Finally, baseball is back.
While spring training games do not count, it is still a very exciting time for the fans. We get to see our team’s top prospects play on the big stage for the first time. The highly sought-after free agents our teams signed make their first appearances with their respective ball clubs. There is also that new face on every team—the player nobody expected to hear about that performs so admirably that he earns a roster spot out of nowhere.
This year is no different.
Numerous top prospects have already had sparkling debuts, many middle-aged prospects are taking advantage of that final opportunity to make a team, and superstars like Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder have seamlessly transitioned into their new organizations.
Even though we are less than a week into spring training, here is a list of 30 players—one from each MLB team—that have made the greatest impressions so far.
As the third overall pick in last year’s amateur draft and MLB.com’s ninth-best prospect in baseball, Trevor Bauer came into Diamondbacks camp with a certain amount of hype. With two scoreless innings in his spring-training debut against the Colorado Rockies, where he retired all six batters he faced with two strikeouts, he has made a name for himself among the Diamondbacks' staff.
Even Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson had some high praise for the youngster. “For a guy who probably had some emotions to deal with out there, some of his secondary pitches were actually better than any time that he's thrown so far," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "He threw good.”
After only making it to Double-A last season, Bauer is not expected to stick with the Diamondbacks for Opening Day, but regardless of when he makes his actual debut, his future is very bright.
It probably takes longer to figure out how to pronounce Terdoslavich’s last name than it took for him to make a splash at the Braves’ spring-training facility.
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, Terdoslavich set a Carolina League record with 52 doubles in Advanced-A last season, impressing numerous scouts with his ability to hit.
With Chipper reaching 40 years of age this Season—not to mention his inability to stay healthy already this spring—Terdoslavich’s strong performance thus far could lead to him having an impact on the Braves' roster sooner rather than later.
“The sky’s the limit.”
That was Adam Jones’ reaction after striking out against Bundy in an Orioles intrasquad game. He then got Matt Wieters to pop out and Mark Reynolds looking to finish off the inning. Not bad for a guy who just finished his senior year of high school, even if he did have a 0.20 ERA with 322 strikeouts last year.
Orioles' manager Buck Showalter said Bundy will be returned to minor-league camp after two more outings, but he clearly made an impression.
When he signed out of Cuba, it was only a matter of time before Jose Iglesias became the starting shortstop for the Boston Red Sox.
He has always been a tremendous defender, but the only thing holding him back has been his bat and patience at the plate. With only Nick Punto in front of him on the depth chart, Iglesias has certainly impressed new manager Bobby Valentine this spring.
“Iglesias has been outstanding on my watch” Valentine said referring to Iglesias’ attitude. He also mentioned his outstanding defensive play saying, "[Iglesias] has a special tracking device on fly balls—unique to very few from what I've seen so far.”
On Monday against the Twins, he showed his versatility with the bat, dropping a bunt for a single and stealing second. He led off for the Red Sox, and if he continues to impress as he has thus far, it will go a long way towards earning him a roster spot on Opening Day.
The start of Jeff Samardzija’s baseball career has been a long and winding road. He has often switched roles, bouncing between the starting rotation and the bullpen, but this spring, he has been one of the most impressive pitchers in Cubs camp.
"There's nothing not to like," manager Dale Sveum said of Samardzija. "His command is probably as good as I've ever seen from a hard-throwing guy in live BP. His command of his cutter, his fastball, his slider, keeping the ball down, keeping the ball to his glove side, arm side, wherever he wants to get it, he's pretty much been on target. He's on a mission and he's been as good as you can imagine right now up to this point."
Samardzija backed up his manager’s high praise with a strong performance Wednesday. In three scoreless innings, Samardzija struck out three batters despite throwing only 35 pitches. There may finally be some positive news for Cubs fans, as it looks like Samardzija is living up to the hype he had coming out of Notre Dame, passing up the NFL to pursue a career in baseball.
