One Prospect for Each MLB Team Who Could Surprise in Spring Training

Zachary BallAnalyst IFebruary 1, 2012

One Prospect for Each MLB Team Who Could Surprise in Spring Training

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    Every year a phenomenon sweeps into each team's big-league camp in the form of a prospect who explodes and has a truly great showing, leading fans and front-office members alike to wonder aloud if there's a spot for said player on the Opening Day roster and in the organization's long-term plans.

    Last year, this phenomenon was most beautifully embodied by 23-year-old Dave Sappelt, who hit .564 in 20 games with Cincinnati. He entered camp as filler and left it as a top-10 prospect. Unfortunately, he wasn't as lucky when he received some big-league playing time later in the season. He failed to recapture his "spring-swing," struggled to a .243 average and struck out in one-fifth of his at-bats.

    Other players who had big spring campaigns include Bryce Harper, Manny Banuelos, Lonnie Chisenhall, Tyler Flowers, Eric Hosmer, David Cooper, Zach Britton and Ivan Nova. Their results, while impressive and eye-opening, earned no guarantees of spots on the big-league roster.

    Some of those players went on to have stellar rookie campaigns (Britton, Hosmer and Nova), while some headed back to the minors for more seasoning (Harper, Banuelos and Cooper).

    Some are featured on this year's list of prospects who could really open some eyes this spring, along with several other names you'll likely recognize.

Trevor Bauer, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    After the year that he had in 2011, it was almost a shock that Bauer didn't reach the majors before the end of the season.

    After leading all of college baseball in innings pitched, strikeouts and complete games and then pitching another 25.2 innings after signing, Bauer got a well-deserved break. He didn't even make an appearance in the Arizona Fall League, meaning he's had five months of rest and should be ready to go come spring training.

    The former UCLA ace is going to be a dark horse to win a rotation spot out of spring camp, but considering his track record, I don't think there's any doubt that he's going to shine.

Randall Delgado, RHP, Atlanta Braves

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    Each of the Braves' top pitching prospects, Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino and Delgado, saw some time in the majors late last season and each showed enough to warrant a long look this spring.

    Teheran is the darling of the system, so he will likely be afforded every opportunity to win a rotation spot, while Vizcaino will likely start the season at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he made only two starts before getting called to Atlanta in 2011. Delgado, however, made two more starts for the Braves and saw more time in the majors, strictly as a starter, an opportunity that was not afforded Vizcaino.

    Entering 2012, there's really no way to tell who's going to have the leg-up, but considering how composed he looked in the bigs in 2011 (2.83 ERA, .220 average against), I'm putting down my bet on Delgado to really open some eyes.

Joe Mahoney, 1B, Baltimore Orioles

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    The Orioles have had trouble finding a legitimate long-term first baseman ever since Rafael Palmeiro left town the first time in the late 1990s.

    In Joe Mahoney, they may have finally found their guy. At 6'6'' and 240 pounds, the 23-year old certainly fits the part of lumbering slugger. Mahoney had a breakout season in 2010 but had trouble carrying over that momentum into 2011. He was saddled with numerous injuries and only managed to squeeze in 88 games. He did, however, hit .294 with 11 homers and 69 RBI.

    He took his game up a notch during play in the AFL. He finished with a .325 average and 22 RBI. Both numbers placed him in the top 20 in said category.

    He'll enter the 2012 season headed for Triple-A and will no doubt receive an invite to spring training, where he'll try to unseat Chris Davis at first base.

Jose Iglesias, SS, Boston Red Sox

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    Despite all the hype surrounding the Cuban-born Iglesias, the Red Sox prospect had a very rough year in 2011.

    Not only did he struggle to hit above .230, but he was basically a singles-only hitter. After racking up 17 extra-base hits in 70 games in 2010, he mustered only 10 in 101 contests. Only one of those was a home run, which coincidentally was the first of his career. He wasn't a good run producer or a threat in the lineup.

    The argument can be made that the only thing the 22-year-old did well was sharpen his defensive skills, which rank as the best in Boston's system and place him in a category all by himself among shortstops in the minors.

    One bright spot came in Iglesias' 10-game promotion to the majors, where he went 2-for-6 and scored three runs. The Sox are betting on his bat getting better with more experience, but a strong showing this spring would help his cause dramatically.

    After all, the Sox cleared out two infielders (Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie) this offseason, opening up a tiny window of opportunity for Iglesias.

