Prospects Who Will Surprise MLB Teams the Most During Spring Training
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Besides providing an opportunity for major leaguers to fine-tune their skills prior to the start of the season, spring training also offers prospects the chance to showcase their potential in front of the entire organization.
Although it seems unlikely that there will be a significant number of prospect-related roster battles this spring, there are countless young players who stand to boost their stock and potentially expedite their arrival in the major leagues.
Here’s a look at eight prospects poised for a strong showing this spring.
*All stats courtesy of BaseballReference.com
*All roster projections courtesy of MLBDepthCharts.com
Rymer Liriano, OF, San Diego Padres
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A physically mature player with tons of raw strength, Liriano has continued to hold his own as a younger player at advanced levels. After batting .298/.360/.443 with 29 extra-base hits and 22 stolen bases in 74 games at High-A Lake Elsinore to open the 2012 season, he was promoted to Double-A San Antonio for the first time, and batted .251/.335/.377 with 15 extra-base hits, 10 stolen bases and 50/20 K/BB in 53 games.
With five average-to-plus tools, Liriano needs to establish overall consistency. His plus bat speed and raw power suggest plenty of untapped power, and his ability to keep his hands inside the ball should allow him to hit for a decent average. Already on the Padres’ 40-man roster, the 21-year-old appears poised for a breakout campaign in 2013, which will presumably begin back at Double-A.
Christian Colon, 2B, Kansas City Royals
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Prepared to use a platoon of Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella at second base next season, or so it seems, the Royals shouldn’t be quick to rule out their first-round pick from 2010—and No. 4 overall—Christian Colon.
Last season was the best of his professional career, as he batted .301/.376/.413 with 21 extra-base hits, 13 stolen bases and 28/37 K/BB in 85 games over three levels—including Triple-A Omaha. Colon’s development has been slowed by injuries, but the 23-year-old is nearly big-league ready and would serve as an overall (cheap) upgrade at the keystone.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
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After turning in one of the top performances among all minor leaguers at High-A Modesto in 2011, Arenado, 21, leveled off last season at Double-A Tulsa. It wasn’t as though he had a poor showing; he still batted .285/.337/.428 with 49 extra-base hits (12 home runs) and 58/39 K/BB in 134 games. However, it was an inevitable disappointment relative to the previous season.
As the organization’s future third baseman—and one of the few bright spots in their farm system—the position will be waiting for Arenado once he’s deemed big-league ready. Until then, he’ll presumably open the 2013 season at Triple-A, where he should once again showcase above-average power in the hitter-friendly environment of the Pacific Coast League. With an impressive showing this spring, followed by hot start in the minor leagues, Arenado could convince the Rockies that he’ll be ready for a late-season call-up.
Mark Montgomery, RHP, New York Yankees
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Last year, in his first full professional season, the undersized right-hander registered a 1.54 ERA and .157 BAA with 99/22 K/BB in 64.1 innings over two levels—including Double-A Trenton. Boasting a borderline plus-plus slider—one of the best in the minor leagues—that draws a substantial number of whiffs, Montgomery will enter spring training with a realistic chance to win a spot in the Yankees’ big-league bullpen.
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
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At 6’3”, 200 pounds, Springer’s athleticism and raw tools make him one of the more exciting players in the minor leagues. When he’s at his best, he looks like the best player on the field. However, there’s still a sizeable 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.
According to MLBDepthCharts.com, the Astros’ Opening Day outfield could be comprised of J.D Martinez, Justin Maxwell and Fernando Martinez, from left to right field. Therefore, the 23-year-old seemingly has a clear path to the major leagues, but will need to demonstrate more consistency moving forward.
Matt Skole, 3B-1B, Washington Nationals
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A fifth-round draft pick out of Georgia Tech in 2011, Skole caught everyone off guard last year in full-season debut. The 6'4", left-handed hitter batted .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. He followed with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .305/.419/.525 in 17 games.
Skole’s invitation to big-league camp is not only a reward for the 23-year-old’s success last season, but also a challenge to see how his bat fares against considerably more advanced pitching.
Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
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The No. 1-overall pick out of UCLA in 2011, Cole has the ceiling of one of the best pitchers in the game. With three above-average-to-plus-plus pitches, including a legitimate plus-plus heater and wipeout slider, the right-hander thrived 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 A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald, there’s a lot of uncertainty regarding the back end of the Pirates’ starting rotation. Although Cole would benefit from a month or two at Triple-A top open the 2013 season, a lights-out performance this spring could warrant consideration for a spot in the Opening Day rotation.
Nate Freiman, 1B-DH, Houston Astros
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At 6’7”, 225 pounds, Nate Freiman is a beast in the right-handed batter’s box with enough raw power to match his size. As an older prospect, the 25-year-old already possesses advanced plate discipline and employs a consistent approach at the plate.
However, Freiman’s hands and bat speed are fringy, and there’s doubt as to whether he can handle premium velocity. Furthermore, as a right-handed, first base-only prospect, his ceiling is limited. However, given his ability to mash left-handed pitching (.348/.434/.643 in 112 at-bats last season), Freiman has the potential to be a solid platoon option at either first base or designated hitter—exactly why the Astros, now an American League team, selected him in the Rule 5 draft.