2014 Prospects of the Year 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
Kris BryantMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsThe Cubs' Kris Bryant crushed minor league pitching in 2014 (.325 average, 43 homers, 110 RBIs).
While the process of selecting the top prospects was ultimately subjective, I focused primarily on legitimate prospects who performed well relative to their age, level and experience in pro ball. In short, the younger a player was relative to the other players in his league -- especially when compared just to the players in his league with a chance to have some impact in the majors -- the more impressed I was with a strong performance.

The winner here won't surprise anyone, so I discuss a number of other players who would have merited strong consideration if we didn't have such a clear favorite. I also give a separate award to the 2014 draftee who had the best pro debut, as well as a pair of runners-up.

Prospect of the Year: Kris Bryant | 3B | Chicago Cubs

I'd say it was a unanimous vote, but considering I'm the only voter, that was sort of an inevitable outcome. Still, Bryant blew away the field, dominating at two levels, leading the minor leagues in home runs and slugging percentage, finishing second in OBP (behind a 21-year-old in low-A) and ascending the rankings to become baseball's top prospect, all in his first full year in professional baseball.

'Keep calm' on these young players 

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
Javier BaezAP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastNot to worry, Cubs fans, despite his initial struggles this season, Javier Baez will be fine.
A lot of highly touted prospects and other young major leaguers had what might appear to be disheartening seasons in 2014. Here are five examples of players whose stat lines this year shouldn't dampen your enthusiasm about their futures.

Javier Baez

It's not the debut Cubs fans were expecting, at least not given his showings in spring training and the Futures Game, but a rough first time around the carousel is pretty much in line with Baez's career to date. Baez has 153 plate appearances in the majors so far, with 63 strikeouts and a .175/.229/.364 line. In his first 153 plate appearances in Triple-A, coming earlier this year, he hit .201/.268/.388 with 53 strikeouts.

He started slowly in Double-A as well, failing to get his OBP over .300 until his 120th plate appearance, but he came around sooner and was at least up to .273/.329/.580 by the time he passed 153 plate appearances. The primary skill that made him such a highly rated prospect -- he was No. 7 coming into the year -- is still intact: He has some of the best bat speed and strongest hands I've ever seen on a hitting prospect. He needs to overhaul his approach to at-bats, as he still seems to be deciding whether to swing before he could possibly have identified the pitch type, but he's so talented that he can make mistakes and still turn it into hard contact.

Xander Bogaerts

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Most notable September call-ups 

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
Maikel FrancoCliff Welch/Icon SMIMaikel Franco bounced back after a slow start at Triple-A and got the call to the bigs Monday.
Sept. 1 is the day each year when major league teams can expand their active rosters from 25 players to as many as 40. As such, teams have begun the process of recalling a few select prospects, either to provide a boost for a playoff push or to get a key prospect some major league development time. Some prospects may come up after their minor league teams complete playoff runs, and others who appear to be ready might not come up at all due to roster rules (the Cubs' Kris Bryant foremost among them).

Here are my thoughts on eight players who already have been called up and what they might provide in the next month in the big leagues:

Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago Cubs (No. 28 in my midseason top 50 prospect rankings, No. 26 in my preseason top 100): Soler has been up for a few days, going 10-for-19 with seven extra-base hits in his first five games in the majors.

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Top 10 sustainable breakthroughs 

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
Yan Gomes, Jake Arrieta & Adam EatonGetty ImagesMany "breakthroughs" are more products of small sample sizes or good luck. These appear different.
For these breakthroughs, I considered:

• Players who were no longer rookies to start 2014.
• Players who either established a substantially higher level of performance, or who established themselves as everyday players/mid-rotation starters when they were previously part-time or extra players.

While many other players had apparent breakouts this year (e.g., Josh Harrison), these 10 players all have had breakouts that I believe are sustainable into future seasons. I picked five starters and five position players.


Garrett Richards

Unfortunately, Richards' season is over due to a freak knee injury that might put him out of action into spring training of 2015, which hurts the Angels' chances of advancing in the postseason and overshadows what an amazing year he's had. Richards was throwing mostly four-seamers and sliders before this season, which made him vulnerable to left-handed batters and generally to hard contact when he left the fastball up. This year, he added a two-seamer, with more life than the four-seamer (which has some natural cut) and a different look, while also adding a curveball to complement the slider, a pitch with similar shape but lower velocity. Assuming his knee allows it, he'll return to ace status next year.

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What the Red Sox get in Rusney Castillo 

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
The Boston Red Sox signed Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo to a six-year, $72 million contract that set a record for an international free agent, reflecting the success of most of the Cuban position players who've come over so far, and the fact that the collective bargaining agreement steers money into Cuba, Japan and Korea. I haven't seen Castillo play live, but talked to many scouts and executives who did, and got some consistent comments on his speed and athleticism though there were some discrepancies

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My early award winners, top contenders 

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
Mike TroutDominic DiSaia for ESPNMike Trout might finally win the AL MVP award that eluded him the past two seasons.

With just five weeks left in the regular season, we're approaching peak silliness time, the point in the season when we start to hear narrative-based explanations for why players who weren't actually the best at their respective roles deserve more award consideration -- the voters doth protest too much, methinks, but sometimes these campaigns (for that's just what they are) work. An annual August tradition, I've broken down whom I would list if I had the major award ballots, assuming I had to file them today, along with thoughts on how each of them could change based on what happens in September.

