MLB

The 1 Rookie on Every MLB Team to Watch in 2014

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2014

The 1 Rookie on Every MLB Team to Watch in 2014

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Over the course of the 2013 season, 230 players—103 position players and 127 pitchers—made their major league debuts, according to Baseball Reference's Play Index.

    That's down from 2012, when 291 players (174 position players and 117 pitchers) got their careers underway. But it proves a point: every season, without fail, each and every team in baseball gets significant use out of its minor league shuttle.

    It's going to happen again in 2014.

    While not every team has a high-profile prospect ready to make a major impact in 2014, there's at least one player in every farm system that, whether they break camp with the club or wind up joining the team later in the season, is going to impact his team's fortunes more than others during the regular season.

    Let's take a look at the youngsters who should be on your radar as Opening Day draws near.

     

     

    *To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster between Opening Day and September 1, when rosters expand.

    *All spring training stats courtesy of MLB.com.

    *All other stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Archie Bradley

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    After watching top pitching prospects like Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs fall flat upon reaching the major leagues (albeit perhaps a bit too early), you can't blame Arizona for wanting to take its time with 21-year-old right-hander Archie Bradley, the best pitching prospect in baseball.

    It's never been a question of "if," but "when" Bradley would become a fixture in the Diamondbacks rotation. With staff ace Patrick Corbin potentially facing season-ending Tommy John surgery, Bradley's time could be now.

    The most talented pitcher at any level of Arizona's organization, the 21-year-old dominated across two levels of Arizona's minor league system in 2013, pitching to a combined 1.84 ERA with 162 strikeouts over 152 innings of work.

    Up until his last start against Seattle, when the Mariners tattooed him for four earned runs on five hits and two walks in only two innings, Bradley's performance this spring had been nothing short of electric.

    Whether Bradley cracks the Opening Day rotation or not is largely irrelevant when it comes to his prospects for the 2014 season. With a rotation comprised of mid-rotation arms, Bradley has the makeup and talent to develop into the front-of-the-rotation arm that the Diamondbacks desperately need.

Atlanta Braves: RHP David Hale

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    With Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen both set to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery, and with Mike Minor and Ervin Santana not expected to join the rotation until mid-April (and Gavin Floyd joining sometime after that), Atlanta is in dire need of quality arms.

    Thankfully for the Braves, the farm system has a number of prospects who are capable of filling that need, a list that includes 25-year-old right-hander David Hale. Hale made his MLB debut for the Braves in 2013, and while he allowed 11 hits in 11 innings, he held the opposition to only one earned run while also striking out 11.

    While he hasn't been quite as sharp this springallowing four earned runs over eight innings of workhe's pitched his way into the Braves injury-depleted rotation, at least to start the season.

    When Minor, Santana and Floyd eventually do return to action, Hale will likely head back to Triple-A, as he still has minor league options available, though he's versatile enough to become a factor in the bullpen.

    With four pitches that he can throw for strikes consistently, Hale will be someone that Atlanta calls upon throughout the season when injury or ineffectiveness call for reinforcements in the rotation.

     

Baltimore Orioles: IF Jonathan Schoop

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    I had Jonathan Schoop in this spot for Baltimore last year as well. While he didn't have quite as big of an impact as I expected, he held his own in five late-season appearances, going 4-for-14 (.286) with the first home run of his major league career, which came in his first major league game.

    He's done everything the Orioles could have wanted to see from him this spring, hitting .400 with five extra-base hits while showing improved mechanics defensively. As he explained to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun, Schoop believes he's nowhere close to the player that he was last season:

    I think I am way better than last year. That's the goal every year: to get better. Every year you have to become a better baseball player. I am not only better in the field, but I have a better mentality, too. That's a big part; you have to be strong mentally. Every day, I try to do more things and never stop. Every day you can learn something.

    With Ryan Flaherty expected to start the season at third base in place of the injured Manny Machado, Schoop has outplayed the rest of the field (Alexi Casilla and Jemile Weeks) in the competition to see who will start the season at second base.

    Whether he gets the job to start the season or takes over shortly thereafter, Schoop is going to play a major role in Baltimore's quest to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.

