The 2014 baseball season has yet to begin, but there are already a number of storylines for fans to be excited about. The Boston Red Sox look to defend their World Series title by winning their fourth championship in the past 10 years. Ryan Braun makes his return to the Brewers after his 2013 suspension held him out of baseball for the final 65 games of the season. The Seattle Mariners and New York Mets look to improve upon disappointing seasons in 2013 with the big winter acquisitions of Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. 2014 will also be the first season in 20 years that Alex Rodriquez will not be in a MLB uniform.
The upcoming baseball season also looks to be another great year for freshman phenoms. In 2013, the baseball world watched pitchers, such as Jose Fernandez and Gerrit Cole, dominate their respected leagues and a pair of rookies on St. Louis, Trevor Rosenthal and Shelby Miller, help their team reach the World Series. We saw clutch hits out of Atlanta’s Evan Gattis and San Diego’s Jedd Gyorko, veteran-like defensive plays out of Detroit shortstop Jose Iglesias and everyone marveled at everything Yasiel Puig did at the plate and in the field.
Listed below are my predictions for the 2014 season’s best rookie performers. I took into consideration the teams they would be called up to and how much playing time I believe they will see this season. I also tried to highlight some of their strengths, weaknesses, and how they would fit into their team’s lineup right away. I am not necessarily saying these are the runaway candidates for rookie of the year, but instead I believe these are the players that will have the biggest impact on their team in 2014.
10. Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals:
The last time the baseball world saw Kolten Wong he was a pinch runner for the Cardinals in Game four of the 2013 World Series. Wong was picked off by Boston’s Koji Uehara, making him the final out of the game and the Red Sox would go on to win the series two games later. The young prospect was visibly crushed, but his teammates and Cardinals fans are looking forward to a promising season and career in St. Louis.
Wong has proven to be a top defender during his time in the minors, committing only 38 errors in over 270 games played at second base (baseball-reference.com). His defensive abilities might be his biggest strength as a player. He possesses average speed, but has great instincts on the base path and is an above average base runner. He is also a great athlete, which complements his defensive abilities on the field. He does not appear as if he will turn into a power hitter anytime soon, but Wong should hit for a respectable average and is surrounded by a great offensive lineup. Wong will have to make some adjustments offensively if he hopes to make the opening day roster, but this is all part of the fine-tuning rookies have to go through.
He is likely to start the season at the AAA level, but it should not be long until he is a permanent fixture in St. Louis’ lineup. The biggest factor in Wong starting for the Cardinals will be determined by the play of Matt Carpenter at second base and Daniel Descalso as a utility player. If Descalso is not performing offensively, or struggling defensively in the field, the switch to Wong should be an easy decision for manager Mike Matheny.
9. Andrew Heaney, LHP, Miami Marlins:
The only left handed pitcher to make my top ten, Andrew Heaney has the right stuff (no pun intended) to make him a solid major league pitcher. The 22-year old starting pitcher made a name for himself in college as an Oklahoma State Cowboy. In 2012, he posted a 1.60 ERA with 140 strikeouts and was subsequently named the Big 12 player of the year. He plays for a Marlins farm system that ranks 21st in the league. Heaney stands out as one of the promising young talents for an organization that is in rebuilding mode.
Since coming to the Marlins in 2012, Heaney has made 25 career starts where he went 10-5. This is a small sample to evaluate him from, but in those 25 games Heaney accumulated a 2.21 ERA with a WHIP of 1.14 and has recorded over 100 strikeouts.
He has a long frame, standing at 6’3” but only weighs in around 180 pounds. Regardless of his slender build, Heaney gets great power out of his windup. According to baseballprospectnation.com, Heaney has a slow, yet deliberate, delivery that allows him to have great command of his fastball, which clocks in the mid-90s. He also relies on both a curveball and changeup to complement his fastball and rarely does he miss the strike zone with any of these pitches. Though scouts have said there is nothing flashy about his game, his poise and polished delivery will make him seem major league ready for this upcoming season.
It has yet to be determined whether or not Heaney will get pulled up for the 2014 season, but he will certainly have an opportunity to win a starting job in the spring. And for a Marlin’s pitching staff that saw their best player, Ricky Nolasco, shipped away at the trade deadline last season, Heaney could very easily come into spring training as Miami’s number two or three starter. Look for Heaney to have a big impact on his team when he is finally called up.