Major League Baseball is currently in a massive state of flux. The offseason is upon us and the transaction wire has been white hot in the early going. More players have changed addresses already than I can remember from years past. Having a healthy and prosperous farm system is paramount to the success of any organization, so it's never too early to scout future talent. To that end, I've pinpointed three prospects that are laying waste to the lower levels of the minors and could be primed for a breakout season in 2014 if given the opportunity.
Archie Bradley is a name everyone is bound to know eventually, and that time could be now. Bradley came into the 2013 season with just 29 games of professional experience to his credit, but he certainly did not prove to be overmatched or overwhelmed. He spent almost all of 2013 at the AA level and amassed some outrageously impressive stats while there. By late summer the masses were already calling for him to join the big league club, but General Manager Kevin Towers did not want to stunt his development and held off. All of his peripherals suggest a young pitcher than can more than hold his own at the major league level since the level of competition he faced at AA was very strong. His 3.06 FIP would be well above the league average and his 9.59 K/9 and 1.84 ERA were also elite. Those skills would seem to translate well at the next level so long as he is able to get his BB/9 back to a reasonable level. He registered a 4.09 in that category which would get him eaten alive in the majors. He possesses the big frame that talent evaluators love since it usually helps to lessen the odds of career derailing injuries. He has also shown an impressive propensity to keep the ball in the yard (6 HR in 152 IP last season) which bodes well for his future in the hitters haven that is Chase Field. He is scheduled to begin the 2014 season at AAA, but he will be given a chance in Spring Training to impress and betting against him would be incredibly foolish.
Eddie Butler (SP) - Rockies
Here’s a name that isn't immediately recognized in baseball circles as of yet, but will be soon. Eddie Butler is poised to do big things in Colorado, a boon for a team that regularly fails to develop solid starting pitching. His 2013 season in the Rockies’ minor-league system began with the low-A Asheville, after which he was quickly promoted to high-A Modesto then on to AA Tulsa. Butler compiled a solid 1.80 ERA in 150 total innings, and boasted an impressive 8.9 K/9 ratio over the 2013 season. Much like any young pitcher, Butler had a tough time with consistent delivery mechanics, leading to control issues (3.89 BB/9). As is the case with most lanky pitchers who operate from a ¾ slot, point of release and landing are critical and Butler will need to improve in those areas. After falling victim to the long ball with Modesto, seemingly a rite of passage for any young pitcher in the California League, Butler turned in an impressive six games for AA Tulsa, posting a 0.65 ERA and .687 WHIP. Butler was initially thought of as an ideal bullpen pitcher due to his reliance on a dual-fastball arsenal – a high 90's four-seamer and low 90's two-seamer. However, his development of a respectable slider and ever improving changeup leave little doubt about his potential as a starter. As of now, he doesn't figure to be a part of the Rockies plans for 2014, but as a team desperate for talented young arms might look to take advantage of his services sooner than expected. Butler’s ability to find a consistent arm angle and comfort within his delivery will be the true key to his future prospects.
Nick Castellanos (3B) - Tigers
The last prospect on my list is newly minted third basemen for the Detroit Tigers, Nick Castellanos. Aside from a quick September call-up, Castellanos spent the entirely of 2013 at AAA Toledo. He is the main beneficiary of the Prince Fielder trade since it allowed erstwhile third baseman Miguel Cabrera to slide across the diamond to first base while opening up third. Widely considered to be the best prospect in the Tigers system, Castellanos boasts the ability to spray the ball to all fields, improving plate discipline and burgeoning power. His 9.1 BB% and 16.8 K% are both right at the major league mean so there are no red flags to speak of in that regard. He flashed outstanding plate discipline all season long with a contact percentage of 82%, again right in line with the major league average. These numbers don't automatically translate to instant success against major league pitching, but they give him a fighting chance to be successful right out of the gate. He isn't a threat to steal many bases, but that shouldn't hinder him all that much since true five-tool players are very rare these days anyway. Castellanos also brought an OPS of .793 to the table which would fall above the league average if he can repeat that in the big leagues. All in all, both his surface and peripheral numbers lend themselves to a player that is capable of delivering at least a run above replacement...if not slightly more. The stage is certainly set for him to explode onto the scene in 2014 and do big things. Count on this kid to produce right from jump and run with the 3B job out of camp.