Each MLB Division's Next Big Things Entering 2017
Baseball moves on.
David Ortiz is done as an active player. So is Alex Rodriguez.
Nothing against them, but they're yesterday's thing. Baseball moves on, and not just to Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant, who are today's thing.
We're all about them, but right now we're all about identifying who comes next. Who will be the next big thing?
We're not going to stick to one player, because there's too much talent in the game for that. We'll give you two per major league division: one honorable mention and one main pick.
Some of the names you've heard already. If you're one of those fans who loves following prospects, you've no doubt heard of all of them before. We're going to stick to guys who haven't yet played a full major league season, and to guys who have a realistic chance to play regularly in 2017.
Baseball moves on, but there's a connection between Ortiz in his final year and Gary Sanchez in his first.
There's always a next big thing. We're here to help identify who exactly it will be.
NL West Honorable Mention: Jeff Hoffman, Colorado Rockies
It's dangerous to put a Rockies pitcher anywhere near this list, especially a pitcher who allowed nearly two baserunners an inning in an eight-game taste of the major leagues last August, September and October.
We'll take our chances with Hoffman, counting on a fastball regularly clocked as high as 98-100 mph. We'll take our chances that the command issues he had in 2016 were mostly a matter of a kid adjusting to the big leagues, since he didn't have the same trouble on his way through the minors. His strikeout numbers did rise last year, to more than a strikeout per inning at Triple-A Albuquerque.
The Rockies have some terrific young talent. Trevor Story, who set a National League home run record for a rookie shortstop with 27, despite tearing a ligament in his thumb and missing the last two months of the season. Young outfielder David Dahl also showed potential.
As always in Colorado, the question will be whether the Rockies can develop pitching. Hoffman, a 2014 first-round draft pick who was a key part of the Troy Tulowitzki trade, could be the guy who changes things.
He could be the next big thing.
NL West: Julio Urias, Los Angeles Dodgers
Innings limits are going to be an issue again this year for Urias, who won't turn 21 until August and only pitched 77 innings (because of limits) last year. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported recently that the Dodgers might start the season without him in the rotation, to preserve his 150 or so innings for later in the year.
However it works, Urias has the talent to star when he is allowed to pitch. Not many starting pitchers succeed in the big leagues at age 19 (his five wins were fourth most in the last 50 years by a pitcher in his age 19 season), and Urias did succeed.
He had a 3.39 ERA, and the Dodgers even had him start a game in the NLCS (although it didn't go well).
Urias ranked high on prospect lists going into 2016, and he might top the lists this year if he still qualified. His 77 major league innings take him off those lists, but his age helps keep him on this one. He's not old nor experienced enough to be considered an established player, and he's talented enough to be called the next big thing.
NL Central Honorable Mention: Amir Garrett, Cincinnati Reds
Becoming the next big thing requires talent and success, but it sure helps to have a good story to tell. Garrett has plenty of them.
There's the time he won the 2011 Ballislife All-American Dunk Contest (you can watch it on Youtube). There was the time he spent playing college basketball at St. John's, before devoting himself to baseball.
"Baseball's where it's at, man," Garrett told Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer this spring.
It helps he's with the Reds, a rebuilding team with three open spots in their starting rotation this spring. Garrett is getting a chance, and with one earned run allowed in his first 11.1 innings, he's making an impression.
He's tall (6'5"). He throws hard (91-96 mph). He's athletic. And he's left-handed.
He could well be the next big thing.
NL Central: Tyler Glasnow, Pittsburgh Pirates
Glasnow didn't look ready when the Pirates gave him four late-season starts in 2016, and an 8.53 ERA in three outings this spring makes you wonder if he's ready now. But talented young pitchers sometimes figure it out quick, and the 23-year-old Glasnow is very talented.
Even as he struggled to find major league consistency, Glasnow showed off a fastball that sometimes reached 99 mph on the radar gun. His 24 strikeouts in 23.1 innings show he can miss major league bats just as he regularly did minor league ones.
His numbers last season at Triple-A Indianapolis are eye-popping, with a 1.87 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 110.2 innings, while allowing just 65 hits. It wouldn't seem he has much more to prove or learn in the minor leagues, but he's going to need to show the Pirates he can find some consistency in the majors.
That might come this year, and Glasnow could be the next big thing.
NL East Honorable Mention: Amed Rosario, New York Mets
Technically, Rosario shouldn't be on this list, because we only considered players expected to make a major league impact in 2017. The 21-year-old Rosario is supposed to play this season for the Mets' Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate, setting him up to take over at shortstop in Flushing when Asdrubal Cabrera's contract runs out at the end of the year.
That's the plan, but it's worth remembering that each of the Mets infielders had some health issues in 2016. It's also worth remembering Rosario's talent, which saw him thrive as a young player in the Double-A Eastern League last year.
It's not hard to come up with a scenario where Rosario makes an impact with the Mets before the season is over.
Rosario hit .341 with an .874 OPS in 54 games at Binghamton, which is especially impressive because he's considered an elite defender at shortstop.
The New York newspapers are already making comparisons between Rosario and Gleyber Torres, the terrific shortstop prospect the New York Yankees acquired in last summer's Aroldis Chapman trade with the Chicago Cubs (Ken Davidoff did a fine column on the topic in the New York Post). No comparison is needed here, because we're simply dealing with the National League East, where Rosario has a chance to be the next big thing.
NL East: Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves
The Braves could hardly believe their good fortune when they were able to pick up Swanson 15 months ago in the Shelby Miller trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Not only is Swanson a hugely talented young shortstop, but he also grew up in Marietta, Georgia, in the Atlanta suburbs.
