Back in the preseason we released the 2014 Fantasy Alarm Baseball Draft Guide to rave reviews. There were 200 pages of analysis and insight. Most of it was done by yours truly, so of course it was great (I'm such an egomaniac). One of the best pieces in the Guide was by Howard Bender. He wrote an excellent preview of the top prospects in baseball for the 2014 season. I thought I would review the hitters on that list as we hit the All-Star break. To this point of the 2014 season have the young hitters come through as hoped for?
*NOTE: At the end of this article I will reproduce the excellent preview written by Mr. Bender. This article will only contain the hitters he reviewed. To see the pitchers clink on the link to Oracle Report: 2014 Prospect Pitcher Review.
The ETA's listed where Howard's preseason expectations.
Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox (ETA: 2014)
Has exceeded even the wildest of expectations. Abreu is first in homers with 29 and he's third in the majors with 73 RBIs... and he missed 15 days on the DL. He hits the break with a 9-game hitting streak that has pushed his average up to .292. Nearly impossible to think he keeps up that pace. Also he has 13 non-intentional walks this season and his 0.27 BB/K ratio is terrible. Only 34 percent of his batted balls are fly balls and that's a league average number. When his 34.9 percent HR/F rate regresses, and it will, his homer pace will slow, but he's been fantastic thus far.
Javier Baez, SS, Cubs (ETA:2015)
He started slowly this season but his bat is elite. In 84 games at Triple-A he's hit a mere .240 but socked 14 long balls, hit 19 doubles, has driven in 55 runners and scored 47 times. For good measure he's also stolen 15 bases. Should be an all-star with the bat for years. The only question is what position will he play when he arrives in the big leagues? A shortstop by trade, it seems likely that he will play second, though short, third base and even the outfield have been discussed given that the Cubs currently have three elite talents at shortstop in the organization after the trade with the Athletics to add Addison Russell (the other is obviously Starlin Castro).
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Red Sox (ETA: 2014)
Started out on fire with an excellent April/May during which time he hit .304 with three homers, 27 runs scored an a .397 OBP over 224 plate appearances. Since then he's looked, well, like a rookie. In 143 plate appearances since his slash line is pathetic (.134/.175/.216) and there have been not so quite whispers from some to send him back down the minors. A perfect example of why it's not always the dumbest thing to remain cautious with young players. His future is still bright, a month an a half of work doesn't change that, but that doesn't mean he's going to be a fantasy force at any point the rest of the way this year.
Byron Buxton, OF, Twins (ETA: 2015)
He's still regarded by many as the best prospect in baseball, but his first half of 2014 has been a washout due to a wrist issue as he's only appeared in nine games. He might get a cup of coffee in September, but unless he brings it big time in the second half this season he might be forced to continue to hone his craft in the minors at the start of next season given that he's never played a game above High-A ball.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Tigers (ETA: 2014)
Through 302 at-bats he's hitting .262 with a .307 OBP and .394 SLG. Nothing to see here. He's also gone deep six times with 34 RBIs. A traditionally blah first season. Did you buy the hype and roster him to be your starting third baseman in a mixed league? I know some of you did. I forgive you for not admitting it.
Delino DeShields, Jr., 2B, Astros (ETA: 2016)
Like his father, he's gonna slap the ball and run really fast. DeShields missed time earlier this year with a non-displaced fracture of his right cheekbone, but he's back to playing now. In 68 games at Double-A ball he's hit five homers, batted .242 and scored 48 times. The big number though is the 35 steals. Look at his steals totals by the way: 101 in 2012, 59 in 2013 and the 35 thus far. Strikes out out too much and may never develop much pop, but he'll certainly steal bases.
Wilmer Flores, 2B, Mets (ETA: 2014)
He has the bat for the big leagues, but there's still little to no clarity as to which glove he should be wearing. Truthfully, there isn't a position on the field in which he excels, and he may never be more than adequate at best defensively. In 25 games with the Mets he's hit .225 with a homer this season though he's performed stupendously at Triple-A hitting .326 with 12 homers and 53 RBIs in a mere 47 games.
Alexander Guerrero, 2B, Dodgers (ETA: 2014)
Was supposed to start at second base for the Dodgers this season. Luckily for Dee Gordon owners that didn't happen. Sent down to gain familiarity with North America, the Cuban born infield has raked at Triple-A, and that is underselling things. In 33 games Guerrero has hit .376 with a 1.152 OPS, 10 homers and 29 RBIs. The only thing that has stopped Alexander is teammate Miguel Olivo who bit part of his ear off in a dugout altercation. Seriously. Guerrero will be up late in the year, but with Gordon at second and Hanley Ramirez at shortstop the Dodgers don't have a spot for Alexander right now.
Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds (ETA: 2014)
Better than I thought he would be by about 4.7 miles. Hamilton is hitting .285 with a .319 OBP through 90 games. I'm still willing to bet he struggles to hit .270, and his current OBP is already below the league average. His five homers and 38 RBIs are numbers I expected for the whole seasons, not 90 games, so tip of the cap there. His barely 72 percent success rate on the bases simply isn't very good. The 38 steals are terrific, but he needs to clean up that part of his game.