Boston Red Sox: IF Xander Bogaerts

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    Thrust into the middle of the 2013 American League Championship Series against Detroit as Boston's starting third basemanonly weeks after celebrating his 21st birthdayXander Bogaerts performed like a seasoned veteran, holding his own at the plate and in the field.

    He's got the plate discipline and ability to recognize pitches and hit for average, the strength and hip rotation needed to generate power and the athleticism to handle himself in the field. He also has excellent range and a strong, accurate throwing arm.

    Hitting toward the bottom of Boston's lineup this year, his run-producing opportunities may be scarce, but a .300 batting average, 20 home runs and 80 RBI in his first full season in the majors isn't out of the question—and he's more than capable of exceeding those numbers.

     

Chicago Cubs: 2B/SS Javier Baez

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    You can't help but feel for Chicago's Darwin Barney, arguably the best defensive second baseman in baseball, for he knows that at some point over the next three months Javier Baez is going to take his job.

    Named one of the ten-best prospects in baseball by both Baseball America and MLB.com, Baez has the kind of bat that you simply don't leave in the minor leagues for too long, something that Baseball America's John Manuel wrote about last November (subscription required):

    Baez has special bat speed and produces top-of-the-scale power with an exceptionally aggressive approach and swing. He has tremendous plate coverage and really has no true holes in his swing, which takes a direct and violent path to the ball.

    Blocked at shortstop by Starlin Castro, the Cubs have been giving Baez time at second base this spring, and he has held his own at a position that he hasn't played since high school.

    While it's still possible that he'll break camp with the Cubs, the more likely scenario will see Baez head to Triple-A, where he can continue to re-acclimate himself with the position on a daily basis before finally arriving for good in Chicago, sometime in May or early June.

     

Chicago White Sox: 1B Jose Abreu

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    Signed to the largest contract in team history—a six-year, $68 million pact—Jose Abreu heads into the 2014 season with big expectations resting on his shoulders.

    The pressure on Abreu is two-fold: not only is the 27-year-old expected to hit the ground running when the regular season starts, but he's the one tasked with replacing one of the team's all-time greats, Paul Konerko, who will spend the season in a reserve role.

    He's held his own at the plate this spring, hitting .308 with four extra-base hits (two home runs), nine RBI and an .838 OPS. He has been hitting third in Chicago's lineup between Alejandro De Aza and Adam Dunn, and more of the same will be expected during the regular season.

    A smooth fielder with 30-home-run potential, Abreu lacks the kind of bat speed that the elite players in game possess. But that doesn't change the fact that at the end of the season, Abreu will find himself in the thick of the race for AL Rookie of the Year honors.

Cincinnati Reds: CF Billy Hamilton

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    We saw how much of an impact Hamilton could make over a short period of time in 2013, when the speedster was successful on 13-of-14 stolen base attempts while scoring nine runs in only 13 regular season games at the end of last season.

    He's done an excellent job this spring of answering the doubters who wondered if he had the wrist strength needed to fight off pitches inside and the plate discipline to consistently draw walks, hitting .306, with more walks (six) than strikeouts (five), to go along with a .405 on-base percentage and an OPS of .849.

    Hitting atop a deep, talented and extremely dangerous Cincinnati lineup, Hamilton could easily find himself leading all of baseball in runs scored and stolen bases by the time his rookie campaign comes to an end.

Cleveland Indians: SS Francisco Lindor

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    Francisco Lindor has ripped through Cleveland's minor league system, reaching Double-A Akron last year at the age of 19. And after a solid showing this springhitting .316 with three extra-base hits (one home run), five RBI and a .929 OPShe's clearly on the fast track to the major leagues.

    A future Gold Glove winner at shortstop, blessed with incredible range and a strong, accurate throwing arm, Lindor doesn't offer much in the way of power (10-to-15 home run potential), but he exhibits an advanced approach at the plate, especially for someone as young as he is.

    Included in the Tribe's first round of roster cuts this spring, Lindor figures to spend the bulk of the season as the starting shortstop for Triple-A Columbus, with former All-Star Asdrubal Cabrera handling things in the big leagues.

