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15 MLB Prospects Who Gained the Most from Their Spring Training Experience

Adam WellsFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 16, 2016

15 MLB Prospects Who Gained the Most from Their Spring Training Experience

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    If spring training stats don't matter—for the record, they don't—there are certain things that you can look for to measure, at least to some degree, progression from a prospect that you may not have noticed before. 

    One of the great advantages to a spring training like the one we had this year, which feels like it has been about six months long because of the World Baseball Classic, is that it gave more young talent a chance to shine on the same field as established big-league players.

    Even if a prospect wasn't going to make the 25-man roster out of spring training, just having the learning experience of playing in a big league-style game can do wonders for a player heading into the minor league season. 

    So as we get ready to put a final bow on spring training this season, it is time to look at the prospects who made the most out of their time in Arizona or Florida. 

    Note: All spring stats are through Sunday, March 24 and courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.

Julio Teheran, SP, Atlanta Braves

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    2013 Spring Stats

    6 GS, 3-1, 1.04 ERA, 26 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 2 HR, 9 BB, 35 K


    What Teheran has done

    Teheran is one of the few examples of a player whose spring stats appear to be an indicator of some sort of progress. He ended last season without a clear role in Atlanta heading into this season. 

    There was some talk that he might need to start the season back at Triple-A Gwinnett because his fastball command wasn't where it needed to be and his curveball still wasn't good enough to get big-league hitters to respect it. 

    But as spring began, you could see that something was different with him. He was staying on top of his fastball, keeping it down in the zone, and his curveball looked as sharp as ever. His changeup, which has always been his best weapon, has been terrific, showing great fade.

    Even though the ceiling for Teheran doesn't look as high as it did one year ago, mainly due to the inconsistency of the breaking ball, as long as he can at least show an average one and keep his fastball down in the zone, he is ready to pitch in the big leagues. 

    The Braves clearly saw enough from Teheran this spring, as he was named their No. 5 starter last week. 

Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    2013 Spring Stats

    25 G, 29-for-55 (.527/.509/.855), 5 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 16 Runs, 4 BB, 15 K, 4 SB


    What Puig has done

    When the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Yasiel Puig after he defected from Cuba last summer, no one knew what to make of him. It had been nearly a full year since he had played a game after being suspended from his Cuban team for trying to defect. 

    Puig was only able to play in 23 games between Arizona Rookie League and High-A Rancho Cucamonga at the end of 2012, hardly enough time to make a definitive judgement. 

    Even though judging by his spring stats isn't wise, he has been one of the most exciting players to watch in Arizona. He has torn the cover off the ball, hitting for average and power as well as showing a strong, accurate arm from right field. 

    It will be some time before we know what Puig's upside is. He does not have elite tools across the board, and he really needs to stay on the field for 120 games this season.

    But it is not very often you see a 22-year-old put up the kind of numbers he has while showing above-average or better tools in at least three categories. 

    There is even some debate in the media if Puig should start the season in Los Angeles. While that would be a huge mistake, it may not be that long before the young Cuban star is patrolling right field for the Dodgers.

Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs

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    2013 Spring Stats

    17 G, 14-for-47 (.298/.313/.596), 2 2B, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 1 BB, 12 K, 1 SB


    What Baez has done

    The scouting report for Baez is really simple right now: If there is a ball thrown near the plate, he is going to swing as hard as humanly possible to drive it out of the park. 

    For some players, that free-swinging mentality would knock their status down a peg or two. You at least want to see some kind of plate discipline from a hitter so you know he can work a count if need be. 

    But Baez is a truly remarkable talent whose age is currently a huge benefit. Because he is just 20 years old, the young shortstop can get away with a lot of things.

    It also helps when you have bat speed that makes grown men cry. 

    Just watch when Baez steps into the box. Even if he doesn't hit the ball, he gets the bat through the zone with strong bat control faster than virtually anyone in baseball today. He often draws comparisons to Gary Sheffield because his hands and wrists are so explosive. 

    It's a good sign that Baez has been able to drive the ball when he does connect with it. A lot of young players take time to tap into their power in games, but Baez is already showing plus pop and could get even better. 

