additionally, they have the talent to improve at mid-season, as 2014 MLB Draft pick Kyle Schwarber could be a highly-coveted bat at the deadline. This may not be the year, but the Cubs are on the rise, and they’ll be on the rise for the next several years.

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Cubs Begin the Baez Era

Baez1
Cubs 2B/SS Javier Baez, who will make his debut in Colorado on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Chicago Cubs prospect Javier Baez will officially become a major leaguer, likely making his debut at second base for the last place Cubs, the only team with a losing record in the NL Central, when they take on the Rockies in Denver. For the fans, the wait for their incredibly gifted, power-hitting middle infielder hasn’t been nearly as long as their World Series drought, and after Baez had completed his 40 game outburst on Sunday for Iowa, when he hit .322 with 12 home runs, 38 RBI, and a 1.046 OPS, the 21-year-old deemed himself ready.

Continue reading Cubs Begin the Baez Era

Chicago Cubs: Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Depth?

A's new RHP Jeff Samardzija
A’s new RHP Jeff Samardzija

When the Chicago Cubs trade Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics last week, they gained a nice return, adding shortstop Addison Russell, outfielder Billy McKinney, right-handed pitcher Dan Straily, and a player to be named later. With the Cubs sitting at 39-52 entering play Friday, there was little reason for the club to hang onto Hammel, an impending free agent who wouldn’t be worth a qualifying offer, and Samardzija, who had another year of team-control but likely would have been very pricey in his final year of arbitration.

The Cubs added a 25-year-old starting pitcher in Straily who won’t be a free agent until after the 2018 season. While Straily struggled a bit this season, he has proven that he can get major league talent out, logging 157.1 innings for the A’s in 2013 while finishing 4th in AL Rookie of the Year voting. McKinney has been moved aggressively, jumping to High-A as a 19-year-old this season, and he has shown some nice power (though the California League could be responsible for some of that) and on-base skills considering that he is 3.7 years younger than others in his league. Both could be very interesting pieces for the Cubs down the line, with Straily likely to pitch at some point after the All-Star break in Chicago.

However, neither of those players possess the talent and potential of Addison Russell. Russell, who was recently ranked 4th among my mid-season top 50 prospect list, was drafted 11th overall in the 2012 MLB Draft, has moved quickly through the minors, jumping to Double-A in 2014 at the age of 20 (4.6 years younger than others in his league). Jason Parks, of Baseball Prospectus, said this about the Cubs’ new shortstop:

Addison Russell has the most well-rounded profile at the shortstop position in the minors, with above-average chops in the field (including double-plus hands), and impact potential with both the hit and power tools. Russell has lost half a season to injury, but could challenge for the top spot in the minors with a strong second half.

Cubs SS prospect Addison Russell
Cubs SS prospect Addison Russell

Parks isn’t alone in the Russell love, though:

MLB.com says:

Russell has established himself as one of the best shortstop prospects in baseball and erased any concerns about his long-term future at the position. He has the hands, range and arm strength needed to make stunning plays in the field. Russell uses the whole field to hit, and his quick hands enable him to make consistent hard contact. He has surprising pop and could develop above-average power in the future. He isn’t a speedster, but he gets the most out of his solid speed, and he’s aggressive on the base paths.

Rich Wilson of Prospect361.com says:

Every time I’ve seen him play, he screams “Star”. He’s athletic with a great hit tool and bat speed that should produce 20 home runs. There’s also speed in his game and a 20/20 player at shortstop should be in the cards.

Mike Rosenbaum of Bleacher Report says:

Russell’s trade to the Cubs has actually improved his prospect stock, as he’s more likely to stay at shortstop than future teammate Javier Baez and therefore ranked higher.

Beyond the Boxscore’s Daniel Schoenfeld recently focused on how the Cubs have utilized one-year deals the last two offseasons in acquiring middle-tier starting pitchers and moving them prior to the trade deadline:

They are incurring minimal risk to acquire high upside potential by focusing their efforts on finding players they consider undervalued by the market and signing them to fleeting deals at mid-range money. The Cubs thus take a relatively small gamble on assets that carry the upside of the prospect of being flipped in the three months before the deadline for far more value than they paid.

Indeed the Scott Feldman signing, which led to the deal with Baltimore last year for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop, and Hammel signing have worked out nicely if the Cubs are going to look at players as stocks, but when are they going to stop acquiring the wrong kind of talent for their never-ending push to bring a title to the “Windy City”?

