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Every MLB Team's Single-A Prospect They Must Invite to Spring Training

Zachary BallAnalyst IJanuary 26, 2012

Every MLB Team's Single-A Prospect They Must Invite to Spring Training

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    Each year at spring training, hundreds of players with no chance at making the Opening Day big-league roster get invitations to join the club. For some, their playing time consists of only few innings or a handful of at-bats. For others, it's more about the experience and taking in the atmosphere than it is about getting any playing time, and they spend their time riding the pine and taking in all of the lessons from veterans and the coaching staff.

    Either way, the time spent in Arizona or Florida is invaluable and often provides some motivation for said players to try their hardest to make it back there, with the goal of one day earning a job with a great month.

    Players in Single-A ball are quite possibly the least likely to receive invitations to spring training and even if they do get an invite, their odds of making the roster are worse than 1,000,000-1. Still, it happens nearly every year, and most often, it's for those reasons stated above.

    So, without further ado, let's check out who is likely (and who have hands-down earned the right) to be included in the Single-A spring training class of 2012

Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Trevor Bauer was the team's first pick in the 2011 draft, but there's a case to be made that he wasn't even their best first-round selection. That honor could very easily fall to Oklahoma right-hander Archie Bradley, whom the team selected three four picks after Bauer.

    Bradley's stuff is just as good, and unlike Bauer, he has the prototypical pitcher's size. He's also seasoned enough that he could begin his pro career in Low-A ball.

    With stuff as good as his (he touched 100 mph in the Oklahoma state championship game), it would be a crime not to invite Bradley to spring training.

Edward Salcedo, 3B, Atlanta Braves

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    The Braves spent $1.6 million to sign Salcedo out of the Dominican Republic in 2010. That's more than they offered to Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino or Randall Delgado. If that doesn't tell you enough about the kind of faith they have in Salcedo, just take a look at the season he had in 2011.

    In 132 games, the then-19-year-old Salcedo slugged 12 homers and rapped 27 doubles. His plate discipline (41-to-105 BB:K) left something to be desired, but was actually pretty good compared to most players his age. His power, as any scout will attest to, is quite real and at times scary. Assuming he can maintain a respectable average, he should be the heir apparent to Chipper Jones at third base.

    Salcedo is in the process of making the transition from shortstop to the hot corner, so he would most certainly benefit from some extra practice at the big-league level.

Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles

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    The O's signed Bundy to a Major League deal, so it only makes sense to bring him to spring training and get a look at the player that scouts believed was as "big-league ready" as the majority of the top college arms available in the 2011 draft (Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Taylor Jungmann).

    Bundy is going to start in A ball, most likely at Low-A Delmarva, and will reportedly be on an innings-limit of around 120.

    Bringing him to Sarasota will allow him to get a head start on his first professional season.

Matt Barnes, RHP, Boston Red Sox

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    Barnes had an incredible year leading up to the 2011 draft. During the summer of 2010, he looked like a future Cy Young Award winner and a potential dark horse to go No. 1 in the draft after a sensational showing at the Team USA trials in North Carolina. He ended the year with an incredibly strong season for Connecticut.

    Somehow, the Red Sox were able to scoop him up with the 19th overall pick and sign him for $1.5 million, a relative bargain, especially for an organization like Boston. 

    Barnes not only has premium velocity (mid 90s) but also a potential above-average curveball. He should move relatively quickly through the minors and will likely be the first member of the Sox' 2011 draft class to reach the majors.

    His path could start with an invite to spring training.

Javier Baez, 3B, Chicago Cubs

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    Baez was the darling of the Cubs' 2011 draft class and the team's first-round selection. 

    He was a highly touted high school product due to his above-average skills at the plate. He should hit for both a high average and good power. Prior to the draft he received comparisons to both Gary Sheffield and Hanley Ramirez, awfully high praise for a player who is just 19 years old and who has received some bad reviews on his makeup.

    Still, Baez will go as far as his bat will take him. In order to give him some added motivation, I think it might be a solid idea to invite him to spring training, even if it's just for a few days.

Jacob Petricka, RHP, Chicago White Sox

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    Guys who can throw 100 mph are somewhat of a rarity in baseball, so it wouldn't come as a total shock if the Sox invited right-hander Jacob Petricka to spring training this year.

    It's not as if he hasn't shown enough to tantalize the big-league coaching staff. He won seven games and struck out 99 batters in 113.1 innings. Amazingly he allowed only three homers all year...making it just four in his entire career, bucking the trend that high-velocity fastball pitchers with little movement tend to give up a decent amount of home runs.

