The National League isn’t quite as loaded with top prospects that may break into the big leagues in 2014 and supply impact value, but its certainly not short on talent.
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Christian Bethancourt, C — Atlanta Braves
The Braves seem to have committed to an Evan Gattis/Gerald Laird timeshare behind the plate this season, and that might work out fine. Gattis hits bombs and Laird might put together another solid fifty games or so, but relying on them for the whole season isn’t wise. Bethancourt is ready defensively to start in the majors now, but his bat is still a work in progress. Taking a walk or 40 would help his game immensely. If he can show his offensive improvements are legit in the minors this spring, you can start to look for him in Atlanta this summer.
JR Graham, RHP — Atlanta Braves
Graham seems destined to be added to the cavalcade of flamethrowers that march out to the Atlanta bullpen all summer. Though he’s average sized for a human, he’s short for a pitcher. Couple that with the shoulder injury he had last year that forced him to miss most of the season, and you see why most believe he’s destined for relief. He’s still not all the way back from his injury and he won’t start the season in Atlanta, but when they need another arm to lock down games this summer, Graham will get the call.
Jake Marisnick, OF — Miami Marlins
Marisnick has had a fantastic spring after having a terrible last summer. That’s not entirely fair — Marisnick was having a great season in the minors before the Marlins promoted him way before he was ready, which was the main reason for his dreadful numbers. And maybe this spring is a sign that he’s ready to contribute at the major league level. He needs to cut down on his strikeouts, but he can steal a base and the metrics liked his defense in center field over those 40 games he played in Miami. He’s the Marlins’ everyday centerfielder this year, sink or swim
Noah Syndergaard, RHP — New York Mets
If you only remember one thing from this piece, make it this: Syndergaard’s nickname is Thor. It makes perfect sense. He’s gigantic and blonde and his name has those two a’s in a row at the end there. Somehow, Thor wasn’t the centerpiece in the RA Dickey trade, which goes to show how much better that deal looks for the Mets just a year and a few months later. He throws 98 mph and hardly walks anyone. If Matt Harvey comes back healthy next year, the Mets will have an unfair top of the rotation.
Travis d’Arnaud, C — New York Mets
Health. It’s the most important thing for everyone, but it’s particularly important for baseball players. The ability is there, but d’Arnaud needs to stay on the field. If he can catch 110 games for the Mets this year d’Arnaud will probably win the NL Rookie of the Year award. He gets on base, hits for power and his defense has been improving. It’s easy and, frankly, a little foolish to make fun of the Mets. They’re going to be pretty good pretty soon.
Rafael Montero, RHP — New York Mets
And here’s another reason why. Montero’s flown under the radar nearly his whole career — first he was overshadowed by Harvey and Zack Wheeler and now he’s overshadowed by Thor, but he’s been consistently great his whole career. He had a 3.05 ERA playing for AAA Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League, which is like pitching on the moon if the moon had an atmosphere and casinos. Montero’s not as flashy as those other pitchers, but he’s still talented and will be a huge asset in the Met rotation either this season or next.
Wilmer Flores, IF — New York Mets
Flores isn’t a second baseman. He may occasionally find himself playing that position, but that doesn’t mean he is one. Flores moves on defense like his pants are lined with lead marbles — his reactions are slow and his range is nonexistent. That being said, he’s still a very good prospect. Flores has seemingly been around forever, but he’s only 22 years old. He doesn’t walk nearly enough, but he doesn’t strike out much either. His power has started to emerge the past two years, and his bat will assuredly get him a promotion to Queens for a regular job sometime this summer.
Maikel Franco, 3B — Philadelphia Phillies
Cody Asche won the starter’s job at third base for the Phillies, and he may be good enough that Franco won’t get much of an opportunity to usurp him this season. However, Franco should be the long term solution at third for the Phillies, and he’s talented enough that they might just have to make room for him at the big league level. Franco hit 31 bombs in the minors last year, and the decrepit lineup in Philadelphia could use some youthful power this season.
Brian Goodwin, OF — Washington Nationals
The Nationals are, yet again, a trendy preseason choice to win the World Series, but no one is making that prediction because of Goodwin. But Goodwin is the exact type of player who could make an impact for the Nationals down the stretch, both offensively and defensively, and sneak onto the playoff roster. That’s not likely, but it’s a possibility. Goodwin can hit, get on base, run, and field well enough that he’d be an attractive late season option for DC.
Javier Baez, SS — Chicago Cubs
Baez did this to a baseball this spring. He’s only 21 years old. For the good of Cubs fans and the sport and humanity and posterity, the Cubs need to bring him to Wrigley this year so he can be put on display. His power is too prodigious to be kept in the minors for long. He’ll strike out a lot and look lost at times, but every now and again he’ll do something like that and it’ll all be worth it.
Arodys Vizcaino, RHP — Chicago Cubs
Vizcaino hasn’t pitched in two years, which is really close to forever in baseball. However the reports from this spring are that his fastball and curveball are back and wicked. The Cubs have moved him to the bullpen full time in the hopes that they can keep him on the field, and he could be a buzzsaw in relief this season. If healthy, Vizcaino has the potential to close on the North Side of Chicago in the near future.
Mike Olt, 3B — Chicago Cubs
Olt got hit in the head in the Dominican Winter League a little over a year ago, and that ruined his 2013 season. He suffered a concussion and had vision problems, but those are reportedly behind him. If Olt is back to being the player he was prior to his injury, then he should contend for the NL Rookie of the Year title. He’s 25 and very nearly earned the starting job at third for the Cubs out of spring training. Another savvy acquisition by Theo Epstein and the braintrust at Wrigley.
