Being a prospect in Major League Baseball requires a degree of patience that few people in the world can match. These are players who, for the most part, have been signed or drafted to multi-million dollar contracts when they are between the ages of 18 and 21.
One common term you will hear, especially during the spring when some stats can get inflated by small sample sizes and inconsistent competition is "MLB ready." Is this guy ready to step into the big leagues today and play a significant role for their team?
As spring begins, there are many notable prospects coming into camp with that ability, or with a few minor tweaks that can be worked out at the highest level of professional baseball.
Even though there are more than 25 prospects who fall into the MLB ready category, or are incredibly close, we wanted to highlight the best of the best in this particular group.
Keep in mind that these are the players whose skills would translate to the big league's best right now, so a lot of prospects who will appear high on a top 100-ranked list (Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, Miguel Sano, etc.) will not be seen here because they have a lot to work on and won't be ready until late in 2014 at the earliest.
Note: All stats courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted.
Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
Cubs fans want to see Javier Baez in the big leagues right out of spring training. He's the most exciting prospect in a farm system loaded with position players.
No one questions Baez's power, especially after hitting 37 homers in 117 games last year, including 20 in 54 Double-A games, but his hyper-aggressive approach and pitch recognition still need work in the minors before the Cubs bring him up.
Baez will be in Chicago by the end of the year, but he is too far away to be on a list of MLB-ready players.
Arismendy Alcantara, 2B, Chicago Cubs
Another of the many Cubs position players, Arismendy Alcantara could probably start 2014 in the big leagues and provide more value than incumbent second baseman Darwin Barney, which isn't saying much.
Alcantara does have some length to his swing that will be exposed by MLB pitchers, but he also works deep counts, takes walks and has developed above-average power from both sides of the plate.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
I have no doubt the Diamondbacks will use Archie Bradley in 2014, but he's not ready right now. His fastball command improved dramatically last season, though it looked spotty at times after he was moved to Double-A (59 walks in 123.1 innings).
Bradley's also got to work on throwing his changeup more, just to get a feel for it and make sure hitters respect it. His fastball/curveball combination is good enough to get by with 12-15 more starts split between Double-A and Triple-A to work on the changeup.
Jesse Biddle, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies
On a good day, Biddle will show four above-average pitches and solid-average control to all four quadrants of the strike zone. He didn't have a lot of good days last year with 82 walks in 138.1 innings, though he was effectively wild with 154 strikeouts.
The Phillies don't have depth in their rotation after Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, so Biddle could factor into their plans later this year. He has to find the strike zone more often to reach his ceiling of a No. 3 starter.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros
Jonathan Singleton would have been in Houston last year if not for a 50-game suspension at the start of the season that derailed his development.
The 22-year-old boasts a powerful left-handed swing with 25-homer potential and a good approach, though he has had problems hitting left-handed pitching, including a .239/.286/.609 line in winter ball.
Heath Hembree has seemed destined to take over as San Francisco's closer for three years, but control problems in the upper levels of the minors delayed his path to the big leagues.
The Giants fell out of the postseason race early in 2013, allowing the team to get a brief look at Hembree in September. The 25-year-old pitched well in 7.2 innings, allowing just four hits with 12 strikeouts and two walks.
All the individual pieces that made Hembree look like a future closer showed up after he was brought to San Francisco, including a low- to mid-90s fastball and power slider.
As long as Hembree misses barrels, which was something he didn't do in Triple-A last year, allowing 54 hits and seven homers in 55.1 innings, he will play a key role in San Francisco's bullpen next season.
At the very least, Hembree could pitch in the sixth or seventh inning in a valuable bridge role to the setup guys.
Even though the Atlanta Braves will suffer offensively, one reason they were able to let Brian McCann leave via free agency, besides not having the money to pay him, is the development of catcher Christian Bethancourt.
There has never been any debate about Bethancourt's defense. He's a wizard behind the plate, dazzling scouts with his arm strength and athleticism. Bernie Pleskoff of MLB.com raved about Bethancourt's ability with the glove. He wrote:
In addition to Bethancourt’s top-of-the-scouting-chart arm strength and accuracy, his footwork and catching mechanics project as above-average skills. I clocked Bethancourt’s POP time -- the time from when the ball hits the catcher’s glove, he shifts the ball from glove to hand, leaves his crouch and throws to second base -- at 1.8 seconds. That’s less than the 2.0-second professional average.
