Predicting Each MLB Team's Prospect Who Will Turn the Most Heads This Spring
With only 17 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, each organization is busy determining how to best fill out its roster at every minor league level.
Some teams, such as the Los Angeles Angels, have already announced all of their non-roster invitations to big-league spring training—a mix of prospects and former major leaguers.
For those organizations yet to announce their list of invites, I picked a prospect who is either already on the 40-man roster or has attended a big-league spring training.
Here’s a look at a prospect from each team who's poised to turn heads this spring.
*All stats are courtesy of BaseballReference.com.
*All roster projections are courtesy of MLBDepthCharts.com.
Baltimore Orioles: Dylan Bundy, RHP
After debuting with 30 consecutive scoreless frames for Low-A Delmarva, Bundy enjoyed a meteoric rise through the minor leagues that culminated with two appearances out of the Orioles’ bullpen in late September. Between three minor league levels, the then 19-year-old registered a 2.08 ERA and .186 BAA with 119/28 K/BB in 103.2 innings.
Even though he’s already on the organization’s 40-man roster, it’s hardly a guarantee that the right-hander will break camp with the Orioles, especially after the recent signing on free agent Jair Jurrjens. However, with a strong spring training, I’m sure that Bundy can force GM Dan Duquette to reconsider.
Boston Red Sox: Allen Webster, RHP
Headlining the prospect package acquired from the Dodgers for Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto last summer, Webster had an up-and-down season between both organization’s Double-A affiliates, registering a 3.86 ERA with 129/61 K/BB in 130.2 innings.
Added to the 40-man roster this offseason and, in turn, protected from the Rule 5 draft, the 22-year-old right-hander has a legitimate chance to reach the major leagues by September in his first season with the Red Sox. A strong showing in spring training could expedite his arrival.
New York Yankees: Mark Montgomery, RHP
Granted, the Yankees haven’t announced which non-roster prospects will be invited to big-league spring training, but it’s an extremely safe bet that reliever Mark Montgomery will be on that list.
Last season, his first full season as a professional, the right-hander registered a 1.54 ERA and .157 BAA with 99/22 K/BB in 64.1 innings over two levels. Featuring a borderline plus-plus slider that induces excessive swings-and-misses, expect Montgomery to get a lot of looks this spring.
In my opinion, he’s ready for a spot in the team’s Opening Day bullpen.
Tampa Bay Rays: Chris Archer, RHP
Already on the 40-man roster after finishing with a 4.60 ERA and .215 BAA with 36/13 K/BB in 29.1 innings over two stints with the Rays last season, Archer will audition for the only vacant spot in the team’s starting rotation.
With three above-average-to-plus offerings, the 24-year-old has the pure stuff to be an effective back-end starter. Even if, as expected, right-hander Alex Cobb does win the final spot, a strong spring should at least net Archer a spot in the team’s Opening Day bullpen.
Toronto Blue Jays: Sean Nolin, LHP
A 6’5”, 235-pound left-hander, Nolin continues to fly under the radar despite his overwhelming success last season. The 23-year-old registered a 2.04 ERA and .218 BAA with 108/27 K/BB in 101.1 innings between two levels.
A non-roster invitee, Nolin won’t compete for a spot in the Blue Jays’ newly renovated starting rotation this year. However, considering his polished four-pitch mix, he has a chance to put himself on the radar for a potential late-season call-up.
Chicago White Sox: Carlos Sanchez, 2B-3B
Since making his big-league debut in mid-2009, Gordon Beckham’s rein as the White Sox’s second baseman has been relatively unchallenged. However, expect all that to change next season with 20-year-old Carlos Sanchez closing in on the major leagues.
A switch-hitting infielder, Sanchez batted .323/.378/.403 with 25 doubles, 26 stolen bases and 92/41 K/BB in 133 games over three levels (including 11 games at Triple-A Charlotte to finish the season). A strong spring could at least earn him a spot as the team’s reserve infielder, while success in the major leagues could make Beckham an interesting midseason trade chip.
