Top Fantasy Prospects for 2014

The 2013 season saw a number of rookies play key roles for their respective clubs and, in the process, significantly impact fantasy baseball. Arms like Jose Fernandez (Marlins), Julio Teheran (Braves), Hyun-Jin Ryu (Dodgers) and Trevor Rosenthal (Cardinals) made names for themselves while providing important innings for their respective clubs and fantasy managers alike. Hitters such as Yasiel Puig (Dodgers), Nolan Arenado (Rockies), Jedd Gyorko (Padres) and Wil Myers (Rays) set the foundations for future successes and look like future fantasy studs.

With each new fantasy season comes a new group of impressive — yet volatile — prospects. Barring injuries, star athletes’ performances are somewhat predictable. Rookie performances, though, are often much hard to pin down but, if you guess right, they can have a huge impact on a fantasy team’s season.

This article will endeavor to (somewhat accurately) recommend the key rookie players to target at each position based on both expected playing time and overall statistical impact for the coming season. It’s important to note this article ranks players based solely on projected 2014 impact, not future impact or overall ceiling…

Catchers

1. Travis d’Arnaud, Mets: The young catcher has no established veteran standing in his way and the job appears to be 100% his to lose entering the 2014 season. D’Arnaud has a bad habit of getting hurt so it might be a stretch to expect him to play more than 80 games in 2014. (ETA: April; Roadblock: None/Health)

2. Josmil Pinto, Twins: The starting gig for 2014 appeared to be his but then the Twins went out and signed Kurt Suzuki and intimated the job was his to lose. That move could force Pinto back to Triple-A to bide his time until an injury occurs or the club realizes the veteran and former A’s backstop really isn’t very good. (ETA: August; Roadblock: Kurt Suzuki)

3. Austin Hedges, Padres: The big question mark for Hedges owners is: How healthy is Yasmani Grandal‘s knee? If he returns with no ill effects from the injury then it could mean a full season in the minors for the catching prospect in 2014. If not, though, Hedges could seize the opportunity to showcase his plus defense and strong makeup, and eventually cause Grandal to become redundant and expendable. (ETA: July; Roadblock: Yasmani Grandal, Nick Hundley)

The Next Four: Christian Bethancourt (Braves), Max Stassi (Astros), J.R. Murphy (Yankees), Andrew Susac (Giants)

First Basemen

1. Jose Abreu, White Sox: Abreu enters the season as a huge wildcard. Scouts either love him or consider him a quad-A slugger, so you really have to role the dice on projecting his value for the coming season. The good news is that you know he’s going to play everyday — at least until he falls on his face. (ETA: April; Roadblock: None)

2. Jon Singleton: Had it not been for his drug suspension last year, Singleton may have entered 2014 as the favorite for the starting first base gig in 2014. Instead, though, he’ll likely open the year in Triple-A and will look to force the Astros’ hand. (ETA: July; Roadblock: Chris Carter, Brett Wallace, Jesus Guzman)

Second Basemen

1. Kolten Wong, Cardinals: At one point during the off-season it looked like the starting second base job in St. Louis was Wong’s… Unfortunately for him, the club made a shrewd move to bring in veteran Mark Ellis to, at the very least, platoon with the rookie. It’ll take at-bats away from him, but it might also help him post better overall numbers, so it’s not all bad. (ETA: April; Roadblock: Mark Ellis)

2. Alex Guerrero, Dodgers: Like Jose Abreau in Chicago, Guerrero is a massive Cuban wildcard because we just don’t know what to expect. Is he the next Yasiel Puig? Or the next Juan Miranda? Or maybe something in between like Kendry Morales? On the plus side, he’s going to have some pretty good hitters in the same lineup so perhaps he’ll do you a solid and score a large number of runs… (ETA: April; Roadblock: None)

3. Jonathan Schoop, Orioles: The change of scenery for former top prospect Jemile Weeks puts a bit of a damper in the 2014 value of Schoop but the good news is that the former A’s second baseman hasn’t been relevant since 2011 and turned 27 at the end of January. With a couple more months of seasoning at the Triple-A level, the Orioles’ top hitting prospect could receive his first taste of extended big league action. (ETA: June; Roadblock: Jemile Weeks, Ryan Flaherty)

4. Rougned Odor, Rangers: The trade of veteran second baseman Ian Kinsler helped clear up the Rangers’ embarrassment of riches in the middle infield (sort of) but Jurickson Profar is still a pretty formidable roadblock — even after his ‘meh’ 2013 performance. Odor, though, isn’t going to need much more seasoning before he’s ready for a shot at The Show so another trade may have to occur before the end of July. (ETA: July; Roadblock: Jurickson Profar, Elvis Andrus)

The Next Three: Eddie Rosario (Twins), Jose Ramirez (Indians), Carlos Sanchez (White Sox)

Third Basemen

1. Nick Castellanos, Tigers: The somewhat shocking trade of Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers moves Miguel Cabrera over to first base and opens up the hot corner for Castellanos. However, he’s no sure thing because of his dicey defense at the position and the year’s layoff while he learned to play the outfield certainly won’t have helped. However, if the club can live with the defense, he could be one of the better rookie hitters in 2014. (ETA: April; Roadblock: None)

2. Matt Davidson, White Sox: The trade from Arizona to Chicago mostly removes the roadblocks in front of the rookie, although he still has to contend with fringe big leaguers such as Conor Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger. There are also some concerns over Davidson’s defense at the hot corner, but he should hit enough to warrant the gig. (ETA: April; Roadblock: Conor Gillaspie, Jeff Keppinger)

3. Miguel Sano, Twins: One of the top power-hitting prospects in the game, Sano would probably be getting more hype for Minnesota if it weren’t for the presence of uber prospect Byron Buxton. Sano still has some rough edges to sand down but Trevor Plouffe isn’t the type of third baseman you find on playoff-calibre teams. (ETA: July; Roadblock: Trevor Plouffe)

4. Kris Bryant, Cubs: Given the opportunity, I personally would have taken Bryant with the first overall selection in the 2013 amateur draft but the Astros took Mark Appel, which left Bryant to the Cubs. That chain of events could end up having a very positive affect on the future of the Chicago Cubs, perhaps starting as early as July of this year. (ETA: July; Roadblock: Luis Valbuena, Mike Olt)

The Next Three: Wilmer Flores (Mets), Maikel Franco (Phillies), Mike Olt (Cubs)

Shortstops

1. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox: It appears as though Stephen Drew‘s time with the Red Sox has come to an end, which could signal the start of the Xander Bogaerts Era in Boston — especially after the trade of defensive whiz Jose Iglesias to Detroit last season. Even though he’s just 21, the rookie could be a solid offensive performer in 2014 so don’t lost out on your chance to secure his services. The hype is justified. (ETA: April; Roadblock: None)

2. Javier Baez, Cubs: The Cubs could have a very different looking left side of the infield between the months of April and July — if everything goes as planned in the developments of prospects Kris Bryant (3B) and Baez (SS). The slugging shortstop has incumbent Starlin Castro and fellow prospect Arismendy Alcantara to contend with but Baez’ talent is too hard to ignore. (ETA: July; Roadblock: Starlin Castro)

3. Chris Owings, Diamondbacks: Like Javier Baez with the Cubs, Owings has another young talent to contend with (Didi Gregorius) before he’ll receive significant playing time in Arizona. The good news, even if he doesn’t win the spring competition for the shortstop job, is that he’s a much more accomplished hitter (even if the glove doesn’t stack up) and he’s versatile enough to slide over to second base if something happens to Aaron Hill. (ETA: August; Roadblock: Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hill)

4. Francisco Lindor, Indians: Because of their placement in the 2011 draft (eighth and ninth overall, respectively), fellow shortstop prospects Lindor and Javier Baez will be forever linked. However, they’re very different players with Baez being more explosive (and with much more raw power) while Lindor is the better all-around player with much more defensive value. The Indians prospect may end up being as good as better than Baez as a “real life baseball player” but some of his value (ie. defense) doesn’t translate well into the fantasy realms. (ETA: August; Roadblock: Asdrubal Cabrera, Mike Aviles)