Bethancourt is an excellent receiver who blocks balls well, moving with ease behind the plate. He could step into the big leagues right now and be one of the best defensive catchers in baseball.
His offense is another matter. Bethancourt hit well after repeating Double-A in 2013, putting up a .277/.305/.436 line with 12 home runs, but he still swings at anything thrown near the plate.
He does a good job of making contact, striking out just 57 times in 358 at-bats, but he doesn't square the ball up enough to tap into above-average raw power.
As long as the Braves can live with a low average and on-base percentage, Bethancourt could be starting for the team on Opening Day.
Considering Evan Gattis, another low average, low on-base player with inferior defensive chops, is ahead of Bethancourt on the depth chart, it shouldn't take much for the young man to make the big leagues.
The Yankees spent a lot of money this offseason, both to upgrade their current roster and distract from the fact that their farm system is a mess.
All of their top prospects entering 2013, including Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and Slade Heathcott, either regressed on the field or missed significant time with injuries, putting their future roles in serious jeopardy.
One of the few bright spots in New York's system is reliever Mark Montgomery. He had some problems of his own last year, posting the highest walk rate (5.6 per nine innings) and lowest strikeout rate (11.7 per nine innings) of his minor league career, but still boasts a knockout slider to get big league hitters out.
Montgomery isn't a typical late-inning reliever and has a fastball that rarely tops 90-91 mph, so he has to command the pitch well to set up hitters for the breaking ball late in counts.
The Yankees bullpen is going through a transition this year, with David Robertson likely taking over the closer's role vacated by Mariano Rivera's retirement and everyone else moving up a spot.
They will also be relying on specialists like Matt Thornton to find their old form. Montgomery has the kind of stuff that will play well in spring training, and after spending most of 2013 in Triple-A, the right-hander is ready for a shot in the big leagues.
Jake Odorizzi seemed ready to break into the big leagues last season after spending most of 2012 in Triple-A, but he struggled last spring with an ERA of 9.00 and 11 baserunners allowed in five innings.
ESPN's Keith Law (Insider subscription required) scouted Odorizzi last April and noticed his fastball was a straight 89-92 mph and wrote "he struggled badly with command throughout his outing."
Despite a sluggish start to the year, Odorizzi looked like his old self by the end of 2013. He made 22 starts in Triple-A, striking out 124 with 101 hits allowed and 40 walks in 124.1 innings.
The 23-year-old made seven appearances in Tampa Bay last year, including four starts, and looked every bit the No. 3 starter he's projected to be. He's an excellent athlete with a simple delivery that is easily repeatable, shows confidence in all four pitches and attacks hitters in the zone.
Odorizzi should have no problems cracking Tampa Bay's rotation this spring. Jeremy Hellickson will miss the first six to eight weeks of the regular season after undergoing elbow surgery, opening the door for Odorizzi to take a permanent place in the big leagues.
Kyle Zimmer, the No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft, is still learning how to pitch after transitioning to the position in college.
Despite some growing pains along the way, Zimmer has one of the highest ceilings for any pitcher in the minors. He is a great athlete with a perfect pitcher's frame at 6'3", 215 pounds, repeats simple, flawless mechanics and owns three monster pitches.
Zimmer's fastball is a mid-90s offering that can be a plus-plus pitch, though it still comes out of his hand too straight. With little deception in his delivery, hitters get an early look at the pitch, making it easier to drive.
His best pitch is a hammer curveball with sharp 12-to-6 movement. He already has good control of it and will miss big league bats right away with the pitch. The changeup is still a work in progress, as he throws it too hard and doesn't show much feel for it, but it flashes plus.
With two plus-plus pitches already in his arsenal, Zimmer won't need a lot more development time before taking over one of the spots in Kansas City's rotation.
Video via Northeast Baseball Prospects
From an offensive standpoint, Russell is ready to step into the big leagues right now. He's still growing into above-average power, but he makes such loud contact that it might play fringe-average now.
