Breakout Stars for All 30 MLB Teams at Spring Training's Midway Point

Doug MeadCorrespondent IMarch 12, 2013

Breakout Stars for All 30 MLB Teams at Spring Training's Midway Point

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    With MLB spring training nearing the midway point, the push is on for many players to secure roster spots.

    Players coming off sub-par seasons are looking to find their groove early on. Others are simply pushing for a job at the major league level. Younger ones are looking to make an impact in the big league. Whatever the reasons, players for every MLB team have already impressed with their exhibition play thus far.

    Here is one player from each club who has broken out of the gates with a hot start during spring training.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Adam Eaton

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    With all of the upheaval that occurred during the offseason with the Arizona Diamondbacks outfield, there was uncertainty heading into spring training as to exactly what the starting outfield would look like.

    Youngster Adam Eaton is trying valiantly to insert his name into that conversation. Likely competing with Gerardo Parra for playing time in center field, Eaton has done nothing but impress in early Cactus League games.

    Eaton added his second home run of the spring on Monday against the Chicago Cubs, crushing a two-run blast over the left-center field wall off Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija.

    Eaton is now hitting .395 with two homers, nine RBI, two stolen bases and a .945 OPS. Eaton may be stating a case for regular time in center field and to be the Diamondbacks' leadoff hitter.

Atlanta Braves: Evan Gattis

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    The Atlanta Braves are going to have a major decision to make at the end of the season when catcher Brian McCann is eligible for free agency for the first time.

    With the way that Evan Gattis is currently performing, he just might make the Braves' decision even harder.

    Gattis has done nothing but hit well since he was drafted as a catcher by the Braves in the 23rd round of the 2010 MLB draft. In three minor league seasons, he has hit .308 with 44 home runs and a .920 OPS.

    This past winter, he tore up Venezuelan League pitching, hitting .303 with 16 home runs, a league-leading .595 slugging percentage and .960 OPS in just 195 at-bats.

    Gattis has continued his hot play during spring training as well. Thus far, he is hitting a healthy .464 with two home runs, 10 RBI and a 1.341 OPS.

    The catching job is McCann's when he works his way back from surgery to repair a torn labrum. But Gattis is certainly making a case for inclusion on the Braves roster.

Baltimore Orioles: Dylan Bundy

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    It is widely believed that at some point in the 2013 season, the 20-year-old pitching prospect will be contributing for the Baltimore Orioles.

    He's certainly given no thought to the contrary based on his start thus far in spring training.

    Bundy, the Orioles' first-round pick in the 2011 MLB draft, has thrown five innings thus far, allowing just one unearned run on four hits with four strikeouts.

    He combined with fellow pitching prospect Kevin Gausman to beat the Boston Red Sox on Saturday at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers. Bundy has some control issues and was able to work out of a jam in the bottom of the second, retiring Jose Iglesias on a groundout with a runner at third base.

    Learning to limit the damage is part of the learning process for pitchers, and not always the easiest task in the world. Despite shoddy defense behind him, Bundy was able to escape further damage. Definitely a good sign as he continues to mature.

Boston Red Sox: Jackie Bradley

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    Boston Red Sox outfield prospect Jackie Bradley wasn't expected to have an impact at the major league level until 2014.

    With the performance he's given in Grapefruit League action thus far, that timetable may be moved up.

    Bradley has been sizzling since the start of spring training. With another three hits on Monday against the Miami Marlins, Bradley is now hitting a stratospheric .519 with a home run and four RBI. He has also registered more walks (five) than strikeouts (four), definitely impressive for a 22-year-old prospect.

    Bradley has also impressed with his work as a baserunner and manning his space in the outfield. With the injury concerns that always seem to follow Jacoby Ellsbury, combined with the uncertainty of Shane Victorino as an everyday outfielder, Bradley's ascent to the majors could come sooner than everyone thinks.

Chicago Cubs: Brian Bogusevic

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    Outfielder Brian Bogusevic was non-tendered at the end of last season by the Houston Astros after hitting just .203 with seven home runs and 28 RBI.

    He's now just trying to win a roster spot for the Chicago Cubs as a bench player.

    Thus far, he's stating a pretty solid case.

    Bogusevic is hitting .440 in 14 Cactus League games thus far for the Cubs. While no one is expecting Bogusevic to be a .400 hitter in the majors, he has certainly become just that at an opportune time.

Chicago White Sox: Nate Jones

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    In his rookie year last season for the Chicago White Sox, relief pitcher Nate Jones proved to be a nice find in the bullpen, posting an 8-0 record and 2.39 ERA in 65 appearances.

