Mike Trout took baseball by storm in 2012.
Major League Baseball’s 2012 rookie class was easily the best in recent memory, as well as one of the best in the history of the sport.
While Mike Trout and Bryce Harper stole the show and captured the rookie of the year award in their respective leagues, the talent pool extended well beyond those two players. In the National League, Wade Miley, Todd Frazier and Wilin Rosario blossomed into All-Star caliber, everyday players. Meanwhile, in the American League, Yu Darvish, Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Machado quickly emerged as stars in their own right, and have only furthered that reputation as sophomores this season.
Even though the 2013 rookie class isn’t as top-heavy compared to last year’s, it’s actually considerably deeper on both sides of the ball. Led by phenom Jurickson Profar, this year’s collection of young talent in the major leagues includes top-ranked prospects such as Shelby Miller, Yasiel Puig, Gerrit Cole, Julio Teheran, Chris Archer, Anthony Rendon, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Jose Fernandez, Nolan Arenado, and Jedd Gyorko. And there’s even more on the way, as highly regarded prospects Zack Wheeler and Wil Myers are both expected to make their respective debut in the major leagues on Tuesday.
But how will the 2014 rookie class stack up compared to previous years? Here’s a look at 10 prospects expected to make an impact in the major leagues next season.
While top prospect Gerrit Cole has captured most of the headlines in the Pirates’ talented farm system, Taillon isn’t far behind. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft after Bryce Harper, the right-hander has been eased up the ladder, as the organization has allowed him to build up innings while still challenging him as a younger player at more advanced levels.
Assuming that Cole remains in the major leagues for the duration of the 2013 season, it’s likely Taillon will receive a promotion to Triple-A at some point after the All-Star break. And if that’s the case, then a mid-summer debut in Pittsburgh next season seems realistic.
As the best pure hitter in the minor leagues, not to mention the sport’s top prospect, Taveras is ready to contribute in the major leagues. Unfortunately, due to the success of the Cardinals this season and the unexpected healthiness of their outfielders, the 20-year-old lacks a clear path to playing time.
Therefore, unless either Carlos Beltran or Matt Holiday suffer an injury at some point this season, Taveras’ best chance of reaching the major leagues will be as a September call-up. And for that same reason, I think he’ll retain rookie status headed into 2014.
Regarded as the top power-hitting prospect in the minor leagues, Sano has quickly blossomed into one of the game’s top prospects thanks to the significant improvements made on both sides of the ball. Basically, he’s no longer a one-trick pony—that trick being power, obviously.
The 20-year-old got off to a torrid start in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, batting .330/.424/.655 with 15 doubles, 16 home runs, nine stolen bases and 61/29 K/BB in 56 games. As a result, he was recently promoted to Double-A New Britain.
The biggest difference in his game this season has been the development of his plate discipline, which is directly correlated to his career-best batting average and decreased strikeout total. Sano will likely be challenged, even if only initially, in the high minors against more advanced competition. However, his ability to make swift adjustments has him on pace to debut in the major leagues at some point in 2014.
After enduring a learning year in Double-A last season as a 19-year-old, Walker, now 20, has made tremendous strides this year in his second tour of the level. Every aspect of the right-hander’s game has been more consistent this season: he’s repeating his delivery with ease, commanding his fastball lower in the zone, executing his secondary offerings and missing barrels with regularity.
That being said, the right-hander is still young and raw with room to improve. Provided that he continues to thrive at Double-A Jackson, Walker is seemingly on pace for a mid-season promotion to Triple-A Tacoma. And because it’s doubtful that the organization will want to overexpose him in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, it’s conceivable that they call him up for a few starts in September. Regardless, Walker is likely to spend a majority of the 2014 season in the major leagues.
Bradley turned in an outstanding full-season debut in 2012 for Low-A South Bend, registering a 3.84 ERA and .181 BAA with 152/84 K/BB in 136 innings. However, while he quickly proved to be one of the most difficult pitchers to barrel in the minor leagues, his command and execution left something to be desired.
What a difference a year can make.