    As good as his fastball is, Petricka's secondary stuff is so-so, so some time spent in big-league camp could actually do him some good. Being around some more experienced pitchers might rub off on him, allowing him to become more than just a fastball-only pitcher.

Daniel Corcino, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

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    Corcino is one of the top pitching prospects in the minors that you've likely never heard of.

    A product of the 2008 international signing class, the 21-year-old got his first extended taste of full-season ball in 2011 and responded incredibly well. In 26 starts, he won 11 games, posted a 3.42 ERA and a 156-to-34 K:BB ratio in 139 innings.

    Corcino has excellent velocity (mid 90s) and an ever-improving slider, in addition to his advanced control and command. He'll make the jump to High-A ball this season, but I wouldn't put it past Cincinnati to give him a few innings this spring.

Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians

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    Lindor is arguably the most all-around talented shortstop prospect to come along in quite some time, so it was no wonder that the Indians were high enough on him to not only draft him eighth overall, but also to give him a team-record $2.9 million (for a position player).

    Lindor will enter the 2012 season at age 19, so there's really no reason to put any pressure on him with an unnecessary invitation to spring training, but this is one of those cases where I think it would be a good idea to give him a little bit of confidence heading into his debut season, and also to give him a little extra motivation heading into what will likely be a three- or four-year trek through the minors.

    Lindor offers five potential tools, including a switch-hitting ability at the plate and a rocket arm. He has "Gold Glove" written all over him, and many scouts believe he could step in perform adequately on defense in the big leagues right now.

Tyler Anderson, LHP, Colorado Rockies

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    The Rockies drafted Anderson with their first-round pick in last year's draft under the impression that he wouldn't need much seasoning in the minor leagues, and despite the fact that he'll likely start his career in Low- or High-A ball, there's no doubt he'll reach the majors by 2014.

    As such, it would make sense for him to get a look in spring training, giving him something to work toward, while at the same time giving the front office and coaching staff a long, hard look at the former Oregon Ducks ace who signed too late to make his pro debut.

    Anderson's game is all about finesse. He doesn't have premium velocity, but makes up for it with excellent control over his slider and curveball, both of which should be top-notch weapons for him going forward.

Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers

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    Castellanos spent the second half of the 2011 season hearing his name fluttered about as potential trade bait in multiple deals, but to his credit he didn't let the rumors faze him. In fact, he put together one of the finest seasons of any Tigers position player in the minors.

    He spent the entire campaign in the Midwest League, where he led the circuit in hits and finished in the top five with a .312 batting average. He also drove in 76 runs (eighth) and rapped 36 doubles (tied for second).

    Castellanos was drafted straight out of high school and handed a hefty bonus ($3.45 million), so you know the Tigers are going to take it slow with him. He'll bump up to High-A ball this year, and considering his price tag he could even see a few at-bats with the big-league club this spring.

George Springer, OF, Houston Astros

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    The Astros went for the sexy picks in 2009 and 2010, selecting uber-athletes Jiovanni Mier and Delino DeShields Jr. with their first selections. They went a much more mature route in 2011, selecting seasoned college outfielder and potential five-tool player George Springer.

    Springer brings to the Houston system a player who should be relatively quick to the Majors, but who also has an incredibly high ceiling. He has excellent speed, sensational power and a rocket arm that should make him a fixture in a corner outfield spot at Minute Maid for years to come.

    His journey begins this year, at Low-A Lexington, but not before a likely trip to Florida for spring training.

Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B, Kansas City Royals

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    Cuthbert was one of the lesser-known signings from the 2009 international signing class that also included New York's Gary Sanchez and Minnesota's Miguel Sano, but in only a season's worth of time he's established himself as one of the Royals' top prospects.

    Cuthbert was the youngest position player in the Midwest League in 2011 and put together a very fine season for an 18-year-old. In 330 at-bats he rapped 13 doubles, homered eight times and posted a respectable BB-to-K ratio.

    As a raw defensive prospect, Cuthbert could use some extra coaching, possibly of the big-league quality, so he could be a surprise invite to spring training.

C.J. Cron, 1B, Los Angeles Angels

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    Cron was considered one of the most polished bats available in the 2011 draft class, so it was kind of a surprise when the team sent him to rookie ball after signing him. Cron, understandably, destroyed Pioneer League pitching to the tune of a .308/.371/.629 line and slugged 13 homers with an astounding 41 runs in a mere 34 games.

