After profiling the 2014 Rookie of the Year candidates for the senior circuit yesterday, we move on with the American League favorites tonight. We made a minor gaffe by putting a pair of Astros on the NL list (I mean really, they should probably be in AAA, but anyway), so the pair listed yesterday will reappear today, albeit in different spots.
1. Taijuan Walker
Spot on Baseball America Midseason top 50: 7
Walker, 21, made his debut down the stretch for the Mariners and he was just as good as his number seven prospect status advertised, giving up just two hits and one unearned run in his first major league and striking over five innings in his last outing. Despite his age, he has three well-developed swing-and-miss offerings – a changeup, fastball, and curve – and has been described by scouts as being rather mature on the mound. The Mariners have already handed him a rotation spot for next season and his numbers should be somewhat inflated by the pitching friendly Safeco Field, giving him an edge in next year’s balloting. The only question will be his command as he had a BB/9 over four in Triple-A, but I would expect that he could win 13 games with a 3.80 ERA even before his control progresses.
2. Xander Bogaerts
Spot on Baseball America Midseason top 50: 4
Bogaerts and Walker have a clear advantage over any other candidate as they are the only top 25 prospects in the American League with guaranteed jobs to start 2014. Bogaerts wasn’t all that impressive in the World Series, but we can excuse the small sample size as he’s only 20 and he’s been at the forefront of the prospect radar for a couple years now. He hit .299/.388/.477 with 15 home runs between AA and AAA in 2013 as his power and on base ability are unparalleled for a middle infielder of his age. It is eerily reminiscent of the last Red Sox shortstop to take home rookie of the year honors: Nomar Garciapara
3. George Springer, Outfielder, Astros
Spot On BA’s Mideason Top 50: 20
Springer, 23, only ranks below Walker and Bogaerts 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.
4.Yordano Ventura, RHP, Royals
Spot on BA’s Midseason Top 50: 26
Don’t let Ventura’s pedestrian major 6.5 SO/9 in the majors last year fool you, he has the definition of a swing and miss stuff. While his changeup and curve are just average offerings, he throws his fastball harder than any other starting pitcher in baseball. He averaged 97.5 MPH on the gun in his 15.1 innings last year and he once hit 101.9 MPH on the gun, which, according to ESPN Stats and Info, was the fastest pitch thrown by a starting pitcher in the last five years. The 22 year old’s command and secondary stuff have progressed to the point where he can now start in the majors and with Kansas City likely to lose Ervin Santana to free agency, there will be a clear spot for him to start 2014 in the 2014. 10+ wins, a high-threes ERA, and 150 strikeouts are not out of the question.
5. Alex Meyer, RHP, Twins
Spot on BA’s Midseason Top 50: 32
Meyer, a first round pick from 2011, missed much of the season with injury, but was dominant upon return, posting a 3.21 ERA and 10.8 K/9 in 13 Double-A starts. He followed that up by reeling off seven strong starts in the Arizona Falling League and looks ready to start 2014 in AAA. Minnesota had the worst ERA in baseball outside of theAstros, so they’re in desperate need of young starters like Meyere. His dominant fastball and slider should allow him to shut down AAA and he could be pitching in Target Field by next June. Once there, he has the capacity to lead all rookies in strikeouts.
6. Jackie Bradley, Outfielder, Red Sox
Spot on BA’s Midseason Top 50: 21
Bradley’s stock fell after a disastrous brief major league stint to start 2013, but he was not ready at the time and he still stands as a high on base, plus range outfielder. Following his weak April in the majors, he returned to AAA, where he posted a solid .374 on base percentage and .469 slugging percentage, proving his worth for 2014. While Daniel Nava seems to have left field firmly locked down after a great 2013 campaign, his success was largely due to an unsustainable .352 BABIP, and I would expect the Red Sox to call up Bradley once Nava begins to falter. He doesn’t have the superstar potential Bogaerts has, but he’s three years older and a better rookie season is not impossible.
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.