Christian Yelich is playing like he belongs.
With the World Baseball Classic in full swing, a large contingent of prospects continue to receive extended playing time this spring. As a result, organizations are getting a longer look at their top prospects in big league camp as they try to determine each player’s proximity to the major leagues.
And although very few prospects will have the opportunity to open the 2013 season in the major leagues, there’s an endless list of players who, in theory, are auditioning for a role with the team later this year and beyond.
Here’s a look at the hottest prospects at spring training through the first three weeks of games.
*All stats courtesy of MLB.com and include games through March 12, 2013.
Stefen Romero, 2B-3B, Seattle Mariners
Romero would have appeared on this list for the second straight week, but one day after hitting two home runs and tallying seven RBI, he strained an oblique muscle while swinging and was forced to leave the game.
Nick Castellanos, OF, Detroit Tigers
Spring Stats: .400/.520/.600, HR, 5 RBI, 3/5 K/BB (12 G)
After a hot start to his third big league camp, Castellanos’ playing time has been limited. As a result, the Tigers’ top prospect has gone 2-for-11 since the beginning of March.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
Spring Stats: .348/.348/1.000, 4 HR, 10 RBI (9 G)
After homering in three consecutive games, Arenado’s playing time has been sparse over the last week.
Spring Stats: .370/.362/.522, 7 R, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 5/0 K/BB (14 G)
The Diamondbacks continue to groom Eaton as their leadoff hitter and center fielder for the upcoming season. Having already amassed 46 at-bats this spring, the 5’8” left-handed hitter has passed all tests.
Spring Stats: 8.2 IP, 2.08 ERA, .138 BAA, 6/2 K/BB (4 G)
After two shaky appearances to begin spring training, Ventura, 21, has been unhittable in two starts this month. Seriously; like, no hits. The youngest player in Royals’ camp, the right-hander has showcased a lightning-quick arm that unleashes plus-plus fastballs on opposing hitters.
He still has a ways to go in terms of his developing a breaking ball and improving his overall command, but there’s certainly a lot to like in Ventura.
Here are a few choice quotes from players and managers from around the league who witnessed his latest start (via Dick Kaegel of MLB.com):
"The umpire, Ron Kulpa, came over in the second inning and he said, 'Who is this kid? And, wow!'" (Ned) Yost said. "He goes, 'This kid is some kind of nasty.' And I said, 'Yeah, he's pretty good.'"
"We call him 'Ace' for a reason because he's got unbelievable stuff," second baseman Johnny Giavotella said. "You could just see the velocity explode out of his hand. It's just a pleasure to be out there on the same field with somebody that has that kind of talent."
"He's got an electric fastball, upper 90s," said first baseman Billy Butler. "I see a guy that commands the ball well, I see a guy that's not far away from the big leagues. I see a guy that can contribute this year for us, if we need him."
"We faced the best arm we've seen this spring," (Bruce) Bochy said.
Spring Stats: 11 IP, 1.64 ERA, .220 BAA, 14/1 K/BB (4 G)
Acquired from the Dodgers last season as part of the blockbuster trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett (and Nick Punto) to the west coast, Webster has opened a lot of eyes this spring with his plus fastball (he apparently scraped 99 mph in his first spring appearance) and ability to miss bats.
After spending the entire 2012 season at Double-A between both organizations, Webster may be ticketed for Triple-A to begin the year. If the right-hander can improve his overall command, which is hard to gauge in spring training regardless of what stats may suggest, then there’s a strong chance he'll reach the major leagues later this season.
Spring Stats: .464/.484/.857, 5 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 7/0 K/BB (14 G)
With Brian McCann’s status for Opening Day in question, Gattis is doing everything in his power to earn a spot on the Braves’ bench. Although he’s 26 years old and doesn’t fit the prototypical prospect mold, the 6’4” right-handed hitter is a natural hitter with tons of raw power. He’s swung the bat especially well over his last three games, as he’s gone 5-for-8 with three doubles, one home run and seven RBI.
Spring Stats: .424/.412/.606, 3 2B, HR, 6 RBI, 10/0 K/BB (16 G)
As is the case with most Cuban hitters, Puig certainly doesn’t get cheated at the plate. And because he’s so strong, a lot of weakly hit balls still manage to find holes.
That being said, the right-handed hitter has also hit his share of rockets this spring and continues to receive playing time at both corner outfield positions. Although he needs seasoning in the minor leagues, Puig could ultimately make the team if Carl Crawford isn’t ready by Opening Day.
Spring Stats: 9.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, .167 BAA, 13/1 K/BB (4 G)
Of all the high-profile prospects in Cardinals’ camp this spring, Michael Wacha has arguably been the most impressive.
After an ascension to Double-A in his professional debut last season, the right-hander has showcased advanced command of three pitches this spring, each of which is thrown on an impressive downhill plane.
He’s not in the mix for the final spot in the rotation, but Wacha is definitely closer to the major leagues than anyone expected.
Spring Stats: .371/.378/.800, 9 R, 4 HR, 10 RBI, SB, 6/1 K/BB (10 G)
Competing with Joe Benson and Darin Mastroianni to break camp as the Twins’ Opening Day center fielder, Hicks was already having a solid spring before he erupted with a three-home run, six RBI game last week.
While his plate discipline still leaves something to be desired, Hicks’ overall upside could be enough to earn him a spot on the 25-man roster.
Spring Stats: 14 IP, 1.29 ERA, .087 BAA, 18/4 K/BB (4 G)
Teheran has been absolutely dealing this spring. After allowing just four total hits over his first three outings, the right-hander no-hit the Cardinals over fine innings in his latest start.
Thankfully, it appears as though the mechanical issues that led to a dismal 2012 campaign are long gone, as Teheran has showcased excellent command of his entire arsenal throughout the strike zone. It’s also worth noting that his breaking ball is a lot sharper this spring.
At this point, Teheran is almost a lock to break camp as the Braves’ fifth starter. Everything about him this spring, including his pure stuff and confident demeanor, suggest that he’s ready for the challenge. I’m not saying he’ll blank every team as he has thus far, but he could ultimately put together a very successful rookie campaign.
Spring Stats: .536/.629/.714, 7 R, 2 2B, HR, 4 RBI, 4/5 K/BB (13 G)
After a quick ascension to Double-A in his professional debut last season, Bradley’s outstanding spring may ensure a debut in the major leagues later in the year.
The left-hander has thrived at the top of Boston’s order this spring, showcasing a very impressive hit tool as well as mature on-base skills. His lack of power doesn’t profile well at a corner outfield position—which may be Bradley’s clearest path to playing time in the major leagues.
Even though he cooled off during the second week of exhibition games, the 22-year-old has been on fire over his last four contests, as he’s gone 7-for-10 with a home run and pair of walks.
I still don’t see him making the Opening Day roster, though he’ll at least force the organization to make a difficult decision later in the month.
Spring Stats: .371/.476/.771, 11 R, 3 2B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 3/5 K/BB (15 G)
Yelich may not have a game of experience above High-A, but one would never know it by watching him this spring. While a few other players may have more impressive numbers, the smooth-swinging left-handed hitter has been the most impressive position prospect in big league camp.
From taking Matt Harvey deep on the first pitch of the game to working deep counts, the 21-year-old has both played and carried himself like a major league player.
He’s still probably a year away from debuting—though there’s a chance he debuts later this season—but once he arrives, I wouldn’t be shocked if he quickly emerges as one of the top hitters in the game.