For how great Russell could be, the Cubs have a few things stopping him from being great for them:

Cubs SS Starlin Castro
Cubs SS Starlin Castro

1. Starlin Castro, just 24 years old, who is signed through 2019 (with a $15 million team option for 2020 that has a $1 million buyout). From 2015 through 2019, Castro is guaranteed $43 million and he is a shortstop. While he struggled in 2013, Castro is now an All-Star for a third season, all before the age of 25.

2. Darwin Barney has struggled offensively since his rookie season (2011), which still wasn’t all that great (.666 OPS). However, the 28-year-old is an elite defensive second baseman, and he is under team-control through the 2016 season. The Gold Glover is making $2.3 million this season and he could be a non-tender candidate, but considering his slick fielding capabilities, he isn’t completely without value in today’s offensively starved game.

3. Javier Baez was the Cubs “other” shortstop of the future. Also blocked by Castro, Baez didn’t really profile as a shortstop due to his anti-Barney efforts on defense. Baez had 44 errors in 2013, but he has just 11 in 80 games to-date in 2014. Still, Baez has power and bat speed that could make him an elite, All-Star level talent at another position. He was rumored to be going to third base, but…

4. Kris Bryant could be the long-term option for the Cubs at the hot corner. While his defense could be very Miguel Cabrera-like, he does have some athleticism and he deserves an opportunity to stick at third. Like Baez, he could fit in another position, such as an outfield corner, but if both Baez and Bryant are unable to handle playing third defensively…

5. Jorge Soler could be left without a spot to play long-term, as he isn’t really an option in center, where Albert Almora is the long-term answer, and he can’t play the infield. Soler, like Baez, has immeasurable raw power, capable of monstrous offensive production. He profiles as a future All-Star in right field, but he just needs to stay on the field in order to reach that potential.

6. Somewhere along the way, Arismendy Alcantara, a second baseman who recently moved to the outfield in Triple-A, will also need to find a spot to play for Chicago. He could replace Barney as early as this year, considering his recent promotion, which would make a position change for one of the other shortstops that much more difficult or confusing.

While the Cubs have so many options offensively for their potential future dominance, including first baseman Anthony Rizzo (signed through 2019 with team options for 2020 and 2021), they really do not have very many options to put on the mound. After trading two arms without gaining an elite pitching prospect back, Chicago is left with a group of incredibly gifted offensive prospects in an era where pitching and strikeouts are dominating.

Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo
Cubs 1B Anthony Rizzo

Certainly, things could swing the other way for the Cubs and they could dominate opposing pitchers and outscore their competition, but they will still need a five-man rotation to give them some innings – the game won’t change that dramatically.

The cost saving methods of avoiding large contracts, drafting wisely, and spending internationally over the last several seasons could lead to the Cubs adding to their payroll by signing David Price, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, or other options who currently have deals set to expire after the 2015 season. However, there comes a time when the Cubs will need to develop their own pitching prospects or make deals that includes some of their gluttony of offensive talent to make it happen.

As nice as it was to add Addison Russell to the list of Bryant, Baez, Alcantara, Almora, and Soler, the Cubs needed pitching depth to try stockpile their system for a run in the future. There are only so many players who are like stocks. With more pieces for their future than the diamond can hold, they could be losing leverage in future deals, as clubs will know that they need to deal a “shortstop of the future”. If ownership and management are using the stock market logic, they have to understand risk, and adding Russell to the mix may not have been the smartest of moves for the pitching barren Chicago system.

Tulowitzki: Proving the Defensive Movement Wrong

When I looked at the current 2014 statistics today, it was easy to see that one player is standing out, dominating the league with an incredible .421 batting average and a 1.317 OPS through 32 games. After the last two seasons, you may have thought that those numbers belonged to Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, maybe even Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, but you’d be wrong. In a season where we bid farewell to one of the greatest players ever, the torch has been passed along to Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to continue a tradition of slugging shortstops in an era where so many teams are focusing on strong defensive metrics up the middle.

tulo2
Rockies’ SS Troy Tulowitzki

The thing is…Tulowitzki isn’t another Derek Jeter. Troy Tulowitzki, 29, has two Gold Gloves in his career, not that having Gold Gloves means anything when Jeter has five of them and has long been considered a defensive liability for the Yankees. The difference is that Tulowitzki is a very strong defender, posting a career range factor per nine of 5.01 (league average is 4.38) and a career fielding percentage of .986 (league average is .973), while he has a UZR of 38.7 over his career (3rd in MLB among shortstops since the start of the 2006 season). Tulo is an all-around star.

The biggest issue is his injury history. Tulowitzki has been on the disabled list five times in his career, missing a total of 267 team games since his arrival to the majors, nearly a season and a half of production, which is a big deal considering the investment that the Rockies made in their shortstop, 13-years and $167 million worth of extensions and commitments. Through the injuries, Tulowitzki continued to produce impressive overall numbers, as evidenced by his 162-game averages for his career:

Year G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
162 Game Avg. 162 687 605 103 181 36 4 29 105 10 69 107 .299 .373 .518 .891 124 313
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/7/2014.

That’s very Alex Rodriguez at shortstop-esque, which, with continued production, could make Tulowitzki the best overall shortstop this side of Honus Wagner.

Braves' SS Andrelton Simmons
Braves’ SS Andrelton Simmons

Which begs the question, why are so many teams still settling for players who are one-trick ponies when there are still players capable of playing short and producing strong offensive numbers? It wasn’t long ago that Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, and other, non-steroid using shortstops, like Nomar Garciaparra and Jeter, were ruling the middle of the infield around the league. Now, teams seem confident running out players like Adeiny Hechavarria, Alcides Escobar, Brandon Crawford, Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Zack Cozart, who have a long history of not producing OPS numbers close to .750 while putting up solid numbers defensively; however, is an out saved defensively any more valuable than an unproductive at-bat? Those unproductive at-bats appear to be the norm over the last couple of seasons from the players thought to be defensive wizards by their clubs at one time or another (yes, Cabrera was supposed to be an upgrade defensively when he replaced Jhonny Peralta at short for Cleveland in 2009).

Consider the top five defensive shortstops in baseball currently: Erick Aybar, Cozart, Tulowitzki, Pedro Florimon, and Andrelton Simmons. Only Aybar and Simmons have an OPS over .700, along with Tulo, with Aybar checking in at .710 and Simmons checking in at .731 – which would rank them slightly better than the great Emilio Bonifacio, even with his strong start, in 2014.

So, why would a team settle for that type of production when there is enough talent out there to offset whatever defensive struggles a player has with a mighty stick at the plate?

Troy Tulowitzki is not a typical shortstop, and, as Jonah Keri wrote today, he could be heading towards one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. The impressive numbers should be a reminder that there is talent out there that will overcome  and live beyond the current movement of defensive shifts, defensive metrics, and over-the-top focus on glove over offensive production. For every Didi Gregorius for Shin-Soo Choo trade, there will be a Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and Francisco Lindor on the way who can produce solid offensive numbers while continuing to redefine a position.

Troy Tulowitzki is doing his part in keeping Ernie Banks, Barry Larkin, and Derek Jeter and their production respectable. While Omar Vizquel, Luis Aparicio, and Ozzie Smith get love for their gloves, they couldn’t carry the other’s all-around jockstraps. Give me Troy Tulowitzki and overall production and you can keep your defensive metrics.

How the Cincinnati Reds Ruined Their Window

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.

BruceCertainly, 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:

October: Signed LHP Trevor Reckling and RHP Timothy Adleman to minor league contracts; signed OF Jason Bourgeois to a minor league contract and invited him to Spring Training;

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;

January: Sign RHP Bob Keppel, RHP Sean Black, OF Thomas Neal, LHP Jeff Francis, 2B John Tolisano, and 2B Hernan Iribarren to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training;

So, the club lost Shin-Soo Choo, Xavier Paul, and Derrick Robinson from last season’s 90-72 squad, so why should fans feel like this offseason is a failure?

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?

Mesoraco1Is 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.

Braun1The 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.

PujolsThe 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.

The Explosion of Javier Baez

Baez2After an incredible season in 2013 that saw him reach Double-A at the age of 20, Chicago Cubs’ shortstop (or third baseman…or outfielder) prospect Javier Baez seems to have enough helium in the world of prospects to reach the moon. Certainly, ripping 34 doubles and 37 home runs while driving in 111 runs and stealing 20 bases can lead to a lot of hype, and it appears to be warranted.