    His season, unfortunately, ended prematurely when he dislocated his kneecap and required surgery, but Cron showed enough to warrant a spot on either the Angels' Low-A or High-A squad entering 2012.

    It wouldn't be a total shock, however, if he ended up getting an invite to spring training so the front office could get a better look at his bat.

Zach Lee, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    The Dodgers knew they were getting an seasoned high school pitcher with incredible amounts of poise when they shelled out $5.25 million to sign right-hander Zach Lee back in 2010.

    Still, even they were surprised by the season he had in 2011, one in which Lee won nine games, posted a 3.47 ERA and struck out 91 batters in 109 innings at Low-A Great Lakes. He allowed two or fewer runs in 19 of his 24 starts and at times looked like the best pitcher in the Midwest League.

    Lee will probably spend a good chunk of his 2012 season in Double-A, but it's likely he'll start the year in the High-A California League, a notoriously tough environment for pitchers, especially young ones with only one year of minor league seasoning.

    What better way to ready Lee for what looks to be a grueling experience than with a tune-up in spring training.

J.T. Realmuto, C, Miami Marlins

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    Realmuto doesn't have the name recognition of some of the Marlins' other top prospects, namely Christian Yelich and Matt Dominguez, but what he does have is a position that might give him a shot at seeing time in his first big-league spring training.

    Everybody knows that pitchers and catchers are a dime a dozen in spring training, and everyone from a team's top catching prospect to the No. 9 or 10 guy on the organizational depth chart gets an invite. Realmuto falls under the former category, as the Marlins' top catcher.

    After a record-setting high school career at Albert HS in Oklahoma, Realmuto put together an impressive campaign in his first full season of pro ball, hitting .287 with 12 homers. He's already proven to be a better hitter than the Marlins' last "franchise" catcher, Kyle Skipworth, and the team is hoping they finally found their catcher of the future.

Taylor Jungmann, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Jungmann, along with fellow first-round selection Jed Bradley, was a very welcome addition to a Brewers system that was weakened greatly by trades for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Both pitchers, especially Jungmann, should help the team move forward without sacrificing quality arms at the front of their rotation.

    At Texas, Jungmann was about as good as it gets, showing incredible poise while leading the Longhorns to the College World Series finals as a freshman, winning 32 career games while posting an ERA under 2.00 and finally winning National Player of the Year honors as a junior.

    As a pro, Jungmann has it all: great size, good fastball velocity and a go-to breaking pitch. As a result, he should move fairly quickly through the minors and could be ready for a spot in the big-league rotation as soon as 2013.

    His journey will start most likely in High-A ball, but he would definitely benefit from some time around Milwaukee's veteran arms in spring training.

Miguel Sano, 3B, Minnesota Twins

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    Miguel Sano burst onto the scene back in 2009, when he was a part of the same international class that included Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez and Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar. Two years later, there is no doubt that Sano has the highest ceiling of the three players and he's in the running for the top position player prospect in the minors.

    Sano's power is incredibly prodigious—up there with Bryce Harper's. Despite having relatively poor plate discipline (23-to-77 BB:K) he still found a way to slug 20 home runs in just 267 at-bats in 2011. That gives him 27 in 479 career at-bats.

    As quoted in Baseball America's Prospect Handbook, "he has the highest ceiling of any Minnesota prospect since Joe Mauer."

    Sano is likely to begin the 2012 season in Low-A ball, but considering the progress he made in 2011, there's a good chance he could see some time in big-league spring training.

Brandon Nimmo, OF, New York Mets

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    Considering what the Mets have invested in Nimmo, their first-round pick from last June's draft, and taking into account the fact that the Wyoming native signed too late to make his pro debut, it only makes sense for the team to give him a few at-bats this spring.

    Nimmo was arguably the finest athlete available with the Mets' pick, and he has "five-tool stud" written all over him. And while one would think he would be incredibly raw, considering Wyoming doesn't sanction high school baseball programs, Nimmo actually honed his skills playing American Legion ball against much better competition than he would have faced at the high school level.

    All of that means he's likely ticketed for Low-A ball or possibly even short-season Brooklyn of the New York-Penn League, but not before they see him shag a few balls in Port St. Lucie.

Dante Bichette Jr., 3B, New York Yankees

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    Bichette was such a revelation in 2011, tearing the cover off the ball in the Gulf Coast League, that I'd say he justified at least a couple of days in big-league camp this spring.

    Just days after signing, Bichette reported to the GCL, where he proceeded to hit .342/.446/.505 with 17 doubles, three triples, 47 RBI and 30 walks in 52 contests. He earned league MVP honors for his efforts, and ended the season with a well-deserved promotion to the New York-Penn League.