Just 20 years old, Russell dazzled in Double-A last year with a .275/.377/.508 line in 107 games before earning a late-season promotion to Triple-A. His approach at the plate is incredible, with plus bat speed and wrist acceleration to catch premium velocity, while working deep counts and taking walks.
There's no doubt about Russell's ability to play shortstop at the big league level in the future, but having seen him in the Arizona Fall League, there are a few things he has to work on. He's got range for days, but he gets some bad reads and late first steps that put more pressure on his plus throwing arm.
If the Athletics were desperate for a shortstop this year, Russell could crack the Opening Day lineup. With Jed Lowrie still on the roster, Russell can take one more year of development before taking over in 2015.
The Marlins didn't do Jake Marisnick any favors last year, promoting the 22-year-old at the same time as Christian Yelich in July. He wasn't ready for the big leagues and got exposed in 40 games, slashing just .183/.231/.248 before being sent down.
Marisnick's biggest problem is pitch recognition. He is ready to play center field in the big leagues right now, displaying excellent range thanks to plus speed, good instincts and above-average arm strength.
The bat is still a work in progress, but Marisnick looked more comfortable in his skin after the demotion, getting back to hitting for power and stealing bases. He's never going to hit for a high average, but as long as the contact becomes more true with experience, a 20-20 season isn't out of the question.
The Mets have an incredible stable of young arms in the upper levels of the minors. Noah Syndergaard, who didn't even make this list because of problems with the breaking ball, is the best of the bunch and will likely be in New York by midseason.
Rafael Montero is a fascinating player, having signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2011 at the age of 20, four years older than the typical international free-agent signees. He's had a rapid ascent up the prospect ladder since 2012, thanks to a strong three-pitch arsenal.
More impressive is the way Montero commands all his pitches around the strike zone. He's a bit undersized for a right-handed starter, measuring in at 6'0", 170 pounds, but is so fluid with his mechanics and pounds the zone so much that he should have no problem remaining in the rotation.
After watching Didi Gregorius sleepwalk his way through the second half of 2013 (.207/.314/.314), Arizona finally gave Chris Owings a chance to play in September.
It was a small sample size, but Owings looked more comfortable in the box than his fellow shortstop, slashing .291/.361/.382. The most surprising part of Owings' performance was his patience, drawing six walks in 55 at-bats. In 546 Triple-A at-bats, Owings had just 22 walks.
An aggressive, hacky approach is the biggest knock against Owings. He's got above-average raw power that may play closer to fringe-average in games because of his inability to take a pitch.
There is no doubt Owings is ready defensively. The 22-year-old has above-average range thanks to excellent footwork and an outstanding first step to go along with plus arm strength and good hands.
Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers told MLB.com that there will be an open competition in spring training but also noted that Gregorius has to be considered the favorite because he played in the big leagues all last season.
Another trip back to Triple-A Reno seems likely for Owings, which is unfortunate because he doesn't have anything left to prove at that level.
It may sound like a slight to say a prospect is just a really good baseball player, but that's the best way to describe Kolten Wong.
Wong does everything well, but nothing extraordinary. He can hit for average, has some pop in the bat, runs well, plays solid defense at second base and has an average throwing arm.
One area Wong excels in is pitch recognition and making contact. His swing is compact and direct, allowing him to hit the ball to all fields with authority. The 23-year-old reminds me a lot of another St. Louis product, Matt Carpenter, only with better defense at second base.
If Carpenter ends up being the ceiling for Wong, the Cardinals will be very happy for a long time. It's a good thing, because this franchise doesn't have enough good, young talent already in the big leagues.
Yordano Ventura is one of the most exciting pitching prospects in baseball, boasting a fastball that regularly touches triple digits. He's developed a 12-to-6 curveball that looks like a potential plus pitch with tight spin and, at times, excellent shape.
The young right-hander has to overcome the stigma of being 5'11". His lack of height prevents him from getting downward plane on the fastball, making it easier for hitters to elevate it. It doesn't help that Ventura's heater lacks movement, meaning he has to pitch down in the zone to be effective.
Ventura's changeup is still a work in progress, as he doesn't have good feel for the pitch. The fastball/curveball combination gives him the floor of a high-leverage reliever/closer, with the ceiling of a No. 2 starter if the fastball command improves and changeup turns into an average pitch.
