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Prospect Projections: AL East Rookies

Rays, Blue Jays counting on contributions from youngsters in '15
January 12, 2015

We at MiLB.com are counting down the days until Minor League Opening Day (87 days from today). Dozens of prospects will be heading to Florida and Arizona in a few weeks with an eye on landing big league jobs, so, as we edge closer to Spring Training, it's a good time to take a look at rookie-eligible players who could make an impact in the Majors.

Here's the first of a six-part division-by-division look at top prospects who could exhaust their rookie status in 2015, starting with the American League East. Below, you'll find analysis regarding who could make an impact as well as Steamer projections (taken with gratitude from Fangraphs) for those players.

 Baltimore Orioles

HITTERS
Orioles POS PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld WAR
Dariel Alvarez OF 600 12 10 0.276 0.305 0.403 0.312 97 0 1.5
Mike Ohlman C 450 6 3 0.228 0.291 0.327 0.278 73 0 1.2
Mike Yastrzemski OF 600 12 15 0.247 0.291 0.382 0.297 87 0 0.8
Christian Walker 1B 600 19 3 0.257 0.312 0.414 0.321 103 0.1 0.7
Henry Urrutia OF 600 10 6 0.273 0.308 0.383 0.305 93 -2.5 0.4

Franchise catcher Matt Wieters is coming off a disastrous 2014 season that ended in Tommy John surgery, so insurance behind the dish is important for the Orioles. The good news is the team has options, including 2009 11th-rounder Mike Olhman, who projects for well above-replacement production. Christian Walker could see significant at-bats at first base and/or designated hitter, and Steamer expects slightly better than average offensive production for the South Carolina product who slugged 26 homers last year. Dariel Alvarez should reach Baltimore at some point in 2015, while Mike Yastrzemski is less of a sure thing after getting only 184 at-bats at Double-A in 2014.

PITCHERS
Orioles W L ERA GS G IP HR WHIP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Mike Wright 11 13 4.79 32 32 200 30 1.39 5.8 3.0 4.94 0.3
Logan Verrett 10 14 4.62 32 32 200 26 1.34 5.8 2.4 4.44 0.0
Dylan Bundy 4 4 4.46 0 65 65 9 1.38 7.0 3.6 4.65 -0.4
Tim Berry 4 4 4.61 0 65 65 9 1.42 5.8 3.4 4.91 -0.6
Zach Davies 4 4 4.87 0 65 65 10 1.44 6.1 3.6 5.00 -0.6

The biggest name here is obviously Dylan Bundy, but Steamer is more optimistic about Mike Wright's short-term abilities. The 25-year-old right-hander spent all of 2014 in Triple-A, posting a 4.61 ERA in 26 starts. Wright allowed only 10 homers in 142 2/3 innings, but Steamer thinks he'll have more trouble with the long ball in the Majors. As for Bundy, the 22-year-old is entering his first full season since Tommy John surgery ended his 2012 campaign. With only 32 career Minor League starts, he doesn't have the track record to blow Steamer away yet, but he is a strong candidate to overperform if his stuff returns to 2012 levels. Tim Berry and Zach Davies also have the stuff to outproduce Steamer's expectations, while Logan Verrett -- a Rule 5 pickup from the Mets -- projects around replacement level.

Biggest impactor: Walker is going to get the chance to stick in some capacity, and that opportunity separates him from the pack. The 23-year-old outpaced expectations with a breakout 2014 and has a chance to emerge as an above-average Major League hitter in 2015.

Fantasy special: Frankly, there's not a whole lot here to entice fantasy owners. If Walker finds another gear with his power, he could be a useful option at first base, especially in AL-only leagues, but owners will probably have to look somewhere other than Baltimore for rookie production until Bundy proves he's ready.

 Boston Red Sox

HITTERS
Red Sox POS PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld WAR
Garin Cecchini 3B 600 7 13 0.266 0.336 0.378 0.318 99 -0.6 2.3
Blake Swihart C 450 7 7 0.257 0.302 0.375 0.300 87 0 1.9
Sean Coyle 2B 600 17 15 0.238 0.294 0.390 0.303 89 0 1.6
Bryce Brentz OF 600 20 4 0.256 0.307 0.425 0.322 102 -4.7 1.4
Travis Shaw 1B 600 16 8 0.246 0.318 0.400 0.318 99 0 1.0
Deven Marrero SS 600 5 18 0.243 0.298 0.327 0.281 74 0 0.9

