10 Breakout Stars from Spring Training's Opening Week of Games
It's really not a good idea to get excited about the top spring training stars. It's an even worse idea to get excited about the top breakout stars, as the numbers they put up all too often lead to a whole lot of nothing.
But darn it, you still can't help but notice them every year. And with a week of games in the bag, they're already starting to come out of the woodwork this spring.
What we're going to do is count down the top breakout performers from the first week of spring training games. And though the list contains plenty of names overall, we're going to focus on the 10 biggest based on how well they've played and, in most cases, how much they've played.
Step into the box whenever you're ready.
10. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Boston Red Sox
Eduardo Rodriguez already looked like a good bet to justify the Red Sox's trading Andrew Miller to get him from the Baltimore Orioles, as he had established himself as one of Boston's best prospects.
But after his spring debut, the 21-year-old lefty now looks like a slightly better bet to justify that deal.
Pitching Saturday afternoon against, go figure, the Orioles, Rodriguez tossed three perfect innings with three strikeouts. That makes him one of only two pitchers with at least three hitless and walkless innings to his name this spring.
Rodriguez didn't do it against a bunch of no-names, either. His day's work included setting down Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Chris Davis, so no wonder the Red Sox were impressed.
"Can't say enough about Rodriguez," Boston bench coach Torey Lovullo told Ian Browne of MLB.com. "Three easy innings, right through their order. I think he answered the questions about how he'd come out here today against his former team. He did a very good job."
Rodriguez still has plenty to prove in the minors before he can make an impact in the majors. But given the current state of Boston's rotation, don't be surprised if he makes said impact this year.
9. Pat Venditte, LHP/RHP, Oakland Athletics
The way to make Pat Venditte sound uninteresting is to note that he's a 29-year-old who's spent seven seasons in the minors without cracking the big leagues.
The way to make him sound interesting, however, is to note that he not only throws with both hands but also has been pretty good at it so far this spring.
Venditte pitched 1.2 innings in his first two appearances this spring, retiring every hitter in the process. But he's retired every hitter he's faced, showing that mere mid-80s gas can be good enough when you always have the platoon advantage.
"It definitely has its advantages," A's catcher Luke Carlin told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle about Venditte's switch-pitching. "I feel like more so than a switch-hitter.”
Certainly, Venditte has a long way to go before he proves he deserves a spot in Oakland's bullpen. But knowing that the A's may value versatility more than any other team, here's thinking they might find a spot for the ultimate versatile pitcher.
8. Odubel Herrera, INF/OF, Philadelphia Phillies
Odubel Herrera wasn't exactly a household name a week ago, and there's a reason for that. At no point during his six minor league seasons has he ever been a top prospect.
But all of a sudden, Herrera sure looks the part now.
The 23-year-old Venezuelan has only played in three exhibitions with the Phillies, but he's left his mark. He's hitting an even .500 and is leading all players this spring with three stolen bases.
All three of those came in a 3-1 win over the New York Yankees on Wednesday afternoon, a game in which Herrera also reached base four times. Not surprisingly, he caught his manager's attention.
“He stood out,” Phillies skipper Ryne Sandberg told Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly. “He was a spark plug at the top of the order and did a great job with the stolen bases, getting into scoring position. He did a good job squaring up balls, hitting hard ground balls and line drives. And he was very fluid in center field.”
It's obviously too soon to entertain notions of how Herrera might fit into the Phillies' 2015 plans. But considering that his hot spring start was preceded by a .315 average last year and a batting title in the Venezuelan winter league, there could indeed eventually be a spot for him in those plans.
7. Adalberto Mejia, LHP, San Francisco Giants
That Adalberto Mejia is a pitching prospect in the Giants organization makes him intriguing enough. This is, after all, an organization that has produced some good ones in recent years.
What he's done so far in spring training only makes him more intriguing. Mejia has only made two appearances, but he's allowed only one baserunner (on a hit-by-pitch) in three innings. Along the way, he's struck out four.
The bad news is that the 21-year-old lefty's early dominance has no chance of leading to a spot on the major league roster right out of the gate. He'll spend the first 50 games of 2015 serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a stimulant.
But in a way, Mejia's early dominance does work as a coming-out party. Though he's not widely regarded as an elite prospect, Baseball Prospectus thinks highly enough to rank him as baseball's No. 86 prospect.
So, maybe it will prove to be right about that. Maybe.
6. Scott Schebler, LF, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers outfield prospect everyone is watching is Joc Pederson, and understandably so. But Scott Schebler is no slouch, as he's topped a .900 OPS, 25 homers and double-digit steals two years in a row.
And while Pederson has been impressive in three spring games, Schebler has been impressive in four (big difference, you know) spring games. In those, he's hit an even .500 with a 1.300 OPS. Of his five hits, three have been doubles.
The downside of Schebler's spring performance is that it gives him virtually no chance of making the Dodgers outfield no matter how long he keeps it up. Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Chris Heisey and Scott Van Slyke are all standing in his way.