Brett Jackson, OF, Chicago Cubs

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    Jackson is the best prospect in a thin system, and he likely won't be around the minor league ranks for much longer.

    After impressive back-to-back campaigns, the 23-year-old is poised to spend the majority of the year at Triple-A Iowa, but he could speed up his timeline by putting together a few great weeks in front of his new boss, Theo Epstein.

    During his time in the minors, Jackson has flashed five tools. He hit .274 last year, actually a career-low, but slugged 20 home runs, giving him 32 the past two seasons. He continued to be a threat on the basepaths, legging out five triples (14 last year) and swiping 21 bases.

    Epstein will bring a hoard of players to camp this spring, and Jackson will no doubt get a ton of at-bats to prove his worthiness against big-league pitching.

Simon Castro, RHP, Chicago White Sox

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    There's no doubt about it...the White Sox have the weakest farm system in baseball, but don't blame one of their newest additions, 22-year-old Simon Castro.

    Despite having his worst pro season in 2011 (5.63 ERA, .286 average against), Castro remains one of the top pitchers in the Chicago system. That season came while he was still a member of the Padres organization, so both sides (Castro and the front office) are hoping that a change of scenery will suit him quite well. Prior to 2011, he struck out a batter an inning and held a career ERA of under 4.00.

    He now has eight Triple-A starts under his belt and another 39 in Double-A, so he'll likely get plenty of innings to prove his worth to Chicago, which might have some trouble fielding a five-man rotation. If he shines brightly enough, don't be surprised if Kenny Williams decides to give him a shot.

Todd Frazier, OF, Cincinnati Reds

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    Frazier got his first taste of the big leagues in 2011 after taking up near permanent residency at Triple-A Louisville. Already 25 years old, time is running out for the former Rutgers star to make a spot for himself on the major league roster, but with some competition out of the way, including Yonder Alonso, 2012 could finally be the year that he's in Cinci to stay.

    Frazier continued to slaughter International League pitching in 2011, racking up 34 home runs and his 121st RBI, in just his 236th game at the Triple-A level. The one thing he couldn't do, though, was find a long-term position, the same ailment that plagued the recently departed Alonso.

    Frazier appears to be settled on leftfield, and even without the former top prospect out of the way, he could be in for a dog-fight for the position. A strong spring will be required for him to lock down a spot on the Opening Day roster, and I think this is the year he finally breaks through for good.

Zach McAllister, RHP, Cleveland Indians

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    The pride and joy of the trade that sent Austin Kearns to New York back in 2010, McAllister had a breakout season for the Indians in 2011. He won 12 games, posted a sub-3.50 ERA and struck out 128 batters, while walking just 31, in 154.2 innings. Each of those numbers was a career high.

    McAllister's rise was timely, as it coincided with the pillaging of the Indians minor league pitching depth by the Rockies, who plucked from it top prospect Drew Pomeranz, former first-rounder Alex White and the unheralded Joe Gardner. Cleveland was so desperate after the deal that they actually plucked McAllister from Triple-A to make a couple of late-season starts.

    He looked in over his head in four appearances, but that won't prevent him from seeing some time with the big-league club this year. He looked solid last spring and has a tendency to be a guy who is quick out of the gate, so look for a very strong showing.

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies

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    One of my favorite players in the minors, as much for the way he seems to enjoy playing the game as for his production, Arenado was the darling of 2011 baseball campaign.

    First, he tore the cover off the ball in the hitter-friendly California League. He finished as the minor league RBI leader (122) and also slugged 32 doubles and 20 home runs. He maintained a solid .298/.349/.487 line and improved his defensive play to the point that scouts now feel like he'll have the range to stay at third base long-term.

    After being named a Cal League All-Star, Arenado took his game to the Southwest, where he won League MVP honors in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. He was an offensive juggernaut, slugging six homers and driving in 33 runs, all the while maintaining a .388 average against the likes of Danny Hultzen, Trey McNutt, Sammy Solis, Tyson Ross and Jake Petricka.

    It should come as no Surprise (pun intended) that Arenado led his squad, Surprise, to the AFL crown.

    Arenado will take his game to Double-A this season, but he'll no doubt get an invite to spring training, and with the momentum he's built over the past year, I wouldn't put it past him to be the best hitter in camp there too.

