12 MLB Rookies to Watch Out for in 2015
Oh, to be a Chicago Cubs fan.
Has there ever been a more exciting time to be a fan of the North Siders? After signing free agent Jon Lester to a big-money deal this offseason, the team appears on the verge of becoming one of the more dangerous teams in the National League. They are loaded with talented young players, some of them rookies who could turn into superstars over the next couple years.
In this rundown of the most intriguing and best candidates to win Rookie of the Year in 2015 in the American and National Leagues, the Cubs are well represented, with three players having a legitimate shot at taking home top rookie honors. Even though the Cubbies haven't won a World Series since 1908, there is perhaps no more exciting team to root for right now in baseball.
However, there are a bunch of other young studs to take a gander at, so here are 12 rookies who could be major contributors to their teams this season.
12. Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are likely to be one of the worst teams in baseball this season, but that could open up an opportunity for the team's number-one draft pick last year. Even though he was not invited to big league spring training for reasons passing understanding, Nola is believed to be polished enough to pitch in a big league rotation this season. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee may not be with the team for much longer, and the rest of the potential starters are either aging veterans or guys looking to come back from injury.
Something tells me an opportunity will emerge for Nola in Philadelphia this season and that he will seize it when it comes.
11. Stephen Piscotty, St. Louis Cardinals
There doesn't appear to be a spot for Piscotty in the starting outfield in St. Louis at the moment, as the young 24-year-old prospect is blocked by newly-acquired Jason Heyward in right. However, it's going to be hard to keep Piscotty in the minors for much longer. While minor leaguers usually shouldn't be judged solely on their stats, Piscotty's numbers at Triple-A last year should have Cardinals fans excited. He hit .288/.355/.406 in 500 at-bats, with 9 homers and 32 doubles.
It's unclear how he sneaks into an everyday lineup, unless Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, or Heyward get hurt. But if one of them does, look for Piscotty to be yet another St. Louis prospect to hit it big in the Majors right away.
10. Yasmany Tomas, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Arizona Diamondbacks came out of nowhere to sign the young Cuban slugger to a six-year deal (with an opt-out clause for Tomas after four years) in the offseason. Tomas was an outfielder in Cuba, but the D-Backs are planning to use him at third base, which is interesting. There are questions about Tomas' body type (he's built for comfort more than speed), and his defense could be a question mark, especially at a new position. But he's likely to open the season as the everyday starter at third, which should give him plenty of opportunities to put up big numbers at Chase Field in Arizona. He could accidentally hit 20-25 home runs in that ballpark this year.
9. Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox are understandably excited about their 22-year-old left-handed stud with a devastating slider. Rodon was the third overall pick in last year's MLB Draft and could begin the season as the number-five starter in Chicago. He could also start in the bullpen or in Triple-A until a mid-season call-up if Hector Noesi doesn't get the job done. Rodon has just 24.2 innings of professional baseball under his belt, so a trip to Triple-A to begin the season wouldn't be surprising. But the White Sox want to contend this year, and having Rodon at the bottom of the rotation may give them the best chance to do that.
8. Mark Appel, Houston Astros
The former number-one overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft had a rocky 2014 season in the minors. Between Single and Double-A, Appel had an ERA of 6.91 in 18 starts and gave up 11.8 hits per nine innings. His 3.25 strikeouts-to-walk ratio was good though, and he was whiffing batters at a nice rate of 8.4 per 9 innings. Appel also had a terrific Arizona Fall League, and scouts say he was throwing in the 93-97 miles per hour range with a devastating slider and a changeup that still needed a little work. He's projected as a number-two starter in the Majors, though, and will likely start the season at Double-A. Given Houston's lack of depth in the starting rotation, Appel could be a mid-season call-up and pitch some meaningful innings in the Astro rotation at some point this year.
7. Brandon Finnegan, Kansas City Royals
It didn't take long for Kansas City to get some use out of its first-round draft pick last season. The Royals called on Brandon Finnegan to pitch some big innings for them late in the season and in the playoffs, just three months after drafting him 17th overall. He pitched out of the bullpen after getting promoted to Double-A last year, but the Royals have said they plan to work him out as a starter this season, just as he was in college at TCU. That likely means he'll start the year in the minors, but given how well and how quickly he responded last season, he'll probably be in the Kansas City rotation before too long.
6. Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs
Yes, I hear what you're saying. Where is he going to play? Russell was acquired from Oakland in the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A's last year, and the 21-year-old shortstop had a dominant season in Single and Double-A, hitting .295/.350/.508 in 280 plate appearances with 13 homers. However, he's currently blocked by three-time All Star Starlin Castro, who is signed through 2019 with a team option for 2020. The Cubs have another young stud at second base in Javier Baez, and third base will soon be occupied by Kris Bryant, who we'll talk more about in a minute.
Perhaps the Cubs trade Castro to make room for Russell. Perhaps they trade Baez. Perhaps they trade Russell himself. It's a good problem for Chicago to have but not necessarily for Russell. Still, when he gets his chance, he'll likely make a splash upon his arrival. Wherever that is.
5. Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers
Twenty-two-year-old Joc Pederson has a pretty stressful gig. He's the starting center fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a marquee position to be, sure, but also one with a lot of responsibility. Pederson has the tools to be a solid everyday center fielder in the Majors, but it will be interesting to see how much rope he gets if he struggles early on. The Dodgers, as you may know, have spent a little money on their team once again this year and are expected to contend for a World Series.
Pederson strikes out a lot but also walks a lot and hits for both power and speed (as his 30/30 season last year in the minors demonstrates). If he can stay in the lineup, he has the potential to be the NL Rookie of the Year in '15.
4. Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
Just 21 years old, Lindor is the Indians' shortstop of the future, but that future may not be in April with the big league club. Jose Ramirez is the team's starter heading into the season, and with only 38 games at Triple-A under his belt, Lindor is likely to start in Columbus for more seasoning. But in 567 plate appearances last year across Double and Triple-A, Lindor showed why Cleveland fans are so excited about him, as he hit .276/.338/.389 with 11 homers and 28 stolen bases, all while playing sterling defense. It's more likely he'll be called up in July or August, but could arrive sooner if Ramirez gets hurt or struggles too much.
3. Rusney Castillo, Boston Red Sox
Much is still unknown about the Boston center fielder, only that the team has invested $72.5 million in the 27-year-old and is penciled in as the team's starting center fielder this year. However, all Boston has seen of Rusney Castillo is 10 games in the Majors last year and a handful of games in Winter ball. In Cuba, Castillo had decent power for a center fielder, hitting 18 homers in 2010 and 16 in 2011 (in 400 and 420 plate appearances, respectively), although it dropped to 6 homers in 277 plate appearances in 2012. Some of these Cuban players are a big mystery, and Castillo is no exception. However, he's going to get the first crack at center field over Mookie Betts and will need to be productive in order to stay in the lineup.
The Red Sox would not have invested $72.5 million on Castillo if they didn't think he was worth it. For my money, he's the leading contender to be the American League Rookie of the Year in 2015.
2. Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
As of right now, the Cubs have Mike Olt listed as their starting third baseman.
I'll wait until you're done laughing.
Yes, we're really supposed to believe that Olt is going to open the 2015 season as Chicago's starter at the hot corner. But that's not likely. The team moved Luis Valbuena this offseason in part because it knew it had Kris Bryant ready to go at third base. He is perhaps the game's top pure power hitting prospect, and unless Bryant accidentally sets himself on fire at some point this spring, he will be the team's third basemen this year.
And if he is, he's going to mash 25 to 30 homers easily and will be a top candidate for Rookie of the Year. There's only one person I think who can stop him.
1. Jorge Soler, Chicago Cubs
Of all the Cubans to have an impact in the Majors over the last couple years, many scouts believe Jorge Soler is going to be the best of the bunch. He's projected to be the team's starting right fielder this season, which is understandable given how he raked minor league pitching in 2014. He hit .340/.432/.700 in 236 plate appearances across Double and Triple-A last season with 15 homers and 23 doubles. He also did well in a brief cup of coffee with the Cubs at the end of '14.
The one worry about Soler is his health. Since joining Chicago's organization in 2012, he has never managed to play more than 75 games in any of his three minor league seasons. The team has said they're going to take it easy with him this spring, which will hopefully help him avoid the injury bug. If Soler does manage to stay on the field, he's my pick for National League Rookie of the Year in 2015.