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!
Boston Red Sox
2015 Projected Record: 87-75 (1st in AL East, 5th in MLB)
Manager: John Farrell (168-156 in two seasons with Boston, 322-326 in four seasons overall)
Bogaerts will be the epitome of a post-hype sleeper after having watched him crash and burn during his age-21 season in 2014. It seems unreal that we hold players to such high expectations today – even Mike Trout hit just .220/.281/.390 in his first 135 plate appearances at the tender age of 19. Still, the Boston shortstop is someone to lookout for as we turn the page to the 2015 season. The positives: he still had 28 doubles, 12 home runs, walked in 6.6 percent of his plate appearances, and wasn’t benched to make room for Hanley Ramirez. The negatives: He hit just .153/.198/.221 over 254 plate appearances from June 1 through August 31. After finishing the season with a .313/.317/.490 in September, so, perhaps, that is a sign of things to come? Get back on board with Bogaerts.
Andrew McCutchen, Hanley Ramirez, and Derek Jeter…those are the recent comparisons that Betts received in a recent article, which is enough to stop most fans in their tracks and mock whoever said it, but those comparisons came from the mouths of veterans David Ortiz, Shane Victorino, and Hanley Ramirez, himself. Betts is an extremely athletic, versatile player, who will break camp and find a way to get 500 plate appearances while playing all over the field, but mostly center field. He may be listed at just 5’9″, 155 pounds, but he could eclipse 10 bombs and 30 stolen bases for the next several seasons, while showing impressive plate discipline. After playing in 52 games in his age-21 season and posting an .812 OPS over 213 plate appearances, he’ll establish himself as a “must-own” in fantasy leagues in his first full season in 2015.
Offseason Overview: The Red Sox were busy filling up their rotation in trades, acquiring Wade Miley from Arizona (for Rubby De La Rosa and Allan Webster) and Rick Porcello from Detroit (for Yoenis Cespedes). Beyond the offseason trades, Ben Cherington and company opened the checkbook, signing Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval through free agency, while continuing in the pursuit of international free agents by dropping $31.5 million (plus an additional $31.5 million in fines) on 19-year-old Cuban sensation Yoan Moncada. While Moncada will head to the minors, it will only be a matter of time before he makes an impact, as he’ll head to High-A to start his career. He joins fellow Cuban Rusney Castillo, who signed a seven-year, $72.5 million deal, within the Boston organization.
The Verdict: After dealing Jon Lester to Oakland and being unable to come up with a deal with Philadelphia for Cole Hamels, the Red Sox head into the 2015 season with a group of mid-rotation arms in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Clay Buchholz isn’t what you’d call an “ace”, even if you’re dumb enough to think that he can duplicate the 16 starts he had in 2013. If he stays healthy, a big “if” since Boston should be ecstatic to get 30 starts and 190 innings out of him, he’ll just be serviceable. Miley can give Boston innings, but the 3.94 ERA and 1.36 WHIP show that he may have issues missing bats and keeping base runners at bay when you consider those numbers came while pitching in the NL West, where Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego’s stadiums kill baseballs – he likely won’t be so lucky facing New York, Toronto, and Baltimore’s sluggers. Porcello could be very good with a strong defense behind him, but, with this pitching staff, the Red Sox are going to need to outscore their opponents…something they should be able to do thanks to their collection of talented bats. This team is extremely deep offensively, but the pitching is the key here. Boston should win 90 to 93 game, but they’ll need a lot of luck out of that rotation. For that reason, I see Johnny Cueto in the Boston rotation, leading them to the title down the stretch.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After 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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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:
On March 27, 2013, I posted my 2013 Predictions and Useless Guesses, which set forth my expectations for the 2013 season. Needless to say, the latter part of the title was pretty right on, as a high majority of my preseason predictions crashed and burned like nothing the world has ever seen before. For that, I am human; however, I will gloat about the things that I was right about when that time comes.