While the box score does not look pretty, all that matters to Jake Peavy and the White Sox organization is how Peavy’s arm feels, and according to him: “I feel good, and absolutely nothing in my body is hurting.”
After three tumultuous years as a member of the White Sox, just seeing Peavy on the mound feeling healthy is a great sight to see. The most important thing for the next couple of days will be to see how he recovers and if he can play catch Thursday and have a bullpen day Friday. If all goes well, things will be looking even better for Peavy and the White Sox this spring.
After two seasons lighting up the radar gun as a relief pitcher, this spring, the Cincinnati Reds are stretching out Aroldis Chapman to be a starting pitcher. If his spring debut tells us anything, the strikeouts are not going to stop any time soon.
Chapman struck out three in his two innings, also showing off a nice pickoff move, throwing out the Indians’ Lou Marson. The Reds have a lot of depth in their starting rotation with Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, Homer Bailey and non-roster invitee Jeff Francis, so the odds are that Chapman will not make the rotation out of spring training. However, if he continues to show his plus-velocity as a starting pitcher, it will be tough for the Reds to keep him off their roster.
Last September, Shelley Duncan hit seven home runs with a .602 slugging for the Cleveland Indians, receiving playing time everyday for the first time all season. This spring, Duncan is fighting to hold onto that full-time role, and thus far, he is making a strong case.
Duncan already has two home runs and six RBI, helping the Indians to their first win of the year on Tuesday with a three-run homer. There is a long way to go until the start of the regular season, but for the first time in his career, Shelley Duncan may have a starting spot on an Opening Day roster.
The Juan Nicasio story keeps getting better and better.
After taking a line drive off his temple and fracturing his C-1 vertebrae on Aug. 5 of last year, Nicasio is miraculously back and pitching with the Rockies. Moreover, he is not just “back on a mound," but his stuff is incredible, and he is showing no signs of a pitcher who was hit in the head with a line drive just seven months ago.
On Sunday, Nicasio tossed two scoreless innings, showing off his 97 mph fastball and effective slider-changeup combination, which really impressed his manager, Jim Tracy.
The Rockies have a very young, albeit talented, pitching staff. With Nicasio pitching like this, it would not matter who was in front of him because that type of stuff belongs on a major-league roster. This is a very good sign for the Rockies, but more importantly, for the young man Nicasio.
Prince Fielder has already shown why the Tigers signed him to a nine-year contract worth $214 million. In his first three games, Fielder has four hits in seven at-bats with a massive home run to boot.
The special part of Fielder thus far in spring training has not just been his performance on the field, but also his attitude off of it. As Marty Noble of MLB.com describes, Fielder has checked his ego at the door. Most superstars do not have to travel on long road trips in spring training, but Fielder left the Tigers' camp at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning to take a road trip and play with his team.
"I don't really mind it," Fielder said. "You shouldn't put yourself ahead of anyone else. And if I wanted to, I don't think the manager would go for it."
In this day and age of social media and egos, for a high-profile player such as Prince Fielder to have this attitude is a statement to the rest of his teammates, and quite a good one at that.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard Fernando Martinez was impressing people in spring training, I can safely say I would be a much richer man. Since his first spring training with the Mets all the way back in 2006, Martinez’s tools and bat speed have been impressing the media, coaches and even other players.
Considering he is still just a 23-year-old kid who has always performed well when healthy, I am not surprised at all to hear Houston Astros manager Brad Mills rave about his abilities. In his first spring training game, Martinez went 2-for-2 with a walk, a three-run homer and four RBI. With the Astros clearly in a rebuild and only guys like Jason Bourgeois, J.B. Shuck and Brian Bogusevic ahead of him on the Astros' depth chart to play right field, the only way F-Mart is not in the lineup when the Astros open their season against the Rockies on April 6 is if he cannot stay healthy.
For his sake and Astros fans everywhere (anywhere?), let’s hope he can do just that.
