One of the hardest things for a prospect to do is make his team's 25-man roster out of spring training. Whether it's because of service-time issues or no immediate opening, teams are going to be skittish when it comes to trusting young players with a starting job.
Sometimes, though, there are talents too great to hold down in the minors or teams building for the future that want to see what their young studs can do for 162 games.
With spring training rapidly approaching, important decisions have to be made regarding the direction of players and teams. There will probably be a lot more than 10 prospects who are on Opening Day rosters, but these are the surest of sure things.
A lot of these names will be familiar, even to the most casual of prospect watchers, because all of them played in the big leagues in some capacity last season.
Those brief cups of coffee allowed them to get their feet wet. Now is the time to put all their talents on display and lead the next generation of Major League Baseball stars.
Here are the 10 prospects you can lock in to be in the big leagues when the 2014 season begins.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers traded Prince Fielder to Texas, which allows Miguel Cabrera to move over to first base and opens third base for star prospect Nick Castellanos.
He's been playing the outfield for over a year, as the team was trying to find some way to get his bat in the lineup since Cabrera wasn't going to be just a 1B/DH with Fielder and Victor Martinez also on the 25-man roster.
Thankfully, Castellanos will move back to his natural position of third base. General manager Dave Dombrowski has already said Castellanos has the inside track on a starting job in 2014, per Chris Iott of MLive.com. He just has to prove he's ready for the job in spring training.
Regardless of where he plays in the field, Castellanos' bat is one to watch. A naturally gifted hitter with terrific bat control and strong approach, he has above-average raw power that might take a little while to show up, but the hard contact should be there from day one.
Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners
The Mariners have insisted they aren't trading Taijuan Walker for anyone this season, per Bob Dutton of The News Tribune. Given the mountain of potential the 21-year-old possesses, it's not hard to figure out why. He has the perfect combination of size and stuff to be a No. 1 starter.
As good as Walker can be, it's going to take time before we see it. He's still trying to find consistency with his curveball and has spotty control, though his fastball-cutter combination are as good as you will find in the minors.
Seattle has the makings of an elite rotation with Walker, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma heading into 2014. It's yet to be determined if Walker will start the season in the big leagues. His spring training performance will likely be a factor in that decision.
2013 MLB Stats: 18 G, .250/.320/.364, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 5 BB, 13 K
2014 Age: 21
What better place to start than with the defending champion Boston Red Sox and their breakout prospect of the postseason?
Xander Bogaerts had a remarkable 2013 season that began in Double-A, followed by a fantastic showing at the Futures Game, and culminated with starting the last eight games of the postseason.
You could see why everyone raves about Bogaerts' advanced approach and discipline during his brief MLB tenure. He put together fantastic at-bats against 2013 AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer in the American League Championship Series, including working a six-pitch walk and lacing a double that led to the first run scored in the decisive Game 6.
The Red Sox have all but said Bogaerts will start 2014 in the big leagues, with the only question being where he plays on the diamond.
If Stephen Drew ends up re-signing with the Red Sox, Bogaerts will slot in at third base. He will probably end up over there at some point in his career because you don't see a lot of 6'3" shortstops in Major League Baseball.
If the Red Sox decide to go with Bogaerts as the starting shortstop, a position he is more than capable of handling for at least the first few years of his career, Will Middlebrooks will get another shot to prove himself as the starting third baseman.
Given his natural hitting ability and calm, quiet approach, Bogaerts will likely enter 2014 as the favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year.
2013 MLB Stats: 37 G, .189/.280/.337, 5 2B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 2 SB, 10 BB, 31 K
2014 Age: 24 (birthday is April 19)
For all the great things the Red Sox did in 2013, giving Jackie Bradley Jr. a starting job based on a strong spring training (.419/.507/.613) was not one of them. He wasn't ready, having played just one full season in the minors, and it showed in his performance.
With Jacoby Ellsbury departing for New York, as well as Bradley getting 80 games of experience at Triple-A after being demoted, now is the time for the 23-year-old outfielder to take his turn as the starting center fielder.
Bradley's skills are similar to Ellsbury's, though the latter has more speed. Bradley isn't going to steal 50-60 bases per season, but he has tremendous baseball instincts and gets incredible reads in center field to play plus defense.
At the plate, Bradley is going to draw a ton of walks, post high on-base percentage totals and has enough power to hit 10-12 homers.
Hopefully the Red Sox don't put too much pressure on Bradley right out of the gate by inserting him into Ellsbury's vacated leadoff spot. Let him get his feet wet at the bottom of the order, then gradually move him up.