It would have been hard for Swanson to outdo the Braves' expectations for him, but he has. He hit .302 in 38 games after they brought him to the major leagues last August, and went from being a possible 2017 starter to an established player already thought of as a possible team leader.
He'll begin 2017 at 23 years old, as the favorite to be the National League Rookie of the Year and as the symbol of a Braves rebuilding process that seems to be progressing well. Swanson could soon form an all-prospect double-play combination with Ozzie Albies, who was a shortstop until Swanson's presence forced him to second base.
AL West Honorable Mention: Tyler O'Neill, Seattle Mariners
O'Neill was the Most Valuable Player in the Double-A Southern League last season, even though he's so young he didn't turn 21 until midseason. He's a British Columbia native who played for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, and he's a trained pianist who thrilled the Mariners with his rendition of the Lord of the Rings theme during a clubhouse meeting this spring.
The piano skills won't get him to the big leagues, but his ability with the bat should. He's not supposed to begin this season with the Mariners, but his quick progress since signing in 2013 suggests he could make it before the year is out. The Mariners have been giving him big league at-bats in spring training.
His talent suggests he could make it big. A dedicated weightlifter, he's strong enough that he hit 56 home runs the last two minor league seasons combined. Strikeouts have been a problem at times, but O'Neill seems to be getting better with that.
The age, talent and progress give him a chance to be the next big thing.
AL West: Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
The 22-year-old Bregman is the youngest player on Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, which gives you an idea of what baseball people think of him. He came up last year with the Astros and survived a 1-for-32 first week-plus of his major league career, which tells you something about his toughness.
A shortstop when he signed, Bregman moved to third base because of the presence of Carlos Correa. His strong play at third forced Yulieski Gurriel, the guy the Astros spent $47.5 million to sign, to move to first base.
Bregman played only 146 games in the minor leagues, but he hit for average (.300) and power (24 home runs). The Astros love his ability, but they also love his attitude.
"He's built the right way," manager A.J. Hinch told Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. "He's a baseball rat."
He's also possibly the next big thing.
AL Central Honorable Mention: Yoan Moncada, Chicago White Sox
It turned out Moncada wasn't ready for the big leagues when the Red Sox called him up in September. You could understand why they gave it a shot, given their need at the time, but scouts who had seen Moncada a lot in the minor leagues always suspected 2017 was more likely to be his year.
It could still be, but it won't be with the Red Sox. Moncada was one of the key pieces the Red Sox had to surrender to get Chris Sale in the winter's biggest trade. Again, you could understand why they did it, but you can also see Moncada becoming a big star in Chicago.
He's only 21 years old, and both Baseball America and MLB.com call him baseball's second-best prospect, behind Andrew Benintendi, his ex-Red Sox teammate (more on Benintendi later). Moncada is a switch hitter, and scouts rave about his bat speed and foot speed, which helped him steal 45 bases in 106 minor league games in 2016.
On a White Sox team now into rebuilding mode, the focus will be on the kids. Moncada will get a chance the Red Sox may not have been able to give him, a chance to become the next big thing.
AL Central: Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
Buxton has too much major league time to make the top prospect lists, but he was a fixture at or near the top of them as he made his way through the minors. We still considered him here, because despite 138 games over the last two seasons with the Twins, he still hasn't made it to full-time big league status.
This could be the year, based on how Buxton looked when the Twins brought him back from the minor leagues late last season. He hit nine home runs and had a 1.011 OPS in September. He still struck out more than you'd like (38 times in 113 September plate appearances), but the power, speed and defense were there.
September isn't the best month to judge players, but it was a sign that all that talent people saw in Buxton is still there.
He's still young enough that he'll play all of 2017 at age 23. He's too young to give up on that talent, or to believe it's too late for Buxton to become the next big thing.
AL East Honorable Mention: Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
A next big thing for the Red Sox. A next big thing for the Yankees.
What could be better, unless you support one of the other three teams in the American League East. Nothing against them or any of their young players, but the two biggest young stars in the division play in Boston and New York.
Like Benintendi, Sanchez already became a pretty big thing when he joined the Yankees last August. Eleven home runs in a 15-game span will do that, especially in front of a fan base searching for someone to get excited about.
The 24-year-old Sanchez is exciting, and not just at the plate. He's got a great arm and the confidence to show it off.
Baseball puts more pressure than ever on its young catchers, asking them to absorb incredible amounts of information and scouting reports on both sides of the ball. Sanchez showed signs last year he could handle it all and thrive, and also that he wouldn't be overwhelmed by becoming an immediate celebrity in baseball's biggest market.
There will be more pressure this year, because now that he has shown what he can do, Sanchez will be expected to repeat it.
If he can, he could end up as the next big thing.
AL East, Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox
David Ortiz batted mostly fifth when he joined the Red Sox as a 27-year-old in 2003. Benintendi, as Ken Rosenthal reported on FoxSports.com, could be the third-place hitter in the Red Sox lineup this season, at 22.
Wherever he hits, the kid who made his major league debut last August is expected to be a key contributor on a team focused on outdoing the 93-win season and American League East title from last year. The Sox will need to replace Ortiz's middle-of-the-order presence, so Benintendi is going to have a chance to be a star.
His history suggests he's ready for it. Benintendi was a Baseball America College Player of the Year at Arkansas, and he raced through the Red Sox farm system in barely more than a year. He showed enough in less than two months in the big leagues to win a spot in the starting lineup for the postseason, and over the winter, both Baseball America and MLB.com named him the best prospect in all of baseball.
Rosenthal said Red Sox Hall of Famer Jim Rice calls Benintendi "the second coming of Fred Lynn." Lynn was a pretty big thing 42 years ago, in his first full big league season.
Now Benintendi is the next big thing.