    But Cabrera is set to become a free agent after the season, and, depending on how things go for the Indians this season, he could be a candidate to be traded at the deadline in July—which would clear a path for the Lindor era to begin.

    Even if Lindor doesn't make his major league debut until rosters expand in September, his eventual arrival is something for Indians fans to get excited about—as are the prospects of he and Jason Kipnis locking down the middle of Cleveland's infield for the next decade.

Colorado Rockies: RHP Jonathan Gray

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    For the first time since, well, ever, Colorado has two of the best pitching prospects in baseball working their way through the minor leagues in Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butlerand if you wanted to put Butler here instead of Gray, you'd get no argument from me.

    But Gray gets my nod as the rookie to watch in Colorado this season for his ability to make batters swing-and-miss at an alarming rate.

    Colorado's first-round pick in the 2013 MLB draft, Gray struck out 51 batters over 37.1 innings of work across two levels of Colorado's minor league system last season, pitching to a 1.93 ERA and 0.88 WHIP while averaging a ridiculous 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

    He got knocked around a bit this spring, allowing four earned runs and nine hits in 6.2 innings of relief while striking out five. As a result, he has been reassigned to minor league camp and is likely to open the season with Double-A Tulsa.

    But it won't be long before the prospect that MLB.com's Jim Callis named as having the best fastball and the best slider among pitchers on the site's Top 100 Prospects list arrives in Colorado with that devastating combo:

    Gray has not one but two legitimate swing-and-miss pitches. He's capable of topping 100 mph with his fastball and he works in the mid-90s deep into games. His fastball overwhelms hitters not only with sheer velocity but also with its exceptionally heavy life.

    Gray's wipeout slider can make batters look just as silly. It's not as consistent as his fastball, though when it's on, it's an upper-80s offering with sharp bite.

    The 22-year-old is on his way, and when he arrives, the Rockies will have one half of the future core of its rotation in place. 

Detroit Tigers: 3B Nick Castellanos

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    Even if Nick Castellanos' power never fully developsplateauing somewhere between 15-20 home runs a seasonand his defense at third base never rises to above average (or slightly below), the 22-year-old has the potential to develop into a perennial All-Star at the hot corner in Detroit thanks to his bat.

    With an advanced approach at the plateletting the ball get deep in the zone before using his quick wrists to unleash a compact swing that generates power to all fields and also possessing the ability to adjust in the middle of an at-batCastellanos is going to be a productive player, one that hits .300 or better for years.

    He's shown off that swing this spring, recording a hit in 10 of the 14 games in which he's played, en route to hitting .396 with seven doubles (tied for the spring lead), two home runs, 16 RBI (also tied for the spring lead) and an OPS of 1.078.

    Hitting seventh in a stacked Detroit lineup, the pressure that someone who, for all intents and purposes, is replacing Prince Fielder feels won't be quite as intense as it would be were he batting higher in the order. It would be no surprise if he found himself taking home AL Rookie of the Year honors at the end of the season.

Houston Astros: OF George Springer

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    Assigned to minor league camp after a less-than-stellar spring training performance, hitting only .161 with a double and one RBI, George Springer is keeping his head up as he draws closer to making his major league debut.

    “There’s obviously a lot of stuff I can improve on, and that’s my plan,” he told the Houston Chronicle's Jose de Jesus Ortiz after learning of his demotion. “There’s obviously a lot of things I can improve on, and that’s what I’m going to go do.”

    That Springer was optioned to the minor leagues at all has raised some eyebrows around baseball, as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal notes in an excellent piece that the Astros offered Springer a seven-year, $23 million deal last September before he ever even reached the majors—an offer Springer ultimately turned down.

    He tore up the upper levels of the minor leagues last season, hitting a combined .303 with 37 home runs, 108 RBI and 45 stolen bases, and it's that combination of power and speed that should have Houston fans drooling.

    Whatever the team's true motives behind the demotion may be, Springer is going to arrive at Minute Maid Park at some point this season and begin a career that should include a number trips to the mid-summer classic and a chance to become a member of the 30/30 club many times over.

Kansas City Royals: RHP Yordano Ventura

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    Regardless of whether you checked Baseball America, ESPN or MLB.com, you couldn't get through the first 50 names of their respective top prospects list without stumbling across 22-year-old Yordano Ventura.

