There is a group of fledgling superstars currently poised to make the jump from exciting minor league prospect to established major leaguer, and there are few things better for a team than having a rookie in the midst of a breakout season. Young players often have an infectious enthusiasm when things are going well for them, and the energy they inject into a clubhouse can help carry a team to the postseason. There are countless examples of rookies making an immediate impact at the major-league level, but it is exceptionally difficult to accurately project which players are due for a breakout and which players will not live up to their prospect hype.
In 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers benefited from Yasiel Puig’s call-up from Double-A Chattanooga, as the young right fielder took Los Angeles by storm and, along with Hanley Ramirez, powered a Dodgers offense that went on a historic 50-game run in which the team won 42 games and took control of the NL West on the way to an appearance in the NLCS. In his rookie season, Puig slashed .319/.391/.534 and hit 19 homers to help turn around a floundering Dodgers team.
Jose Abreu’s similar emergence in 2014 spurred the Chicago White Sox to make a slew of moves this offseason that they believe will make them serious World Series contenders, and there are a host of other teams with prospects entering the big leagues for the 2015 season that have reason for similarly lofty expectations. It is often the case that some prospects far exceed expectations, while there are always others who fail to meet the expectations that have been thrust upon them.
Each of the following players has retained their rookie status, though some of them have already appeared in the major leagues for brief stints. Each player on the list is also expected to at least contend for a spot on the major league roster as their respective teams break camp for Opening Day, and while many are already dealing with the pressure that comes with big expectations on the big-league level, all of the following players are expected to have breakout seasons for their respective clubs.
10 Carlos Rodon
It appears that Rodon will only have 24.2 innings of minor-league experience before joining the Chicago White Sox in the bigs, as a spot in the White Sox rotation appears up for grabs. Even if Rodon cannot secure a spot as a starter out of Spring Training, the White Sox have a history of bringing young prospects along through a role in the bullpen, something the team has done with both Mark Buehrle and Chris Sale with great results. In his brief season in the minors, Rodon posted a 2.92 ERA while ascending the ranks of the White Sox organization. He struck out 38 batters in those 24.2 innings, and he was regarded as the most pro-ready of the pitchers taken in the 2014 amateur draft. If Rodon breaks camp with the White Sox, he could be primed for a breakout season in his rookie year.
9 Steven Souza
Souza saw some time in the majors in 2014, famously making a diving catch to make the final out of Jordan Zimmerman’s no-hitter on the last day of the season. He flashed some of the athleticism that is part of the reason he should do well in 2015, but his bat was notably absent during his brief MLB stint. He has since been traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, who are counting on the fact that his .350/.432/.590 Triple-A slash line will translate to MLB. Souza should see time right away in Tampa Bay’s outfield, so if he is able to adjust to the MLB game right away, he could make fans of the Rays forget about the departure of Wil Myers.
8 Dalton Pompey
Pompey appeared in 17 games with the Toronto Blue Jays during his age-21 season after flying through the minors in 2014. Pompey slashed a combined .317/.392/.469 while moving from High-A Dunedin to Triple-A Buffalo, stealing 43 bases in 50 attempts. There is space in the outfield in Toronto in 2015, as only Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders are locked into spots next season. Pompey is already regarded as an excellent defender, and the Blue Jays believe that the switch-hitting youngster could be an important component of a team that expects to contend for the AL East title.
7 Jorge Soler
In Soler’s brief time with the Chicago Cubs in 2014, the Cuban émigré showed off the power that has so many North Siders excited to see what he will be able to do over the course of a full season. In just 24 games, Soler slashed .292/.330/.573 while hitting 5 homers and compiling 20 RBI. His minor-league production was nothing short of absurd, as he slashed .340/.432/.700 while splitting time in three different levels of the Cubs’ system. At 6’4” and 215 pounds, Soler is poised to make a serious run at the Rookie of the Year Award in 2015 while roaming the Chicago outfield.
6 Andrew Heaney
Heaney has been the subject of quite an interesting offseason, ultimately landing with the Los Angeles Angels after being traded twice in a period of less than 24 hours. Heaney is one of the top pitching prospects in all of MLB, and he is expected to slot into the Angels rotation right away in 2015. The slight left-hander did not exactly impress during his first five starts with the Miami Marlins, but the ability is there with Heaney, and the Angels were likely impressed by his performance in the Pacific Coast League, a league that is known for its inflated offensive numbers. During his 83.2 Triple-A innings, Heaney went 5-4 with a 3.87 ERA while averaging 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Entering his age-24 season, the Angels can reasonably expect a big season out of the left-handed rookie.
5 Noah Syndergaard
Syndergaard is a highly touted pitching prospect, and Baseball America currently has him ranked as the New York Mets' top prospect. He struggled following a promotion to Triple-A, but pitching in the Pacific Coast League is never an easy task given the offense-friendly atmosphere that the league is known for. He pitched to a 4.60 ERA in his 133 Triple-A innings, but he also averaged an outstanding 9.81 strikeouts per nine innings while walking less than three per nine. He keeps the ball on the ground and could very easily join the Mets rotation for 2015, and he may be able to help the Mets win back-to-back Rookie of the Year Awards.
4 Joc Pederson
Pederson was the only player in all of professional baseball to have a 30/30 season in 2014, though he did so at Triple-A Albuquerque. Regardless, Pederson’s numbers in the PCL were impressive even after accounting for the elevation of the Isotopes’ home park: .303/.435/.582 with 33 homers, 30 stolen bases and 78 RBI in 121 games. The Dodgers were so impressed with Pederson that they felt comfortable trading away Matt Kemp in order to clear room in their crowded outfield for Pederson in 2015. Expected to start in center for the Dodgers right away, Pederson seems primed to deliver on the promise he has shown in his minor-league career.
3 Rusney Castillo
Castillo is a little different from the other players on this list, having defected from Cuba and then signing with the Red Sox for 7 years and $72.5 million. Entering his age-27 season, he is older than most rookies, but his production at the MLB level is a bit more difficult to predict. He appeared in just 10 games toward the end of the 2014 season, slashing .333/.400/.528 and hitting two homers in just 36 at-bats with the big-league club. He played winter ball in Puerto Rico this offseason, hitting .405 in his 37 at-bats. By all accounts, Castillo should be an exceptionally productive major leaguer in 2015, and he could have a tremendous impact on a Red Sox team looking to improve on a last-place finish.
2 Yasmany Tomas
Tomas agreed to join the Arizona Diamondbacks in November, and it is not yet clear if the Diamondbacks intend to play Tomas at third base or in the outfield. Regardless of where he is positioned, he is expected to be in the Opening Day lineup, and he is also expected to hit right away at the big-league level. While in Serie Nacional, Tomas hit .289 and slugged .538 while hitting 15 homers over 81 games. He also excelled during the World Baseball Classic while playing for Cuba in 2013, and the Arizona front office believes that he will be able to produce in much the same way that Jose Abreu did a year ago for the White Sox. If that is the case, then Tomas could easily run away as the Rookie of the Year in the National League for 2015.
1 Kris Bryant
Bryant quickly ascended the Cubs minor league system in his first full season in the minors, leading all minor leaguers in home runs with 43. He split time between Double-A and Triple-A, slashing .325/.438/.661 for an OPS of 1.098. A third baseman, there is some thought that Bryant will start 2015 in the minors in order to delay the start of his big-league service time, but if his production in the minors serves as any indication, Bryant will be a force for the Cubs the moment he sets foot in Wrigley. He is one of the most highly regarded prospects in all of baseball, so it is fair to expect big things from Bryant starting with the 2015 season.