    Bichette's run-producing capability should come as no surprise, considering he is the son of former big-league slugger Dante Bichette. Senior clearly instructed Junior quite well, and as a result, the latter will most likely be looking at a placement in Low-A ball in 2012.

A.J. Cole, RHP, Oakland Athletics

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    Cole isn't exactly the kind of prospect that Oakland enjoys, but getting him in the deal that sent Gio Gonzalez to Washington was really icing on the cake—that of course being RHP Brad Peacock, LHP Tom Milone and C Derek Norris. Each of those thre could play a vital role in the Majors this season, but Cole, who had a stellar campaign in 2011 in Low-A ball, will likely spend the entire year at High-A Stockton.

    So why give Cole a ticket to spring training?

    Well, for starters, he showed enough poise in 18 starts for Hagerstown last year that it might be worth it to test his mound presence against some big leaguers to see if the organization could maybe have him skip a level to Double-A. After all, he posted one of the best K:BB ratios (108-to-24) in the South Atlantic League last year.

    Second, there's no doubt Cole could benefit from being around some of the veteran arms that the A's will have in camp. Also, considering the youth the team will have fighting for rotation spots (Peacock, Milone, Jarrod Parker, etc.), Cole could also benefit from that competition.

Jesse Biddle, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies

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    A recent trend among teams in spring training is to invite top pitching prospects, regardless of age or experience, to camp to allow them to get a feel for life in the big leagues.

    The Orioles did it with 2010 third-rounder Daniel Klein last year, and the Mariners are set to do it with 2011 first-rounder Danny Hultzen this spring. So, with arguably some of the worst all-around depth of any system in baseball, it only makes sense that the Phillies could invite some of their top pitching prospects, especially 20-year-old lefty Jesse Biddle.

    Biddle quietly put together a fantastic campaign last season in Low-A ball, and this year he'll be ticketed for High-A, but there's no doubt that he would benefit from some time spent around experienced big-league pitchers like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.

Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Despite having a terrible season (by college baseball standards for a player of his caliber), former UCLA ace Gerrit Cole went No. 1 overall in the 2011 draft and then earned a draft-record $8 million bonus.

    With a fastball that can reach triple-digits (he was clocked at 102 mph in the Arizona Fall League) and two potential above-average pitches (slider and changeup), it's no wonder experts seem to think that Cole will be the first player from the 2011 draft to reach the Majors. It also shouldn't come as a total shock when the Pirates invite him to log some innings in spring training.

    First, however, will be a few stops in the minors, the most likely being High-A ball, where he is set to start the 2012 campaign.

Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals

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    If C.J. Cron was touted as one of the most seasoned bats in the 2011 draft class, the only player to rank ahead of him would be Wong, the Cardinals' first-round selection.

    After signing for a modest $1.3 million, Wong went to work destroying Midwest League pitching. In less than 50 games, the former Hawaii native hit .335 and rapped 15 doubles, slugged five homers and posted a solid BB-to-K ratio. He's easily the most patient hitter in the organization, and that should help him expedite his rise through the minors.

    Wong could start the 2012 season at Double-A, but a more subtle jump to High-A could be more likely. Inviting him to spring training could give the Cards a longer look to evaluate whether or not he's ready for the jump.

Cory Spangenberg, 2B, San Diego Padres

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    Spangenberg tore up the Northwest League in his pro debut (.384, 31-to-15 BB:K), and more than held his own after a promotion to the Midwest (.284, 15 steals). His stellar debut has him poised to start the 2012 season in High-A ball, but as a token of the team's gratitude for his play, he'll likely earn an invite to spring training.

    Spangenberg was touted as having one of the best pure bats in the 2012 draft class and he proved not only that, but that he can be a serious threat on the basepaths as well (25 steals total).

    He isn't going to be much of a power threat for the Padres, but there's little doubt that Spangenberg will develop into the kind of top-of-the-order bat and all-around solid player the team was hoping recently retired Drew Cumberland (due to recurring injuries) would evolve into.

Joe Panik, SS, San Francisco Giants

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    Like a few other infielders drafted in the first round (Cory Spangenberg and Kolten Wong), former St. John's shortstop Joe Panik had a terrific pro campaign.

    In 270 at-bats in the Northwest League, Panik rapped 10 doubles, slugged six homers and drove in a league-high 54 runs. He also paced the NWL in runs, hits and with a .341 average. Furthermore, he walked three more times than he struck out and used his sneaky speed to swipe 13 bases.