Cleveland Indians: Chris McGuiness, 1B
Shortly after he was named the MVP of the Arizona Fall League, McGuiness, 24, was selected by the Tribe in the first round of the Rule 5 draft. Last season at Double-A Frisco (Rangers), the left-handed hitter batted .268/.366/.474 with 48 extra-base hits (23 home runs) and 107/69 K/BB in 123 games.
Because his selection in the Rule 5 draft guaranteed the first baseman a spot on the team’s 40-man roster, it’s a safe bet that he’ll see time in the major leagues next season. However, if McGuiness continues to mash during spring training, it’s conceivable he’ll at least receive considering for a platoon role—he posted an .847 OPS against right-handed pitching last season—with Mark Reynolds.
Detroit Tigers: Nick Castellanos, OF/3B
After batting .405/.461/.553 in 55 games at High-A Lakewood to open the 2012 season, Castellanos received a well-deserved promotion to Double-A Erie as rumors of a potential late-season call-up spread like wildfire.
However, with Torii Hunter now blocking his path to the major leagues for at least the next two years, Castellanos isn’t even a safe bet to make his big-league debut with the Tigers.
Therefore, with an impressive spring campaign, Castellanos will only boost his trade value, which would probably make GM Dave Dombrowski a happy man.
Kansas City Royals: Christian Colon, 2B
Even though the Royals are seemingly prepared to employ a platoon of Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella at second base next season, the organization has another viable option in prospect Christian Colon.
Last season, the former fourth-overall pick in the 2010 draft turned in the best season of his professional career, hitting .301/.376/.413 with 21 extra-base hits, 13 stolen bases and 28/37 K/BB in 85 games over three levels.
He’s been plagued by injuries throughout his young career, but the 23-year-old is nearly big-league ready and would serve as an overall upgrade at the keystone.
Minnesota Twins: Alex Meyer, RHP
Acquired during the offseason from the Nationals in exchange for outfielder Denard Span, Meyer instantly became the Twins’ top pitching prospect.
A 6’9” right-hander, Meyer exceeded expectations last season in his full-season debut, registering a 2.86 ERA and .211 BAA with 139/45 K/BB in 129 innings between two Class-A levels.
Given the state of the Twins’ big-league rotation, the 23-year-old could start to move quickly with his new organization and even receive a late-season audition in the majors.
Houston Astros: George Springer, Outfielder
At 6’3”, 200 pounds, Springer’s athleticism and raw tools make him one of the more exciting players in the minor leagues. However, there’s still a substantial gap between his present ability and high ceiling.
In his full-season debut last year, Springer batted .302/.383/.526 with 55 extra-base hits (24 home runs), 32 stolen bases and 156/62 K/BB in 128 games between High-A and Double-A.
With a projected Opening Day outfield of J.D Martinez (LF), Justin Maxwell (CF) and Fernando Martinez (RF), the 23-year-old has a clear path to the major leagues, though he’ll need to start making swifter adjustments along the way.
Los Angeles Angels: Kaleb Cowart, 3B
Third baseman Kaleb Coward, the organization’s top prospect, will receive his first taste of big-league spring training after a breakout 2012 campaign in which he batted .276/.358/.452 with 54 extra-base hits (16 home runs), 103 RBI, 14 stolen bases and 111/67 K/BB in 135 games between both Class-A levels.
Even with an impressive spring and strong showing at Double-A, Cowart is a long shot to reach the major leagues in 2013. Although the Angels’ big-league roster is loaded with high-level talent at nearly every position, third base isn’t one of them.
The team’s current third baseman, Alberto Callaspo, 29, is arbitration-eligible for the third time this offseason and will become a free agent after the upcoming season. If Cowart continues to develop ahead of schedule, the Angels may choose not to offer Callaspo an extension.
Oakland Athletics: Addison Russell, SS
I actually had no idea that Russell had been invited to big-league spring training until I began this article. So that’s pretty cool.
