It is rare to see a shortstop possess the type of power that Javier Baez has. Over two stops in the minor leagues last year, he launched 37 home runs while driving in 111 runs. Despite decent speed (he swiped 20 bags in 24 chances), the real knock on Baez’s game is his propensity to hack at the plate. This is something that will likely be fixed to a point as his career progresses, but it is something to pay attention to. Much has been said about Baez’s bat speed, which easily ranks near the top of all minor leaguers, but here are no guarantees that Baez will stick as a shortstop. Many scouts believe that as he fills out, he will be better suited for third base. Bottom line: you can expect Baez in Chicago and producing by the end of 2014, if not sooner.
Not many pitchers get drafted with a legitimate chance to be a true ace, but Robert Stephenson is one of the few exceptions to that rule. There is no doubt that Stephenson needs more seasoning at the minor league level, but if all of his attributes connect, he could be a top ten pitcher for the next decade. If you set aside his four starts at Double-A Pensacola late in the 2013 season, Stephenson has a walk rate of 2.5 in the minors. Combine that with his 10.4 K/9 and you are looking at a guy that has control of his pitches and confidence in his game. Stephenson is only 20 years old and will likely start, and spend a large part of 2013, in Double-A. Being that Stephenson will only be 21 when he starts his 2014 campaign, the Reds can be cautious and allow him to mature and grow instead of rushing him to the major leagues. His upside is high and he has the penchant to be a real game changer. It may take another full year of seasoning, but Robert Stephenson has the ability to be a true virtuoso on the mound.
It is only a matter of months before Jameson Taillon reaches Pittsburgh and provides the team, along with Gerrit Cole, the one-two punch it has desperately needed for over two decades. Taillon is a polished pitcher and very few people believe he will have issues becoming a solid starting pitcher at the major league level. The jury is still out as to whether or not he will be a legit ace, but the talent and makeup is definitely evident. Taillon has breezed through the Pirates' minor league system, racking up roughly 23-25 starts before climbing up the ladder. At his current pace, he should reach Pittsburgh sometime after June, therefore holding off his arbitration clock. While Taillon throws in the mid-90s consistently, he is really known for his curveball. It is an absolutely filthy pitch that is already major league ready. If you look at his minor league statistics, there is nothing that is overly eye-popping; he has put up solid, but unspectacular numbers. For a guy like Taillon, it is something that does not need to be over thought. He knows how to pitch; it is just a matter of putting everything together and making it all click. He will spend the first few months of the season in Triple-A continuing his development and should be up for good by July.
Miguel Sano should be higher on this list, but his elbow is a glaring issue. Sano could be in the top four, but there is a realistic chance that he goes under the knife and misses the entire 2014 campaign. In this day and age, it is easy to brush injury diagnoses off, but elbows are not something you can assume will heal without some type of surgery. The positives of Miguel Sano’s game are ridiculous. He had an isolated power rating (ISO) of .335 over 276 plate appearances in Double-A for the Twins in 2013. He strikes out too frequently, but he also has the ability to be patient and take a walk. Sano has played both shortstop and third base, but his long term potential is at the hot corner. His power projects as a guy that could blast over 35 home runs per season. Tommy John surgery be damned, Miguel Sano is a guy that needs to be owned in every dynasty league on the planet. His potential and ceiling are worth a one year lag, if it comes to that. On the flip side, assuming his elbow is good to go at the start of 2014, you can expect Sano in Minnesota sometime after the All-Star break. If, unfortunately, he does miss a full season, just fast forward his clock a year. His power is not going anywhere.
As this list dwindles down, we reach yet another young, talented shortstop in Carlos Correa. Unlike Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and Xander Bogaerts, Correa is still several years away from contributing at the big league level. Correa spent all of 2013 in Low-A Quad Cities where he absolutely hammered opposing pitchers to the tune of .320/.405/.467. His power is clearly not fully developed, but if and when it does, he is a guy that is capable of 20-25 home runs per year with a high on-base percentage. Add that to the fact that there is an excellent chance he will actually stick at shortstop and you are looking at a fantasy owner’s dream come true. In 2012, an unnamed AL scout told Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that Correa was “another A-Rod.” That is extremely high praise for a player that was a seventeen year old kid at the time. He probably won’t reach Houston until the latter part of next season at the earliest, but when he does, he will likely take the league by storm.
