Four prospect-related resolutions for 2014
By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com
First and foremost, a happy new year to you and yours from all of us here at MiLB.com. We’ve done a lot of retrospective work this offseason, between our 2013 MiLBY Awards, the features that went along with them and our very own Organization All-Stars series.
This week of weeks, it’s time to look forward to 2014 just as we enter its official first days. With that in mind, many of you have undoubtedly already done the same and have made our New Year’s resolutions. Exercise more; get out and travel somewhere new; finally, get Netflix and find out what all the fuss is about concerning Sherlock (if you haven’t done that yet or it’s not on your list, rectify the situation immediately) — things of those natures.
With that in mind, I’ve come up with a few resolutions that some of baseball’s top 100 prospects might be making as we roll into 2014.
1. Billy Hamilton, Reds outfielder: Put up an OBP at or above .325
Cincinnati’s top prospect commanded our collective attention in 2012 when he swiped a record 155 bases across two levels. He was dangerous on the basepaths again in 2013 for Triple-A Louisville, stealing 75 bags in 123 games while moving to center field but couldn’t quite impress with the bat (.256/.308/.343), especially compared to the previous year (.311/.410/.420). But with Shin-Soo Choo heading to the Rangers via free agency this offseason, Hamilton will be the one to slide into the top spot in the lineup and man center field for the Reds in 2014. General manager Walt Jocketty confirmed as much.
Hamilton’s speed is his greatest asset, but he can only rack up the stolen base numbers if he reaches base at a semi-regular basis. His 2012 OBP numbers are too much to ask — the days of the Southern and California Leagues are very much in the speedster’s rear-view mirror. However, a modest bump from his .308 in the International League should be a reasonable goal. If he can steal more than 50 bases in the Majors — and he’s shown he’s capable of beating big league catchers after finishing 13-for-14 during a late-season call-up, he should be an NL Rookie of the Year candidate.
2. Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox outfielder: Don’t change your game, but make Red Sox fans think “Jacoby who?”
Alright, this one’s a little complicated, but hear me out. Like the Hamilton and Choo scenario, Bradley is expected to take over center field for the Red Sox following the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury to the rival Yankees. It’s not a direct comparison, though, because unlike Hamilton and his speed, Bradley hasn’t built up a legendary reputation that precedes his move to a full-time spot in the Majors. That’s not a knock against Bradley by any means. He’s a great fielder with a plus arm and impressive patience at the plate. But fair or not, some Red Sox fans might want him to replicate Ellsbury’s 52 steals and game-changing speed. That’s simply not going to happen. What can happen though is that Bradley can flash his potentially Golden Glove, show off his strong arm and reach base enough to provide some stability to the bottom of the Boston order. Ellsbury may have made a few enemies by going to the Bronx. It’s Bradley’s time to become a fan favorite.
3. Nick Castellanos, Tigers third baseman: Move comfortably back to third base and transition just as easily to the bigs
You could call 2013 sort of a lost year for Castellanos, or you could call it a year that he added to his versatility. Either way, the Tigers’ top prospect spent the entire season at a position he’s unlikely to play much in 2014. With Prince Fielder at first base and MVP Miguel Cabrera at third, the Detroit organization moved Castellanos to left field in the hopes that it would give him the quickest route to the Majors. Well, he’s moving back to the hot corner for his rookie season after the team traded Fielder to the Rangers and will move defensively inept Cabrera across the diamond. Castellanos, who told me he wanted to play third base again before the trade, will be an improvement over Cabrera at third, and although his bat won’t immediately fill the Fielder-sized hole in the lineup, the career .303 hitter in the Minors should hold his own in his rookie campaign. 2014 should be another year of transition for Castellanos. He’s hoping it’s as seamless as possible.
4. Dylan Bundy, Orioles right-hander: Be healthy, be healthy, be healthy
It’s as simple as that, really. Bundy didn’t make a start early in 2013 due to elbow issues and then underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in late June. Before that, all he did was dominate three levels in 2012 en route to making his Major League debut in the same season he made his pro debut. Now, it’s likely he won’t return to a pro mound until July 2014. Tommy John surgery has a pretty good success rate these days — Adam Wainwright and John Lackey are two examples — so expectations remain high for Bundy’s eventual comeback. Indeed, he still ranks as MLB.com’s No. 15 prospect. All the same, Bundy, the Orioles and their fans will hold their breaths hoping for no additional delays in the 2011 fourth overall pick’s career.