Jacob Turner, RHP, Detroit Tigers

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    The Tigers' top prospect and one of the top right-handers in all of the minors, Jacob Turner looked great last spring, allowing only one run in six innings, spanning two starts. He showed great velocity, a sensational feel for his breaking ball and most of all...fantastic poise and presence on the mound.

    He showed those same traits a handful of months later when he was called upon by the front office to make a spot start. He tossed 5.1 innings of two-run ball and struck out six. The other two starts he made weren't as pretty, but he had already cemented his status as a dark-horse contender for a rotation spot in 2012.

    He'll enter camp as one of a few guys challenging for the fifth spot, behind reigning AL MVP Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer. While he doesn't have the big-league experience of Andy Oliver or some of the other veteran candidates, there's no denying he has by far the highest upside.

Jonathan Singleton, 1B/OF, Houston Astros

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    Singleton has been the very symbol of consistency since signing back in 2009 with the Phillies. 

    He's a career .294 hitter who has averaged 24 doubles, 13 home runs and 70 RBI during his two full seasons. All the while, he's shown incredible plate discipline for a hitter of his age (20), walking a combined 132 times since 2010.

    He climbed to the top of the Phillies' depth chart before being traded to Houston this past season in exchange for Hunter Pence.

    Despite his age, Singleton will be starring at the Double-A level in 2012, and without a doubt he'll get an invite to spring training. It's a long shot, but with a strong showing he might earn a ticket to Triple-A and fast-pass to the majors, where the Astros have been dealing with the underperforming Brett Wallace at first base.

Wil Myers, OF, Kansas City Royals

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    It came as somewhat of a surprise that the Royals sent Myers to the AFL after a disappointing season, but the way the organization saw it, it was just another chunk of at-bats to prove that his 2011 campaign was a fluke.

    In that, Myers may have succeeded. After hitting a mere .254 and combining for just 32 extra-base hits (he had 54 in 2010), the 20-year old exploded, hitting .260 with four homers (three fewer than he had in all of 2011), five triples, 18 RBI and a 20-to-18 BB:K ratio.

    Myers' struggle versus lefties (.143 compared to .403 vs. RHP) continued into AFL play, but he did show something by posting a 9-to-2 BB:K ratio against southpaws.

    The Royals moved Myers, now 21, from behind the plate so they could get his bat to the Majors more quickly, and with a strong spring he could find himself in Kansas City before the end of the 2012 campaign.

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

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    Adding Albert Pujols to an already-crowded stable of first basemen probably did little to inspire any confidence in the Angels' first-round pick from this past June, C.J. Cron, but I think he'll use the extra roadblock as motivation.

    Cron looked sensational, and probably a little too advanced, in his pro debut last season. He tore up the rookie Pioneer League to the tune of a .308/.371/.629 line. He slugged a whopping 13 homers and drove in 41 runs in just 34 games, carrying over the momentum he built during his final season at Utah, in which he challenged for the RBI and home-run title.

    This season he's likely to make the jump to High-A ball, but with a strong showing in camp, he might even force his way to Double-A. His bat is that good. It's his defensive position that's now a question mark, with Pujols, Mark Trumbo and Kendry Morales standing in his way.

    Luckily, Cron does have some experience catching, so it wouldn't be a total shock if he comes to camp early with the pitchers and catchers to get some extra work in.

Tim Federowicz, C, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Federowicz hit like a man possessed after coming over from Boston late last season. He thrived when given his first taste of Triple-A, slugging six homers and droving in 17 in just 25 games for Albuquerque, all while maintaining a .325 average.

    He ended the season with career highs in home runs, RBI and walks.

    His power output with L.A. almost equaled that of his time spent with Boston and was enough to convince the Dodgers to bring him up in September. He didn't fare as well at the big-league level (.154 in 16 AB), but it was way too small a sample size to put any stock in.

    Federowicz has always been known as a defensive whiz (33 percent career CS rate), which made his offensive outburst in 2011 all the more surprising and an encouraging sign for a team that has been looking for a franchise catcher for more than a decade. 

    With a strong spring he might be able to lay claim to a roster spot and challenge Matt Treanor for the starting job.

Matt Dominguez, 3B, Miami Marlins

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    Dominguez has been all but written off after a minor league season in which he appeared to regress and a poor showing in a brief cup of coffee in the big leagues. Toss in the move of Hanley Ramirez to third base to accommodate new shortstop Jose Reyes, and it looks like Dominguez is a lost cause as long as he remains in a Marlins uniform.

