Every MLB Team's Next Big Thing
Earlier this offseason, I wrote a piece on each team's biggest breakout candidate entering the 2013 season.
Now, we'll take a look at each team's next big thing. First off, I should probably clarify the difference between the two.
To me, a breakout player is one who makes a significantly bigger impact for a team than he did the previous season, whether it is a rookie landing a key role or an established big leaguer taking his game to the next level.
On the other hand, a team's "next big thing" is a player who has yet to establish himself at the big league level but has the makings of becoming not just a key player for the team moving forward, but a bona fide star.
Arizona Diamondbacks: SP Tyler Skaggs
Back at the deadline in 2010, the Diamondbacks held one of the market's biggest trade chips in right-hander Dan Haren, and they eventually shipped him to the Angels for Joe Saunders and three prospects.
Saunders was a solid starter, but the real score in the trade for Arizona was left-handed pitching prospect Tyler Skaggs, as the 2009 first-round pick was already a highly regarded prospect.
After reaching Double-A at the age of 19 in 2011, he's continued his rapid ascent and made his big league debut last season with six starts in Arizona.
With the offseason trade of Trevor Bauer, he's now the Diamondbacks' top pitching prospect and may be the top left-handed pitching prospect in all of baseball. He has an ace-caliber ceiling and should begin to flash that this coming season in a potential rotation spot out of camp.
Atlanta Braves: SS Andrelton Simmons
Last season, the Braves opened the year with prospect Tyler Pastornicky manning the shortstop position. Early-season struggles led to his demotion, though, and the Braves turned to 22-year-old Andrelton Simmons.
In 49 games, Simmons hit .289/.335/.416 before hitting the disabled list, but he flashed enough potential that the Braves weren't willing to part with him this offseason in a trade for Rangers slugging prospect Mike Olt (h/t CBS Sports' Danny Knobler via Twitter).
With Martin Prado and Michael Bourn gone, Simmons will get the first crack at hitting leadoff this coming season and could be the table-setter for a good Braves lineup.
Good shortstops are at a premium in MLB these days, and he could emerge as a consistent .300 hitter and perennial All-Star.
Baltimore Orioles: SP Dylan Bundy
When the Orioles took high school right-hander Dylan Bundy with the fourth pick in the 2011 draft, he was expected to move faster than most prep pitching prospects due to his solid build and plus repertoire.
However, it's safe to say few expected him to be quite as dominant as he was in his pro debut. After throwing 30 innings at Single-A without allowing an earned run, he was raised two more levels before earning a September call-up at the age of 19.
The Oklahoma native ranks as the game's top pitching prospect entering the 2013 season, and while he may open the season in the minors, he'll be in the Baltimore rotation at some point this coming season.
A couple years from now, he could be the best pitcher in baseball—he has that sort of potential. Bundy could be the piece that pushes a talented, young Baltimore team over the top in the AL East.
Boston Red Sox: CF Jackie Bradley Jr.
Xander Bogaerts may be the top prospect in the Red Sox organization, but that doesn't mean he'll be the next homegrown star in Boston, as that distinction may very well fall to center fielder Jackie Bradley.
An injury-plagued junior season at South Carolina dropped him from a surefire top pick to the supplemental round, where the Red Sox snatched him up for what now looks like a steal at 40th overall.
With the impending free agency of Jacoby Ellsbury likely signaling the end of his time in Boston by season's end—or perhaps even at the deadline if the Red Sox fall out of contention—the door will be wide open for Bradley to make an impact.
He doesn't have premier power or speed, but he does everything well and should develop into a consistent .300 hitter with 20/20 potential.
Chicago Cubs: SS Javier Baez
Despite having a young All-Star shortstop in Starlin Castro, the Cubs selected high school shortstop Javier Baez with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft.
The move appears to have been the right one, as Baez hit .294/.346/.543 with 16 home runs and 24 steals in just 293 at-bats last season as he advanced to High Single-A at the age of 19.
Blessed with perhaps the best bat speed in all of the minor leagues, Baez should develop into a dangerous middle-of-the-order power hitter.
If he keeps hitting the way he did last season, he'll continue to climb the ladder quickly and could be the team's answer at third base for the long term, perhaps as soon as 2014.