    The biggest thing Baez has to work on is actually letting some pitches go by. There is nothing wrong with an aggressive approach as long as you aren't just swinging at everything. He has the talent to hit .300 in the big leagues someday, but hopefully, he develops an all-around hitting style to put himself among the elite prospects in the game. 

Kevin Gausman, SP, Baltimore Orioles

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    2013 Spring Stats

    6 G (1 GS), 12.1 IP, 2.92 ERA, 11 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 14 K


    What Gausman has done

    Dylan Bundy gets all of the hype in the Orioles' farm system, and deservedly so. But don't forget that Kevin Gausman, the LSU product taken with the No. 4 pick in last year's draft, won't be far behind him on the journey to Baltimore. 

    Possessed with a plus fastball-slider combination, Gausman is actually showing better fastball velocity this spring than he did at college last season. Perhaps he is just trying to amp it up there to make an impression, knowing he will only be throwing a couple innings at a time. 

    Another possible theory is that Gausman, following an offseason of work, has found another gear to his heater. If that's the case, Gausman's probability of reaching his ceiling as a No. 2 starter looks even more likely. 

    The Orioles will face several quandaries this season, even if they aren't competing for a playoff spot. Gausman has enough polish and plenty of stuff to possibly warrant a call-up in September. Imagine how much better their rotation would look in 2014 with Bundy and Gausman at the top. 

    Obviously, there is a long way to go before we get to that, but Gausman has put the Orioles on high alert with a blistering start to the spring. 

Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, Boston Red Sox

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    2013 Spring Stats

    23 G, 22-for-52 (.423/.508/.615), 4 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 10 Runs, 8 BB, 8 K, 1 SB


    What Bradley has done

    Jackie Bradley, Jr. has played just 61 games at the Double-A level, yet he won't need much more seasoning in the minors. He was always going to be a fast mover through the system thanks to his polish coming out of the University of South Carolina, even though he battled injuries that lowered his draft stock in 2011. 

    But this spring, Bradley has turned a lot of heads. He is still getting talked about as a candidate for a spot on the 25-man roster, especially in light of Jacoby Ellsbury injuring his ankle against Philadelphia on Sunday. 

    There is some obvious overrating of Bradley's skills and readiness going on because he has been so hot this spring. It comes with the territory, especially when you play for Boston.

    He is not going to turn into a five-tool superstar based on what has happened this spring. 

    In fact, it would serve Bradley well to get more seasoning against advanced pitching in the minors before getting called up. He torched High-A last season, hitting .359/.480/.526 in 67 games, but he was too advanced for that level. 

    The way that Bradley has given the Red Sox something to think about this spring speaks to how highly the organization thinks of him and the work he has done over the last year to put himself in this position. 

Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins

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    2013 Spring Stats

    18 G, 21-for-60 (.350/.397/.650), 6 2B, 4 HR, 16 RBI, 16 Runs, 6 BB, 15 K, 3 SB


    What Hicks has done

    Hicks is one of the most fascinating prospects in recent years. He has always had above-average or better raw tools across the board, but he has been slow to adapt to each new level.

    In 2009, Hicks played in the Midwest League at Beloit as a 19-year old. He hit a solid, albeit unspectacular, .251/.353/.382 in 67 games. He also had a 55-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio. For a player at that age to post a .353 on-base percentage is rather impressive. 

    It should be pointed out that the Midwest League is one of the worst leagues for hitters in the minors. The weather is brutal at the start of the season, keeping offensive numbers down, and players haven't developed their power enough to showcase it in games. 

    The next season, the Twins kept Hicks in Beloit and he looked much better, hitting .279/.401/.428 in 115 games. He got promoted for to High-A for the 2011 season, again putting up an uneventful .242/.354/.368 line. 

    Even though Hicks didn't look ready to move up, the Twins pushed him to Double-A for the 2012 season. He responded with his best season yet, hitting .286/.384/.460 in 129 games at New Britain. 

    Despite being around for four years, Hicks is just 23 years old and will still flash the tools that made him the 14th overall pick in the 2008 draft. He has torched opposing pitchers this spring, leading the Twins to promote him to the big leagues without one game at Triple-A. 