    Despite the negatives, he remains arguably the top defensive third-base prospect in the minor leagues, and at age 22, there's still plenty of time for his bat to come around.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the team invited him to spring training in order to get him some playing time at a few other positions, possibly first base or in the outfield, in order to increase his versatility. It would actually be a darn shame for him to move from the hot corner, where he has the potential to be a perennial Gold Glove winner, but as long as his bat remains inferior to Ramirez's, he's going to have to be flexible.

    I highly doubt he's in for a repeat of his 2011 spring performance (.190, 10 K in 42 AB).

Scooter Gennett, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Despite having never played above High-A ball, Brewers farm-hand Scooter Gennett opened some eyes in the Arizona Fall League, where he challenged for the batting title up until the final week. He finished second, but the Brewers could not have hoped for a better showing from the 21-year old.

    Gennett is that kind of player that is described in terms that don't always sound so kind: baseball rat, grunt, etc... At 5'9'' and 164 pounds, that's the kind of hardship he's been destined to take, but taking the same approach as tinier men who blazed the path for him (Brian Roberts, David Eckstein, etc...), Gennett has made quite a name for himself as a guy who gets on base and utilizes all of his tools to the best of his ability.

    Coming off a stellar season in which he hit .300 with six triples, nine homers and 51 RBI for High-A Brevard, the organization challenged Gennett with an assignment in the AFL, where he faced much older and much more advanced pitching on a nightly basis. The competition didn't faze him, and he wound up with a .411 average, 14 RBI and 20 runs in 23 games.

    He'll get the bump to Double-A in 2012, but not before a cameo in spring camp.

Liam Hendriks, RHP, Minnesota Twins

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    Despite putting up some pretty mind-boggling numbers the past five years, Hendriks has failed to gain much attention outside of Minnesota.

    To fully grasp how good Hendriks has been, check out these numbers:

    Year Age Levels IP ERA K-to-BB HRA
    2007 18 Rookie 44.0 2.05 52:11 2
    2009 20 Rookie/Low-A 83.2 3.55 75:16 3
    2010 21 Low-A/High-A 108.2 1.74 105:12 2
    2011 22 Double-A/Triple-A 139.1 3.36 111:21 5

    So, why doesn't Hendriks get more love? After all, he posts ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratios, wins tons of games, keeps ridiculously low ERAs and does it all at a very impressive age. Well, the primary reason is that he's your prototypical soft-tosser from Australia.

    Granted, he doesn't throw as soft as some of his fellow countrymen (89-92 mph), but the moniker still fits. He makes his mark on making his pitches and hitting his spots. Clearly control is his strong suit, and nowhere is that valued more than in Minnesota.

    Hendriks didn't fare particularly well in a late-season big-league cameo, but that won't prevent him from getting another shot.

Wilmer Flores, SS/3B, New York Mets

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    Flores has officially hit the invisible wall that some prospects hit, the wall that means that even if they are performing well they don't get much attention because they've been around for so long.

    The 20-year-old is entering his fifth professional season, and for the third consecutive year he has regressed in the prospect rankings, despite the fact that he enjoyed arguably the second best full season campaign of his career. He cracked the 80-RBI mark for the second time in as many years as he mastered yet another level of minor league pitching.

    Lost in all of this is the fact that Flores will be playing the entire 2012 season in Double-A at age 20. He's slowly making progressions as a hitter and by the time he's ready for a big-league close-up, the Mets will likely have a spot for him, either at third base or in the outfield. Make no mistake, however, he won't remain at shortstop much longer.

    Flores should get an invite to spring training, and he's an advanced enough hitter that he could finally open some eyes.

Dellin Betances, RHP, New York Yankees

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    Yankees top pitching prospect Manny Banuelos was the darling of the team's 2011 spring training. The lefty held down a 2.13 ERA in six appearances and garnered some consideration down the stretch for inclusion on the Opening Day roster. He ended up back in the minors to start the season, but he undoubtedly benefited from the experience.

    This spring should be a similar coming-out party for hulking right-hander Dellin Betances. At 6'8'' and 260 pounds, Betances oozes intimidation. His mid-90s fastball also helps. In terms of wins and losses, Betances had arguably the worst season of his career in 2011, but he made some strides and actually posted career highs in strikeouts and innings pitched.

