d'Arnaud, Taveras among potential impact position players
Oscar Taveras has an .895 OPS over five Minor League seasons. (Allison Rhoades/MiLB.com)
By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com | January 20, 2014 11:00 AM ET
At the end of last week, we took a look at some rookies in the American League who could shine in 2014. Today, we're going to replicate the same exercise, but in the National League.
Projecting which players will have the biggest impact is a tricky game. It's one thing trying to predict which players are ready to perform in the Majors; it's another trying to gauge how much playing time those players might actually get.
Just because it's difficult to predict doesn't mean we can't try. With the help of the folks who produce Steamer projections (collected from Fangraphs), here's a breakdown of which top Minor Leaguers could shine as Major Leaguers in 2014. The projections extrapolate playing time to 650 plate appearances, which is a full load for an everyday starter (catchers get a somewhat lower projection of PAs).
The Projections: Stretched over 550 at-bats (rather than the 650 I've been using for non-catchers), d'Arnaud still looks like one of the most advanced prospects on Jonathan Mayo'sTop 100 Prospects list. Steamer thinks the Mets' No. 2 prospectis primed to break out as an above-average regular in New York, not surprising since d'Arnaud has mashed in the upper-Minor Leagues each of the past three seasons.
Playing Time Factors: The backstop started 30 games at catcher for New York at the end of 2013 and looks like the Mets' top option heading into 2014. Anthony Recker figures to be his backup with Taylor Teagarden waiting in Triple-A in case of an injury. Health has been a concern for d'Arnaud -- he hasn't played more than 67 games in either of the past two years -- but if he's healthy, he should get the bulk of the at-bats.
Fantasy Impact: Catchers who can hit are a valuable commodity, and in that regard, d'Arnaud could be a valuable piece for fantasy owners. Though his offensive upside lags behind studs like Buster Posey and Joe Mauer, d'Arnaud should be worth a starting role in 2014.
The Projections: If things had gone according to plan,St. Louis' top prospect would've broken into the Majors to stay some time during the 2013 season. Instead, an ankle injury limited him to 46 Triple-A games. It wasn't quite a lost year, though, as he hit .306 with an .803 OPS in those games. His track record has Steamer optimistic about 2014, projecting moderate power with good contact skills. The system is predicting a lot of balls in play, projecting an 11.8-percent strikeout rate and a 5.9-percent walk rate.
Playing Time Factors: St. Louis has five outfielders already on its active roster in Matt Holliday, Peter Bourjos, Allen Craig, Jon Jay and Shane Robinson, so playing time could be hard for Taveras to come by. Taveras can play all three outfield spots, and if a starter gets hurt, could leapfrog his way into regular playing time. For now, though, expect him to begin the year back with Triple-A Memphis.
Fantasy Impact: Taveras may be an offensive monster in the Major Leagues, hitting for a high batting average with above average power and 10-15 stolen bases in his prime. Taveras should be ready to contribute to fantasy lineups when he arrives in St. Louis, but it's hard to guess when that will be.
The Projections: Hamilton is one of the most unique prospects to have broken into the Majors in recent years. The Reds' top prospect possesses off-the-charts speed and last year made a successful transition from shortstop to center field in Triple-A. Questions still persist about his bat, though, and it shows in Hamilton's projections. After hitting .256 with a .651 OPS in 123 games in Louisville last year, Hamilton projects to post similar numbers in the Majors, according to Steamer, albeit with a whopping 80 stolen bases.
Playing Time Factors: Shin-Soo Choo left Cincinnati via free agency this offseason, opening the door for Hamilton to slot in at center on Opening Day. The 23-year-old should produce enough with his defense and speed to justify a lineup spot but will need to improve his offense at some point to remain a starter long-term.
Fantasy Impact: As good as Hamilton could be in real life, he's destined to be a far more valuable fantasy commodity because of his wheels. He could perennially lead the Majors in stolen bases in the years to come, and could begin that reign this season, assuming he hits enough to maintain an every day job.
The Projections: Owings, ranked secondin Arizona's system, solidified two notable traits in his offensive profile in 2013 -- he has a tremendous hit tool that should lead to a high batting average, and he isn't likely to draw a lot of walks. With Triple-A Reno last season, Owings hit .330 with a .359 on-base percentage, making the profile work well. Steamer thinks the skillset will work in the Majors, although it expects Owings' average to take a hit thanks to a regressed batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and a slightly higher strikeout rate.
Playing Time Factors: The shortstop has nothing left to prove at Triple-A but also doesn't have anywhere to go on Arizona's roster. With Didi Gregorious plugged in at short and Aaron Hill at second, the Diamondbacks don't have a position for Owings. Barring injuries or an unexpected trade, Owings may have to return to Triple-A until other pieces fall into place to create an opening.
Fantasy Impact: Shortstops don't have to hit much to be worth a fantasy roster sport, and as a high-average middle infielder, Owings might be worth a flier. That said, he won't hit for more than average power and should peak at around 20 stolen bases, so his fantasy ceiling is limited to that of an average starter.
Parting Thoughts: Steamer thinks Pederson is ready to contribute in the Majors, but with Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier on the roster, playing time will be tough for Pederson to come by. ... Asche currently holds the inside track to the starting third base job in Philadelphia, but Franco could force the issue with a strong Spring Training. ... When the Cardinals traded David Freese, they opened the way for Matt Carpenter to slide to third and for Wong to take over at second base. With Mark Ellis and Daniel Descalso also on the roster, the starting gig isn't quite guaranteed for Wong, though. ... Polanco will likely get some extra Minor League seasoning to start 2014, but with only Jose Tabata, Travis Snider, Jaff Decker and Andrew Lambo ahead of him, he could earn right-field time in Pittsburgh by season's end. ... Olt may be the biggest wild card in the Minor Leagues these days. If he can return to his 2012 form, he could poach at-bats from Luis Valbuena at third. ... Miami is likely to pencil Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield Opening Day, so Marisnick may have to spend more time in the Minors. Steamer doesn't have a true projection for Cubs shortstop and slugger Javier Baez, but he is expected to start the season at Triple-A Iowa and has high-end power projection at either shortstop or third base.
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.