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Season Preview: Top Rookies around MLB

The SportsXchange

While many top rookies will begin the 2014 season honing their craft in Triple-A before midseason call-ups, several contenders are counting on immediate contributions from first-year big-leaguers.

The Cincinnati Reds have slotted Billy Hamilton into the leadoff spot, the Atlanta Braves are expected to give right-hander David Hale a crack at the rotation and shortstop Xander Bogaerts is already the favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year honors after the 21-year-old contributed to the Boston Red Sox's World Series title last season.

The Sports Xchange polled its team correspondents for the top Rookie of the Year candidate in all 30 Major League Baseball franchises.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: SS Chris Owings, 22, was the most valuable player in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League last season, and he brings a bigger bat to the lineup than that of SS Didi Gregorius, who inherited the starting job last season. Owings hit .330 with 12 homers, 82 RBIs and 20 stolen bases last year for Triple-A Reno, and he followed that by batting .291 with five doubles and five RBIs in 55 at-bats as a September call-up. He was in a spring hitting group with 1B Paul Goldschmidt, LF Mark Trumbo and RF Gerardo Parra, which shows how much the Diamondbacks like him.

COLORADO ROCKIES: RHP Chad Bettis was used first as a starter in eight games and then in relief in his final eight games last year after the Rockies promoted him from Double-A Tulsa on Aug. 1. The team believes his future is in the bullpen because of his ability to throw strikes with a fastball that hits 97-98 mph, an excellent changeup and a hard slider. There is some concern that Bettis, 24, would put more strain on his arm as a starter because of a tendency to drift over the rubber, but that would be less of an issue if he comes out of the bullpen for an inning.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS: Alex Guerrero, 27, was signed to a five-year, $25 million contract last summer with the expectation that he would be the Dodgers' primary second baseman this season. Guerrero was unimpressive in spring training, however, and he like will start the stateside portion of the regular season in Triple-A while Dee Gordon and Justin Turner share the Dodgers' second base job. At some point, though, look for Guerrero in Los Angeles.

SAN DIEGO PADRES: RHP Matt Wisler, 21, was 10-6 with a 2.78 ERA between high Class A and Double-A in 2013, with 20 of his 26 starts coming at the higher level. The Padres could opt to send their top immediate rotation prospect back to Double-A to start the season rather than start him at the more hitter-friendly confines of Triple-A El Paso. Wherever he starts the season, expect Wisler to end the season in the Padres' rotation.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: INF Ehire Adrianza, 24, broke in with nine major league games last year, and he is knocking on the Giants' door. He is out of options and is a defensive whiz who played shortstop throughout his eight minor league seasons but is capable of playing second. That makes him a candidate for playing time with 2B Marco Scutaro's iffy back situation. Adrianza hit .266 with two homers and 35 RBIs in 118 combined games in Double-A and Triple-A last year, but his strength is his defense.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

CHICAGO CUBS: SS Javier Baez's time in the majors is on the horizon. His prodigious power and quick bat were on display again this spring, but the Cubs want him to refine his game and improve his defense at Triple-A Iowa to start the season. When Baez does come up, he likely will play somewhere other than short -- probably second base -- because SS Starlin Castro is entrenched until further notice. The Cubs want to make sure Baez, 21, is good and ready when they promote him.

CINCINNATI REDS: Billy Hamilton is being counted on to perform in a key role -- as the leadoff hitter and center fielder -- on a contending team. That is not an easy task for player who hit .256 last year in Triple-A, but Hamilton had a terrific spring. Hamilton, 23, stole 13 bases in 14 attempts last year during a September call-up, so his speed certainly translates to the majors.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS: It will be fascinating to see what LHP Wei-Chung Wang does. He has played only one professional season, and that was at the rookie-ball level for Pittsburgh. The Brewers took him in the Rule 5 draft on a flier, which means they have to keep him all season or offer him back to the Pirates. Manager Ron Roenicke says he won't try to "hide" Wang in the bullpen, but this is an unprecedented leap Wang is trying to make. Wang, 21, throws in the low 90s with a good changeup and excellent command.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES: RHP Stolmy Pimentel made a good impression last September in his first taste of the big leagues, posting a 1.93 ERA in 9 1/3 innings with his fastball averaging 94.7 mph. Pimentel, 24, will work in long relief to start the season but could move into the rotation if necessary, as he has been a starting pitcher throughout his professional career. He went a combined 6-9 with a 3.35 ERA in 27 starts with Triple-A Indianapolis and Double-A Altoona last season before getting called up.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: OF Stephen Piscotty, a supplemental first-round draft pick in 2012, was the surprise of camp, both on defense, where he played aggressively, and offense, where he displayed a good, short stroke with power. Piscotty, 23, will be up at some point this season if any of the starting outfielders goes down. However, he will not stay up unless the Cardinals can play him on a regular basis.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

