Grading Every MLB Team's Young Spring Training Talent

Brandon CroceAnalyst IJanuary 31, 2013

Grading Every MLB Team's Young Spring Training Talent

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    Spring training is just around the corner and teams are gearing up for the 2013 season. As much as fans enjoy this time of year, it is a very important time for teams to evaluate their younger talent. It gives them an opportunity to put some of their top prospects up against major league talent and see if they are ready for the Show.

    Looking at every team, I graded them on players who were 25 years of age or younger and who have had some experience at the major league level already in their career. I have tried to avoid including farm systems in my grades and focused on the players who are expected to be playing in Major League Baseball this coming season and grading them on their potential impact.

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Notable Players: Trevor Cahill, Paul Goldschmidt and Daniel Hudson

    Even with the trade of Justin Upton to the Braves, the Diamondbacks still have one of the better group of players. In his first full season at the major league level, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt hit .286 and had 20 home runs. 

    Trevor Cahill is entering his fifth season, second with the Diamondbacks, and still is only 24 years of age. He has already shown an ability to be a very good pitcher and a workhorse by throwing over 200 innings each of the past two seasons.

    Daniel Hudson is another promising pitcher but had to have Tommy John surgery last year. If he can come back and be the pitcher he was in 2011, the Diamondbacks could have a very good combination at the top of their rotation for years to come.

    Grade: A-

Atlanta Braves

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    Notable Players: Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel

    Like the Diamondbacks, the Braves have one of the best groups of young talent in the league and got better with the addition of Justin Upton this off-season. If they didn't add Justin Upton the Braves still would have had a bright future with the players they had, but this pushed them to the top.

    Jason Heyward has shown flashes of a great player but has not been very consistent. Freddie Freeman has hit over 20 home runs in his first two full years in the majors with a career batting average of .269.

    The star of the group, though, is closer Craig Kimbrel who has been nothing short of dominant the past two seasons. In 163 games, he has a career ERA of 1.46 and has 88 saves over the past two seasons.

    Grade: A+

Baltimore Orioles

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    Notable Players: Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy

    The Baltimore Orioles were one of the surprises in 2012 and are a fairly young team with a bright future in the AL East. However, the majority of their players are over the age of 25 and that is why they received a lower grade.

    Manny Machado is the only position player right now under 25 on the Orioles roster who should have an impact with this team. He is only 20 years of age and in 51 games last season the third baseman hit seven home runs, 26 RBI and had a batting average of .262. 

    The Orioles do have one pitcher, as well, who could be a difference maker in 2013. Dylan Bundy was the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft and made two relief appearances last season. This guy has the potential to be one of the better pitchers in the game and only time will tell if he can reach this potential.

    Grade: B-

Boston Red Sox

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    Notable Players: Will Middlebrooks, Felix Doubront and Ryan Kalish

    Even though the Red Sox should try to rebuild this organization and develop some young talent, their offseason moves show they still think they can be competitive. They have added aging veterans Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and Ryan Dempster to go along with the re-signed David Ortiz.

    They do have some young talent, though, that should play an impact on this upcoming season. Will Middlebrooks is slated to be the starting third baseman and can hopefully produce like he did before breaking a bone in his hand when he was hit by a pitch. 

    The Red Sox will also give Felix Doubront an opportunity in the rotation but the team will look for him to improve on his season record of 11-10 and a 4.87 ERA. Ryan Kalish was most likely going to be the fourth outfielder for Boston but went down with a shoulder injury that should sideline him for some time. 

    Grade: B

Chicago Cubs

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    Notable Players: Starlin Castro, Travis Wood, Anthony Rizzo and Wellington Castillo

    The Cubs have one of the better groups of players under the age of 25 in the league led by rising star Starlin Castro. The shortstop is only 22 years of age and has been in the league three years already with significant improvement every season. The Cubs could very well have a perennial All-Star at this position for years to come.

    He isn't the only player, though, that will have an impact on this team. First baseman Anthony Rizzo had over 20 home runs and a .283 batting average last year and Wellington Castillo's play made Cubs' fans forget very quickly about Geovany Soto. 