    He was named Kansas City's No. 5 starter after his most recent spring outing, where he allowed four singles and walked none while striking out six over six scoreless innings. As noted by the Kansas City Star's Andy McCullough, the performance prompted Texas manager Ron Washington, to ask, “Where did they get that guy?”

    Signed by the Royals as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2008, Ventura has three above-average pitches, including a fastball that he can dial up to over 100 mph with regularity, which he mixes and matches to keep batters off-balance.

    With Ervin Santana now in Atlanta and James Shields entering the final year of his contract, Kansas City needed to begin seeing some of its young pitchers develop into potential front-of-the-rotation arms.

    Ventura
     has done just that this spring—and the Royals have moved that much closer to their first playoff berth in nearly 30 years because of it.

Los Angeles Angels: RHP R.J. Alvarez

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    The Angels farm system leaves much to be desired, with a dearth of upper-level talent and its top prospects still being a few years away from making an impact at the major league level.

    That's how a 22-year-old reliever, who has never pitched above High-A and didn't receive an invitation to spring training, winds up as the team's rookie to watch in 2014.

    Command over his arsenal of pitches remains a concern for R.J. Alvarez, who averaged five walks per nine innings of work for High-A Inland Empire in 2013, but he's a hard-throwing reliever who could quickly join the Angels bullpen at some point in 2014 thanks to his strikeout ability.

    Alvarez averaged nearly 15 strikeouts per nine innings in 2013, fanning 79 batters in 48.2 innings of work, much of it thanks to an above-average fastball that sits in the mid- to high-90s. He's added a high-80s slider to his repertoire, and he's shown the ability to get both past batters with relative ease.

    He'll start the season with Double-A Arkansas, where a strong showing could put him on the fast track to Angels Stadium, where he'll serve in a setup role until manager Mike Scioscia decides to give him a shot in the ninth inning.

    Alvarez has the stuff—and the makeup—to develop into a shut-down closer for the Angels down the road. 

Los Angeles Dodgers: 2B/SS Alexander Guerrero

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    A shortstop by trade, 27-year-old Alex Guerrero is being asked to make the switch to second base. He will most likely begin the regular season with Triple-A Albuquerque, where he'll get a chance to work on his defense at the position on a regular basis.

    But the Dodgers didn't sign the Cuban defector to a four-year, $28 million deal this past winter to have him spend the bulk of his time in the minor leagues, and before long, he'll join the major league club.

    Defense may always be an issue for him, but Guerrero, who gets his hands around quickly and squares up on the ball consistently, offers far more at the plate than converted shortstop Dee Gordon, who is expected to start the regular season as the Dodgers starting second baseman.

    Guerrero has put together a solid spring, hitting .300 with three extra-base hits (one home run), nine RBI and a .900 OPS, and his right-handed power at a premium position makes him all the more intriguing as an early-season addition to an already stacked Dodgers lineup.

Miami Marlins: LHP Andrew Heaney

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Miami catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has caught his fair share of excellent major league pitching over the course of his seven-year career, so what he told the Miami Herald's Clark Spencer about Marlins pitching prospect Andrew Heaney is worth taking note of: “As far as his stuff goes and his demeanor, he’s ready,”

    The 22-year-old southpaw has moved quickly through Miami's farm system since being drafted by the team in the first round of the 2012 MLB draft, reaching Double-A in his first full professional season and garnering an invitation to spring training before his second.

    He was impressive this spring, surrendering only two runs over 7.2 innings while walking two and striking out four. Heaney uses a three-pitch arsenal, including a late-breaking slider that gives batters fits, to keep the opposition off balance.

    Heaney merely needs some fine tuning and a bit more experience in the minor leagues before he's ready to join Miami's rotation, something that should happen by the All-Star break.

    With the potential to be a solid No. 2 starter, he and Jose Fernandez could quickly comprise one of the most feared and talented duos atop any rotation in baseball.

Milwaukee Brewers: LHP Wei-Chung Wang

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    After getting an influx of young talent in 2013, Milwaukee heads into the 2014 season with little in the way of MLB-ready reinforcements on the farm, as the team's best talent is still a year or two away from being able to offer any help.

