OF Jackie Bradley has turned heads this spring.
Due to the start of the World Baseball Classic in early March, this year's spring training exhibition schedule was accelerated by a week to ensure all participants are game-ready. As a result, countless major league players, primarily those not on a WBC roster, are being held out of games until later in the spring. After all, an additional week of spring training is essentially an extra week for a player to sustain an injury.
At the same time, the unique circumstances this spring have also led to extended playing time for many of the game’s top prospects. And even though very few will open the 2013 season in the major leagues, there’s an endless list of players who could take a step closer with an eye-opening spring.
Here’s a look at the hottest prospects at spring training through the first week of games.
Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins
4-for-10, 2 2B, 3 RBI
One of three in-house candidates receiving consideration to break camp as the Twins center fielder, Hicks has collected multiple hits in each of his last two contests. Unfortunately, his competition, Joe Benson and Darin Mastroianni, is also off to a hot start.
Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
3 IP, 3 H, 3/2 K/BB
As expected, Bundy has been Bundy so far this spring. Ranked as the No. 2 overall prospect headed into the 2013 season, as well as the game’s top pitching prospect, the 20-year-old right-hander has already thrown three scoreless innings over two appearances, though he has allowed a handful of baserunners. Bundy’s a long shot to break camp as a member of the Orioles' starting rotation, as an assignment to Double-A—along with fellow pitching prospect Kevin Gausman—would be more beneficial toward his overall development. Having said that, everyone knows that he’s entirely too good to spend the season in the minors.
Matt Adams, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals
5-for-10 (.500), HR, 6 RBI
After batting .244/.286/.384 over 27 games in the major leagues last season, Adams underwent season-ending surgery in mid-August to remove bone spurs in his right elbow. The left-handed hitter has displayed no lingering effects this spring and is off to a hot start with six RBI over his first four games.
Donnie Joseph, LHP, Kansas City Royals
2 IP, 6 K
The lone reliever to appear on this list, Joseph was acquired from the Reds at the trade deadline last season in exchange for Jonathan Broxton. The 25-year-old has always missed plenty of bats over his four-year career in the minors and could potentially open the season in the Royals’ big league bullpen. And if he continues to fan every batter as he’s done this spring—on 24 pitches nonetheless—the organization will have no choice but to make room on the Opening Day roster.
Adam Eaton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
7-for-20 (.350), HR, 4 RBI
Having already amassed more at-bats than any other hitter this spring, Eaton continues to show why he’ll serve as the Diamondbacks' leadoff hitter and center fielder on Opening Day. With four above-average-to-plus tools, the 24-year-old has the potential to be an impact player and fantasy beast over the course of a full major league season.
Kaleb Cowart, 3B, Los Angeles Angels
4-for-9 (.444), 2B, 2 RBI
After a breakout season across both Class-A levels last season, Cowart enters his spring training as the Angels’ top prospect. Thus far, he’s lived up to the title, collecting four hits from the left side while flashing the leather at the hot corner.
6-for-13 (.462), 2 2B, HR, 3 K
Yes, he’s 26 years old and yet to play a game above Double-A, but Gattis can really hit—both for average and power. With few openings on the Braves' Opening Day roster, he’s competing for spot on the team’s bench.
And because Brian McCann is doubtful for the start of the season, Gattis could stick as the backup catcher. He’s also a tolerable corner outfielder, so if the Braves want his bat in the major leagues, they should be able to make that happen.
3 IP, H, 2/1 K/BB
Walker, 20, reaffirmed why he’s ranked as the game’s No. 5 prospect on Wednesday, as the right-hander fired two scoreless frames while notching a pair of strikeouts. Sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball and showcasing a vastly improved cutter in the low 90s, he has the athleticism, size and arsenal to develop into a legitimate ace.
He’ll take a step closer to the major leagues when he opens the 2013 season at Triple-A, but don’t expect him to debut until the following year.
7-for-14 (.500), HR, 2B, 3B, 5 RBI
The A’s top prospect headed into the 2012 season, Choice was finally starting to turn the corner at Double-A when an errant pitch broke his wrist and prematurely ended his season.
Now fully recovered, the former first-rounder has raked to open the spring, including three multi-hit efforts.
5 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 8 K
The Cardinals’ top draft pick in 2012, Wacha dominated during his professional debut last summer, as he registered a 0.86 ERA and .114 BAA with 40/4 K/BB across three levels, including Double-A. Participating in his first big league camp, the right-hander was praised endlessly by Yadier Molina after his outing on Wednesday (which is about as legit as it gets, right?).
Still, Wacha’s likely headed for Double-A or Triple-A to open the season, though he may not be challenged until he reaches the major leagues.
3-for-6 (.500), 4 R, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 2/2 K/BB
After struggling at Double-A following a late-season promotion, Springer is likely headed back to that level to open the 2013 season. However, given the state of the Astros' big league outfield, he has a relatively clear path to the majors.
And if he can build on his impressive performance so far this spring, including a two-home run game on Wednesday, it could put him on the radar for a call-up later this season.
3.1 IP, H, 8/1 K/BB
Magill, a 31st-round draft pick in 2008, enjoyed a breakout season last year at Double-A Chattanooga, as he registered a 3.75 ERA over 146.1 innings and paced the Southern League with 168 strikeouts. The Dodgers added him to the 40-man roster after the season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, and it’s safe to say that the right-hander is officially on the major league radar.
Although he’s been lights-out in both appearances this spring, Magill stands to benefit from a full season at Triple-A, albeit in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. However, if there’s an injury to one of the team’s starters, the 23-year-old could be one of the first arms recalled from the minor leagues.
4-for-13 (.308), 3 HR, 9 RBI
He may not be a clean fit defensively at second base, but Gyorko’s bat could earn him a spot on the Opening Day roster. Despite being tied for the league lead with three home runs in his first five games, the 24-year-old doesn’t actually have as much usable power as it seems. However, and more importantly, his hit tool is good enough to make him a big league regular.
Spring Stats: 5-for-15 (.333), 2B, HR, 5 RBI
The No. 3 overall prospect headed into the 2013 season, Taveras, 20, is revered as the best hitter in the minor leagues. His ability to barrel the ball to all fields is unparalleled among position prospects and will give him a chance to make an immediate impact upon reaching the major leagues.
With four hits and five RBI (highlighted by a grand slam on Thursday) in his last two games, the left-handed-hitting outfielder is already making a case for a spot in the Opening Day outfield. Unfortunately, because he’s blocked at both corner outfield spots by Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran, respectively, Taveras will presumably open the 2013 season at Triple-A. However, expect him to be one of the first hitters recalled from the minor leagues during the first half of the season.
Nick Castellanos: 6-for-9 (.667), HR, 3 RBI, 2/3 K/BB
The Tigers’ top prospect has opened the 2013 season as he did last year: on fire. After taking Jonathan Papelbon deep to right-center on Monday, the 20-year-old turned in a 3-for-3 performance earlier today against the Rays.
No matter how well he hits this spring, it’s incredibly doubtful that he’ll open the season in the major leagues.
8-for-14 (.571), 4 R, 2B, SB
After an outstanding professional debut last summer in which he reached Double-A, Bradley enters the season within striking distance of the major leagues. Although he’s a long shot to make the Opening Day roster, the left-handed hitter’s mature bat, secondary skills and defense have already made a strong impression on the coaching staff and front office.
And with seven hits in his last three games, the 22-year-old will force the team to make a difficult decision in a few weeks.