2013 MLB Stats: 21 G, 2-1, 28.1 IP, 5.08 ERA, 31 H, 1 HR, 9 BB, 24 K, 1.412 WHIP
2014 Age: 22
It's hard to believe that Carlos Martinez might not have been the Cardinals' best rookie reliever in the postseason last October, because he was fighting for that honor with Trevor Rosenthal.
Regardless of which young arm you preferred, there is no doubt that Carlos Martinez will be the best rookie pitcher in the St. Louis rotation in 2014.
Yes, I wrote "rotation" because Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the young right-hander will come to spring training competing for a starting job.
There have been questions about Martinez's ability to start for years. He's not built like a 200-inning pitcher, listed at 6'0" and 185 pounds, but he has cleaned up some mechanical flaws, most notably a recoil that limited command.
With new mechanics, an elite-level fastball and a much better slider that he focused on in 2013, after ditching a curveball that wasn't working, Martinez boasts two plus pitches and an average changeup.
He has three pitches to work with and should be able to turn lineups over three times on a regular basis. Hopefully the Cardinals give him a real chance to start, but given the incredible depth of young starters they have, a move to the bullpen doesn't seem out of the question.
2013 MLB Stats: 32 G, .153/.194/.169, 1 2B, 3 SB, 3 BB, 12 K
2014 Age: 23
The Cardinals have made it clear that Kolten Wong's time has finally come. They traded David Freese to Los Angeles to move Matt Carpenter, a top-five MVP candidate last season, back to third base and open up second base.
Wong has been moving one level per season since being drafted in 2011, culminating with a late-season call-up and appearing in seven playoff games. His most infamous moment came in Game 4 of the World Series, when Boston closer Koji Uehara picked him off first base for the final out.
Mental gaffe aside, Wong is ready to be the starting second baseman. He's not the kind of player who overwhelms you with tools, but he does everything well and has no real holes in his game.
Wong will hit for average with 12-15 homers. He has a solid approach that will keep his on-base percentage better than average and has enough range to be a solid defender at the keystone.
He has shown some wide platoon splits in the minors, including a .711 OPS against lefties last season, which will be something to monitor closely. But he has all the ingredients to be a quality starter for the next decade.
2013 MLB Stats: 7 G (4 GS), 0-1, 29.2 IP, 28 H, 3 HR, 8 BB, 22 K, 1.213 WHIP
2014 Age: 24 (birthday is March 27)
Assuming that the Rays will bring a top prospect with them out of spring training can seem foolish. After all, this is a team that kept Wil Myers in Triple-A for more than two months last year and held Evan Longoria down two weeks to delay its arbitration clocks.
(Of course, Longoria signed a six-year contract one week after debuting, so his clock didn't really matter.)
Jake Odorizzi isn't a typical Rays rookie because he already got big league experience last season. He pitched out of the bullpen at the end of 2013 to limit his innings, but the right-hander is ready for a rotation job in 2014.
His stuff got better as the year went on, as the fastball velocity started ticking back into the 92-93 mph range and featured more movement than ever. He's still learning to command the pitch but is always in the strike zone and forces hitters to put the ball in play.
The rest of Odorizzi's arsenal, including a slider and changeup, play as above-average offerings at times. Finding more consistency with the off-speed stuff will be the biggest key to success in 2014, especially against lefties who put up an .846 OPS against him last season.
2013 MLB Stats: 31 G, .202/.286/.263, 3 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 12 BB, 21 K
2014 Age: 25 (birthday is February 10)
The only reason Travis d'Arnaud is still eligible for prospect lists is health. The 24-year-old catcher has played in more than 71 games just twice in seven professional seasons.
D'Arnaud's inability to stay healthy does make you wonder what his ultimate ceiling as an MLB catcher will be, but based on raw tools, he certainly looks the part. He has plus raw power that has shown up in the minors (.542 slugging percentage in 2011, .595 in 2012).
He also knows when to cut down on his swing to hit the ball the other way and boasts enough power to drive it into opposite field gaps.
On top of that, d'Arnaud is a solid defensive catcher. He's not going to be elite, but he has shown a knack for being able to block balls and knows how to call a good game. His arm strength is only above-average, but he makes up for it with accuracy and a quick release.
The Mets traded for d'Arnaud to be one of their cornerstone players. It's a risky proposition for a player with such a lengthy injury history, but if everything comes together, he could be a star.