Robert Stephenson, RHP — Cincinnati Reds
Stephenson hasn’t thrown 20 innings above A-ball, but he’s nearly ready to contribute to the Reds. His fastball sits in the 90s, his curve can be a hammer. He’d make a fantastic late season addition for the Reds, either in the rotation or out of the bullpen.
Billy Hamilton, OF — Cincinnati Reds
Can Billy Hamilton hit major league pitching? If he can he’s a perennial All-Star, if he can’t he’s the best pinch runner in the game. There’s your spectrum. The Reds are handing him the centerfield job and seeing what he can do with it, as they should. Getting on base might be difficult for Hamilton, but he’s better once he’s on the bases than anyone else in the sport. His speed is the most electric tool in baseball — baseball’s a better sport if Hamilton can hit.
Gregory Polanco, OF — Pittsburgh Pirates
Polanco is the most dynamic prospect in a Pirates farm system that’s stuffed with them. A true five-tool prospect, Polanco can hit for power and average, play great defense, has a strong arm and can steal a ton of bases. He doesn’t strike out much at all and will take a walk. The Pirates will need a lot of things to break right for them to make it back to the playoffs this yaer, and Polanco coming up to the bigs and thriving would certainly help get them on their way.
Jameson Taillon, RHP — Pittsburgh Pirates
Now, if Taillon could throw 140 or so innings in the majors, that would really help the Pirates get back to the postseason. When you picture big right-handers from Texas, you picture a Taillon-y type figure. They throw in the mid 90s, have a hard curveball and they’re working on their changeup. The Pirates know that the chance to make the playoffs doesn’t come along all that often, and they’ll certainly utilize anyone in their farm system that can help them get back to the tournament.
Tony Sanchez, C — Pittsburgh Pirates
Sanchez has always been overly criticized because the Pirates picked him earlier in the draft than they should have. If he’d been taken ten picks later no one would be all up in arms that he’s 26 and still has his rookie eligibility. Sanchez quietly had a great season last year, and because of Chris Stewart’s injury he’ll start the season as Pirates backup catcher. Don’t be surprised if he takes over for Russell Martin as the starter in 2015.
Oscar Taveras, OF — St. Louis Cardinals
The bloom is off the Taveras rose in the eyes of some. His right leg has been giving him trouble, he doesn’t seem to want to push things too hard or too fast, and he hasn’t been able to stay on the field. If his leg issues become chronic then the worrying is warranted, but don’t jump ahead. Hopefully he just needs some rest and rehab and this will be behind him soon enough. When it is, people will start comparing him to Vladimir Guerrero again.
Kolten Wong, 2B — St. Louis Cardinals
The job at second in St. Louis is Wong’s. That’s been pretty well known for most of the winter. Wong is just another player the Cardinals have successfully drafted and developed, and soon he’ll be another talented young player on a team full of them. There are some teams that are good at developing prospects, but none comes close to what the Cardinals have been doing for years. Their pipeline never runs dry.
Archie Bradley, RHP — Arizona Diamondbacks
Bradley’s another monster prototypical righty, and he’s also the top pitching prospect in baseball. Made from corn and meat and liberty, Bradley’s going to lay waste to major league batters this year. Arizona is ready to make a playoff run now, and with Patrick Corbin needing Tommy John surgery, Bradley’s timetable to the bigs was probably pushed up. Pray that he’ll be kind, but not so much that you don’t fear him.
Chris Owings, SS — Arizona Diamondbacks
There are reports flying around that Arizona is trying to trade Didi Gregorius. That’s because Chris Owings won the starting job at shortstop this spring. Owings deserved the job, and good for the Diamondbacks to not just stick with Gregorius because of inertia. Owings seems to do everything really well, which is much rarer than you’d think.
Eddie Butler, P — Colorado Rockies
Butler posted a 1.82 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP in the minors last season. Butler also generates a ton of ground balls, which is a wise thing to do in Colorado. Being able to get grounders is great, but being able to throw 98 might even be a bit better. Butler exploded last year, and seems a sure bet to crack the Colorado rotation this summer.
Zach Lee, RHP — Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers rotation is ridiculous. They have the best top three starters in baseball, Dan Haren is their fourth and they’ll be getting Chad Billingsley back sometime in May. They shouldn’t need Lee this season. But the thing about pitchers is they always seem to get hurt, and you never really seem to have too many of them. Josh Beckett hasn’t been truly healthy in ages, Haren’s innings and results have declined the past two years, and Hyun-Jin Ryu just hurt his toe running the bases in Australia. Sure, Lee may not pitch in LA this year, but the nature of the game says he probably will.
Casey Kelly, RHP — San Diego Padres
The centerpiece in the Adrian Gonzalez trade from a lifetime ago, Kelly’s making his way back from Tommy John surgery this spring. The Padres will be cautious with him as he returns to pitching, but they’ll have a spot in the rotation for him when he’s ready. He’s been throwing 92-93 this spring, and evaluators are bullish on his return since he’s such a good athlete. He actually played some shortstop when the Red Sox first drafted him out of high school. Now a decidedly former shortstop, Kelly will be starting in San Diego this summer barring any setbacks.
Edwin Escobar, LHP — San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco rotation is a bit suspect right now. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner are more than respectable atop it, but once you get beyond them things get murky. Tim Lincecum could be amazing again or he could be nearly washed up or he might have to go to the bullpen. Tim Hudson’s ankle bent the wrong way last year. Ryan Vogelsong was bad. Escobar was really genuinely great last year — he struck out a ton of guys and only issued 30 free passes in just under 130 innings pitched. If a starter falters, he’ll get his opportunity to show what he can do in the bigs.
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