There are few prospects harder to place entering 2014 than Cincinnati Reds speedster Billy Hamilton. We saw what makes the 23-year-old such a unique talent during his September tryout, stealing 13 bases in 13 games and creating all sorts of problems for opposing catchers.
Despite Hamilton's blazing speed, which truly is off-the-charts amazing, significant questions about his ability to hit and play defense limit the upside.
Hamilton is a pencil-thin 6'0", 160 pounds with limited strength in his upper body. He doesn't have enough power or bat speed to drive velocity, especially on the inner half, which will be exploited by MLB pitchers.
Drafted as a shortstop, Hamilton started playing center field during an appearance in the Arizona Fall League two years ago. He's still learning to take proper routes and read the ball off the bat, but he has enough to speed to cover ground and make up for the remaining rough edges.
As long as Hamilton makes enough contact to let his speed play in games—he can beat out routine grounders to second base—the Reds will have one of the most exciting leadoff hitters in baseball.
In a perfect world, Travis d'Arnaud would have been in the big leagues for two years and on the brink of superstardom because that's the kind of raw talent he has.
Unfortunately, due to an inability to stay on the field, d'Arnaud is still appearing on prospect lists in 2014. These aren't just isolated incidents either, because he's played in more than 71 games just twice in seven minor league seasons.
D'Arnaud did make it to the big leagues with the Mets in 2013, playing in 31 games and slashing .202/.286/.263. The most important thing is he was finally able to get at-bats against MLB pitching, even though the results weren't great.
He's got a gorgeous right-handed swing with above-average power and excellent bat control. He doesn't take a lot of walks, so his ability to square up balls will be critical to keeping the average up and letting the power play.
D'Arnaud is an excellent catcher. He's got plus arm strength, good athleticism, blocking and receiving skills and calls games really well.
There's nothing d'Arnaud can't do on a baseball field; he just has to stay healthy long enough to show you.
It's not going to be a quick process, but the Chicago White Sox look a lot better today than they did at the end of 2013 because the two aggressive trades involving the Arizona Diamondbacks have given them a potential leadoff hitter (Adam Eaton) and third baseman (Matt Davidson).
(For the record, I don't count Jose Abreu as a prospect because of his age and salary, which is why he doesn't appear on the list.)
With Eaton no longer rookie eligible, Davidson takes the mantle for the White Sox young stars heading into 2014. He's ready for the opportunity, having played 115 games at Triple-A last season.
Davidson's calling card is plus raw power. He's got a short, quick path to the ball with a loft at the end to drive the ball into gaps, but he wants to destroy everything instead of using all the fields, leading to high strikeout totals and limiting his batting average.
The 22-year-old isn't much of a defender at third base but is passable. He's got above-average arm strength and has good enough lateral movement to make routine plays.
Another White Sox prospect, Erik Johnson, is ready to step into the starting rotation right out of spring training. He made five starts in the big leagues at the end of 2013, showcasing a lot of the skills that make him a solid mid-rotation arm.
Johnson isn't going to dazzle you with velocity or high strikeout totals. He does, however, have three MLB quality pitches, including a plus fastball with low-90s velocity and excellent sink, a hard slider with sharp tilt that will be murder on lefties and a solid-average changeup.
At 6'3", 235 pounds, Johnson has the makings of a 200-inning workhorse. He makes excellent use of his size to pound the fastball down in the zone. His command and feel for pitching are above-average, giving him a chance to be a high-end No. 3 starter very soon.
Kevin Gausman had a rapid ascent through Baltimore's system, making it to the big leagues after a handful of starts in the minors last year, flashing some of the promise that made him the No. 4 pick in the 2012 draft.
He also showed some of the flaws still left to be worked out in his game, specifically command of the fastball and development of his slider.
Gausman pounds the strike zone and misses plenty of bats (131-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 129.2 innings last year), but he also left the ball over the fat part of the plate too often (131 hits allowed).
He's got plus velocity on the fastball, some life on the pitch and one of the better changeups in the minors with late fading action. He struggles to get around the slider at times, giving it the appearance of a curveball.
With two plus pitches in his pocket, Gausman could be a weapon out of the bullpen in two- or three-inning stints while working on the slider. but he will probably be better served starting the year in Triple-A before a June call-up.
