The 2014 baseball season is just 67 days away from opening night in Sydney, Australia where the Arizona Diamondbacks will take on the Los Angeles Dodgers. Last season both teams were locked in a heated battle for supremacy in the NL West and this season should be no different.
Both the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are surrounded by young talent that not only sets them up to win this season, but allows them to contend for championships in the years to come. Rookie players are having a bigger impact on their teams in their first year of major league service because many players come into the league as polished professionals. This season should be the debut of several young prospects who possess the skills needed to help their team make a postseason run.
These five rookie players are who I believe will have the biggest impact on their team in 2014. They come into the season with little to no major league experience, but have the ability to turn a playoff contender into a World Series bound team. These players lead a list of my top 10 rookie prospects of 2014. If you didn’t read part one to my two part preview, or want to review my first five picks, you can read that story here.
5. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, New York Yankees:
Masahiro Tanaka is headed to America and he has found a home with the New York Yankees. Yesterday, the 25-year-old right hander signed a seven year deal worth $155 million with a club option to opt-out of his contract after the fourth year. The Yankees signed the coveted free-agent just two days before his posting deadline would have been up. The Yankees beat out several other hopefuls including the Angels, Cubs, Mariners, and White Sox.
He is already drawing comparisons to Texas Rangers’ Japanese product Yu Darvish. He comes into the league the same age as Darvish and is believed to have a lights-out pitching arsenal. However, Tanaka received a much more lucrative rookie contract than Darvish back in 2012. This adds more pressure for the pitcher to succeed, but the large contract is a direct result of his already impressive professional career in Japan.
Over the past seven seasons with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Tanaka recorded over 1,200 strikeouts to go with a combined ERA of 2.30 and a WHIP of 1.12. Last season he went 24-0 with an ERA of 1.27 and pitched over 200 innings for the second time in his career. He does tend to give up a decent amount of hits over the course of the season. Tanaka allowed over 150 hits in each of his seven years and this number could go up when he enters the majors.
But I am giving Tanaka the benefit of the doubt in believing he will make the Yankees’ rotation better from day one. He is a top of the rotation guy and his durability every year has shown that he can take on a considerable work load over the course of a long season. He will join the Yankees as their number two starter behind C.C Sabathia and fellow-countryman Hiroki Kuroda. The fourth spot is likely reserved for Ivan Nova and either Michael Pineda or David Phelps will round out the rotation.
The Yankees certainly got better with the acquisition of Tanaka and this rounds out a busy off-season for New York that also included signing Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann. With the departure of Alex Rodriguez for at least the 2014 season, the Yankees were able to free up enough money to bring in the free-agents they needed to make another run at a championship. I am still convinced the Red Sox are the team to beat in the East, but the Yankees certainly made enough noise this winter to warrant some attention as being considered the best team in the American League.
4. Travis d’Arnaud, catcher, New York Mets:
Travis d’Arnaud appears to be a front runner for NL Rookie of the Year and looks to position himself in a Mets lineup that added Curtis Granderson this offseason. He is a complete defensive catcher and has already been named the best catching prospect by MLBPipeline.com. The soon-to-be 25 year old does a great job behind the plate catching high velocity pitches and has demonstrated a great ability to keep the ball from getting behind him. Additionally, he has a rocket for an arm that can certainly help the Mets pitching staff keep runners in check.
Offensively, he possesses a great deal of power and has a knack for getting the bat-on-the-ball. He has a chance to put up outstanding numbers at the plate as he hits for both average and power. Possibly his greatest intangible is the six years he spent playing in the minors where he played in over 500 games and racked up over 500 hits in nearly 2000 plate appearances.
The biggest question for d’Arnaud going into the season is his health. He suffered a knee injury in 2012 that sidelined him for more than half the season and a broken foot in 2013 reduced his minor league playing time down to 32 games. Despite his recent setbacks, d’Arnaud made his debut with the Mets in August 2013 and in over 31 games and nearly 100 at-bats, the young catcher put up a respectable stat line of .202/.286/.263 (baseballamerica.com).
Playing in New York’s Citi Field should help d’Arnaud raise his batting average over the duration of the season and if he can stay healthy he has the potential to be one of the top offensive and defensive catchers in the national league. The Mets could use the help both offensively and defensively if they hope to make the playoffs. In 2013 they ranked 23rd in runs scored and 17th in fielding percentage (according to ESPN stats).