Preseason Top 20 Rookies For 2013

Selected By Baseball America Staff

Last year in this space, we not-so-boldly predicted that Matt Moore (No. 1), Yu Darvish (2) and Mike Trout (5) would be productive rookie contributors in 2012. Check, check and check, and all for American League pennant contenders.

Athletics rookies Yoenis Cespedes (5) and Jarrod Parker (9) also made the cut, as did Bryce Harper (10), despite the fact that the 19-at-the-time wunderkind finished 2011 with an underwhelming .724 OPS at Double-A. However, the Nationals trusted the talent—Harper ranked as the game’s top prospect heading into 2012—and received a significant boost when they promoted him to Washington at the end of April.

Based on last year’s precedent, then, this year’s preseason rookie ranking skews young, and 20-year-olds
Jurickson Profar (No. 1 prospect in our Top 100), Dylan Bundy (No. 2) and Oscar Taveras (No. 3) occupy three of the top spots.

1. Hyun-Jin Ryu, lhp, Dodgers

Age: 26. Finished Last Year: Hanwha (Korea Baseball Organization).

Best Case: The first player to jump directly from the Korean major league to Major League Baseball, Ryu lives up to his $36 million contract by brandishing four pitches and helping push the Dodgers past the Giants in the NL West.

Worst Case: Ryu’s hefty strikeout rate (10.3 SO/9 last year) in Korea gets lost in translation or, alternately, the abundance of innings he logged at young
age finally catch up with him.

Competition: Ryu slots perfectly into a stacked Dodgers rotation, smack dab in the middle of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett.

2. Wil Myers, of, Rays

Age: 22. Finished Last Year: Triple-A Omaha (Royals).

Best Case: Myers’ power plays in the big leagues right out of the gate, and he quickly carves out a place in the heart of the Rays’ order alongside Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce.

Worst Case: A healthy and productive stable of big league position players stays Tampa Bay’s hand, relegating Myers to Triple-A until the second half. Even when he arrives, he starts only against lefthanders.

Competition: The Rays have Zobrist penciled in at Myers’ best position, right field, but at-bats could shake loose in center (Desmond Jennings), first base (James Loney) or in a platoon capacity in left (Joyce).

3. Jurickson Profar, ss/2b, Rangers

Age: 20. Finished Last Year: Texas.

Best Case: Raw talent wins the day and Profar claims the Opening Day job at second base, while Ian Kinsler accedes to a position shift to left field or first base. Profar takes the game by storm, flashing all five tools and an engaging smile.

Worst Case: Profar begins the year in Triple-A, gaining reps on the middle infield and in the outfield, before the Rangers free up regular at-bats in Texas.

Competition: Two of the Rangers’ best players, all-stars both, occupy Profar’s primary positions, Elvis Andrus at shortstop and Kinsler at second.

4. Dylan Bundy, rhp, Orioles

Age: 20. Finished Last Year: Baltimore.

Best Case: Bundy outpitches his spring competition and breaks camp in the Orioles rotation. The journey is reminiscent of recent 20-year-old pitching sensations like Madison Bumgarner (18 starts in 2010), Clayton Kershaw (21 in 2008), Felix Hernandez (31 in 2006) or Zack Greinke (24 in 2004).

Worst Case: Bundy’s development encounters a hiccup in the high minors and/or the Orioles’ mélange of mid-rotation starters pitch to their 90th-percentile abilities.

Competition: With their playoff performances last October, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez earned the right to fail this season, but beyond that trio the field is wide open.

5. Oscar Taveras, of, Cardinals

Age: 20. Finished Last Year: Double-A Springfield (Cardinals).

Best Case: Fresh off a scintillating showing in the Dominican League (.316/.379/.507 with five homers in 39 games), Taveras falls short of winning his third consecutive batting title . . . but he’s forgiven in light of the fact that he’s a 20-year-old in the National League.

Worst Case: The Cardinals’ starting outfield configuration stays healthy and productive, forcing Taveras to terrorize Triple-A pitchers for half a season.

Competition: Corner outfielders Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday were unusually healthy last season, but recent history argues against a repeat. Taveras also could be waiting in the wings if center fielder Jon Jay falters.