Division Winners and Wild Cards:
AL East: Toronto Blue Jays – Actual Winner: Boston Red Sox
AL Central: Detroit Tigers – Actual Winner: Detroit Tigers
AL West: Los Angeles Angels – Actual Winner: Oakland A’s
AL Wild Cards: Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays – Actual Winners: Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays
NL East: Washington Nationals – Actual Winner: Atlanta Braves
NL Central: Cincinnati Reds – Actual Winner: St. Louis Cardinals
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers – Actual Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Wild Cards: St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves – Actual Winners: Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds
Now That We Know
I said “Bryce Harper will be better than he was in 2012 and Stephen Strasburg won’t have an innings limit. Really, this is all that you need to know, but with the addition of a leadoff hitter inDenard Span and another fantastic arm in Rafael Soriano to add to Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, the Nationals are about as good as it gets in MLB for a lock to go to the playoffs.” Not only did the Nationals finish 10 games out in the NL East, they were four back of Cincinnati for the second Wild Card spot and they didn’t get near the production out of Harper that I was expecting due to injuries. The Angels proved that you can’t win with injured veterans who are underperforming (Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton) while putting together a terrible rotation. And…about those Blue Jays…I bought into the players that they had acquired and thought that having Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista would be enough to be contenders, yet, the club finished 23 games out in the AL East, good for last place. The Dodgers, Braves, Reds, Cardinals, Tigers, and Rays did make the playoffs, while the Rangers weren’t too far behind. The Pirates and Indians contending this season and reaching the playoffs were both surprises, so maybe I get some credit despite my ugly World Series prediction…Nationals over the Angels in six…ugh!!!
Jose Bautista, you failed me. Maybe the wrist still wasn’t 100 percent in 2013 following surgery in 2012, but the .259/.358/.498 line wasn’t what I was expecting with a star-studded lineup around him in 2013. “Joey Bats” didn’t play a game after August 20 due to a bone bruise on his hip, which hurt his final statistics, which weren’t anywhere near the likely AL MVP candidates: Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, and Chris Davis. While the award hasn’t been given out yet, I went with Cabrera with my own version of the 2013 Awards, and I’ll gladly take on your mockery for thinking Bautista was going to be a force in 2013.
Justin Verlander wasn’t the same. Maybe a part of him died when Kate Upton left him, but who can really blame him. Making an All-Star team, striking out over 200 batters, reaching 200-plus innings for the 7th straight season, and posting a 3.46 ERA is considered a down season apparently…that’s sad. Certainly, Verlander’s 2013 season wasn’t very Verlander-y, as that title seemed to go to his teammate, Max Scherzer, who went 21-3 with 240 K’s and an AL-leading 0.97 WHIP.
I went with Wil Myers early in the year and I stuck with Myers on my own postseason awards. Again, the official award hasn’t been given out, but in 88 games, Myers had and OPS+ of 132 and an .831 OPS, providing punch to the Rays lineup and helping guide Tampa Bay to another postseason appearance. Myers will continue to improve and become an All-Star level talent in future seasons, and despite losing James Shields in the deal with Kansas City, the team control and cost savings will be worth much more to the Rays, even before adding in Myers potential production.
AL Manager of the Year
I went with Cleveland Indians’ manager Terry Francona prior to the season, while switching my own choice to Joe Girardi after the Yankees had a solid season with more injuries than any manager should ever have to deal with in a single season. However, the Francona choice shouldn’t be viewed negatively, and I had a tough time selecting Girardi over Francona when I was writing up my own awards. Francona shed the “chicken and beer” issues that ended his tenure in Boston, leading a mixed group of talent in Cleveland to a surprising Wild Card position. With the Tribe young enough to take steps forward in 2014, Francona could be a worthy candidate when the Indians likely take over the AL Central from the quickly aging Tigers.
I took the homer way out and selected Joey Votto prior to the 2013 season. While Votto was a tremendous asset for the Reds, he seems to be more valuable to the analytics gurus than some people in the front office and within fantasy leagues, as his patience creates a lot of on-base opportunities but a complete lack of numbers in the RBI column. I gave my postseason award to another NL Central star, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who had another tremendous all-around season while leading the Bucs to their first winning season and postseason appearance since 1992. Votto had another excellent season, but we’ll see what happens to his perceived value when he is driving in 75 runs with a strong on-base percentage while making $20 million or more from 2016 onward in Cincinnati.
NL Cy Young
It’s easy to pick Clayton Kershaw, so maybe I just wanted to be different when I chose Madison Bumgarner. A 2.77 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP over 201.1 innings is pretty solid, but it isn’t a 1.83 ERA and 0.91 WHIP over 236 innings like Kershaw posted. Bumgarner is worthy of some praise, though. He improved his WHIP for the fourth straight season, increased his hits per nine for the fourth straight season, and he reached a new career high in strikeouts (199) in 2013. If the Giants are contending in 2014 and Bumgarner continues his trends, he could battle Kershaw for the title of best left-handed starter in the league.
