Matt Eddy: Welcome to the Class of 2014 rookies chat. This is one of my favorite topics because it’s the intersection point where prospect coverage and big league coverage meet. Feel free to send general major league questions as well.
@Jaypers413 (IL): Thanks for the chat, Matt. I see Baez didn't make your list. Now that he's starting to learn to play 2B, could he push Barney off the position and become a possible ROY candidate this year?
Matt Eddy: Cubs SS Javier Baez was the toughest player to omit from our final top 20, but we thought everybody in the 11-20 had a clear path to big league time, health permitting as the case may be for Taveras, Walker and d’Arnaud. I don’t think any of us doubt Baez could crack 20 homers if given a full season of playing time with the Cubs. However, his wild hitting approach might also result in seven times as many strikeouts as walks, which a lot of the advanced projection systems are capturing in their forecasts. Short answer: Baez has awesome power potential and is a strong candidate to debut with the Cubs in the second half, especially if he can play second and/or third base.
Ben (Leland Grove): Could you see both Gray and Butler in Coor's this year? If so, who is closer?
Matt Eddy: I’ll go with upside and say RHP Jonathan Gray is first to Coors Field this year. We often see the No. 1 or 1-A college pitcher make his big league debut about one year after the draft, e.g. Kevin Gausman (2012 draft), Trevor Bauer (2011), Drew Pomeranz (2010), Stephen Strasburg (2009), Brian Matusz (2008), etc. Given the number of starters required to make it through a season, particularly at altitude, I’d expect to see Butler in the bigs as well if he dominates at Double-A.
Grant (NYC): Assuming he picks up where he left off last year, what are the odds Addison Russell reaches Oakland this season?
Matt Eddy: With the way the Athletics value versatility from their position players, they’re in a position where SS Addison Russell could be the No. 4 option on the 2014 depth chart, behind Jed Lowrie, Nick Punto and Eric Sogard (and possibly fifth behind NRI Darwin Perez a Triple-A). That’s a good thing, because while Russell is an elite talent, I believe upper-minors experience is more essential for position players than pitchers. That way they get exposure to more pitching styles, particularly of the crafty, command-oriented type.
@Jaypers413 (IL): Seeing how the Marlins aren't exactly shy about rapidly promoting prospects (i.e., Fernandez, Marisnick and Yelich last year), could you see Andrew Heaney making his debut before the ASB? Was he considered for your list?
Matt Eddy: Yes, absolutely. The biggest obstacle to an early callup might turn out to be workload, as in LHP Andrew Heaney pitched just 95 innings last year, so the Marlins are probably going to want to cap him at about 150 or less. The NL East is a nice division in which to break in young starters, with pitcher-friendly or neutral parks everywhere but Philadelphia. At No. 30, Heaney is the top-ranked lefty prospect this season—until N.C. State’s Carlos Rodon turns pro—though it appears to be a particularly down year for southpaws. The last time a top lefty ranked this low on the Top 100 Prospects was 1997, when it was another Marlin, Felix Heredia.
Kelly (St. Cloud, MN): Us Twins faithful NEED to see kids like Meyer and Buxton at Target asap. While I'm sure we'll see a preview of coming attractions at the Futures game, what's a reasonable ETA for both?
Matt Eddy: I think most of us at BA expect to CF Byron Buxton up by September at the latest. That way the Twins can provide him with experience in advance of 2015, when we think he’ll be ready to contribute to big league victory. RHP Alex Meyer is a trickier case, based on a number of factors: shoulder trouble last year, a workload of 105 innings (counting the AFL) and a walk rate of 3.7 BB/9 at Double-A. The Twins’ offseason signings of Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco will reduce pressure on Meyer, so that he can go out and focus on repeating his delivery and dominating at Triple-A, sort of like Mariners LHP James Paxton did in 2013.
Sam (St. Louis, MO): No Wong on the list, Matt? Are you as bullish on him now as you were this time last year?
Matt Eddy: I do like Cardinals 2B Kolten Wong as a long-term profile player at second base and future table-setter. However, we believe he could get lost in the shuffle of this talented rookie class, owing to below-average power and speed to go with ordinary defense at a position where it’s easy to get overshadowed. Then again, when has it been smart to bet against the Cardinals’ player-development machine? Are we feeling lucky (punk)?
Louis (VA): It seems like Owings has all but won the starting job. Once it is his, what kind of player should we expect? Any Comps in mind?
Matt Eddy: I like D-backs SS Chris Owings. I really do. He can contribute across the board offensively while holding down a demanding position. The most glowing comp I’ve seen in cyberspace is Michael Young, but I think with the super-low walk rate (less than 5 percent of minor league plate appearances), you have to be cognizant of a floor in the area of Willie Bloomquist. That is, versatile infielder with contact-oriented offensive game and some speed.
Sandy (Queens, NY): It's been said Rafael Montero is likely closer to making it to CitiField than Syndergaard, yet only the latter made your list. Why?