The 11th-overall pick last June, Russell arguably had the best professional debut of any player in the 2012 draft class. The shortstop batted .369/.432/.594 with 26 extra-base hits (seven home runs), 16 stolen bases and 48/23 K/BB in 55 games over three levels, including 16 games at Low-A Burlington (Midwest League) to finish the season.
Even though the A’s addressed their shortstop situation this offseason by signing Hiroyuki Nakajima to a two-year contract, the move also provides a clear timetable for Russell’s arrival in the major leagues. Spring training will give the 19-year-old a chance to flash his potential in front of the entire organization.
Seattle Mariners: Mike Zunino, C
Mike Zunino, the other candidate for best pro debut by a class of 2012 draft pick, was the third overall pick and mashed his way to Double-A last summer, batting .360/.447/.689 with 27 extra-base hits (13 home runs) and 33/23 K/BB in 44 games between two levels.
The organization’s decision to trade John Jaso in the three-team trade for Mike Morse is good news for Zunino, who now has one less player separating him from the major leagues.
Although I still think he’ll open the year in the minors, a strong showing in his first spring training could change that plan.
Texas Rangers: Jurickson Profar, SS
Unfortunately, Profar isn’t a lock to make the Opening Day roster, though he should be. As baseball’s top prospect, the soon-to-be 20-year-old is ready for the major leagues, as he’s always been a younger player who improves against advanced competition.
Blocked at both middle infield positions, Profar’s chances of breaking camp with the Rangers decreased when the organization signed free agent Lance Berkman to be its designated hitter.
Even if Profar has an insanely good spring, it’s doubtful that the Rangers would use him in a reserve role, so they are likely to assign their prized prospect to Triple-A to begin the year.
At the same time, because Profar’s so talented, nothing is impossible.
Atlanta Braves: Evan Gattis, OF/C
Since entering the Braves' system in 2010, Gattis, a 6’4”, right-handed hitter, has mashed at every level. After batting .305/.389/.607 with 42 extra-base hits (18 home runs) and 43/31 K/BB in 74 games last season, including 49 games at Double-A Mississippi, it’s obvious that his bat is nearly ready for the major leagues.
Drafted and developed as a catcher, Gattis actually saw more time in left field than behind the plate last season, which is only a testament to his athleticism and eagerness to get his bat in the lineup. The 26-year-old is already on the fast track to the major leagues, although the acquisition of Justin Upton definitely hurt his chances of making the Opening Day roster.
However, given his knack for crushing left-handed pitching, Gattis could still be useful in a reserve/pinch-hitting role, just as Chris Carter (A’s) and Tyler Moore (Nationals) were last season.
Miami Marlins: Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
Hechavarria, 23, reached the major leagues for the first time last season, mostly due to rash of injuries to key players. Appearing in 41 games for the Blue Jays, he batted .254/.280/.365 with 10 extra-base hits and 32/4 K/BB in 137 plate appearances.
But once the Blue Jays decided they were all-in for the 2013 season, they dealt Hechavarria—as well as regular shortstop Yunel Escobar—to the Marlins as part of a blockbuster trade.
Then the Marlins traded Escobar, indicating that they are prepared to use Hechavarria as their everyday shortstop. That means it’s his position to lose, so don’t expect the Marlins to be too lenient.
New York Mets: Rafael Montero, RHP
After an excellent pro debut in 2011, Montero registered a 2.36 ERA with 110/19 K/BB in 122 innings across both Class-A levels last season.
With a three-pitch mix and highly advanced command relative to his (lack of) experience, the 22-year-old right-hander could earn an aggressive Opening Day assignment to Double-A with a solid showing in spring training.
Philadelphia Phillies: Cody Asche, 3B
A fourth-round draft pick out of the University of Nebraska in 2011, Asche enjoyed a promising full-season debut last year, batting .324/.369/.481 with 51 extra-base hits (12 home runs) in 130 games between High-A and Double-A. After hitting two home runs in 62 games for High-A Clearwater, the left-handed hitter launched 10 in 68 games following a promotion to Double-A.
Even though the Phillies acquired Michael Young this offseason to address a glaring deficiency at the hot corner, he’s set to become a free agent after the 2013 season. Therefore, Asche will essentially be auditioning for a job in 2014 this spring.
Washington Nationals: Matt Skole, 3B-1B
Selected in the fifth round out of Georgia Tech in 2011, Skole turned in a monster full-season debut last year by batting .291/.426/.559 with 56 extra-base hits (27 home runs), 104 RBI and 133/99 K/BB in 119 games across both Class-A levels.
By inviting him to big-league spring training, the Nationals are rewarding the 23-year-old for his performance thus far, but also challenging him with the hope of gauging whether he factors into their long-term plan.
Chicago Cubs: Jorge Soler, Outfielder
After signing a monster contract with the Cubs last June, Soler, 20, showed lots of potential in his professional debut. Albeit a small sample, the 6’3” outfielder batted .299/.369/.463 with 12 extra-base hits, 12 stolen bases and 19/12 K/BB in 34 games between the rookie-level Arizona League and Low-A Peoria.
Spring training will be the first time Soler is exposed to major league pitching, so expect all eyes to be on him. Just like everyone else, I’m interested to see what he can do over the course of a full season.
Cincinnati Reds: Billy Hamilton, Outfielder
Besides setting the modern stolen base record last season with 155 in 132 games, Hamilton also showcased significantly improved secondary skills as a leadoff hitter. Overall, the switch hitter batted .311/.410/.420 with 112 runs scored, 14 triples and 113/86 K/BB in 132 games between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola.
The Reds’ front office has already made it clear that Hamilton will play center field moving forward—he was a shortstop until the Arizona Fall League—and will open the 2013 season at Triple-A Louisville.
Spring training will give the 22-year-old a chance to prove he fits among major leaguers, as well as offer a taste of what’s to come.
Milwaukee Brewers: Hunter Morris, 1B
A fourth-round draft pick out of Auburn in 2010, Morris had a breakout 2012 season in which he batted .303/.357/.563 with 72 extra-base hits (28 home runs), 113 RBI and 117/40 K/BB in 136 games for Double-A Huntsville. As a first-base-only prospect, the 6’4”, left-handed hitter still needs to learn to better utilize his plus-raw power.
With Corey Hart expected to miss the first four months of the 2013 season after undergoing knee surgery, Mat Gamel is the frontrunner—at least on paper—to win the Opening Day job despite missing nearly the entire 2012 season with a torn ACL.
With another strong performance this spring, Morris could break camp as the team’s everyday first baseman and represent the lone left-handed power hitter (other than Gamel) on its roster.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Gerrit Cole, RHP
The first-overall pick out of UCLA in the 2011 draft, Cole has the potential to be one of the best pitchers in the game. With three above-average-to-plus-plus pitches, the right-hander excelled in his professional debut last season, registering a 2.80 ERA with 136/45 K/BB in 132 innings over three levels, including one start at Triple-A Indianapolis to finish the season.
Beyond the Pirates’ top three starters—A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald—there’s a lot of uncertainty regarding the back end of their rotation. Cole would benefit from a month or two at Triple-A simply to ensure he’s still on the right track.
But considering he boasts one of the best arms in the minor leagues, don’t be surprised if the right-hander receives serious consideration as the team’s No. 5 starter to open the season.
St. Louis Cardinals: Oscar Taveras, Outfielder
I can’t say it enough: Taveras is the best hitter in the minor leagues and should make a relatively quick adjustment to big-league pitching.
As a 20-year-old last season, the left-handed hitter batted .321/.380/.572 with 67 extra-base hits (23 home runs), 94 RBI and 56/42 K/BB in 124 games for Double-A Springfield.
Much like Jurickson Profar, Taveras is a player who has repeatedly thrived against advanced competition. Having said that, he’ll inevitably be the most talked-about player in Cardinals’ camp this year—and with good reason. The outfielder is close—extremely close—to being big-league ready, but lacks a clear path to playing time at both corner outfield positions.
If there’s an injury to either Carlos Beltran or Matt Holliday, expect the Cardinals to call on their future superstar, as he’s the only player in their system capable of matching their production.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Matt Davidson, 3B
One of the Diamondbacks’ two first-round picks in 2009, Davidson finally came into his own last season despite an aggressive promotion to Double-A Mobile to begin the year. Although he’s still a raw prospect overall, the 6’2”, 225-pound third baseman batted .261/.367/.469 with 53 extra-base hits (23 home runs) and 126/69 K/BB in 135 games.
Davidson’s clear path to the major leagues was impacted this week with the acquisition of Martin Prado from the Braves. Scheduled to become a free agent after the 2013 season, there’s already rumors that the Diamondbacks are interested in extending the 29-year-old Prado.
If it’s a long-term deal, Davidson suddenly becomes an enticing trade chip. If it’s something short term, it will give the Diamondbacks an additional season to ensure Davidson is big-league-ready.
With an eye-opening spring training, the 21-year-old could ultimately influence how the organization proceeds with Prado.
Colorado Rockies: Nolan Arenado, 3B
After an absolutely monster offensive season at High-A Modesto in 2011, Arenado, 21, stagnated last season at Double-A Tulsa. Although he batted .285/.337/.428 with 49 extra-base hits (12 home runs) and 58/39 K/BB in 134 games, it was a disappointing performance relative to the previous season.
As the organization’s only long-term option at the hot corner, the position will be waiting for Arenado once he’s ready. Likely to open the 2013 season at Triple-A, he’s poised to put up big power numbers once again in the hitter-friendly environment of the Pacific Coast League.
He’ll have a chance to stand out at third base during the spring, and if all goes as planned, Arenado could reach the major leagues as early as June.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Yasiel Puig, Outfielder
Just as it played out with Jorge Soler and the Cubs one month earlier, the Dodgers signed Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig to a lucrative contract in late July. The now 22-year-old made a strong impression in his brief professional debut, batting .354/.442/.634 with 10 extra-base hits and 15/12 K/BB in 23 games over two levels (including High-A Rancho Cucamonga).
Already on the team’s 40-man roster, Puig should spend a portion of the spring in big-league camp. And with a strong full-season debut in 2013, the outfielder could improve his estimated time of arrival by up to a full year.
San Diego Padres: Austin Hedges, C
As was the case with Addison Russell, I had no clue that the Padres had already extended an invitation to their top prospect, catcher Austin Hedges, until starting this article. Arguably the top defensive backstop in the minor leagues, the 20-year-old’s bat was a pleasant surprise last season when he batted .279/.334/.451 with 38 extra-base hits (10 home runs), 14 stolen bases and 69/23 K/BB in 96 games for Low-A Fort Wayne.
His invitation to big-league spring training strongly suggests that the organization views him as its long-term catcher. (Yes, Hedges has a higher ceiling than Yasmani Grandal.) Therefore, spring training will be his first opportunity to work with the Padres’ top pitching prospects, as well as some big leaguers.
Expect him to create a buzz this spring on both sides of the ball.
San Francisco Giants: Gary Brown, Outfielder
Headed into the 2012 season, Brown was regarded by many, including myself, as a legitimate top-50 prospect. After a monster full-season debut in the hitter-friendly California League (High-A) in 2011, the former first-rounder (2010) regressed across the board last year at Double-A Richmond. The 24-year-old batted .279/.347/.385 with 41 extra-base hits, 33 stolen bases and 87/40 K/BB in 134 games.
Brown still has a fairly high ceiling given his plus-plus speed and big league-ready defense in center field, but is now directly blocked at the position after the Giants decided to re-sign Angel Pagan through 2016. If either Gregor Blanco or Andres Torres struggle or land on the disabled list during the 2013 season, Brown is seemingly next-in-line for a promotion to the major leagues.
If he’s able to outperform Blanco and Torres during spring training, he could warrant consideration as the Giants’ fourth outfielder.