6. Adam Eaton, cf, Diamondbacks

Age: 24. Finished Last Year: Arizona.

Best Case: A career .349 hitter in the full-season minors with 78 stolen bases and walks in 11 percent of plate appearances, Eaton slaps and dashes his way to the top of the Diamondbacks’ order. The ace tablesetter leads all rookies in runs, steals and on-base percentage.

Worst Case: Arizona learns why it’s so hard to find recent comparables for Eaton’s blend of attributes—lack of power, 5-foot-8 stature and good-but-not-great defense in center field—and he falls into a part-time role.

Competition: Center field is one of the Diamondbacks’ deepest positions, even after the offseason trade of Chris Young, with Gerardo Parra, Cody Ross and A.J. Pollock all on the periphery.

7. Trevor Bauer, rhp, Indians

Age: 22. Finished Last Year: Triple-A Reno (Diamondbacks).

Best Case: Free of the groin injury and expectations that affected him last year, Bauer shows the raw stuff that made him the third pick in the 2011 draft and enabled him to strike out 11.5 batters per nine innings in the minors.

Worst Case: Pitching backward doesn’t fool big league hitters as much as it did the college or minor league versions, leading to high pitch counts, lots of walks and early exits.

Competition: Bauer will challenge recovering-from-Tommy-John-surgery Carlos Carrasco and second-year starters Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber for the final rotation spot.

8. Shelby Miller, rhp, Cardinals

Age: 22. Finished Last Year: St. Louis.

Best Case: Miller’s second-half numbers at Triple-A last year, including 10.6 SO/9 and 1.1 BB/9 in 10 starts, plus his playoff experience in the NLCS steel him for the rigors of the long major league season.

Worst Case: Shoulder soreness grounds Miller from the get-go, forcing him to spend more time on the sidelines than in St. Louis.

Competition: Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook, Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia (if healthy) will anchor the rotation, leaving an opening for young pitchers such as Miller, Trevor Rosenthal or Joe Kelly.

9. Tyler Skaggs, lhp, Diamondbacks

Age: 21. Finished Last Year: Arizona.

Best Case: Skaggs shows precocious feel for a solid three-pitch mix and doesn’t let his youth impede his playing time on a veteran team geared to win now.

Worst Case: An abundance of rotation candidates extends Skaggs’ sell-by date, and Triple-A Reno, the nation’s “biggest little city,” makes room for one more.

Competition: The host of other young pitchers Arizona has acquired in trades recently: Pat Corbin, who came from the Angels in same deal as Skaggs; Daniel Hudson, who’s recovering from Tommy John surgery; and Randall Delgado, from the offseason three-team Trevor Bauer trade.

10. Bruce Rondon, rhp, Tigers

Age: 22. Finished Last Year: Triple-A Toledo (Tigers).

Best Case: Rondon erases the painful memories of predecessor Jose Valverde‘s epic playoff meltdowns, joining the ranks of recent first-year closers such as Craig Kimbrel (2011), Neftali Feliz (2010) and Andrew Bailey (2009) to win big league rookie of the year awards. A natural comparison emerges: former Tigers flamethrower Joel Zumaya.

Worst Case: Though he walked seven batters in eight Triple-A innings last year and lacks big league experience, Rondon ought to spend most of the season in Detroit—but how leveraged will his relief appearances be? His stuff is up to the task of closing.

Competition: Phil Coke ended the 2012 World Series as Tigers closer, but he and set-up man Octavio Dotel fit best in situational roles.

11. Trevor Rosenthal, rhp, Cardinals

Age: 22. Finished Last Year: St. Louis.

Best Case: Rosenthal allowed two hits and no runs, striking out 15, in seven relief appearances in last year’s postseason, doing so with a fastball that regularly hit 99 mph. St. Louis may favor that combination in the bullpen this season—or Rosenthal could seize a rotation spot with a stellar spring, following the Lance Lynn career path from a year ago.

Worst Case: Rosenthal’s profile and past success give him a high floor, but he could get lost in the middle-relief shuffle if the rotation has no openings (or injuries) and relievers Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs and Edward Mujica lock down the late innings.