Chicago White Sox: CF Trayce Thompson
As the son of former NBA player Mychal Thompson and brother of current Golden State Warriors forward Klay Thompson, there is certainly plenty of athleticism in the bloodlines of White Sox prospect Trayce Thompson.
A second-round pick in the 2009 draft, Thompson has always displayed a terrific blend of power and speed, and he had 25 home runs and 21 steals with an .809 OPS last season while climbing three levels to finish the year in Triple-A.
While 29-year-old Alejandro De Aza currently mans center field for the White Sox, it may not be long before Thompson plays his way into the job.
He'll never be a .300 hitter, but his 20/20 numbers should translate to the big leagues, and the 21-year-old has potential to be a 30/30 guy with continued development.
Cincinnati Reds: CF Billy Hamilton
The Reds enter the 2013 season with as complete a roster as any in baseball, so that won't allow for much opportunity for prospects to crack the big league club.
That said, it's only a matter of time before the dynamic speed of prospect Billy Hamilton is on full display in Cincinnati.
Last season, the 21-year-old stole a record 155 bases in an equally ridiculous 192 attempts. More importantly, however, his entire offensive game took a step forward as he hit .311/.410/.420 between High Single-A and Double-A.
He began to transition from shortstop to center field last season, and with offseason acquisition Shin-Soo Choo—who's a free agent at season's end—he could get a crack at an everyday job in 2014.
Cleveland Indians: SP Trevor Bauer
The Reds filled their biggest need in landing Shin-Soo Choo in a three-team trade with the Indians and Diamondbacks, but it may well be Cleveland who winds up winning the deal overall, as the Indians landed Arizona right-hander Trevor Bauer.
Though he struggled in four starts with Arizona, Bauer went 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA and 10.8 K/9 between Double-A and Triple-A and showed all the makings of a future ace.
His mechanics are cause for at least mild concern in the long term, but if he can avoid injury, he should emerge as the ace of the Indians staff for a long time to come.
Whether or not he wins a rotation spot out of camp will be one of the biggest storylines of spring training from a prospect standpoint.
Colorado Rockies: 3B Nolan Arenado
Though it's offset by their struggles on the mound, the Rockies have a fantastic offense—their biggest hole being at third base, where Chris Nelson is far from an impact offensive player.
That should soon change with the arrival of top prospect Nolan Arenado, as he has the makings of becoming a franchise cornerstone once he arrives in Colorado.
After hitting .298 with 20 home runs and 122 RBI in High Single-A during the 2011 season, he took a bit of a step back last season with a .285 batting average, 12 home runs and 56 RBI. However, he was still just 21 years old and playing in Double-A.
He'll likely never be a 30-home run guy, but should be a perennial threat for a .300 batting average, 20 home runs and 100 RBI while playing solid defense at the hot corner.
Detroit Tigers: RF Nick Castellanos
A natural third baseman blocked for the foreseeable future by slugger Miguel Cabrera, prospect Nick Castellanos could find his way into the Detroit outfield at some point in 2013.
After hitting a ridiculous .405/.461/.553 over 215 at-bats at High Single-A, he earned a promotion to Double-A last season at the age of 20 and held his own.
He hasn't shown a ton of pop in the minors (17 homers in 1,068 at-bats), but he could be a future contender for the batting title and should develop at least double-digit home run power down the road.
Though he doesn't have a spot on the roster out of camp, he could push Andy Dirks for at-bats in left field by midseason if he continues to rake in the minors.
Houston Astros: 1B Jonathan Singleton
The consensus top first-base prospect in baseball, Jonathan Singleton will be a key cog in the Astros' rebuilding process, and Houston fans should get to see him in action at the big league level at some point in 2013.
Acquired from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence deal, Singleton hit .284/.396/.497 with 21 home runs and 79 RBI in a full season at Double-A at the age of 20.
His plus plate discipline should make his transition to the majors that much easier, and he has the legitimate middle-of-the-order power to be a perennial 30-home run, 100-RBI guy.
He'll serve a 50-game suspension for a second positive drug test (marijuana) to open the season, or he'd have a real shot at making the big league club out of camp. Expect to see him at some point; he'll be a fixture at first base by 2014.
Kansas City Royals: C Salvador Perez
After signing a five-year extension last February, Perez suffered a torn meniscus in his knee, and as a result, he didn't make his season debut last year until late June.