Matt Eddy: Ceiling is the separator between Mets RHPs Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard. The latter could turn in a year like the Cardinals’ Shelby Miller in 2013, while the Mets already are talking about breaking in Montero this year in the bullpen. That’s not necessarily a bad play. Some teams have had success transitioning young pitchers from the bullpen in Year 1 to the rotation in Year 2, i.e. the old Earl Weaver method, with some recent examples being Chris Sale (White Sox), Lance Lynn (Cardinals) and possibly Drew Smyly (Tigers) this year.
Ben (Leland Grove): Are you still reasonbly confident Trevor Bauer can turn things around this year?
Matt Eddy: He’s always been a divisive prospect, but Indians RHP Trevor Bauer may have reached a new level of divisiveness in 2013, when he gave up 32 baserunners in 17 innings over four big league starts and really didn’t pitch all that well in Triple-A. The key to success will be either working ahead of batters with his fastball or locating his secondary stuff better early in counts. Advanced hitters haven’t been so willing to chase Bauer’s quality curveball or changeup if they’re ahead in the count. I would have to say I’m about half a season away from giving up on Bauer, but the indicators in pro ball are moving in the wrong direction.
Mike (Houston, TX): The Astros are reportedly looking around for a 1B. Why is that, with Singleton looming on the horizon? Are they thinking he'll need another year at AAA first?
Matt Eddy: I can’t speak to the trade rumors, but hitting .130 with one homer, as 1B Jon Singleton has this spring, probably isn’t the way to win the big league job. That doesn’t mean he won’t be the first baseman later in the season, but along with flawed showings in Oklahoma City and Puerto Rico last year, it’s further proof that he would benefit from more Triple-A time. For what it’s worth, MLB.com writer Bernie Pleskoff made a point to single out lefty-hitting LF/1B Marc Krauss as a potential breakout candidate at the prospect analysis panel during the SABR Analytics Conference. And it sounds like Krauss will make the team, perhaps with a large share of 1B time in the first half.
Mike (DE): What's your "way too early" prediction for who ends up being the best pitcher in the long terms?
Matt Eddy: I think the Vegas betting odds would put D-backs RHP Archie Bradley at the top of any future value list, and he accordingly ranked as our top overall pitching prospect (before Masahiro Tanaka signed anyway). However, I will mention three others who I really like in terms of long-term value. Mets RHP Noah Syndergaard and Pirates RHP Jameson Taillon could be absolute beasts with just typical, moderate improvement to their breaking stuff. (Just back from Bradenton, J.J. Cooper says Taillon has done just that. Stay tuned for more.) Maybe it’s the unique nature of seeing a power lefty at a time of relative lefty prospect irrelevance, but Mariners LHP James Paxton could be a super-stealth sleeper. He threw harder than any rookie lefty starter last year and his breaking ball is simply devastating. Then there’s the September performance that included 22 percent strikeouts and 59 percent groundballs. This to me is a young lefty with all the arrows pointing in the right direction. (He’s also issues only one walk all spring.)
Mark (South Side): Between Davidson and Semien, who do you see making more of a difference for the Sox this year?
Matt Eddy: White Sox 3B Matt Davidson would get my vote for 2014, but I really like Marcus Semien’s long-term outlook due to his versatility and on-base approach. (Though I want to give him a year at Triple-A Charlotte before fully buying in, he seems at worst to be a strong role player.) In addition to a possible poor ratio of home runs to strikeouts, Davidson’s major obstacle to success might be that Chicago will be breaking in young RH hitters on all four corners this year, counting 1B Jose Abreu, RF Avasail Garcia and third-year LF Dayan Viciedo. Third base is one position where the White Sox can get a lefty bat (Conor Gillaspie) in the lineup with relative ease. (You could argue Alejandro De Aza in LF, but I think the Good Guys want to find out what they really have in Tank.)
Pierre (San Juan): From what we've seen out of Tanaka thus far from a scouting perspective, is he a quality #2 starter?
Matt Eddy: Yes, I really like RHP Masahiro Tanaka and believe in his upside. Buster Olney on his podcast for ESPN says that Curt Schilling told him that Tanaka reminds him of himself. That is, he has fine fastball command and a nasty splitter as featured weapons. As with any Yankees pitcher, though, Tanaka might want to divert most balls in play to the outfield, where Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Ichiro/Carlos Beltran roam, because the infield, well, it has a lot of age.
Dave (Pueblo, CO): Who do you like to make impact that just missed cut or will start in minors? 2014 Wacha or Myers?
Matt Eddy: We’ve talked about some of our just-misses, including Cubs SS Javier Baez, Cardinals 2B Kolten Wong, White Sox 3B Matt Davidson, but I’ll mention two more. Blue Jays RHP Marcus Stroman should get a chance to pitch in the majors this year, and not only because of Toronto’s poor luck with pitcher health in recent years. Also, Rangers OF Michael Choice looks like a strong bet to make the Opening Day roster, and with LH starters at LF (Shin-Soo Choo), CF (Leonys Martin) and DH (Mitch Moreland), there should be plenty of opportunity for the young RH hitter. Additionally, Moreland appears destined to begin the year on the disabled list.
Matt Eddy: Thanks for stopping by. If you want to talk more rookies, leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter at @MattEddyBA