ATLANTA BRAVES: RHP David Hale, 26, allowed just one run and struck out 14 over 11 innings in his first two major league games last September, and he is expected to start the season in the Braves' depleted rotation. He had an up-and-down spring, though, posting a 6.62 Grapefruit League ERA through March 25. Last year at Triple-A Gwinett, Hale went 6-9 with a 3.22 ERA.

MIAMI MARLINS: LHP Andrew Heaney, a 22-year-old who might be the top left-handed prospect in baseball, could be promoted if he gets off to a solid start at Double-A Jacksonville. Heaney, the ninth overall pick in the 2012 draft, allowed two runs in 7 2/3 innings (2.35 ERA) in Grapefruit League action. In 2013, he went a combined 9-3 with a 1.60 ERA in 25 games (24 starts) at Class A Jupiter and Jacksonville.

NEW YORK METS: C Travis d'Arnaud, 25, is still technically a rookie, and the Mets are expecting big things out of him. D'Arnaud drew rave reviews for his pitch-framing abilities last season, but now the Mets need him to step up the offensive portion of his game. He hit just .202 with a .263 slugging percentage in 112 major league plate appearances last year.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: INF Cesar Hernandez, 23, may be the Phillie who best fits this description. The club is fascinated by his athletic ability, and he is capable of moving between the infield and the outfield. He may not grab the last bench spot right out of spring training, but there is a strong chance he will be back at some point this year.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS: RHP Aaron Barrett, 26, had 26 saves in 51 games last season, a 1-1 record and a 2.15 ERA for Double-A Harrisburg. He impressed the Nationals with 9 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in spring training, which earned him a spot on the Opening Day roster. Barrett has closer stuff, which will help improve their bullpen.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

HOUSTON ASTROS: SS Carlos Correa, the top overall pick in the 2012 draft, was arguably already the top talent in major league camp even though he is only 19 years old. He is a superb infielder and an amazing hitter. His goal is to earn a September call-up, and the Astros are not putting that out of the question. He will start at high-Class A Lancaster, and nobody in the organization is ruling out a few jumps in the system this year.

LOS ANGELES ANGELS: 2B Taylor Lindsey, 22, is the consensus top prospect in the Angels' organization, and if he has a good start to the year in Triple-A, it could make Howie Kendrick expendable. Still, it is unlikely Lindsey will debut before 2015. Last year, he hit .274 with a .339 on-base percentage and a .441 slugging percentage in Double-A.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS: Addison Russell, 20, is projected to be the Athletics' Opening Day shortstop in 2015, in part because Jed Lowrie will be a free agent and in part because Russell is such a mature player for his age. He is likely to start the season at Double-A Midland but could move quickly to Triple-A Sacramento. He hit a combined .269/.369/.495 with 17 homers, 60 RBIs and 21 steals last year in high Class A and Triple-A.

SEATTLE MARINERS: 3B D.J. Peterson, 22, was the team's first-round pick last June, but a scary injury in his first few weeks of professional baseball derailed his debut season. Peterson appears to be fully recovered from the broken jaw he suffered after getting hit by a pitch last August, and the Mariners hope he can develop into a middle-of-the-order hitter.

