25 Biggest Breakout Stars of Spring Training 2013

Benjamin Klein@BenjaminJKleinContributor IIIMarch 18, 2013

25 Biggest Breakout Stars of Spring Training 2013

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    Spring training is a time when unknown gems can turn the heads of the front office, coaching staff and fans, and this year, many young stars have taken advantage of the opportunity to do so.

    Whether it be on the mound or in the batter’s box, these are the players who have made their mark in camp. Although they may not be on the 25-man roster come Opening Day, they will be in a short amount of time.

    These players have proven that they have what it takes to play alongside and against major league talent, even though some of the talent during spring training isn’t that great.

    So which players have had a breakout spring through the first chunk of camp? Let’s take a look at the 25 who have made the most noise. 

Allen Webster, Boston Red Sox

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    Allen Webster was one of the young arms that the Boston Red Sox acquired when they decided to dump payroll and trade a slew of highly paid players to the Los Angeles Dodgers. He hasn’t pitched at Fenway Park yet, but is already looking like a major steal.

    Pitching in Double-A in both organizations last season, the right-hander went 6-9 with a 3.86 ERA in 130.2 innings. He averages about a strikeout per inning, but also has a tendency to issue a fair number of walks. Regardless, he’s now one of the top pitching prospects in the organization.

    And he’s showing why this spring. In 11 innings, he’s allowed two earned runs on nine hits. He’s shown great command on the mound, walking just one batter while striking out 14.

    He’ll be in Boston at some point in 2013.

Jackie Bradley, Boston Red Sox

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    Jackie Bradley is receiving more hype than ever before. The speedy outfielder was incredible in the Boston Red Sox’s minor league system last season and has been even better this spring.

    Between Single-A and Double-A last season, Bradley hit .315/.430/.482 with nine home runs, 63 RBI, 90 runs scored and 24 stolen bases. He’s quickly risen through the ranks and is arguably the No. 2 prospect behind Xander Bogaerts in the Red Sox organization.

    The South Carolina alum is having a remarkable spring training. He’s gone 16-for-36 with two extra-base hits, four RBI, eight runs scored and seven walks while making amazing plays in the outfield.

    There’s still a chance that he makes the team despite never taking the field in Triple-A.

Alex Cobb, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Alex Cobb is slated to be the No. 4 starter for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013 behind some impressive young stars. But Cobb is a rising right-hander himself. He was a regular for the Rays last season and will be back in the rotation looking to improve on what didn’t work a year ago.

    In 23 starts in 2012, Cobb went 11-9 with a 4.03 ERA in 136.1 innings of work. The right-hander isn’t a huge strikeout pitcher, but he has good command and doesn’t walk many. Cobb was phenomenal in the minor leagues. which warranted his call-up in 2011.

    This spring, he has been outstanding. In 19.1 innings, he’s allowed just five earned runs on 14 hits. He has walked just two batters while striking out 23.

    By the end of the season, Rays fans may forget about James Shields and Wade Davis if Cobb keeps the pedal to the metal.

Leslie Anderson, Tampa Bay Rays

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    The Tampa Bay Rays may be looking to Leslie Anderson to play first base at some point this season. Tampa Bay signed James Loney over the winter, but there’s no doubt that Anderson has the potential to make an impact in the big leagues if given the opportunity.

    Anderson has spent the last three seasons in the Rays organization, playing the last two full seasons in Triple-A. In 2012, he hit .309/.355/.450 with 14 home runs, 56 RBI and 63 runs. He rarely walks, but on the plus side, he doesn’t strike out very often either.

    This spring, Anderson has walked once and struck out once. More importantly, he’s hitting the lights out, batting .425/.452/.650 in 40 at-bats in 18 games.

    Anderson is surging at the right time and could give Tampa Bay a tough decision at the conclusion of camp.

David Lough, Kansas City Royals

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    To be honest, I had never heard of David Lough until looking at some numbers and doing research on the spring’s hottest hitters. For diehard Kansas City Royals fans, though, Lough should be a familiar name, as he has been a pretty good minor leaguer.

    Lough has spent the last three seasons in Triple-A, hitting .275/.317/.420 with 30 extra-base hits, 69 runs and 69 RBI in 2012. He got his first taste of the major leagues last season as well, but had limited opportunities.

    Although it’s unlikely he’ll win a starting job no matter how the rest of the spring plays out, there’s a decent shot at Lough getting a spot on the 25-man roster.

    In 17 games and 35 at-bats, he’s hitting .543/.556/.771. There’s no typo there.

Max Ramirez, Kansas City Royals

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    Unfortunately, I don’t think Max Ramirez is going to be on the Kansas City Royals’ 25-man Opening Day roster, even though he’s been spectacular this spring. The Royals have Salvador Perez as their starting catcher and George Kottaras as the backup.

