The 2014 MLB season is rapidly approaching, and the beginning of spring training represents the final stages of roster formation before the games that actually count take place.
It's always difficult to put much stock in spring training stats, especially from early games. Everyone is still working out the offseason kinks and often testing new batting stances or pitches. It is foolhardy to project greatness or failure from a week of exhibition games.
Nevertheless, spring training also provides an opportunity for prospects to earn their way onto the major league roster. In some cases, playoff contenders are depending on their prospects to fill important everyday-position or rotation roles.
With that in mind, let's check up on a few of the most important developments regarding prospects after the first few days of spring training.
Miguel Sano, 3B, Twins
Unfortunately, the most important prospect news thus far does not involve on-field performance, but rather an injury. Sano, ranked as the eighth-best prospect in baseball by ESPN.com's Keith Law (subscription required), will undergo Tommy John surgery and likely miss the entire season after he injured his right elbow.
It's a devastating blow to a Twins organization that is eagerly anticipating the tandem of Sano and top-ranked prospect Byron Buxton to breathe life into a club that has been flagging over the past three seasons. If Sano's recovery goes a bit quicker than expected, 2014 may not end up an entirely lost season for the Dominican import:
Rob Antony said Twins are open to Miguel Sano serving as DH late in Minor League season. Also open to Arizona Fall League and Dominican WL— Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger) March 2, 2014
Sano is expected to start hitting about four months after surgery, scheduled for "sometime within the next month," as Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony told MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger. That would put him on track to start hitting sometime between mid-July and early August.
For a Twins team focused on the future, Sano's injury represents a bigger loss than any the team will suffer in the regular season.
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pirates
On the other end of the spectrum, Pirates outfield prospect Gregory Polanco raised eyebrows with a massive home run off Yankees pitcher David Phelps. The hit is Polanco's only one of spring training, but it reflects the high expectations Pittsburgh has for the 22-year-old:
Rene Gayo on Gregory Polanco: "Does he have the talent to do the kind of things Clemente did? Yes. Will he? Time will tell.”— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) March 2, 2014
Indeed, Polanco is expected to take over the right field position at some point this summer. The Pirates have several lineup question marks, and while reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen and NL home run champ Pedro Alvarez will assuage some of those concerns, the Pirates might need more depth to return to the postseason for a second consecutive season.
Polanco brings a nice combination of above-average contact and speed that could make him a top-of-the-order fixture at PNC Park for years. His more immediate 2014 impact might be in the field, where he covers a lot of outfield terrain, but Polanco should provide a mid-summer boost to the Pirates.
Trevor Bauer, RHP, Indians
Much of the shine has fallen off former top pitching prospect Trevor Bauer. While Bauer did manage to pitch a scoreless inning in his spring debut against the Reds, two walks reflected a continuation of the control issues that have plagued his young career. It's also especially concerning, given manager Terry Francona's blunt pregame expectations:
#Indians manager Terry Francona on what he'll be looking for today from RHP Trevor Bauer: "Attacking the strike zone."— Nick Camino (@NickCaminoWTAM) February 26, 2014
Bauer has changed his mechanics this winter, specifically modifying his delivery. It's unreasonable to expect Bauer to have full mastery over his new delivery at the immediate onset of spring training, and the desired results were not there against Cincinnati.
Bauer will need to demonstrate significant improvement over the next month, however, as he is part of a crowded competition for one of the Tribe's final starting-rotation spots. It seems more likely Cleveland will send Bauer to Triple-A to iron things out, as 2014 represents a crossroads for the 23-year-old.
Randal Grichuk, OF, Cardinals
As if St. Louis needed another young prospect to break through, outfielder Randal Grichuk has impressed so far in his new organization. Grichuk came over from the Angels as part of the David Freese trade, and as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch notes, his bat has opened eyes early on:
Officials have described him as one of the “most impressive” young bats in camp. He’s slated to go to Class AAA as a starter in the outfield, though a righthanded bat with his pop may earn a look for the major-league bench. He could force that discussion.
“He’s showing a reason a lot of people have been excited about him,” Matheny said after the 5-4 loss to the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium. He added: “Watching how he moves, how he works, the way he carries himself, consistently taking nice approaches, at-bats — he’s a baseball player. He’s got some real talent.”
This spring training, Grichuk has a triple as his lone hit, though he did hit a pair of home runs in a Cardinals scrimmage earlier. Power is the 22-year-old's main tool, and with the Cardinals' outfield depth a bit thinner than desired, he could see some time in the big leagues this season as a bench bat.