First, we're excluding Rusney Castillo due to his age and international experience. But he'll obviously have an impact, one way or another. Veterans are slated to hold down most of the everyday gigs at Fenway Park in 2015, but catcher is an exception. Christian Vazquez has a chance to be a solid-average starter in the Majors but has yet to show he can hit adequately to handle the everyday job. That means opportunity could be ripe for Blake Swihart, who dominated with a .300 average, .840 OPS and excellent defense at Double-A last year. Steamer is optimistic that Swihart is ready to contribute, estimating decent offensive output for a catcher, although the backstop is more likely to spend almost all of 2015 fine-tuning at Triple-A. Beyond Swihart, a number of position prospects could contribute given playing time, but injuries likely would have to decimate the lineup for Garin Cecchini, Sean Coyle, Bryce Brentz, Travis Shaw or Deven Marrero to see significant action.

PITCHERS
Red Sox W L ERA GS G IP HR WHIP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Henry Owens 13 11 4.39 32 32 200 22 1.45 8.2 4.6 4.42 1.6
Brian Johnson 13 11 4.42 32 32 200 24 1.41 7.1 3.7 4.42 1.6
Edwin Escobar 4 3 3.56 0 65 65 7 1.25 7.6 2.6 3.86 0.4
Matt Barnes 3 3 3.79 0 65 65 7 1.29 7.8 3.0 3.95 0.2
Eduardo Rodriguez 3 3 3.79 0 65 65 7 1.31 7.4 3.0 4.00 0.2
Heath Hembree 3 3 3.99 0 65 65 7 1.35 7.6 3.5 4.18 0.2
Anthony Ranaudo 11 13 5.17 32 32 200 31 1.54 5.8 4.1 5.32 0.1
Steven Wright 3 3 4.20 0 65 65 7 1.37 6.2 3.0 4.19 0.0

The Red Sox are brimming with prospects at the Triple-A level, but playing time will be more readily available for pitchers, possibly out of Spring Training. Currently, it'd be a tight race for first cracks at the Majors, with Anthony Ranaudo, Edwin Escobar and Matt Barnes the favorites and Eduardo Rodriguez, Henry Owens and Brian Johnson not far behind. Ranaudo probably has the best case, based on 2014 performance, but Steamer is more enamored with Owens and Johnson, both of whom spent most of 2014 at Double-A. Some of those arms could move to the bullpen, where Heath Hembree -- acquired with Escobar for Jake Peavy last summer -- is a likely contributor.

Biggest impactor: Probably one of the pitchers, but it'll be a matter of health and performance as to who gets the playing time. Ranaudo may be the best bet at this point, but the margin is slim.

Fantasy special: Swihart is a good gamble in keeper leagues, although he's probably a year or two away from making an offensive impact. As for pitching, most of the names listed above are worth monitoring as short- and long-term options.

 New York Yankees

HITTERS
Yankees POS PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld WAR
Robert Refsnyder 2B 600 12 13 0.262 0.327 0.390 0.319 102 0 2.5
Jose Pirela 2B 600 11 14 0.259 0.307 0.381 0.305 91 -1.2 1.9
John Ryan Murphy C 450 11 3 0.237 0.291 0.373 0.295 85 -0.1 1.8
Gary Sanchez C 450 14 4 0.239 0.293 0.386 0.301 89 0 1.8
Ramon Flores OF 600 12 11 0.247 0.312 0.374 0.306 93 0 1.2
Rob Segedin 3B 600 12 5 0.233 0.297 0.353 0.292 82 0 1.0
Slade Heathcott OF 600 14 19 0.246 0.301 0.383 0.303 90 0 1.0
Greg Bird 1B 600 20 5 0.234 0.308 0.398 0.312 97 0 0.8
Tyler Austin OF 600 13 9 0.243 0.299 0.375 0.299 88 0 -0.1

The most glaring hole in the Yankees' projected lineup was second base until they signed Stephen Drew. Considering his injury history, however, it figures some combination of Robert Refsnyder and Jose Pirela will get time at the keystone, too. Steamer projects roughly league-average production from both, though it's probably more bullish on Refsnyder's defensive abilities than scouting evaluations. Refsnyder had a breakout season offensively after making some adjustments to his swing, but the consensus is he has work to do to be even average defensively at second. New York also has a pair of decent candidates to receive big league time behind the plate in John Ryan Murphy and Gary Sanchez. Murphy has nearly exhausted his rookie eligibility, but thanks to quality defense and a decent bat, he looks ready to handle MLB backup duties, at least. Steamer projects nearly average production from Sanchez behind average defense, which is likely too optimistic at this point, as reports indicate his receiving skills are still below average. Steamer also sees some useful bench pieces in Ramon Flores, Rob Segedin and Slade Heathcott.