    But all is not lost, as the team picked up a talented 21-year-old southpaw reliever in the Rule 5 draft from Pittsburgh named Wei-Chung Wang.

    He went 1-3 with a 3.23 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 12 games in 2013, including 11 starts for Pittsburgh's rookie league team, walking only four batters while fanning 42. He's been equally as impressive this spring, scattering six hits over 8.1 innings of relief, allowing an unearned run and walking none while striking out four batters.

    Granted, his spring numbers are a bit misleading given that he's entering games in the later innings, after teams have pulled their starters, but Wang has three plus offerings, including a mid-90s fastball that he uses effectively to keep batters honest.

    Milwaukee has to keep him on the 25-man roster for the entire season or face having to offer him back to Pittsburgh, a scenario that the team would surely prefer to avoid.

    While he may not be the kind of high-impact rookie that Brewers fans were hoping for, Wang makes an already solid bullpen that much better.

Minnesota Twins: C Josmil Pinto

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    While Kurt Suzuki will start the season as Minnesota's catcher, he's not going to finish the season in the same role, as 24-year-old Josmil Pinto is waiting in the wings to take his starting spot.

    Pinto burst onto the scene after a September promotion to the big leagues in 2013, hitting .342 with five doubles, four home runs, 12 RBI and a .963 OPS in 21 games.

    He still needs work defensively, both when it comes to calling games and controlling the opposition's running game, and there's debate as to whether his development would be best served by starting everyday for Triple-A Rochester or by serving as Suzuki's backup.

    While his playing time would be sporadic in the majors, he'd get to work with—and pick the brains of—Suzuki, Joe Mauer and bench coach Terry Steinbach, a three-time All-Star behind the plate over a 14-year major league career. That is not to mention that he would also be able to develop a rapport with the team's pitching staff.

    Regardless of where Pinto starts the season, he's going to finish it behind the dish in Minnesota.

     

New York Mets: RHP Noah Syndergaard

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Don't be fooled by Noah Syndergaard's 5.19 spring training ERA, for the 21-year-old right-hander was far more impressive than those numbers would lead you to believe.

    Opposing batters hit only .190 against the highly touted prospect this spring, and while he walked five batters—uncharacteristic for a pitcher with the kind of control that Syndergaard has—he struck out twice as many, and he heads to Triple-A Las Vegas having made a huge impression on manager Terry Collins.

    "He dealt with it (the pressure and expectations) like he's been here a long time," Collins told Newsday's Marc Carig. "He was very, very impressive."

    Part of the package that the Mets received from Toronto in exchange for R.A. Dickey before the 2013 season, Syndergaard has a trio of above-average offerings, highlighted by a high-90s fastball that runs in on right-handed batters.

    He figures to spend at least the first few months of the season at Triple-A, as the Mets want to delay his service-time clock from starting to tick, but he's simply too talented—and New York's rotation is too shaky—for the team to keep him down on the farm for too long.

    With the potential to be a front-of-the-rotation arm, the Mets could head into 2015 with a healthy Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Syndergaard—all under the age of 25—atop their rotation.

    That's a scary thought for the rest of baseball—and reason for a perennially disappointed fanbase to get excited.

New York Yankees: RHP Masahiro Tanaka

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    Did you really expect to see someone else as the choice here for the Yankees?

    New York fought off multiple suitors to win the offseason sweepstakes for 25-year-old Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka, eventually signing him to a seven-year, $155 million deal. None of the team's other big-ticket acquisitions this winter are as important—both in 2014 and beyond.

    There's not much that hasn't been said about Tanaka over the past few months, so I'll spare you the requisite scouting reports—though B/R's Zach Rymer provides an excellent, in-depth report following his most recent outing against the Atlanta Braves.

    Tanaka has been as good as advertised this spring, allowing only two earned runs and seven hits over 9.1 innings of work, walking two and striking out 10 while holding the opposition to a .200 average. Expecting him to come in and dominate like Yu Darvish may be asking too much—but then again, perhaps it's not.