That said, he still managed to hit .301 with 11 home runs and 39 RBI over 289 at-bats, and he seems to have all the makings of a franchise catcher with plus offensive tools.
The five-year, $7 million extension he signed will look like a steal if he can produce at the level he did last year over a full season.
He'll be just 22 this coming season, but he could be viewed as the American League's best catcher by the end of the 2013 season.
Los Angeles Angels: SP Nick Maronde
A third-round pick in 2011, left-hander Nick Maronde opened last season pitching in the Rookie League and finished the year in the Angels bullpen.
Over 20 minor league appearances, he went 6-4 with a 2.26 ERA, 1.013 WHIP and 8.1 K/9. Over 12 big league appearances, he allowed just one earned run in six innings of work.
He may have had a spot in the team's bullpen this coming season had it not been for the addition of Sean Burnett in free agency.
However, his future is in the rotation, and it will come down to him and Garrett Richards if the big league team needs a starter this coming season. While Richards has the experience, Maronde has the higher upside and should have a rotation spot one way or another by 2014.
Los Angeles Dodgers: RF Yasiel Puig
Last season saw three major Cuban-defector signings, with the A's signing Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million deal; the Cubs signing Jorge Soler to a nine-year, $30 million deal; and the Dodgers signing Yasiel Puig to a seven-year, $42 million deal.
Puig was signed in late July, so he played in just 23 games last season between Rookie League and High Single-A. In that brief audition, he hit .354/.442/.634 with five home runs, 15 RBI and eight steals over 82 at-bats.
The 22-year-old could move quickly this year in his first full pro season, and he has the potential to be an impact slugger.
There are no holes in the Dodgers outfield as of now, but if Puig continues to develop into the slugger he's expected to be, it could force the Dodgers to shop Andre Ethier to free up a spot for him.
Miami Marlins: SP Jose Fernandez
Selected with the 14th overall pick in the 2011 draft out of high school, Fernandez pitched at a level beyond his years last season at the age of 19.
In 25 starts between Single-A and High Single-A, he went 14-1 with a 1.75 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 134 innings of work, while leading all of minor league baseball with a 0.925 WHIP.
His fastball, curveball and changeup combination is plus across the board, and he throws all of them for strikes, which should help him continue to move quickly.
He'll be a workhorse atop the Marlins staff once he arrives in Miami, and that could be as soon as 2014 if he continues to progress at his current rate.
Milwaukee Brewers: SP Tyler Thornburg
The Brewers will be relying heavily on inexperienced arms this coming season beyond ace Yovani Gallardo, and while Wily Peralta is their top pitching prospect, I think it'll be Tyler Thornburg who becomes their next great pitcher.
Thornburg opened the 2012 season with his first action above Single-A, and over 21 minor league starts between Double-A and Triple-A he went 10-4 with a 3.20 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 112.1 innings.
That earned him eight appearances (three starts) down the stretch, and he had a 4.50 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 22 innings.
He'll compete with Peralta for the fifth spot in the team's rotation this spring, and he could easily emerge as the team's No. 2 starter in his first full season in the majors.
Minnesota Twins: 3B Miguel Sano
The top third-base prospect in baseball, Miguel Sano followed up a fantastic showing in the Rookie League in 2011 with great numbers in his first year of full-season ball.
The 19-year-old hit .258/.373/.521 with 28 home runs and 100 RBI at Single-A last season, and he has as much power potential as any prospect in the minors right now.
It could be another tough season in Minnesota this coming year, but the Twins have quietly assembled a solid minor league system, and Sano headlines it.
If he can adjust quickly to the move to Double-A this coming season, he could be the Twins' everyday third baseman and a middle-of-the-order slugger by 2014.
New York Mets: SP Zack Wheeler
The Mets may be in for a long season this coming year, but they are a team headed in the right direction, and they have the young pieces to contend within a couple seasons.
Chief among those young pieces is a terrific group of young arms, as Matt Harvey was impressive in his debut last season and will soon be joined by frontline arms Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard.
Wheeler should join the staff at some point this coming season, as he went 12-8 with a 3.26 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 149 innings in 25 starts between Double-A and Triple-A.
As good as Harvey was last year, Wheeler could be even better this year, and it will be interesting to see which one emerges as the ace of the staff.