    Grade: A

Chicago White Sox

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    Notable Players: Dayan Viciedo, Chris Sale and Addison Reed

    Chris Sale was arguably the most dominating pitcher in the first half of last season, his first year as a starting pitcher. The problem was he became very average the second half of the year and struggled down the stretch. Hopefully this only due to the fact that he didn't have endurance to go a full season as a starter and not that hitters were able to adjust to him.

    Sale isn't the only player in this group that should have an impact on the White Sox success in 2013 as starting outfielder Dayan Viciedo and closer Addison Reed are both under the age of 25 as well.

    Grade: B 

Cincinnati Reds

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    Notable Players: Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce and Mat Latos

    The Reds have a pretty impressive collection of players who are 25 years of age and younger. Jay Bruce seems like he has been a fixture of the Reds for some time and his role has been pretty well defined. He will get a team over 25 home runs, close to 100 RBI but won't hit a high average.

    Mat Latos will be entering his second season with Cincinnati and hopes to duplicate his 14-4 record and 3.48 ERA from last year. The question, though, is how will Chapman do making the transition from hard throwing closer to starting pitcher. This could be a two year process as seen by Chris Sale, as he will need time to build up his endurance to make it through a full season.

    Grade: A-

Cleveland Indians

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    Notable Players: Michael Brantley, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco

    The Indians have a number of players 25 years of age and under but is headlined by the three players listed above. The Indians hope the trend of improving every season continues for starting left field Michael Brantley who hit .288 last year.

    The one player all eyes will be on will be starting pitcher Trevor Bauer who came over from Arizona in the Shin-Soo Choo trade this offseason. He was the third overall pick in 2011 but struggled in his first taste at the major league level going 1-2 with a 6.06 ERA. He is still one of the top pitching prospects in the game and should bounce back in 2013.

    Grade: C+

Colorado Rockies

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    Notable Players: Josh Rutledge, Jhoulys Chacin and Drew Pomeranz

    Josh Rutledge is penciled in as the starting second baseman for the Rockies to start the season. He saw his first major league action last year when he was called up finishing with eight home runs, 37 RBI and a .274 batting average in 73 games.

    The pitchers don't seem as promising with Jhoulys Chacin who has seen an increase in his ERA each of the past three seasons and has never had a record above .500. The same goes for Pomeranz who finished last year 2-9 in 22 starts with an ERA of 4.93.

    Grade: D+

Detroit Tigers

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    Notable Players: Bruce Rondon, Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello

    The Tigers are a veteran team with a lot of experience which is why it is somewhat surprising that they are willing to go with rookie Bruce Rondon in the closer role. The team must have a lot of confidence to go with a guy who has no major league experience as they begin their pursuit of a second straight American League Championship.

    Rick Porcello was one of the top prospects in the Tigers' organization but has been on the trading block for pretty much the entire offseason this winter. The problem that he has stayed this long, is that he has not improved, but actually regressed over the past few seasons.  

    Grade: C-

Houston Astros

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    Notable Players: Jose Altuve, J.D. Martinez, Jordan Lyles and Jason Castro

    The Astros are the youngest team in baseball with an average age of 25.9. They easily have the biggest pool of players in this list however they don't have any player who has the potential to be a superstar.

    Jose Altuve is the best player in this group and had a great first season last year. He was rewarded with a trip to the All-Star game, but the problem is that Altuve is not a franchise player. J.D. Martinez has demonstrated he can be a serviceable player but has been inconsistent in the early part of his career.

    There is one player currently in the minors though who could be that superstar type player and that is pitcher Jarred Cosart. He came over from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade two years ago and has the potential to be an ace of this staff. He could potential be a mid season call up this year.

    Grade: C+

Kansas City Royals

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    Notable Players: Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas

    For as long as I can remember, the Royals have been a team that has focused on rebuilding. Well the time has finally come that Kansas City may feel they are in position to compete with the trades this offseason for James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana.

    Two players the Royals hope can take the next step in their respective careers is Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Both players have a lot of potential and now the question is can they reach it. In Hosmer's first season in the majors back in 2011 he hit .293 but saw his average drop over 50 points in 2012 to .232.