Competition: Neither worst-case scenario is likely, meaning Rosenthal will either beat out Shelby Miller for a rotation spot or settle into an important role in the bullpen.

12. Mike Olt, 3b/1b, Rangers

Age: 24. Finished Last Year: Texas.

Best Case: Barring an injury to third baseman Adrian Beltre, Olt’s best shot at regular playing time will come at first base, right field or DH, all tough positions for a rookie to make headway. Olt’s swing is a perfect match for Rangers Ballpark, though, and his power wins the day.

Worst Case: Too many strikeouts inhibit Olt’s power output and he spends most of the season in Triple-A.

Competition: Mitch Moreland at first base, Lance Berkman at DH and Nelson Cruz in right field—and possibly Ian Kinsler if he’s displaced at second base by Jurickson Profar.

13. Zack Wheeler, rhp, Mets

Age: 22. Finished Last Year: Triple-A Buffalo (Mets).

Best Case: Wheeler ascends to New York near midseason, joining a largely homegrown rotation that includes Matt Harvey, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee. Wheeler may not shine as brightly as Harvey did in 2012, but many scouts prefer him for the long term.

Worst Case: Wheeler loses feel for his fastball and lapses into the control wasteland he visited early in his career, particularly if his mistakes are hammered in Las Vegas’ Cashman Field and other homer-friendly locales of the Pacific Coast League.

Competition: Wheeler will set his own timetable based on performance, but young power pitchers never go out of style, and the Mets ought to have plenty of innings to distribute in the second half.

14. Gerrit Cole, rhp, Pirates

Age: 22. Finished Last Year: Triple-A Indianapolis (Pirates).

Best Case: Cole slices through Triple-A competition with an 80 fastball (on the 20-80 scouting scale) and a 70 slider, leading to a midseason promotion to Pittsburgh. He makes a bigger impact than Kris Benson (1996) or Bryan Bullington (2002), the last two college pitchers the Pirates selected with the first overall pick.

Worst Case: Cole continues to be more hittable than his raw stuff suggests, and his mistakes get hammered by big league hitters.

Competition: The back of the Pirates rotation after A.J. Burnett, James McDonald and Wandy Rodriguez is wide open.

15. Jedd Gyorko, 3b/2b, Padres

Age: 24. Finished Last Year: Triple-A Tucson (Padres).

Best Case: Gyorko wins the battle for second base, displacing Logan Forsythe, then proceeds to hit for average and rack up doubles in the vast expanse of Petco Park’s outfield. A trade of Chase Headley could create playing time at third base.

Worst Case: The Padres opt not to start Gyorko’s service-time clock, send him back to Triple-A to begin the year and go with a Forsythe/Alexi Amarista platoon at the keystone.

Competition: Forsythe and Amarista for now; Headley for the long term.

16. Billy Hamilton, ss/cf, Reds

Age: 22. Finished Last Year: Double-A Pensacola (Reds).

Best Case: Cincinnati has more center-field candidates than actual center fielders on its roster, paving the way for a summer promotion for Hamilton, the fastest man in baseball. Pitchers learn the only way to stop him is to prevent him from putting the ball in play, because even a groundball to the third baseman can result in a hit.

Worst Case: Because Hamilton has little extra-base power, he sees a steady diet of high fastballs, decreasing his walk totals while increasing his rate of strikeouts and popups.

Competition: The Reds haven’t decided exactly who will play center field—import Shin-Soo Choo or holdover Jay Bruce—but Hamilton might be the eventual answer, based solely on his superior range.

17. Chris Archer, rhp, Rays

Age: 24. Finished Last Year: Tampa Bay.

Best Case: Archer leapfrogs either Jeff Niemann or Roberto Hernandez (a.k.a. the former Fausto Carmona) to claim the Rays’ final rotation spot. After 345 innings in the high minors—including 27 starts at Triple-A—he’s ready to join an impressive stable of recent Rays rotation rookies that includes Matt Moore last year, Jeremy Hellickson in 2011, Wade Davis in 2010 and David Price in 2009.