New York Yankees: RF Tyler Austin
The Yankees re-signed veteran Ichiro Suzuki to a two-year deal to play right field after letting Nick Swisher walk, and they picked up their option on Curtis Granderson in center field.
It will be interesting to see if the team cuts ties with Granderson next offseason, and the continued development of top prospects Mason Williams and Tyler Austin would go a long way toward making that move possible.
Austin is a year ahead of Williams in his development, and we could see Ichiro slide to center field and Austin man right field for 2014.
The 21-year-old advanced through four levels last season to finish the year in Double-A, and he put up a combined .322/.400/.559 line with 17 home runs, 80 RBI and 23 steals.
Oakland Athletics: SP Daniel Straily
With terrific full seasons in the majors from rookies Tom Milone (13-10, 3.74 ERA) and Jarrod Parker (13-8, 3.47 ERA) last season, it was kind of lost in the shuffle just how good Dan Straily was.
A 24th-round pick back in 2009, Straily opened the season in Double-A, and in 25 minor league starts between there and Triple-A he went 9-7 with a 2.78 ERA and 190 strikeouts in 152 innings of work.
That earned him a call-up, and the breakthrough season continued at the big league level as he went 2-1 with a 3.89 ERA over seven starts.
Entering 2013, he'll likely have a rotation spot out of camp, and he has a chance to not only win AL Rookie of the Year, but to take another step and become the ace of a fantastic, young A's staff.
Philadelphia Phillies: 1B/OF Darin Ruf
Conventional wisdom tells you not to get overly excited about what a 25-year-old hitter does in Double-A.
However, it's hard to simply write off Phillies slugger Darin Ruf after he hit .317/.408/.620 with 38 home runs and 104 RBI last season in his first action above the low minors.
He went on to hit another 10 home runs in the Venezuelan Winter League while continuing the transition from first base to left field, and he'll have a legitimate chance to win a starting job with a strong spring performance.
For obvious reasons, he doesn't have the ceiling of some younger prospects, but his power is for real and he could be a late bloomer in the Ryan Ludwick mold with potential for significant run-production numbers right off the bat.
Pittsburgh Pirates: SP Gerrit Cole
The first overall pick in the 2011 draft, right-hander Gerrit Cole turned in a dominant pro debut last season and brought about legitimate hopes he'll be in Pittsburgh at some point in 2013.
In 26 minor league starts, he advanced through three levels and went 9-7 with a 2.80 ERA and 136 strikeouts in 132 innings.
With a fastball/slider combination that already ranks as big league plus and a developing curveball and changeup, combined with a big 6'4" frame, he projects as a top-of-the-rotation workhorse and a staff ace.
He'll get every chance to show what he can do this spring, and with a solid start to the season in Triple-A he could be in the Pirates rotation by midseason—and atop it by season's end.
San Diego Padres: 2B Jedd Gyorko
Originally, it looked like an imminent Chase Headley trade would free up a spot for Jedd Gyorko to play his natural position of third base for the Padres this coming season.
Instead, Headley turned in a breakout season and won't be going anywhere—at least for now. As a result, Gyorko began to transition to second base last season.
If he can become even an average defender there, his bat should make him one of the most productive second basemen in the league from Day 1.
In three minor league seasons, Gyorko has hit .319/.385/.529, and last season he turned in a 30-home run, 100-RBI campaign split between Double-A and Triple-A. He'll give the Padres a welcome third run producer alongside Headley and Carlos Quentin, and he has a real shot at breaking camp as the starter.
San Francisco Giants: SP Kyle Crick
The Giants will finally be out from under Barry Zito's contract at the end of the upcoming season, while Tim Lincecum is also set to hit free agency, so there could be some turnover in the San Francisco rotation following this season.
While he likely won't be ready for the majors that soon, once he is, Kyle Crick has the potential to be the Giants' next homegrown high school ace, following in the footsteps of Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner.
A supplemental-round pick in 2011, Crick went 7-6 with a 2.51 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 111.1 innings during his first full pro season last year.
After spending the entire year in Single-A, he'll likely need at least two more seasons in the minors to refine his stuff, but by 2015 he could be another dangerous arm on the Giants staff.
Seattle Mariners: C Mike Zunino
Take your pick among the Mariners' uber-prospects, as starters Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen, shortstop Nick Franklin and catcher Mike Zunino all project to be future stars at the big league level.