5. Marcus Semien, White Sox: The acquisition of third baseman Matt Davidson from the Diamondbacks likely hurts Semien’s chances of breaking camp with the White Sox in April. However, incumbent second baseman Gordon Beckham has a tenuous hold, at best, on the starting job so it may not take much time at Triple-A before the rookie gets his big league shot. Veteran shortstop Alexei Ramirez is by no means irreplaceable but his job is probably fairly safe in 2014. (ETA: June; Roadblock: Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham)

The Next Four: Arismendy Alcantara (Cubs), Hak-Ju Lee (Rays), Alen Hanson (Pirates), Addison Russell (A’s)

Outfielders

1. Oscar Taveras, Cardinals: At first glance the loss of veteran, free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran bodes well for the rookie. However, the organization then went out and acquired plus defensive center-fielder Peter Bourjos from the Los Angeles Angels, which either puts him in a platoon with ’13 CF Jon Jay or shifts one of them to a fourth outfielder role. With Matt Holliday and (a now healthy) Allen Craig also needing regular playing time (assuming Matt Adams is at 1B), then Taveras will have to bide his time at the Triple-A level while trying to stay healthy and available at a moment’s notice. (ETA: July; Roadblock: Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos)

2. George Springer, Astros: Houston fans are clamoring for something to cheer for and they have whole-heartedly bought into the hype over Springer, who is nearly MLB ready and one of the club’s best prospects in a very deep system. Although the outfielder has an intriguing power-speed combination, he’s not without his warts — stemming mostly from his lack of consistent contact, which leads to massive strikeout rates. (ETA: June; Roadblock: L.J. Hoes, Dexter Fowler)

3. Jackie Bradley, Red Sox: The loss of free agent Jacoby Ellsbury to the division-rival New York Yankees stings but the club has a capable replacement in Bradley. The 23-year-old outfielder struggled in his first taste of big league action in 2013 and doesn’t have quite as much power or speed as the departing veteran, however, he gets on base, has gap power and plays an above-average center field. (ETA: April; Roadblock: None)

4. Billy Hamilton, Reds: When the Reds lost free agent Shin-Soo Choo it immediately opened up the position for the highly-hyped prospect Hamilton and his plus-plus speed. The downside to the rookie, though, is that the other aspects of his game — hitting, power, defense — are not nearly as far along in their development as the speed so he may end up doing more damage than good in the everyday lineup. (ETA: April; Roadblock: None)

5. Adam Eaton, White Sox: Eaton was expected to play a pivotal role on the Diamondbacks last season but he got hurt and eventually fell out of favor. An offseason trade to the White Sox gives him another opportunity to win an everyday job in the outfield. If he gets that chance, expect him to hustle into a good batting average and some stolen bases. (ETA: April; Roadblock: Alejandro De Aza)

6. Byron Buxton, Twins: Perhaps the best prospect in baseball, Buxton has made easy work of the minor leagues to this point but he has yet to play above A-ball. He struggled in the Arizona Fall League — which could likely be blamed almost solely on fatigue — however he’ll likely spend most of the 2014 season at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. However, another strong season combined with playoff contention could convince the Twins to infuse his talent into their lineup earlier than expected. (ETA: August; Roadblock: Alex Presley, Aaron Hicks)

7. Jake Marisnick, Marlins: Marisnick was unsurprisingly raw when he reached the Majors earlier than expected in 2013. The rookie outfielder’s hitting mechanics have been tinkered with a few times in his career in an attempt to make him more consistent so he hasn’t had a long stretch to fully get comfortable at the plate. A nice stretch of playing time at Triple-A in 2014 could do wonders for his future, but it remains to be seen if he’ll get it or be pushed back up to The Show. (ETA: June; Roadblock: Marcell Ozuna, Brent Keys)

8. Michael Choice, Rangers: For whatever reason, Oakland seemingly never bought into Choice as a legitimate big league contributor and he was recently dealt to the Rangers who don’t have an immediate opening for him either, despite the departure of controversial free agent Nelson Cruz. Choice will have to return to Triple-A for second straight season while working to tap into his raw power more consistently — unless he beats out Alex Castellanos for the fourth outfielder gig. (ETA: July; Roadblock: Alex Rios, Mitch Moreland)