    For his efforts, Panik was awarded the NWL MVP award, and an even great reward could be awaiting him this spring, as the Giants may decided to bring him to big-league camp to test his readiness.

Danny Hultzen, LHP, Seattle Mariners

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    This one is a gimme.

    Hultzen, who signed a $8.5 million deal that included a $6.35 million bonus, fought for a invitation to spring training to be included in his contract and got exactly what he was looking for. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik has already stated on several occasions that Hultzen will indeed be joining the rest of the club this spring.

    After that, it's anybody's guess. Hultzen could be ticketed for High-A ball, or possibly even Double-A, depending on what the front office thinks of his performance this spring and his stellar campaign in the Arizona Fall League a few months ago.

    Make no mistake, wherever Hultzen begins the 2012 season, there's a good chance he'll end it in the Majors.

Mikie Mahtook, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Mahtook, the team's second first-round pick this past year, signed too late to play full-season ball, but made his presence known in the highly touted Arizona Fall League. In 18 games with Surprise, Mahtook hit .338/.410/.544 with three doubles, three homers, 14 RBI and five steals. 

    That showing might be enough to warrant another look this spring, before he's inevitably trimmed from the roster and sent to the minors. His landing spot right now appears to be High-A Charlotte.

    At LSU, Mahtook was a five-tool stud. He finished his career with a .344 average and ranks second among all Tigers' players in triples with 12 and fifth in stolen bases with 50. Last year, he put together a campaign that had many including him in the discussion for college player of the year. He posted a career-high .383 average and tied a career best with 14 homers. He also drove in 56 runs, tripled five times, scored 61 runs and swiped 29 bases.

Jurickson Profar, SS, Texas Rangers

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    Profar is arguably the top shortstop prospect in the game right now (no offense to Manny Machado), and with another year's worth of minor league seasoning (and promotions of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout), he could be in the running for the top overall prospect honor.

    It's hard to give praise that is lofty enough to be worthy of Profar. Baseball America noted that "one scout compared him to Hanley Ramirez with Dustin Pedroia's makeup." His competitive drive is nearly unrivaled and just about everyone who has seen him play in person raves about how much fun he seems to have while on the field.

    Tools-wise, Profar is a proverbial "shed." He switch-hits and has great raw power from the right side. He should be able to hit for a decent average from both, much like he did in 2011 (.286 as an 18-year old in the South Atlantic League). He has proven to have above-average speed (23 SB in '11) and his awareness of the strike zone (65-to-63 BB:K) is unreal for a player his age.

    Texas is going to have a loaded clubhouse this spring, with Cuban defector Leonys Martin and Japanese sensation Yu Darvish joining a well-stocked roster, but something tells me that the Rangers will do their best to squeeze even a handful of at-bats out of Profar before sending him to High-A ball.

John Stilson, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Stilson's selection as the Jays' third-round pick doesn't even begin to do justice to the caliber of performer he is. Before a season-ending shoulder injury last year, he was the ace of a loaded Texas A&M squad, one of the best starting pitchers in college baseball (a season after being one of the best relief pitchers in college baseball) and a sure-fire first-rounder.

    Then came the injury. 

    Considering all of the other moves made by the Blue Jays in the 2011 draft, getting Stilson to sign for a measly $500k was a veritable steal, and possibly the best value pick in the entire draft. According to Baseball America's Nathan Rode, Stilson should be back on the mound by spring training, and while you never want to rush a guy back from an injury, I'm sure the Jays would like to get an early look at the right-hander on the diamond.

    That could leave the door open for an invite to spring training, where pitchers are shuttled in by the truck load.

Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals

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    Rendon rewrote the record books at Rice (easier said than done), and for a while appeared to be the inevitable No. 1 selection of the 2011 draft. Due to multiple injuries, and the incredible depth of the 2011 class, he slipped all the way to the sixth spot in the draft.

    There's no denying that when healthy, Rendon is one of the top two or three performers from last year's class, and he could be one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Blocked by Ryan Zimmermann at third base, he could be looking at a move across the infield to second base, although he'll likely remain at third for the time being.

    At the plate, Rendon offers high average and high power potential. He also has arguably the best plate discipline of any hitter in the minors right now.

    Due to his incredible poise and his seasoned bat, Rendon could be looking at an aggressive promotion to High-A Potomac, but honestly, the front office would have to be out of their mind if it didn't want to get a up-close look at Rendon in action this spring.

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