When thinking about Lorenzo Cain, speed is all you need to know because if his first spring training game has taught us anything, it is that the kid can flat out fly.
Cain put on a show in his first spring training game, going 2-for-2 with a double and smart baserunning to score on a shallow Alex Gordon single. Earlier in camp, he earned manager Ned Yost’s praise by making some spectacular diving catches (check the video around 44 seconds and enjoy), showing off his athleticism and ability to play the game.
With Melky Cabrera traded in the offseason, the center-field spot is Lorenzo Cain’s to lose. If he continues to play like this, there is no way that is going to happen.
Hard to say I did not see this coming.
No matter how much praise the guy gets, until you see Albert Pujols in person, you don’t fully understand just how good he is—his debut with the Angels was no different.
Here is a quote from fellow newcomer C.J. Wilson from MLB.com:
You don't ever really know a guy like that from the opposite side because you treat him with so much respect, or maybe a little bit of disdain because you don't really want him to beat you. But now that he's on your team, you root for every little thing that he does, and it's pretty cool. I'm happy to be in the Albert Pujols Fan Club.
With a career .328 batting average, .617 slugging percentage and 445 home runs in his first 11 seasons, the Angels knew Albert Pujols was one of the best to ever play the game. After watching him first-hand rip an RBI double with his first swing and end his first day 2-for-3, Mike Scioscia and the Angels now know exactly what they added to their roster this offseason.
For the past six seasons, Andre Ethier has been one of baseball’s best right fielders…against right-handed pitching.
Since Ethier’s first big-league season in 2006, his triple-slash line against right-handed pitching is .309/.386/.523. That is All-Star-level production. His problem over the past couple of seasons has been facing lefties. Even after his rookie season, when he hit .351 against them, his career slash line is a paltry .242/.302/.359. That type of production does not belong in the starting lineup.
That is why it was such a great sign for the Dodgers to see Ethier look good facing a left-hander in spring training, even if it was Barry Zito.
It does not take much for Josh Johnson to impress. Standing on a pitcher’s mound at 6’7", 250 lbs. can do that. Then you see his career ERA of 2.98 with a K/9 of 8.35, and your jaw drops.
The Marlins' players and staff know how vital Johnson is to their chances for success in 2012. They talk about it here. On Monday, Johnson pitched without pain in his first game since May 16, 2011 and had great results. He went 1.2 innings and did not allow a run while striking out two.
The most important thing was that he came out of the game healthy, and if he stays that way, he will not only impress Marlins' personnel, but the rest of the National League as well.
Striking out Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun and Mat Gamel is not a bad way to start a baseball career. That is exactly what Taylor Jungmann did as he retired each batter he faced during his two-inning intrasquad appearance this past Saturday.
Jungmann was drafted 12th overall by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2011 amateur draft, but has already impressed the Brewers' staff and manager Ron Roenicke. After another two innings Wednesday without giving up a hit, Jungmann is certainly making a name for himself for Brewers fans to remember down the road.
On Tuesday, Scott Baker got off to a great start in 2012, throwing two hitless innings on just 23 pitches. After a couple of unhealthy and not-so-productive seasons, Baker is excited about how his arm feels.
2011 was on its way to being Baker’s best season yet, as he posted a 3.14 ERA with 123 strikeouts in 134 innings. Unfortunately for him and the Twins, he succumbed to an injury and was only able to return late in September to pitch three innings as a reliever.
Penciled in as the No. 3 starter heading into the season, if Baker continues to impress the way he has this spring, the Twins will have quite a formidable rotation.
Whether or not you are a Mets fan, I don’t think anyone can argue Johan Santana is the easiest choice for this list.
Santana is coming off a gruesome shoulder injury that caused him to miss the entire 2010 season. This is an injury that has been virtually impossible to come back from in the past. Just look at the cases of Chien-Ming Wang and Chris Young.
