9 Spring Training Phenoms We Should Officially Believe In
With outstanding spring training performances, MLB veterans and prospects alike make us believe that they'll thrive in 2013. The following phenoms have adjusted to adversity, and their gaudy stats reflect that.
The listed players with prior major league experience either underachieved last season or simply didn't receive many opportunities. For various reasons, we expect them to be more valuable and/or more involved in 2013.
Also, you'll see other individuals very early in their professional careers who have made convincing cases for inclusion on active rosters.
Some preseason results should be taken lightly, but these nine guys seem completely legitimate.
IF/OF Jordany Valdespin (New York Mets)
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Jordany Valdespin has always been an intriguing athlete. Though primarily known for his agility, the Dominican utility man showed off his power as a rookie in 2012 and is continuing to do so in spring training.
Valdespin is the New York Mets' team leader in home runs and runs batted in.
Valdespin is expected to get chances once the regular season begins, as second baseman Daniel Murphy has fallen behind in rehab from a strained intercostal muscle, so missing Opening Day is a real possibility. In his absence, Valdespin has worked primarily at that position.
He struggled to make contact in the big leagues at age 24, but whiffed just twice through his first 44 spring plate appearances.
Moreover, Valdespin has shown toughness. A Justin Verlander fastball to the loins did little to interrupt his promising preseason.
RHP David Phelps (New York Yankees)
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Very little has gone right for the New York Yankees in spring training. Significant injuries to several key position players have exposed their lack of depth.
At least they can take comfort in knowing that David Phelps is ready to take a rotation spot should a fellow starting pitcher land on the disabled list.
That's how the right-hander got his opportunity last summer, as a substitute for Andy Pettitte.
One could argue that Phelps deserves to break camp with the major league team. Not only does he boast sexy stats (2.37 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 3.00 SO/BB), but he has drawn tough matchups along the way. Baseball-Reference.com tracks the quality of opposing batters and reveals that Phelps is facing scores of legitimate hitters.
The only worry regarding the 26-year-old is whether he'll be able to keep his pitch count reasonable once the regular season begins.
2B Jemile Weeks (Oakland Athletics)
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Jemile Weeks lost his grip on the starting second baseman's job because of a sophomore slump.
However, with Cliff Pennington since traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the door has reopened for him.
Through four spring training games, Weeks was one of baseball's hottest players. He quickly racked up three extra-base hits and five runs batted in.
Then, unfortunately, he missed 12 days of action with a shoulder injury, eventually returning on March 14.
His stiffest competition comes from Jed Lowrie, but he'll likely shift over to shortstop, anyway. Scott Sizemore has issues putting the ball in play, while Weeks still has an impressive .409/.444/.636 batting line (granted, in limited plate appearances).
Though Weeks is a flawed player with limited power and defensive questions, his speed and contact ability should be enough to make him a staple in the Oakland Athletics lineup.
3B Nolan Arenado (Colorado Rockies)
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Just as a four-game hitless streak was turning Nolan Arenado fans into skeptics, the third baseman responded with an excellent afternoon (3-for-4, RBI, 2 R).
The Colorado Rockies have very long odds of contending in 2013, but there's no reason to leave Arenado in the minor leagues if he's ready for the next challenge. He has been battling very advanced pitchers (via Baseball-Reference.com), yet slugging as well as anybody in the Cactus League.
On his best days, competitor Chris Nelson is an average player, while Arenado (not yet 22 years old) has so much more potential.
The latter will someday be successful with the Rockies, even if he isn't with them on Opening Day.
LHP Donnie Joseph (Kansas City Royals)
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Bob Dutton of The Kansas City Star details the wholesale mechanical changes that have transformed Donnie Joseph from scuffling prospect to probable bullpen piece.
He only joined the Kansas City Royals organization last summer and immediately dealt with command issues (13 BB, 5 WP in 17.1 IP).
Now, after eliminating the hitch in his delivery and balancing his body weight, Joseph has thrived. He didn't walk a batter until March 18. The lone Royal with more strikeouts in spring training is starter Ervin Santana.
Joseph's biting slider overwhelms even the best left-handed batters.
C Jason Castro (Houston Astros)
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Every Houston Astros player flew under the radar during the dog days of 2012. It was clear that the club would finish with baseball's worst winning percentage, so there was little interest in those players who actually did decent jobs.
Former first-round draft pick Jason Castro batted nearly .300 from June through August. After hitting just .205/.286/.287 in his debut season, the overall numbers jumped to .257/.334/.401.
In spring training, the catcher leads the Astros in a host of offensive categories: total bases, slugging, on-base percentage, etc.
Castro is healthy and veteran Chris Snyder is out of the picture, which means Houston will use him behind the plate regularly.
OF Jackie Bradley (Boston Red Sox)
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Jackie Bradley deserves to make the jump directly from Double-A to the Boston Red Sox.
He already has special defensive skills, particularly good instincts and throwing accuracy. The non-roster invitee is also dominating with a bat in his hands.
We've seen him take a disciplined approach at a time of year when most players commit to the first reachable pitch. Instead, Bradley has drawn eight walks through 19 contests.
If Stephen Drew and David Ortiz don't get well soon, Boston will call upon the young outfielder to produce from the left side in April.
OF Domonic Brown (Philadelphia Phillies)
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Prior to this spring, the Philadelphia Phillies didn't believe in Domonic Brown.
Instead, they focused their attention on reputable free-agent outfielders over the winter. Reluctant to spend big bucks, they hilariously brought in Delmon Young as an "upgrade."
But with Young nursing an ankle injury, Brown has impressed as an everyday player.
He enters March 20 with a .397/.465/.714 batting line and six home runs, which leads the Grapefruit League. Even a large sample size—he's No. 1 in plate appearances—has done nothing to dilute his numbers.
Though Brown may never be elite in the field, he certainly belongs in the starting lineup.
RHP Julio Teheran (Atlanta Braves)
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Just watch highlights from Julio Teheran's latest start, which all but assured him a spot in the Atlanta Braves rotation.
For the fifth time in as many spring training outings, he allowed fewer hits than innings pitched. Teheran is also steadily increasing his pitch count—44 pitches on St. Patrick's Day—in preparation for the regular season.
The 22-year-old has one of the nastiest breaking balls in the business, not to mention a dramatic speed differential between it and his fastball.
Those weapons have helped him compile 25 strikeouts. Among everybody in major league camps, only Stephen Strasburg has more K's. Similarly, Teheran ranks second to Jon Lester with an encouraging .104 batting average against.
Despite entering 2012 as a top prospect, he struggled at Triple-A and barely made an impact on the Braves. But since tweaking his repertoire, the uber-talented Colombian has the confidence to attack left-handed batters, power guys or any other type of opponent.