Predicting Every Team's Breakout Player in Spring Training

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2013

Predicting Every Team's Breakout Player in Spring Training

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    Every spring, it seems as though at least one player from each team unexpectedly steps up and earns themselves a roster spot with a strong performance.

    Whether it is a top prospect proving he is ready for the majors or a minor league veteran finally breaking through and producing against big league competition, at least a handful of players boost their standings during spring training.

    These players may not be future stars, but here is the one player from each team ready to break out with a big spring-training performance and put himself in a good position to make the club.

Arizona Diamondbacks: LHP Tyler Skaggs

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    Arguably the top left-handed pitching prospect in baseball (Danny Hultzen of Seattle is his only real competition for that honor), Tyler Skaggs will be given every chance to win the No. 5 starter job this spring.

    Acquired from the Angels in the Dan Haren deal at the 2010 deadline, Skaggs has shot through the Arizona system. He split last season between Double-A and Triple-A before making his big league debut at the age of 21.

    His quick progression no doubt played a role in the Diamondbacks feeling comfortable trading Trevor Bauer. After Diamondbacks pitcher Wade Miley finished second in the NL Rookie of Year voting last year, Skaggs should have a real shot at the award this year.

Atlanta Braves: C/OF Evan Gattis

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    Old for a prospect at 26, Evan Gattis has played just 49 games above Single-A and has only 222 career minor league games under his belt in three seasons.

    A wrist injury limited him to just 74 games last season, but he still managed to hit .305/.389/.607 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI.

    According to a piece from Tomahawk Take, Gattis has been one of the talks of spring training for the Braves and has a real chance to not only crack the roster but earn himself the starting catching job until Brian McCann returns.

Baltimore Orioles: LHP T.J. McFarland

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    A Rule 5 draft pick from the Indians, T.J. McFarland went 16-8 with a 4.03 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A last season, and he'll be looked at as both a starter and reliever this spring.

    According to a report from the Baltimore Sun, manager Buck Showalter was impressed with what he saw of McFarland in his first bullpen session.

    With the Orioles having a bevy of starting pitching options, his chances of making the rotation are slim, but he could certainly land a bullpen spot.

Boston Red Sox: 1B Mauro Gomez

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    Long buried in the Rangers organization, Mauro Gomez signed with the Red Sox as a free agent last February. In a full season at Triple-A, he hit .310/.371/.589 with 24 home runs and 74 RBI.

    That earned him his first big league action, and he hit .275/.324/.422 with two home runs and 17 RBI over 102 at-bats.

    Now he'll compete with minor league free agent Lyle Overbay and a handful of others for a bench spot this spring. With perhaps the best power upside of any of them, he could secure the job over the next couple months.

Chicago Cubs: IF Junior Lake

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    Junior Lake, a shortstop by trade, has moved slowly through the Cubs' system. The 22-year-old spent a full season at Double-A last year with solid results.

    His numbers don't jump off the page, but a .279/.341/.432 slash line with 10 home runs and 21 steals, coupled with the ability to play all over the infield, makes him a valuable commodity.

    Minor league free-agent Brent Lillibridge is the front-runner to win the utility infield job, but Lake is certainly in the running as well. He could push Darwin Barney at second base if Barney's offense doesn't improve at least to league-average numbers.

Chicago White Sox: CF Trayce Thompson

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    The brother of NBA players Mychal and Klay Thompson, Trayce brings that same level of athleticism to the baseball field.

    A second-round pick in 2009, Thompson opened last season at High Single-A and finished in Triple-A while putting together a combined .253/.328/.482 line with 25 home runs and 21 steals.

    His 166 strikeouts are reason for concern, as he may not make enough contact to be an everyday player. But his power is for real and could be enough to wow his way onto the roster as fourth outfielder.

Cincinnati Reds: RHP Daniel Corcino

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    The Reds have as complete a roster as any in baseball, so there aren't many areas for a surprise player to earn a big league roster spot.

    That said, Daniel Corcino may still open eyes this spring and either push himself higher on the starting pitching depth chart or earn a bullpen spot at some point.

    In a full season at Double-A last year, the 22-year-old went 8-8 with a 3.01 ERA while displaying good command of three pitches. He could move quickly in his second season in the high minors. He currently finds himself behind Mike Leake and Tony Cingrani as next in line for the rotation.

