3. Nick Castellanos, 3B/DH/OF, Detroit Tigers:
The Detroit Tigers get a great deal of versatility with their young prospect Nick Castellanos. Last season, the 21-year-old got his first opportunity to play for the postseason-bound Tigers and saw playing time in left field, right field, and took swings at the plate as their designated hitter. No matter which part of the field Castellanos finds a permanent home, his imminent rise to the majors is likely to take place this season.
He is going to make his career at the plate and scouts already believe he could be an offensive threat for years to come. In his short stint in the minors, roughly 130 games, Castellanos posted a .278 batting average with an on-base percentage of .343 and an impressive slugging percentage of .450. 2012 was Castellanos’ best season where he hit .320/.365/.451 and was named the All-Star Futures Game’s Most Valuable Player.
Scouts point to Castellanos’ poise at the plate as being one of his best assets. According to baseballprospectus.com he has quiet hands at the plate and great balance in the batter’s box. His maturity at the plate is all complemented by his exceptional strength and he has great hand-eye coordination. Additionally, he has the ability to drive the ball into the outfield and has developed a tighter strike zone from when he first joined the Tigers organization.
The biggest flaws in his game are his glove work and overall fielding abilities. He doesn’t have a particularly strong arm and occasionally makes a bad read on the ball, but these are adjustments that can be made at the major league level with the help of new manager Brad Ausmus and the Tigers coaching staff.
With the departure of Prince Fielder to Texas and the likelihood that Miguel Cabrera will shift back to first base, there is an opening for Castellanos at third base. And if the Tigers decide to move Victor Martinez back to the catching position, Castellanos could see playing time at the designated hitter position. The point is that the Tigers have a very versatile young man going forward and he could even play games in the outfield baring any injuries. If he can make an adjustment to major league pitching, the Tigers could ideally have both their corner infielders competing for an AL batting title in the foreseeable future.
2. Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins:
Byron Buxton is likely to start the season in Double-A, but by the summer he is expected to be called up to the majors and when he does expect him to have a big impact on an underachieving Twins organization. Buxton is an intriguing prospect because he possesses all the tools that make for a perennial MLB All-Star. He hits for power and average, he is a well-polished defender, he has great speed and flies around the base path and, most impressively, he’s only 20-years old.
After being selected 2nd overall in the 2012 draft, Buxton was Baseball America’s 2013 Minor League Player of the Year because of an absolutely dominate season. In 125 games for single-A Cedar Rapids and Fort Meyers, Buxton posted a .334 batting average with an on-base percentage of .424 and slugging percentage of .520. He racked up 163 hits with 12 home runs, 77 RBIs, and stole 55 bases. The guy did everything short of pitch for his team, which he could of because he was scouted as a pitcher in high school.
Buxton has great intuition and base stealing speed, but also has great speed and range in the outfield. At the plate, he is a line drive hitter that has the power to smash the ball into the outfield.
He has quick wrists and a quick bat, which result in a lot of solid contact with the ball. Buxton probably won’t hit for a ton of home runs, but he has all the abilities to make him a premier lead-off hitter at the major league level.
He is catered to be a centerfielder because of his speed and range in the outfield. At 6’2” and 190 pounds, the guy has a great arm and has been clocked by Twins as throwing between 92-95 mph off the mound, but that arm power certainly translates to the outfield. The only real downside is his inexperience and his youth, but no one is holding that against him. He has already shown great maturity in his game for being such a young talent.
The Twins could use this guys help on both sides of the ball, especially at the plate after they traded away one of their better offensive weapons in Justin Morneau. When he was first drafted, it was expected that Buxton would make the team somewhere around the 2016 season. Since then he has shown tremendous developments in his game and is going to make a run for a starting roster spot this spring. The Twins have plenty of holes in their lineup, especially in the outfield where it would appear Josh Willingham is their most viable offensive weapon. Don’t be surprised if the young phenom gets called up this season and be ready to watch greatness when he does.
1. Xander Bogaerts, SS and 3B, Boston Red Sox:
Xander Bogaerts might be the most complete young talent expected to grace the majors in 2014. He already had a short stint with Boston during their postseason run in 2013 where he batted .296 with 2 RBIs in 12 playoff appearances. But it’s not the World Series ring that makes this native of Aruba major league ready.
To start, Bogaerts has tremendous baseball intelligence as he has proven to be a great situation player. Since being discovered by the Red Sox at 16 in 2009, he has played professional ball for the past three seasons and quickly rose through Boston’s farm system. In his time with the Sox, Bogaerts has played in 378 games with over 1400 at-bats and an eye-raising stat line of .296/.373/.489. Combine these skills at the plate with above average speed and Bogaerts will prove to be a great top of the order hitter.
Scouts have assessed Bogaerts and almost unanimously agree the infielder has a graceful and fluent swing. He gets great contact at the plate and has the ability to put the ball into play. Additionally, he has a tremendous talent to place the ball anywhere on the field based on the situation in the game.
The biggest flaws in his game right now are ones that plague many young stars who first enter the majors. He has a big strike zone that sometimes results in questionable swings. Also, his footwork in the field defensively is not where the Red Sox want him to be yet. But, again, he’s young and still developing into being a fine player.
It’s not a matter of when Bogaerts will get a chance to be an everyday man because he should make the roster for opening day. The challenge for manager John Farrell is going to be how to balance the infield with Bogaerts and third baseman Will Middlebrooks. If the Red Sox decide not to bring back shortstop Stephen Drew, then the gap position opens up for Bogaerts. But if the team does bring back Drew then there is going to a competition between Bogaerts and Middlebrooks in spring training. If I had to make a prediction now, I give the edge to Bogaerts because of Middlebrooks sub-par offensive numbers last season. There is a chance Middlebrooks could see some playing time at first baring any injuries to Mike Napoli or David Ortiz.
No matter where he plays on the field, Xander Bogaerts is going to be a big part of the Red Sox plan to defend their World Series title in 2014.