Prior to the 2013 season, Baez was already a top 20 prospect, earning the No. 16 ranking at both Baseball America and MLB.com, and No. 20 at Baseball Prospectus. So far this winter, that number has climbed significantly, mainly due to his extreme ceiling, while having very little to do with major league graduations. Just a quick look at the rankings that Baez has earned from prospect sites this off-season:

The Baseball Haven: No. 8

Baseball Prospectus: No. 4

MLB.com: No. 7

MinorLeagueBall.com: No. 8 (end of 2013, 9/27/13)

FantasyAssembly.com: No. 5

Prospect361.com: No. 5

TopProspectAlert.com: No. 11

RotoAnalysis.com: No. 2

FantasySquads.com: No. 10

Scout.com: No. 13

DeepLeagues.com: No. 13

There are, obviously, some differences in opinion on his true value, but Baez has quite a few nice things being said about him, as well:

“Baez could end a 40 HR shortstop. That’s his ceiling. That’s actually a possibility. Likely? Not sure. But its possible. How many prospects in baseball can make such a claim? That’s a truly elite ceiling. That’s a generational talent. That’s why he has a case for #1.” – Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus

“The young infielder has all the ingredients necessary to be an all-star for the Cubs, regardless of where he ends up — shortstop, third base or even the outfield.” – Marc Hulet, FanGraphs

“Otherworldy bat speed and an aggressive approach plus the tools to (maybe) stay at shortstop if he can get the errors down. If not, he’d slot great at third base. There’s some risk here due to contact but I think he can be a Giancarlo Stanton-type hitter. The commonly-used Gary Sheffield comp works in terms of bat speed, but Sheffield had a much more refined approach and I don’t think Baez will hit for a Sheffield-like average. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a star.” – John Sickels, Minor League Ball

“There is no mistaking the bat as a game changing thumper. But what places Baez at #1 (in the Cubs’ system) is the fact that he is going to remain in the infield. A move to 3B is in the cards most likely where the Cubs have a dire need to finally fill the spot. Still on target with a 30 HR type with double digit SB and sticking in the INF. With an IsoP of .200+ the strikeout rate will be digestible and his approach should mature over time. Again, 37 HR over two levels with a total of 75 XBHs with 20 SB. His numbers were outstanding and through it all he actually improved the dismal walk rate from 2012 to 6.2% in High-A and then 8.1% in Double-A. A total IsoP number of nearly .300 on the season is other worldly. But that K rate is still a major issue although not one that will limit his ability to be a Major League regular. He handled SS really well and it looks like the Cubs are giving him every shot and being that Future SS. With the draft selection of Kris Bryant, the Cubs have a lot of flexibility with their future. I see Baez as the 3B answer.” – Thomas Belmont, Baseball Instinct

“The upside that Baez holds from a fantasy perspective is likely second to only Byron Buxton—and the likely gets added in there because Baez may actually have more, given his potential eligibility. The tools are crazy and even though he doesn’t have the strongest run tool, he’s still 46-for-55 in stolen bases during his 215 minor-league games. Even if you can’t put him at shortstop (which is far from a definitive outcome), you’d take 30 homers, 15-plus steals and a .280 average from just about anywhere on the diamond. He’s a no-doubt top-five fantasy prospect in baseball.” – Brett Sayre, Baseball Prospectus

Baez1The consensus seems to be an All-Star caliber talent with some flaws, as far as contact, who can become a game changer, in real-life or fantasy baseball, due to his quick hands and raw power. With Baez, Addison Russell, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Xander Bogaerts coming up through various systems, it appears that the game will be taken over by offensive-minded shortstops, as the Alex RodriguezDerek JeterNomar GarciaparraMiguel Tejada Era of Major League Baseball was impacted.

Javier Baez seems like an athletic freak, producing power from his 6’0″, 195 pound frame. Below is a video of highlights from Baseball Instinct (via YouTube), where you can observe all of the otherwordly power and bat speed that was suggested by prospect insiders:

The term “generational talent” doesn’t get thrown around very often, although the label has been given to the likes of Mark Prior, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Mike Trout over the last decade. Injuries can always be a deterrent for players to reach their full, long-term potential, but the types of seasons that those four players have provided, even if it is just two to four seasons of that production, would be welcomed by any club. Risks aside, Baez is worthy of the high praise, the high rankings, and the sudden discussion of his eventual rise to dominance and stardom in Chicago. With all due respect to Starlin Castro, Baez shouldn’t have to move off of shortstop once he reaches Chicago – his potential dwarfs that of Castro, who has quickly become an afterthought to the hype of the Puerto Rican slugger.