Rougned Odor, 2B, Rangers (ETA: 2015)
When Jurickson Profar hurt himself the Rangers turned to the barely 20 year old Odor in a rather shocking move. He's acquitted himself well batting .260 over 53 games. But he's so young and raw it's not a surprise that he's not really doing anything of note. See his .296 OBP, .391 SLG, three homers, two steals, 18 RBIS and 17 runs scored. A decent start to his career but he's a fantasy nobody right now.
Joc Pederson, OF, Dodgers (ETA: 2015)
Why won't the Dodgers call him up? I literally get that question about 15 times a week from folks. The point is there is no place for him in the Dodgers' outfield that already has four options to choose from (Kemp, Ethier, Puig & Crawford). Unless one is dealt or injured, there's no spot for Pederson. Too bad too since there's simply nothing more he can do in the minor leagues to prove he is ready to take on big league pitching. Pederson has hit .324-17-43-61 with a 1.017 OPS over 79 games. Toss in 20 steals and you have a player performing at an elite level.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pirates (ETA: 2014)
The start to his big league career really couldn't have gone any better. Through 32 games Gregory has hit .260 with a .352 OBP, 14 RBIs, 23 runs scored and six steals. At the same time he's only hit three homers, has struck out 29 times and has a mere .346 SLG. A foundational building block, you should note that other than his runs scored and steal marks that nothing stands out at this point. The game just isn't that easy.
Eddie Rosario, 2B, Twins (ETA: 2015)
With Brian Dozier trying to join the 30/30 club this year Rosario is going to have to think about changing positions (outfield would be the fall back option). He appeared in eight games at High-A ball before moving on to Double-A where he's appeared on the field 35 times. He's hit three homers, stolen three bases and scored 26 times. He started the year late after serving a 50 game suspension for recreational drug use.
Addison Russell, SS, Cubs (ETA: 2015)
Traded to the Cubs in the Jeff Samardzija deal, Russell is a future all-star. In 19 games at Double-A he's only hit one homer with four steals, but you can't judge him on that. He's been dealing with an ankle issue for a good deal of the season so he deserves a pass. Widely regarded as one of the top-20 prospects in baseball, some experts have him inside the top-10.
Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins (ETA: 2014/15)
He has as much raw power as anyone in baseball, and an easy comparable can be made to the game of Pedro Alvarez. Unfortunately Sano's season is over as he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery without playing a single game this season. Only has 67 games above A-Ball, so he won't be breaking camp with the Twins at the start of next season.
Marcus Semien, 2B/3B, White Sox (ETA: 2014)
Got a chance to play when Gordon Beckham was hurt. Looked great for a while until the pitcher caught up. In 43 games he hit .218 with a .615 OPS though he did drive in 18 and scored 22 times. In 39 games on the farm he's hit .236 with six homers and 30 RBIs. Will likely be up at some point in the second half, perhaps to fill a super-sub role.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Astros (ETA: 2014)
His arrival was a bit earlier than expected. He's brought the power with six homers and 21 RBIs in 38 games. He's also struck out a whopping 57 times and hit .184. Some seem surprised at this. Why are you surprised? Singleton has 30 homer power, no one doubts that fact, but the guy can be pitched too and has a long way to go as a hitter. Signed that long-term extension which likely gained him a long leash.
George Springer, OF, Astros (ETA: 2014)
Called up a month earlier than expected. A near 40/40 performer in 2013, Springer has stolen only five bases in 76 games with the Astros (perhaps a groin injury had something to do with that). That's been disappointing. He has powered 19 long balls with 50 RBIs and 44 runs scored, and that's as productive as anyone could have ever hoped for him to be. Unfortunately he's also hit .233 as he's already struck out 112 times. Albert Pujols has never struck out 95 times in a season. That shocking lack of an ability to make consistent contact should help to keep expectations in check with Springer, for now.
Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals (ETA: 2014)
A generational talent, Taveras has hit .197 with a homer an a .501 OP through 23 games with the Cardinals. He's already been demoted once for failing to hit, and unless he gets going here in the next week or two he could yet again find himself back at Triple-A. Eventually he'll be an all-star but right now he's just not hitting big league pitching. Exhibit 3,976 of why depending on rookies, even elite prospects, is so risky.
Ronald Torreyes, 2B, Astros (ETA: 2016)
Who knows if that's how you spell his last name (it is correct). Yet another Astros prospect of note. In 83 games at Triple-A he hasn't disappointed hitting .289 with 42 runs scored. At the same time he's only stolen five base and hit just two homers. He does possesses great plate discipline though with a BB/K ratio of 1.02 over his last 186 games.
Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals (ETA: 2014)
An up and down 2014 filled with high's, low's and injury. Wong hit the break on fire with a crazy total of five homers over his last eight games. That recent hot stretch has propelled him to a line of .242-6-24-22-12 over 53 games. He's not really a 30 steal guy, or a 20 homer bat, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a chance to be one of the better power/speed second sackers in the game. Only has 23 strikeouts in 53 games as he's been putting the bat on the ball with regularity.