The Red Sox did a lot of good things in 2013, but giving Jackie Bradley Jr. a starting job in left field thanks to a strong spring training when he wasn't ready wasn't one of them.
The Red Sox were able to see the error of their ways early on, no doubt helped by Bradley's .189/.280/.337 line in 37 games, and sent him back to Triple-A. Those 80 games of experience in Pawtucket helped get his career back on track.
Bradley is ready to take over center field after Jacoby Ellsbury left for New York. They boast very similar skills, with the exception of speed because Ellsbury trounces Bradley.
Bradley controls the strike zone very well, has an excellent hit tool, draws enough walks to keep his on-base percentage high and is a stellar defender with tremendous instincts.
It may take some time before the Red Sox trust Bradley to hit at the top of the lineup, but eventually he's going to take his rightful spot as Boston's leadoff hitter.
Marcus Stroman would have been ready for a cup of coffee in Toronto late last season, but the team may have wanted to monitor his innings after throwing 111.2 IP in 20 Double-A starts.
Considering the Blue Jays lost Josh Johnson and didn't have one starter with an ERA under 4.15 in 2013, Stroman shouldn't have to wait long this year to take a spot in the rotation, assuming that's how the team wants to use him.
Stroman certainly has the stuff to start, throwing three plus pitches (fastball, slider, cutter) and a solid-average changeup. He's got excellent control and command of all his pitches, throwing them for strikes in any count, and isn't afraid to attack hitters.
The one knock on Stroman is that he's 5'9". Sometimes that prevents him from getting plane on the fastball, but the pitch explodes on hitters out of his hand because he hides the ball so well that it's hard to pick up.
Nothing that Stroman has done to this point suggests he should end up in the bullpen. The Blue Jays need starting pitching and have a nearly-ready option right at their fingertips.
If we lived in an alternate reality where Byron Buxton didn't exist, George Springer would have been the talk of Minor League baseball in 2013. The Houston Astros prospect slashed a robust .303/.411/.600 with 68 extra-base hits (37 home runs) and 45 stolen bases in 135 games.
Springer is a fascinating player who has always had problems making contact, striking out 317 times in 998 professional at-bats since 2012, but has hit over .300 with 145 walks, 61 homers and 77 stolen bases during that span.
He's done that while moving up the ladder, finishing last year in Triple-A, when the competition is supposed to get better. A long swing is always going to give Springer contact issues, but his balanced swing and excellent bat speed let the power play in games.
The 24-year-old has plus speed, excellent arm strength, plays a great center field and knows how to steal bases off pitchers. If he made more contact, Springer would be a one of the five-best prospects in baseball.
As it stands, Springer is a top 20-25 prospect with plus defense at a premium position, excellent on-base skills, plus power and speed.
The best thing Detroit did for Nick Castellanos was trading Prince Fielder to Texas. That move allows Miguel Cabrera to play first base, shifting Castellanos back to his natural position of third base.
Castellanos isn't a defensive wizard at the hot corner, but he has enough athleticism to make all the plays required of him. Considering what Cabrera did the last two years at third base, costing the Tigers 22 runs (per FanGraphs), Castellanos will be a huge upgrade defensively if he's just mediocre.
Castellanos makes up for fringe-average defense with a tremendous hit tool. He's got a strong upper body, excellent hip rotation to generate above-average power and some of the best plate coverage in the minors.
Given his approach and ability to hit the ball to all fields, Castellanos strikes me as a player who will post a lot of .300 averages, 35-40 doubles and 15-18 homers. It's not ideal power for third base, but the other offensive skills are so good that he will be at least an above-average big leaguer.
Taijuan Walker is in an interesting spot with the Mariners heading into 2014. He's certainly ready for an MLB job after making 25 starts in Double-A and Triple-A before getting a September call-up last season.
But there are elements of Walker's game that have regressed, or not developed as expected, limiting his potential. His mechanics have changed substantially in the last year, not finishing his delivery out front, and he's still searching for a consistent curveball.
The delivery is a correctable problem, since Walker had no problems with it in 2011 or 2012, and he has plenty of athleticism to repeat his mechanics from pitch to pitch. His fastball/cutter combination are both plus-plus offerings.