TEXAS RANGERS: C Jorge Alfaro, a 20-year-old Colombian, hit .258 with 16 home runs at low Class A Hickory in 104 games last season. The Rangers believe he has yet to come close to reaching his full potential. Alfaro, who also has a cannon arm, will start this season at high-Class A Myrtle Beach, and he could reach the major leagues by 2016.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

CHICAGO WHITE SOX: 3B Matt Davidson was acquired from the Diamondbacks in the offseason, but will begin the season at Triple-A Charlotte for the Sox. Don't expect a long stay, as the rookie will work on his defense, waiting to see whether Gillaspie can hold onto the big-league spot at third.

CLEVELAND INDIANS: SS Francisco Lindor, the Indians' top pick and the eighth player taken overall in the 2011 June Draft, will start the 2014 season at Double-A Akron, where at age 20 he will be one of the youngest players in the league. Lindor, however, is on the fast track to Cleveland, and it could happen this season, should the Indians fall out of contention and decide to trade SS Asdrubal Cabrera, who can become a free agent after this season. At the very least, Lindor appears likely to be the Indians' opening day shortstop in 2015.

DETROIT TIGERS: 3B Nick Castellanos was handed the starting third base job when Detroit traded 1B Prince Fielder to Texas. He spent the last year-plus training as an outfielder but now returns to the position at which he began when the Tigers drafted him. Castellanos hit .278 in 18 Detroit at-bats last September after batting .276 with 18 home runs and 76 RBI with Triple-A Toledo. Experienced pitchers skilled at off-speed stuff may give him problems initially, but it would not be surprising to see him duplicate his Toledo numbers in his rookie season.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS: RHP Kyle Zimmer will begin the year in extended spring, but by mid-May should be in the Double-A Northwest Arkansas rotation. Zimmer was nursing a tender shoulder in spring training, so the Royals took a slow approach with him, but he is on the fast track to the majors. Zimmer was the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft and could be in the majors before the season ends.

MINNESOTA TWINS: C Josmil Pinto made the team as the backup catcher, but he might see time at DH this season as well. With Joe Mauer moving to first base, the position was wide open and Pinto lost out to Kurt Suzuki. Although he has some things to learn defensively, Pinto's bat (.269 in 13 spring training games) will be hard to keep out of the lineup. Look for him to contribute sooner rather than later and all season long.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

BALTIMORE ORIOLES: RHP Dylan Bundy who underwent Tommy John surgery last June, begins the season on the disabled list and will need to build up innings. While 2014 was initially a target for the young phenom to burst onto the scene, it is now almost assuredly a lost season. He is aiming for a late-June return, but the Orioles will work the 20-year-old back at a conservative pace. Any late-year production from him would be a bonus.

BOSTON RED SOX: LHP Henry Owens, 21, likely seizes the top prospect mantle with SS Xander Bogaerts graduating to the big leagues. The 6-foot-6 lefty does not have a blazing fastball, but with a deceptive delivery and a major-league-caliber changeup, he does not have to. At one point last season, Owens threw 19 1/3 consecutive no-hit innings at Class A Salem. He will open the season at in Double-A but could be ready for the majors at some point in 2015.

NEW YORK YANKEES: C Gary Sanchez, 21, made significant strides in his defensive game the past two seasons, and will open the year at Double-A Trenton after finishing there in 2013. Sanchez had 15 homers and 71 RBIs last year at two levels, but the signing of All-Star C Brian McCann to a five-year contract blocks his path.

TAMPA BAY RAYS: SS Hak-Ju Lee, 23, was supposed to have a big 2013, when he was going to play regularly at Triple-A Durham and show the Rays he would be ready, if needed. However, a brutal April knee injury wiped out the rest of his season, and he pretty much is starting 2014 in the same place -- actually a few weeks behind due to a late-spring calf strain. He hopes to play his way into Tampa Bay's 2015 plans.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS: RHP Aaron Sanchez, 21, was impressive in spring training, giving glimpses of why he is considered ace-in-waiting. He could get this chance at the majors sometime this season, but patience is the part of the game plan with him and he has yet to pitch above Class A. He should open at Double-A and definitely should figure in the Blue Jays' 2015 plans.

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