Top prospects could be on fast track to Majors
Several young stars in Minors hoping to soon join Trout, Harper, Myers and Fernandez
Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Wil Myers and Jose Fernandez are the last four Rookie of the Year Award winners in Major League Baseball. They're all very young and supremely talented. They're also part of a growing club: Rookie of the Year Award winners who didn't make their team out of Spring Training in their award-winning first season.
This recent history, of course, leads us to a question: Who's next?
Clubs have their reasons to withhold young players until later in the year, whether it be for a lack of seasoning or experience, as a means of tempering the hype and expectations that are sure to come, or for the simple explanation of finances when it comes to starting a Major League service clock.
One thing Trout, Harper, Myers and Fernandez have proven, however, is that after a certain point, talent hits a ceiling and has nowhere to go but to the best baseball league in the world, and teams develop needs that can no longer be ignored.
Here are a half-dozen players who might bust a hole in the roof sooner than later in 2014:
George Springer, OF, Astros: Already the rumors are circling around Houston that Springer might be on his way to the Majors soon, and it would hardly be a surprise. Splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A last year, Springer combined to hit 37 home runs, drive in 108 runs and steal 45 bases. He is MLB.com's No. 21st-ranked prospect and should be ready to play a big role in the Astros' bright future sometime in 2014.
Javier Baez, SS, Cubs: Chicago also has highly regarded prospects such as outfielder Albert Almora (MLB.com's No. 17-ranked prospect) and third baseman Kris Bryant (No. 9) in the pipeline, but Baez (No. 7) might be the first one up, whether it's at second base or shortstop, depending on the health and effectiveness of Starlin Castro. Baez brings raw power to the table -- he slugged 37 homers and drove in 111 runs in the Minors last year -- and the Cubs will likely be wanting that power in their lineup this year.
Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets: New York seems to be adhering to a plan that worked with Zack Wheeler last year: take a hugely touted prospect (No. 11, according to MLB.com rankings, in this case), start him off at Triple-A, and hope that he'll be ready for the bigs by midsummer. Syndergaard was one of the key acquisitions for the Mets in the R.A. Dickey trade with the Blue Jays in December 2012, and he struck out 133 over 117 2/3 innings between Class A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton.
Archie Bradley, RHP, D-backs: Bradley gave Arizona's starting rotation a serious run in Spring Training before losing out to Randall Delgado in the final days of Cactus League play. The issue was command of a mid-90s fastball, but don't expect the issues to last too long. Bradley, 21, is ranked No. 5 on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospect list and didn't disappoint last year, going a combined 14-5 with a 1.84 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 152 innings over stops at Class A and Double-A.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pirates: Is it possible that Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and this guy could be in Pittsburgh's outfield sometime this year? It's very possible. Polanco, 22, stole 38 bases in the Minors last year and hit 12 homers. His power and plate discipline are expected to develop more, but his offensive tools and ability to cover ground and throw runners out from the outfield make him MLB.com's No. 13 prospect.
Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals: The Cards won the National League pennant last year with Jon Jay patrolling center field and Taveras, MLB.com's No. 3 prospect, enduring an injury-laden Triple-A campaign. There's no questioning that Taveras has bat speed, emerging power and ability to make contact and avoid strikeouts, which will all strengthen his cause to be promoted sometime in 2014. He will need to stay healthy and for things to line up his way in St. Louis for that to happen.
Others to watch: Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (No. 1 on MLB.com's list); Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians (No. 10); Carlos Correa, SS, Astros (No. 8); Addison Russell, SS, A's (No. 12).