New impact players are the most exciting part of any sport. You can bet that Broncos fans were thrilled when Peyton Manning signed with Denver; you can bet that Heat fans were through the roof when Lebron James made his decision; you can bet that Angels fans were floored when the Angels signed Albert Pujols to a ten year deal. Seeing your team get drastically better immediately is always exciting. Proven players like Manning, James, and Pujols are incredibly intriguing but young, new, and raw players are even more exciting than any of those major sports icons.
There’s hardly anything more exciting than seeing a bright young player join a contending team and greatly help their chances down the stretch. In baseball, the most recent and prominent example of that is Manny Machado. With the Orioles contending for the first time in over a decade last year, they called up top prospect Manny Machado, who hit .262/.294/.445 and solidified a flaky third base position for the O’s. The pennant races are starting to heat up as we enter mid-August of 2013 and so will the discussions of which top prospects are ready to impact a team at the major league level.
This year, the most-discussed prospects have been Nick Castellanos of the Tigers, Billy Hamilton of the Reds, Kolten Wong of the Cardinals, and Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox. In this post, we’re going to look at the upsides and downsides of promoting any of these top prospects and who is most likely to really impact their club both in 2013 and for the next several years.
March 3, 2013; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers outfielder Nick Castellanos (79) at bat against the Atlanta Braves at ESPN Disney Wide World of Sports complex, Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Castellanos has seen his prospect stock steadily rise throughout the past few years and he now ranks among the top hitting prospects in the game. He has changed positions his fair share of times but it has been to get his bat in the lineup in the lineup every day, and now an outfielder, he is on the verge of making his presence felt. Castellanos, 21 years old, is not having a great season in Triple-A Toledo, but his .278/.351/.438 shows the promise backed up by his raw tools. He profiles as a middle-of-the-order corner outfielder and could be occupying that spot as soon as September, given the struggles of alternate options Andy Dirks (.245/.310/.347) and Don Kelly (.245/.346/.394).
Jul 21, 2013; Scranton, PA, USA; Louisville Bats Billy Hamilton (6) runs the bases during the seventh inning against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders at PNC Field. The Bats defeated the RailRiders 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Billy Hamilton burst onto the scene last year with his professional record-setting 155 stolen bases between High-A and Double-A ball. There was talk of Hamilton being called up last September but it never materialized and, now in Triple-A, that talk will continue and possibly result in a call-up this year. Hamilton is not having a great season offensively in Louisville, but a .256/.309/.343 slash line might be enough given his absurd speed and range in center field. The Reds do not have a clear center fielder this year, with Shin-Soo Choo rated well below average there and Hamilton could be answer, if only through defensive replacements and pinch-running rather than making a huge impact.
Jul 14, 2013; Flushing , NY, USA; USA infielder Kolten Wong hits a single during the 2013 All Star Futures Game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Kolten Wong has long been viewed as the man who will right the Cardinals’ recent middle infield woes. If not for the emergence of Matt Carpenter, who has hit .308/.378/.467 primarily at second base, Wong might already be in the majors. However, Carpenter can move all over the diamond while Wong is a second baseman by trade and might be the future there for the Cards. Wong is having another solid if unspectacular year in Triple-A Memphis, slashing .303/.368/.468 with 19 steals and solid defense at the keystone. It’s hard to imagine the Cardinals not giving Wong a good look in September and seeing if he can take over at second base as soon as 2014.
March 24, 2013; Clearwater, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (72) in the dugout against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Xander Bogaerts was a 16 year old signed by the Red Sox out of Aruba just three years ago. Since then, he has become one of the best prospects in all of baseball and is poised to be in the majors soon. Bogaerts is now 20 years old and has raced through Double-A and Triple-A this year with a combined .298/.389/.480 slash line and it is extremely hard to not draw comparisons between him and Manny Machado. Both are young, Machado was 20 years old at the time of his call-up, both are playing on contenders, and both were shortstops who may be third basemen in the long run. There was some surprise a few days ago when Will Middlebrooks was called up to Boston instead of Bogaerts, but it became clear that Bogaerts was going to get work in at multiple infield positions. He should be up in September, or before if Middlebrooks struggles, and will likely serve a utility role getting regular starts at third base, shortstop, and possibly second base. However, there’s no doubt that he will be up soon and there’s little doubt that he deserves the Machado comparison more than anybody else in the minors right now.