MLB Spring Training: Each Team's Top Prospect Who Won't Make Opening Day Roster

Zachary BallAnalyst IMarch 9, 2012

MLB Spring Training: Each Team's Top Prospect Who Won't Make Opening Day Roster

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    Bryce Harper has dazzled scouts and fans alike already this spring, showing incredible power, exciting speed, and all-out hustle.

    Ask Nationals manager Davey Johnson and he'll tell you Harper simply doesn't get tired.

    Try and try as he may, though, it's very unlikely that Harper travels north with the Nationals when spring training ends, for the simple fact that he might benefit from some additional time spent down in the minors working on a few things. Plate patience for one. Base-running for another. And don't forget that the Nationals have a $100 million man blocking him in right field.

    Harper isn't the only prospect star that won't be heading north with his respective squad, though.

    Let's see who will join him back in the minors to start the 2012 season.

Trevor Bauer, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    The Diamondbacks starting rotation is set with Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Trevor Cahill, Joe Saunders and Josh Collmenter. Rather unfortunate is it then, that the team's top three prospects are all starting pitchers.

    Trevor Bauer is the No. 1 guy in the pecking order, and will be the first in line to audition for a spot in the rotation when the time comes. But that likely won't be until the end of the season, unless one of the aforementioned names is felled with an injury.

    In the meantime, it will be a delight to see the diminutive right-hander with the quirky mechanics carve up opposing batters at whichever level he spends his time.

Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta Braves

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    Like Bauer, Julio Teheran will likely put on a good show in spring training, but at the end of the day he too is likely headed back to the minors.

    He had plenty of success at Triple-A Gwinnett last year, winning 15 games while posting a 2.55 ERA. And while it seems like there's little left for the Colombian native to prove, don't forget that he's still just 21 years old. He rocketed through the minors after signing back in 2007, but could stand to undergo a bit more seasoning before finally laying claim to his spot atop the rotation.

    Teheran's other competitors for the fifth spot in the rotation include Randall Delgado and Mike Minor, the latter of who appears to have the leg up due to experience.

    There have been whispers of Teheran possibly joining the bullpen, a la Neftali Feliz in Texas, but manager Fredi Gonzalez recently shot down that rumor and was instead in favor of the idea of him logging more innings down at Triple-A.

Joe Mahoney, 1B, Baltimore Orioles

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    The Orioles talented trio of prospects of Dylan Bundy, Manny Machado and Jon Schoop are all in camp, but not expected to make it through the first round of cuts. Of the remaining prospects who earned an invite to spring camp, the one who might last the longest is Joe Mahoney.

    The hulking slugger got off to a great start in the team's first intrasquad game of the year, and there's no argument that he owns the best power stroke in the organization.

    It's taken the 25-year-old a couple of years to get adjusted, but since 2010 he's homered every 27 at-bats. That might not seem like much, but it's like comparing night and day with his pre-2010 stats, which saw him homer once every 42 at-bats.

    Mahoney will likely be the first player the O's turn to if first baseman Chris Davis misses any time due to injury, but for the time being he's ticketed for Triple-A Norfolk.

Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Boston Red Sox

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    Red Sox fans are no doubt excited about the meteoric rise of Middlebrooks, arguably the top prospect at his position in all of baseball.

    What should trouble them, though, is finding a spot to play him, what with Adrian Gonzalez entrenched at first base and Kevin Youkilis positioned at third.

    At 29 and 32, respectively, neither Gonzalez or Youkilis appears destined for a position change, meaning Middlebrooks might have to learn another position. That would be quite a shame considering the improvements he's made at third base the past few years.

    The alternative that seems to make the most sense is for Youkilis to eventually slide into the DH spot when David Ortiz retires, opening up the hot corner for Middlebrooks.

    Unfortunately, Ortiz is inked through the end of this season, meaning Middlebrooks is stuck at Triple-A until next year, at the earliest.

    His bat, however—the same one that produced 23 homers and 94 RBI in 2011—will no doubt make keeping him down at Pawtucket a very tough move for new GM Ben Cherington.

Matt Szczur, OF, Chicago Cubs

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    Matt Szczur, a former football standout at Villanova who could have possibly gone on to a career in the NFL, is one of the most impressive prospects that few outside the state of Illinois know about.