    Ramirez has been all over the place in his professional career. He’s been in seven MLB organizations. Playing in Triple-A for the Royals last year, he hit .300/.374/.473 with 17 home runs and 77 RBI.

    But despite Ramirez’s productive season in 2012, the Royals still didn’t think he’d amount to much, which is why they signed Kottaras. This spring, however, Ramirez has been a star, hitting .389/.463/.639 with a pair of home runs and 14 RBI. 

Will Smith, Kansas City Royals

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    Will Smith doesn’t get as much attention as some other people who share his first and last name, but he’s showing this spring that he deserves more. He isn’t one of the top names with the Kansas City Royals despite putting up respectable numbers in the minors the last few years.

    Last year, pitching in Triple-A, Smith went 4-4 in 15 starts, posting a 3.61 ERA in 89.2 innings of work. He was then called up to pitch for Kansas City, adding an additional 16 starts to his 2012 campaign. With the Royals, he went 6-9 with a 5.32 ERA in another 89.2 innings—probably a coincidence.

    Although those numbers don’t scream breakout star, his spring statistics at least say it. He’s pitched in four games, allowing a pair of earned runs in 11 innings while striking out 10 and walking just one.

    Not a bad start, I’d say.

Aaron Hicks, Minnesota Twins

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    Aaron Hicks is one of the rising stars in the Minnesota Twins organization who is proving that he’s about ready to skip Triple-A and make his major league debut earlier than expected. There’s no reason why the Twins shouldn’t at least entertain that notion.

    Hicks is quickly turning into a bright talent in the minor leagues who could have All-Star potential in the big leagues. In the minors the last couple of seasons, he’s shown that he can hit for average and a bit of power. He also has fantastic speed.

    The 23-year-old outfielder is hitting .319/.353/.660 with four home runs, 13 RBI and 12 runs scored this spring, which are arguably the best numbers by any Minnesota position player.

    Whether he’ll make the Opening Day roster is up for debate, but he should be with the Twins at some point in 2013.

Lucas Harrell, Houston Astros

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    Lucas Harrell hasn’t had the most impressive of starts to his major league career. He was even placed on waivers by the Chicago White Sox, which is how he ended up pitching for the Houston Astros, who will be playing in the AL West in 2013 for the first time.

    Harrell has three major league seasons under his belt and seems to be getting somewhat better. Last season with Houston, he went 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 193.2 innings. He struck out 140 batters while walking 78. With a better team, he’d likely have a better win-loss percentage.

    Harrell has been pitching well this spring, though, and is making a case to start for Houston on Opening Day. In 13 innings, he’s allowed three earned runs while striking out eight.

    Bud Norris is competing against him for the No. 1 job in the rotation.

Shane Peterson, Oakland Athletics

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    Shane Peterson has slowly risen through the organizations of the St. Louis Cardinals and now the Oakland Athletics. But this spring, he’s really proving his worth. Peterson only has 85 games of experience in Triple-A, but finished the second half of 2012 very strong.

    In 39 games in Triple-A last year, he hit .389/.484/.619 with seven home runs and 23 RBI. The outfielder hasn’t let up since the end of the season, though, as he’s stayed very hot this spring.

    In 41 at-bats, he has 18 hits—seven for extra bases—seven RBI and nine runs scored while leading Oakland in several offensive categories.

    It will still be tough to make the 25-man roster, but Peterson could certainly make his debut later in the 2013 season.

Erasmo Ramirez, Seattle Mariners

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    Watch out for Seattle Mariners pitcher Erasmo Ramirez in 2013. He’s going to be a stud in their starting rotation. Ramirez was a dominant pitcher in the minors and is now trying to make his mark in the big leagues.

    Ramirez only started in half of his appearances with Seattle in 2012, going 1-3 with a 3.36 ERA in 59 innings. He has good command. In 16 games, he struck out 48 and walked just 12.

    But while the Mariners didn’t always start Ramirez last season, he’s showing them this spring why they should have. In 12 innings, he’s allowed two earned runs and struck out nine.

    Likely to be the No. 4 starter, Ramirez is a right-hander opponents should be wary of.

Jeff Baker, Texas Rangers

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    Jeff Baker is the only true veteran on this list, but that depends on your definition of a veteran. He’s been in the majors for eight years, but has only played in an average of 68 games per season over that span. That’s not much of a veteran in my book.

    Baker is with his fifth major league team this year, competing for a job with the Texas Rangers. Last year, playing for three teams, he hit .239/.279/.378 with four home runs and 25 RBI in what were mostly bench roles.

    He probably won’t be a starter with the Rangers to start the season unless an injury arises, but he’s been hitting like one. He has 21 hits in 43 at-bats this spring as part of a whopping .488/.522/.651 line.

    He could cool down, but what if he doesn’t? 