    Moustakas also saw his average drop from 2011 to 2012 but not nearly as much as Hosmer. He went from .263 to .242. However, his power numbers did improve going from a home run every 17.8 games to one home run every 7.45 games.

    Grade: B-

Los Angeles Angels

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    Notable Players: Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos

    This was probably the easiest grade to hand out considering that Mike Trout is already considered one of the best players in the game today. When there is serious discussion about a player winning the MVP award over another player who just won the Triple Crown, people know this guy is going to be a force for years to come.

    Trout hit .326 with 30 home runs, 83 RBI and stole 49 bases. He is the perfect definition of a five tool player. The only other player the Angels have to fit in this group is center fielder Peter Bourjos who is a serviceable centerfielder. 

    Grade: A+

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Notable Players: Clayton Kershaw and Dee Gordon

    This was up there with the Angels in terms of the easiest grade to hand out. Clayton Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in the game today and is only 24 years of age. He has already won one Cy Young award, has had four straight seasons with an ERA less than three and has gone 56-32 over that time period.

    Grade: A+

Miami Marlins

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    Notable Players: Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison

    Like the Houston Astros, the Marlins have a rather large pool of players who are 25 and under. However, unlike Houston they have a future star in Giancarlo Stanton who is the type of player a franchise can build around.

    Stanton has improved his batting average every season he has been at the major league level and has hit over 30 home runs each of the past two seasons. However, outside of Stanton, the Marlins don't have much to feel good about in this group.

    Grade: B-

Milwaukee Brewers

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    Notable Player: Jean Segura

    The only player the Brewers have who is 25 and under who has had some major league experience and is expected to play a substantial role in 2013 is Jean Segura. The shortstop came over to the Brewers midway through last season in the Zack Greinke trade and played pretty well.

    He appeared in 44 games last year hitting .258 and collected seven stolen bases on eight attempts. At 23 years of age, the Brewers could have a good all-around shortstop for years to come. He isn't a superstar though and the Brewers do not have any other players in this category and that is why they have gotten the grade they have.

    Grade: C-

Minnesota Twins

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    Notable Players: Vance Worley, Aaron Hicks and Chris Parmelee

    The Twins will probably not be competing for a division title this season but do have some good players 25 and under who will contribute to their success in the future. The big name is Vance Worley who came over from the Phillies this offseason in the Ben Revere trade. Worley had a good rookie season in 2011 going 11-3 with a 3.01 ERA. However, he struggled in 2012, which may have attributed to him being made available in trades.

    Another key player for the Twins this coming season will be Aaron Hicks, who is expected to be the starting centerfielder for the Twins. With the Denard Span and Ben Revere trades this offseason it opened the door for this top prospect. The Twins must feel confident with Hicks trading away both players and if this scouting report is right, they won't be disappointed.

    Grade: B

New York Mets

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    Notable Players: Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada, and Matt Harvey

    The Mets have a solid collection of talent who is 25 and under who should complement David Wright for years to come. Ike Davis has already solidified himself as a solid first baseman with good power, hitting 32 home runs last year.

    Kirk Nieuwenhuis had a decent first season at the major league level but really struggled as the season went on. He saw his batting average drop from .325 in the month of April to .105 in July and was eventually sent back down to the minors. 

    Ruben Tejada is another player the Mets will rely on in 2013 and beyond, as he has already demonstrated that he is a player who won't provide much power but can hit for a good average and get on base. Now, I don't see any of these players turning out to be superstars but they are a nice complement to David Wright and that is why they got as high of a grade as they did.

    Grade: B+

New York Yankees

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    Notable Players: Austin Romine and Eduardo Nunez 

    The Yankees are an aging veteran team so there isn't a great deal of opportunity this season for younger players to make an impact.

    With the departure of Russell Martin this offseason, many expected, myself included, that Austin Romine would win the job as the everyday catcher because he is probably the most talented catcher on the team right now. However it seems Brian Cashman has other plans according to this New York Daily News article earlier this month and Romine will start out in Triple-A.

    The only other player right now on the roster who could have an impact is Eduardo Nunez who has played well in limited action over the past three seasons. He has a career batting average of .272 in 180 games and has become a valuable utility player as he has played over 60 games at both third base and shortstop and an additional 18 games at second base.

    Grade: C-

Oakland A's

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    Notable Players: Josh Reddick, Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker and Brett Anderson

    It may be a little bit of deja vu as the Oakland A's could be on their way to having another Big Three. Now time will tell if Anderson, Parker, and Milone can be as good as Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito but the pieces are there.

    Anderson came back very well from Tommy John surgery in 2011 to go 4-2 over six starts with an ERA of 2.57 and threw six shutout innings in one playoff win last year. Tommy Milone had a good first full season with Oakland going 13-10 with an ERA of 3.74 but Parker was just a little better with a 13-8 record and an ERA of 3.47. 

    If the A's can keep these three healthy and they produce like they demonstrated they can last year, Billy Beane just made his argument for Moneyball a little more stronger.

    Grade: A-

Philadelphia Phillies

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    Notable Players: Ben Revere and Domonic Brown

    The Phillies are another aging team like the Yankees who do not have much opportunity for their younger players. Domonic Brown was one of the Phillies top prospects and basically considered untouchable in trades in years past. However, since he has had an opportunity at the major league level to play he has not been able to produce. In 147 games he is only hitting .236 with 12 home runs, or one every 12.25 games.

    One move they have made this offseason that has seemed to go under the radar but should pay huge dividends is the trade for Ben Revere. He will be entering his third full season at the major league level and had his best year to date last season. He has always had the speed, collecting 74 stolen bases the past two seasons, but showed he can hit for average last year with a .294 batting average. 

    Grade: C+

Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Notable Players: Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte 

    Pittsburgh has two players who fall into this category who should play a role in 2013. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez has demonstrated he has power with 30 home runs last year but was not very consistent and can go into a slump for weeks at a time. 

    Starting left fielder Starling Marte got his first taste at the major league level hitting .257 in 47 games with five home runs and 17 RBI. 

    Grade: C

San Diego Padres

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    Notable Players: Cameron Maybin and Yonder Alonso

    Cameron Maybin is entering his third season with the Padres and sixth in the major leagues at age 25 and it seems like the jury is still out on this player. He was considered one of the Marlins top prospects but could never seem to put it together and was traded to the Padres.

    He finally had a good year with 40 stolen bases and a .264 batting average and many thought he was making steps to being the player many envisioned. However, last season he regressed and only stole 26 bases and saw his batting average drop over 20 points to .243.

    Yonder Alonso came over to the Padres before the 2012 season in the Mat Latos trade and had a solid season with 39 doubles, 62 RBI and a batting average of .273. This grade would probably be a whole letter higher if Maybin was able to produce at the same level last season as he did in 2012.

    Grade: C-

San Francisco Giants

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    Notable Players: Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner and Brandon Belt

    The Giants have the best catcher in the game in Buster Posey and one of the top young pitchers in the game in Madison Bumgarner and it is easy to give them a grade of A+. Posey is coming off a season where he won the NL batting title, the NL MVP and helped lead the Giants to a World Series title, all while coming back from a nasty leg injury suffered during a collision at the plate in 2011.

    The Giants have built an impressive pitching staff as well that includes left hander Madison Bumgarner who, in 87 games, has a career ERA of 3.20 and won 16 games last season. He has thrown over 400 innings the past two seasons with 382 strikeouts.

    Not to mention at 23 years of age, like Posey, he has two World Series rings. There is something to be said about all the hardware these two have collected already and that is why they got the grade they did.

    Grade: A+

Seattle Mariners

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    Notable Players: Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager and Jesus Montero

    The Mariners have put together a solid group of young players who can hopefully provide some run support for Felix Hernandez. Second baseman Dustin Ackley, third baseman Kyle Seager, and catcher Jesus Montero will be responsible to help jump start this anemic offense.

    Seager had the best season out of these three last year, hitting 20 home runs, 86 RBI and a batting average of .259 however Jesus Montero will be the key to the success of this group. He plays a position that usually doesn't have a lot of offense come from there. All three have shown enough promise as well as production to warrant the grade they got.

