Darin Ruf: A strong finish this spring could solidify his place on the Opening Day roster.
Although most top prospects originally invited to big league camp have since been cut, there’s still a rather large collection of young talent fighting for a spot on an Opening Day roster. And with less than two weeks left in spring training, another round of cuts—possibly even multiple rounds of cuts—is on the horizon.
As a result, there will be additional pressure on certain prospects to finish the spring on a positive note. For some players that means maintaining their current pace; for others it means that they’ll be forced to right the ship in a hurry.
Here’s a look at 10 prospects with the most on the line as spring training winds down.
*All spring training stats courtesy of MLB.com and reflect all games through March 21, 2013.
Spring Stats: .283/.309/.547, 5 2B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 10/2 K/BB (19 G)
It was already looking as though Jedd Gyorko would break camp as the Padres’ Opening Day second baseman. Therefore, the fact that Chase Headley will open the season on the disabled list makes him a near lock for the 25-man roster.
However, if there’s ever been a time to prove that he’s ready, it’s over the final week-and-a-half of the spring.
Don’t expect the 24-year-old to showcase the power that he did last season in Triple-A or during the first couple games this spring, for that matter. However, his hit tool is good enough to carve out a career as a big league regular.
Spring Stats: .357/.378/.619, 5 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 12/0 K/BB (19 G)
Battling for a spot on the Opening Day roster as a reserve, Evan Gattis, 26, has put up big numbers this spring. More importantly, his defense behind the plate has vastly improved to the point where the Braves seem comfortable rostering him as their backup catcher.
He’ll continue to receive significant playing time over the remainder of the spring as the organization continues to weigh its options.
However, Gattis’ performance this spring in big league camp, not to mention his impressive track record in the minor leagues, is hard to ignore and warrants a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Spring Stats: .444/.545/.578, 9 R, 3 2B, HR, 5/8 K/BB (20 G)
Coming off an impressive showing at Double-A during the second half of the 2012 season, Jackie Bradley’s eye-opening spring has made it clear that he’s closer to the major leagues than anyone, including the Red Sox, expected.
With both David Ortiz and Stephen Drew questionable for Opening Day, Bradley’s left-handedness makes him an even more attractive option for the 25-man roster. If he continues to rake and get on base at a ridiculous clip for the remainder of the spring, the organization may have no choice but to break camp with Bradley in the outfield.
Spring Stats: .176/.300/.206, 2 SB, 10/3 K/BB (14 G)
The A’s decided to fill their hole at shortstop for the 2013 season by signing the 30-year-old Hiroyuki Nakajima to a two-year deal. Even though his performance this spring has been uninspiring, the A’s remain confident that he’ll be their shortstop this season.
Even though he’s a lock to make the A’s 25-man roster, it’s doubtful that the organization will immediately insert him into an everyday role. Instead, he may be spelled by Jed Lowrie at shortstop until he fully acclimates to the major leagues and establishes rhythm on both sides of the ball.
Spring Stats: .226/.305/.396, 6 2B, HR, 8 RBI, 12/2 K/BB (18 G)
After launching a minor league-leading 38 home runs in Double-A last season, followed by three more long balls in 12 games with the Phillies as a September call-up, Darin “Babe” Ruf is in the midst of a heated battle for a spot on the team’s 25-man roster as a reserve.
Unfortunately, his slow start this spring has also opened the door for his competition—Laynce Nix, Domonic Brown and John Mayberry Jr. Therefore, Ruf will need to go on a tear over the rest of the month to avoid an Opening Day assignment to Triple-A.
Spring Stats: .314/.314/.743, 4 HR, 11 RBI (13 G)
Coming off a monster breakout season at High-A Modesto in 2011, Nolan Arenado, 22, endured a frustrating regression across the board last season at Double-A Tulsa.
Luckily, his impressive showing this spring has him back on the radar, and his extended stay in big league camp means the Rockies are giving him serious consideration for a spot on the 25-man roster.
Although Chris Nelson was expected to break camp as the Rockies' third baseman, Arenado has made a strong case by hitting for both average and power, and making strides defensively at the hot corner. He’s still likely to be cut from camp as the spring winds down, though that could easily change with one more offensive outburst.
Spring Stats: 13.2 IP, 6.59 ERA, .304 BAA, 13/6 K/BB (5 GS)
The biggest pop-up prospect in the minor leagues last season, Dan Straily began the year in Double-A and finished in the major leagues. After registering a 3.89 ERA over seven starts for the A’s late last season, the 24-year-old right-hander was seemingly the on-paper favorite to break camp as the team’s fifth starter.
Despite his inconsistent spring, Straily may still win the final spot in the A’s starting rotation, as Bartolo Colon will serve the remainder of last year's 50-game suspension to open the season.
Straily will likely receive either one or two more starts this spring, which will give him the opportunity to prove to the organization that he’s prepared for the role.
Spring Stats: 7.2 IP, 3.52 ERA, .219 BAA, 4/6 K/BB (8 G)
A former first-round draft pick of the Mariners in 2008, the Astros selected Josh Fields in the Rule 5 draft last December (from the Red Sox). After joining the Red Sox via a midseason trade in 2011, the 27-year-old right-hander finally turned in a long-overdue breakout campaign last season, as he registered a career-best 2.01 ERA, 12.0 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in 58.1 innings across both Double-A and Triple-A.
Although his consistency has varied from one appearance to the next this spring, Fields has held his own overall. With a strong finish in big league camp, the right-hander should solidify a spot in the Astros’ Opening Day bullpen. And if he’s able to build off his success last season, it may not take long for him to emerge as the team’s closer.
Spring Stats: 9.2 IP, 3.72 ERA, .308 BAA, 15/7 K/BB (10 G)
Bruce Rondon has the makings of a future closer with an intimidating 6'3", 255-pound frame, and a fastball that routinely scrapes triple digits. Despite struggling early in the spring, the 22-year-old has fared much better after making a slight tweak to his mechanics last week.
That being said, it’s likely that the Tigers will ease him into the role by also offering Phil Coke and Brayan Villarreal various save opportunities. However, if he dominates like he can over his final appearances this spring, Rondon still stands to receive the first crack at the ninth inning.
Spring Stats: .162/.244/.189, 12/4 K/BB (21 G)
After posting an .840 OPS with 23 home runs last season for Double-A Frisco, McGuiness went on to earn MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League after pacing the circuit with 27 RBI. As a result, the Indians selected the first baseman in the Rule 5 draft (from the Rangers) with the hope that he’ll hit his way onto the Opening Day roster.
However, the 25-year-old’s powerful bat has gone cold this spring, as he’s mustered only six hits (and no home runs) in 41 plate appearances. While it’s increasingly doubtful that he’ll make the team, McGuinness could make the organization disregard his slow start with a strong finish.