Signed out of Puerto Rico in 2009, Oscar Taveras made huge strides in 2012. It can be argued that he took at step backwards last season because he missed the majority of the year with an ankle injury. Due to his talent and monster breakout two seasons ago, his injury plagued 2013 is something that should be overlooked. Keep in mind, he put up excellent numbers last year, he just wasn’t on the field that much. An argument can be made that Taveras should start the season manning center field for the Cardinals, but it is more realistic that he will start the year at Triple-A Memphis and rack up at-bats. According to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com, Taveras was quoted at the Cardinals Winter Warmup as saying, “I feel 100 percent. In spring training, I hope to get stronger and be back with the team.” Taveras confirmed what is clearly apparent; he needs to stay healthy. If he does, you can expect him in the majors by the All-Star break. Taveras has all the makings of a yearly offensive gem. He keeps the strikeouts down, draws a healthy amount of walks, and has power to all fields. The best part is, he’s still filling out his 6’2” frame. The sky is the limit for Taveras, he just needs to stay on the field.
At just 20 years old, Xander Bogaerts was called to Boston to help them ultimately win the World Series. Bogaerts has breezed through Boston’s minor league system and barring injury will be manning shortstop for the Red Sox on Opening Day. As a nineteen year old in 2012, Bogaerts hit 20 home runs to go along with a stellar triple slash of .307/.373/.523. Digging deeper into that season, he also had 37 doubles and drew 44 walks. The only glaring negative of that season were the 106 times he struck out. Fast forward one season and Bogaerts made positive strides in the plate discipline department, cutting his strike outs in 2013 by eleven to 95 and upped his walks by 19 to 63. Bogaerts is putting up these kinds of numbers and he is still several years away from his prime. Due to his age, his developing power and his prime position on the field, Bogaerts is a talent that should be owned in even the shallowest dynasty formats right now.
Like most prospects with true ace-like potential, Archie Bradley has a few flaws in his game. Most notably is his issue with allowing walks. Bradley has a career K/9 of 9.9 over three minor league seasons, but also sports a BB/9 of 4.7 in that same time frame. It is worth noting that he did decrease his walks allowed in 2013 as his innings increased. He has all of the makings of a pitcher that will develop into an ace, but it is critical for him to cut his walks down. Much like Jameson Taillon, Bradley is known for his fastball-curveball combination and is said to be an improved changeup away from being a superb pitcher at the major league level. The majority of Bradley’s year will be spent in Triple-A Reno as he continues to work on his changeup and improving his command. He should be able to make it to Arizona some time after the All-Star break if he continues to have success at his current pace.
After a successful stint between two minor league levels, Taijuan Walker made his major league debut last season and was quite successful. The results from his first three major league starts could be a preview to the type of career he will have. Scouts have raved about Walker’s mechanics and his overall raw stuff and, though Walker does not have ideal control of his fastball yet, it is still a pitch that routinely sits in the mid-90s with excellent movement. That fact alone will allow him to miss batters. Due to his large frame, smooth delivery and solid mechanics, Walker is a good candidate to stay relatively healthy throughout his career. He could probably use some more time at the Triple-A level to continue his curveball, but Seattle wants to win, so they may be inclined let Walker continue developing at the big league level. Regardless of where he starts 2014, Taijuan Walker has the makeup of an ace that is going to be a fantasy stud sooner rather than later.
It is fitting that the number one prospect on this list is fresh off being named the Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America. In 2013, Byron Buxton had a triple slash of .334/.424/.520 with 12 home runs and 55 stolen bases. Byron Buxton is only nineteen years old. Another player in recent minor league memory put up numbers like this at a very similar age; his name is Mike Trout. Overall, Buxton cannot be compared to Mike Trout, yet. If you are in the comparison and skill set game though, these two are eerily similar. Trout never put up the type of power numbers in the minors that he has put up in two major league seasons. Buxton, like Trout, is still developing. With his skill set, there is no reason to think that Buxton cannot hit over 20 home runs every year. Add that to his exceptional speed and prolific plate discipline and you have the makings of a true superstar. For a nineteen year old, Buxton has cruised through the Twins minor league system. He will spend a good chunk of 2014 in Double-A, but should make the jump to Triple-A at some point in the latter part of the season. Assuming there are no major bumps in the road, he should be a fixture and the anchor of the Minnesota lineup by the early part of the 2015 season.