The 20-year-old right-hander has showcased vastly improved control and command this season without sacrificing the effectiveness of his pure stuff. After posting a 1.26 ERA with 43/10 K/BB in 28.2 innings at High-A Visalia, Bradley was promptly promoted to Double-A Mobile where he’s continued to thrive as one of the younger pitchers at the level. Through his first nine starts, he’s posted a 1.50 ERA with 54/26 K/BB over 54 innings. Between both levels he’s held opposing hitters to a .202 batting average.
Despite his success this season, it’s doubtful that Bradley will receive a taste of the major leagues—though it wouldn’t be ruled out of the Diamondbacks are in the playoff hunt later this summer. But barring an injury or any other disruption in his development, Bradley should emerge as one of the top young arms in the major leagues during the 2014 season.
After a meteoric rise from Low-A to the major leagues in 2012, Bundy is yet to take the mound this season after experiencing elbow and forearm tightness during spring training. After a few trips to see Dr. James Andrews, the 20-year-old right-hander has finally started a throwing program without a setback.
Considering that Bundy arguably has the brightest future of any pitching prospect in the game, the Orioles will proceed cautiously with their prized right-hander. It’s doubtful that he’ll log an inning before the All-Star break, but should be eased back into action over the second half of the season. Similarly, a promotion to the major leagues this year is basically out of the question, so expect Bundy’s first full season in the minor leagues to come in 2014.
The No. 1 overall pick by the Astros in the 2013 draft, Appel is expected to sign for $6.35 million at some point this week. However, fans shouldn’t expect much from the 6’5” right-hander this season, as the Astros will likely offer him some down time before placing him on a strict innings limit later in the summer.
Despite the fact that he’s durable and employs a clean and efficient delivery, Appel was a workhorse as the Stanford ace and logged 377.2 innings during his college career—and that’s not factoring in the insanely high pitch counts he amassed. Realistically, the Astros will probably limit him to roughly 50-70 innings as a professional this summer. And given the rebuilding nature of the organization, he could even be offered an opportunity to compete for a spot in the team’s 2014 Opening Day rotation. Either way, Appel isn’t too far away from reaching the major leagues.
The fastest player in the game, Hamilton stole a record-breaking 155 bases in 132 games last season between High-A and Double-A. More importantly, the switch-hitter made tremendous strides in the development of his secondary skills, batting .311/.410/.420 with 38 extra-base hits and 113/86 K/BB.
Promoted to Triple-A for the 2013 season, Hamilton has continued to swipe bags with ease and has been successful in 43-of-50 attempts. However, the improved baseball skills he showed last season haven’t translated as hoped at the more advanced level, as the 22-year-old currently owns a .252/.312/.352 batting line through 65 games.
Hamilton will likely serve as a September call-up for the Reds this season, and if that goes well, he should get his first full-time crack at the major leagues in 2014.
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Hultzen enjoyed an excellent start to his professional career last season with a 1.19 ERA, .151 BAA and 79/32 K/BB in 75.1 innings for Double-A Jackson. However, the left-hander struggled following a mid-season promotion to Triple-A Tacoma, as he showed an uncharacteristic lack of command and registered a 5.92 ERA with 57/43 K/BB in 48.2 innings.
Hultzen proved that the command issues from 2012 were behind him this spring with an excellent first month (2.78 ERA, .198 BAA, 25/6 K/BB in 22.2 IP) of the season back at Tacoma. But following his start on April 19, the southpaw was placed on the disabled list with a shoulder strain and is yet to return.
Therefore, Hultzen’s health will ultimately determine whether he reaches the major leagues this year. And even if he does, I expect him to retain rookie eligibility headed into the 2014 season.
One of the more underrated pure hitters in the minor leagues, Rosario, a left-handed hitter, has hit at every minor-league stop and continues to develop ahead of schedule. After posting an .835 OPS with 48 extra-base hits during is full-season debut for Low-A Beloit last year, the 21-year-old was bumped to High-A Fort Myers for the 2013 season. And after batting .329/.377/.527 through 52 games at the more advanced level, Rosario, along with teammate Miguel Sano, received a well-deserved promotion to Double-A New Britain last week.
Due to the lack of projectable talent at both middle infield positions for the Twins in the major leagues, Rosario has a clear path to playing time once he’s deemed ready. And if he sustains his usual level of production in the high minors over the duration of the season, there’s a realistic chance that he’ll compete for a spot on the 2014 Opening Day roster as the team’s second baseman.