Bryce Harper hopes to be back in the lineup for the Washington Nationals Tuesday after missing nearly a week with a tight left calf. He may already have watched his chance of making the Opening Day roster go by the boards, but Harper will join the Nationals fairly early in the season, and his spring training performance has set high expectations.
All around the league, prospects in league with Harper are vying for roster spots, looking to make an impression and fighting for major recognition. Some of the biggest names in baseball this spring have belonged to men yet to establish themselves as MLB players.
Here is a roundup of the most notable such players in spring camps and an update of the impressions they have made thus far.
Taken third overall last June, Bauer could be the first of the 2011 draft class to reach the big leagues. Plenty of people believe the Diamondbacks would be better off taking Bauer into the regular season as their fifth starter than counting on Josh Collmenter.
Bauer has done nothing to dissuade those people so far. In two starts, he has pitched five innings, allowed only four base runners and fanned four. With Collmenter sidelined by a tight forearm, the window is open. Bauer pitches again later this week, and if he has a strong showing, he will become the favorite for that rotation slot out of the gate.
An horrendous start in his spring training debut (six recorded outs, six home runs allowed) put Teheran at an immediate disadvantage in the competition for back-end rotation spots in Atlanta. Even with Tim Hudson sidelined until May, the Braves have Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado in addition to Teheran.
In his second start, though, Teheran pitched three solid innings, kept the ball in the ballpark, struck out three and allowed only four base runners. Of Minor, Delgado and Teheran, the last has the greatest potential, so if he continues to pitch better, he could yet win the fifth starting spot when camp breaks.
It sounds like lunacy, but Simmons might still be in the hunt for the Braves' starting shortstop job. At age 21 in 2011, Simmons spent the whole season in the High-A Carolina League and was good, but not devastating. This spring, though, he has reached base five time in 14 plate appearances and has so impressed scouts that the job security of Tyler Pastornicky might be in jeopardy.
Simmons is a great athlete, a solid fielder and (as a converted pitcher who used to routinely reach 97 on radar guns) a rocket-armed threat in the mold of Braves All-Star Rafael Furcal. He doesn't have much power, but he could be an athletic contributor on both sides of the ledger. It seems awfully early, but Simmons is opening eyes.
Though it's still overwhelmingly unlikely that Iglesias will open the season as the Sox's shortstop, he's done nothing to hurt his chances so far. A career .319 hitter in the Grapefruit League, Iglesias has never figured out how to hit much when the games count.
However, he's reached base four times in 11 plate appearances this spring, has a triple and has made enough sparkling defensive plays to make Bobby Valentine stop and take notice.
The Cubs are in rebuilding mode and have no intention whatsoever of rushing Jackson or fellow top prospect Anthony Rizzo. Jackson, though, is forcing the team to give him a long look and may be winning playing time even in Cactus League action.
His greatest upside is as a lead-off type hitter, with his plate discipline paying dividends on a major scale. He's hitting .364/.500/.636 this spring and has a home runs and three walks. He will be up by midseason if he keeps up this level of slugging for the remainder of camp and beyond.
Rizzo's tremendous power has not yet come to bear in his first spring training with a new team, but he's hitting well and seems to have fixed the pull-conscious over-swing that precipitated his struggles in San Diego last season. He has terrific makeup and could earn a quicker promotion (though not an Opening Day job) if he keeps playing like this.
Before the end of the season, Reed will be the White Sox's closer. The only question spring training stands to answer is whether it will be right away.
So far, Reed has thrown just two Cactus League innings. He walked two in his last outing against Colorado, but has yet to give up a hit. Reed has high upside as a closing option, but he may need polish before he takes that role from Matt Thornton or Jesse Crain.
In great position to win in 2012, the Reds have to be hoping they can hand their regular catching gig to Mesoraco as soon as possible. Ryan Hanigan isn't a bad placeholder, but a placeholder he certainly is.
Two weeks into Cactus League play, though, Mesoraco has forced the team to commit to Hanigan as at least an equal partner for the time being. He has just two hits (and no walks) in 11 plate appearances, has not notched an extra-base hit since a double March 3 and has not looked especially good anywhere on the field.
At the outset of spring training, the Tigers didn't seem to be in the market for a starting pitching upgrade. They had top prospect Jacob Turner penciled in as their fifth guy, though they planned to have him compete for the job first.
Turner might be changing their minds. He's walked six and fanned only two in four spring training innings—this from a man whose command was a big part of his promise a year ago. He's been hittable, wild and timid on the mound, and now, Detroit may need to bypass its in-house options and go get a better starter.
It looked like Vernon Wells had a chance to keep Mike Trout pinned in the minor leagues to begin 2012, which would have been a shame. It will be just as sad, though, if it's just Trout's immune system that does so.
Trout has been sick all spring and has yet to play in a Cactus League game. He reported feeling weak and feverish last week. He appears to be nearly ready to make his debut, but being on the Opening Day roster now seems a long shot.
Teheran, Reed, Mesoraco, Turner and Trout have had the kind of springs that push back players' timetables. Montero has had the kind that makes a star prospect a superstar.
In 19 Cactus League plate appearances, Montero has yet to strike out. He has seven hits (including three doubles and a home run) and eight RBI. He'll be the Mariners' primary DH and occasional catcher immediately, and though SafeCo Field will offer a very different set of challenges than any stadium in Arizona, all signs point upward for Montero and the Seattle offense.
Harper is still looking for his first Grapefruit League home run, but his five hits in 11 at-bats are impressive, and he has seemed intelligent enough, mature enough and prepared enough to challenge for a big-league job right away. If he had stayed completely healthy, making the team might have been better than a coin flip for him. As it is, he's likely to spend the first six weeks or so in Double-A. Still, it will be fun to watch when he returns to action this week.