Pitchers
Yankees W L ERA GS G IP HR WHIP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Luis Severino 11 14 4.88 32 32 200 30 1.42 6.1 3.3 4.94 0.3
Chasen Shreve 3 3 3.32 0 65 65 6 1.25 9.2 3.3 3.41 0.2
Jose Ramirez 3 3 3.87 0 65 65 8 1.33 8.6 3.8 4.32 0.0
Nick Rumbelow 3 3 4.13 0 65 65 8 1.34 7.2 3.2 4.38 -0.2
Johnny Barbato 3 3 3.85 0 65 65 6 1.33 8.1 3.6 3.89 -0.3
Jaron Long 3 4 4.97 0 65 65 10 1.39 5.1 2.6 5.04 -0.6
Bryan Mitchell 3 4 5.10 0 65 65 9 1.53 6.4 4.5 5.07 -0.7

The first notable thing about the above list is that Jacob Lindgren isn't included, but the 2014 second-rounder very well could pitch in the Majors in 2015 after reaching Double-A last season. The left-handed reliever is nearly Major League-ready but wasn't projected by Steamer, likely due to just being drafted in 2014. Steamer has some faith in right-hander Luis Severino for the rotation, and it wouldn't be shocking if the 20-year-old gets some big league looks late in the season. Steamer also thinks recently acquired left-hander Chasen Shreve and righty Jose Ramirez can contribute around replacement level from the bullpen, with Nick Rumbelow not far behind. Bryan Mitchell's future role is somewhat uncertain, as his two-pitch mix may work better in the bullpen. Johnny Barbato was acquired from the Padres for Shawn Kelley but is likely a year or two away from earning a spot in the Yankees' bullpen.

Biggest impactor: Refsnyder's readiness is very much tied to his defensive polish. If he arrives in camp looking sharper at the keystone, he could handle second base duties in New York from day one, as his bat is ready for a Major League test. More likely, he gets more defensive reps at Triple-A for a good chunk of the season, but he still has the best chance to make a big impact in 2015. His right-handed bat could fit well in a platoon with the left-handed-hitting Drew, too.

Fantasy special: Refsnyder could be a 15-homer, 15-steal guy if things really go well, but that's not something to count on just yet. Sanchez's power behind the plate could make him an elite fantasy player, but he's a long way from reaching that ceiling.

 Tampa Bay Rays

hitters
Rays POS PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld WAR
Steven Souza OF 600 20 27 0.269 0.336 0.441 0.342 117 -3.2 2.1
Nick Franklin 2B 600 13 11 0.240 0.315 0.370 0.306 100 -4 2.0
Curt Casali C 450 7 2 0.217 0.294 0.318 0.278 81 -0.5 1.5
Ryan Brett 2B 600 7 29 0.249 0.290 0.349 0.284 84 0 1.4
Luke Maile C 450 5 5 0.222 0.276 0.310 0.264 71 0 0.8
Hak-Ju Lee SS 600 5 21 0.224 0.287 0.300 0.266 72 0 0.8
Mikie Mahtook OF 600 10 16 0.238 0.292 0.351 0.286 86 0 0.8
Tim Beckham 2B 600 6 12 0.235 0.286 0.326 0.274 78 -4.4 0.6

The Rays picked up Steven Souza while flipping Wil Myers to San Diego, hoping they wouldn't lose too much value in the outfield, and Steamer thinks Souza's ready to contribute like a Major League regular with power and speed. With Ben Zobrist traded to Oakland and Asdrubal Cabrera signed for just one year, one of Nick Franklin, Ryan Brett or Tim Beckham could be in line for long-term second base duties, although Steamer thinks both Franklin and Brett are just about ready for regular action. Curt Casali and Luke Maile give Tampa Bay a pair of decent backup catching options behind Rene Rivera and John Jaso. Steamer doesn't seem especially impressed by Mikie Mahtook's .820 OPS at Triple-A in 2014, perhaps because it was supported by an unsustainable .380 batting average on balls in play and half his games at hitter-friendly Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Pitchers
Rays W L ERA GS G IP HR WHIP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Jose Dominguez 3 3 3.47 0 65 65 6 1.29 9.6 4.1 3.75 0.0
Nate Karns 4 4 3.98 0 65 65 7 1.34 8.1 3.8 4.15 -0.1
Burch Smith 3 4 3.65 0 65 65 7 1.24 8.6 3.0 3.78 -0.2
Enny Romero 3 3 3.86 0 65 65 6 1.37 7.6 4.0 4.13 -0.2
C.J. Riefenhauser 3 3 3.99 0 65 65 7 1.37 6.9 3.6 4.32 -0.2
Mike Montgomery 3 3 3.96 0 65 65 7 1.35 6.7 3.3 4.28 -0.4
Alex Colome 3 4 4.52 0 65 65 8 1.41 6.8 3.8 4.59 -0.6

