7 MLB Prospects Who'll Become Stars in 2014
This past season saw one of the best rookie classes of all time take the league by storm, and the 2014 crop of rookies will certainly have their work cut out for them trying to follow up that performance.
Still, there are at least a few players capable of stepping into significant roles this coming season and putting up star-caliber numbers, much like Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, Yasiel Puig, Wil Myers and others did in 2013.
So here is a look at seven MLB prospects who have the tools and the opportunity to emerge as stars this coming season.
CF Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates
Gregory Polanco shot up prospect lists following the 2012 season, as he hit .325/.388/.522 with 16 home runs, 85 RBI and 40 steals while spending the entire season as a 20-year-old at the Single-A level.
He finished this past season ranked as the No. 13 prospect in baseball by Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com and capped off the year by winning Dominican Winter League MVP this offseason.
Chances are he'll begin the season in Triple-A, but it won't be long before he pushes Jose Tabata for the everyday right field job. Once he arrives, he should make an immediate impact alongside Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte in the Pirates' outfield.
SP Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals
Kansas City Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura has one of the best fastballs in all of baseball, and he dialed it up to triple digits during a three-game audition in the majors at the end of last season.
His curveball has the makings of a plus pitch, and it will be the continued development of his changeup that determines whether or not he sticks in the rotation or finds himself at the back end of the Royals bullpen long term.
He'll get every chance to break camp as part of the Royals' rotation, and while he still has some developing to do, his blazing fastball should make him an immediate fan favorite and dangerous weapon for the team.
3B Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers
With Prince Fielder traded to the Texas Rangers and Miguel Cabrera expected to shift back to first base, all signs point to Nick Castellanos opening the season as the Detroit Tigers' everyday third baseman.
The 21-year-old was originally drafted as a third baseman back in 2010, but shifted to left field this past season as the Tigers looked to expedite his path to the majors. Now he can return to the hot corner, where his bat should play just as well as it would have in the outfield.
After hitting .320/.365/.451 between High-A and Double-A as a 20-year-old in 2012, he more than held his own at the Triple-A level this past year. He has average power at best but could be a .300 hitter right out of the gates and may contend for batting titles down the road.
SP Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks
Taken out of high school with the No. 7 pick in the 2011 draft, Archie Bradley was terrific in his first full season in the minors in 2012, but he took a huge step forward this past year.
After five dominant starts at the High-A level, he was promoted to Double-A as a 20-year-old, and he continued to be among the most overpowering pitchers in all of minor league baseball.
His fastball is a plus pitch already, and with a good changeup and curveball to back it up and a big 6'4" frame, he has all of the makings of a workhorse staff ace. The Diamondbacks have yet to add the front-line starter they sought in free agency, and at the end of the day it may very well wind up being Bradley who fills that role.
CF Oscar Taveras, St. Louis Cardinals
With Carlos Beltran gone in free agency, the Cardinals figure to open the season with Allen Craig manning right field and newcomer Peter Bourjos manning center field alongside Jon Jay. That duo could be pushed by top prospect Oscar Taveras soon after the start of the season, though.
Taveras hit .321/.380/.572 with 23 home runs and 94 RBI as a 20-year-old in Double-A during the 2012 season, and it looked like he had a very real chance of making his big league debut in 2013 when the year kicked off.
However, an ankle injury sidelined him and eventually ended his season after just 46 games when he underwent surgery. He's expected to be ready for the start of spring training, and he has all of the tools to be a superstar once he reaches St. Louis.
SP Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners
Taijuan Walker enters the 2014 season as the consensus choice for the title of top pitching prospect in baseball, and the 21-year-old already has three major league starts under his belt.
He is all but assured of a rotation spot heading into the season, when he'll join Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma to make up what could be a potentially dominant trio in Seattle this coming season.
Walker focused more on basketball than baseball in high school and was an incredibly raw talent when the Mariners drafted him back in 2010. He's progressed quickly through, and with great stuff and a big athletic frame, he could quickly become one of the best in the business.
SS Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
Xander Bogaerts has almost as many postseason at-bats under his belt at this point than he does regular-season at-bats, as he saw extended playing time in place of Will Middlebrooks at third base in October.
With Stephen Drew gone in free agency, he'll move back to his natural position of shortstop, and he should see everyday at-bats from the get-go in 2014.
As a 19-year-old in 2012, he hit .307/.373/.523 with 20 home runs and 81 RBI, and he is more than capable of putting up similar numbers at the big league level. He may not reach that level this coming season, but by all indications, he's a star in the making.