Spring training camps are up and running with games just around the corner and we’re taking a look at a couple of young players for each team that I think will have a larger impact in 2016. We started with the American League East, moved to the AL Central, hit the AL West, swung it to the National League East and today we touch on the NL Central. Keep on reading as we go division by division!
Kyle Schwarber, OF – I’ve got Schwarber on this list for numerous reasons. The first of course is his power potential and seeing that over the length of a season (played 69 games in 2015). Second, we’re going to see a more disciplined hitter I think. Schwarber as a minor leaguer carried a .333 batting average in his two seasons, but only hit .246 with the Cubs, and struck out 28% of time in the Majors compared to 20% in the Minors, so adjustments will be made. Additionally, Schwarber had a very good .842 OPS for Chicago last year, but his Minor Leaguer career shows room for improvement as well where he had a 1.042 OPS. The main focus for Kyle this year though, will have to be working on hitting lefties much better, as he hit just .143 off of them, with just a .481 OPS in 61 plate appearances. This is one guy I am seriously excited to watch grow this year.
Addison Russell, SS – I could have added Kris Bryant to one of these slots, however I think Russell’s increased impact will outweigh Bryant’s this season for a few reasons. The first is the batting average…Russell made his debut as a 21-year old who had a career .301 average in 4 minor league seasons and to see him hit just .246 last year with the Cubs, tells me that he just needs to get comfortable. We also saw uncharacteristically low OPS from Russell last year at .696 vs. a Minor League career .897. Lastly, like Schwarber, we saw a very high strike rate (28% of the time), compared to a Minor League rate of 21%. Not all numbers translate from the Minors to the Majors, but there are patterns to watch out for and all signs point to improvement for Addison Russell
Brandon Finnegan, LHP – Some will remember Finnegan from his Major League debut made with KC in 2014 as a 21-year old that was drafted in the same season with the 14th pick. He only threw 7 regular season innings that year, but had a 1.29 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, and 12.9 k per 9 rate. Finnegan again came out of the pen after spending time in the Minors in 2015 for KC before being traded to Cincinnati for Johnny Cueto. Finnegan stayed up with the Reds and made his first 4 career starts a couple more appearances. This year it looks as if the Reds have Finnegan penciled in to the rotation as 23-year old. In Finnegan’s two seasons, he’s only pitched 139.1 combined innings, so the question will be if he’s stretched out enough to make 25-30 starts. If he is, look for a high strike out rate, some control issues and a strong fastball coming from the lefty.
Jesse Winker, OF – Winker has yet to make his Major League debut, but I have to believe 2016 will be the year and his Jesse has a strong spring training, he could possibly break camp with the Reds or be a late April call-up. It will be hard to keep Winer out of the Majors with the light hitting Adam Duvall holding down leftfield currently. Winker is a 22-year old, first round draft pick (49th) from the 2012 draft who was rated as the #50 best prospects in baseball by Baseball America just recently. A smooth left handed swing with developing power and a low strike out rate is what to be expected of Winker as a Major Leaguer.
Zach Davies, RHP – The righty made six starts for Milwaukee in 2015 with good results that have put him in a good spot to be the Brewers 5th starter going in to Spring Training. As a September call-up, Davies went 3-2 with a 3.71 ERA and 1.206 WHIP. The low strike out rate (6.4 per 9) and high walk rate (4 per 9) should balance itself out as Davies gets more experience and hopefully will fall more in line with his 7.8 per 9 K rate in the Minors and 2.9 walk rate.
Orlando Arcia, SS – It seems as if the Brewers made way for Arcia to take over at short in the near future with the trade of Jean Segura to the Diamondbacks. Arcia was ranked as the eighth best prospect in baseball by Baseball America in 2016, as he really excelled in Double-A Biloxi last season as a 20-year old with a .307 average, 52 extra base hits, 25 steals, and a 13% strike out rate.
Gregory Polanco, OF – Is this the year we see one of the top prospects from 2014 break out? It very well could be, as we continue to see improvement from Polanco in numerous areas between his rookie and sophomore seasons. The biggest was batting average where there was a 21-point increase to .256, an extra base% increase from 5.1% to 7.7% and a consistent stolen base% of 73% of his tries. The thought is that Polanco may be a 20-25 homer guy at some point, but right now it looks like it’s still good gap power and really needs to work on elevating the ball a bit more.
Alen Hanson, 2B – Some experts consider Hanson a top-100 prospect still, while others have grown weary after six minor league seasons. Currently, Hanson is considered in the mix to possibly break camp and be the Pirates opening day second baseman. If he does, Hanson hits for a decent average (.284 career minor league) and will bring some pop with him (35 XBH in 2015).
St. Louis Cardinals
Carlos Martinez, RHP – In classic Cardinals fashion, the team brought Martinez along in 2013 and 2014 as a reliever (he did start 8 games) where he could gain important experience and also build up his ability to start. His time to become a starter was in 2015 where Martinez was an All-Star and at times looked like a Cy Young candidate as he posted a 14-7 record, 3.01 ERA, and 9.2 K rate in 179.2 innings of work. Still, there is room for improvement with a 3.2 walk rate and increased stamina as Martinez faded in the second half of the year as he posted a 4-4 record with a 3.73 ERA and 1.382 WHIP in 12 starts after starting the first half at 10-3 and a 2.52 ERA and 1.220 WHIP.
Michael Wacha, RHP – I could have put Stephen Piscotty year, but other than playing a full year, I can’t say I think he will do better than his amazing start to his career last year. As for Wacha, I think he takes another big step forward in 2016 as a 24-year old building on an All-Star season where he was 17-7 with a 3.38 ERA and 1.213 WHIP. The numbers remain very steady and now more than a season removed from his shoulder injury and with some luck, Wacha could become a 20-game winner