    A hard-nosed scrapper in the body of a finely-tuned athlete, Szczur has eye-popping tools. He has sensational speed, which unfortunately wasn't too much on display in his debut season in 2011. He swiped only 24 bases, although he showed natural instincts on the basepaths, compiling a 83 percent success rate.

    Szczur has good power too, and he showed that last year as well, slugging 10 homers in just over 100 games. Most impressive of all, he's a dynamic outfielder whom teamed with Brett Jackson, should give the Cubs an incredibly athletic duo.

    The 21-year-old flawlessly handled the jump to High-A ball last season and could be ticketed for Double-A to start the 2012 campaign. If his 3-for-4 performance that included a grand slam and six RBI in the team's first intrasquad game was any indication, fans will be clamoring for Sczcur by September.

Simon Castro, RHP, Chicago White Sox

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    The White Sox have one of the weakest farm systems in baseball, and their drafts of recent haven't done much to impress anyone. As such, their top prospect who isn't ticketed to make the Opening Day roster comes from outside the organization.

    Simon Castro spent the first six seasons of his career with the Padres before being dealt to Chicago in exchange for outfielder Carlos Quentin. He showed flashes of brilliance in San Diego, but for the most part made his mark with incredible consistency and durability.

    The wheels fell off a bit last year and he had the worst season of his pro career (5.63 ERA, 1.44 WHIP), but there's no doubt he more closely resembles the pitcher he was in 2010 (3.28 ERA, 1.18 WHIP).

    Castro should see some time in camp and log some valuable innings in front of his new patrons, but he'll likely be ticketed for Triple-A Charlotte.

Didi Gregorius, SS, Cincinnati Reds

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    The Netherlands has become quite the hotbed for middle infielders the past few seasons, with Jonathan Schoop (Baltimore) and Gregorius making headlines in the States.

    While Schoop was still attempting to work his way out of Low-A ball, though, the Reds prospect was already in Double-A, where he hit a respectable .270. His rawness as a prospect still showed in his plate discipline; he walked only nine times with Carolina, and just 19 times all season.

    Defense has long been Gregorius' calling card and he only got better in 2011. He's been particularly sharp in camp this spring and has really opened some eyes.

    It's hard to see Gregorius having a shot with the Reds long term, with Zack Cozart breaking in this season and speedster Billy Hamilton coming up through the system. But his defensive prowess will likely earn him a long look this spring and beyond.

Zach McAllister, RHP, Cleveland Indians

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    Zach McAllister reached the majors late last season, with an eye on earning a spot in the Cleveland rotation this year.

    His performance (6.11 ERA, 1.87 WHIP) left much to be desired, but the Indians I'm sure would rather focus on how dominant he was last year at Triple-A, where he went 12-3 with a 3.32 ERA and a career-high three complete games.

    Overall, McAllister has made mincemeat of minor-league hitters, winning nearly 60 percent of his decisions in the minors, while holding down a 3.47 ERA.

    Twice has he won 12 or more games, and with 126 appearances under his belt (including 114 starts), he seems to have adequate experience to finally earn a starting spot in the big leagues.

    However, his performance last year likely scared the team off for a while, and he'll likely start back in Columbus.

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies

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    Nolan Arenado was the unquestioned minor-league MVP of 2011. It was simply impossible for him to have a better year.

    His year began in the hitter-friendly California League, where he was not so friendly to the circuit's pitchers. In 134 games, Arenado hit .298, slugged a career-high 20 home runs, and led the minors with 122 RBI. As if that wasn't enough, he also walked nearly as many times as he struck out.

    After the regular season ended, Arenado headed to the Arizona Fall League to see how he stacked up against tougher competition and less-friendly altitude. He thrived, taking home AFL MVP honors after slugging six more home runs and driving in 33.

    He challenged for the league batting crown, but had to settle for hitting a mere .388. To put a cherry on top, he led his squad to the AFL title.

    Arenado was already going to spend some time in spring training, but his performance in the AFL has only exacerbated talks of a promotion, possibly later this year when he'll be just 21 years old.

