There’s a buzz in the air this offseason that hasn’t been as loud for years. Maybe decades.
Unless you’re somewhere in the South, or on the West Coast (where bees and wasps have been reported as far north as Vancouver in mid-February), this “buzz” comes from the hive-like activity in the world of baseball leading up to Opening Day.
The buzz comes from the sheer number of offseason moves made by teams who look to improve and compete in the upcoming season.
The buzz comes from cities like Chicago, where offseason acquisitions by both Windy City teams have improved their respective squads to the point of, dare we say, being contenders. See our Top 5 Teams in the Offseason
The buzz also comes from the hype that surrounds this year’s exciting and talented crop of rookies.
This buzz is coming from hives dotted all over Florida and Arizona.
The biggest of these hives has to be Sloan Park, in Mesa, Arizona, the Spring Training home of the Chicago Cubs.
The King Bee in this hive is Kris Bryant. (With all due respect to Chicago’s original King Bee, Muddy Waters)
Who else, but Bryant, would reside at the top of our Top 10 Rookies for 2015?
1. Kris Bryant (3B) - has earned so much hype in the last year (including 9 Spring Training home runs and counting), that we tend to forget about the rest of his teammates. Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year is not only living up to the hype – he’s creating more. This is how his totals look through two years in the Minors:
174 G: 140 R / 203 H / 43 HR / 142 RBI / .327 AVG / .666 SLG / 1.095 OPS
That’s just 12 games more than a full season in the Majors.
The pressure is now squarely on the shoulders of the Cubs’ front office. Are they seriously considering not slating Bryant for Opening Day? In a word – yes. Why? In a word – money. When this phenom, who is said to have Stanton-like strength, makes his debut is anyone’s guess. Regardless, he is already the hands down favorite to win the N.L. Rookie of the Year award.
That’s one reason why we have an American League rookie up next:
2. Steven Souza Jr (RF) - Okay, he is not having a great Spring Training, nor did he have a terrific debut with the Nationals last year. He did, however, hit 2 HR in each of those tiny sample sizes. And, if you put any stock in his 4 for 33 mini-slump in this year’s Spring Training (otherwise known as the big psych-out), then you might want to temper it by looking at last year’s “psych-out”, when he had 25 total bases in 17 games. But, you should really be ignoring both.
There are 4 factors, when combined, that give Souza an edge over most of the rookies on this list. Some of the others can claim 2 or 3 of the following, but none of them can claim all 4:
- He’ll spend most of the season as a 26 yr. old (April 24 is his birthday)
- He has a striking combination of both power and speed
- He has a ready-made spot in Tampa’s outfield with Will Myers’ departure.
- His Triple A stint came in the pitcher-friendly International League*
As we pointed out in our Breakout Bats post: There is a marked difference between the different AAA leagues. The PCL (Pacific Coast League) has a reputation for inflating a hitter’s numbers, and 2014 lived up to it. There were 34 players in the PCL who had an OPS above .800., and 8 of those were above .900. In the International League it was exactly half that number, as 17 players managed an OPS of .800 or higher. Only 2 of those were above .900. So, when you peruse the stats from the minor leagues, make sure you account for the differences.
Souza’s 2014 season earned him both the Rookie of the Year and MVP award for the International League. Here’s how our top 4 from last year’s Triple A-only stats compare:
|Steven Souza Jr.||INT||96||121||62||18||75||26||.350||1.022|
*One thing to keep in mind regarding the two contrasting leagues in this specific comparison: Souza’s AAA team, the Syracuse Chiefs, play in Alliance Bank Stadium, which was ranked the second-most hitter-friendly park in the International League by MiLB – Minor League Park Factors. On the contrary, the Triple A home for Bryant and Souza, Principal Park in Iowa (Crikey, I thought my geography knowledge was better than the average bear’s, but that does seems like a heck of a long way from the Pacific Coast.) ranks 14th out of the 18 stadiums in the PCL. So, in this particular case, we might consider the league contrast to be less significant.
3. Joc Pederson (CF) - It appears that he has nailed down the centerfield position for the Dodgers. Crawford has leftfield secured, while Puig takes right. Pederson will remain on a fairly short leash, however, with Andre Ethier waiting from the bench, once again.
Pederson is Souza’s PCL counterpart. He won both the ROY and MVP of the more hitter-friendly league – probably by dint of the fact that Bryant played a shorter gig in the PCL. It’s important to note here that Pederson’s Triple-A home stadium, Isotopes Park, in Albuquerque, is the most hitter-friendly of the PCL’s 18 stadiums.
As you can glean from his stats in our table (above), Pederson can claim the most important of Souza’s advantages. He has a striking combination of power and speed. Here’s how his total Minor League numbers look:
441 G: 342 R / 495 H / 84 HR / 271 RBI / 113 SB / .302 AVG / .524 SLG / .929 OPS
He has nothing left to prove in the Minors. However, unlike Souza, Pederson will spend the majority of this season as a 23 yr. old (his birthday is 3 days before Souza’s on April 21). So, there could be some growing pains.
4. Jorge Soler (RF) - There’s another big bee buzzing around Sloan Park. He goes by the cool name of Soler, and he carries yet another big stick to the Cubs potent lineup. The big Cuban may be forever (unfairly) compared to Bryant. For instance, they both just celebrated their 23rd birthday in the New Year. His Minor league career consisted of even fewer games than Bryant’s, and wasn’t quite as eye-popping, but was very impressive nonetheless:
151 GP: 108 R / 167 H / 28 HR / 117 RBI / .307 AVG / .551 SLG / .935 OPS
Soler came on like gangbusters after his call-up last year. He raked to the tune of 3 HR and 4 doubles in his first 5 games. He went on to finish with 5 Hr and 20 RBI over 24 games.