Evan Gattis, Atlanta Braves

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    There isn’t much wrong with Evan Gattis. The main problem is that although he’s primarily a catcher, he won’t be able to catch for the Atlanta Braves anytime soon. He’s blocked by Brian McCann and Christian Bethancourt, forcing him to the outfield.

    Gattis has played some outfield over the course of his professional career, so that shouldn't prevent him from making it to the majors in the near future. He’s been an excellent power hitter the last two seasons in the minor leagues as well.

    Gattis, who is already a top prospect in the organization, is making a name for himself with how well he’s been playing in camp. He’s 14-for-37 with five doubles and a pair of home runs. He’s driven in 10 runs, but has also struck out 11 times.

    Regardless, he just needs to work on his outfield play going forward.

Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves

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    Julio Teheran is the top prospect in the Atlanta Braves organization. He’s projected to start the season as the No. 5 pitcher in the team’s rotation.

    Does that make him a star yet, though? Not necessarily, but he’s certainly become one this spring.

    Up until last season, Teheran had been unstoppable in the minor leagues. In 2011 in Triple-A, he went 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA in 144.2 innings of work. He struggled in 2012, though, pitching to a 7-9 record and 5.08 ERA. He’s tasted major league life, but hasn’t grasped it yet.

    Teheran has showed that his performance last season wasn’t going to become a trend, pitching very well for Atlanta in camp this year. In four outings, he’s allowed just three earned runs in 20 innings while striking out 25 and walking six. 

Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins

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    Christian Yelich is one of the Miami Marlins' top prospects—arguably second behind Jose Fernandez. He’s 21 years old and has only played as high as High-A, but he’s already showing that he’s going to be a star very soon.

    Between rookie ball and High-A in 2012, Yelich hit .329/.402/.516 with 12 home runs and 48 RBI. Those numbers are actually lower than his numbers in 2011, but he was playing against weaker competition. He still hit 15 long balls and drove in 77 runs, though.

    This spring, Yelich is playing like he’s been in the big leagues for the last 10 years. In 39 at-bats in 19 games, he has 14 hits, including four that left the park. He has 12 runs scored, 12 RBI and six walks.

    He may be hitting well, but it’ll still be a couple of years before he plays in Miami.

Nathan Eovaldi, Miami Marlins

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    Nathan Eovaldi was the big piece of the puzzle that came over to the Miami Marlins when they decided to trade Hanley Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Once a top prospect, Eovaldi has just two years of major league experience on his resume and is looking to improve in 2013.

    Last season with Los Angeles and Miami, Eovaldi went 4-13 with a 4.30 ERA in 22 starts and 119.1 innings. The win-loss percentage is not pretty, but his ERA isn’t too bad and should improve with more experience. Consider that it was his first full season in the big leagues.

    Eovaldi is already pitching much better, shaking off what didn’t work out for him last season. Through four outings this spring, he’s allowed five earned runs and struck out 11 in 13.2 innings. He is expected to be the No. 4 starter for the Marlins this year and is a future centerpiece of their rotation. 

Jeremy Hefner, New York Mets

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    With Johan Santana likely unable to go by Opening Day, New York Mets fans should start focusing on Jeremy Hefner, who’s expected to fill the void in the starting rotation.

    So, who in the world is Hefner?

    Once a member of the San Diego Padres, he pitched in Triple-A and with the Mets last season. In New York, he went 4-7 in 26 appearances—13 of them starts—while posting a 5.09 ERA in 93.2 innings. He was never the best pitcher in the minors, but wasn’t too shabby there either.

    With a couple more eyes on him this spring, Hefner isn’t shying away from the pressure. He’s thrown 15.1 innings in five outings, allowing five runs. He’s shown great command, walking three while striking out 15.

    Should Hefner pitch well, it’s up for debate what will happen to him when Santana is ready to return.

Matt Harvey, New York Mets

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    Matt Harvey was going to be in the starting rotation of the New York Mets no matter what happened to Johan Santana. The top prospect in the organization and one of the most promising arms in the game, Harvey is poised for a big year with the Mets.

    In 20 starts in Triple-A last season, Harvey went 7-5 with a 3.68 ERA in 110 innings while striking out 112. He came up to pitch briefly for the Mets, starting 10 games and posting a 2.73 ERA in 59.1 innings. There, he struck out 70 batters and walked just 26.

    Harvey is showing this spring that he’s going to be the real deal once the season begins. He’s allowed four earned runs in 13 innings, striking out 18 while walking three. He is expected to lead the rotation alongside Zack Wheeler in the near future for the Mets and is already off to a great start.

Travis Wood, Chicago Cubs

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    Quick, who benefits the most from the injury to Matt Garza? Travis Wood, a relatively young left-hander who hasn’t had much success in the big leagues the last couple of years. But that shouldn’t deter Chicago Cubs fans just yet.