Tampa Bay is light on rookie pitchers likely to make a major impact, but it is deep in replacement-level options. The Rays acquired fireballing reliever Jose Dominguez along with Greg Harris for Joel Peralta and Adam Liberatore over the summer, and Dominguez is expected to post big strikeout numbers, albeit with a hefty share of walks. Nate Karns, Burch Smith, Enny Romero, Mike Montgomery and Alex Colome are projected here as relievers, but all have been primarily starters recently and could contribute to Tampa Bay's rotation if there's an injury.

Biggest impactor: Souza was brought in to replace Myers and should immediately join some combination of Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier and David DeJesus as an outfield regular. The 25-year-old may not be a 20-homer, 20-steal player right out the gate, but there's clearly nothing left for him to prove at Triple-A.

Fantasy special: The 20-20 upside is real for Souza, making him one of the most attractive rookie-eligible fantasy options around. His at-bats could be limited, though, as Tampa Bay likes to rotate its outfielders.

Toronto Blue Jays

HITTERS
Blue Jays POS PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld WAR
Devon Travis 2B 600 11 17 0.273 0.320 0.401 0.319 102 0 2.5
Andy Burns 3B 600 14 21 0.233 0.285 0.374 0.292 82 0 1.0
A.J. Jimenez C 450 6 5 0.243 0.283 0.348 0.281 74 0 1.0
Chris Colabello 1B 600 22 3 0.243 0.305 0.419 0.319 101 -1.4 0.8
Dalton Pompey OF 600 9 31 0.238 0.297 0.353 0.291 81 -5.4 0.4
Ryan Goins 2B 600 5 7 0.240 0.279 0.329 0.271 67 2.1 0.2

Right now, Maicer Izturis is likely to get the first crack at the second base job, but he hasn't had more than 400 plate appearances in a season since 2011. Someone from the Minors is probably going to get at-bats at the keystone, and Steamer thinks that someone should be Devon Travis, who could be an average MLB hitter with quality defense. If not Travis, both Andy Burns and Ryan Goins have experience at second base, so the Blue Jays have options. Steamer has A.J. Jimenez pegged for average defense behind the plate, which is likely selling the 24-year-old short, so feel encouraged to take the over on his projection. In center field, Dalton Pompey will try to prove in Spring Training he's ready to keep his big league spot, but Steamer is skeptical of both his bat and glove.

PITCHERS
Blue Jays W L ERA GS G IP HR WHIP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Daniel Norris 4 3 4.03 0 65 65 8 1.36 9.0 4.1 4.11 0.0
Rob Rasmussen 3 3 4.06 0 65 65 8 1.38 7.8 3.7 4.27 -0.1
Gregory Infante 3 3 4.44 0 65 65 8 1.44 7.9 4.3 4.48 -0.2
Aaron Sanchez 4 4 4.83 0 65 65 7 1.53 7.3 4.8 4.60 -0.4

A year ago, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez both made strong impressions in extended Major League looks. This year, Sanchez is barely rookie-eligible, and he and Daniel Norris should pitch a number of Major League innings, although their roles are to be determined. Sanchez pitched out of the bullpen after his callup, posting a 1.09 ERA in 33 innings. Steamer is skeptical he'll repeat that success, expecting his walk and home run rates to regress closer to his Minor League numbers as a starter. Reports have Sanchez in line to take J.A. Happ's spot in the rotation, but Norris also is in the running after recording 163 strikeouts over 124 2/3 Minor League innings in 2014. Rob Rasmussen and Gregory Infante could be decent middle-relief options if the need arises.

Biggest impactor: Sanchez is going to log MLB innings. His role isn't settled, but he'll either be in the rotation or getting high-leverage innings as a reliever, making him a key piece in the Jays' pursuit of a division title either way.

Fantasy special: Pompey has massive fantasy upside, especially if he can add a little strength and power. He, Sanchez and Norris should all be close follows for fantasy owners.

Jake Seiner is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.