To begin, I should make it clear that this is not a list of my top overall prospects. No, this is a 2014-specific list, and it exists only to serve those of us in fantasyland. The names that follow are, at this moment, the prospects who have the best chance at offering positive fantasy contributions during the 2014 season. Those of you who follow my Prospect Power Rankings series during the season, understand that time-specific prospect rankings are fluid — it’s a tricky game, weighing potential impact against current opportunity, and outlooks can change drastically overnight. There are too many variables at work to peg these ETA’s accurately, and that is precisely why we revisit these rankings often throughout the year with the aforementioned power rankings. Consider this a starting point. Numbers 26-50 will run next week, but for now, let’s dig into the top-25.
1. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Yankees: Tanaka isn’t exactly a prospect in the purest sense, but technically speaking, he’s rookie-eligible, and that’s the only criteria for making this list. Grey wrote a post on Tanaka shortly after the Yankees inked him, and then ranked him #31 in his preseason SP rankings. I’m on the same page as Grey regarding the 25-year-old Japanese import’s 2014 outlook — the stuff is advanced and he commands his arsenal well, but there’s an aura of uncertainty here that leaves me uncomfortable with paying his hype-inflated price in drafts. That said, every name that follows on this list comes with its own special brand of uncertainty. Tanaka’s projected fantasy value figures to carry the least risk among 2014 rookies.
2. Jose Abreu, 1B, White Sox: Abreu is even less prospecty than Tanaka. He’s 27-years-old and he’s been mashing professionally in Cuba for a decade. This is all to say that Abreu’s skill set is not in need of much further development. He’s a heavy hitting 1B, and he’s stepping into one of the most favorable hitter’s ballparks in the game. 30 homers with an average north of .275 wouldn’t surprise me. Grey ranks him 13th among first basemen, and wrote his own Jose Abreu fantasy right here.
3. Xander Bogaerts, SS/3B, Red Sox: Bogaerts is primed to take over shortstop duties in Boston this spring. Last time I ranked prospects, he headlined that list, and I suppose you could say he’s headlining this one if you’re not considering #1 and #2 as prospects. In any case, Bogaerts brings enormous potential to the fantasy game, with ability to help in AVG, OBP, and HR, and some SB’s sprinkled in. Grey has him slotted at #22 in his shortstop rankings. He also has his own Xander Bogaerts fantasy.
4. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Mariners: Walker appears to be safely entrenched in the M’s rotation, and based on last year’s workload, he should be able to throw in the neighborhood 190 IP in 2014. The 21-year-old’s front-end repertoire is ready for an extended look in the bigs, and while it’s reasonable to anticipate some inconsistencies during his rookie season, it’s equally plausible that Walker could post a Jose Frenandez-type breakout year. Grey has him at #61 in his SP rankings, and a special Taijuan Walker fantasy if you so desire.
5. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Orioles: Gausman’s rotation spot in Baltimore is not quite as secure a Walker’s, but I’m confident the 23-year-old will lock down that gig this spring, and I can’t wait to see what he can do over a full season as a big league starter. For more on Gausman, I covered him in my preview of the Orioles farm, or check out Grey’s SP rankings, where he comes in at #72.
6. Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals: Here’s our first prospect without a clear-cut big league opportunity waiting for him this spring. Taveras is an offensive talent of the extreme high-impact variety. Like Puig of 2013 or Trout of 2012, Taveras only needs a small window of opportunity to force his way into a full-time role. Grey lists him at #79 in his outfield rankings, and he’s also provided us with an Oscar Taveras fantasy.
7. Javier Baez, SS, Cubs: What I said about Taveras being able to force his way into a full-time MLB role holds true for Baez. There’s an argument to be made for the Cubs’ 21-year-old shortstop being the #1 long-term fantasy prospect, with 40/20 potential from a premium position. He’ll get started at Triple-A Iowa this spring, but continued minor league mashing might force the Cubs to generate some excitement around the increasingly stale environment of Wrigley Field, and call Baez up this summer.
8. George Springer, OF, Astros: From Grey’s George Springer fantasy: ”In Triple-A, Springer had 18 homers after hitting 19 homers in Double-A. That’s not one year in Double-A and one year in Triple-A even though my syntax might lead you to believe that. He hit 37 homers last year in the minors. Hello, sexy, what’s your name?” Sexy, indeed. Springer is ready to start posting 30+ HR seasons at the highest level, and he’s perfectly capable of stealing 20+ bags, too. If this were mid-March, and news from Astros camp was that Springer would break camp with the big club, then he’s #4 on this list. For now, I’m thinking Houston, being sensitive to service time, will keep him in the minors until June.
9. Billy Hamilton, OF, Reds: Hamilton and his otherworldly speed have a chance to be big time assets, especially in the roto game, but with major questions surrounding his hit tool, I’m skeptical about how much the 22-year-old will drag you down in the other categories, and I’m even more skeptical about him dragging down the Reds in real baseball. If he’s struggling to reach base at a .300 clip (a definite possibility), I wonder how long the Reds will allow him to stick at the top of the order. And if they felt they needed to replace him at leadoff, would they bump him to the bottom of the lineup, or send him back to Louisville? Truthfully, I wanted to rank Hamilton lower, but all things considered, 100 steal potential is just too damn sweet to ignore. Grey has a more positive outlook on Hamilton, and he slots him at #24 in his outfield rankings.
10. Travis d’Arnaud, C, Mets: Between Grey’s catcher rankings (d’Arnaud is #16), his Travis d’Arnaud fantasy, and my Mets MiLB preview, I think we’ve sufficiently covered the soon-to-be 25-year-old catcher.
11. Archie Bradley, RHP, D’backs: Bradley appears unlikely to be included in the D’backs rotation to begin the season, but he’ll be ready to contribute as soon as there’s a need. And once he surfaces, don’t expect him to head back to the minors — Bradley is the top pitching prospect in the game, and he’ll help across the board for fantasy purposes. I’ll have more on Bradley when my D’backs MiLB preview hits the presses in a few weeks, but for now, here’s Grey’s outlook.
12. Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals: Wong is capable of batting .300+ in the bigs right now, and I don’t think that Mark Ellis will threaten his playing time too significantly. Grey ranks him #21 among 2nd basemen, but there’s potential here to outperform that outlook by a comfy margin.
13. Yordano Ventura, RHP, Royals: The #1 prospect in my Royals MiLB preview from two weeks ago, Ventura appears to be the odd man out in Kansas City after the Jason Vargas signing. That is, to start the year, at least. The 22-year-old has tremendous stuff, and he will push a KC starter to a bullpen gig at some point this summer. Grey has him ranked #85 in his SP rankings, and he has his Yordano fantasy here.
14. Nick Castellanos, OF, Tigers: From my Tigers MiLB Preview: ” The 21-year-old is a big-named prospect with an excellent hit tool, but if you’ve been following my work here at Razzball, you know that I’m not ga-ga over him… not for fantasy purposes, at least. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the long-term upside here will be extremely useful in the fantasy game — once he settles into the 2-hole in front of Miggy, 100+ runs with an AVG north of .300 is an easy projection. But with Torii Hunter in Detroit for at least another year, I don’t see Castellanos stepping into that role just yet. I’m sure you’ll see him popping up in the top-10 on plenty of fantasy-prospects-for-2014 lists this off-season, but he won’t be rated that highly on mine. Again, he’s a great guy to have around in a dynasty format, but in standard redraft leagues, I wouldn’t reach for him.”
15. Carlos Martinez, RHP, Cardinals: After watching him pitch damn near every night in October, you’re probably thinking that this guy can’t possibly still be a prospect. Oh, but he is. He’s a prospect, indeed, and he’s one you’ll want in fantasy, thanks to some of the filthiest stuff imaginable. Martinez would rank considerably higher if he were in position to be starting games for St. Louis this year, but as it stands, it appears more likely that he’ll be used out of the bullpen. The 22-year-old will still be given a chance to compete for a rotation gig during spring training, and if he secures one, he’s more like a top 5 prospect for 2014 instead of a top 20 guy.
16. Gregory Polanco, OF, Pirates: Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Jose Tabata sounds like a pretty decent outfield, but y’know what sounds way better? McCutchen, Marte, and Gegory Polanco. That is what, yo. Polanco’s skill set is still developing, but he’s already logged games at the Triple-A level. He’s a Taveras/Baez brand of prospect who’s capable of surfacing in the bigs and blowing minds, and he’s set to arrive this summer for the Bucs.
17. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets: This marks run of high-impact SP prospects who’re set for arrival this summer — think 2013 Zach Wheeler, Gerrit Cole, and Michael Wacha for everyone from here to Heaney. Syndergaard is #1 in my Mets top 10, and he’s set to take over a rotation role in New York at some point this year. Check out my notes on him here.
18. Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pirates: Taillon’s path to the majors will very much resemble that of his teammate, Gerrit Cole’s. His fantasy impact seems likely to resemble Cole’s, too. Grey has his Jameson Taillon outlook here, and is slotting him at #97 in his SP ranks.
19. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays: My take from our Blue Jays MiLB preview, where Stroman ranked #2: ”The 22-year-old made 20 Double-A starts on the season, posting a 3.30 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP, and K/9 at 10.4. Those of you who read my posts throughout the regular season know that I’m intrigued by Stroman — he brings a fastball/slider combo that’s as good as any in the minors, and that skill set makes for some exciting performances (he whiffed 11+ batters in four of his 20 starts). Stroman was probably ready for a big league look this past September, but the Jays opted to send him to the Arizona Fall League instead. Big time whiff potential will make him a coveted piece in the fantasy game as soon as he surfaces.”
21. Mark Appel, RHP, Astros: The #1 overall pick last June, Appel will log some time in the upper levels of the minors this spring before surfacing in Houston during the summer months. He’ll be the sort of arm you won’t be shy about starting for any one of his outings, regardless of the fact he pitches for the Astros.
22. Eddie Butler, RHP, Rockies: At this point, it’s tough to say who gets the call between Butler and Gray once an opportunity arises in Colorado. I have Gray as the more talented pitcher with greater impact potential, but Butler is a fine prospect in his own right, and he might even be a tick more advanced, developmentally. More on him here.
23. Andrew Heaney, LHP, Marlins: The Marlins have shown a willingness to promote prospects as soon as they’re ready for the highest level, and Heaney will be ready in 2014. He’s unlikely to bring the sort of impact that Jose Fernandez brought in 2013, but that’s an unreasonable expectation of anyone on this list. Heaney posted a sub-2 ERA through 19 outings in 2013, and I suspect he’ll get a shot in Miami before long.
25. Alexander Guerrero, 2B, Dodgers: Frankly, I’m at a loss when it comes to projecting Guerrero. There’s clear upside, but on the other side of things, his floor seems pretty low, too. I have some notes on the 27-year-old Cuban in my Dodgers MiLB preview, and Grey has his take in his 2B rankings, where Guerrero comes in at #18.