2013 MLB Stats: 13 G, .368/.429/.474, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 13 SB, 2 BB, 4 K
2014 Age: 23
The moment prospect fans have been waiting for will finally arrive in 2014. Billy Hamilton, the fastest player in baseball, will not only be on Cincinnati's Opening Day roster but will start every day in center field.
Mark Sheldon of MLB.com wrote that Shin-Soo Choo's departure likely means Hamilton will also be the Reds' leadoff hitter in 2014.
I don't think I would push Hamilton that high in the order right away because there are significant questions about the hit tool, but getting that speed somewhere in the lineup is going to be a nightmare for teams to combat.
He doesn't have much strength or leverage in his swing, so an overwhelming majority of his extra-base hits are going to come by beating out doubles that would be singles for most players. That assumes Hamilton is able to put good swings on MLB velocity and off-speed stuff.
As far as the glove, Hamilton is still learning to read the ball off the bat in center field after moving off shortstop one year ago. He has the speed to cover an entire outfield by himself but has to get better at reading the ball to play at an above-average level.
Regardless of the persistent questions about his upside, there won't be a prospect who draws more fanfare at the start of 2014 than Hamilton.
2013 MLB Stats: 20 G, .291/.361/.382, 5 2B, 5 RBI, 2 SB, 6 BB, 10 K
2014 Age: 22
Even though I think Arizona would be better served by trading either Didi Gregorius or Chris Owings, since they are most valuable to a team by playing shortstop, I'm starting to get the impression the Diamondbacks will keep both, at least to start 2014.
Gregorius will stay at shortstop because Kevin Towers thinks he's the next Derek Jeter, per Steve Gilbert of MLB.com, with Owings staying on board as an insurance policy in case something happens to Gregorius or, more likely, Aaron Hill.
If it weren't for Towers' fascination with Gregorius, Owings would likely be the starting shortstop in Arizona. He has more offensive upside. His glove isn't quite as good, but he still plays defense at an above-average level.
Owings' one big drawback is an unwillingness to let a pitch go by. He has excellent bat control and strike-zone awareness but will expand to try and make something happen instead of taking what the pitcher gives him.
He's a rare shortstop prospect with above-average raw power that could translate into 12-15 homers at the MLB level with some adjustments in approach. Defense is an asset for Owings. He has good range, plus arm strength and a solid feel for the position.
Owings has nothing left to prove in Triple-A, so it's in Arizona's best interest to find a spot for him.
2013 MLB Stats: 31 G, .237/.333/.434, 6 2B, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 10 BB, 24 K
2014 Age: 23 (birthday is March 26)
The White Sox have made so many moves in the last six months, we might have to start talking about this team like it cares about building through young players and the draft for the first time in...well, forever.
Matt Davidson, one of many new faces, has always been a prospect I like more than most. I understand his limitations: He plays fringe-average defense at third base and has high swing-and-miss totals that could prevent him from tapping into above-average raw power.
But looking at Davidson's performance in the minors, even with high strikeout totals and a big swing, he's never hit fewer than 16 homers in which he played at least 100 games.
The defense at third base isn't going to win any Gold Gloves, but Davidson has done a lot of work to at least be passable if not average. He has got good arm strength and has improved footwork to make all the throws in the hole.
Considering the White Sox only had to give up Addison Reed, who is one year away from getting a massive raise in arbitration, and are getting six years of control over Davidson, he won't have to play at a star level to be worth the money.
2013 MLB Stats: 3 GS, 0-1, 3.52 ERA, 15.1 IP, 13 H, 3 HR, 6 BB, 11 K, 1.239 WHIP
2014 Age: 23 (birthday is June 3)
If you are looking for a rookie pitcher to watch in 2014 whose name you might not be familiar with, at least on the same level as Carlos Martinez, keep an eye on Yordano Ventura in Kansas City.
The 22-year-old right-hander made quite the impression in just three games. His fastball averaged 97.5 mph, which would have been the best in baseball if he had enough innings to qualify for the ERA title.
One thing you will hear in scouting circles about pitchers is arm speed. If you want to see what that is, just watch Ventura unleash a fastball. It literally looks like a whip. It's just lightning quick and so easy that if he were four inches taller, we would talk about him as the best pitching prospect in baseball.
But it's the improvement in the curveball and ability to cut the fastball that give Ventura a better chance to start. He still has to overcome the stigma of being a 5'11", 180-pound pitcher who doesn't get much plane on the fastball to be a starting pitcher.
The Royals are trending in the right direction. Ventura is a big reason to be optimistic about this team in 2014, and we will get to see a full season of him in the starting rotation.
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