10 Underrated Prospects Opening Eyes at Spring Training
With so much attention being paid to the respective performances of baseball’s top prospects during spring training, it’s easy to overlook the equally impressive successes of some of the game's more underrated players.
While top prospects such as Oscar Taveras, Christian Yelich and Gerrit Cole have inevitably captured the headlines, there’s a large contingent of high-ceiling young players quietly enjoying a strong spring in big league camp.
Here’s a look at 10 underappreciated prospects who have put themselves on the major league radar with an eye-opening spring.
Eddie Rosario, 2B, Minnesota Twins
Spring Training Stats: 6-for-11 (.545), HR, 3 RBI
Despite missing a portion of the 2012 season due to surgery to repair a facial fracture—basically, he took a batted line drive to the mouth and nose while shagging during batting practice—Eddie Rosario enjoyed an excellent full-season debut at Low-A Beloit. Appearing in 95 games, the now 21-year-old batted .296/.345/.490 with 48 extra-base hits (12 home runs), 11 stolen bases and 69/31 K/BB.
More importantly, Rosario put up those numbers while making a successful transition from center field to second base. And after an outstanding showing in the offseason Puerto Rico Winter League, the left-handed hitter has continued to swing a hot bat this spring. His experience in the Twins' camp will be put on hold temporarily, as Rosario was chosen to represent Team Puerto Rico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Michael Wacha, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Spring Training Stats: 9.2 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 13 K (4 G)
The team’s first overall draft pick last June out of Texas A&M, Michael Wacha’s brief stint in the minor leagues last season, followed by his dominant showing this spring, has him on the fast track to the major leagues. After signing last June, the 6’6” right-hander registered a 0.86 ERA with 40/4 K/BB in 21 innings across three different levels (including Double-A).
He’s picked up this spring where he left off last summer, missing bats with regularity and showcasing above-average command of a projectable three-pitch mix. Although Wacha isn’t technically in competition with Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly, the 21-year-old is nearly ready to contribute in the major leagues. And despite a likely Opening Day assignment back to either Double-A or Triple-A, he may not be challenged until he reaches the major leagues.
David Freitas, C, Oakland Athletics
Spring Training Stats: 7-for-11 (.636), 5 R, HR
Acquired at the trade deadline last season in the deal that sent Kurt Suzuki to the Nationals, David Freitas joined an A’s system that’s devoid of a long-term solution behind the plate. And after trading Max Stassi to the Astros over the offseason, the 23-year-old could theoretically see time in the major leagues as early as the 2014 season.
Regarded as a defensively sound (but not great) backstop, Freitas has repeatedly held his own at the plate in each minor league season. Last season, which was split between High-A Potomac (Nationals) and Double-A Midland (Athletics), Freitas batted .283/.377/.429 with 22 doubles and 52/39 K/BB in 98 games.
Slated to open the upcoming season back at Double-A, the 23-year-old could start moving quickly if he continues to showcase an intriguing blend of on-base skills and defense.
Stefen Romero, 2B/3B, Seattle Mariners
Spring Training Stats: 7-for-14 (.500), 2 HR, 8 RBI, 4 K
Selected in the 12th round of the 2010 draft out of Oregon State, Stefen Romero has made it clear that he can hit—a ton. Named the organization’s minor league player of the year last season, the right-handed hitter batted .352/.391/.599 with 64 extra-base hits (23 home runs) and 101 RBI in 116 games between the team’s High-A and Double-A affiliates.
Romero has showed no signs of slowing down this spring, as he’s fresh off an eye-opening performance in which he launched two home runs and plated seven runs in an exhibition game last week.
There may not be an opening for the 24-year-old in the major leagues to start the season, but they may have to make room for his bat sometime soon.
Jared Mitchell, OF, Chicago White Sox
Spring Training Stats: 11-for-26 (.423), 8 R, 5 XBH (HR), 5 K
The White Sox’s first-round draft pick in 2009 out of Louisiana State, Jared Mitchell’s once-promising career was quickly derailed when he suffered a torn ankle ligament after colliding with the outfield wall during his first big league camp in 2010.
