MLB Prospects Who Are Early Favorites in Spring Training Position Battles

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterFebruary 1, 2013

MLB Prospects Who Are Early Favorites in Spring Training Position Battles

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    Teams usually are reluctant to break camp with a young, inexperienced prospect as an everyday player on the big league roster. Instead, they prefer to send them to Double- or Triple-A for a few months to avoid an extra year of arbitration down the road, and ensure that the player is promoted to the major leagues in a controlled environment.

    However, there are numerous prospects who will have the opportunity to make an Opening Day roster and, if all goes as planned, spend the entire season in the major leagues.

    Here’s a look at five prospects who are early favorites to win a spot on their team’s Opening Day roster.

Bruce Rondon, RHP, Detroit Tigers

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    Boasting a fastball that sits between 98-102 mph, Rondon recorded 29 saves across three different levels in 2012 and nearly reached the major leagues as a September call-up.

    After his dismal performance last year in the postseason, the Tigers passed on re-signing free-agent closer Jose Valverde this offseason—a decision that was easier to make due to the imminent arrival of Rondon.

    Although the right-hander is the favorite to break camp as the team’s closer, it’s also possible that the Tigers will ease him into the role by also offering save opportunities to left-hander Phil Coke.    

Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals

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    After a dominant second-half of the season at Triple-A Memphis, followed by an impressive showing with the Cardinals as a September call-up, Miller is one of several starting pitchers vying for a potentially vacant spot at the back of the team’s starting rotation.

    Because left-hander Jaime Garcia’s health is still uncertain after a late-season shoulder injury, Miller could break camp as the Cardinals' Nos. 4 or 5 starter. The 22-year-old right-hander is ready for the challenge of the major leagues next season, and could emerge as one of the top rookie pitchers in the game.

Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins

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    After trading both Denard Span and Ben Revere this offseason, the Twins will inevitably have a new face in center field for the 2013 season. Unless they make a trade before Opening Day, it seems as though the organization will go with one of their in-house candidates: Darin Mastroianni, Joe Benson and Aaron Hicks.

    Of the aforementioned players, Hicks offers the most upside at the position, as the switch-hitting 23-year-old is fresh off a career-best season in which he batted .286/.384/.460 with 45 extra-base hits and 32 stolen bases at Double-A New Britain.

Kyle Gibson, RHP, Minnesota Twins

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    Despite missing most of the year while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Gibson, a 6’5” right-hander, finished the season at Triple-A Rochester, and followed it with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Prior to the injury in mid-2011, the former first-round draft pick was pitching well at Triple-A and on the verge of a big league call-up.

    Gibson, 25, is expected to compete with Liam Hendriks for the final spot in the Twins’ starting rotation. With a frame that’s built for innings and a three-pitch mix of average-to-plus offerings, the right-hander could emerge as one of the team’s better pitchers next season.

Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta Braves

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    After registering a 2.55 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett in 2011 as a 20-year-old, Teheran entered the 2012 season as one of the top pitching prospects in the game. However, the right-hander regressed across the board while repeating the level, likely because the Braves tinkered with his mechanics throughout the year.

    He pitched well this offseason in the Dominican Winter League after reverting back to his original mechanics, and the Braves hope that it will lead to a bounce-back 2013 season. After trading Tommy Hanson to the Angels and Randall Delgado to the Diamondbacks, Teheran is the favorite to break camp as the Braves' fifth starter. However, he’ll still have to prove he's ready during spring training.