    This spring, Jones is picking up right where he left off.

    He has appeared in four spring training games for the White Sox, allowing no runs on just three hits with three strikeouts in 3.1 innings.

    Jones will be an important component of the White Sox bullpen in 2013, acting as a seventh/eighth-inning reliever in support of closer Addison Reed. It seems like he will avoid the sophomore slump.

Cincinnati Reds: Shin-Soo Choo

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    If Cincinnati Reds center fielder Shin-Soo Choo is trying to make a strong impression on his new teammates, he's doing a pretty good job so far.

    Choo is hitting a hot .421 with a .476 on-base percentage and three stolen bases thus far for the Reds in Cactus League play.

    Cincinnati's leadoff hitters were abysmal last season, hitting .208 with a .254 on-base percentage. Seeing what Choo has done already early in spring training has to be a welcome sight indeed.

Cleveland Indians: Nick Swisher

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    Apparently, right fielder/first baseman Nick Swisher likes his new surroundings in Cleveland.

    OK, so he's not actually in Cleveland yet. But he certainly enjoys hitting in Arizona.

    Swisher, signed to a four-year, $56 million contract during the offseason, has a .444 batting average with three home runs and 10 RBI in exhibition play up to this point. He will likely play first base most of the time for manager Terry Francona.

    The position switch certainly isn't messing with his swing.

Colorado Rockies: Nolan Arenado

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    The Colorado Rockies No. 2 prospect (according to MLB.com) is making a bid to become the starting third baseman.

    Nolan Arenado is hitting .348 and leads the Rockies with four home runs and 10 RBI in spring training.

    The problem, however, is that Chris Nelson is ahead of him on the depth chart. Nelson hit .344 in the second half last season with 18 extra-base hits.

    About the only way Arenado makes the team out of spring training is if the Rockies trade Nelson, which isn't likely at this point.

    But Arenado has assuredly turned heads with his play this spring.

Detroit Tigers: Darin Downs

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    Left-handed reliever Darin Downs was drafted all the way back in 2003 by the Chicago Cubs. He finally made his major league debut last season with the Detroit Tigers, posting a 3.48 ERA in 18 appearances.

    This season, Downs is fighting for an available spot in the Tigers bullpen as a lefty specialist. He's giving it a good shot in spring training.

    Downs has appeared in six games, giving up just four hits in seven innings with seven strikeouts and just one walk. Opposing hitters are batting just .160 against Downs in Grapefruit League play.

    Tigers manager Jim Leyland acknowledged Downs' solid start as well.

    "I'm very pleased with what I've seen from him," Leyland told Jason Beck of MLB.com. "I like him a lot. He's done a good job. You know, I was almost dumbfounded when I saw that he only pitched 20 innings for us [last year]. It seemed like he pitched more than that. …

    "I thought he did a very good job and he's had a very good spring. ... He's in the mix."

Houston Astros: Brandon Barnes

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    Houston Astros outfielder Brandon Barnes has been with the organization since 2005, longer than most of the players in camp right now.

    Yet he's still struggling to gain a roster spot with the major league club.

    Barnes finally got a shot last year, earning a promotion in August. Barnes hit just .204 during his brief time with Houston with one home run and seven RBI in 43 games.

    Barnes knew heading into spring training he was going to need a hot camp in order to win a roster spot, especially on a team loaded with outfielders like J.D. Martinez, Fernando Martinez and Rick Ankiel who are also in the mix.

    "I'm just going out there to help the team win every day, whether it's with my legs or coming off the bench to play defense or starting the game," Barnes told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. "It's always good at the end of the spring to make the team, but I'm not looking at that right now. I'm going out there, working every day and playing my game."

    Barnes is doing his part, hitting .381 with three home runs and two stolen bases. Whether it's enough is up to manager Bo Porter, but Barnes is making it a tough decision for the first-year manager.

Kansas City Royals: Alex Gordon

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    Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon doesn't have to worry about earning a roster spot; he's more than settled in as a key contributor.

    However, the two-time Gold Glove Award winner is playing this spring like he's trying to earn that spot.

    Gordon is on fire in Cactus League play, hitting .520 with two home runs, six RBI and a 1.411 OPS. His offense the past two seasons has added a lot to the Royals, as he led the majors last year with 51 doubles.

    Considering his start in spring training, Gordon seems hell-bent on continuing his offensive improvement.

Los Angeles Angels: Hank Conger

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    Los Angeles Angels catcher Hank Conger knew that with the departure of Bobby Wilson during the offseason, he would have a decent chance to back up Chris Iannetta behind the plate for the 2013 season.