2014 MLB Top Prospects: Final Revision

Buxton

1. Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins; 12/18/1993

Year Age Lg Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2012 18 2 Lgs Rk 48 189 165 33 41 10 4 5 20 11 19 41 .248 .344 .448 .792 74
2013 19 2 Lgs A-A+ 125 574 488 109 163 19 18 12 77 55 76 105 .334 .424 .520 .944 254
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/23/2013.

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

Year Age Lg Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2010 17 DOSL FRk 63 280 239 39 75 7 5 3 42 4 30 37 .314 .396 .423 .819 101
2011 18 SALL A 72 296 265 38 69 14 2 16 45 1 25 71 .260 .324 .509 .834 135
2012 19 2 Lgs A+-AA 127 532 476 71 146 37 3 20 81 5 44 106 .307 .373 .523 .896 249
2013 20 2 Lgs AAA-AA 116 515 444 72 132 23 6 15 67 7 63 95 .297 .388 .477 .865 212
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/23/2013.
Year Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
2013 BOS AL 18 50 44 7 11 2 0 1 5 1 5 13 .250 .320 .364 .684 88 16
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Generated 10/23/2013.

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.

Courtesy: stlouiscardinalsbaseball.com
Courtesy: stlouiscardinalsbaseball.com

3. Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals; 6/19/1992

Year Age Lg Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2009 17 DOSL FRk 65 272 237 35 61 13 8 1 42 9 28 36 .257 .338 .392 .731 93
2010 18 2 Lgs Rk 60 260 241 40 73 14 3 8 45 9 13 46 .303 .342 .485 .828 117
2011 19 MIDW A 78 347 308 52 119 27 5 8 62 1 32 52 .386 .444 .584 1.028 180
2012 20 TL AA 124 531 477 83 153 37 7 23 94 10 42 56 .321 .380 .572 .953 273
2013 21 2 Lgs AAA-Rk 47 188 174 25 54 13 0 5 32 5 10 22 .310 .348 .471 .819 82
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/23/2013.

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

Year Age Lg Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2010 17 2 Lgs Rk-FRk 61 241 212 34 65 16 1 7 29 4 24 60 .307 .379 .491 .870 104
2011 18 APPY Rk 66 293 267 58 78 18 7 20 59 5 23 77 .292 .352 .637 .988 170
2012 19 MIDW A 129 553 457 75 118 28 4 28 100 8 80 144 .258 .373 .521 .893 238
2013 20 2 Lgs AA-A+ 123 519 439 86 123 30 5 35 103 11 65 142 .280 .382 .610 .992 268
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Generated 10/23/2013.

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.

Walker

5. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners; 8/13/1992

Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA G CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2010 17 ARIZ Rk 1 1 1.29 4 0 0 7.0 2 3 1 0 3 9 0.714 2.6 11.6 3.00
2011 18 MIDW A 6 5 2.89 18 1 0 96.2 69 33 31 4 39 113 1.117 6.4 10.5 2.90
2012 19 SOUL AA 7 10 4.69 25 0 0 126.2 124 70 66 12 50 118 1.374 8.8 8.4 2.36
2013 20 2 Lgs AA-AAA 9 10 2.93 25 0 0 141.1 112 56 46 11 57 160 1.196 7.1 10.2 2.81
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/23/2013.
Year Tm Lg W L ERA G CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 SEA AL 1 0 3.60 3 0 0 15.0 11 7 6 0 4 12 1.000 6.6 7.2 3.00
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Generated 10/23/2013.

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

Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA G CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2011 18 PION Rk 0 0 0.00 2 0 0 2.0 1 0 0 0 0 4 0.500 4.5 18.0
2012 19 MIDW A 12 6 3.84 27 0 0 136.0 87 64 58 6 84 152 1.257 5.8 10.1 1.81
2013 20 2 Lgs AA-A+ 14 5 1.84 26 2 0 152.0 115 40 31 6 69 162 1.211 6.8 9.6 2.35
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/23/2013.

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

Year Age Lg Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2012 17 2 Lgs Rk 50 204 190 28 49 14 2 3 12 6 12 44 .258 .305 .400 .705 76
2013 18 MIDW A 117 519 450 73 144 33 3 9 86 10 58 83 .320 .405 .467 .872 210
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/23/2013.

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.

