We kicked off the BBTN 500 today with players ranked 401-500, and we asked our experts to weigh in with their thoughts on the players in this group.
1. Which player are we drastically underrating and why?
Eric Karabell (@karabellespn), ESPN Fantasy: People overlooking Kansas City Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera because he saved only three games last year are really missing the point. Herrera was terrific in 2012, tied for 10th among all relief pitchers in wins above replacement. And he can still improve! He throws hard, piles on the strikeouts, and who knows, someday he might get saves, and thus get noticed.
Justin Havens (@jayhaykid), ESPN Stats & Info: Specific to 2013 production, I think Domonic Brown is going to be underrated in retrospect. No, I don't think he's going to be a star, but I do think his 2012 stat line at Triple-A -- .286 AVG/.335 OBP/.432 SLG -- is much more indicative of his true skill set than his career major league line of .236/.316/.396. If he can replicate the level of production he's shown in Triple-A -- and I think he can -- then he'll likely be the Phillies' best outfielder and a legitimate starter. That's better than #497 (and it's also better than Delmon Young, who is probably the biggest potential obstacle to this answer being correct).
Mark Simon (@msimonespn), ESPN Stats & Info: Daniel Bard. I think he's fallen victim to the idea of one-half year of bad overriding two years of really good. I think getting to work with John Farrell again will get him back closer to his old self, and last year will be something we'll laugh about.
2. Which player is most likely to be in the top 100 next year?
Karabell: If this list was done a year ago, Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer would have likely ranked better. It's unfair to judge him poorly off of four big league starts and a foolish trade the Arizona Diamondbacks will likely regret. Bauer, 22, still has ace written all over him, and he'll start to show it later in 2013.
Havens: There are any number of high-end starters who made significant jumps from 2012 to 2013 -- Jeff Samardzija, Kris Medlen, Chris Sale, the list goes on. You wouldn't have found those names in the top 100 this season, and I think Zack Wheeler is just an opportunity away from making a similar jump entering 2014. Wheeler ranked 460th on the list this year, right between Kevin Jepsen and Todd Helton, but he ranked 13th among all prospects on Keith Law's Top 100, and posted a 3.26 ERA with 148 strikeouts in 149 inning pitched between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He's a future frontline starter, and while he might not get the opportunity necessary to jump into the top 100, I like his chances if he does.
Simon: I think it's going to be one of the young pitchers -- Trevor Bauer, Zack Wheeler or Gerrit Cole. In each of the past four seasons, at least one rookie pitcher has qualified for the ERA title and posted an ERA of 3.50 or below. I think one of these three will be as good as Jaime Garcia in 2010, Jeremy Hellickson in 2011 or Wade Miley last season. They're all as hyped, if not more so than any of those three.
3. Who is the best player who "just missed" the top 500? (Please do not mention injured guys, like Alex Rodriguez.)
Karabell: Miami Marlins catcher Rob Brantly was recently a top prospect due to his defense, but he has developed enough at the plate to likely warrant being the team's cleanup hitter for 2013. Sure, it's the Marlins, so judge their lineup thusly, but Brantly has good plate discipline and the potential to soon be a top-10 catcher.
Havens: Chris Archer finished at No. 507, and it seems to me he'd have come in perhaps several hundred spots higher if he pitched on a team that didn't have tremendous rotation depth. The fact that Archer has only 29 1/3 career innings at the major league level strikes me as more circumstantial than anything related to his ability. He has 718 strikeouts in 719 2/3 career minor league innings and posted an 11.0 K/9 in his six appearances for the Rays last season. By my count, he'd be in the Opening Day rotation for well over half of the American League.
Simon: Jose Molina is so much better than his offensive numbers. The Rays pitching staff owes a lot of the credit for last year's success to his pitch-framing ability and defensive work. The guy is a game-stealer behind the plate. He may not be as flashy as some of the other names, but he's so valuable.