10 Early Breakout Stars of the 2014 MLB Draft Class
While it will be several years until most of the 2014 draft picks are ready for the major leagues, that doesn't mean we can’t get excited about the early returns from some of baseball’s brightest young players.
Thanks to an accelerated signing deadline in mid-July that was ushered in in 2012 as part of the new collective bargaining agreement—it used to be mid-August—draft picks are now encouraged to quickly begin their professional careers.
For some prospects, that could result in an ahead-of-schedule debut in the major leagues; for others, it may simply improve their chances of earning aggressive promotions to begin the following season.
Here’s a look at 10 breakout prospects from the 2014 draft class who are destroying the minor leagues in their professional debuts.
Kyle Schwarber, C/OF, Chicago Cubs
2014 Stats (SS/A/A+): .335/.441/.584, 23 XBH (11 HR), 39 RBI, 34 BB, 39 K (52 G)
After signing a $3.125 million bonus as the No. 4 overall pick, Kyle Schwarber was assigned to Short Season Boise, where he batted .600 with four home runs and 10 RBI in his first five games. The 21-year-old continued to terrorize opposing pitching following a promotion to Low-A Kane County, as he batted .361/.448/.602 with four homers, eight doubles and 15 RBI in just 23 games.
The left-handed hitter hasn’t posted the same type of gaudy numbers since moving up to High-A Daytona, but he’s still held his own with a .771 OPS, five extra-base hits (three homers) and 14 RBI in 24 games. Overall, Schwarber is batting .335/.441/.584 with 23 extra-base hits, 39 RBI and a 39-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 52 games.
However, while his bat looks as though it will be ready sooner rather than later, Schwarber's development on the other side of the ball is more likely to influence when he arrives in the major leagues.
In theory, Schwarber would require additional time in the minor leagues if developed as a catcher, the position at which he was drafted, whereas a move to the outfield full time would allow the Cubs to expedite the arrival of his bat in the major leagues. So far this season, Schwarber has seen 16 games behind the dish and 25 in left field.
Trea Turner, SS, San Diego Padres
2014 Stats (SS/A): .338/.417/.478, 18 XBH (4 HR), 18 SB, 23 BB, 43 K (49 G)
Trea Turner, the No. 13 overall pick in this year’s draft, got off to a slow start to begin his career, batting just .228 over 23 games in the Short Season Northwest League.
Despite his struggles, the Padres decided to promote Turner to Low-A Fort Wayne in mid-July, which in turn jump-started his bat. Over his first 26 games at the full-season level, Turner is batting a robust .431/.496/.642 with 15 extra-base hits, 14 RBI and nine stolen bases. He’s also hit safely in 24 of those games, highlighted by 15 multihit performances.
Known more for his speed and defense headed into the draft, Turner has shown surprisingly consistent pop this summer, albeit mostly to the gaps, while his approach has been solid and allowed him to utilize his plus-plus speed. It’ll be interesting to see how aggressive the Padres are with Turner’s developmental timeline next season.
Bobby Bradley, 3B, Cleveland Indians
2014 Stats (Rk): .368/.445/.632, 18 XBH (5 HR), 36 RBI, 15 BB, 26 K (29 G)
The Indians selected Bobby Bradley in the third round for his big-time power potential from the left side, and so far the 18-year-old has put on a power clinic in the Rookie-level Arizona League. Specifically, 18 of the 43 hits Bradley has accrued through 29 games have gone for extra bases, and he’s also shown a feel for controlling the strike zone with a 26-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Bradley has been especially hot as of late, batting .414/.493/.707 with nine extra-base hits, 21 RBI and a 10-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio during his current 15-game hitting streak, one that dates back to July 16. Based on his performance this summer, one would think Bradley is a candidate to go right to full-season ball next year.
Jacob Lindgren, LHP, New York Yankees
2014 Stats (Rk/A/A+/AA): 16 IP, 0.56 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, .121 BAA, 5 BB, 33 K (13 G)
Jacob Lindgren was one of college baseball’s better relievers this spring at Mississippi State, and his ability to miss bats at a high rate and potentially reach the major leagues in a hurry led to his selection by the New York Yankees in the second round (No. 55 overall) of this year’s draft.
After a one-inning warm-up outing in the Gulf Coast League, the 21-year-old left-hander has allowed one run on five hits over 15 innings between Low-A Charleston, High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, striking out 31 batters compared to five walks. During that span, Lindgren has struck out three or more batters in nine of his 12 outings.
The southpaw has the kind of pure stuff, highlighted by a devastating, swing-and-miss slider, to make an impact out of the Yankees bullpen before the end of the season, and based on his utter dominance, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets the call sooner rather than later.
Alex Blandino, SS, Cincinnati Reds
2014 Stats (Rk/A): .306/.411/.510, 21 XBH (5 HR), 21 RBI, 7 SB, 25 BB, 31 K (42 G)
Selected by the Reds with the No. 29 pick, Alex Blandino was one of the few offensive bright spots for Stanford this spring, batting .310 with 12 home runs, 14 doubles and 44 RBI. The right-handed hitter was assigned to Rookie-level Billings after signing, where he batted .309/.412/.527 with 15 extra-base hits in 29 games.
The Reds usually don’t offer their draft picks aggressive promotions during their professional debuts, but they decided to move up Blandino to Low-A Dayton in late July. The 21-year-old has rewarded the organization by batting .298/.407/.468 with six extra-base hits through his first 13 games at the more advanced level.