Baez

8. Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs; 12/1/1992

Year Age Lg Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2011 18 2 Lgs Rk-A- 5 18 18 2 5 2 0 0 1 2 0 4 .278 .278 .389 .667 7
2012 19 2 Lgs A-A+ 80 321 293 50 86 13 6 16 46 24 14 69 .294 .346 .543 .888 159
2013 20 2 Lgs A+-AA 130 577 517 98 146 34 4 37 111 20 40 147 .282 .341 .578 .920 299
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Generated 10/23/2013.

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

Year Age Lg Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2012 18 3 Lgs Rk-A-A- 55 244 217 46 80 10 9 7 45 16 23 48 .369 .432 .594 1.027 129
2013 19 2 Lgs A+-AAA 110 517 442 86 119 29 10 17 60 21 61 125 .269 .369 .495 .865 219
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Generated 10/23/2013.

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

Year Age Lg Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2011 17 NYPL A- 5 20 19 4 6 0 0 0 2 1 1 5 .316 .350 .316 .666 6
2012 18 MIDW A 122 567 490 83 126 24 3 6 42 27 61 78 .257 .352 .355 .707 174
2013 19 2 Lgs A+-AA 104 464 403 65 122 22 7 2 34 25 49 46 .303 .380 .407 .787 164
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Generated 10/23/2013.

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

Year Age Lg W L ERA G GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 22 AL 3 5 5.66 20 5 0 0 47.2 51 30 30 8 13 49 1.343 9.6 2.5 9.3 3.77
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/2/2014.
Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA G GF SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2012 21 2 Lgs A+-A- 0 1 3.60 5 0 0 15.0 11 6 6 3 1 13 0.800 6.6 0.6 7.8 13.00
2013 22 2 Lgs AA-AAA 3 6 3.51 16 1 0 82.0 80 37 32 4 14 82 1.146 8.8 1.5 9.0 5.86
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/2/2014.

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

Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA G GF SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2010 17 GULF Rk 0 1 2.70 5 0 0 13.1 11 7 4 0 4 6 1.125 7.4 4.0 1.50
2011 18 3 Lgs Rk-A–A 5 2 1.83 13 1 0 59.0 46 14 12 1 18 68 1.085 7.0 10.4 3.78
2012 19 MIDW A 8 5 2.60 27 2 0 103.2 81 41 30 3 31 122 1.080 7.0 10.6 3.94
2013 20 2 Lgs A+-AA 9 4 3.06 23 0 0 117.2 107 48 40 11 28 133 1.147 8.2 10.2 4.75
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/23/2013.

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

Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA G CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2012 19 2 Lgs A-Rk 3 4 3.18 15 0 0 65.0 54 34 23 6 23 72 1.185 7.5 10.0 3.13
2013 20 3 Lgs A-A+-AA 7 7 2.99 22 0 0 114.1 92 49 38 10 35 136 1.111 7.2 10.7 3.89
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Generated 10/23/2013.

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

Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA G CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2011 19 SALL A 2 3 3.98 23 0 0 92.2 89 45 41 9 22 97 1.198 8.6 9.4 4.41
2012 20 2 Lgs A+-AA 9 8 3.55 26 2 0 142.0 120 60 56 10 38 116 1.113 7.6 7.4 3.05
2013 21 2 Lgs AA-AAA 5 10 3.73 26 0 0 147.1 143 70 61 9 52 143 1.324 8.7 8.7 2.75
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/23/2013.

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

Year Age Lg Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2009 17 DOSL FRk 63 261 221 34 59 8 6 0 24 12 33 50 .267 .370 .357 .727 79
2010 18 GULF Rk 53 200 188 21 38 5 1 3 23 19 9 41 .202 .245 .287 .532 54
2011 19 2 Lgs Rk-A- 51 213 179 34 41 4 4 3 35 18 24 35 .229 .322 .346 .669 62
2012 20 SALL A 116 485 437 84 142 26 6 16 85 40 44 64 .325 .388 .522 .910 228
2013 21 3 Lgs AA-A+-AAA 127 536 470 66 134 30 2 12 71 38 52 73 .285 .356 .434 .791 204
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/23/2013.

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 TabataGarrett 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

Year Age Lg Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2012 18 2 Lgs Rk-A- 33 145 140 27 45 12 1 2 19 5 2 13 .321 .331 .464 .795 65
2013 19 MIDW A 61 272 249 39 82 17 4 3 23 4 17 30 .329 .376 .466 .842 116
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Generated 10/23/2013.

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.