Worst Case: An elevated walk rate puts a damper on Archer’s debut, a la Moore, and/or he spends most of the season setting up Fernando Rodney and Jake McGee in the bullpen.

Competition: Ample, as outlined above.

18. Aaron Hicks, cf, Twins

Age: 23. Finished Last Year: Double-A New Britain (Twins).

Best Case: A broad set of skills—range, speed, arm strength, plate discipline, a bit of power—separates Hicks from the field and he assumes the lion’s share of center-field playing time for a rebuilding Twins club. The switch-hitter continues to improve his lefty swing, which began to take shape at Double-A last season.

Worst Case: Hicks isn’t quite ready for prime time, and Minnesota misses Denard Span and Ben Revere, the two center fielders they traded in the offseason, more than anticipated.

Competition: If not Hicks, then Darin Mastroianni or possibly non-roster invite Clete Thomas—but neither is a long-term solution. Prospect Joe Benson is in the picture, but may require a full year at Triple-A.

19. Rob Brantly, c, Marlins

Age: 23. Finished Last Year: Miami.

Best Case: The lefthanded-hitting Brantly batted .313/.396/.513 in 91 plate appearances versus big league righties last year; for an encore he continues to hit for average and power while starting four or five times a week for Miami.

Worst Case: Brantly’s offensive output collapses under the weight of the increased workload, not to mention the strain of catching one of the youngest rotations in the game, one fronted by Ricky Nolasco and featuring Jacob Turner, Henderson Alvarez and Nate Eovaldi, all of whom joined the Marlins last year.

Competition: Projected starter Jeff Mathis broke his collarbone and could miss all of April, paving the way for Brantly to instantly assume a larger role.

20. Kyuji Fujikawa, rhp, Cubs

Age: 32. Finished Last Year: Hanshin (Nippon Professional Baseball).

Best Case: Fujikawa provides the antidote to incumbent closer Carlos Marmol‘s highwire act, assuming the ninth-inning role early in the season thanks to a low-90s heater and mid-80s splitter.

Worst Case: No Japanese pitcher has notched 20 saves in a season since Takashi Saito did so for the 2007 Dodgers. In fact, the most recent imported NPB closer, the Indians’ Masahide Kobayashi in 2008, ran up a 5.10 ERA in 67 appearances over two seasons.

Competition: A lock for an important bullpen role, Fujikawa could unseat Marmol as closer or Shawn Camp as set-up man.

Five Rookies Who Just Missed

Kyle Gibson, rhp, Twins. Offseason maneuvering enlarged the stable of Minnesota rotation hopefuls—with such names as Kevin Correia, Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey and Trevor May—yet the Twins really don’t have a safe bet to make 30 starts in 2013. That’s good news for the 25-year-old Gibson, a first-round pick in 2009, as he tries to establish himself in Year Two since having Tommy John surgery.

Didi Gregorius, ss, Diamondbacks. The chief return received by Arizona in the three-team deal that sent Trevor Bauer to Cleveland, Gregorius strained his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow over the winter and could not throw or swing
a bat early in spring training. If not for that (major) detail, the slick-fielding, 23-year-old shortstop would have made the top 20.

Casey Kelly, rhp, Padres. He added strikeouts to his prospect portfolio last season (9.0 SO/9 at Double-A and above) thanks to a sharper curveball. That uptick coupled with fine control (2.4 BB/9 in the minors) and a strong groundball tendency (56 percent of balls in play for San Diego) gives the 23-year-old several avenues to success. Kelly probably would have spent much of 2012 in the majors if not for a strained elbow ligament, so health—and possibly the Padres’ infield defense—could be a factor.

Wily Peralta, rhp, Brewers. Though he missed more bats in the second half last year with Triple-A Nashville, Peralta did nothing to rein in the walks and finished with 4.8 free passes per nine innings. That type of control combined with Milwaukee playing as the most homer-friendly park in the National League
could spell a bloated ERA for the talented, 23-year-old righty.

Mike Zunino, c, Mariners. The Mariners pumped the brakes on Zunino’s rapid ascent this offseason by signing free agent catcher Kelly Shoppach and committing to Jesus Montero behind the plate by blocking him off at first base/DH with the acquisitions of Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez.