When you're in the business of covering prospects, you're constantly thinking about the future. That's why we at MLBPipeline love this time of year. Whenever we get to flip the calendar to a new year, everyone is doing some forward-thinking.
In this first edition of the Pipeline Inbox of 2014, we're spanning the globe -- including Europe! -- for questions, talking about a couple of intriguing players at the hot corner and discussing some of the better pitching prospects in the year to come.
What do you think about Rays prospects Enny Romero and Alex Colome? Do you think they will stay in the big leagues in 2014?
- Darwin P., Dominican Republic
The Rays have shown a pretty good ability to develop pitching over the years, and the ascension of both Romero and Colome to Tampa Bay in 2013 were two more signs of success. The quick answer to Darwin's question is that I think both will see time in the big leagues in 2014. What role they will play and for how long remains to be seen.
Romero is a lefty with an electric arm who spent most of 2013 in Double-A, though he tossed eight innings of shutout ball in one Triple-A start and then made one start in the big leagues. Stuff-wise, he can get big league hitters out now. Command is the big concern for the soon-to-be 23-year old. He's walked 4.6 per nine innings throughout his Minor League career, and while he improved in 2013 (4.6) compared to the previous two years (5.4), he still has a ways to go to show he can be a big league starter. I think he'll spend much of the year in Triple-A and will be called upon to help in the rotation or maybe even the bullpen, depending on need and his ability to throw strikes.
Colome is older, a bit more advanced, and more ready for a longer Major League look in 2014. The 25-year-old right-hander, the nephew of former big leaguer (and Ray) Jesus, also has some pretty impressive stuff, highlighted by a plus sinking fastball. He throws a curve and slider, with the former a better pitch, as well as a changeup. He's improved tremendously with his overall command in the past couple of seasons, so that won't keep him from being a starter, but injuries might. He's lost a good amount of development time to health issues, missing a chunk of 2013 with an elbow injury that didn't require surgery. Like Romero, he could start the year in Durham, waiting for an opportunity, though he is more likely to get a look during Spring Training.
What sort of numbers can Cubs fans expect if Mike Olt is our starter at third base, assuming he gets 300-350 at-bats? Is it safe to assume his vision problems no longer exist?
- Mitchell J., Byron, Ill.
Olt is one of the tougher prospects to figure out these days. Once a top Rangers prospect who looked like a power threat and a run producer at the hot corner, the wheels completely fell off in 2013. It started with vision issues, reportedly caused from getting hit while playing winter ball. Once that was corrected -- and all reports say his vision is just fine -- he never found his way back to where he was in 2012. Not with the Rangers and not with the Cubs after he was dealt to them in the Matt Garza trade.
The hope is that Olt was able to spend the offseason forgetting about the past season and will hit 2014, his first full year with his new organization, with a clean slate. I'm not sure he'll get that kind of playing time in Chicago, unless he's on fire to start the season. But I'll play along. If he can get regular playing time and show he's OK, both physically and mentally, I'll say he'll show some power, but not hit for a very high average. So with 500 at-bats, I could see him hitting 20-25 homers and hitting around .250.
Do you think that Maikel Franco of the Phillies will be held in the Minors because of young third baseman Cody Asche?
- Jared S., Philadelphia, Pa.
I love the hot corner talk! It's a nice problem the Phillies have, isn't it? Asche got an extended look in the big leagues in 2013 and right now looks like the guy at third on Opening Day in 2014.
In terms of Franco's future, that's just fine, for the time being. Sure, Franco was one of a handful of prospects to hit 30 or more homers and drive in 100 or more runs in 2013. But keep in mind that he'll be just 21 for nearly all of the 2014 season, and he's spent just one half of a season above Class A ball. Even though he was outstanding in Double-A last year, there's no need to rush him. He could spend an entire season in Triple-A and still be well ahead of the curve.
Franco also played some first base late last year, and he could see time at both infield corners to provide insurance for Ryan Howard and Asche, should the the need arise. By 2015, the Phillies might have to answer this question more specifically, but there's still time for Franco to develop more before it becomes a major logjam issue.
Who are your top 10 pitchers that will dominate in 2014?
- Dale G., Sacrament, Calif.
We're hard at work on our 2014 Top 100 prospects list (as well as our Top 10 by position lists), so I've got plenty of pitchers on the brain. (By the way, the Top 100 will go live on January 23). There are plenty of choices to fill a top 10 2014 domination list.
Of course, it all may depend on your definition of "dominate." If a guy makes it to the big leagues and holds his own, he's not really dominating, though he might have if he had stayed in the Minors. OK, enough with the semantics -- Here are 10 pitching prospects I see having huge 2014 seasons in some capacity:
Archie Bradley, Diamondbacks
Jonathan Gray, Rockies
Mark Appel, Astros
Robert Stephenson, Reds
Kyle Zimmer, Royals
Tyler Glasnow, Pirates
Andrew Heaney, Marlins
Henry Owens, Red Sox
Max Fried, Padres
Lucas Giolito, Nationals
What do you think about the German prospects in the Minor Leagues?
- Dennis B., Hannover, Germany
Baseball in Europe has certainly come a long way, from a sport no one played to one -- well, it may not be threatening to overtake soccer (sorry, futbol) in popularity, but teams are sure to scout the continent for fresh supplies of talent.
Germany hasn't quite reached the status of, say, the Netherlands, but there has been some talent to come from there. Any conversation about German prospects has to start with Max Kepler of the Twins. He's made the most headlines, received the big bonus, and he still has a good amount of upside. After spending the year in the Midwest League, the Twins thought enough of his abilities to send him to the much more advanced Arizona Fall League. He worked on playing first base there, his likely home for the foreseeable future, and perhaps he can become an everyday player at the big league level down the road.
Alex Burgos of the Tigers is another Minor Leaguer who's had some success, albeit limited, since being drafted out of the junior college ranks in 2010. He moved to the bullpen in 2013, and perhaps that will help the undersized left-hander make it to the highest level.
A bit further behind is Daniel Thieban, another right-handed pitcher, who's with the Mariners. He's yet to make it to full-season ball and who will spend all of 2014 at age 20, so there's time yet for the 6-foot-4 hurler to develop. Like Kepler, Thieban came out of an increasingly productive Regensburg Baseball Academy. Catcher Kai Gronauer reached Triple-A in 2013, but also barely played. Markus Solbach was released by the Twins in 2013, hooking on with an independent league team. All of these players were on Germany's World Baseball Classic roster.
Then, of course, there is Donald Lutz, who's shown some ability to hit for power and made his big league debut in 2013 with the Reds. But the corner outfielder/first baseman wasn't actually born in Germany. He did move there as a baby, so I suppose we should count him as the most successful German player of late, though I see Kepler eventually taking that title away.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter.