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Batter up: Impact rookies, AL edition
Springer, Bogaerts among prospects who could shine in 2014
01/17/2014 10:48 AM ET
George Springer hit 37 homers and stole 45 bases in 2013.
George Springer hit 37 homers and stole 45 bases in 2013. (Mike Strasinger/Nashville Sounds)

The confetti has been flung and the calendar turned from 2013 to 2014, meaning another season of baseball is nearly upon us. Less than a month from now, pitchers and catchers will report to Florida and Arizona. For us writers, that means the season of previews and prognostications is upon us.

Certainly, that time has come for us in the MiLB universe. In the coming months, stories aplenty will appear on these pages previewing the top players headed to one of the 10 full-season Minor Leagues. But before those previews begin rolling in earnest, we wanted to take a look at the prospects unlikely to spend much time at in the Minor Leagues this summer.

A number of standouts from the 2013 MiLB season figure to have a heavy impact in the Major Leagues in 2014. With the help of the folks who produce Steamer projections (collected from Fangraphs), here's a look at some prospects who could impact the standings in MLB and in your fantasy league this season.

OF George Springer, Houston Astros

Steamer Projections
Name PA AB HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS WAR
George Springer, HOU 650 576 25 60 174 30 15 .256 .330 .460 .790 4.0

The Projections: Springer, the third-ranked prospect in Houston's farm system, wowed observers with his elite combination of power and speed -- Double-A Corpus Christi manager Keith Bodie compared his tools to those of Mike Trout last summer. Steamer, which projects primarily based on past results, thinks Springer is ready to translate those abilities at the Major League level. Perhaps the only red flag in Springer's stellar 2013 was his 27.3-percent strikeout rate. Indeed, Steamer thinks he'll post a slightly lower 26.7-percent mark as a Major Leaguer in 2014, showing optimism Springer's swing-and-miss propensity won't hold him back in Houston.

Playing Time Factors: It's unlikely Springer will get to 650 plate appearances in Houston this summer. The team acquired Dexter Fowler from Colorado over the winter, blocking Springer's direct path to a center field job out of Spring Training. Instead, the 24-year-old will likely return to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he hit .311 with 18 homers in 62 games last season. He may not be there long, though, as he's a better defender in center than Fowler, who could easily slide to a corner when Springer is ready.

Fantasy Impact: His strikeout rate may always be too high to hit for much average, but otherwise, Springer should be a complete package for fantasy owners, and could be in short order. Of all the prospects likely to graduate to the Majors in 2014, Springer is likely the top target for fantasy owners.

SS Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox

Steamer Projections
Name PA AB HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS WAR
Xander Bogaerts, BOS 650 583 16 53 127 9 6 .261 .325 .413 .738 3.2

The Projections: In 2013, Boston's top prospect split his Minor League season between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013, posting a .297 average with 15 homers and an .865 OPS before contributing a .296 average (and .412 OBP) in 34 postseason at-bats. Steamer doesn't think Bogaerts' stellar plate discipline (.388 OBP in the Minors last year) will translate immediately, projecting an 8.2-percent walk rate despite Bogaerts' 12.2-percent mark in the Minors last year. It's not outrageous to think Bogaerts could beat Steamer's projected .325 on-base percentage, improving an already promising projection.

Playing Time Factors: Jonathan Herrera is the only other shortstop on Boston's 40-man roster, a signal that general manager Ben Cherington is ready to hand the reins over to Bogaerts. Unless Stephen Drew's asking price comes down, the Aruban Bogaerts should be the starting shortstop on Opening Day.

Fantasy Impact: If Steamer is right, Bogaerts will be slightly more valuable in real life than in fantasy in 2014. Though he could be a star quickly for the Red Sox, Bogaerts will be closer to the middle of the pack among shortstops in fantasy. His upside is higher than that, though, as he could hit for more power than he showed in the Minor Leagues. Just 21, his value is even higher in keeper leagues.

OF Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox

Steamer Projections
Name PA AB HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS WAR
Jackie Bradley Jr., BOS 650 570 16 61 127 16 10 .256 .336 .402 .714 2.4

The Projections: Boston's No. 2 rated prospect struck out in 20.1-percent of his Triple-A at-bats in 2013, and Steamer thinks he can improve to a 19.6-percent clip in the Majors. At 2.4 wins above replacement (WAR), Bradley would be an above-average regular at the Major League level. If he can improve his stolen base rate (he was just 9-of-16 between Triple-A and the Majors in 2013) and lift his batting average through some combination of fewer strikeouts and higher batting average on balls in play (BABIP), Bradley could produce beyond his projections.

Playing Time Factors: With Jacoby Ellsbury out the door, Bradley appears to be next in line for the starting center field gig in Boston. Gold Glove right fielder Shane Victorino can handle center, but Boston has already voiced hesitation about move the Flyin' Hawaiian away from Pesky's Pole, leaving Bradley the only other in-house option. It's a good bet that, with Bradley in center and Bogaerts at short, the Red Sox will have rookies at two key positions when they take the field in Baltimore on March 31.

Fantasy Impact: Bradley's fantasy upside is high, but only if owners believe he'll hit for more power and steal more bags than he did in Triple-A last season. On the bases, Boston was aggressive and efficient under manager John Farrell last year, finishing fourth in the Majors with 123 steals while being caught an MLB-low 19 times. If Bradley is efficient, Farrell will let him run, but that's yet to be seen. At the same time, his stealing ability is built more around baserunning instincts than plus speed, and, as for the power, it may take a couple more years for that to play in the Majors.

3B/OF Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers

Steamer Projections
Name PA AB HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS WAR
Nick Castellanos, DET 650 596 15 40 115 6 4 .265 .313 .401 .714 2.1

The Projections: Scouting reports indicate Castellanos, Detroit's top prospect, is more talented than his Triple-A numbers might suggest -- partially a reflection of how pitcher-friendly Toledo's ballpark is. Steamer is pretty conservative in its estimation, projecting Castellanos' isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) to dip from .174 in Triple-A to a fairly meager .136 in the Majors.

Playing Time Factors: Castellanos played both the outfield and third base in the Minors, with third base his natural position. When the team traded away Prince Fielder and decided to move Miguel Cabrera from third to first, it ensured that Castellanos would get first crack at third base this spring.

Fantasy Impact: If Castellanos hits just 15 home runs, he'll be a below average contributor at third from a fantasy standpoint. His power potential is greater than that, though, and if he hits in the middle of Detroit's order, the runs and RBIs should flow freely. He's more of a bench option at this point, but also a potential impact talent as a fantasy player with the chance to hit for power and average.

Others of note

Steamer Projections
Name PA AB HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS WAR
Michael Choice, TEX 650 583 15 52 129 5 5 .276 .341 .431 .772 3.1
Max Stassi, HOU 650 601 20 39 138 10 0 .243 .294 .405 .700 3.0
Francisco Lindor, CLE 650 590 7 46 80 27 13 .255 .313 .348 .661 2.0
Garin Cecchini, BOS 650 577 7 66 113 27 13 .262 .338 .378 .716 2.0
Matt Davidson, CHW 650 583 22 53 169 2 2 .237 .307 .408 .715 1.9
Hak-Ju Lee, TB 650 587 4 48 111 32 16 .248 .309 .341 .650 1.2

Parting thoughts: Choice, ranked third in Texas' system, doesn't have a spot in Texas' order as of now, but injuries could earn him playing time in the outfield or at designated hitter, where Steamer thinks he's ready to contribute offensively. ... Jason Castro's presence in Houston means Stassi probably won't get much MLB playing time in 2014, even if it appears his power could be a boost for the Astros. ... Lindor reached Double-A late in 2013 and could reach the Majors as a September callup, if not sooner. ... Cecchini would have to beat out Will Middlebrooks for playing time at third. ... Davidson figures to get regular at-bats in Chicago this summer and has perhaps the most raw power of any rookie in his class. ... Lee is a wild card who missed just about all of 2013 with a knee injury. He was just about ready to make an impact in the Majors back then, but his effectiveness post-injury is yet to be seen.

Jake Seiner is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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