Despite that, there is so much riding on the recovery of Santana’s shoulder that the entire Mets camp, including the media and the players, have been watching his every move. The Mets have such little depth in their starting rotation; Santana’s replacements are 41-year-old Miguel Batista and Jeremy Hefner, who has zero major-league innings to his credit. To say that they need a healthy Santana to be competitive this year would be quite an understatement.
Thus far (knock on wood), he has looked like his old self, and if he is anything close to what he was from 2004-2010, the Mets will be ecstatic. After his two scoreless innings on Tuesday, Terry Collins was quoted as saying, “God almighty, I don't know if we can have a bigger step forward today than that."
I don’t think any Mets fan could possibly disagree.
After spending more than a year pursuing him, the Yankees are very pleased with their new No. 2 starter, Hiroki Kuroda.
Despite a rough first outing where he gave up three runs, both Yankees manager Joe Girardi and catcher Russel Martin came away impressed. Girardi mentioned how Kuroda’s attitude and off-speed repertoire would be a welcome addition to the Yankees' rotation, providing a good balance between the hard stuff of CC Sabathia and fellow newcomer Michael Pineda.
Switching from the National League West to the American League East will be a tough transition for the Japanese right-hander, not to mention leaving spacious Dodgers Stadium for the bandbox that is Yankees Stadium. With that being said, Kuroda got off to a great start with his new team Wednesday and will look to continue that as we get closer to Opening Day.
After being traded from the Diamondbacks to the Athletics in the offseason for Trevor Cahill, Jarrod Parker wanted to get off on the right foot. After striking out four batters in his two no-hit innings against the Mariners on Saturday, he certainly impressed his manager, Bob Melvin, and the opposing Mariners players.
Parker threw just 25 pitches, touching 96 mph on the radar gun with an effective changeup and slider as well. Coming into the season, Parker was ranked as baseball’s 26th-best prospect, according to MLB.com, but after his performance this week, that number looks a tad low.
According to ESPN.com, in 2011, the Philadelphia Phillies were the oldest team in all of baseball with an average age of 28.9 years old. With that age comes the need for versatility to give the older players on the team, such as Jim Thome, Chase Utley and Placido Polanco, a day off when they need rest.
In steps Ty Wigginton.
Throughout his entire career, Wigginton has played a variety of positions. He has suited up at first base, second base, third base and even some corner-outfield positioning at times. In these early stages of camp, his versatility has impressed the coaching staff and has opened up the possibility of him splitting time all over the diamond.
Juan Cruz is making a name for himself as a good guy to sign when the calendar moves into February.
After signing with the Tampa Bay Rays last season on Feb. 3, Cruz went on to have a great season, going 5-0 with a 3.88 ERA. Despite that, Cruz was unsigned in February again this season, when the Pirates added him on Feb. 1, and they have not looked back since.
After Cruz’s second scoreless outing of the spring on Tuesday, both Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage talked up Cruz and his possible spot in the Pirates' bullpen. For a guy to sign in February and potentially have a spot in the bullpen after a week in March, he must be doing something right.
Two words: Carlos Quen-tinsanity!
No, he is not the next Jeremy Lin, but anyone actually hitting in a Padres uniform is impressive—and Quentin has been doing just that. In his first game, Quentin went 2-for-2 with a walk and is hitting .500 thus far in spring training.
It is important for him to get off to a good start for the Padres, as he is going to be their main power presence in the extreme pitchers park that is Petco Park.
After trading Jonathan Sanchez for Melky Cabrera this offseason, many people believed the Giants got the raw end of that deal. If the spring-training performances of these two extrapolate at all to what happens when the regular season begins, anyone who made that claim will have to rethink their position.
On Tuesday, Melky Cabrera crushed two home runs—one from each side of the plate—against the rival Dodgers, in what was a remarkable display of power so early in the season. Giants manager Bruce Bochy came away very impressed with Cabrera’s confidence and work ethic, and if his hitting continues, there will be many fans in San Francisco who feel the same way.