While I think they'll all be playing a key role in Seattle by 2014, it's Zunino who will be the first to make his mark on the Mariners.
After being taken third overall out of the University of Florida last June, Zunino signed quickly enough to hit .360/.447/.689 with 13 home runs and 43 RBI in 44 games between Low Single-A and Double-A.
Though I think the Mariners will give him another couple hundred at-bats at the minor league level before turning catching duties over to him, he could be a Buster Posey-like contributor right out of the gate once he gets the call.
St. Louis Cardinals: SP Shelby Miller
Outfielder Oscar Taveras may have passed right-hander Shelby Miller as the Cardinals' top prospect, but it'll be Miller who is the first to emerge as a star in St. Louis.
With Kyle Lohse likely gone in free agency and the recent news that Chris Carpenter has re-aggravated the nerve issue in his neck and could wind up retiring, the Cardinals have openings in their rotation.
Lance Lynn will likely fill one spot, and the second will be between Miller, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal, as the Cardinals certainly aren't short on options.
Miller's 4.74 ERA at Triple-A last season may not look great, but he was 7-2 with a 2.88 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 59.1 innings over his last 10 minor league starts as he turned things around nicely in the second half.
Still just 22, the hard-throwing righty has ace-caliber stuff and could quickly emerge as the ace of the staff once he gets comfortable at the big league level.
Tampa Bay Rays: RF Wil Myers
The Rays finally pulled the trigger on trading some of their starting pitching wealth this offseason, sending James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals for an impressive prospect package that includes outfielder Wil Myers and right-hander Jake Odorizzi.
Myers, the Minor League Player of the Year in 2012, hit .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs and 109 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A last season.
There are still holes in his swing, as evidenced by his 140 strikeouts last year, but he has the bat to finally give the Rays a reliable sidekick to Evan Longoria in the middle of the order.
He'll more than likely open the season in the minors, but he could make a huge impact in the second-half playoff push as he establishes himself as a future star.
Texas Rangers: SS Jurickson Profar
The consensus top prospect in baseball entering the 2013 season, Profar hit .281/.368/.452 as a 19-year-old in Double-A last season, earning a September call-up.
He went on to homer in his first big league at-bat and tallied a pinch-hit single in the Rangers' Wild Card Game, as he's only scratched the surface of his potential.
Blocked at shortstop by Elvis Andrus and at second base by Ian Kinsler, Profar will likely start the season in the minors so he can get regular at-bats.
However, if he could play himself into a starting role by midseason—whether that means a move to the outfield by him or Kinsler or a trade of Andrus—the Rangers will find a way to get the future superstar into the lineup.
Toronto Blue Jays: SP Aaron Sanchez
The Blue Jays mortgaged a good chunk of their future in trades this offseason, dealing their top three prospects in catcher Travis d'Arnaud, outfielder Jake Marisnick and right-hander Noah Syndergaard.
With a complete roster of big league veterans, they likely won't see a prospect make a serious impact for at least a couple seasons, but the next one to emerge as a star will likely be starter Aaron Sanchez.
A big 6'4" right-hander, Sanchez has the prototypical pitcher's build and was dominant in the Single-A Midwest League last season, going 8-5 with a 2.49 ERA and 9.7 K/9 as a 19-year-old.
The Blue Jays have no reason to rush him with a solid rotation and plenty of depth, but by the start of the 2015 season he could be the ace of the staff and one of the game's top young arms.
Washington Nationals: 3B Anthony Rendon
A favorite to be the top overall pick in the 2011 draft, Rendon was held back by injuries during his final season at Rice and wound up slipping to the Nationals at sixth overall.
He again battled injuries during his first pro season last year, appearing in just 43 games while playing at four different levels and hitting .233/.363/.489 with six home runs and 12 RBI.
Getting him on the field for a full season will be the first hurdle in him making an impact for the Nationals. Finding him a position will be the second.
While he profiles as a solid defensive third baseman and should have enough pop to play the position, he'll be blocked by Ryan Zimmerman for the foreseeable future, and that could mean a move to second base. Wherever he ends up, he has an advanced approach at the plate.
If Rendon can stay healthy in 2013, he could play his way into a late-season call-up with a chance to earn a job for 2014.