NL Rookie of the Year
Oscar Taveras battled injuries again in 2013 and never received an at-bat at the major league level. I was counting on a Carlos Beltran injury or an underperforming Jon Jay being benched in favor of Taveras in center field, but it never happened. Instead, the National League was overtaken by a plethora of superstar rookies, highlighted by Yasiel Puig, Jose Fernandez, Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Matt Adams. While I chose Fernandez for my NL ROY winner, several of these players are worth of consideration, and if the NL keeps getting talent like this every year, they’ll be seeing a lot of home-field advantage opportunities in upcoming World Series’.
NL Manager of the Year
I went with a laughable Bud Black, thinking that mediocrity and solid contributions from a lot of guys with average skills would be good enough to help the Padres be competitive, at least above .500, which would make Black a viable candidate for the award. After all, the NL West had the Dodgers and not a whole lot else this season. The Friars were 76-86, 16 games back of Los Angeles, and third in the NL West. I ultimately gave my postseason award to Clint Hurdle for helping the Pirates have a winning record, but Mike Matheny and Don Mattingly were also reasonable candidates.
Beyond the Awards: Several Laughs Due to My “Bold Predictions”
Original in italics – reaction in bold
Bryce Harper will hit over 30 home runs in 2013, while posting an OPS near .940. —-NO. Not even close.
Mike Trout won’t hit 30 home runs again, but he will steal 50 bases. —- 27 HR and 33 SB. NOPE!
Jose Reyes will stay healthy, even while playing on turf, and terrorize the AL East while stealing over 50 bases. —93 games, 15 SB…FAIL! NEVER COUNT ON REYES!
Ike Davis will hit over 40 home runs after hitting 32 in 2012 while hitting just .227.—- just 9 HR while hitting .207. Ouch.
Mat Latos will become the ace of the Cincinnati Reds, posting better overall numbers than Johnny Cueto and winning 20 games in 2013. —-Latos was 14-7 and Cueto only made 11 starts due to injuries. I think this is a win.
Mike Minor proves that his second half from 2012 (6-4, 2.16 ERA, 0.87 WHIP over 87.1 IP) wasn’ a fluke, as he becomes the Braves best starting pitcher in 2013.—Win! 3.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 204.2 IP and he was the most reliable Braves’ starter over the whole season.
Jordan Zimmerman has a more impressive 2013 season than Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez and he will no longer be overlooked in a fantastic Washington rotation. —-Zimmerman’s 19 wins were eight more than Gonzalez’s, his ERA and WHIP were second to Strasburg’s in the Nats’ rotation, and he led the club with 213.1 innings. Solid.
Brandon Belt continues hitting like he has all spring, ripping 25 home runs after having a power outage in the earlier stages of his career (16 in 598 at-bats). —-Belt had just 17 HR but he still seems to be in the doghouse in San Francisco. If anyone ever needed a change of scenery, it’s this guy. He may never hit 30 home runs, but he is a very good player.
Troy Tulowitzki stays healthy and benefits from Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler having All Star seasons to hit 40 home runs, making all of those fantasy baseball players that took him in the first round feel like the smartest men alive. —-All three players battled injuries, but if All-Star seasons were based on April stats alone, Fowler would have been an All-Star, as well, along with Tulo and CarGo. As it stands, the Rockies are only as good as these three players being on the field at the same time with some solid pitching…something that may never happen.
Allen Craig becomes an All Star and hits over .300 with 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI. —-Craig was an All-Star and he finished the year injured on September 4 with 97 RBI. The home runs weren’t there, he had only 13, but he was a very productive player for the NL Champions.
Carlos Santana hits 30+ home runs and will have the kind of hype that Buster Posey has right now during the 2013-2014 offseason.—-Nope. Santana had his best full season in 2013, but hit just 20 HR while posting an .832 OPS. I still think he’ll continue to improve, but this wasn’t the breakout year.
Jason Heyward finishes 2nd in NL MVP voting to Joey Votto, posting his first 30 HR/30 SB season for Atlanta.—-Nope. Heyward struggled mightily with various injuries and failure to produce, but he’ll still be just 24 in 2014 and isn’t close to being finished.
Domonic Brown keeps the Phillies left field job all season and posts a .270/.380/.450 line with solid production across the board. Philly fans hit Ruben Amaro, Jr. with batteries for not trusting in him sooner.—-.272/.324/.494 isn’t bad, and neither is Brown, who finally played and hit 27 HR and drove in 83 in just 139 games. The on-base skills weren’t there, but they were in the minors. Amaro is a moron.
Zack Greinke can’t handle the Los Angeles pressure and spotlight and misses time due to his anxiety disorder.—- Greinke was fine and he went 15-4 with a 2.63 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. He’d be worth some NL Cy Young votes if Kershaw didn’t deserve a unanimous vote.