These pseudo-ballots represent how I would vote right now on each award, not what I expect to happen, although I talk about any such differences in the commentary. I have the NL Rookie of the Year ballot, so I won't discuss that one, although at this point it's more of a battle of attrition -- the last guy not on the DL gets the award

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Mets' Matz impresses at Double-A 

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
Steven MatzAdam RubinSteven Matz has refined his delivery and recovered from 2010 Tommy John surgery.
The New York Mets took left-hander Steven Matz in the second round of the 2009 draft out of a Long Island high school, using their first pick that year on him. But Matz, who had a violent delivery and some elbow issues as an amateur, blew out his elbow almost immediately after signing and didn't pitch in a professional game until June of 2012. He made 21 starts last year, averaging just five innings per start and facing more than 22 batters in only one outing all season, but stayed healthy and had solid results.

This year, he's had a real breakout season, throwing harder with better control and strong enough results to move up to Double-A and become one of the team's top 10 prospects.

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Best pitching tools in MLB 

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
Clayton Kershaw, Aroldis Chapman, Felix HernandezGetty ImagesClayton Kershaw, Aroldis Chapman and Felix Hernandez are prominent in the pitching tools ranks.
Our evaluation of the best tools in the game concludes with the pitching tools. On Wednesday, we at ESPN Insider laid out the best defensive tools, and on Thursday, we had the best hitting and baserunning tools. Keith Law looks at nine different pitching categories today.

Best fastball

1. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds
It's certainly the hardest fastball I've ever seen -- I got him at 104 mph on my gun at Petco Park in September 2010 -- and it comes out of his hand shockingly easily given its superhuman velocity.

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Javier BaezAP Photo/Chris CarlsonJavier Baez brings power to the Cubs lineup, and potentially some urgency to the front office.

Javier Baez was my eighth-ranked prospect in the minors before his call-up, a move precipitated by a nearly two-month run of improved results for the talented shortstop -- .309/.376/.619 since ending a five-game hitless streak June 15, with higher walk and contact rates than he showed in April and May. Baez has initially struggled with every promotion in his pro career so far, but

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Astros clean up in Jarred Cosart trade 

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
The six-player trade between the Astros and Marlins was the most interesting one of the day because, unlike most of the other deals at this exciting deadline, it included actual prospects -- minor leaguers and very young big leaguers going in both directions -- at a time when you have to pry prospects loose from most teams with a crowbar and a tube of silicone.
[+] EnlargeJarred Cosart
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesIn Cosart the Marlins add a talented pitcher under team control for years to come.
Jarred Cosart came to Houston in the Hunter Pence trade -- a deal that has turned out to be a huge heist for the Astros, with Jon Singleton and Domingo Santana both looking like they're going to pan out -- but he's

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The Yankees were busy on Thursday, and managed to add a pair of small upgrades without doing any damage to their farm system.
[+] EnlargeStephen Drew, Daniel Descalso
AP Photo/Matt SlocumThe bat needs to come around, but Stephen Drew can pick it.

I argued all spring that the Yanks should sign Stephen Drew to play one year at third base, then slide him to shortstop after Derek Jeter ends his Hall of Fame career this fall. They declined to give up the draft pick required to sign him, but now

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Red Sox ace Andrew Miller trade 

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
It's a small deal relative to the others we saw on Thursday, but the Red Sox acquiring lefty Eduardo Rodriguez from the Orioles for two months of left-handed reliever Andrew Miller was the best value move of the day -- a great return for Boston, and

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I'm floored that this is all the Rays got for David Price -- as are some of the execs I've talked to so far -- and I can't imagine that the return this winter would have been any worse. The three-way trade that sends Price to Detroit, Nick Franklin, Drew Smyly and Tigers prospect Willy Adames to Tampa, and Austin Jackson to Seattle, nets out as an outstanding move for the Tigers and a solid exchange for the Mariners. But for Tampa Bay, it may end up as a

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Boston's return for Lackey merely OK 

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
John LackeyJared Wickerham/Getty ImagesBoston traded John Lackey on Thursday to the Cardinals in exchange for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig.

With Michael Wacha potentially out for the season, the Cardinals needed a better starter than Justin Masterson to shore up their rotation. John Lackey fits the bill, especially because they didn't have to dip into their farm system to acquire him. To get Lackey, the Cardinals only had to trade

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A's built for October, Sox for 2015 

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
Yoenis Cespedes AP Photo/Ben MargotWhile Yoenis Cespedes isn't even among the top three A's in offensive WAR this season, his power isn't in question.
Strange as it seems, the 2014 A's don't lack offense, so they could afford to part with a player as productive as Yoenis Cespedes in a deal that makes the team better overall.

Even if Jason Hammel hadn't had one of the worst four-start stretches of his career, Jon Lester still would be a significant upgrade over him. And the A's needed more help in their rotation, which has been around the league median so far this year, than they needed Cespedes in their lineup, which has been among the AL's most productive thanks in large part to smart, cost-effective platoon pairings. Oakland's rotation to date has relied on Jesse Chavez, a career reliever who's already 30 innings over his professional single-season high, and Tom Milone, who's struggled away from home because he's an extreme fly ball guy with a below-average fastball. (Milone is now a Twin, traded for Sam Fuld in a swap of last-roster-spot guys.) Adding Lester and Jeff Samardzija to the rotation this month gives the A's high-impact starters for the playoffs and significant bulk innings to ward off September fatigue from pitchers such as Chavez or Drew Pomeranz, who haven't handled these workloads before. It makes the A's a win or two better the rest of the way, and it also sets them up far better for October.

They also added Jonny Gomes -- whose one major baseball skill is smacking around left-handed pitching -- to an outfield platoon mix that also considers who's on the mound for Oakland (since Fuld is a better defender than Gomes).

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