Cleveland Indians: RHP Carlos Carrasco

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    Carlos Carrasco is far from an unknown, as he made 21 starts for the Indians in 2011 and went 8-9 with a 4.62 ERA.

    However, he missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2011. As a result, he is merely a spectator of the Indians rotation this coming season.

    Zach McAllister, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber are all in the running for the final two rotation spots behind Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson and Brett Myers.

    The 25-year-old Carrasco has the most upside of the group outside of Bauer. If he's at 100 percent, he should be able to crack the staff.

Colorado Rockies: 3B Nolan Arenado

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    The only real question in the Rockies lineup entering the season is at third base. And whoever fills the position, whether it's Chris Nelson, Jordan Pacheco or someone else, is simply keeping it warm for Nolan Arenado.

    Though he failed to match his lofty 2011 numbers last season, Arenado still held his own as a 21-year-old in Double-A, hitting .285/.337/.428 with 12 home runs and 56 RBI.

    He has the defensive tools to stick at the hot corner and should settle in as a solid big leaguer. The Rockies likely wouldn't hesitate to hand him the Opening Day job if he showed himself capable of stepping in immediately, but midseason is a more likely arrival time.

Detroit Tigers: LF Nick Castellanos

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    A supplemental-round pick out of high school in 2010, Nick Castellanos has moved quickly through the Tigers' system and finished last season in Double-A at the age of 20.

    Between High Single-A and Double-A last year, he hit .320/.365/.451 with 10 home runs and 57 RBI as the team started to transition him from third base to the outfield.

    With Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter locked into two of the outfield spots, left field is the only place he could find at-bats. While Andy Dirks will open the season as the starter, Castellanos could play his way onto the roster and push him for at-bats.

Houston Astros: RHP Josh Fields

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    The first pick in the year's Rule 5 draft, Josh Fields was a first-round pick by the Mariners in 2008 before joining the Red Sox as part of the Erik Bedard trade at the deadline in 2011.

    In his first full season in the Boston system last year, Fields appeared in 42 games with 12 saves, a 2.01 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 58.1 innings of work.

    He'll open the season in a middle relief role, but could easily work his way into a key setup role or even the closer's job. The 27-year-old figures to be a key arm for Houston.

Kansas City Royals: 2B Christian Colon

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    The fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft out of Cal-Fullerton, Colon was unimpressive through his first two minor league seasons, but he took a step forward last year.

    The 23-year-old hit .301/.376/.413 and showed terrific contact skills with just 28 strikeouts in 312 at-bats. While he may not hit for much power, he should be a solid No. 2 hitter.

    With Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas locked into the other three infield positions, second base is among the Royals' biggest question marks. Colon could be handed the job out of camp with a strong showing.

Los Angeles Angels: 3B Kaleb Cowart

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    The top prospect in what has become a thin Angels farm system, Kaleb Cowart has yet to play above Single-A but earned an invitation to spring training this season after a solid 2012.

    In his first season above rookie league, Cowart hit .276/.358/.452 with 16 home runs and 103 RBI between Single-A and High Single-A.

    Alberto Callaspo is an average option at best at third base, and while the Angels don't have any reason to rush Cowart, getting him experience against big league pitching and a chance to flash his skills this spring was a smart move.

Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Chris Withrow

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    A first-round pick in 2007, Chris Withrow has failed to develop into the front-line starter the Dodgers hoped he would become. He spent most of last season in the bullpen. 

    With a mid-90s fastball, biting slider and passable curveball and changeup, he has a starter's repertoire, but control issues have plagued him throughout his minor league career (5.0 BB/9).

    He looked much better after moving to the bullpen, and the 23-year-old could still have a bright future as a late-inning reliever. The Dodgers bullpen is flush with veteran options, but he could certainly pitch his way into a spot.

Miami Marlins: 3B Zack Cox

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    Acquired from the Cardinals at the deadline for reliever Edward Mujica, Zack Cox was a first-round pick in 2010 and viewed as the most polished college bat in the draft.

    He was pushed to Double-A in his first pro season and opened last season in Triple-A, before winding up back in Double-A following the trade. In total, he hit .254/.301/.409 with 10 home runs and 43 RBI last year.

