Early Surprises of Spring Training's Opening Weeks of Games
Roughly two weeks of spring training games are in the book as we push ever closer to Opening Day and the start of the 2014 MLB season.
Spring training results have to be taken with a grain of salt, as it's as much a time for players to shake off the rust and work on specific things as it is a competitive atmosphere. Still, there are stats at our disposal, so we'll dive into them and analyze.
With that, here is a look at 10 early surprises of spring training's opening weeks of games, from unknown players excelling to top prospects putting on a show and on to star players struggling early.
Seth Rosin: Standout Rule 5 Pick
Spring Stats: 2 G, 5 IP, 0 ER, 4 H, 0 BB, 8 K
The No. 10 choice in this year's Rule 5 draft and the sixth player selected overall, Seth Rosin was a fourth-round pick by the San Francisco Giants back in 2010 before he joined the Philadelphia Phillies organization in 2012 as part of the Hunter Pence trade.
The right-hander was 9-6 with a 4.33 ERA in 26 games (23 starts) at the Double-A level last season before being snagged by the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason. It may take an injury or perhaps the release of Brandon League for him to make the roster, but he has been fantastic so far this spring and has at least given the Dodgers something to think about.
Yangervis Solarte: Impressive Unknown Prospect
Spring Stats: 9-for-13, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 5 R
After playing the first six seasons of his pro career in the Minnesota Twins organization, Yangervis Solarte spent the past two years at the Triple-A level for the Texas Rangers.
The 26-year-old signed a minor league deal with the New York Yankees this offseason, and he entered camp with an outside chance to compete with Eduardo Nunez, Scott Sizemore and a handful of others for a utility infield spot. His early performance has opened eyes, though, and if he keeps it up, it will be hard to keep him off the Opening Day roster.
Archie Bradley: Impressive Top Pitching Prospect
Spring Stats: 1 GS, 3 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 2 BB, 6 K
Taken with the No. 7 pick in the 2011 draft, Archie Bradley certainly looks the part of a future ace, with a 6'4", 225-pound frame and a prototypical power-pitcher repertoire.
He's on a short list along with Taijuan Walker for the title of top pitching prospect in baseball entering 2014 after going 14-5 with a 1.84 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 152 innings last year between High-A and Double-A. The Arizona Diamondbacks' signing of Bronson Arroyo likely means he'll start the season in the minors, but if he keeps pitching like he did in his spring debut, he'll be in Arizona before too long.
Javier Baez: Impressive Top Hitting Prospect
Spring Stats: 5-for-15, 1 2B, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 3 R
With perhaps the best bat speed in all of minor league baseball and some serious power behind it, Javier Baez fronts a talented Chicago Cubs farm system that could have the team contending by as early as next season.
The 21-year-old hit .282/.341/.578 with 34 doubles, 37 home runs, 111 RBI and 20 steals between High-A and Double-A last year, and he will likely be the first of the Cubs' top prospects to reach Chicago. If he keeps hitting like he has in the early going this spring, that could come sooner than later.
Byron Buxton: Struggling Top Prospect
Spring Stats: 2-for-14, 2B, R
The No. 1 prospect in baseball entering the 2014 season, according to Baseball America, Byron Buxton heads a fantastic minor league system in Minnesota that ranks among the best in all of baseball.
The 20-year-old had all five tools on display in his first full minor league season last year, and he has all the makings of a future superstar. Still, he needs more time in the minors to develop his game, and that has been clear in the early going this spring.
Clayton Kershaw: Struggling Star Pitcher
Spring Stats: 2 GS, 4 IP, 8 ER, 7 H, 4 BB, 4 K
Few would argue that Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the game today, and he was rewarded with a seven-year, $215 million deal this offseason.
With three straight NL ERA titles and two NL Cy Young awards in the past three years to his credit, it's hard to expect anything but another big season from the soon-to-be 26-year-old. His struggles over his first two outings are really no reason for concern, but they're surprising nonetheless.
Josh Donaldson: Struggling Star Hitter
Spring Stats: 2-for-16, 1 RBI, 3 R, 8 K
One of the breakout stars of 2013, Josh Donaldson used a solid second half in 2012 to lock up the starting third base job in Oakland last year, and he proved he deserved it with a fantastic 2013 season.
He wound up finishing fourth in AL MVP voting, as he was the star of an Oakland A's roster that was lacking a true face of the franchise but continued to pile up wins. Good as he was last year, it's reasonable to expect some regression out of the 28-year-old late bloomer, and he's struggled in the early going this spring.
Grady Sizemore/Randy Wolf: Surprise Comeback Stories?
Sizemore Spring Stats: 3-for-8, 1 BB
Still just 31 years old, Grady Sizemore has not played in the majors since 2011 and has not topped the 100-game mark since 2009.
He may not be the dynamic player he once was, but the tools that made him a superstar in Cleveland are still there if he can stay healthy. The Boston Red Sox will give him every chance to push Jackie Bradley Jr. for the starting center field job, and he's off to a nice start so far.
Randy Wolf is also one to keep an eye on this spring, as he threw two scoreless innings of one-hit ball in his spring debut with the Seattle Mariners. The 37-year-old did not pitch last season.
Blaine Hardy: Unknown Breakout Pitcher
Spring Stats: 4 G, 6 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 2 BB, 2 K
An unknown to the point that the only photos available to us are from 2011 when he was with the Kansas City Royals, Blaine Hardy is quickly making a name for himself in camp with the Detroit Tigers.
He was solid last season, posting a 1.67 ERA over 30 games (nine starts) between Double-A and Triple-A for the Tigers, and he's in camp as a non-roster invitee. With Drew Smyly moving to the rotation and Phil Coke (3 IP, 7 H, 3 ER) struggling early this spring, Hardy has an outside shot at making the roster as a second left-hander out of the bullpen.
Tommy Medica: Unknown Breakout Hitter
Spring Stats: 11-for-21, 2 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 3 R
Ranked as the No. 23 prospect in the San Diego Padres organization entering the year, according to the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Tommy Medica has been perhaps the biggest surprise of the spring so far.
The 25-year-old was added to the 40-man roster last September, and he went 20-for-69 with two doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI down the stretch. Despite that, he entered spring on the outside looking in for a roster spot, but if he keeps it up, a bench job is not out of the question.