2014 Fantasy Baseball: Top Minor League Prospects
It really make no sense for Houston to start Georg Springer in the minor this season. He played well in 219 at bats at AAA in 2013 (.311 with 18 HR's and 22 SB's). His K rate (24.2 %) was even improved from his AA results (29.7 %). Overall George has hit .299 in his minor league career with 223 runs, 62 HR's, 198 RBI, and 81 SB's in only 1026 at bats. His walk rate (12.2 %) is solid. Without his huge K rate (26.5 % - career), his skill set looks elite. His lack of contact make him a tough player to project in 2014. If he struggles to make contact early in the year, he could be send to the minors quickly. Just by looking at Chris Carter, we can see a minor league 23.5 % K rate translates into a much higher K rate in the majors. Springer could have all the talent in the world, but he can't have elite success in the majors with a 35 % strikeout rate. He has a 30/30 skill set, but we have no idea how far his batting average will fall in the majors.
I may be a bit balsy by putting a 21 year rookie, who has never had an at bat above AA, as a middle of the order hitter for the Cubs. When the cupboard is empty, it's time invest in some new inventory. Javier Baez has the reputation of being a free swinger that can make hard contact with pitches that are off the plate. He is career .286 hitter in the minors with 53 HR's, 158 RBI, and 46 SB's in only 828 at bats. He played great at High A in 2013 (.274 with 17 HR's, 57 RBI, and 12 SB's in 299 at bats), but he was even better at AA (.294 with 20 HR's, 54 RBI, and 8 SB's). His K rate (24.0 %) will invite batting average risk as he pushes his way to the majors. His walk rate (5.9 %) is a liability as well. The only skill that Javier lacks is plate discipline. As this point of his career, he has always been better than his competition. When he reaches the majors, he'll need to be more selective or major league pitchers will never throw him a strike. I think there is no doubt he will play in the majors in 2014. Baez will either force Castro to 2nd base or he will move over to 3B. The Cubs have 3B Kris Bryant on the fast track to the majors as well so it would make the most sense just to let Javier play SS in his first season. The power is for real, but he can't make a long term impact without taking more pitches. Baez has shown speed in the minors, but he doesn't have plus speed.
Oscar Taveras had a tough season in 2013. He injured his right ankle in mid May that required surgery in August. He is expected to be ready for spring training. He is a career .320 hitter in the minors with 45 HR's, 275 RBI, and 34 SB's in 1437 at bats. Oscar has played about 1/3 of a season at AAA so he is really close to being ready for the majors. He played 34 games in CF and 6 in RF last year. Possible impact rookie bat and he would make a very good handcuff for Bourjos or Craig. I expect Oscar to push Bourjos to the bench over the 2nd half of the 2014. If he hits well, he could move to 2nd in the batting order. His whole key is the recovery from his ankle injury.
St. Louis traded away Freese to create an opportunity for Kolten Wong, but they also brought in Mark Ellis as insurance. The Cardinals gave him 59 at bats in the majors last season, but he only hit .153 with no HR's and 3 SB's. Wong hit .301 in his minor league career with 24 HR's, 122 RBI, and 50 SB's in 1129 at bats. His walk rate (8.3 %) should come in about league average while having a low K rate (12.5 %). He tends to be a GB hitter (60.9 % in his short at bats in the majors), which will restrict any upside in power early in his career. His skill set may work well batting 2nd in the Cardinals if he can handle the step up to the majors. Ellis has a solid glove and he is more than serviceable if Kolten is ready to make a step forward. It might make sense to handcuff Wong with Ellis if your team has enough bench space. Possible 30 SB upside with upside in batting average in the near future.
Carlos Martinez gives St. Louis another elite arm in the bullpen. He has an elite fastball (96.7). His #2 pitch is a curveball followed by a show me changeup that may have upside down the road. His future is probably as a starter, but he'll have more value to the Cardinals in the bullpen in 2014. He has a 2.69 ERA with 340 K's in 327.7 innings. His command (3.2) still needs work, but it was better in the majors (2.9). His K rate (7.6) was stronger in his minor league career. His lack of a 3rd pitch hurts him as starter and against LH batters (.326). Carlos will give St. Louis a deadly combo late in games. Martinez could always remerge as starter down the road.
The Tigers cleared the door for Nick Castellanos in the offseason. He played a successful season at AAA where his approach at the plate showed improvement (K rate - 16.8 % and BB rate - 9.1 %). Nick is career .303 hitter in the minors. His swing is built to hit the ball to all fields so his upside in power is limited in his rookie season. In a way, his path is similar to Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera didn't show plus power in the minors and he only had a .286 career batting average. Castellanos has power to right center so he will have upside in HR's down the road. Nick is a talent player with upside in batting average when he gets some major league experience. From a fantasy prospective, he may fall short of expectations in 2014. I see him as a nice value player in an AL only league. I'd draft him thinking 15/60 with a neutral batting average.
After a slow start in his minor league career, Gregory Polanco has blossom into an upside prospect over the last 2 seasons. Last year he hit .285 with 12 HR's, 71 RBI , and 38 SB's at High A and AA. He has 127 career steals in 1495 at bats with a solid walk rate (9.5 %) and a low K rate (15.5 %). He might have the best skill set to bat near the top in Pittsburgh's lineup. He has enough size where some believe he may develop into a 30/30 hitter. He should start the year at AAA.
The Mets acquired Noah Syndergaard in the R.A Dickey trade in 2012. After stalling at A ball in 2012, he pushed his way up 2 levels in 2013. Noah has a career 22-12 record in the minors with a 2.64 ERA and 329 K's in 293.7 innings. His fastball can reach the mid 90's with some upside. His curveball isn't elite, but it has been strong enough to get minor league batters out. This pitch needs to improve for him to have success in the majors. His changeup is still developing. Syndergaard has had solid command (2.5) in the minors with a plus K rate (10.1). His innings have been short in his career. I'm sure New York would like to get him to the 150 innings mark in 2014. Noah has a nice upside arm and the Mets could have the building blocks for a strong starting rotation in the near future with Harvey, Wheeler, Montero, and Syndergaard. I expect him to start the year at AAA. He has about a half season behind Montero in his development.
Byron Buxton is one of the few bright spots in the Twins system. Last year he hit .334 at Low A and High A with 12 HR's, 77 RBI, and 55 SB's in 488 at bats. His K rate (18.3 %) is about major league average and he will take a walk (13.2 %). His speed is intriguing, but he didn't have a great success rate in 2013 (74.3 %). The Twins have nothing in centerfield so he could move quickly in 2014. He'll start the year at AA. Possible September call up.
Kris Bryant was the best hitter in college in 2013 (.329 with 31 HR's and 62 RBI in 228 at bats) and the Cubs drafted him with their 2nd overall in pick last June. Bryant flashed plus power in his 128 minor league at bats between Low A and High A (9 HR's and 32 RBI with a .336 batting average) and he followed it up with a solid Arizona Fall League (.364 with 6 HR's and 17 RBI in 77 at bats - 25.3 % K rate). His K rate (24.0 %) was high so it won't be an easy ride in batting average down the road. Based on his scouting reports, his future will be in RF. Kris has plus power, but he needs to make more contact if he was to make an impact in the majors in the near future.