     

     

     

Oakland Athletics: OF Billy Burns

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    Acquired from the Washington Nationals this winter in exchange for left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins, Burns has put together a solid spring, hitting .291 with a .371 on-base percentage. He also ranks among the league leaders in runs scored (12) and stolen bases (nine).

    While he's shown the ability to get on-base consistentlyboth this spring and throughout his minor league career, where he boasts a .420 career markBurns is going to have to prove that he can continue to do so against the upper levels of minor league competition.

    As for those concerned that Burns might try and change his game—such as trying to hit for more power, like the fictional-yet-legendary Willie Mays Hayes of Major League fameit's simply not going to happen, as he recently explained to Sports on Earth's John Perrotto. "I understand what kind of hitter I am and I know what I need to do to get to the big leagues," said Burns. "Getting on base and stealing bases is going to be my ticket to the big leagues."

    We saw how a speedy outfielder can impact a team's fortunes late last season, when Billy Hamilton joined the Cincinnati Reds in September and, in only 13 games, scored nine runs while successfully stealing 13 bases in 14 attempts. 

    Burns will have a similar impact on Oakland's fortunes this season as the A's look to win their third consecutive AL West crown.

Philadelphia Phillies: RHP MIguel Gonzalez

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Given Miguel Gonzalez's struggles early this spring and his current statuswhich finds him sidelined with a sore shoulder that recently received a cortisone injection, per MLB.com's Todd ZoleckiI was hesitant to make him the choice for Philadelphia.

    But if there's a player that has a chance of making an impact in Philadelphia this season, it's Gonzalez, who the team signed to a three-year, $12 million deal last August.

    The 27-year-old right-hander hasn't really pitched extensively since 2011, missing time in 2012 due to surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow and a subsequent suspension in Cuba stemming from a previously failed attempt to defect.

    After his first appearance of the spring against the New York Yankeesan outing in which he struggled with his command, walking four batters yet managing to allow only one run and two hits over 1.2 innings of workPhillies' pitching coach Bob McClure was excited about Gonzalez's prospects, as he told the Philadelphia Daily News' Ryan Lawrence:

    He might be one of those guys that's not the best practice player, but you put him in a game, and he competes his ass off. For not pitching in a couple of years, having a major injury, and first game against the Yankees, I thought he was pretty good. Command wasn't - but the intangibles [were]. Those are the things you look for.

    Given the state of Philadelphia's rotation, and with the team's best pitching prospects in need of more minor league seasoning, Gonzalez offers the best chance of injecting new blood into the rotation at some point during the regular season.

Pittsburgh Pirates: OF Gregory Polanco

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    After hitting .273 with a pair of doubles, a home run, two stolen bases and an .803 OPS in 10 spring training games, Pittsburgh optioned top prospect Gregory Polanco back to the minor leagues.

    Pirates manager Clint Hurdle couldn't be happier with what he saw from the team's top prospect, though, as he told MLB.com's Tom Singer:

    We couldn't be happier with the development. We want him to go down and face the challenge. Every time he steps into the box, there's going to be a pitcher thinking, 'That's a springboard to the big leagues,' whether it's an older or young pitcher. So what an opportunity for him to go and add quality at-bats.

    To get him in that environment ... he's hungry to go. We want him, when he gets back, for it to be for good.

    A five-tool player, Polanco hit a combined .285 with 12 home runs, 71 RBI and 38 stolen bases last season, making stops at three different levels of the Pirates minor league system.

    He's the player that current Pittsburgh left fielder Jose Tabata was supposed to be—and that's likely one of the primary reasons why, as Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports, the team is trying to move Tabata.

    Whether the Pirates are successful in their endeavor to unload the underwhelming Tabata, who has three years and $12.25 million remaining on his contract, Polanco is the kind of difference-maker that Pittsburgh needs to add to its lineup if it hopes to build upon last season's success.

    He's simply too good to keep on the farm for long, and one way or the other, Polanco will be patrolling left field at PNC Park no later than the All-Star break.

San DIego Padres: 1B Tommy Medica

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    Blocked by Yonder Alonzo at first base, 25-year-old Tommy Medica, a former catcher, is faced with making another position switchthis time to the outfield.

    Padres manager Bud Black told U-T San Diego's Dennis Lin that he's optimistic Medica can make the switch, but he admitted "there’s still a lot of work to do" before he's ready.

    He has certainly played well enough to merit a spot on Black's bench to start the season, hitting .404 with seven extra-base hits (two home runs) and a gaudy 1.061 OPS this spring, but he needs consistent playing time in the outfield to learn the position.

    He's not going to get that as a part-time player in the majors, though he could be back with the Padres as a first baseman if injury befalls Alonso as it did in 2013, when he was limited to only 97 games.

San Francisco Giants: RHP Heath Hembree

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    Heath Hembree made his presence known last September after joining the Giants when rosters expanded, striking out 10 batters in nine scoreless relief appearances. He's continued to impress this spring, allowing only one earned run over 4.1 innings of work while walking two and striking out five.

    While he has three pitches at his disposal, it's his fastball-slider combination that keeps hitters guessing. His heater sits in the low-90s and has excellent movement, while he's learned how to use his mid-80s slider as a second effective strikeout pitch.

    Hembree is in the running for one of San Francisco's final bullpen spots, a competition that manager Bruce Bochy told the San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman was simply too close to call.

    Whether he breaks camp with the club or not, Hembree is going to be a key piece of the Giants bullpen, both in 2014 and beyond. 

Seattle Mariners: RHP Taijuan Walker

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    When a team refuses to even entertain the idea of including a pitcher who has appeared in just three major league games in a trade for David Priceas Seattle did this past winter, per CBS Sports' Jon Heymanyou know that you're dealing with something special.

    We got a brief glimpse of what Walker is capable of doing last September when he pitched to a 3.60 ERA and 1.00 WHIP over three starts while walking four and striking out 12.

    Compared in the past to a young Dwight Gooden by the Seattle Times' Larry StoneWalker is likely to begin the season on the disabled list as he works his way back from shoulder bursitis that has kept him from appearing in a single Cactus League game.

    Despite his later-than-expected debut in 2014, Walker has front-of-the-rotation potential and, it goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that he is going to play a crucial role in Seattle's attempt to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

     

St. Louis Cardinals: OF Oscar Taveras

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Were it not for an ankle injury that limited him to only 47 games last season and ultimately required surgery to repair, Oscar Taveras would have already made his major league debut and likely been anointed St. Louis' starting right fielder heading into the 2014 season.

    Instead, Taveras arrived in spring training hesitant to exert himself and truly test his ankle. As a result, he quickly injured his hamstring, something that many, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold, believes may have been a result of Taveras' favoring of his surgically repaired joint.

    While there's certainly some concern about Taveras' unwillingness to go all-out this spring, which may forced him to redeem himself in manager Mike Matheny's eyes, it doesn't change the fact that he's supremely talented, perhaps more than any other position player on the St. Louis roster.

    Widely regarded one of the top prospects in baseball, Taveras was named the best hitter in the minor leagues heading into spring training by MLB.com's Jim Callis, who was effusive in his praise:

    There's a reason Taveras keeps getting linked to Albert Pujols, even if he does hit left-handed. Taveras' Minor League resume includes a .320/.377/.518 stat line, one Double-A Texas League MVP Award, two batting titles and three league championships. No prospect barrels balls or makes hard contact as consistently as Taveras, who projects to hit .300 or better with 25-homer power in his prime as a Major Leaguer.

    Taveras may have to bide his time at Triple-A Memphis until an injury or ineffectiveness opens a spot for him in the outfield, but there's no doubt that when he does arrive, he'll immediately make St. Louis that much more dangerous of a team.

    That's a frightening thought if you consider the Cardinals to be the best team in baseball, as many do, myself included.

Tampa Bay Rays: RHP Jake Odorizzi

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    While he may never develop into an ace, teams need quality mid-rotation starters as well, and Jake Odorizzi has a chance to be one of the better No. 3 arms in the big leagues before too long.

    Armed with four quality offerings, including a sinking, low-90s fastball that he can locate effectively on both sides of the plate, the soon-to-be 24-year-old has put together a solid spring, allowing two earned runs and seven hits over eight innings of work.

