MLB: Five Young Studs That Are Ready To Step Up To The Next Level

Matt Piccicuto@@matt_piccContributor IJanuary 30, 2011

MLB: Five Young Studs That Are Ready To Step Up To The Next Level

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    Every year a select handful of young major leaguers emerge onto the scene and flash so much talent and potential that it becomes impossible to ignore. These ballplayers can come from any number of routes as well.

    A few are young guns who got a taste of the major leagues and flourished early while some come straight from the minors and light the world on fire. These players generally are highly regarded, but never counted on.

    Every talent evaluator knows these guys and die-hard fans will swear they watched them develop from the very first time they threw a uniform on in the minors.

    I'm going to take a quick look at five such players and try to predict what types of numbers they are capable of in the upcoming season.

    Don't mistake this for a fantasy baseball article, rather it should be read with the understanding that these are five young men who I feel are ready to show they belong in the majors this season.

    Look for these guys to be prominent in your box scores this season and you can sure plan on them helping their respective squads fill some seats as well.

Daniel Hudson - Arizona Diamondbacks (SP)

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    More than likely you didn't hear all that many people trying to throw Cy Young votes at Daniel Hudson last year, but a closer look at the numbers show that may not have been so far fetched.

    After coming over in a trade from the White Sox at the midpoint of the season, Hudson really settled into his role with the Diamondbacks and proved he was in the league to stay.

    Hudson sported some incredibly impressive numbers in the second half of the season and his sterling peripherals lined up nicely as well. Hudson was able to win seven of his eight starts on a putrid Arizona club and tucked a razor-thin 1.69 ERA and 0.84 WHIP right alongside it.

    He will still be only 24 when Opening Day rolls around, so there is plenty of room for improvement out of this young gun. Like most high school pitchers, Hudson struggled initially in the minor leagues, but it took him very little time to establish himself once his conditioning was able to catch up.

    He was called up to the majors for the first time in late September of 2009 after posting a 14–5 record and a 2.32 ERA, and striking out 166 in 147 1/3 innings at four minor league levels. He made a few appearances for the Southsiders before he was shipped to the Diamondbacks in 2010.

    During his fantastic run with Arizona late last season, Hudson was able to get into the seventh inning in nine of his 11 starts, showing that stamina would not soon be an issue. Hurling more than half of his starts at spacious Chase Field will only help this young righty as he continues to ascend into the superstar zone.

Desmond Jennings - Tampa Bay Rays (OF)

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    With Carl Crawford taking his tools to Boston this off season, a spot in the Rays outfield has been vacated for the highly regarded Desmond Jennings. Talent evaluators have never questioned his skills, but they are incredibly excited to see how that raw talent translates to the major leagues.

    With the Rays losing a large contingent of their roster this off season, young studs like Jennings are going to be looked upon to produce early and often.

    With over 1,000 minor league plate appearances under his belt, Jennings was able to combine good plate discipline (11.3 percent BB rate) and a low strikeout rate (15.0 percent) to get on base with great regularity (.384 OBP).

    He will steal early and often, but the Rays are also hoping that this lanky prospect can realize some of the power he has flashed on and off while honing his skills in the minors.

    The Rays just signed a couple of seasoned veterans in Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez in order to ensure Jennings isn't rushed to the majors, but I feel very confident that he will force the organization's hand soon enough.

    On a team that isn't expected to be a serious contender in the AL East, the young talent will ultimately win out and get its fair share of experience. Expect Jennings to be at the forefront of that conversation from Spring Training right on through.

Mike Moustakas - Kansas City Royals (3B)

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    One of the perks of being drafted by a perennial cellar dweller like the Royals is that if a young player flashes promise early on they are almost certain to get a call from the big club sooner rather than later.

    Mike Moustakas is part of a nice crop of young stars the Royals are hoping will take them into a new era of championship baseball. Very little stands in the way of Moustakas as he attempts to join the Royals infield this season and show why he was ranked in the top 10 of almost all rookie rankings this off season.

    Moustakas made his mark right from jump and absolutely tore up both Double and Triple-A ball last season.

    His .324 average, 36 home runs and 124 runs batted in (in just 118 games played) were otherworldly, and this young stud was able to show anyone who cared to notice why he is so highly regarded.

    With very little left to prove in the minors, Moustakas is primed to slide into the Royals starting lineup right out of the gate this year, and Rookie of the Year votes and accolades are sure to follow closely behind.

    Keep a close eye on the Spring Training reports on Moustakas and track his progress closely. If he is able to translate the gaudy numbers he put up in the minors to the major leagues in any capacity, watch out.

    Kansas City is looking up these days, hopefully for their fans the results will appear sooner rather than later.

Travis Snider - Toronto Blue Jays (OF)

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    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Travis Snider is an enigma of sorts who has puzzled Jays executives and fans alike for a couple years now. After a very promising late season call-up to the Jays during the 2008 season, many predicted that Snider was headed for stardom quickly.

    Something funny happened on the way to reaching the apex, though; Snider became mired in a season long slump that forced the Jays to send him back to AAA.

    After working out some issues and getting his game back together, the Jays recalled Snider in late August 2009, but far too much time was lost that season and Snider had to start from scratch.

    He was a popular pick for columns and articles such as this one at the beginning of last season as well, but again Snider was unable to put it all together. This time around injuries, limited Snider to just 82 games which produced some very mixed results.

    His batting average never crept much higher than .250 and his power stroke was very sporadic, but Snider once again flashed periods of dominance that led the Blue Jays to believe they still have a star on their hands.

    Snider will have to hit the ground running this season and show that the setbacks he experienced these last two seasons were all a part of the big learning process.

    A spot in the Blue Jays outfield is his for the taking, and everyone in the organization would love to see him run with it. His talent has never been questioned, but the time has come for Travis Snider to put it all together and shine.

Mike Minor - Atlanta Braves (SP)

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Braves called up a young lefty by the name of Mike Minor late in the 2010 season to very little fanfare. Avid Tomahawk supporters knew the name, but very few outside of that group knew what he was actually capable of.

    Minor showed that he was more than prepared for the bright lights of the majors and held his own quite nicely. While his numbers certainly wont blow anyone away, it was his poise and command that put the Braves on notice that they had something special.

    Minor has a very nice repertoire for a left-hander, and it will prove to be his biggest asset as he tries to make the leap in his second season.

    Minor is tentatively penciled into the five spot in the Braves rotation and that means he will be afforded the luxury of facing opposing pitchers who are not nearly as talented as he is.

    With a strong lineup in front of him and some impressive veterans to learn his craft from, Minor is poised to take the all-important sophomore leap and show he belongs in The Show.