The best part about MLB spring training is that fans get a glimpse of prospects they don't get to see regularly. In some cases, these players turn in great springs and earn themselves a roster spot for Opening Day.
This year has been no exception. A bevy of players are starting to make some noise in the early days of spring training in hopes that they will get a spot playing in the show.
One name that many seem to be talking about is St. Louis Cardinals outfield prospect Oscar Taveras (pictured). He's a fine lefty bat who plays a good center field, but can he beat out incumbent Jon Jay for the final spot, or even make the team as a fourth outfielder?
A similar case can be made for Zoilo Almonte of the New York Yankees, though his path is a bit clearer now that Curtis Granderson is out until May with a broken forearm.
Along with some others, these men are proving to be surprising commodities in spring training, so fans and experts should start watching them more closely.
Barret Loux, P, Chicago Cubs
The story of Barret Loux is an interesting one, and also a bit sad. The hard-throwing righty was taken by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the sixth pick in the 2010 draft out of Texas A&M, but he was not signed due to team management's concerns over his shoulder and elbow.
Loux then became a free agent and signed with the Texas Rangers, going 14-1 with a 3.47 ERA and 1.27 WHIP over 25 starts with the Double-A Frisco RoughRiders of the Texas League. He also struck out 100 batters over 127 innings pitched, but the Rangers still traded him to the Chicago Cubs when the season was over.
It looked like the 23-year-old would begin the season in the minors once again, but Loux now has an opportunity to make himself stand out. Staff ace Matt Garza has a strained lat muscle, and, according to Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, could start the season on the disabled list.
Loux has only appeared in one game thus far, but threw two scoreless innings while giving up two hits, plus a walk and a strikeout. If he can make the most of the rest of his appearances and set himself apart from the rest of the pack, Loux can definitely make an impact for the Cubs either as a starter or as a hard thrower out of the bullpen.
Leonys Martin, OF, Texas Rangers
Now that Josh Hamilton is gone, the Rangers have a choice to make as to who plays center field. As of now, the men battling for the position are Craig Gentry, Julio Borbon and Leonys Martin.
At this point, I'm expecting Martin to win the job. The 24-year-old is a veteran of the Cuban leagues. He is a solid lefty bat and is currently batting .312 with two RBI and a stolen base in spring training this year. That far outpaces the production of both Gentry and Borbon thus far.
The fact is that Martin is a five-tool player with an incredibly high MLB ceiling. If Texas wants to be able to compete in the AL West this season, they'll be sure to give him some extra attention.
Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
At just 20 years old, Taveras has a tremendously high ceiling. A power-hitting lefty outfielder, he hit .321 with 23 homers and 94 RBI for Double-A Springfield in 2012.
As a result, he's been getting a great deal of attention in spring training. The man is hitting .333 with one home run and five RBI thus far, but there are a couple of obstacles in his way.
First, the Cardinals' outfield is already set, with Matt Holliday in left field, Carlos Beltran in right and Jon Jay in center. Jay is having a fine spring of his own, hitting .375 over his first three games, so his job is safe barring an injury or massive collapse.
Moreover, Taveras has yet to draw a single walk in four games. Plate patience and on-base percentage (OBP) are becoming more and more important with each passing season, so Taveras needs to show improvement there if he wants to take a step closer towards earning a roster spot, be it as a starter or fourth outfielder.
Zoilo Almonte, OF, New York Yankees
The Yankees have a great void to fill now that Curtis Granderson is on the shelf with a broken forearm, and Almonte can expect to see some extended playing time in spring training as a result.
Already one of the team's most underrated prospects, he and Melky Mesa are the two men competing for Granderson's spot in the lineup. Of the two, my money is on Almonte.
Through three spring training games, Almonte has hit .400 with a home run and three RBI, and has the advantage of being a switch-hitter.
On top of that, besides blazing speed, Almonte is a fairy well-rounded outfielder. Playing for the Double-A Trenton Thunder last season, he hit .277 with 21 home runs and 70 RBI. At the age of 23, the sky is the limit for this young man.
Look for him to take full advantage of his opportunities over the coming weeks, and to make his MLB debut in the outfield on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.