But Schebler told Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times last November that he's not stressing the depth chart, and the fact that he's a left fielder might end up helping him in the long run. That's where Crawford roams, and he's hardly an iron man with only 252 games played since 2012.
Don't stop keeping an eye on Pederson. But while you're at it, keep an eye on Schebler too.
5. Carlos Rodon, SP, Chicago White Sox
Carlos Rodon was already a player to watch this spring simply by virtue of being the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft. But once it was announced he would be taking the injured Chris Sale's turn in the White Sox's spring rotation, he became even more of a player to watch.
And in his first start of the spring, he didn't disappoint.
The 22-year-old lefty pitched two innings against the San Diego Padres on Friday, allowing only one hit while striking out four. That earned praise from his skipper, who seemed to especially like Rodon's slider.
“He threw great,” Robin Ventura told JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago, adding: "You see the sharpness he has on his slider. He can get out of some stuff. Located fairly well. I think we are all excited about what he did.”
Though he's less than a year removed from being drafted, Rodon entered camp as a dark-horse candidate for the White Sox's starting rotation.
Now you have to wonder if he's more than just a dark horse. Though he's only made one start, it was a darn good one, and Sale's absence ensures he'll get plenty more chances to impress.
4. Billy Burns, CF, Oakland Athletics
After coming over in a trade for lefty specialist Jerry Blevins last winter, Billy Burns didn't do much to impress in his first year with the A's. He hit only .237 with a .618 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A.
That's not how Burns is hitting these days, however. His hitting is currently, shall we say, excellent.
Burns has found playing time in five games so far and is hitting an even .400 with a 1.200 OPS. He's also shown off what Baseball America thinks is 80-grade speed, swiping two stolen bases.
Chances are this is a fluke performance that will be quickly forgotten in no time at all. But that being said, it's definitely the kind of performance that draws attention to Burns' track record before 2014. He was an offensive menace in 2012 and 2013, hitting over .300 with OBP's easily over .400 both years.
If Burns has in fact turned back the clock, he's absolutely a player to keep an eye on. With the A's recently revealing that Coco Crisp is moving to left field for health reasons, only Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry are standing in Burns' way of earning some time in center field.
3. Daniel Fields, CF, Detroit Tigers
There was a time that Baseball America had Daniel Fields rated as one of the Tigers' top five prospects, but his stock has fallen considerably in the last three years. Injuries haven't helped, especially not in 2014 when a broken hand cost him a large chunk of the season.
So far this spring, however, the Tigers are seeing what a healthy Fields can do.
He has played in five games to this point, raking to the tune of a .455 average and 1.409 OPS. Three of his five hits have gone for extra bases, including one home run.
The difference, according to the man himself, has indeed been good health.
"I spent the offseason getting stronger and healthier," the 24-year-old told Lynn Henning of The Detroit News. "It's been about five years. Hopefully, the sixth year will be my lucky charm."
Good health permitting, Fields could bring some power and speed to Detroit's center field gig. And with only Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis blocking him, it's possible he could see some time at the position if neither of them proves capable of handling the position.
But about that...
2. Anthony Gose, CF, Detroit Tigers
As hot as Daniel Fields has been so far this spring, he's no Anthony Gose.
Gose has only played in four games, but in those he's hit a whopping .636 with a 1.510 OPS. He's also put his easily above-average speed to use in stealing two bases.
This is quite the outburst for a guy who's only a .259 career hitter in the minors, much less a .234 hitter in 202 major league games. But if nothing else, it's a reminder that Gose was considered one of the top 100 prospects in baseball very recently.
And for what it's worth, the 24-year-old isn't lacking in confidence.
"I definitely feel like I'm going to be a major league star one day," he told George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press. "It's how fast you're going to grasp it."
The Tigers got Gose from the Toronto Blue Jays in a one-for-one swap involving second base prospect Devon Travis. It's awfully—check that, obscenely—early, but so far the Tigers are getting the better end of the deal.
1. Marcus Semien, SS, Oakland Athletics
Marcus Semien hasn't done much in his two tastes of the majors, hitting only .240 with a .673 OPS in 85 games with the Chicago White Sox. As such, it seemed odd that the A's were comfortable taking him as the centerpiece of the Jeff Samardzija trade.
Until now, that is.
Semien has spent his first four games of spring training knocking the cover off the ball, hitting .545 with a 1.674 OPS. His opening act was a two-homer game against the San Francisco Giants, the first of which came against reigning World Series MVP/Left Arm of God Madison Bumgarner.
The power Semien has shown isn't out of line with his reputation, as he's always been regarded as having good power for a middle infielder. As for unlocking the rest of his potential, the A's think that keeping him fixed at shortstop rather than using him as a utility infielder like the White Sox did will be the trick.
“We’re going to give him every opportunity to be our everyday shortstop,” A's skipper Bob Melvin told Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago. “For a younger player, he can just concentrate on one position, and especially coming to a new team and organization, it’s important that we try to get him in the best spot."
The A's shortstop position is Semien's to lose. From the looks of things, he doesn't plan on losing it.