When it comes to baseball’s top prospects, pay close attention to the Windy City, Southern California and a trio of potential Cuban stars.
Check out these rookies in 2015, beginning with a couple of promising young hitters:
-3B Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs: The No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft showed off his impressive power in spring training, but it looks as if he will begin the season at Triple-A Iowa to work on his defense. Of course, the additional time in the minors also could push back his eligibility for free agency – a potential long-term benefit for the Cubs.
The Las Vegas native likely will return to Chicago by the end of April, leaving plenty of time for the talented slugger to make a run at the Cubs’ first NL Rookie of the Year award since Geovany Soto in 2008.
-OF Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers: The 22-year-old Pederson broke into the majors last September, and looks ready for a big season after a strong training camp with the NL West champs. He hit .303 with 33 homers and 30 steals with Triple-A Albuquerque before he joined Los Angeles last year.
-OF Rusney Castillo, Boston: The Cuban slugger made his major league debut last year, batting .333 with two homers in 10 games after signing a $72.5 million, seven-year contract in August. He was hampered by a left oblique strain for part of the spring, but is expected to be a key contributor this season for the revamped Red Sox.
-3B/OF Yasmany Tomas, Arizona: Forget questions about his position, the 24-year-old Cuban defector brings a powerful bat to a Diamondbacks team hoping to bounce back after losing 98 games a year ago. Tomas hit .375 (6 for 16) with two homers and five RBIs in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
-RHP Raisel Iglesias, Cincinnati: The converted shortstop pitched mostly in relief before he defected from Cuba in November 2013, but the Reds think he can be a successful starter. The 6-foot-2 right-hander has a good slider, an improving changeup and a fastball that gets into the mid-90s.
-LHP Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox: The No. 3 selection in last year’s draft struck out 38 in 24 2-3 innings in the minors last season. The 6-foot-3 lefty has great stuff and could help an improved Chicago club in the bullpen or rotation.
-LHP Daniel Norris and RHP Aaron Sanchez, Toronto: Norris and Sanchez are contending for a spot in the rotation after Marcus Stroman hurt his left knee this spring, and Sanchez also could help in the bullpen.
Norris began last season at Class-A Dunedin and finished the year in Toronto, making five September appearances with the Blue Jays. Sanchez also made his major league debut last year, going 2-2 with three saves and a sparkling 1.09 ERA in 24 games.
-C Christian Bethancourt, Atlanta: There is a lot to like about the 23-year-old Bethancourt, who has a strong arm and top-notch defensive skills. He also has some pop at the plate, batting .283 with eight homers and 48 RBIs in 91 games with Triple-A Gwinnett before finishing last season with the Braves.
-LHP Andrew Heaney, Los Angeles Angels: Heaney was traded twice in about five hours at the winter meetings in December. The twin deals saw him go from Miami to the Dodgers and finally to the Angels, who are hoping he can become a key part of their rotation.
-SS Jung-ho Kang, Pittsburgh: Kang, who turns 28 on April 5, is trying to become the first position player to make the jump from the Korean Baseball Organization to the major leagues. He hit .356 with 40 home runs last season for the Nexen Heroes, who play in Seoul.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap