Prior to each season, it is easy to dream about your favorite prospect on your favorite team leading your team to a playoff berth and perhaps even a World Series title. In practice, however, that dream does not become a reality very often. There are surprisingly few rookies who have played significant roles on playoff teams this season and can be expected to have a significant impact on the upcoming postseason.
I define "significant impact" as a position player likely to see the lion’s share of the starts or a pitcher who starts at least one game or is poised to receive high-leverage relief innings. Additionally, to qualify as a "top prospect," each player must rank on the Minor League Ball Top 150 Prospects for 2014. By this definition, only six players meet the criteria from the division winners. If we include the Wild Card participants, which we will not for this exercise, only two more qualify (Gregory Polanco and Yordano Ventura).
The players from the Division Winners who qualify are: Oscar Taveras, Nick Castellanos, Kolten Wong, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, and Carlos Martinez.
While none of these players are present stars, they could have significant impacts on their respective series. Let’s take a quick look at each of them to see what they have done and what will be expected of them in the postseason.
Oscar Taveras, OF, Cardinals
Preseason Rank: 6
Season in Review: Despite putting up good Triple-A numbers early this season, Taveras hasn’t been able to carry that success into the Major Leagues. He has been pretty bad by just about every metric, most notably a 69 wRC+, -5 DRS, and -1.0 WAR. He still earned 245 Plate Appearances this year - a testament to both his sky-high potential and the dearth of viable right-field options in St. Louis other than himself. He has been and will be given time to figure it out at the Major League level, but his first taste of the show did little to fulfill the sky-high expectations surrounding him.
Postseason Expectations: Taveras is still probably the best option for the Cardinals in right field, as he his capable of changing a game or series at the plate. That being said, it would be unreasonable to expect him to play much more than a supporting role in this series. The postseason is a time to win now and not develop prospects, and so even while Taveras’ tools are still there, the most likely scenario is that he will play a rather mediocre right field.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Tigers
Preseason Rank: 34
Season in Review: Another top prospect with a promising hit tool, Nick Castellanos has also been below replacement level in his first full season in the show. He has only been slightly below average at the plate, evidenced by his 94 wRC+, but his defense at third base has been an abysmal at -30 DRS. His UZR is a bit kinder at -16.4, but either way Castellanos embodies the current Tiger way of being a solid hitter and a poor defender.
Postseason Expectations: Like Taveras, Castellanos is the best option for the Tigers at third base, but won’t be called upon to play a major role in the series against the O’s. He has the potential to provide an offensive spark from the bottom of one of the league’s best lineups, but he also has the potential to be a defensive liability. Baltimore is far from a small-ball team and probably the best matchup for any poor defensive third baseman, but he still could be exposed in this matchup.
Kolten Wong, 2B, Cardinals
Preseason Rank: 57
Season in Review: The first top prospect in the postseason to post a positive WAR total this season (1.9), Wong easily beat out veteran Mark Ellis for the everyday second base job. Not a master of any one aspect of the game, Wong does many things on the diamond well. He showed good pop with 12 home runs, displayed his speed with 20 steals, and posted a respectable 91 wRC+. Wong also plays a good second base, saving eight runs this year. The only aspect of his game that is noticeably weak is his on-base ability, evidenced by his .294 OBP. Still, Wong had a good campaign in his first full season in St. Louis and firmly entrenched himself as the second baseman of the present and future.
Postseason Expectations: Wong will certainly be looking to make fans forget about his unfortunate pinch running appearance in the 2013 World Series, but the expectations for the rookie second baseman certainly go well beyond not getting picked off in a high-leverage situation this time around. He isn’t a feature player like Matt Holliday or Yadier Molina, who will be expected to carry much of the load, but Wong is an important complimentary piece to the big bats in this lineup.
Jonathan Schoop, 2B, Orioles
Preseason Rank: 141
Season in Review: Handed the second base job after a strong spring training, Schoop has been close to what the Orioles expected. A good defender with occasional pop but a questionable hit tool, Schoop did just enough to hang on to the starting gig this season. His 0.6 WAR isn’t great, but for a team with a huge question mark at second base heading into the season, Schoop has provided stability and a small bit of value for the Birds.
Postseason Expectations: The acquisitions of Jimmy Paredes and Kelly Johnson have hurt Schoop’s playing time a bit down the stretch, a trend that could continue in the postseason. It could come down to Buck Showalter choosing to ride the hot hand, but after Schoop’s deciding home run on the final day of the season, one must think that he has the immediate edge. Either way, Schoop is far from the focal point of the Orioles’ offense and it would be a stretch to expect much more than solid defense and an occasion home run.
Kevin Gausman, Orioles
Preseason Rank: 14
Season in Review: It took just two years for Gausman to go from LSU to the Orioles’ rotation, where he has been solid in 113.1 innings. His slider hasn’t developed the way the Orioles’ have hoped and he uses it very sparingly, but his fastball and multiple changeups have been good enough to lead to a 3.57 ERA and a 3.41 FIP this season. His potential remains quite high, especially if the slider develops, and he can be expected to remain in the O’s rotation for the foreseeable future.
Postseason Expectations: Gausman’s impact is largely contingent on his role, as it looks like the O’s will have to decide between Gausman and Miguel Gonzalez for the number four starter role (with Chris Tillman, Bud Norris and Wei-Yin Chen as the three locks). Gausman’s two plus pitches will play well in the pen, where he experienced success at the end of last season. That may be enough to send him back to the pen this postseason, but in either role, Gausman will be a significant factor for the O's.
Carlos Martinez, Cardinals
Preseason Rank: 17
Season in Review: A power arm who split time between the pen and rotation this year, Martinez performed much better in the former role. His 4.06 ERA is a bit inflated due to a high BABIP and low LOB rate, so a 3.18 FIP or 3.51 xFIP may be better indicators of the true talent he displayed this season. Martinez is a strikeout pitcher, especially out of the pen, and has been stingy with home runs this season, a stellar combination that helps him overcome his trouble with walks. His long-term role remains somewhat undetermined, as the Cardinals have lots of starting pitchers, but he has upside in any role.
Postseason Expectations: His role in this year’s postseason will be quite similar to his role last October, as a prominent setup man to Rosenthal. The only differences this time around are that Martinez is no longer an unknown on the big stage and that he has another quality setup man, Neshek, along side him. Manger Mike Matheny will be able to mix and match his setup men a bit more this time around, but no matter how he does it, both Martinez and Neshek will be counted on to record outs in high leverage situations.
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Dan Weigel is an Author of Minor League Ball and a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. His tweets are found at @DanWiggles38