Blandino played all over the infield in college, but the Reds are developing him as a shortstop—at least for now—and he’s looked comfortable at the position so far. There’s a good chance he’s forced to third base down the line, though there remain questions about whether he'll hit for enough power to be a corner infielder at the highest level.
Aaron Nola, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
2014 Stats (A+/AA): 3-3, 36.1 IP, 2.97 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, .231 BAA, 6 BB, 34 K (8 G/7 GS)
After a breakout 2013 campaign behind Kevin Gausman in LSU’s starting rotation, Aaron Nola took over as the team’s ace this spring and emerged as arguably the top pitcher in college baseball. On the year, the right-hander posted an 11-1 record, 1.47 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 134-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 116.1 innings over 16 starts.
Nola, 21, was assigned to High-A Clearwater of the Florida State League following his selection by the Phillies with the No. 7 overall pick. There, he registered a 3.16 ERA and 30-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 31.1 innings.
He made his debut for Double-A Reading on Aug. 6, allowing one run on six hits over five innings, striking out four and walking one batter. Between both levels, Nola has held opposing hitters to a .231/.263/.415 batting line.
Working from a low three-quarter arm slot, Nola sits in the low 90s with a heavy fastball that induces both whiffs and weak contact. His breaking ball has really improved over the past year and is an above-average pitch with tight spin and depth.
Nola also does a nice job of keeping hitters off balance with his changeup, which registers in the 83 to 85 mph range. And as he’s demonstrated in each of the last two seasons, the stuff will play up thanks to a plus command profile.
If all goes as planned with his development, Nola could serve as a No. 3 starter for the Phillies by mid-2015.
Spencer Adams, RHP, Chicago White Sox
2014 Stats (R): 3-2, 34.2 IP, 3.89 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .285 BAA, 3 BB, 49 K (8 G/7 GS)
A three-sport standout at White County High School in Cleveland, Georgia, Spencer Adams was previously known for his dunking prowess in addition to his potential on the mound.
The 18-year-old was absolutely dominant during the high school season, posting a 0.72 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 58.1 innings, and he had as much helium as any prep pitcher heading into the draft. Specifically, his stock took off late in the spring behind a velocity jump into the mid-90s, while the highly projectable 6'4" right-hander had previously shown advanced feel for a four-pitch mix.
Adams didn’t waste any time beginning his professional career, signing with the White Sox a few days after he was selected in the second round, which has helped him make a strong impression in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
Though he’s been knocked around at times, with 41 hits allowed in 34.2 inning, the right-hander has shown excellent control and a knack for missing bats, evidenced by his 49-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Furthermore, Adams has been a strikeout machine as of late, recording at least eight in each of his past four starts. Overall, he has 35 strikeouts in his last 21 frames.
Nick Burdi, RHP, Minnesota Twins
2014 Stats (A): 4 SV, 13 IP, 4.15 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, .174 BAA, 8 BB, 26 K (13 G)
Nick Burdi was utterly dominant as Louisville’s closer during 2013 and '14, as the hard-throwing right-hander has saved a total of 34 games while posting a 0.62 ERA and a ridiculous 127/23 K/BB ratio in 72.2 innings (61 appearances).
Burdi boats two present MLB-worthy pitches: a dominant fastball in the upper 90s that has exceeded triple digits in the past, and a devastating, swing-and-miss slider that registers in the upper 80s.
Since his selection by the Twins in the second round, Burdi has saved four games and fanned 26 batters in only 13 innings (18.0 K/9). It shouldn’t take him long to reach the major leagues next season.
Brandon Finnegan, LHP, Kansas City Royals
2014 Stats (A+/AA): 19 IP, 0.47 ERA, 0.53 WHIP, .129 BAA, 2 BB, 13 K (5 GS)
Selected by the Royals with the No. 17 overall pick, Brandon Finnegan doesn’t require much physical projection at 5’11”, 190 pounds, but he boasts one of the better fastballs in the draft class.
The left-hander sits consistently in the mid-90s with the potential to work a few ticks higher in shorter bursts, and he’s shown the ability to hold the velocity deep into games. His breaking ball was slurvy at the time of the draft, but he’s since cleaned it up and used it to put impressive numbers at a pair of advanced levels.
Finnegan began his professional career at High-A Wilmington, where he posted a 0.60 ERA, allowed five hits and fanned 13 batters in 15 innings. The Royals moved him up to Double-A Northwest Arkansas last week to work out of the bullpen, and the southpaw has responded well to the challenge with four scoreless frames over two appearances.
The Royals will continue to limit his innings this summer, but I wouldn’t rule out the chance they use him out of the bullpen in September. The stuff certainly is good enough.
Luis Ortiz, RHP, Texas Rangers
2014 (R/A): 16.1 IP, 1.65 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, .200 BAA, 4 BB, 17 K (7 G/6 GS)
The Rangers took a gamble on Luis Ortiz when they selected him with the No. 30 overall pick, as the right-hander missed most of the spring with a forearm injury. However, after a great start to his professional career, Ortiz already is looking like one of the big steals from the first round.
Ortiz was assigned to the Rookie-level Arizona League after signing, where he registered a 2.03 ERA and 15-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13.1 innings. The 18-year-old's success earned him a quick promotion to full-season ball, and he fired three hitless innings for Low-A Hickory last week in his debut.
Ortiz throws a heavy fastball in the low to mid-90s as well as a sharp, downer breaking ball, but he will need to improve his overall secondary arsenal and command as he climbs the organizational ladder. It likely will take him several years to develop, but the young right-hander’s upside should make it well worth the wait.