5 Dark Horse Candidates for 2014 NL Rookie of the Year

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Jose Fernandez - 2013 NL Rookie Of The Year

Jose Fernandez
Steve Mitchell - USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the 2013 season, Jose Fernandez was just 20 years old with a mere 27 minor league starts under his belt, none of which came above the High-A level. However, much to the surprise of most, the Miami Marlins jumped the gun on the Cuban-born phenom’s progression through the farm system and put him on the mound for his MLB debut on April 7 against the New York Mets. What was to follow throughout the course of the summer and into the fall was nothing short of magnificent.

Fernandez worked five innings in that initial outing at Citi Field allowing just a single run on three hits while striking out eight batters. The effort was a sign of things to come for the eventual NL Rookie of the Year. That honor was bestowed upon the right-handed hurler after putting up a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA and 0.97 WHIP over 28 starts. Fernandez, needless to say, became the story of the year for the otherwise hapless Marlins.

To say that Fernandez came out of nowhere would not be accurate. Before the season, he was ranked as Baseball America’s No. 5 prospect and No. 7 by The label of “dark horse” would be more accurate. Even on his own team, more was expected from young outfielder Christian Yelich in the short-term.

Looking ahead to the 2014 regular season, there are several candidates that could walk a similar path to a breakout rookie campaign and postseason hardware of their own. There is no better time than the present to take a look at a few of the potential prospects.

Nate Miller is an Atlanta Braves writer for Follow him on Twitter @Miller_RotoRant or add him to your network on Google.

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5. Chris Owings - SS - Arizona Diamondbacks

Matt Kartozian - USA TODAY Sports

Owings got his first taste of the Majors this past September as he hit .291 over 20 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Going into 2014, the club seems set upon an in-house competition for the starting shortstop spot. If Owings is able to beat out Didi Gregorius for the gig, he could definitely make some noise in the Rookie of the Year race.

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4. Hunter Morris - 1B - Milwaukee Brewers

Hunter Morris
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

At 25 years of age and with a combined 52 home runs in the Minors over the past two seasons, Morris is the logical choice to be the starting first baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers come Opening Day 2014. The former Auburn University star has serious power potential, especially in a hitter’s haven like Miller Park.

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3. Jesse Biddle - SP - Philadelphia Phillies

Brad Penner - USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Phillies drafted Biddle with the 27th pick of the 2010 draft. Since then, the 6-foot-4 southpaw has made 89 starts across various levels of the farm system, posting a 3.34 ERA and an impressive 9.4 K/9. With question marks in the back part of the rotation, Biddle may quickly find his way to the show.

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2. Kris Bryant - 3B - Chicago Cubs

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Fresh off of his MVP winning effort in this year’s Arizona Fall League, Bryant seems firmly placed on the fast track to becoming the starting third baseman for the Chicago Cubs. He most likely will not break camp with the team for the start of the 2014 regular season, but NL pitchers should be on notice when he does get the call. The second overall pick of the 2013 Amateur Draft put up a 1.078 OPS and nine homers through just 36 Minor League games this past summer.

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1. Noah Syndergaard - SP - New York Mets

Brad Penner - USA TODAY Sports

The New York Mets acquired Syndergaard in the R.A. Dickey deal last December. Going into the 2013 season, ranked the right-hander as the No. 29 prospect in baseball. He was able to backup that praise by going 9-4 with a 3.06 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and a 10.2 K/9 in 23 starts across High-A and Double-A this year. Syndergaard could soon become the next big arm in Citi Field.