    Last season with the Cubs, Wood made 26 starts, going 6-13 with a 4.27 ERA in 156 innings. The previous two years, starting for the Cincinnati Reds, Wood went 11-10 with a 4.18 ERA. The lefty isn’t a big strikeout guy, but he tends to show good command.

    Wood has been good enough this spring to keep his job in the rotation for the time being. He’s tossed 12 innings, allowing four runs. He has, however, struck out 11, which is a higher than his previous averages.

    If he continues to pitch well, he could find himself staying in the rotation once Garza is healthy again.

Justin Wilson, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Although a starter in the minors, it appears that the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to use Justin Wilson as a reliever in the big leagues. He’s expected to make the team, pitching out of the bullpen. This young lefty has the potential be one of the elite relief pitchers in the league.

    Last year in Triple-A, starting 25 of the 29 games he pitched, Wilson went 9-6 with a 3.78 ERA in 135.2 innings. He was called up later in the season and was nearly flawless. He only appeared in eight games, but only allowed one earned run in 4.2 innings, striking out seven.

    Wilson has picked up right where he left off this spring, allowing one run in 10 innings while striking 13 and walking six. 

Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Matt Carpenter got his first real shot in the majors last year with the St. Louis Cardinals, starting at first and third base more often than coming off the bench late in games. This season, however, it appears that Carpenter will be playing second base.

    In 114 games with the Cardinals last year, a season after playing in just seven games the season before, Carpenter hit .294/.365/.463 with 33 extra-base hits and 46 RBI. He also played well in the postseason, even though St. Louis was eliminated by the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS.

    Carpenter most likely would’ve made the team regardless of how he played this spring. But now that he’s on fire, the decision to start him has to be an easy one. In 39 at-bats, he’s hitting .410/.489/.615 with seven extra-base hits, nine runs scored and three RBI.

Shane Robinson, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Shane Robinson has gotten a nice taste of the big leagues the last couple of seasons, playing a good chunk of last year with the St. Louis Cardinals. In 102 games, Robinson hit .253/.309/.355 with three home runs and 16 RBI.

    Although it’s extremely unlikely that Robinson beats out Jon Jay, Carlos Beltran or Matt Holliday for a starting spot in the outfield, he’s certainly shown this spring that if one of those players gets hurt, he’d be able to hold his own.

    Robinson is 19-for-39 this spring to lead St. Louis in hitting. He’s hit five doubles and three home runs, scoring and driving in 11 runs. It’s not nearly as tough to steal bases in the spring as it is in the regular season, but he hasn’t been caught in three chances, for what it’s worth.

Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers invested a ton of money into a Cuban outfielder in late June of last season, signing Yasiel Puig to a seven-year deal for $42 million. To say that Los Angeles thinks he’ll turn into a star would be an understatement.

    Puig didn’t play much last season, totaling just 23 games between rookie ball and High-A. In 14 games in High-A, he hit .327/.407/.423 with one home run, 10 runs scored and four RBI.

    But this spring, Puig has played well. In 20 games, he’s 19-for-42 with a pair of home runs, eight RBI and 11 runs scored.

    He’ll be a household name sooner rather than later.

Kyle Blanks, San Diego Padres

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    Some San Diego Padres fans may be familiar with Kyle Blanks. But to the rest of the game, he’s basically a nobody. He’s played in 156 games over the last four seasons, missing nearly all of the 2012 season after undergoing labrum surgery.

    Blanks was quite the power hitter in the minor leagues. He hit at least 20 home runs in 2007 and 2008 and drove in more than 100 runs during those seasons. His production has leveled off recently, however, which is the main reason he hasn’t played much in the majors.

    Blanks is making a case for a spot on the 25-man roster this spring, though. He’s played in 19 games and made 55 plate appearances. He’s hitting .395/.491/.674 with seven extra-base hits, 14 runs scored, 12 RBI and nine walks.

    That’ll help for sure.

Tyson Ross, San Diego Padres

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    A former second-round draft pick, Tyson Ross hasn’t exactly panned out…yet. Ross was traded from the Oakland Athletics to the San Diego Padres over the winter and isn’t expected to make the Opening Day roster. That is, unless he can pitch well enough this spring.

    Ross’ major league numbers aren’t very pretty. In his first year with Oakland, he was used a reliever, posting a 5.49 ERA in 39.1 innings. He started some the next season, but didn’t have much success. Last season, he went 2-11 with a 6.50 ERA in 73.1 innings. He certainly hasn’t had it easy.

    But maybe a fresh start with a new team is what Ross needed. This spring, he’s pitched 16.1 innings, allowed five earned runs for a 2.76 ERA and struck out 13.

    Those aren’t phenomenal numbers, but they aren’t anything to scoff at. If he keeps it up, he may find a way onto the Padres.