    Clearly one outstanding issue is going to be the sharpening of his control, as he walked a career-high 70 batters last season. However, he now has some major league experience and a couple of starts under his belt at Triple-A, so there's hope that with a strong performance he could factor greatly into the Yankees' 2012 plans.

Michael Choice, OF, Oakland Athletics

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    Choice opened up plenty of eyes last spring during batting practice, but the former first-round pick got only 24 at-bats in.

    He's likely to get more than that this spring, especially coming off of an impressive campaign that saw him slug 30 homers.

    Choice is a premium athlete who has insane power but who has also been undone by an over-aggressive mentality at the plate. That's resulted in 179 strikeouts the past two seasons in 148 games. Luckily, he's been able to keep up a decent average in that span.

    Choice will be moving up to Double-A regardless of how he performs in camp, but he could make things interesting if he is one of the team's best hitters. 

Phillippe Aumont, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies

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    For Aumont, the 11th-overall selection in the 2007 draft, the fifth time might finally be the charm. Entering his fifth professional season, the hefty right-hander is finally on the cusp of securing a big-league job.

    He ended the 2011 campaign in Triple-A for the first time ever. After bouncing around the minors, switching from starting to relieving, he finally appeared to find some success after two consecutive dismal campaigns. He finished with a combined 2.68 ERA after a strong finish at Lehigh that included a 37-to-14 K:BB ratio in a mere 22.2 innings.

    Aumont has the stuff and the intimidation factor to be a closer in the majors, but it remains to be seen if he'll ever get the opportunity. With a strong spring camp, however, he could force his way onto the Opening Day roster.

Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Ah, Cole.

    The 2011 No. 1 overall selection made his pro debut, along with several other draftees, in the Arizona Fall League. Like Danny Hultzen, who was selected with the No. 2 pick, Cole had immediate success, striking out 16 batters in 15 innings, spanning five starts. More impressive than the stats, however, was the radar gun readings, which topped out at 102 mph on several occasions.

    Cole is no doubt the future ace of the Pirates. He'll be afforded every opportunity in his first spring training and I have no doubt he'll exceed all expectations, but in the end he'll head back to the minors for some last-minute fine-tuning. Expect to see him again sometime late in 2012.

Zack Cox, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Cox is easily forgotten about, despite the fact that he's a former first-rounder who was gifted a club-record $3.2 million signing bonus and a major league contract.

    A little more than one full season later, he has already reached Double-A and has his eyes on winning a spot on the Opening Day roster this spring. That might be easier said than done, especially with a wealth of third-base options descending upon spring camp, but there's no doubt that Cox's bat is plenty good enough.

    In his first extended taste of pro ball, the 22-year-old hit .306 with 13 homers and 68 RBI. He projects to be a .300 hitter at the big-league level who could also slug 20-25 homers per season.

    Cox attended spring training last year but received just seven at-bats. With a new manager installed, and considering he's destined for Triple-A in 2012, he'll likely get triple that number...at least.

Jedd Gyorko, 3B, San Diego Padres

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    Gyorko is another player who combined a sensational season with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League.

    The former second-round pick slaughtered California League pitching to the tune of a .365/.429/.638 line and despite some initial struggles after a promotion to Double-A, finished the season with a combined .333 average, 25 home runs and 114 RBI.

    The 23-year-old showed no sign of slowing down when he joined Peoria of the AFL and proceeded to lead the circuit in hitting (.437). In just 18 games, he also slugged five homers and drove in 22 runs.

    Gyorko has proven to be advanced for every level where he's seen time, and he's a dark horse to crack the big-league roster out of spring training. With another AFL-like performance he could be forcing incumbent third baseman Chase Headley out of a job.

Andrew Susac, C, San Francisco Giants

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    If you're not familiar with the name, get to be. Susac could be the Giants' catcher of the future.

    So how did he slip all the way to the second round? Furthermore, how were the Giants able to convince him to sign for $1.1 million, a relative bargain?

    All the answers you seek can be summed up in one nasty break, a break in his hamate bone that is. The left-hand injury took a major chunk out of a season that likely would have had the junior in the running for All-American honors. With limited playing time, he still managed to post a .429 on-base percentage and drive in 32 runs.

    Susac has always been a capable defender. He threw out 36 percent of runners attempting to steal and made just three errors all season.

    Since he signed so late, he has yet to make his pro debut, but he's the top defensive catcher in the system, which means he'll likely get an early invite to spring camp.

