Editors Note: Due to a slight oversight, a pair of Astros were included on this list. It should be noted that the Houston Astros play in the American League and their players are therefore ineligible for the NL Rookie of the Year award.
There may be no greater testament to the effectiveness of the modern scouting community than the recent Rookie of the Year award winners. Since 1996, all but six of the 36 winners had been previously named to Baseball America’s top 100 prospect. Of those six, all but one of them struggled mightily in the years that followed, indicating aberration rather than ability, was the primary force behind their awards. Compare that to the success of such top 100 prospects as Derek Jeter, Justin Verlander, Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Howard, Evan Longoria, and Hanley Ramirez – just to name a few – and you get a sense of just how good Baseball America and the private scouting sites are at their job. So without further ado, we unveil our handful of early favorites for the 2014 National League rookie of the year awards, a collection of pair of players skimmed right from the top of Baseball America’s top 100 and primed for major league success.
1. Oscar Taveras, Outfielder, Cardinals
Spot On BA’s Mideason Top 50: 2
Sitting at the number two spot of BA’s mid season top 50, Taveras, 22, is the obvious choice for this award. He has a raw, high average, high power swing that scouts love and he has had statistical success at every minor league stop, including Double and Triple-A. Even more important when discussing rookie of the year awards is that the Cardinals have a need for him, with a hole in right field where Carlos Beltran once stood. There are more than a few drawbacks, however, namely that Taveras missed almost the entirety of the 2013 season with an ankle injury. Worse, while he managed to hit .306 in 173 Triple-A at bats last year, he struggled to draw base on balls, and his prodigious power didn’t materialize to the extent that it had the year prior. I wouldn’t worry so much about the power, he’s only 22 and it will come, but the lack of playing time and plate discipline are a concern that could keep Taveras in the minors for much of the 2014 season. Should, however, the Cardinals fail to find a top tier regular to fill their void in right field and merely hire a stopgap until Taveras is ready, Oscar would likely become the early favorite for the ROY award
2. Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pirates
Spot On BA’s Mideason Top 50: 11
Orioles’ 3B Manny Machado’s profilic success since entering the majors a year and a half ago has made the Pirates decision to pass on him in the 2010 draft seem almost laughable, but they did have their reasons. That reason will become rather apparent next season, when the imposing 6’6, 235 lb frame of Jameson Taillon first takes the mound for the Bucs. Taillon, 21, has the body of a workhorse, and the 96 MPH fastball that invariably goes with it. His offspead stuff – a change up and curve – have the chance to be plus and are further along now then they’ve ever been making him a formidable presence behind fellow youth ace Gerrit Cole. He’s never truly established dominance at any minor league level, but he’s had success and decent peripherals (career 8.4 SO/9, 2.6 BB/9). With the Pirates in need of a starter, Taillon could be in the majors by the middle of may. Once there, I wouldn’t expect the same 3.22 ERA that Cole had this season, but ten wins, 130 strikeouts, and a 3.90 ERA would not be unrealistic.
3. Billy Hamilton, Outfielder, Reds
Spot On BA’s Mideason Top 50: 36
I’m lower on Hamilton than most as, outside of his speed. I simply do not see a ton of proven offensive value in him. He hit .256 in the minors last year and failed to consistently get on base, walking just 38 times in 547 plate appearances for a .308 OBP, and striking out over 100 times for the third straight season. Low average, little contact and no on base are not the makings of an elite, or even decent lead off hitter, and it’s not as if he has any power to make up for it (13 home runs in over 2000 minor league at bats). Nevertheless , the Reds are in want of a centerfielder and he can certainly flash leather, so he will probably be in the starting line up come April. With the ability to rack up troves of the stolen bases that voters love, he could win the rookie of the year award, whether he deserves it or not.
4. George Springer, Outfielder, Astros
Spot On BA’s Mideason Top 50: 20
Springer, 23, only falls this low because the Astros, who have no shot at contention and nothing to play for next year, will likely keep Springer in the minors until they can be sure that he has avoided super-two status. If not for that caveat, Springer may very well be the clear favorite, as Houston has an open lineup spot for him and he had arguably the best season in the minors last year. He did everything at the plate, hitting .303/.411/.600 with 45 Stolen Bases at the minors’ top two levels, and fell just three home runs short of becoming the first player of the modern minor leagues to have a 40/40 season (40 stolen bases, 40 home runs). He plays a fluid enough center to cover even the vast swath of land in the Minute Maid Park Outfield, and the only hole in his game for opposing pitchers to take advantage of is his 27% K rate, which is less of a concern in the modern game than its ever been. Power, plate discipline, and speed are a lethal combination and Springer could bring all three to Houston by next June.
5. Travis D’arnaud, Catcher, Mets
Spot on BA’s Midseason top 50: 25
D’arnaud, 24, wins points for the being the only player on this list with a flat out guaranteed spot in his team’s 2014 lineup, but he loses in health what he gains in reliability. A series of leg, knee and foot injuries have prevented D’arnaud from reaching the 100 game plateau in each of the last two seasons, and he hasn’t actually played unabated in a full season since 2009, when he was a 20 year in the Phillies Organization. Scouting reports have said for years that he can simply rake, with the ability to hit 25-30 home runs with a .360+ OBP from behind the plate – reports supported by a .914+ OPS in each minor league season since 2009. He’ll have a shot at the title if he stays healthy, but the only way to accomplish that may be to turn him into the second iteration of the Bubble Boy.
6. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets
Spot on BA’s Midseason top 50: 23
The second consecutive Met on this list, Syndergaard is in many respects the polar opposite of D’arnaud. He is not guaranteed a spot on the opening day major league roster – in fact, he is basically guaranteed a spot off it – but he was referred to by Keith Law as having “as low a risk for an arm injury as any major starter prospect in baseball.” In 2013, He dominated AA to the tune of a 3.00 ERA, 2.0 BB/9, and 11.5 SO/9 over 11 starts and he’ll start 2014 in the next level, Triple-A. If all goes well, he’ll make his debut in mid June, the same time his predecessors Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler did. I would expect the Mets to limit his rookie innings as they had for the pair of aforementioned starters, which should put a dent in his ROY candidacy, but enough success in his brief time could at least put him on the balloting
7. Jonathan Singleton, First Baseman, Astros
Spot on BA’s top 50: 22
A year ago it seemed as if Singleton may have had a shot at the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year Award, but that changed after he missed the first fifty games of the year for a positive marijuana test, and proceeded to hit .220 with a .687 OPS and a 30% strikeout rate in 294 AAA plate appearances over the course of the summer. That being said, Singleton did still show tremendous plate discipline with 46 walks in just 73 games, and with his statistical and scouting pedigree, his power numbers should be back on track come next season. Assuming he hits well in April and May and receives a June call up, he has a shot to hit 20 home runs with a .380 OBP as soon as 2014. The Astros will likely be counting the days until they can pick up the phone as their current first baseman, Brett Wallace, had an abysmal .284 OBP and -0.2 WAR last season.