Apparently, Soler has packed on an extra 25 pounds of muscle this year, which puts even more power behind a bat-head speed that is almost unmatched.
5. Taijuan Walker (SP) – Okay, I know we’re cheating here, but we’re doing this for you, the drafter. Let me explain: Technically Walker is not a rookie. In 2013 he pitched 15 innings and in 2014 he pitched 38 innings. This brings his grand total to 53 IP. Can you tell where we’re going with this? Yes, that’s right. He exceeded his rookie status by a mere 3 IP.
Determining rookie status:
A player shall be considered a rookie unless, during a previous season or seasons, he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues; or (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit (excluding time in the military service and time on the disabled list).
We just need to bring this guy to your attention, and quickly. Remember how we pounded it into you about the irrelevance of Spring Training? (Spring Training – Is There Relevance?) Remember how there were two exceptions to this general rule? Okay, Here they are:
- The general health of a player or injuries sustained (Kinda goes without saying).
- If your draft is scheduled for late March or early April you might just want to take a peek at the last 2 starts of pitchers you’ve been eyeballing for the upcoming season. In a lot of cases, this is when the experimentation slows down and the serious pitching commences. This is when spots in the rotation are won and lost.
Despite his pleasant demeanor, Walker is fighting like an Orc for that last spot in the rotation. His last start against the fearsome Cubs was on March 25. He slashed like this:
6 IP / 2 H / 0 R / 1 BB / 6 K
And, it’s nothing new. He’s on a mission. His “Cactii” totals look like this:
18 IP / 6 H / 0 R / 4 BB / 19 K / 0.56 WHIP
So, let’s keep this our own little secret, okay. We are not cheating here. I did not write the test for you.
6. Rusney Castillo (OF) - As is the case with most of the Cuban rookies, there is very little to go on as far as his stats go. We can’t add Castillo to the table above because he had no Minor League career. However, judging by the Cubans’ recent success, and the money that the Red Sox shelled out, we have to think this guy is going to be elite.
Castillo does certainly seem to have 2 of Souza’s 4 advantages:
- He’s already in his prime years – he enters the season as a 27 yr old
- He has a striking combination of power and speed
The biggest disadvantage facing Castillo is the veritable logjam of talent the Red Sox have in the outfield. Hanley Ramirez is a lock in left. Mookie Betts must play – he’ll take centerfield. That leaves Castillo, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig and Daniel Nava to battle it out in right. Craig does have 1B eligibilty, but the Sox have Ortiz and Napoli to fill that spot. This ain’t the best of situations for us in Fantasy.
Castillo is already making waves in his delayed Spring Training debut. He hit a pinch-hit 3-run homer in his first at bat on March 19, and then went 2 for 3 the next day.
7. Dalton Pompey (CF) - Here’s an interesting “prospect”: imagine beginning the season in Single A ball, and 3 rapid promotions later you find yourself pinch-hitting for Edwin Encarnacion, in your hometown, and producing an RBI in your first at bat. Well, that’s exactly how things went down for Pompey last year.
It’s a great story, but there’s much more to be written by this speedy 22 yr. old. His threat to run is undeniable, and he has some pop to go with it. Here’s what he accomplished in the Minors last year to merit that call-up:
113 GP: 84 R / 140 H / 9 HR / 51 RBI / 43 SB / .317 AVG / .469 SLG / .861 OPS
He also had 38 SB in 115 Single A games in 2013.
Pompey is having a good Spring Training and is reported to be the favorite for the CF position.
8. John Gray (SP) - Last weekend, in a surprise move, the Rockies released their former ace Jhoulys Chacin. This move opened the door for the 23 yr. old Gray to battle for a spot in the rotation.
Gray has no Triple-A experience. Some argue that the team shouldn’t rush him to the Bigs. They may be right, but Gray is giving management reason to look twice. Over 5 games and 3 starts Gray’s numbers in Spring Training look like this: 13 IP / 11 H / 3 R / 9 K / 2.08 ERA / .92 WHIP. He should have one start left. So, keep your eyeballs on the developments. Just keep in mind that his home stadium will be Coors Field. (Gulp)
9. Yasmany Tomas - (OF/3B?) Is it possible that one of these unknown Cubans won’t work out? Well, yes, but we can’t see it being Tomas. The D-Backs are toying with the idea of sending him to the minors, as his defense could use some sharpening. In other words, the third base experiment may not be working out. His bat, on the other hand, has been solid enough through the spring:
16 GP / 48 ABs / 5 R / 12 H / 2 HR / 7 RBI / .738
So, with the dough that the D-Backs put down on Tomas, you can be sure he’ll be given every chance to put his talents on display in 2015, even if he does a quick gig in the Minors.
10. Noah Syndergaard (SP) - In surprising news, the big 6’6″ righthander, who was scheduled to start the following day, was sent down to Triple A on March 20. It’s not too shocking in one way, as the Mets are doing that contract regulation thing that all teams do to maintain extended control over their young call-ups. (For the sanity of all Cubs’ fans out there, can we please change this, MLB?)
In the Mets defense, Syndergaard was actually struggling in Spring Training. So, the 22 yr. old has to pitch his way into the bigs. In the meantime Dillon Gee will fill the 5th spot in the rotation.
Syndergaard didn’t wow us in his PCL debut last year either, but his K-rate through the Minors is more than impressive. He’s got 474 strikeouts in 427 innings pitched. So, he does have the stuff to make an impact at some point. For the Mets’ sake, maybe it’s as early as this year.