The big-money free-agent signings grab all the headlines.

As both the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals have demonstrated, however, the teams that contend for World Series titles build from within.

A well-timed splash for a Carlos Beltran or a Mike Napoli is certainly part of the blueprint. It’s the ability to consistently pluck top talent from down on the farm, though, that makes a club a perennial contender.

For St. Louis, rookie ace Michael Wacha has led the crew of homegrown contributors. The right-hander has reeled off four wins in four postseason starts. In 27 innings of work, Wacha has allowed three runs on 11 hits while punching out 28.

For the Red Sox, Xander Bogaerts has played the part of the rookie spark plug. With Will Middlebrooks and Stephen Drew scuffling badly, the 21-year-old has been the lone bright spot on the left side of the infield. The native of Aruba brings a steady glove, a patient approach at the plate and a knack for getting timely hits.

The Cardinals and Red Sox are two of the deepest teams in baseball, no doubt. Without the contributions of Wacha and Bogaerts, however, neither team would be on the doorstep of the title.

Here’s a look at five prospects who will make an equally large impact in the hunt for the World Series in 2014:


5. Garin Cecchini

Parent Club: Red Sox

Position: Third Base

2013 Highest Minor League Level: Double-A

2014 Opening Day Age: 22 

Eventually, the Red Sox will have to make room for both Bogaerts and Garin Cecchini on the left side of the infield.

Based on how productive the left-handed-hitting third baseman was in 2013, that time will be sooner rather than later. Cecchini hit .322/.443/.471 with 33 doubles and 23 steals while splitting time between Single-A and Double-A.

WEEI’s Katie Morrison reported that Cecchini has earned Arizona Fall League All-Star honors. That’s high praise for the third baseman, as the prestigious AFL consists of only the top prospects from around baseball.

Cecchini will likely start 2014 in Triple-A, but an injury or an impressive spring could easily land him on the Opening Day roster.


4. Jameson Taillon

Parent Club: Pittsburgh Pirates

Position: Starting Pitcher

2013 Highest Minor League Level: Triple-A

2014 Opening Day Age: 22

With Gerrit Cole already dealing in the big leagues, it shouldn’t be long before another tall ace joins the lefty in the rotation.

Jameson Taillon did not post the most impressive stat line in 2013. The right-hander finished the season 5-10 with a 3.73 ERA while pitching for the top two affiliates in the Pirates’ minor league system. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft still managed to rack up 143 strikeouts in 147.1 innings of work.

Plus, it’s hard not to like a 6’6″ pitcher who hits 97 on the radar gun. As Ben Badler of Baseball America put it:

A scary combination, indeed, for Pittsburgh.


3. Francisco Lindor

Parent Club: Cleveland Indians

Position: Shortstop

2013 Highest Minor League Level: Double-A

2014 Opening Day Age: 20 

According to, Francisco Lindor is already the No. 5 prospect in all of the minor leagues even though he’s still a teenager. 

Lindor made it all the way to Double-A in 2013, and the switch-hitter more than held his own as he batted .289/.407/.395. The native of Puerto Rico also has the makings of a future Gold Glover. JD Sussman of FanGraphs projected the young shortstop to be an “elite defender.”

Clearly, Lindor has all the physical tools to succeed. As Jonathan Mayo of explained, that’s not the only reason why Lindor is so highly touted:

“Simply put, Lindor has it. He carries himself like he belongs…He’s a natural leader, the type to whom teammates gravitate.”

Lindor might not belong just yet, especially with Asdrubal Cabrera blocking his path. Half a season in the upper minors will be all the seasoning the “leader” needs before taking his place in Cleveland.


2. Addison Russell

Parent Club: Oakland A’s

Position: Shortstop

2013 Highest Minor League Level: Triple-A

2014 Opening Day Age: 20

After a slow start to 2013, the shortstop really heated up as the season wore on.

Addison Russell batted .275/.377/.508 while stealing 21 bases in Single-A. Oakland’s top prospect was also an extra-base hit machine, as he racked up 29 doubles, 10 triples and 17 home runs.

That production earned Russell a trip to New York for the Futures Game. During the showcase, the right-handed hitter faced off against fellow A’s prospect Michael Ynoa, as you can see below:

Russell’s impressive season also earned him Rookie of the Year honors in the California League and an end-of-the-year promotion to Triple-A.

The 2012 No. 11 overall pick struck out nine times during that three-game stint—a stark reminder that for Russell, there is still work to be done as he adjusts to more advanced pitching.

A fast start in 2014 will see Russell in Oakland by the All-Star break, if not sooner.


1. Oscar Taveras

Parent Club: Cardinals

Position: Outfield

2013 Highest Minor League Level: Triple-A

2014 Opening Day Age: 21 

If not for a bum ankle Oscar Taveras would already be playing center field for St. Louis.

The left-handed hitter only made it into 46 games for Triple-A Memphis, but Taveras still hit .306/.341/.462. In his brief minor league career, Taveras already has produced quite the track record.

In 2012, the outfielder clubbed 37 doubles and 23 home runs in Double-A. The year before in Single-A, Taveras batted .386/.444/.584 with 27 doubles in just 78 games.

There are questions as to where he will land in outfield. With offensive stats like those, however, the Cardinals will have no trouble finding a spot in the lineup for the young slugger. 

Read more MLB news on