    Grade: B

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Notable Players: Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn and Pete Kozma

    Shelby Miller is the best player in this group for the Cardinals and one of their top pitching prospects. In limited action last season he had an ERA of 1.20 in one start and six total appearances. However, based on the comments made by John Mozeliak, the Cardinals' General Manager, it sounds like Lance Lynn is considered the front runner for the final spot in the rotation.

    Based on Lynn's season last year, there is no reason why he shouldn't be in the rotation. He won 18 games with a 3.78 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 176 innings of work. This is a good problem to have for a team when they have six very capable pitchers but only five spots. 

    Grade: B+

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Notable Players: Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb

    Three out of the five projected starters for the Rays are 25 years of age and under and is probably one of the reasons they felt comfortable trading away James Shields and Wade Davis. Matt Moore should be the star in this group but finished last season at only 11-11 with an ERA of 3.81.

    Jeremy Hellickson finished last year with a better ERA than Moore at 3.10, but this didn't equal a better record at only 10-11. Cobb was the only one who finished with a record higher than .500 but had the highest ERA at 4.03. All have demonstrated to be very capable pitchers and should form a solid rotation for years to come.

    The Rays grade of a B+ could rise to an A- or even an A depending on how much time top prospect Wil Myers gets and how well he plays this year.

    Grade: B+

Texas Rangers

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    Notable Players: Jurickson Profar, Leonys Martin and Mike Olt

    Even with the losses of Michael Young and Josh Hamilton, the Texas Rangers are still a very good team thanks to some good prospects. Jurickson Profar is one of the top prospects in the game but the problem may be finding him time on the field with Elvis Andrus already solidifying the shortstop position.

    Leonys Martin will have the biggest challenge in 2013 as he is given the job of replacing Josh Hamilton in centerfield. He had very little time at the major league level last year and only hit .174 in 46 plate appearances. This has raised the possibility of a platoon in center field with Craig Gentry.

    Mike Olt is another player who must deal with a veteran in his way for playing time with the signing of Lance Berkman. It will be interesting to see how these three players, along with Martin Perez battling for the final spot in the rotation, play during spring training and who is able to stick with the Rangers in 2013. If they are not with Texas to start the season it is not an indication of their talent level, as all four have a great deal of potential and that is why the got the grade they did.

    Grade: B

Toronto Blue Jays

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    Notable Player: Brett Lawrie

    The Toronto Blue Jays went all in this offseason and have plans on competing for a World Series title in 2013. With all the wheeling and dealing they did, they mortgaged a lot of their future talent and left the farm system pretty bare.

    At 23 years of age, Brett Lawrie is the only player on the Blue Jays who will have an impact this season. Since he was called up in 2011, he has hit .278, 20 home runs and 73 RBI over 168 games. I would not be surprised if he put up these numbers in 2013 with the additional help added that will be around him in the lineup. 

    The Blue Jays also have starting pitcher Kyle Drabek, one of the key players in the Roy Halladay a few years ago, who is a talented pitcher when he is on the field. The problem is that he can't seem to stay healthy and had to have his second Tommy John surgery in his short career. It would surprise me if he was able to pitch in 2013 with a more realistic return date being 2014.

    Grade: C+

Washington Nationals

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    Notable Players: Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos

    Thanks to a number of bad years the Nationals were able to pick two players in the MLB draft who were considered can't miss picks in Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. So far in their respective careers, the experts seemed to be right.

    Bryce Harper saw his first major league action last year playing in 139 games and finished the year hitting .270 with 26 doubles, 22 home runs and 59 RBI. He went on to win the NL Rookie of the Year award and was also selected to the All-Star game.

    Stephen Strasburg has not had nearly as easy of a transition as Harper has, going down with an injury that required Tommy John surgery in 2010 after only 12 starts. He finally was able to come back last season but however was put on an innings limit which forced him to miss the postseason.

    The innings he did get to pitch, though, showed why everyone thought so highly of him going 15-6 with 197 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.16. These two players should be cornerstones for this franchise for years to come.

    Grade: A+