MLB Players Who Will Blossom into Superstars in 2014
From Freddie Freeman to Michael Wacha to Jose Fernandez, there are tons of young players all across MLB who are on the verge of blossoming into superstars in 2014.
What follows is a look at nine of those players who are ready to make that jump in the upcoming months. Most of the standouts who crack the list are already well-established at the major league level. I've also included players who are short on experience, but who have displayed flashes of greatness in their limited big league action.
With those considerations in mind, here are nine MLB players who are primed to become superstars in 2014.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Starling Marte, LF, Pittsburgh Pirates
This is a speculative pick, but then again, there's a lot to like about Starling Marte's game.
Last year, in his first full campaign for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Marte hit .280/.343/.440 with 26 doubles, 10 triples, 12 home runs and 41 stolen bases. The 25-year-old is a natural center fielder and he only plays left due to the presence of 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen.
Marte is one of the most promising young outfielders in baseball, and he's also one of the best values. The Pirates recently inked the right-handed batter to a six-year, $31 million deal, that can rise in value to $55 million if the team decides to pick up both option years.
According to Dave Cameron of FanGraphs, that's not just a "huge bargain," but "one of the most team friendly contracts" in all of baseball.
Madison Bumgarner, SP, San Francisco Giants
There's no doubt that Madison Bumgarner is one of the most underrated players in all of MLB. The left-hander starter won't turn 25 years old until August, and he's already appeared in parts of five MLB seasons with the San Francisco Giants.
However, Manager Bruce Bochy clearly recognizes just how talented Bumgarner is, as the lefty got the nod over veteran ace Matt Cain as the club's Opening Day starter. According to the SFGStats Twitter account, that made the 2013 National League All-Star the third-youngest pitcher to draw the assignment since the club moved to San Francisco in 1958.
Bumgarner's career is definitely trending in an upward direction. Last year, he enjoyed his best season to date, going 13-9 with a 2.77 ERA and an 8.9 K/9 ratio. The 6'5" starter should be right in the middle of the hunt for the NL Cy Young Award in 2014.
Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians
In 2013, Jason Kipnis broke out for the Cleveland Indians, as he hit .284/.366/.452 with 36 doubles, 17 home runs and 30 stolen bases. That showing earned Kipnis a berth on the American League All-Star squad and the No. 11 spot on the AL MVP Award ballot.
ESPN's Baseball Tonight recently tabbed the left-handed hitter as the third-best second baseman in all of the major leagues behind only Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia. That's highly impressive company for Kipnis to be keeping as he embarks upon his age-27 season.
Sonny Gray, SP, Oakland Athletics
Sonny Gray is the least experienced player to be included on this list. However, the early returns for the No. 18 overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft have been simply incredible.
Last year, in 12 games including 10 starts, the right-hander went 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA and a 9.4 K/9 ratio. On Opening Day 2014, Gray worked six scoreless frames while racking up seven punchouts. However, as teammate Josh Donaldson explained via 95.7 The Game, it's not just Gray's impressive arsenal of pitches that stands out on the mound.
Donaldson on Sonny Gray : "The kid's got a lot of heart. He's a bulldog out there...the moment's not too big for him" #Athletics— 95.7 The GAME (@957thegame) April 1, 2014
With Jarrod Parker down for the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, Gray becomes the club's de facto ace. Based on his demeanor and the results so far, the 24-year-old appears more than ready to step up.
Carlos Gomez, CF, Milwaukee Brewers
Last year, Carlos Gomez had a monster season for the Milwaukee Brewers as he hit .284/.338/.506 with 27 doubles, 10 triples, 24 home runs and 40 stolen bases. The center fielder also snagged the Gold Glove Award, landed on the NL All-Star team and posted an 8.9 WAR, which was tied for the highest in all of baseball.
With another season like that in 2014, the 28-year-old will cement his spot as one of the best all-around position players in the major leagues.
Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox
Like Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale is a talented left-handed starter who seems to have been around forever, but who is actually still quite young.
The 25-year-old is a two-time All-Star for the Chicago White Sox, and in 2013 he pitched more than 200 innings for the first time in his career. Last season, Sale went 11-14 with a 3.07 ERA a 1.9 BB/9 ratio and a 9.5 K/9 ratio. Thanks to that performance, the lefty landed in the No. 5 spot on the AL Cy Young Award ballot after finishing sixth back in 2012.
With no clear favorite to win that award in 2014, Sale will be a leading contender to take home the AL Cy Young Award trophy at the end of the season.
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
Freddie Freeman has compiled a remarkable big league resume considering that he's still just 24 years old. The left-handed batter has already established himself as one of the premier first basemen in the NL, and his 2013 season was his strongest yet.
Last year, Freeman hit .319/.396/.501 with 27 doubles and 23 home runs, as he earned a spot on the NL All-Star team and finished fifth in NL MVP Award voting. The Atlanta Braves slugger got even better as the season wore on, posting a .335/.408/.544 slash line with 14 home runs in 68 games after the All-Star Break.
That finish combined with the two home runs he's already clubbed in the opening days of the season suggest Freeman is in line for an even more productive campaign in 2014.
Michael Wacha, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
As the No. 19 overall pick from the 2012 MLB draft, Michael Wacha flew through the St. Louis Cardinals farm system.
The 6'6" right-hander debuted with the Cardinals on May 30, 2013, and went 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA with a 9.0 K/9 ratio in 15 appearances during his rookie season. Wacha was equally effective in the postseason as he went 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA, while racking up 33 strikeouts in 30.2 innings of work.
The righty, who relied almost exclusively on his fastball and changeup in 2013, has now added a cutter to his repertoire, according to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com. The addition of that new pitch should help Wacha navigate past a potential sophomore slump.
In his first start of 2014, Wacha picked up right where he left off last fall, working 6.2 scoreless innings against the Cincinnati Reds on April 1. I expect the promising young starter to pitch himself right into the middle of the NL Cy Young Award discussion.
Jose Fernandez, SP, Miami Marlins
Last year, Jose Fernandez absolutely dominated in his debut season as he went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA and a 9.7 K/9 ratio. That performance earned the Cuban NL All-Star honors, the Rookie of the Year Award and the No. 3 spot on the Cy Young Award ballot.
Fernandez got even better as the season went on, posting a 7-1 record and a 1.32 ERA in 10 starts after the All-Star Break. This year, the 21-year-old was the Opening Day starter for the Miami Marlins, which made him the youngest starter to do so in the NL since Doc Gooden in 1985, according to Mike Axisa of CBS Sports.
In 2014, Fernandez isn't just capable of becoming a superstar, but I also predict that he'll win the NL Cy Young Award, as well.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.