    Part of the package that Tampa Bay received from Kansas City in exchange for James Shields before the 2013 season, the 23-year-old is a strike-thrower who uses a four-pitch arsenal to attack batters. He is also able to change speeds on his fastball, which ranges from the high-80s to the mid-90s, with relative ease.

    Odorizzi made his Rays debut late last year, pitching to a 3.94 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 29.2 innings, which included four starts and three relief appearances.

    In the thick of the competition for the No. 5 spot in the team's Opening Day rotation, Odorizzi was shaky in his latest spring training appearance, allowing three earned runs and six hits in four innings of relief against Minnesota on Thursday, though he did pick up his second save of the spring.

    He may wind up back with Triple-A Durham to start the season, but he'll be among the first arms that the Rays call upon when a need arises during the regular season.

Texas Rangers: OF Michael Choice

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Michael Choice has not only played his way onto the Rangers 25-man roster as the team's fourth outfielder this spring, but he's put himself in position to get some serious playing time—not bad for a 24-year-old with 19 career plate appearances in the major leagues.

    Hitting .381 with five extra-base hits and a 1.052 OPS, Choice told the Star-Telegram's Jeff Wilson that he's not concerned with how much playing time he might get, showing a level of maturity that you don't often find in prospects looking to get their major league careers underway in earnest:

    I’m a big boy. I’ve played at literally every single level you can possibly play at. What I do every day is I come to the field and work on my craft. I don’t think how many ABs I get will affect performance by any means because when you prepare properly, you know you’ve done everything you can to be successful.

    He'll start the season splitting time with Mitch Moreland as the team's designated hitter against left-handed pitching, but Choice's big-time raw power could find him patrolling the outfield as well.

    A natural center fielder, he could fill in for the underwhelming Leonys Martin or see time in left field, especially if Shin-Soo Choo's elbow continues to be a problem.

     

     

Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Marcus Stroman

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Less than 24 hours after being rocked by the Detroit Tigers, who put six hits and seven earned runs on the board against Marcus Stroman on Tuesday, the 22-year-old found himself headed back to the minor leagues.

    "Stro, he was kind of the odd man out. He had trouble throwing strikes yesterday, he needs to do that," manager John Gibbons told MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm after the news broke.

    Despite allowing 19 hits and 15 earned runs over 9.1 innings this spring, Stroman made a strong impression on pitching coach Pete Walker:

    He just has to keep the ball down in the zone, it's going to be a conscious effort, pitch after pitch, to stay down in the zone. He does tend to get a little flat, and he needs to stay on top of his breaking stuff.

    But we had a good conversation today, he knows what he needs to go down and work on. ... He has a great head on his shoulders for a young kid, and I think he's going to go down there and do what he needs to do to get back to the Major Leagues.

    Ideally, Stroman would be able to refine his mechanics and continue to develop his changeup, the weakest weapon in his four-pitch arsenal, at Triple-A for the entire season. He could then join the Blue Jays in September when rosters expand.

    But with major questions surrounding the rotation after R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, Toronto will call upon Stroman well before then—and once he arrives, he'll be there to stay.

Washington Nationals: OF Steven Souza

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    With Scott Hairston and Nate McLouth entrenched as the reserve outfielders in Washington to start the season, Steven Souza finds himself on the outside looking in. But, as the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore points out, the 24-year-old has opened eyes this spring:

    Given the complexion of the Nationals’ roster, Souza remains a long shot to make the majors opening day. But he is giving the Nationals something to think about, and his spring suggests he will help the Nationals at some point this summer, either by opportunity or by force.

    Hitting .355 with seven extra-base hits (three home runs), five RBI and a gaudy OPS of 1.235, Souza has shown an easy swing that generates power to all fields. He's also athletic enough to play all three outfield positions, though his best spot would be in right field, where his strong throwing arm would be an asset.

    If Scott Hairston continues to struggle at the plate—the veteran hit only .191 with a .654 OPS for Chicago and Washington in 2013 and has gone only 6-for-30 (.200) this spring—Souza could replace him on the roster, giving new manager Matt Williams a potentially potent right-handed bat to call upon late in games.

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