Top 8 Must-Watch Rookie of the Year Candidates in Spring Training

Doug MeadCorrespondent IFebruary 25, 2013

Top 8 Must-Watch Rookie of the Year Candidates in Spring Training

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    Many outstanding rookies will be getting a chance to strut their stuff over the next five weeks during spring training.

    Courtesy of the upcoming World Baseball Classic, they'll have an extra two weeks and roughly seven to eight more exhibition games to do so as well.

    Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have already etched their names on the Rookie of the Year Award trophy. A fresh batch of candidates are vying to do the same in 2013.

    Here are eight candidates to keep an eye on as spring training continues.

Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers

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    With Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli now out of the picture for the Texas Rangers, they will be looking for new sources of offense.

    While general manager Jon Daniels signed free agents Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski to help replace some of that lost offense, the Rangers will still need contributions from other candidates.

    That infusion could well come from prospect infielder Jurickson Profar.

    The 20-year-old Curacao native got a brief look during a September call-up last year, appearing in nine games and going deep in his first at-bat in the majors.

    Profar also opted not to participate for the Netherlands in the upcoming WBC, choosing instead to work on locking down a roster spot for the Rangers.

    It's likely a smart move for Profar, who could see plenty of time in the middle infield this coming season and make his mark at the plate.

    In a conversation with members of the media on Friday, Rangers owner Nolan Ryan said that Profar needs at-bats and regular playing time to better serve his development.

    Via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

    "I think you put him out there everyday in spring training, give him an opportunity to play short and second, give him an opportunity to get as many at-bats to try to establish a comfort level of where you think he is in his development, see how spring training goes, and at the end of spring training sort it out," Ryan said. "That's the way it has to be approached. That way you have options and you have comfort level of where he is and then what the need of the team is. I think it's a great position to be in."

    With an infield that appears to be set, Profar could be starting his season at Triple-A Round Rock. However, the Rangers won't hesitate to re-call him quickly should the need arise at the major league level.


    Read more here: http://sportsblogs.star-telegram.com/foul_territory/2013/02/nolan-ryan-addresses-josh-hamilton-jurickson-profar-in-media-sitdown.html#storylink=cpy

Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles

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    Based on what was seen from Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Dylan Bundy in his first full professional season, there should be no question he's a clear Rookie of the Year candidate to watch this spring.

    Bundy, selected by the Orioles with the fourth overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft, showed exactly why he was worthy of a first-round pick. He posted a 9-3 record and 2.08 ERA in 23 starts across three minor league levels, earning a late-season call-up and debuting for the O's with two relief appearances.

    Bundy features a high-90s fastball with a solid cutter and developing curveball and changeup. The changeup often registers in the high-80s with late movement.

    His smooth, repeatable delivery allows Bundy to sustain velocity through later innings, and he showed solid command, posting a 2.4 BB/9 rate throughout last season.

    The Orioles have a solid stable of starters to start the season. While Bundy is likely to begin at the Triple-A level, he could easily find himself contributing at the major league level should any of Baltimore's starters falter or get hurt early.

Zack Wheeler, New York Mets

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    In watching 22-year-old prospect Zack Wheeler pitch on Saturday for the New York Mets, it was easy to see why the Mets coveted him so highly when they traded Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants in 2011.

    Wheeler clearly had jitters making his debut for the Mets. Facing the Washington Nationals, he immediately got into a jam.

    Facing a runner on third with one out in the third inning, Wheeler struck out Tyler Moore and Chad Tracy to end the threat. He worked a scoreless fourth inning as well.

    Wheeler, along with Matt Harvey, gives the Mets two potential front-of-the-rotation starters for the foreseeable future.

    That future could begin this season.

    Wheeler throws in the high-90s with ease and features a terrific curveball with 12-6 movement. The changeup is still in a work in progress, but based on what was seen on Saturday, Wheeler certainly appears to be ready for the challenge.

Danny Hultzen, Seattle Mariners

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    After being selected with the second overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft by the Seattle Mariners, southpaw pitcher Danny Hultzen put together an impressive first professional season.

    Hultzen posted a 9-7 record and 3.05 ERA in 25 starts at the Double- and Triple-A levels last year with a 10.5 K/9 rate.

    In his first action this spring, Hultzen breezed through an inning of work against the San Diego Padres on Saturday, striking out his first two batters looking.

    Hultzen is one of several rising pitching stars in the Mariners organization. If he continues pitching like he did on Saturday, he could easily find a spot waiting for him on the roster when the team heads north in five weeks.

Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Prior to the Seattle Mariners' selection of Danny Hultzen at No. 2 in the 2011 MLB draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole with the first.

    Cole made his way through three minor league levels in his first season, posting a 2.80 ERA in 26 starts. By flashing a high-90s fastball and keeping the ball down in the zone, it was easy to see why Cole moved so quickly through the system.

    Cole may not head north with the Pirates when training camp breaks at the end of March, but he is likely to have an impact on the Pirates early in the 2013 season.

Mike Olt, Texas Rangers

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    There is absolutely no doubting the offense supplied by Texas Rangers hitting prospect Mike Olt. In just 95 games last season at Double-A Frisco, Olt hit 28 HR with 82 RBI and a .977 OPS.

    Olt struggled in limited action at the major league level, hitting just .152 in 33 at-bats.

    This spring, the Rangers are looking to add some pop following the departures of Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young. To that end, Olt could help add value to the Rangers by adding flexibility to his resume.

    With Adrian Beltre entrenched at third—Olt's natural position—general manager Jon Daniels, during an online chat with fans, said that Olt will see time at both first base and right field during spring training.

    H/T through DallasNews.com:

    "We've asked Mike to focus on 3B and RF this spring," Daniels said. "If it looks like he'll make the club and we may need him to play some 1B, he would likely work there at that point. Trying to limit the number of things he needs to work on at once."

    Olt possesses plus power with an excellent eye at the plate, drawing 61 walks for a .398 on-base percentage. He'll strike out his fair share, but if he can continue developing solid plate discipline, Olt could easily earn a spot on the roster with his versatility and ability to rake.

Tyler Skaggs, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    The Arizona Diamondbacks have quite a competition going on for the final spot in their starting rotation this spring.

    Tyler Skaggs is among those vying for the role.

    Skaggs was given a look by the Diamondbacks last season, making six late-season starts. While he posted a 5.83 ERA in those starts, it didn't lessen Arizona's expectations of the young southpaw.

    Skaggs will attempt to follow up on Wade Miley's outstanding rookie season and give the Diamondbacks hope for the future with a young and talented rotation.

Travis d'Arnaud, New York Mets

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    While it clearly hurt the New York Mets to lose Cy Young pitcher R.A. Dickey, what they got in return could lessen the blow.

    Catcher Travis d'Arnaud impressed just about everyone last season with a breakout campaign in Triple-A, hitting .333 with 16 home runs and 52 RBI. While a knee injury ended his season after 67 games, the Mets knew they were willing to take a chance on d'Arnaud when the Toronto Blue Jays came calling for Dickey's services.

    While d'Arnaud's offense is considered a plus, he earns positive marks for his defense as well. D'Arnaud has been praised for his game-calling abilities and possesses an above-average arm.

    D'Arnaud could be a fixture behind the plate for the Mets for many years to come. With an anemic offense, d'Arnaud's bat will be a welcome addition as well.

     

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.