Castellanos

17. Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF, Detroit Tigers; 3/4/1992

Year Age Lg Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2010 18 GULF Rk 7 29 24 5 8 2 0 0 3 0 4 5 .333 .414 .417 .830 10
2011 19 MIDW A 135 562 507 65 158 36 3 7 76 3 45 130 .312 .367 .436 .803 221
2012 20 2 Lgs AA-A+ 134 584 537 72 172 32 4 10 57 8 36 118 .320 .365 .451 .815 242
2013 21 IL AAA 134 595 533 81 147 37 1 18 76 4 54 100 .276 .343 .450 .793 240
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/23/2013.
Year Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
2013 DET AL 11 18 18 1 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .278 .278 .278 .556 51 5
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Generated 10/23/2013.

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

Year Age Lg Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2011 21 NYPL A- 8 33 28 8 5 3 0 1 3 4 2 2 .179 .303 .393 .696 11
2012 22 2 Lgs A+-AA 128 581 506 109 153 21 10 24 87 32 62 156 .302 .383 .526 .908 266
2013 23 2 Lgs AA-AAA 135 589 492 106 149 27 4 37 108 45 83 161 .303 .411 .600 1.010 295
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Generated 10/23/2013.

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

Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA G CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 21 2 Lgs A+-Rk 4 0 1.93 9 0 0 37.1 25 11 8 0 8 51 0.884 6.0 12.3 6.38
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Generated 10/23/2013.

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

Year Age Tm W L ERA G GF SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 21 STL 2 1 5.08 21 5 0 1 28.1 31 16 16 1 9 24 1.412 9.8 2.9 7.6 2.67
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/2/2014.
Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA G GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2010 18 DOSL FRk 3 2 0.76 12 12 1 0 59.0 28 8 5 1 14 78 0.712 4.3 2.1 11.9 5.57
2011 19 2 Lgs A+-A 6 5 3.93 18 18 0 0 84.2 76 41 37 3 44 98 1.417 8.1 4.7 10.4 2.23
2012 20 2 Lgs AA-A+ 6 5 2.93 22 21 0 0 104.1 91 39 34 6 32 92 1.179 7.8 2.8 7.9 2.88
2013 21 2 Lgs AAA-AA 6 3 2.49 16 16 0 0 79.2 65 25 22 4 28 72 1.167 7.3 3.2 8.1 2.57
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/2/2014.

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

Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA G CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2010 17 2 Lgs Rk-A- 0 3 2.16 10 0 0 25.0 23 15 6 1 17 37 1.600 8.3 13.3 2.18
2011 18 2 Lgs Rk-A- 3 3 5.30 14 0 0 54.1 53 33 32 4 26 56 1.454 8.8 9.3 2.15
2012 19 MIDW A 8 5 2.49 25 0 0 90.1 64 33 25 3 51 97 1.273 6.4 9.7 1.90
2013 20 FLOR A+ 4 5 3.34 22 0 0 86.1 63 40 32 4 40 75 1.193 6.6 7.8 1.88
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/23/2013.

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.

Giolito

22. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals; 7/14/1994

Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2012 17 GULF Rk 0 0 4.50 1 2.0 2 1 1 0 0 1 1.000 9.0 0.0 4.5
2013 18 2 Lgs Rk-A- 2 1 1.96 11 36.2 28 9 8 1 14 39 1.145 6.9 3.4 9.6 2.79
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/2/2014.

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

Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA G CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2012 19 3 Lgs A+-A-AA 9 3 2.08 23 0 0 103.2 67 29 24 6 28 119 0.916 5.8 10.3 4.25
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/23/2013.
Year Tm Lg W L ERA G GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2012 BAL AL 0 0 0.00 2 0 0 0 1.2 1 0 0 0 1 0 1.200 5.4 0.0 0.00
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/23/2013.

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

Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA G CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2012 20 2 Lgs A-Rk 3 3 2.04 9 1 1 39.2 39 16 9 1 8 42 1.185 8.8 9.5 5.25
2013 21 2 Lgs A+-AA 6 9 4.32 22 1 1 108.1 91 58 52 11 36 140 1.172 7.6 11.6 3.89
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/23/2013.

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

Year Age Lg Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 21 3 Lgs A–A+-Rk 36 146 128 22 43 14 2 9 32 1 11 35 .336 .390 .688 1.078 88
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/23/2013.

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. .

"Cubs

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

"Indians

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

"Mariners

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

60Gary 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

"Phillies

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


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