The Next Five: Gregory Polanco (Pirates), Jorge Soler (Cubs), Joc Pederson (Dodgers), Stephen Piscotty (Cardinals), Domingo Santana (Astros)

Right-Handed Starters

1. Michael Wacha, Cardinals: Wacha’s strong late-season performance in 2013 all but assures he’ll open the year in the Cardinals’ crowded starting rotation. He’s not super-flashy but the right-hander is quite polished for a guy with just 41 professional games under his belt and could produce at the level of a number three starter in 2014. (ETA: April)

2. Kevin Gausman, Orioles: Gausman had some bad luck during his first taste of big league action in 2013 but pitched much better than his 5.66 ERA would suggest (3.04 xFIP). The Orioles didn’t have much luck acquiring an established pitcher for the starting rotation during the offseason so the former fourth overall draft pick (2012) with top-end stuff should have a good opportunity to win a spot. (ETA: April)

3. Taijuan Walker, Mariners: The 21-year-old Walker reached the Majors in just his fourth pro season and he’s an early favorite to win a rotation spot this April. He’ll likely undergo some growing pains early in 2014 but he has the ceiling of a number one or two starter once he realizes his full potential. (ETA: April)

4. Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks have purged a number of young arms but Bradley remains in the organization and certainly has the highest ceiling among the club’s pitching prospects. He’s moved swiftly through the system and spent much of 2013 in Double-A at the age of 20. He might need less than half a year in Triple-A before he’s ready to help The Snakes in The Show. (ETA: June)

5. Jameson Taillon, Pirates: Sophomore hurler Gerrit Cole had a successful freshman season in 2013 and it could be Taillon’s turn to do the same in 2014. The hard-thrower flashes a promising repertoire and his strong frame should help him become an innings-eater in the Pirates rotation. (ETA: June)

6. Noah Syndergaard, Mets: Members of Toronto’s former stable of impressive pitching prospects continue to make impressive individual development strides with their new respective organizations and Syndergaard arguably has the most promise. After a strong showing in Double-A in 2013 he’s not far off from impacting the Mets starting rotation. The organization could have an exciting future with the likes of (a healthy) Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Syndergaard. (ETA: July)

7. Carlos Martinez, Cardinals: Martinez will be in tough to win a rotation spot in April with a number of more proven arms ahead of him, leaving him about seventh on the depth chart. Injuries or inconsistencies by others could eventually give him a shot at starting but he may have to open the year in Triple-A or in the big league bullpen. (ETA: June)

8. Yordano Ventura, Royals: The diminutive, but hard-throwing, youngster opened some eyes during his three-start big league cameo in 2013 but there doesn’t appear to be an opening for him in April. He’ll await his opportunity while polishing his game in Triple-A. The good news is that a couple of the projected big league starters have health concerns. (ETA: June)

9. Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays: Stroman’s development was stunted in 2013 when he missed the beginning of the year while serving a suspension. However, upon his return, he pitched well in Double-A and in the Arizona Fall League. The Jays have enough pitching depth to all but assure Stroman will open the year in Triple-A. (ETA: June)

10. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, Phillies: Despite a lack of pitching experience in North America, the big ticket Cuban signee will be expected to secure a rotation spot with the Phillies in April. It remains to be seen how much of an impact he’ll have in the early going but his ceiling is that of a number two or three starter. (ETA: April)

The Next 16: Dylan Bundy (Orioles), Alex Meyer (Twins), Allen Webster (Red Sox), Erik Johnson (White Sox), Mark Appel (Astros), Eddie Butler (Rockies), Rafael Montero (Mets), Jimmy Nelson (Brewers), Mike Foltynewicz (Astros), Robert Stephenson (Cardinals), Matt Wisler (Padres), Trevor Bauer (Indians), Casey Kelly (Padres), Anthony Ranaudo (Red Sox), Zach Lee (Dodgers), Nick Kingham (Pirates)