Commanding the fastball and developing the curveball are still Walker's two biggest obstacles, but a 6'4", 210-pound right-hander with premium velocity who is just 21 years old still has top-of-the-rotation potential.
Even with Carlos Beltran manning right field, Oscar Taveras probably would have forced his way onto St. Louis' roster at some point in 2013 if he didn't suffer an ankle injury that required surgery and limited him to just 47 games.
Now, Beltran is gone and the Cardinals didn't sign any major free agent in the offseason to fill that void.
If Taveras wasn't coming off an injury-plagued season, he would rank second on this particular list. The missed at-bats in Triple-A do put him behind the eight ball heading into spring training, but his feel for hitting is so advanced that it won't take long to catch up.
Taveras is a fascinating hitter because nothing he does is textbook. There's almost an angry quality to the way he swings the bat, yet it's a controlled chaos that works beautifully for him. He's got incredible plate coverage and makes more solid contact on bad pitches than humanly possible.
He's still finding his power swing, with more than enough raw power to project as a 25-30 homer hitter at peak. Combine that with the ability to post high averages and on-base percentages, Taveras is going to be an elite offensive player.
While not a burner, Taveras has enough speed to play right field and has plus arm strength. He's got the perfect No. 3 hitter profile.
Few teams boast an outfield with as much young talent as Pittsburgh will soon have, with Gregory Polanco (22) joining Andrew McCutchen (27) and Starling Marte (25) at some point in 2014.
Polanco may have to start the year in Triple-A before getting called up around midseason so the Pirates can delay his arbitration clock. He's only played two games at that level, so a little more seasoning wouldn't hurt.
Despite the limited Triple-A experience, Polanco is essentially a finished product. He's grown into a 6'4" frame nicely in the last two years, filling out to a stout 220 pounds without losing much of his plus-plus speed.
Polanco is still learning to translate his raw power into game performance. He's got a lot of leverage and length in his swing, which can lead to high strikeout totals and lower batting averages, but he has excellent pitch recognition and plate discipline to draw a lot of walks.
With McCutchen in center field, Polanco will end up playing right field in the big leagues. He's got plus range for center field, despite taking some strange routes, so he could turn into an elite defender in right.
Video via Baseball Instinct
It takes a certain level of maturity and talent to be ready for the big leagues with just 21 games of experience at Double-A at the age of 20. Francisco Lindor isn't your typical player, though.
If the Indians had an immediate opening at shortstop, Lindor would probably be the odds-on favorite to win the job in spring training. Since Asdrubal Cabrera is still in Cleveland, Lindor will have to settle for being the best shortstop on the 40-man roster.
He's got an advanced feel for the game, similar to Texas Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar when he was a prospect, and instincts that you rarely see in players who are two or three years older.
Lindor is a defensive wizard thanks to those instincts, always putting himself in the right spot to make even difficult plays look routine, and has a tremendous first step and incredible accuracy with plus arm strength.
His bat is still coming along, with fringe-average power in the future, but an excellent approach and balanced swing from both sides of the plate allows him to hit for high averages. Lindor works the count as well as any young player and will post high on-base totals.
If Lindor had more natural strength to project for above-average power, he'd be right behind Byron Buxton and Xander Bogaerts on prospect lists.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who watched the 2013 postseason that Boston's Xander Bogaerts is the most MLB-ready prospect heading into spring training.
Barring something catastrophic, Bogaerts should be the Red Sox's Opening Day shortstop. He's a better defender than he's given credit for, probably because the first thing you notice is how advanced he is as a hitter.
Bogaerts is a bit big for a shortstop at 6'3", 185 pounds, but he moves around well and has excellent hands.
At the plate, Bogaerts is a superstar. He's got plus raw power, bat control, feel for the strike zone, a keen eye and the ability to barrel anything he swings at.
The 21-year-old is still growing into his power, so don't expect more than 15 homers this season, but he will eventually turn into a 25-30 homer player. His ability to barrel the ball and work counts will make him a .300 hitter with high on-base totals in the near future.
There will be some growing pains in 2014, but Bogaerts should enter the year as the odds-on-favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year. He's a special player who will be a fixture in Boston's lineup for years.
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