After missing the entire season, the toolsy outfielder has been slow to develop. However, he finally turned the corner in 2012—at least by his standards—when he batted .237/.358/.420 with 48 extra-base hits and 21 stolen bases in 130 games between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. But while his bat and secondary skills took a noticeable step forward, the left-handed hitter still struggles to make consistent contact, as he was fanned 179 times last season in 455 at-bats (25.4 percent).
Having said that, Mitchell has looked sharp in all facets of the game this spring and has even seen time at the top of the team’s batting order. He may not be ready to break camp with the White Sox, but the 24-year-old appears to be well on his way toward a late-season call-up to the major leagues.
Michael Choice, OF, Oakland Athletics
Spring Training Stats: 13-for-33 (.394), 4 XBH (HR), 9 RBI, 5 K
After launching 30 home runs in his first full season in the minor leagues in 2011, Michael Choice got off to an unexpected slow start at Double-A last year. And just when he finally started to put things together and catch fire, the right-handed hitter suffered a fractured hand (via hit-by-pitch) that prematurely ended his campaign in July.
However, the 23-year-old outfielder is off to a blistering start this spring and turning plenty of heads in A’s camp. It’s hard to say exactly where Choice’s bat will fit in the A’s' already overcrowded outfield, though it’s a relatively safe bet that he still reaches the major leagues later in the 2013 season.
Michael Olmsted, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Spring Training Stats: 2 SV, 6 IP, 3 H, ER, 3 BB, 11 K (6 G)
Left off the Boston Red Sox’s 40-man roster following the 2012 season, the Brewers selected Michael Olmsted in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft in early December. The acquisition has the potential to shore up the team’s bullpen, which has featured its share of closers over the last few seasons.
In the long-term, Olmsted, a 25-year-old right-hander, could ultimately make John Axford expendable, as the organization has been noticeably grooming him for a late-inning bullpen role over the course of the spring.
Donnie Joseph, LHP, Kansas City Royals
Spring Training Stats: 5 IP, 2 H, ER, 10 K (5 G)
Acquired by the Royals as part of the trade deadline deal that sent Jonathan Broxton to the Reds, Donnie Joseph has the potential to be the next lights-out reliever to emerge from the team’s bullpen this season.
Though he does have some command issues, Joseph, a left-hander, has a track record of missing bats in the minor leagues—a trait that has been amplified in his appearances this spring. However, with a bullpen that’s already loaded with both right- and left-handed power arms, Joseph may have to wait for his opportunity at Triple-A Omaha.
J.T. Realmuto, C, Miami Marlins
Spring Training Stats: 2-for-6, 2 R, HR
Although J.T. Realmuto’s OPS dropped by nearly 150 points last season, his contact rate soared in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League (High-A). From a development standpoint, the 21-year-old took a major step forward on both sides of the ball.
The injury to veteran backstop Jeff Mathis has opened the door for all Marlins' catching prospects to receive extended playing time this spring. And thus far, Realmuto has made the most of his limited opportunities, including his first spring home run over the weekend. He may not be major league ready until late 2014
Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays
Spring Training Stats: 7 IP, 1 H, 3 BB, 5 K (3 G)
After battling both control and command issues throughout his minor league career, Chris Archer finally broke through in the majors last season by registering a 3.40 FIP and 11.05 K/9 last season in nearly 30 innings with the Rays. His lightning-quick arm and swing-and-miss arsenal made a strong impression on the organization to the point where the 24-year-old right-hander is in the mix for the final spot in the team’s Opening Day starting rotation.
While the battle wages on, it’s impossible to ignore how sharp Archer has been this spring, as he’s only allowed one hit over seven scoreless frames. He may not be the most polished of the candidates, but his sheer stuff should ultimately give him the edge.