Left-Handed Starters

1. James Paxton, Mariners: The Mariners brought in some veteran players to solidify the starting lineup but the rotation will likely continue to rely on young, but talented, arms — including Paxton. The Canadian lefty will have to beat out Brandon Maurer and/or Taijuan Walker for a spot, so his inclusion on the opening day roster is not set in stone. (ETA: May)

2. Justin Nicolino, Marlins: Nicolino has just nine starts above A-ball but the organization has shown a willingness to be aggressive with its young prospects and the big league starting rotation isn’t exactly made up of proven commodities. As such, expect to see the fairly-polished Nicolino, a Florida native, by the middle the year. (ETA: July)

3. David Holmberg, (Reds): A trade from Arizona to Cincinnati frees Holmberg from being stuck behind some higher ceiling arms but it still doesn’t guarantee him a big league job in April. He’s basically big league ready now but he’ll have to beat out sophomore Tony Cingrani for the final rotation spot. (ETA: June)

4. Jesse Biddle, Phillies: Biddle’s 154 strikeouts in 138.1 innings at the Double-A level in 2013 are certainly intriguing but the 82 walks are worrisome and a sign that he still has some work to do before he receives a taste of big league action. (ETA: July)

5. Edwin Escobar, Giants: The Giants’ starting rotation had a number of established arms in it so Escobar will have to open the 2014 season in the minors but he has the talent to eventually work his way into the middle of the Giants’ staff. How quickly he reaches the Majors will depend on the healthy of the veterans, as well as the club’s placement in the standings. (ETA: August)

The Next Five: Eduardo Rodriguez (Orioles), Andrew Heaney (Marlins), Enny Romero (Rays), Tim Cooney (Cardinals), Adalberto Mejia (Giants)

Relievers

1. Danny Webb, White Sox: Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom probably have an edge over Webb for the two key back-end roles in the White Sox bullpen but the young hurler could push his way into that picture if he enters 2014 throwing the way he did in ’13. (ETA: April)

2. Bruce Rondon, Tigers: The Tigers have a new-look bullpen with the additions of closer Joe Nathan, Ian Krol, and Joba Chamberlain but Rondon and his triple-digit fastball remain a favorite to receive some key innings — and perhaps even some save opportunities (Nathan’s not getting any younger) — if he can show even fringe-average command/control and is healthy again. (ETA: April)

3. Heath Hembree, Giants: Hembree already has two years at Triple-A under his belt during his four pro seasons so there isn’t much left for him to prove in the minors. The right-hander has a lot of experience closing in the minors but he’ll likely have to settle for a middle relief role in the big league bullpen, if he makes the team on opening day. (ETA: April)

4. Arodys Vizcaino, Cubs: The main goal for Vizcaino is 2014 will be to stay healthy after missing each of the past two seasons due to injuries. He’s pitching mostly out of the starting rotation in his career but the litany of injuries could force him to the bullpen where he could eventually work his way up to closer’s role. (ETA: July)




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.
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Robert
Member
Robert

Tommy La Stella’s not on the list at 2B?

Jesse
Member
Jesse

Taylor Lindsay?

Devin Jordan
Member

You have Robert Stephenson marked to play for the Cardinals.

NorDub
Member
NorDub

In the FG+ player profiles, you said this about Hedges: “Unfortunately, his defensive contributions aren’t going to help fantasy managers (unless they own Padres pitchers, too) and his offense isn’t really much to write home about. He’s not a terrible hitter but he’s likely to be fringe-average early in his career with a chance to be average to slightly-above-average in his prime. Hedges, 21, has some gap power and might hit for a respectable average (.240-.260)”

But here Hedges is in an article that touts rookies with the potential to have “huge” and “significant” fantasy impact. So is the catcher position that shallow that he just ends up on the top 3 by default (I’m guessing so)? I wouldn’t want owners thinking he’ll really be worth targeting in any normal sized league this year, especially with MLB ready catcher talent already so deep, at least fantasy wise.

mauro1
Member
Member
mauro1

Archie bradley missing?

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