Top prospects Carlos Rodon and Noah Syndergaard are poised to make a mark on the 2015 season. Which other rookie pitchers could join them?
With the White Sox's Carlos Rodon, the Cardinals' Marco Gonzales and the Mets' Noah Syndergaard making their first appearances of the spring on Friday—following starts by Toronto's Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez earlier this week—we thought we'd take a look at some of the rookie pitchers who could have the biggest impacts in 2015. Not all of the below will break camp with their teams, but all will be worth watching this spring.
Lefties Finnegan and Gonzales are both recent first-round picks (Gonzales the 19th pick in 2013, Finnegan 17th in '14) who made big contributions to their teams out of the bullpen last postseason but who are expected to establish themselves in major league rotations. The question is just how quickly each will do that and what lies between there and here.
Gonzales is battling fellow 23-year-old Carlos Martinez and fellow lefty Jaime Garcia for the fifth spot in the Cardinals' rotation in camp this spring. Finnegan, who will turn 22 in April, seems more likely to end up either in Triple A, a level he skipped on his way to the majors last year, or in the bullpen to start the year. The latter became more likely Friday morning after an MRI on Royals lefty Tim Collins' elbow found ligament damage, suggesting Tommy John surgery may be in his future. Given that both rookie lefties have proven their ability to get hitters out in high-pressure situations, it wouldn't be surprising to see both Gonzales and Finnegan spend at least part of the coming season in the rotation.
Acquired straight up for second baseman Howie Kendrick, Heaney was the biggest addition the defending AL West champion Angels made to their roster this winter. The lefty, who will turn 24 in early June, had a rocky debut for the Marlins last year, posting a 6.93 ERA in five starts (a figure masked slightly by his 4 2/3 frames of scoreless relief). He remains a well-regarded prospect, though (ranked 42nd by Baseball America and 37th by Baseball Prospectus) and is expected to claim the fifth spot in the Angels' rotation this spring. Heaney isn't a future ace, but he projects as a solid mid-rotation starter who could develop into a No. 2 with improved command of his fastball, more consistency with his slider and further development of his changeup.
Daniel Norris, LHP, and Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Blue Jays
One of these two should break camp as the Blue Jays' fifth starter. Both are entering their age-22 season (though Sanchez, who will turn 23 on July 1, is nearly ten months older) and both got their first taste of the major leagues last year, though they have just one major league start between the two of them (a forgettable 3 1/3 innings by Norris last September).
Of the two, Sanchez's major league debut was more impressive: He allowed an earned run in just three of 24 relief appearances, posting a 1.09 ERA and picking up a trio of saves. That showing, which also saw Sanchez strand six of seven inherited runners, has also made him a closer candidate for Toronto. That arrangement, with Sanchez closing and Norris in the rotation, is one the Jays may welcome—both BA and MLB.com ranked Norris as a top-20 prospect coming into 2015, well ahead of Sanchez, whom BP still favors.
Carlos Rodon, LHP, White Sox
The third pick in last year's draft, North Carolina State product Rodon appeared in just nine professional games last year. The last three were Triple A starts, though, and in the last two, he struck out 15 men in nine innings, allowing just three runs. Rodon seems likely to return to Triple A to start the season, but with the White Sox still left with a weak back end of the rotation, it's possible Rodon will make his major league debut at some point this season. In fact, the 22-year-old could be a part of Chicago's rotation as soon as midseason. Once there, he could give the White Sox a fourth front-end starter in short order, though given how little we've seen of Rodon as a professional and the inconsistency he showed in his final year at N.C. State, there's considerable debate about just how high his ceiling is.
Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Mets
Saving the best for last, the 22-year-old Syndergaard was ranked right around the tenth-best prospect in baseball by BA (11), MLB.com (10) and BP (9) coming into this season and is widely considered the future 1A ace of the Mets in partnership with Matt Harvey. The only question is when he will join the big league rotation, which is already overstuffed heading into the season: Harvey is joined by 2014 Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom, lefty Jonathon Niese, righty Zack Wheeler, veteran Bartolo Colon and sixth man Dillon Gee.
Injury and innings limits may free up some starts as the season goes on, but assuming everyone stays healthy, Gee and Colon are expected to be discarded at some point during the season to make room for the 6'6" Syndergaard, who made 26 starts at Triple A last year and is unlikely to have too much more to prove at that level this year. By midseason, the temptation to call him up could be too great for the Mets to resist, particularly if they're in hailing distance of a wild-card spot.