Mariners fans either know Danny Hultzen as the second overall pick in the amateur draft from last June or one of the main reasons the front office traded Michael Pineda to the Yankees. Either way, what they will soon learn is what Mariners management and staff have seen this week, and that is just how good a pitcher Hultzen will be.
After getting himself into a bases-loaded jam against the Reds on Monday, Hultzen “really beared down and got aggressive” as he put it, and struck out the next two hitters to get himself out of the inning.
Hultzen may not be in the big leagues in 2012, but after performances like this, he is making it easier to forget about Pineda and get a lot more excited about his potential.
St Louis Cardinals
All Matt Adams needed on Tuesday was one swing. Adams crushed an opposite-field grand slam off New York Mets top prospect Jeurys Familia, putting on quite a power display for Mike Matheny and the Cardinals' staff to think about.
After hitting 32 home runs in Double-A last season, Adams’ likely destination coming into Cardinals camp was Triple-A. However, after his bomb against the Mets, in addition to his batting practice showcases, he is making a strong case to be on the Opening Day roster as a power hitter coming off the bench.
Stephen Vogt is fighting to be the Rays next backup catcher
Despite coming into spring training as the Tampa Bay Rays' minor league Player of the Year for 2011, Stephen Vogt still did not have much of a chance of making the Opening Day roster. Since camp started, however, all he has done is hit, and by doing so, has thrown his name into any and all job competitions that exist.
After a 3-for-3 day with two runs batted in and a run scored, Vogt is now 6-for-11 this spring. Vogt’s ability to play catcher has impressed Rays manager Joe Madden enough to say Vogt is “definitely within the group” to earn the backup catcher’s job.
Vogt is certainly helping his cause with his ability to play multiple positions. He can play catcher, first base and the outfield-corner positions, so he would become yet another versatile option for the Rays—much like their incumbent second baseman-outfielder Ben Zobrist.
As if he needed more praise coming into the season, Yu Darvish was fantastic in his debut for the Rangers. Darvish pitch two scoreless innings, only giving up two hits while striking out three, but it was the comments from his teammates and opponents that spoke to how good he looked.
Orlando Hudson of the Padres was quoted as saying, “Good stuff, great poise. He knows what he’s doing.”
Rangers manager Ron Washington was impressed with his poise, saying, “He handled himself well out there. He was very aggressive.”
This only looks like the beginning, as it was reported his pitching repertoire includes an incredible nine pitches. The rest of the American League better watch out; the Yuuu-Yuuu train is coming.
"We talked the other day about guys making an impression, and it's been two appearances, but still, he's making the most of his opportunities."
That was a quote from Blue Jays manager John Farrell regarding left-hander Evan Crawford and his impressive first two performances this spring. In his first outing, he got Jose Bautista looking on a great changeup, and has since thrown another scoreless inning in Grapefruit League play.
After pitching in Double-A last season, posting a 3.35 ERA and 10.9 K/9 in 51 innings out of the bullpen, Crawford is expected to start the season in Triple-A, but Farrell now knows he has a solid left-handed option waiting for him in the minors.
Bryce Harper is going to be scary good at baseball.
Power, speed, average—there really is not going to be much he cannot do on a baseball diamond, and much of that was on display against the Mets on Monday.
No, he did not hit a home run and taunt the pitcher, but he did turn an innocent infield ground ball into a base hit on the scorecard through hustle. He reached base three out of three times and showed excellent base-running skills each time, impressing the Mets' broadcasters enough for them to mention just how good he looks on the base paths.
Harper may be 19 and may not make the big-league roster out of camp this season, but he is hitting .455 this spring and fighting for Nationals manager Davey Johnson to keep him around. When the day comes that he is the everyday right fielder for the Washington Nationals, he will be worth the price of admission.