If baseball fans weren’t interested in and well aware of the top prospects in the game before last season, they probably are now thanks to what Mike Trout and Bryce Harper did to the league as rookies.
Everyone wants to know who the next Harper or Trout will be. While those two are a rare breed, there’s no denying that the top prospects don’t fly under the radar very long, and unattainable expectations are often set for them.
On the other hand, many prospects who aren’t well known one season can see their value skyrocket from one season to the next.
Take lefty Tony Cingrani of the Reds, for example. A fringe prospect at the start of 2012, he dominated in High-A and Double-A before earning a September call-up.
After rising to the top of most prospect rankings, the 23-year-old is at it again with 12.1 shutout innings in Triple-A while allowing only three hits and two walks to go along with 21 strikeouts.
In less than a year, he’s gone from unknown lefty in the low minors to someone who would very likely be a solid contributor in most big league rotations.
Evan Gattis of the Braves is another great example. If you don’t know his story, this is a recommended read by David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
That’s the beauty of following an organization from top-to-bottom, instead of focusing on just the 25-man roster and a handful of the team’s best prospects. If you haven't yet figured it out, baseball is a very unpredictable sport.
Here are five lesser known prospects who could follow Cingrani’s or Gattis’ path and have an impact in the big leagues by 2014.
Eddie Rosario, 2B, Minnesota Twins
It’s becoming clear that Rosario can hit and will continue to hit as he moves up the ladder to the majors. The left-handed hitter is 11-for-30 (.367) to start the season with High-A Fort Myers, showing that he hasn’t cooled off since putting on a hitting display in the Puerto Rico Winter League (.338 BA, 4 HR, 9 2B, 20 RBI in 36 games).
The 21-year-old has bounced back and forth between second base and the outfield as the Twins try to find the best fit for his skills. He’s fast and athletic but still has a long way to go defensively and on the base paths.
If he can stick at second base, where he’s currently playing, Rosario has a chance to move up the ladder quickly and could push Brian Dozier for the starting job next spring. The Twins seem to think he has a shot to stick there.
Twins think even though Eddie Rosario has a 70 arm he can be near star level as a second baseman, quickly after his Puerto Rican winter— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) February 24, 2013
Aaron Hicks’ rough start will make them think twice about rushing a prospect again, but I think Rosario is a regular in the Twins lineup by next June and very possibly hitting at the top in between Hicks and Joe Mauer.
Addison Russell, SS, Oakland Athletics
The 11th pick of the 2012 draft and the A’s top prospect, he shouldn’t really be considered an unknown. But if you’re thinking of young players who can break into the majors in 2014, you’re probably not thinking of the 19-year-old Russell, who is starting his first full pro season with High-A Stockton.
Russell will already be entering his second big league camp next spring (he was 4-for-16 with a double this spring) and his assignment in the California League shows the A’s aren’t afraid of pushing him to the majors.
#Athletics convinced Addison Russell mature enough for big-league camp. It wasn't in his contract, it's indication how much he wowed A's.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) January 27, 2013
Several prospects not as highly touted as Russell made the jump from Double-A in 2012, including Jean Segura and Andrelton Simmons. There’s a good chance that Russell, who will be 20 at the start of the 2014 season and potentially a top-five prospect in baseball, will be in position to do the same by next June.
Rafael Montero, RHP, New York Mets
Overshadowed by Zack Wheeler and several other bigger-name prospects in the Mets’ farm system, Montero is quietly working his way up the ladder and could be part of an impressive future rotation that includes Wheeler, Matt Harvey and Jon Niese.
Rafael Montero, rhp, 22, is thrilling mets people. "unreal'' is the word heard. throws hard & throws strikes.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) February 18, 2013
The sixth-ranked pitching prospect in the organization by Baseball Prospectus, Montero’s throwing the baseball like he belongs in the majors right now. The 22-year-old has allowed just two earned runs and eight hits in 11.2 innings with no walks and 15 strikeouts over his first two Double-A starts.
A September call-up is not out of the question, but he’s on pace to make his mark in the big leagues next season.
Mark Montgomery, RHP, New York Yankees
The 22-year-old right-hander should have a spot in the Yankees bullpen this season but his impact in 2014 could be major if he pitches well enough to be in the conversation to replace closer Mariano Rivera, who will retire after the season.
So far, the minors have not proven to be much of a challenge to Montgomery, who has a wicked slider to go along with a low-90’s fastball. In 97.2 minor league innings, he has a 1.66 ERA while giving up just 59 hits to go along with a 3.2 BB/9 and 14.7 K/9. He’s only given up two homers.
That is a terrific minor league relief pitcher for you right there. While it doesn’t always translate to the big leagues, Montgomery appears to at least have a good shot to take over for David Robertson as the eighth-inning setup man, should Robertson move into the closer role.
Donn Roach, RHP, San Diego Padres
I attended a High-A game at hitter-friendly Lake Elsinore in 2012 that was completely dominated by the two starting pitchers, Cingrani and Roach. It was apparent very quickly that neither pitcher belonged in the league and even with my limited scouting knowledge, I came away with a strong feeling both pitchers were on the fast track to the majors.
Cingrani was in the majors just a few months later while Roach was shut down for precautionary reasons shortly after a promotion to Double-A.
An extreme ground ball pitcher with a heavy sinker. Roach has picked up where he left off last season. The 23-year-old has allowed just one earned run in 10 innings over his first two starts with Double-A San Antonio, with only two hits allowed and a whole bunch of groundball outs.
The Padres’ starting rotation already needs help and they probably won’t hesitate to bring up Roach, who was acquired from the Angels last May in the Ernesto Frieri trade. He only tossed 88.1 innings last season, though, so don’t expect more than a couple months in the majors this year.
Breaking him into the majors later in 2013 should prepare him to take a on a greater role in 2014, where he could be ready to make 30 starts and throw 180 innings. And when he does, I’d expect him to have one of the highest Ground ball/Flyball Ratios in baseball. The sinker is that good.
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