    Conger has done more than enough offensively this spring. It may be his defense that ultimately decides his fate.

    He has hit just .201 in parts of three seasons with the Angels, but so far, he is hitting .412 with two home runs and a team-leading 10 RBI.

    Conger has also committed several throwing errors as well, however, and is still working on his throwing mechanics.

    The offense has been terrific, but with a former catcher—Mike Scioscia—as the manager, Conger's future in Anaheim could be dictated by his defense.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Yasiel Puig

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    With only 23 games of professional experience under his belt, it's a safe bet that Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig won't be in the plans for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013.

    But he's certainly giving them a positive glimpse into the future.

    Puig, signed by the Dodgers last June to a seven-year, $42 million contract, is raking in spring training thus far. He is hitting .452 with one home run and six RBI in Cactus League play.

    Puig will likely start the season at the Advanced Single-A or Double-A level, but at the rate he's progressing, it won't be long before he's pushing for playing time at the major league level.

Miami Marlins: Wade LeBlanc

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    Wade LeBlanc is slated to be one of the starters in the rotation for the Miami Marlins during the upcoming season.

    LeBlanc posted a 3.67 ERA in 25 appearances for Miami last year, including a 4.18 ERA in nine starts. However, the way he's pitching so far in spring training, he's bidding to become the Marlins' ace.

    He has breezed through his three outings in Grapefruit League play, allowing no runs and six hits in nine innings, including seven strikeouts and no walks.

    In a season that promises to be dismal, LeBlanc is looking to brighten the picture in the starting rotation.

Milwaukee Brewers: Carlos Gomez

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    Milwaukee Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez came into his own last season, hitting .260 with 19 home runs, 51 RBI and 37 stolen bases.

    Now firmly implanted in his everyday role, he made the tough decision of not participating in the World Baseball Classic with his native Dominican Republic.

    Gomez told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he simply wanted to take the next step in his major league career.

    Via Haudricourt:

    This year is really important to me for my career. I'm going to take advantage of spring training because if I go to the WBC that is going to be wasted time for me. I won't have the time I need to prepare for the year I want. I think it will help more for me to stay here and prepare for the season.

    It was a tough decision. It's a great experience to represent your country at that level. But, personally, my future and my career is more important, and my job for my city.

    Gomez may have made the right decision. Thus far in Cactus League play, he is hitting .529 with one home run, five walks and two stolen bases.

Minnesota Twins: Justin Morneau

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    If you include his stats from his play in Round 1 of the World Baseball Classic, Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau is on fire this spring.

    Morneau hit .471 with one home run and eight RBI before he left to play for Canada in the WBC. In three first-round games for Canada, he hit .636 with three more RBI. In total, he has hit .536 with a homer and 11 RBI in nine games.

    I think it's safe to say that Morneau is finally free of the concussion-related injuries that curtailed his career. He's ready to rake once again.

New York Mets: Jonathon Niese

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    New York Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese had the best year of his career last season, posting a 13-9 record and 3.40 ERA in 30 starts.

    In Grapefruit League play so far, Niese is working on continuing his development.

    He has made it look easy, giving up no runs and just four hits in 7.2 innings of work. Opponents are only hitting .160 off him as well.

    With R.A. Dickey off to Toronto and Johan Santana's status uncertain at this point, Niese will be expected to produce. He seems to be up for the challenge.

New York Yankees: David Phelps

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    New York Yankees pitcher David Phelps will probably start the season in the bullpen, unless Phil Hughes won't be ready for Opening Day.

    If Phelps is called upon to cover for Hughes while he recovers from a bulging disc, the Yankees should be safe.

    Phelps has thrown 14 innings in four appearances for the Yankees, giving up just one run and 10 hits with six strikeouts.

    He stepped up and started 11 MLB games last year, posting a 3.34 ERA. He may be called upon to do the same this year as well.

Oakland Athletics: Shane Peterson

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    Oakland Athletics corner outfield prospect Shane Peterson seemed to turn a corner last season with Triple-A Sacramento. He hit .389 with seven home runs and a .484 OBP in just over 150 at-bats following his promotion.

    So far, he's carried that momentum into the spring. Peterson is now hitting .471 with a home run and six RBI in 15 games, and manager Bob Melvin has certainly taken notice.

    Via Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News:

    "Peterson, I don't even know what to say," said Melvin. "He only gets two at-bats again and gets two more hits. Man, I can't remember the last time somebody's made this kind of impression every single day."

    Peterson is among a crowded mix of outfielders in A's camp. His play so far is absolutely adding some competition.

Philadelphia Phillies: Domonic Brown

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    Is this the year that outfield prospect Domonic Brown finally realizes his potential with the Philadelphia Phillies?

    The Phillies have invested considerable time and effort into Brown's development since he was drafted out of high school in 2006. Brown has yet to mature at the major league level, hitting just .236 in parts of three seasons.

    However, during Grapefruit League play thus far, Brown is on a roll, hitting .432 with three home runs and four RBI. He has more walks (six) than strikeouts (five), showing a level of patience at the plate that presents a good sign.

    With newcomer Delmon Young still recovering from offseason ankle surgery, it's on Brown to step up and deliver early on for the Phillies. He appears ready to meet that challenge.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Starling Marte

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    Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte made his debut in July of last year. However, after 23 games, he landed on the disabled list with an oblique injury. He recovered to hit .257 with five home runs and 17 RBI along with 12 stolen bases.

    Now fully healthy and virtually assured of a starting spot, Marte is making sure he doesn't lose his opportunity.

    In 10 games, he has hit .375 with three stolen bases. At just 24 years of age Marte figures to be a nice complement alongside Andrew McCutchen in center field, and the Pirates have much to look forward to with that duo in the outfield.

San Diego Padres: Chase Headley

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    San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley caught fire in the second half last year, hitting .308 with 23 home runs and 73 RBI after the All-Star break.

    Headley has carried that magic into spring training as well. He is currently hitting .500 with three RBI.

    His rise to stardom was certainly a bonus last year, and based on his hot start thus far, the Padres will be reaping the rewards once again in 2013.

San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt

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    San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt seemed to make a breakthrough last year, hitting .275 with seven home runs and 56 RBI.

    He's carrying through with that in Cactus League play. Belt is hitting .455 with four home runs and nine RBI, leading the team in both categories.

    He is still just 24 years of age, so his continued development means a lot for the future of the Giants at first base.

Seattle Mariners: Tom Wilhelmsen

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    Tom Wilhelmsen stepped up in the role as closer last season for the Seattle Mariners. He posted 29 saves with a 2.50 ERA and 9.9 K/9 rate.

    So far in Cactus League play, Wilhelmsen is blowing through lineups in similar fashion.

    Now firmly entrenched in the closer's role, Wilhelmsen seems to be much more relaxed, and his effort is showing that as well. He has given up just three hits in five innings of work with two walks and six strikeouts.

    The Mariners bullpen will be in excellent shape if he carries that effort into regular season play.

St. Louis Cardinals: Shane Robinson

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    Shane Robinson appeared in 102 games last year for the St. Louis Cardinals, serving mainly as a pinch-hitter and defensive replacement.

    He has been lights out since spring training started, hitting .500 with three home runs and 11 RBI. He leads the Cardinals in hits, home runs, RBI, doubles and OPS.

    His job as the fourth outfielder is likely secure.

Tampa Bay Rays: Josh Lueke/Brandon Gomes

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    There may be just one spot available in the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen, and Josh Lueke is doing the best he can to to secure the position.

    Lueke has not done himself proud as of yet in his brief major league career, posting a 7.25 ERA in 28 overall appearances.

    But in Grapefruit League play, Lueke has given up just one run on six hits in five appearances. Unfortunately for Lueke, his main competitor, Brandon Gomes, has a spotless ERA in his four appearances.

    Either way, it's still an encouraging sign for manager Joe Maddon as he prepares his final 25-man roster.

Texas Rangers: Jeff Baker

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    Infielder Jeff Baker arrived in camp for the Texas Rangers as a non-roster invitee. He could end up leaving camp with a coveted roster spot.

    Baker has done nothing but impress, hitting .500 with four RBI. Baker has the pressure of trying to win a job over prospects Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt.

    He certainly hasn't let the pressure get to him in any way.

Toronto Blue Jays: Adam Lind

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    The Toronto Blue Jays made a bevy of moves this offseason to bolster their roster, including their offense. But they still need returning veterans like Adam Lind to contribute as well.

    Lind suffered through a demotion to the minors last season before rebounding to hit better in the second half. He ended up hitting .255 with 11 home runs and 45 RBI.

    So far in Grapefruit League play, he appears to be taking that second-half improvement into the new season. He is hitting .440 with one home run and four RBI.

    Lind will be a key component for the Blue Jays offense, and he is already playing like he's rejuvenated.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper

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    The 2012 National League Rookie of the Year Award winner isn't taking anything for granted this spring.

    Bryce Harper has been sharp so far, hitting .438 with two home runs and four RBI. As the starting left fielder, Harper will be looking to improve on a season that was certainly impressive.

    Thus far, he's off to a good start.

     

    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.