    Though Placido Polanco is penciled in as the Opening Day third baseman, Cox is the team's third baseman of the future. The Marlins won't hesitate to give him the job as soon as he proves ready.

Milwaukee Brewers: 1B Hunter Morris

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    With Corey Hart on the shelf to open the season following knee surgery and Mat Gamel again out for the season with a torn ACL, first base is wide open in Milwaukee.

    The team could look for outside help to fill the job until Hart returns, but it has an interesting in-house option in Hunter Morris.

    A fourth-round pick in 2010, the 24-year-old spent last season in Double-A and hit .303/.357/.563 with 28 home runs and 113 RBI. If he can show he's capable of displaying that same power against big league pitchers, he could settle into the position long term.

Minnesota Twins: CF Aaron Hicks

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    In an effort to bolster their pitching staff, the Twins traded outfielders Denard Span and Ben Revere this offseason to the Nationals and Phillies, respectively.

    In return, they landed Alex Meyer from the Nationals and right-hander Vance Worley and Trevor May from the Phillies. But those moves left them with a glaring hole in the outfield and atop the lineup.

    Darin Mastroianni will get the first crack at the center field and leadoff spots, but Aaron Hicks has higher upside. After a .286/.384/.460 line with 32 steals at Double-A last season, Hicks is close to making a big league impact.

New York Mets: RHP Jeurys Familia

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    A highly touted prospect since signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, Jeurys Familia made his big league debut last season with eight appearances (one start), and his future may be in the bullpen.

    The big right-hander has a solid fastball-slider combination that has led to good strikeout totals in the minors, but he has failed to develop a third quality pitch.

    He has the stuff to close games, and with a group of unproven youngsters and minor league free agents, he has as good a shot as anyone to earn a bullpen spot with a strong spring. 

New York Yankees: C Austin Romine

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    One of the top catching prospects in baseball, Austin Romine was limited to just 31 games last season due to injury.

    After letting Russell Martin walk in free agency, the team is set to enter the season with the underwhelming platoon of Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli manning the catcher position.

    The Yankees wouldn't be against handing the job to the 24-year-old Romine, though. Knowing the job is up for grabs could mean a big spring for the prospect.

Oakland Athletics: IF/OF Grant Green

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    Since being taken in the first round of the 2009 draft out of USC, Grant Green has moved slowly through the A's system and produced at each level.

    In a full season at Triple-A last year, he hit .296/.338/.458 with 15 home runs and 75 RBI while playing all over the field defensively.

    Second base is a question for the A's this coming season, with Scott Sizemore, Jemile Weeks, Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales all vying for the position. The 25-year-old Green is a dark horse in that contest. He could break through with a strong spring.

Philadelphia Phillies: C Sebastian Valle

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    Though he's been passed by Tommy Joseph on the organizational depth chart, 22-year-old Sebastian Valle remains a solid catching prospect after holding his own while splitting last season between Double-A and Triple-A.

    Over 388 at-bats, he showed solid pop with 17 home runs and 58 RBI. While his .253/.271/.428 slash line is nothing special, he could still be a plus offensive catcher with good receiving skills.

    With Carlos Ruiz suspended for the first 25 games of the season, Erik Kratz will serve as the starting catcher. But the backup job is wide open, and Valle has a real shot at beating out veteran Humberto Quintero with a strong spring.

Pittsburgh Pirates: LHP Jeff Locke

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    At least until Francisco Liriano returns from a fractured non-throwing arm, the No. 5 starter spot in the Pirates rotation is up for grabs.

    While guys like Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Kyle McPherson get more attention, and rightfully so as they have much higher ceilings, Jeff Locke may be the Pirates' most advanced young arm.

    He went 10-5 with a 2.48 ERA and 8.3 K/9 in Triple-A last season before appearing in eight games (six starts) with the Pirates and posting a 5.50 ERA and 8.9 K/9 over 34.1 innings. The fifth starter job is his with a strong spring. That should motivate him.

San Diego Padres: 2B Jedd Gyorko

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    Though he is not on the 40-man roster, one has to imagine Jedd Gyorko will make his Padres debut at some point in 2013.

    He's turned in back-to-back 100-RBI seasons in the minors, and last season he hit .311/.373/.547 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI while splitting the season between Double-A and Triple-A.

