It’s that time of year when lists of the top MLB prospects are released. ESPN’s Keith Law posted his top 100 prospects a couple of weeks ago and Baseball Prospectus followed with its list of top 101 major league hopefuls last week. Most of these players are expected to be future stars, or at the very least solid contributors, but how many of them will be ready for the majors this coming season?
While young talent such as Byron Buxton, Corey Seager, Joey Gallo and Lucas Giolito may turn out to be better than some of the players listed below, it’s unlikely that most of the top MLB prospects will make an impact for their major league clubs in 2015. But several top prospects are both ready and in excellent position to succeed this coming season and could be a factor in playoff races. Here are 10 players that should play significant roles for their respective teams this year.
Kris Bryant, Cubs
Bryant, 23, is at or near the top of every 2015 prospects list after hitting .325 with a 1.098 OPS and 43 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A last season. Third base seems to be waiting for him at Wrigley Field, especially after the Cubs traded Luis Valbuena to the Astros.
Barring an outstanding spring training, however, the Cubs will likely keep Bryant in the minors at the beginning of the season to add an extra year of MLB service time, and thus delay his potential free agency by one year. Once that’s out of the way, it’s time for Bryant to see what he can do in the majors and if he’s ready to help the Cubs contend as so many expect.
Francisco Lindor, Indians
The shortstop position is ready and waiting for Lindor in Cleveland. Jose Ramirez may fill in suitably to begin the season, but service time considerations aside, it’s difficult to imagine that the Tribe won’t be a better club in 2015 without its top prospect in the majors.
Lindor, 21, compiled a slash average of .276/.338/.389 with 11 home runs and 28 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A last season and is viewed as outstanding defensively. He might need a bit more time at Triple-A Columbus, and the Indians don’t have to rush him with Ramirez in the lineup. But with Cleveland looking like the favorites in the AL Central, Lindor has a chance to be a difference maker in that race.
Joc Pederson, Dodgers
The Dodgers cleared a spot for Pederson by trading Matt Kemp to the Padres. Now the 22-year-old center fielder has the opportunity to display his talents in the majors. Last season, Pederson hit .303 with a 1.017 OPS, 33 home runs and 30 stolen bases at Triple-A Albuquerque. Frankly, he was deserving of a midseason call-up, but the Dodgers’ outfield logjam made that problematic.
Pederson wasn’t terribly impressive after being called up in September, batting .143 with a .494 OPS. But he only received 38 plate appearances as manager Don Mattingly didn’t seem terribly interested in giving a rookie crucial at-bats during a pennant race. Pederson’s numbers may have been boosted by playing in a hitter-friendly environment at Albuquerque, but he’s the only center fielder on the Dodgers roster and should make their lineup more athletic.
Jorge Soler, Cubs
Summoned to the majors at the end of August, Soler was effectively a September call-up for the Cubs last season after destroying Double-A and Triple-A pitching. Overall, he batted .340 with a 1.132 OPS, 23 doubles and 15 home runs. Soler, soon to turn 23, showed he could hit in the majors too, hitting .292 with a .903 OPS, eight doubles and five home runs in 97 plate appearances. He began his MLB career by getting 10 hits in his first 19 at-bats and three homers in his first five games.
Soler is penciled in as the Cubs’ starting right fielder, so will be able to make an impact right away. And if the Cubs are to meet the large expectations placed upon them for 2015, they’ll need middle-of-the-order production from Soler.
Carlos Rodon, White Sox
The No. 3 selection overall in last year’s MLB draft, Rodon was the first college player taken and viewed as nearly ready for the majors. The left-hander will likely begin the season in the minors as he needs to throw innings and build himself up for a starter’s workload. But there appears to be a spot in the White Sox rotation waiting22 for Rodon when he’s ready.