Jacob Turner, RHP, Detroit Tigers

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    Turner has a legitimate chance to make the Tigers roster out of camp this spring.

    He has everything going for him. Of the three or four candidates fighting for the last spot in Detroit's rotation, Turner has the most talent.

    His fastball is the best in the system, and according to Baseball America, he has the organization's best changeup too. He even has a comparable amount of big-league experience after breaking in late last season.

    What works against Turner, however, is his age. Just 20 years old, the right-hander is six years younger than Duane Below, five years younger than Andy Oliver and Adam Wilk, and four years the junior of Casey Crosby.

    Unlike a few years ago, when the Tigers went with youth over experience in the form of Rick Porcello, the team might take it easy with Turner, who has logged less than 20 innings above Double-A.

    Turner will, however, get every opportunity to prove he's the guy. And if his performance is dominating enough don't count him out.

Jon Singleton, OF, Houston Astros

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    With all the uncertainty surrounding the health of Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, you can bet your you-know-what that the team's front office would love to have Jonathan Singleton back.

    Unfortunately (for Philly), he's now in Houston, and with a strong season he could potentially reach Triple-A and be just a stone's throw away from the big leagues.

    Singleton's bat has proven over the past two years to be one of the most consistent in the minor leagues. He rarely slumps at the plate and has such great plate discipline that even when he's not hitting, he's still capable of getting on base.

    Defense has been his biggest question mark. He's a natural first baseman, but he moved to the outfield when the Phillies decided he wasn't going to unseat Howard at first. After being dealt to Houston, he moved back to first, where the Astros also have an entrenched player, Brett Wallace.

    Wallace doesn't have the talent to hold off Singleton like Howard does, and he'll be the team's top option for 2012.

Mike Montgomery, LHP, Kansas City Royals

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    Most Royals fans expected Montgomery to be pitching for the big-league squad by the end of last spring, so the fact that he's coming to camp this year looking to merely challenge for the last spot in the rotation should have them worried.

    If anything, Montgomery acquired some grit last year while gutting out a miserable campaign that saw him lose 11 of his 27 starts, surrender 15 home runs, and finish with a 5.32 ERA. He finished the season with two strong performances, albeit shortened ones.

    The team is hoping that is enough to generate some momentum for a strong 2012, and that he pitches well enough this spring to make the decision incredibly tough.

Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels

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    Despite rocketing through the minors, jumping straight past Triple-A, and performing admirably as a 19-year-old in the majors, Trout still has to contend with a crowded outfield; one that has become even more of a quagmire with the addition of Albert Pujols.

    With Pujols entrenched at first base, both Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo need new positions, with the outfield being the most likely.

    That means Trout is likely headed back to the minors when the Angels head north to start the season.

    Given his performance, which included a .220 average and 30 strikeouts in 123 at-bats, it might make sense for the now 20-year-old to get a bit more experience playing full time down at Triple-A Salt Lake.

Alfredo Silverio, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    This one is no contest.

    Alfredo Silverio, who burst onto the scene with a stunning performance in 2011, was involved in a severe one-car accident back in his native Dominican Republic, where he spent the winter playing ball for Toros del Este.

    He was scheduled to join the big-league squad in spring training, but that appears to be completely out of the question now. Whenever he is healthy enough to rejoin the organization, it will likely be at Triple-A Albuquerque.

    The 24-year-old outfielder opened some eyes by combining for 76 extra-base hits in 2011, including 18 triples and 16 home runs. He also drove in 85 runs and held down a .305 average. He earned an invitation to the Futures Game, where he participated with the World Team, and was named a Southern League All-Star.

Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins

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    Yelich is incredibly young and inexperienced, but there's no denying that his all-around game is the most impressive to come through the Marlins system since Miguel Cabrera stormed into the big leagues nearly a decade ago.

    All of his tools were on display in 2011. He challenged for the league batting crown (.312), rapped 32 doubles, slugged 15 home runs, drove in 77, and swiped a team-high 32 bases (getting caught only five times). 

    Yelich showed the front office they made the right move by shifting him to the outfield, where he played sterling defense in center.

    If Yelich gets more than a handful of at-bats this spring I'll be surprised, but just out of sheer selfishness the front office will keep him there in order to gauge how close to big-league ready the former Miami Hurricanes star really is.

Wily Peralta, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers

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    As detailed in this piece, Wily Peralta struggled last spring, but used the experience to fuel him to an outstanding and dominant season in Triple-A Nashville.

    He has a much loftier goal in mind for 2012, and that's to earn a spot in the Brewers rotation. To do so, he would have to force out incumbent Clint Narveson, who performed admirably as the team's fifth starter in 2011.

    It's unlikely that's going to happen, however, which means Peralta is headed back to Triple-A to prove his performance there last year was no fluke.

    If he shows the same dominance, he'll be the first guy to get a call if something happens to any of the Brewers' five starters.

Liam Hendriks, RHP, Minnesota Twins

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    The top Australian prospect in the minors, Liam Hendriks shot through the minors last season, finishing the year in the majors. He didn't perform exceptionally, surrendering 29 hits and 16 runs in 23.1 innings, but he showed considerable poise and grit in four appearances.

    He averaged nearly six innings per start, a pretty solid number for a 22-year-old getting his first taste of the majors.

    In the minors, however, Hendriks was brilliant. Splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A, he won 12 games and posted a 3.36 ERA and a 111-to-21 K:BB ratio. Believe it or not, the 21 walks were a career high. Clearly, Hendriks fits the bill as your typical Minnesota control specialist.

    Given the right-hander's ability to throw strikes and little else, it doesn't seem like a shot in the dark to see him winding up with a spot in the rotation. But with a team that should once again be one of the worst in the American League, what's the rush to get him there?

Zack Wheeler, RHP, New York Mets

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    Wheeler is the gem of a Mets franchise that looks more and more in deep trouble everyday.

    This is the same franchise that dealt uber-prospect Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, turned Johan Santana into a card-carrying member of the DL, and turned David Wright from a Silver Slugger into...well, whatever he is now. Clearly a lot is riding on Wheeler.

    He's got the goods, that's for sure. He dominated like an ace in the Cal League, striking out more than a batter an inning, while holding hitters to a .224 average. Wheeler looked even better after the trade that allowed him to leave the hitter-friendly circuit for the Florida State League, where he struck out 31 in 27 innings and posted a 2.00 ERA.

    Wheeler could benefit from some time around some big-league coaching, but he'll be best served by another year or two in the minors.

Manny Banuelos, LHP, New York Yankees

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    Manny Banuelos was one of the breakout stars of the Yankees 2011 spring training. Unfortunately, a sub-2.50 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 12 innings wasn't enough to warrant a jump from Double-A straight to the big leagues.

    So back to Double-A he went, and he dominated like a 20-year-old isn't expected to, striking out a batter an inning while holding Eastern League hitters to a .263 average.

    The left-hander ended the season at Triple-A Scranton, where he managed to twirl a one-hit, seven-inning, compete-game shutout in his second to last start of the year.

    Banuelos has already received plenty of attention this spring. Lined up alongside staff ace CC Sabathia and newcomer Michael Pineda in the locker room, he's already more comfortable with all the added attention.

    Hopefully that comfort level translates to better success than he had during his first spring outing. If it doesn't, he could be headed back to the minors much sooner.

Michael Choice, OF, Oakland Athletics

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    Choice "turned some heads" last year in his first spring training after being drafted, but that attention was more the result of his mature physique and power in the batting cages.

    This year, the outfielder is looking to make a name for himself on the field—the same field where he slugged 30 home runs in 118 games last season for in the California League.

    Granted, stats can get inflated in the hitter-friendly environment, but Choice is such a beast it's almost a guarantee he would have hit that many in any league.

    Choice's inexperience (zero at-bats above High-A ball) and free-swinging ways (179 Ks in 576 career at-bats) are more than enough to keep him from heading north with the team after camp breaks, but he could use the time in Arizona to prove his bat can handle big-league pitching too.

    By 2014 he should arrive in very much the same way that Mike Stanton did in 2010.

Sebastian Valle, C, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Once upon a time owners of a standout minor-league system that included Travis d'Arnaud (Toronto), Anthony Gose (Toronto), Jarred Cosart (Houston), Jonathan Singleton (Houston) and Kyle Drabek (Toronto), the Phillies have fallen a long way.