    It is an aggressive promotion for a player who has traditionally struggled when he takes the next step. He could fall flat on his face and be sent down, but the Twins really needed someone to take control of the center field job this spring, and Hicks has been their best player. 

    As long as this move doesn't stunt Hicks' development, why not give him a shot?

Adam Eaton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    2013 Spring Stats

    20 G, 23-for-59 (.390/.403/.542), 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 12 Runs, 1 BB, 5 K, 3 SB


    What Eaton has done

    Eaton's spring ended on a huge down note, as he suffered a sprained elbow that will keep him out for six to eight weeks. He was one of the early favorites for National League Rookie of the Year because he was all but guaranteed a roster spot and could have hit near the top of the lineup. 

    As it stands, Eaton could still win NL Rookie of the Year, but he will be behind the curve when he returns. 

    Regardless of the injury, Eaton continued to show why scouts love him this spring. He doesn't have the highest ceiling in the world because his swing is more line-drive oriented and his frame isn't big enough to really drive the ball out of the park. 

    However, he makes a lot of contact, works counts, takes walks and plays plus defense in center field. Eaton has shown all of those skills this spring, hitting for average and more power than you would expect. He might be able to put up more home runs than you might expect because Arizona is a place where the ball will fly if you get it in the air. 

    The Diamondbacks have tried to remake their roster this offseason into one that is built more on making contact than power. Eaton perfectly fits into that model. He would have been the spark plug at the top of the lineup they needed. Instead, he will have to wait to make his 2013 debut. 

Brandon Maurer, SP, Seattle Mariners

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    2013 Spring Stats

    5 G (2 GS), 2-1, 15.0 IP. 1.20 ERA, 13 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 15 K


    What Maurer has done

    Maurer gets overshadowed in the Mariners system because Taijuan Walker has the big fastball and upside of a No. 1 starter, Danny Hultzen was the team's first-round pick in the 2011 draft and James Paxton puts up more impressive strikeout numbers. 

    But where Maurer at least belongs in the conversation with those three as a part of the next wave of Mariners pitchers is with an above-average fastball, average change-up and plus slider. He commands them well and is more likely to stay in the rotation than Paxton. 

    Durability is Maurer's biggest problem. Despite playing in the minors for five seasons, he has only had one year in which he threw more than 79.1 innings (2012, when he threw 137.2). 

    So far this spring, you can see Maurer making strides in his development. He pitched all last season at Double-A with Walker. When you have a 22-year-old with three average or better pitches and average command, you can plug him into the back of your rotation and get a valuable innings-eater. 

    It will be interesting to see how the Mariners handle Maurer this season. If we are just talking about pure stuff, he will not need a lot of time at Triple-A before getting the call to The Show. But he has to be able to stay on the mound long enough for the team to trust him. 

    After taking a few years, Maurer finally made it through an entire season relatively unscathed. He just needs to keep going out there every fifth day. 

Allen Webster, SP, Boston Red Sox

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    2013 Spring Stats

    4 G, 11.0 IP, 2 Saves, 1.64 ERA, 9 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 14 K


    What Webster has done

    Throughout his minor league career, Webster has shown the stuff to pitch at the top of a rotation and command that could push him into the bullpen. Moving from Los Angeles to Boston has only increased the scrutiny he will be under. But this spring, he looks like he is starting to figure some things out. 

    With 14 strikeouts and just one walk in 11 innings this spring, Red Sox fans are clearly geared up to see Webster take that next step in his development.

    While those expectations should be tempered because, again, this is still spring training, you have to be encouraged by a few things. 

    For starters, Webster is still showing three plus pitches. That is actually noteworthy because there are some pitchers, especially young ones, who tend to lose velocity in the offseason and struggle to find it. 

    Webster will never have plus command, but as long as he can find at least average command and control, he can be a valuable No. 3 starter for the Red Sox over the next five or six years. He has been pushed rather aggressively, making it to Triple-A at 22 last year. 

    But he has never fallen on his sword—his worst ERA was 4.03 in 2011—and that helps to show he can pitch even without his best stuff on any given day. Again, the command is going to be key, but at least he is throwing strikes and missing bats this spring. 

    Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports wrote about Webster on March 18, saying that the young right-hander is turning a lot of heads in Red Sox camp: "He throws his sinker 95-99 mph, and his secondary stuff, in the view of the Sox official, is better than former major league pitcher Kevin Brown’s."

    It won't be long before Webster's presence is felt in Boston. 

Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins

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    2013 Spring Stats

    22 G, 16-for-44 (.364/.451/.818), 3 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 14 RBI, 13 Runs, 6 BB, 7 K


    What Yelich has done

    The Marlins sent Yelich down to minor league camp on March 22 to the surprise of no one. He was never going to be in the mix for a big league job out of spring training, after all. He is just 21 years old and has yet to play above High-A. 

    But you would be hard-pressed to find a prospect who has raised their stock more over the last year, including this spring's performance, than Yelich. There had been some concern over his ability to stay in center field due to some poor reactions and an unusual throwing motion. 

    If Yelich had to move out of center field, his bat would not be nearly as special. He has an advanced approach at the plate and explosive hands that allow him to drive the ball out to all fields. 

    Last season, Yelich made the leap on defense, as he showed better instincts in center and looks the part of an average defender. He projects to hit .300 with 20 to 25 home runs, 20 stolen bases and show at least average defense in center. That is an All-Star and potential MVP candidate. 

    Seeing Yelich's silky-smooth swing this spring has only served to reinforce everything that has been said and written about him. He could end up being a top-five prospect in baseball by midseason, with an outside shot that he makes his debut in September. 

    The Marlins could have one of the best outfields in baseball around the halfway point of the 2014 season after Yelich has made his debut, assuming Giancarlo Stanton hasn't been traded. 

Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies

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    2013 Spring Stats

    16 G, 15-for-45 (.333/.333/.689), 4 2B, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 9 Runs, 5 K


    What Arenado has done

    Depending on who you ask, Arenado is a rock-solid top-100 prospect heading into 2013 or an overrated player whose skills and on-field performance don't match the hype that has been attached to him. 

    Some of the concerns about him relate directly to his on-field makeup, which he discussed with Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post

    I think sometimes I let my frustration get in the way. I showed it too much. I think that's what (general manager Dan O'Dowd) meant. In fact, I know that's what he meant. That's something I'm working on.

    I think I'm in a better place now. I'm always going to play with that fire, but I'm learning how to be a more patient player.

    Arenado disappointed last season, hitting just .285/.337/.428 at Double-A. There were some clamoring for him to get called up to Colorado even though it was obvious he wasn't ready, either physically or mentally, to handle the pressure. 

    This spring has showcased the Good Arenado, as he hit .333/.333/.689 in 16 games with the Rockies. It is alarming that he didn't take one walk, but he only struck out five times and was driving the ball. 

    Arenado has a lot to prove in 2013 if he wants to get back on the prospect radar, but so far, he is off to a good start. He will have a chance to keep that going when he debuts in Triple-A at the start of the year. 

Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians

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    2013 Spring Stats

    9 G, 6-for-19 (.316/.350/.421), 1 3B, 1 RBI, 2 Runs, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB


    What Lindor has done

    The Indians played aggressively with Lindor in his debut season last year, putting him in Low-A as a 18-year-old. He handled himself well, showing plus defense at shortstop and hitting a very respectable .257/.352/.355 in 122 games. 

    Those numbers would have looked better, except that he was exhausted down the stretch. But for a player that young to already show such an advanced approach at the plate (his strikeout-to-walk ratio was a stellar 78-61) and with the glove is incredibly rare. 

    Playing in big league games this spring, Lindor continues to look like a future All-Star at shortstop. He has hit .316/.350/.421 in nine games and his defense continues to impress. He is so smooth and fluid with his actions, showing a plus arm and turning double plays with ease, that you can see a Gold Glove or two in his future. 

    At the plate, Lindor's approach will allow him to hit for average and get on base at a very good clip. He has a short, compact swing that is geared more for line drives, not to mention having a small frame, so his power might be limited to 10 to 15 home runs per year with a lot of doubles. 