Rodon, 22, finished the season with Triple-A Charlotte after progressing through the rookie league and advanced Single-A levels. Overall, he compiled a 2.96 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 13 walks in 24.1 innings. With Charlotte, Rodon notched a 3.00 ERA with 18 strikeouts and eight walks in 12 innings. Those walk totals show that he still has work to do with locating his pitches and refining his mechanics. But the White Sox will likely need Rodon and his killer slider in their rotation to help beat out the Indians and Tigers in the AL Central.
Noah Syndergaard, Mets
For the Mets to have a chance at contention this season, their young pitching will have to fulfill expectations. Syndergaard, 22, could play a big role in that. The Mets appear to have all of their rotation spots filled right now. But with Matt Harvey returning from Tommy John surgery, a full season might be asking too much from him. As the season progresses, the luxury of being able to add a top prospect like Syndergaard for reinforcements could provide an edge in the NL wild-card race.
With a 4.60 ERA in Triple-A last season, Syndergaard might not appear ready. But Las Vegas is a notoriously hitter-friendly environment and a tough place for a pitching prospect to pay his dues. But 145 strikeouts and 43 walks in 133 innings show that he has the stuff to get hitters out. Pitching in Citi Field might actually be a relief for him.
Dylan Bundy, Orioles
Bundy, 22, missed all of the 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but worked his way back last year to make nine starts in the minors. While his numbers might not have looked terribly impressive, it was far more important for Bundy to face live hitting, regain his strength and velocity and get himself back into pitching shape after a year away.
It’s worth remembering that Bundy pitched so well in his first professional season that the Orioles called up to the majors for a brief stint at the end of September 2012. If he can regain the velocity and find the touch on his cutter that made him such an impressive prospect, Bundy could be on track to nabbing a spot in the Orioles’ rotation this season. Workload would obviously be a concern, but depending on how he’s managed, he could make a meaningful contribution.
Marco Gonzales, Cardinals
Though the Cardinals would appear to have a full starting rotation going into the 2015 season, the front office had enough questions to reportedly show interest in signing James Shields or trading for Cole Hamels. Michael Wacha is returning from a shoulder injury, John Lackey wasn’t terribly impressive after being acquired from the Red Sox and Carlos Martinez was inconsistent with his location. If any of those three falter, that provides an opening for Gonzales.
The 22-year-old had issues with his command in his 10 MLB appearances last season, walking 21 batters in 34.2 innings. But the general belief among scouts is that Gonzales pitched too carefully on the edges of the strike zone, rather than trusting his pure stuff to get hitters out. A more aggressive approach toward the opposition would likely lead to more success against major league competition.
Andrew Heaney, Angels
With injuries to Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs, Heaney appears to have the opportunity to make an immediate impact in the Angels’ rotation. The Marlins didn’t seem impressed with Heaney, 23, after posting a 5.83 ERA in seven big league appearances last season and traded him to the Dodgers, who then flipped him to the Angels. But Anaheim may end up being the best place for the left-hander, as the Angels need him in their rotation.
Between Double-A and Triple-A last season, Heaney compiled a 3.28 ERA with 143 strikeouts and 36 walks in 137.1 innings. Control isn’t an issue for him, and that actually may have gotten him into trouble during his brief major league stint as he kept challenging hitters in the strike zone. Keeping his location down and trusting his off-speed stuff could lead to sustained success.
Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays
Toronto didn’t add a starter to its rotation during the offseason, which gives Sanchez a chance to win a job during the spring. The right-hander, 22, was impressive in 24 appearances as a reliever last year, compiling a 1.09 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 33 innings. But the Blue Jays need him to be a starter, a role in which he succeeded in the minors.
Sanchez posted a 3.95 ERA with 88 strikeouts and 57 walks in 100.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season. Those walk totals are a concern, but the Blue Jays are working on his arm slot and stride in an effort to improve his location and put his arm at lesser risk of injury. Toronto will need significant contributions from him and Marcus Stroman to beat out the competition in the AL East.