    A natural third baseman, his big league future is likely at second base with Chase Headley blocking him at the hot corner. His powerful bat would be a welcomed addition to the San Diego lineup if he can prove himself ready.

San Francisco Giants: RHP Heath Hembree

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    A fifth-round pick out of the College of Charleston in 2010, Heath Hembree turned in a dominant season in 2011, posting a 1.86 ERA and 13.2 K/9 while saving 38 games between High Single-A and Double-A.

    He took a step back last year in Triple-A, posting a 4.19 ERA over 44 appearances, but that should be nothing more than a bump in the road. He still projects as a future closer.

    After a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, and with a high-90s fastball and a plus slider, he'll be hard to ignore this spring if he's pitching well. He could certainly break camp with a bullpen job.

Seattle Mariners: RHP Brandon Maurer

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    Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton have garnered a good deal of attention during their rise through the Mariners' system, but there is a fourth high-upside arm in Brandon Maurer.

    A 23rd-round pick out of high school in 2008, Maurer broke out last season, going 9-2 with a 3.20 ERA and 7.6 K/9 in a full season at Double-A.

    Maurer and Hultzen are the only two of those four pitchers on the 40-man roster. And while Hultzen is a well-established top prospect, it could be Maurer who finds himself surprising the Mariners and winning a rotation spot.

St. Louis Cardinals: CF Oscar Taveras

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    Regardless of what he does this spring, Oscar Taveras is likely to open the season in the minors. But the No. 3 prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America, could put himself in better position for a midseason call-up with a good spring.

    The 20-year-old is a legitimate future superstar, and after hitting .321/.380/.572 with 23 home runs and 94 RBI in a full season at Double-A last year, he is much further along in his development than anyone could have hoped.

    Matt Holliday, John Jay and Carlos Beltran are entrenched in the starting outfield spots. But given their injury history and that Beltran is a free agent at the end of the season, there is a good chance Taveras winds up in St. Louis at some point in 2013.

Tampa Bay Rays: RF Brandon Guyer

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    It will be top prospect Wil Myers who garners the attention for the Tampa Bay Rays, but there is another outfield prospect who could play his way onto the roster with a strong spring. 

    Brandon Guyer, acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade, had a .312/.384/.521 line in a full season at Triple-A in 2011. He earned a call-up early in 2012, but a torn labrum ended his season in May.

    Now 27 years old, he will be in the running for the Rays' fourth outfield and final bench spot. He has the power/speed combination to put up big numbers and make an impact in Tampa.

Texas Rangers: RHP Wilmer Font

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    After missing all of the 2011 season, Wilmer Font was eased back in last season, making 33 appearances (19 starts) and throwing 98.1 innings.

    He went 4-5 with a 4.03 ERA and struck out an impressive 138 hitters for a 12.6 K/9 mark. It remains to be seen if he will be a starter or reliever long term.

    He has a plus fastball-slider combination, but needs to refine his breaking ball if he's going to be a starter. Fully recovered from Tommy John, this coming season will be a big test for his future.

Toronto Blue Jays: RHP John Stilson

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    An All-American as a sophomore at Texas A&M, John Stilson served as a reliever that season and went 9-1 with 10 saves and 114 strikeouts in 79 innings of work.

    He was the ace of the staff the next season and was projected to go in the middle of the first round of the draft before questions about his shoulder dropped him to the third round.

    The Blue Jays used him as a starter and reliever in his pro debut last season. But with a fastball in the high-90s and a max-effort delivery, he may be best served in the bullpen. A strong spring could put him in the Toronto bullpen to start the year.

Washington Nationals: RHP Christian Garcia

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    With the non-tender of John Lannan and free agency of Chien-Ming Wang, the Nationals have lost some depth behind what will once again be a terrific five-man rotation.

    Should someone go down with an injury, it is unclear who would be next in line to join the rotation. But with the team stretching out Christian Garcia and turning him into a starter, he could solidify himself as next in line with a strong performance early on.

    The 27-year-old has eight minor league seasons under his belt, and last year was by far his best. He made 45 appearances, saved 21 games and had a 0.86 ERA and 11.4 K/9. If he can display those same eye-opening tools as a starter, he could be a serious factor in 2013.