Adam Eaton: Potential. Fantasy. Beast.
Even though there are countless prospects putting up big numbers this spring, only a select few will open the 2013 season on big-league rosters.
That could change in the upcoming weeks, though, as there are still several position battles yet to unfold. Plus, due to the World Baseball Classic and early start to spring training this year, it’s possible that an injury to a major-league player could open the door for a prospect, similar to the Chase Utley-Freddy Galvis scenario last season in the Phillies' camp.
At the same time, a handful of highly regarded prospects appear to have already secured a spot on their team’s Opening Day roster. (That’s also coming from the guy who thought Chris Archer would break camp as the Rays’ fifth starter. Whatever.)
Anyway, here’s a look at five prospects who will open the 2013 season in the majors.
Selected by the Twins in the first round of the 2008 draft, Hicks enjoyed an overdue breakout campaign last season, as he batted .286/.384/.460 with 45 extra-base hits, 32 stolen bases and 116/79 K/BB in 129 games for Double-A New Britain.
While his plate discipline is relatively advanced, the projection of his hit tool draws mixed reviews. Having always showcased elite athleticism and loud tools, the 23-year-old finally demonstrated the ability to make swift adjustments.
After trading both Ben Revere and Denard Span during the offseason, the Twins have used the spring to evaluate three in-house candidates, Darin Mastroianni, Joe Benson and Hicks, for the vacant center-field job. As a toolsy switch-hitter with the speed, range and instincts to remain at the position—not to mention arguably the best outfield arm strength in the minor leagues—Hicks clearly has the highest ceiling of the trio, but obviously lacks experience.
Hicks’ strong showing at the plate, highlighted by a three-homer game last week, has only improved his chances of cracking the Opening Day roster. According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, it may only be a matter of days until the organization awards him the job.
Despite thriving as part of the Double-A starting rotation over the first half of the 2012 season, Rosenthal’s heavy plus-plus fastball and swing-and-miss breaking ball expedited his arrival in the majors, and made him a force out of the Cardinals’ bullpen last September.
Then there was his sheer dominance in the postseason, as the 22-year-old right-hander allowed only four baserunners while notching 15 strikeouts (exactly half of the batters he faced) in 8.2 innings between the NLDS and NLCS.
He still has a higher ceiling as a starter, which is why he entered big-league camp as one of three candidates (the others being Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly) vying for the final spot in the Opening Day rotation. However, after a few mediocre appearances early in the spring, the Cardinals officially announced that Rosenthal is headed back to bullpen.
Trust me; the organization wouldn’t relegate the hard-throwing right-hander to the ‘pen for no reason. Expect him to serve as the team’s seventh- or eighth-inning option early in the season.
In the event of an injury to Jason Motte, Rosenthal will presumably be first in line to inherit save opportunities.
Thanks to a legitimate plus-plus fastball that sits between 97-102 mph, Rondon, 22, notched 29 saves and ascended three different levels in 2012. He nearly reached the major leagues as a September call-up.
At 6’3”, 255 pounds, the hard-throwing right-hander is an imposing presence on the mound, and has all the makings of a future closer.
After Jose Valverde’s implosion during the 2012 playoffs, the Tigers chose not to sign a free-agent closer during the offseason—a decision that was seemingly easier to make with Rondon waiting in the wings. As a result, the right-hander entered camp as the early favorite to win the spot.
However, with a 4.76 ERA and .360 BAA in six appearances this spring, the 22-year-old’s struggles have forced the organization to re-evaluate their ninth-inning situation for the upcoming season. At this point, it seems as though the Tigers may go with “closer by committee,” which would allow them to ease Rondon into the role.
After registering a 2.55 ERA at Triple-A Gwinnett in 2011 as a 20-year-old, Teheran was widely regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball headed into the 2012 season. Unfortunately, the right-hander struggled mightily while repeating the level, as he posted a 5.08 ERA with 97/43 K/BB in 131 innings.
Furthermore, the organization tampered with Teheran’s mechanics throughout the year, which was definitely a major factor in his unexpected regression.
Teheran ultimately reverted back to his original mechanics this offseason, and went on to dominate in Dominican Winter League. As a result, and following the trades of Tommy Hanson to the Angels and Randall Delgado to the Diamondbacks, Teheran entered camp as the favorite to win the final spot in the starting rotation.
So far, the right-hander has been arguably one of the more impressive pitchers among all organizations, as he’s allowed just four hits with 18/4 K/BB in 14 stellar innings.
Although he stands at a diminutive 5’8”, 185 pounds, Eaton, 24, has the potential to be one of the more productive rookies in the majors in 2013.
A 19th-round draft pick out of Miami University (Ohio) in 2010, the left-handed hitter batted .355/.456/.510 over three minor league seasons. More importantly, he held his own as a September call-up last season, and batted .259/.382/.412 with 19 runs scored in 22 games.
The offseason trade of Justin Upton to the Braves created space in the Diamondbacks’ overcrowded outfield, and, as a result, Eaton is a lock to break camp as the team’s center fielder and leadoff hitter.
Considering that he’s raked at every minor-league stop, it should come as no surprise that Eaton is thriving this spring. Having already appeared in 14 games as the Diamondbacks continue to groom him for the upcoming season, the hard-nosed outfielder has made the most of his extending playing time by batting .370/.362/.522 with 17 hits and nine RBI.