Chris Sale pitches 200 innings and proves doubters about his bony frame and drastic innings increase in 2012 wrong. —- Sale was AWESOME in 2013, going 11-14 with a 3.07 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and a 226:46 K:BB in 214.1 innings. Stop doubting him.
Drew Stubbs (remember him?) hits 20 home runs and steals 50 bases, revitalizing his career.—-Nope. He’ll never make enough contact to do that and he may be a fourth outfielder going forward after a disappointing .233/.305/.360 season with 10 HR and 17 RBI in 481 plate appearances, striking out 141 times.
Rick Porcello wins 17 games with a 3.20 ERA while striking out 180 batters…all because he began using his four-seam fastball for the first time in his career. —-Well, Porcello did reach 142 strikeouts with his career high 7.2 K:9 in 2013, but fell well short of a 3.20 ERA while posting a 4.32 ERA and career best 1.28 WHIP. He’ll be 25 next year and the small improvements could be a positive sign for his career, but he’ll never be the ace many expected him to be when he was drafted.
Guys who I thought would “go bonkers in 2013”
Alex Cobb, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays: Yes, he had a breakout season.
Greg Holland, RHP, Kansas City Royals: 47 saves and a 13.8 K:9 made him one of the elite closers in baseball.
Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals: He can hit and he posted career highs in games played, total bases, home runs, and RBI. If the other pieces produce around him, he’ll be an elite-level offensive catcher.
Chris Parmelee, OF, Minnesota Twins: He’s a 4A guy who just can’t translate his minor league numbers into major league production.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs: 40 doubles, 23 HR, and 80 RBI at the age of 23. I’ll take it. He’ll improve his slash in coming seasons, likely when the Cubs put someone worth a damn on the field with him.
Dayan Viciedo, OF, Chicago White Sox: Still a lot of power with no pitch recognition skills. He’ll always mash fastballs, but he needs to find some other sort of identity to be a long-term piece for the White Sox.
Dan Straily, RHP, Oakland Athletics (Bartolo Colon won’t last forever): Solid season. Not sure if his absurd minor league strikeout totals will ever be realistic in the majors, but he’s a solid mid-to-back-end starter. And…maybe Colon will last forever.
Michael Saunders, OF, Seattle Mariners: After an excellent World Baseball Classic, Saunders disappointed again. He improved his on-base skills, but saw a dip in his power and speed, which were the tools that made him a trendy sleeper pick.
Prospects to Watch
Jonathan Schoop, INF, Baltimore Orioles: Disappointed due to a stress fracture in his back.
Dorssys Paulino, INF, Cleveland Indians: Big disappointment after a huge professional debut in 2012.
J.R. Graham, RHP, Atlanta Braves: Just ok before shoulder issues ended his season in May.
Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals: Breakout. 155 K’s in 134.2 minor league innings earned him three major league starts to finish the season.
Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays: 23 starts for the Rays – 3.22 ERA over 128.2 innings with a 1.13 WHIP. He’ll be a tremendous arm in Tampa for a number of years.
Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals: He needed a good season to get his prospect status back on track, but it didn’t happen. He has the tools with a great power and speed combination. He could take off in High-A in 2014 like Wil Myers did a couple of years ago, but that could be wishful thinking. I just want a Bubba to thrive.
Yasel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: Nothing needed here. I am brilliant.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks: Huge steps this season and he could have earned a long look this coming spring. 1.84 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 152 innings while not turning 21 until August. He could be a legitimate No.1 starter.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros: Very disappointing season, from a 50-game suspension for a drug abuse to lackluster effort and poor numbers. The Astros need him to click and the skills are there. Does he have the drive to make it happen?
Xander Bogaerts, INF, Boston Red Sox: He helped the Sox win the World Series, but this was an easy pick after his incredible 2012 season. He’ll be an everyday player at short or third going forward, and a potential perennial All-Star within the next couple of seasons.
Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres: The power wasn’t there this season, but he was only 20 until August and the catching position is difficult to judge prospects within. He could be a tremendous major league receiver right now, but if the Padres let him develop, he will be a well-rounded superstar.
Joey Gallo, INF, Texas Rangers: Power like a BOSS! Gallo hit 40 bombs this season while striking out 172 times. He is Adam Dunn without the walks. Huge raw power potential. Keep in mind, he turns 20 years old this month…40 HR at 19!!!
It wasn’t always pretty, but I’ll take what I got right here. I’m not in Vegas for a reason, but there were quite a few good calls. We’ll see what next season brings. I’ll be sure to provide some more laughs while looking back to see how things turned out after the season.