    Lindor will get bumped up to High-A Carolina as a 19-year-old. Now that he knows what to expect from a long season, he should be better prepared to endure the trials and tribulations and maintain his performance through the end of the year. 

Matt Adams, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals

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    2013 Spring Stats

    23 G, 16-for-52 (.308/.362/.538), 3 2B, 3 HR, 6 Runs, 14 RBI, 5 BB, 9 K


    What Adams has done

    Adams struggled in a brief call-up last season, hitting just .244/.286/.384 in 86 at-bats, but don't let that sway your opinion of the talented first baseman as he enters 2013. 

    In fact, the only problem with him is that the Cardinals have so much depth at first base that he is probably going to get squeezed out when the season starts.

    Even so, this spring, Adams has continued to do what he does best: hit. In four minor league seasons, the 24-year-old has never hit under .300, hasn't slugged under .541 and has reached base in at least 35.5 percent of his at-bats. 

    The only thing that holds him back is his defensive profile, as he has a thick body and is a below-average runner. He is limited to first base, where your bat has to be truly special to stand out. 

    But Adams has very good potential with the bat. He has big raw power and it plays in games because he has a quick load and shoots his hands through the zone to drive the ball. He has good but not great bat speed. His approach will help him hit around .260 with a .350 on-base percentage. 

    If Allen Craig ends up getting hurt—which seems more like an inevitability than a possibility—Adams should get another shot to crack the Cardinals lineup this season. 

Shelby Miller, SP, St. Louis Cardinals

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    2013 Spring Stats

    4 G (2 GS), 2-0, 11.2 IP, 4.63 ERA, 11 H, 6 ER, 1 HR, 3 BB, 11 K

     

    What Miller has done

    This spring has all but guaranteed Miller will have a job with the Cardinals out of spring training, something the team confirmed on Monday (h/t Brian Feldman of News Channel 4 in St. Louis).

    Shelby Miller officially announced as 5th starter. "I'm speechless" he said.

    — Brian Feldman (@BFeldman) March 25, 2013

    Even though his ERA is a little high, his other numbers are right where you would want them to be. Miller has some of the best control you will find in a pitcher at the age of 22. After he found himself in the second half last season, he had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 70-7 and looked every bit the No. 1 starter he has been projected to be since he was drafted. 

    He will bring a plus-plus fastball, plus breaking ball and, at times, an above-average changeup. He is going to miss a lot of bats right away because the stuff is so good, but the numbers might be a little high as he works on some things. 

    The biggest key for Miller will be utilizing his offspeed stuff a bit more, which he started to do last season. As great as his fastball is—and it can be dominating because it moves so much—big-league hitters can sit on it. The secondary pitches will determine how high he climbs in 2013. 

    Regardless of the growing pains, the Cardinals absolutely made the right call by giving their best pitching prospect a job right out of spring training. 

Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals

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    2013 Spring Stats

    13 G, 12-for-32 (.375/.412/.875), 4 2B, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 7 Runs, 1 BB, 6 K

     

    What Rendon has done

    To say that Anthony Rendon's debut season with Washington didn't go according to plan would be a gross understatement. The star third baseman out of Rice who many had pegged as the top player available in the 2011 draft played in just 43 games due to ankle problems

    If you have been following Rendon through college and the minors, you know that the ankle issues are nothing new. He tore ligaments in his right ankle in 2009 and suffered another injury in 2010 that required surgery (h/t Larry Stone of the Seattle Times). 

    There was some talk that the Nationals might consider moving him to second base after he was drafted because the team already had Ryan Zimmerman at third. But that made no sense for two reasons: One, Zimmerman has injury issues of his own and the Nationals will need contingency plans.

    Two, and more importantly, given Rendon's ankle issues, why move him to a position that requires more lateral movement and upgrade the risk of injury to his ankle?

    This spring, it has been a treat to watch Rendon, who is showcasing the hitting skills that made him one the most sought-after players in a loaded draft two years ago. He still has a few flaws to work when he goes to the minors—pitch recognition and discipline, to begin with. 

    But the fact that he is back playing at a high level is an incredibly positive sign for an immensely talented baseball player. 

     

    For more prospect talk, or anything baseball related, feel free to hit me up on Twitter. 

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