    Nowadays, their top prospect is Trevor May, an impressive specimen, but nowhere near as polished a star as said names. In fact, despite being just one of three pitchers to crack the 200-strikeout mark in 2011, May hasn't gotten too much love.

    He was, however, the only member of the organization to rank in Keith Law's top 100.

    Valle will spend a little bit of time in camp, possibly pitching in a few intrasquad games, but he'll spend the majority of the spring in minor-league camp, making sure he's primed and ready to go when the minor-league season begins.

    He'll start the 2012 campaign at Double-A Reading, but if he continues to pitch like he did last year, Valle could finish it in Triple-A.

Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Gerrit Cole didn't have the most awe-inspiring final season in college. In fact, Cole became the first college pitcher ever taken with the No. 1 overall pick coming off a losing record.

    It's incredible to think that didn't even hurt his chances, but he rewarded Pittsburgh for their faith immediately by showing great stuff in the Arizona Fall League, including multiple 100 mph fastballs in his debut.

    Like his former UCLA teammate, Trevor Bauer, Cole could probably earn a spot in the big-league rotation, but the team thinks the wiser move would be to send the 21-year-old to the minors to let him get some more innings under his belt.

    Make no mistake, though, Cole is going to be the hub of all the attention in Pirates camp, much the same way that Nationals camp has become Harper-palooza.

Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Miller has long been touted as one of the most polished prospects in baseball, but not even a perfect spring will get him a spot on the big-league roster.

    That's okay according to Miller, though, who would see it as a step up to reach Triple-A. He showed enough at Double-A Springfield last year to warrant the promotion, winning nine of his 16 starts while striking out 89 batters in 86 innings.

    He's going to get ample opportunity to show his stuff in camp this spring, but the best thing for his development is probably another couple months learning to hone his off-speed stuff against more experienced batters at Memphis.

Yasmani Grandal, C, San Diego Padres

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    Grandal's partner-in-trade, Yonder Alonso, will be on the big-league roster when spring training ends, but the 23-year-old catcher will likely be ticketed for Triple-A, where he ended his season (and career with Cincinnati) last year.

    Grandal has moved rapidly since signing as the Reds' first-round pick two years ago, needing only 390 at-bats to arrive at Triple-A Louisville. He spent the majority of his time in High-A ball, however, and he thrived, hitting .296 with 10 homers and 40 RBI. He threw out an impressive 34 percent of attempted base thieves as well.

    He quickly earned a promotion to Double-A, where his power numbers dipped (four HR in 45 games), but his defense was even sharper (36 percent CS). A strong finish at Louisville (6-for-12) allowed him to finish the year above .300.

    Over the winter, Grandal, Alonso and a few others were dealt to San Diego, where the former immediately jumped to the top of the team's position rankings. He had been blocked in Cincinnati by Devin Mesoraco, another former first-round selection.

    Grandal's spring experience has been a mixed bag, with the North County Times taking a few shots at the 6'2'', 235-pounder's lack of speed, while simultaneously praising his offensive potential.

Gary Brown, OF, San Francisco Giants

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    Gary Brown is one of the most exciting players in the minor leagues; a speedster who plays all out all the time—on the bases, at the plate and in the field.

    The 23-year-old had a Mike Trout-like season in 2011, racking up doubles (34), triples (13), home runs (14) and steals (53). He also hit .336 and got on base at a .406 clip. And if that wasn't enough, he racked up an organization-best 16 assists...from the center-field position.

    Brown did have the added advantage of playing the entire season in the hitter-friendly California League, which means two things:

    1) he'll likely never reach those kind of numbers again, and

    2) he's headed back to the minor leagues in 2012.

    Brown has already impressed in Giants camp, with his skills on the diamond, and the golf course.

Danny Hultzen, LHP, Seattle Mariners

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    Hultzen, the surprise second overall pick in last year's draft, earned one of the top deals of any prospect taken in 2011. In addition to his five-year, $10.6 million contract, he garnered an $8.5 million signing bonus and a guaranteed invitation to spring training.

