Note: because he (a) assembled the following list by hand and also (b) is a careless idiot, the author neglected some names from the first version of this post. Do not hesitate to raise concerns about the absence of a notable prospect.
What follows is an attempt to identify, using a nearly sound methodology, the rookie-eligible players* who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2014 (regardless of whether they actually receive the opportunity to do so). What it is not is an attempt to replace the work done by prospect analysts who assemble similar lists by means of “knowledge” and “skill.” Unlike their lists, no attempt has been made here to account for future value.
*In this case, defined as any player who’s recorded fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings — which is to say, there’s been no attempt to identify each player’s time spent on the active roster, on account of that’s a super tedious endeavor.
To assemble the list, what I’ve done first is to calculate prorated WAR figures for all players for whom either the Steamer or ZiPS projection systems have produced a forecast. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce approximately a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.
All figures published below are averaged 2014 projections produced by Steamer and ZiPS, except in those cases (represented by an asterisk*) where only Steamer has produced a projection. Players eligible for the list either (a) enter their age-26 season or lower in 2014 or, alternatively, (b) were signed as international free agents this offseason.
Finally, note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.
1. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, New York AL (Profile)
For a number of reasons, Tanaka’s appearance atop this list isn’t particularly surprising. He recorded excellent numbers in Japan, for one. He was highly sought after by major-league clubs, for another. Also, his splitter has received positive reviews from every deity.
2. Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago AL (Profile)
Like Tanaka, Abreu is a totally reasonable preseason choice for American League Rookie of the Year honors. Steamer and ZiPS both view him very much as a candidate to hit 30 home runs.
3. George Springer, OF, Houston (Profile)
Despite entirely valid concerns regarding his contact skills, Springer seems to feature enough in the way of other skills so as to compensate for his one conspicuous shortcoming.
3.5. Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis (Profile)
The author, an imbecile, neglected to include Oscar Taveras in the first edition of this post. Here is now, however, with a very strong projection.
4. Xander Bogaerts, 3B/SS, Boston (Profile)
Only five qualified players deployed predominantly as shortstops in 2013 recorded a wRC+ of 100 or better — i.e. a thing which Bogaerts is projected to do in 2014.
5. Robert Kral, C, San Diego (Profile)
By far the most obscure player among these top 10, Kral is projected as a catcher, but has actually split time between there and first base over the last two seasons. The unforgiving positional adjustment of the latter position, if accounted for, would likely deflate Kral’s overall projection. Still, he’s demonstrated some offensive skills — suggesting that, were he capable of playing catcher, he’d be a pretty valuable asset to his club.
6. Thomas La Stella, 2B, Atlanta (Profile)
Nearly useful research by the author suggests that prospects noted for their ability to hit for average and discern balls from strikes are more likely to become productive major leaguers than prospects noted for other tools/skills. These are precisely the attributes for which La Stella is noted.
7. Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota (Profile)
Were one looking to make the argument that life is a Wasteland of Cruelty, the season-ending injury to Miguel Sano might be useful so far as “supporting evidence” is concerned.
8. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore (Profile)
Despite poor figures last season so far as actual, real-live run prevention is concerned, Gausman actually produced a 77 xFIP- in 47.2 innings. Pitching in relief surely helped him in that regard; still, his numbers were satisfactory in a starting capacity, as well.
9. Josmil Pinto, C, Minnesota (Profile)
With Joe Mauer’s move to first base, Josmil Pinto might actually be the best catching option in Minnesota. At the moment, however, he appears to be taking the short end of a timeshare with Kurt Suzuki.
10. Matt Barnes, RHP, Boston (Profile)
Barnes recorded just a 4.33 ERA in 108.0 innings last year at Double-A Portland, but also approached a 30% strikeout rate and was victimized by a .357 BABIP. Provided he works through some spring shoulder soreness, he’s likely to succeed at Triple-A and then probably at the major-league level at some point this season.
10.5. Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis (1.9 WAR)
11. Travis d’Arnaud, C, New York NL (1.9 WAR)
12. Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles NL (1.9 WAR)
13. Javier Baez, SS, Chicago NL (1.8 WAR)
14. Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF, Detroit (1.8 WAR)
15. Edwar Cabrera, LHP, Texas (1.8 WAR*)
16. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto (1.8 WAR)
17. Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia (1.8 WAR)
18. Garin Cecchini, 3B, Boston (1.8 WAR)
19. Max Stassi, C, Houston (1.7 WAR)
20. Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Tampa Bay (1.7 WAR)
The left-handed Cabrera missed the entirety of the 2013 season with an arm injury, but recorded excellent strikeout numbers — largely by means of a plus changeup — as minor-leaguer before that.
21. Jackie Bradley Jr, OF, Boston (1.7 WAR)
22. Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City (1.7 WAR)
23. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle (1.7 WAR)
24. Jose Pirela, 2B/SS, New York AL (1.6 WAR*)
25. Michael Choice, OF, Texas (1.6 WAR)
26. Danny Hultzen, LHP, Seattle (1.6 WAR)
27. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York NL (1.6 WAR)
28. Marcus Semien, 2B/3B, Chicago AL (1.5 WAR)
29. Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati (1.5 WAR)
30. Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh (1.5 WAR)
Pirela is the sort of player who’s likely to be regarded more highly by a projection system than by anyone relying more heavily on scouting-type information, insofar as (a) much of his offensive value is derived from controlling the strike zone and (b) he’s probably not as solid a defender as his his minor-league positioning would suggest.
31. Addison Russell, SS, Oakland (1.5 WAR)
32. Jeremy Rodriguez, C, San Diego (1.5 WAR*)
33. Edwin Escobar, LHP, San Francisco (1.4 WAR)
34. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Kansas City (1.4 WAR)
35. Arismendy Alcantara, 2B/SS, Chicago NL (1.4 WAR)
36. Christian Vazquez, C, Boston (1.4 WAR)
37. Greg Garcia, 2B/SS, St. Louis (1.4 WAR)
38. Chris Taylor, SS, Seattle (1.4 WAR)
39. Matt Davidson, 3B, Chicago AL (1.4 WAR)
39.5. Rafael Montero, RHP, New York NL (1.4 WAR)
40. Chris Owings, SS, Arizona (1.4 WAR)
Rodriguez has recorded only 367 plate appearances during his three seasons as professional — almost all of them below Double-A. Entering his age-24 season, he’s been assigned once again to the High-A California League. In other words, this appears to be a moment where Steamer is very enthusiastic about plate-discipline figures and positional adjustment (which, even with the playing-time discount, is quite generous for catchers).
41. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland (1.4 WAR)
42. Eury Perez, OF, Washington (1.4 WAR)
43. Allen Webster, RHP, Boston (1.3 WAR)
44. Curt Casali, C, Tampa Bay (1.3 WAR)
45. Gary Sanchez, C, New York AL (1.3 WAR)
46. Craig Manuel, C, Washington (1.3 WAR*)
47. Ty Kelly, 2B/3B, Seattle (1.3 WAR)
48. Vince Belnome, 2B, Tampa Bay (1.3 WAR)
49. Roberto Osuna, RHP, Toronto (1.3 WAR)
50. Henry Owens, LHP, Boston (1.3 WAR)
Like Robert Kral and Jeremy Rodriguez above, both Casali and Manuel are catchers whose main offensive assets are related to plate discipline/contact. Kelly and Belnome are those same sorts of players, except in the infield.
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