Danny Hultzen, LHP, Seattle Mariners

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    In order to sweeten what was already a very sugary big-league deal, the Mariners tossed in an invitation to spring training for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft, lefty Danny Hultzen.

    Hultzen was already seen as one of the most big-league ready pitchers available in the 2011 crop, after a dominating college career at Virginia. Even if he doesn't crack the active roster for Opening Day, he'll likely end the season pitching in Seattle. What gives me hope that he has a chance to surprise some people this spring, however, is his performance in the Arizona Fall League.

    Hultzen dominated the older hitters in the league, holding down a 1.40 ERA over six starts. He allowed just one home run and posted an 18-to-5 K:BB ratio in 19.1 innings.

    Over his last three starts, spanning 10.1 innings, he was downright dominant, striking out 16 batters, walking just two and allowing just one run.

Tim Beckham, SS, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Beckham has finally put aside all the doubts that have accompanied him ever since he was drafted first overall in the 2008 draft. He has taken some gruff for being picked ahead of some other notable names like Eric Hosmer, Buster Posey, Jemile Weeks and Brett Lawrie, each of whom has reached the majors and had mild to moderate success.

    He's likely not going to be the superstar player the Rays imagined when they shelled out $6.15 million to sign him, but he has quietly strung together two solid seasons and has worked his way back into the long-term plans of the organization. He had easily his best season in 2011, hitting .271 with 12 homers, 70 RBI and 94 runs, each a career high.

    He also earned a spot in the Futures Game and showed all-around solid tools in the Arizona Fall League. Beckham is ahead of the Rays' top position prospect, Hak-Ju Lee, in the race to reach the big leagues, but he is no longer the superior talent.

    He's going to need a strong spring performance to hold Lee off.

Miguel De Los Santos, LHP, Texas Rangers

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    Few players were worked as hard in 2011 as Miguel De Los Santos.

    First, he made 13 appearances in the Carolina League (High-A), during which he shined, posting a 3.82 ERA and racking up an unheard-of 97 strikeouts in a mere 63.2 innings. He earned a promotion to Double-A, where he immediately found the going more tough. He was hit hard and finished the season with an ERA over 8.00 in six starts. Still, he struck out 38 in just 28 innings.

    After the season ended, De Los Santos was sent to the Arizona Fall League, where he was one of the best pitchers in the circuit. Going up against some of the top arms in baseball, he posted a 3.26 ERA, won five games and struck out 40 batters. Those last two numbers led the league. But he still wasn't done.

    After AFL play ended, he headed to the D.R., where he hooked up with Toros del Este. He made five more appearances, again striking out more than a batter per inning.

    De Los Santos will enter 2012 as one of the Rangers' top pitching prospects, and there's a good chance he'll earn an invite to spring training. 

    With easy velocity he could really open some eyes.

Anthony Gose, Of, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Gose is such a speedy fellow, that there's literally no way he won't open some eyes in spring training. 

    The speedster stole at least 70 bases for the second time in his career in 2011, falling just short of his career high of 76 set back in 2009. For the first time in his pro career, however, he wasn't all about speed. He added some power to his game and more than doubled his career total in home runs. He did it in the Eastern League too, which isn't exactly considered a hitter's haven.

    Gose improved in every facet in 2011, from plate discipline (set a career high in walks) to picking his spots on the basepaths (caught stealing a career-low 15 times).

    He'll come to spring training not content to just be there. He'll be looking for a spot on the big-league roster.

Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals

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    Bryce Harper gets all the love, and for good reason, but the Nationals have another budding superstar in the fold, and he hasn't even taken a professional swing yet.

    Anthony Rendon was the top overall player heading into the 2011 collegiate season and for the longest time it was considered a foregone conclusion that he would be the first player selected in that year's draft. He suffered through some injuries, saw his power sapped and despite leaving Rice as a record holder in numerous offensive categories, he slipped all the way to pick No. 6, where Washington happily scooped him up.

    Rendon's bat is amazingly good. He should hit for power and average at the big-league level and could be a .300 average, 30 home run kind of producer. On defense, the case could be made that he's even more impressive. Before back-to-back ankle surgeries, he was considered a future Gold Glover. Now in bed with the Nationals, he'll have to move off the hot corner in deference to actual Gold Glover Ryan Zimmerman.

    No matter where Rendon lands, however, he'll hit, starting this spring.