    As seasoned as he is and despite all the good reviews he's been getting, it's very unlikely that Hultzen will make the squad out of spring camp, even with a spot opened up by the trading of Michael Pineda to New York. That will likely go to Hector Noesi, one of the arms that was brought to Seattle in that same trade.

    Instead, the former Virginia Cavalier ace will head to either Double-A or Triple-A. If he performs well, he'll likely be one of the first players called up if a spot does become available. He could have a year similar to Michael Pineda last year.

    As an aside, Hultzen, just 22, recently donated $100,000 to the University of Virginia's baseball program. Anything to offset the fact that the Cavaliers lost 32 victories and a career 2.08 ERA when he left school a year early.

Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Tampa Bay Rays

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    The Rays have the benefit of being one of just a few teams (Cincinnati, Texas, and you could make a case for Seattle as the others) in baseball who will take their top prospect into the regular season with them.

    Tampa Bay's move to take pitcher Matt Moore into the season will leave exciting South Korean shortstop Hak-Ju Lee as the team's new top prospect. Lee checked in at No. 2 on Baseball America's organizational top 10 despite the fact that he has no true elite tool.

    Yes, his speed is good, but it isn't blinding. And his bat is quick, but not the kind that will win batting crowns someday. He offers literally no power, but he offsets that by being an extra-base hit machine who is above average on defense.

    Despite having the superior year in 2011, Lee will likely spend the majority of 2012 in the minors, competing with fellow shortstop Tim Beckham, the team's No. 1 pick back in 2008, for top honors at the position.

Martin Perez, LHP, Texas Rangers

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    The Rangers' top prospect (if you feel okay calling him that), Yu Darvish is all but guaranteed a spot in the Rangers rotation. That's what a $111 million investment gets you—a spot in the rotation. 

    Martin Perez doesn't have $111 million, and he most certainly isn't worth that, but that doesn't mean he too isn't excited about coming to camp this spring with a chance to prove to the Rangers (and scouting world) that he really is better than the mediocre stats he's produced for the past three seasons.

    It's still early, but Perez has already caught the eye of manager Ron Washington, who had this to say about the young left-hander:

    "His four-seamer and two-seamer look good," Washington said. "You better hit one of them, because you're not hitting both." 

    That same ESPN piece notes that Perez, a lifelong starter, is in the running for the team's open lefty reliever spot. In the end, though, the front office will remember he's much too valuable as a starter to be pitching one or two innings every three or four days.

    Perez will head back to Triple-A to try to improve on his 4-4, 6.43 mark from last year.

Anthony Gose, OF, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Anthony Gose isn't the Jays' top prospect. That honor belongs to catcher Travis d'Arnaud. Gose is, however, widely considered to be more likely to crack the big-league roster at some point during the 2012 season, leaving him as the target for this slide.

    Gose has been quietly brilliant for the past few seasons, racking up steals (76 in '09) and runs (88 in '10), but it wasn't until 2011 that he began to break through as an all-around threat. He slugged a career-high 16 home runs at Double-A New Hampshire, and combined with his 70 steals, Gose emerged as one of the top power-speed threats in the game.

    Like most of the other guys on this list, Gose has already opened some eyes in camp, stretching a single into a double and drawing the attention of

    His speed will likely keep him in camp until the very end, and if he can show the same pop that he displayed in 2011, Gose could find himself back in the big leagues as soon as the All-Star break.

Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals

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    Bryce Harper very well may spend a good chunk of the 2012 campaign on the big-league roster, but there's also a very slim chance that he starts the year on it.

    The Nationals are currently set with an outfield consisting of Mike Morse in left, Roger Bernadina in center, and in right field (Harper's natural position) $100 million man Jayson Werth.

    As good as Harper is, or is going to be, you can make the argument that each of those three give the Nats a better chance to win than a 19-year0old who has only 129 at-bats above High-A ball.

    That hasn't stopped him from making his presence known in spring camp, though.

    New manager Davey Johnson was recently quoted, marveling at the fact that Harper simply doesn't get tired, while Nats director of player development Doug Harris commented on the fact that Harper has made great strides from his first spring training last year.

    Even if Harper puts on a batting practice display this spring, expect him to wind up back at Double-A, or possibly even Triple-A Syracuse.