Top MLB Prospects Who Could Force Way onto 25-Man Rosters in 2016 Spring Camp
Spring training can get kind of boring, right?
The game’s best pitchers are held back, and its best position players don’t often take the games seriously. It’s more like a televised health club than competitive athletics.
I get it, of course. After months off, position players are just looking to get a feel for their swings and timing in the field. The best pitchers are held back because there’s no worse feeling than watching an ace hurt his arm in spring training.
But there’s still reason to watch. Baseball’s top prospects provide that.
There isn’t a question as to whether baseball’s best minor league talent will be promoted to the major leagues. But the timing of it certainly matters—especially to the prospects themselves.
In the era of arbitration, sooner is always better for baseball’s best prospects. Just ask Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, who didn’t break camp with the team in 2015 because the organization wanted to ensure it had an extra year of team control, so he filed a grievance.
But in the interest of—to put it bluntly—money, baseball’s prospects will grind out spring training games like they’re in a pennant race. OK, maybe that’s hyperbole. But you get the point.
They’re all going to try pretty hard in spring training to crack the 25-man roster. Which of them could be successful?
SS Corey Seager, Dodgers
By now, half of you are screaming “It’s obvious!” The other half? You're screaming the Dodgers shortstop should be left off this list.
So, to be thorough, here it is: Expect Corey Seager to be on the team’s Opening Day roster.
In 27 games with the Dodgers last season, Seager hit .337/.425/.361. He reached base safely in his first 21 games. Eventually, Seager unseated Jimmy Rollins at shortstop and started four of the Dodgers’ five playoff games.
Deciding not to sign Rollins this offseason, the National League MVP in 2007, was an indication that the organization feels Seager, who turns 22 in April, is ready.
He still has more development ahead of him. Yes, the majors are another level on the developmental track of a young player. His biggest struggle might be to limit the number of strikeouts. His strikeout percentage was 16.8 in his 27 games last season, and he did struggle in the playoffs. He hit only .188.
Regardless, he’s going to be a star. Let’s go ahead and rile up Yankees fans by calling him the next Derek Jeter.
His position at the major league level is uncertain. He may play third base long term. But, for now, he’ll play baseball’s marquee position in the game’s second-biggest market, and he’s the best of a crop of talented Dodgers prospects who could net the organization multiple World Series wins.
Really, it’s not that crazy.
CF Byron Buxton, Twins
It feels like we’ve been hearing about Byron Buxton so long that he should be a seasoned veteran. Or, at least, not considered a prospect anymore.
The Twins drafted Buxton out of high school in 2012. Virtually ever since, he has been one of baseball’s top prospects, overshadowing the fact that he is only 22.
Moreover, injuries in 2014 delayed his development.
He was finally called up last season from Double-A Chattanooga, in part, because the Twins struggled collectively at Buxton’s centerfield position. In 46 games, though, Buxton hit only .209/.250/.326.
A poor start to his major league career did nothing to sour the Twins’ expectations for their talented outfielder. In fact, in November, the team traded Aaron Hicks to the Yankees—making room for Buxton in the outfield.
Even if Buxton struggles at the plate for parts of 2016, his athleticism makes him an asset on the field. He has Gold Glove potential and is still thought to be the organization’s centerpiece moving forward.
SP Blake Snell, Rays
I should start out with this disclaimer: There are more reasons he won’t break camp with the big league club.
Snell, 23, only has 21 combined starts between Double- and Triple-A. And organizations are so careful with their young arms that it’s unlikely any promotion would be rushed.
That said, Snell has leveled his competition in the minors. In 12 starts with Double-A Montgomery last season, his ERA was 1.57. In nine starts with Triple-A Durham, it was 1.83.
Had the Rays been in the playoff race in September, the argument could have been made to call Snell up to the majors. But given the realities of the team’s 2015 season, it wouldn’t have been productive to add to Snell’s innings totals.
He should expect to join the Rays at some point during 2016. Given how well he has pitched, he could easily have a productive spring. Keeping him off the Opening Day roster might be the function of developmental philosophy rather than anything else.
SS/2B Trea Turner, Nationals
Whether or not Trea Turner makes the major roster out of spring training, he should be considered a favorite, along with Mets pitcher Steven Matz and Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, to win National League Rookie of the Year.
Turner will get his chance to battle for the team’s starting shortstop position this spring. But it would take a pretty remarkable spring to win the job. In 27 games last season, Turner hit .225/.295/.325.
But if Turner is able to win the job this spring, it may be because of his fielding. He has positional versatility, which is a benefit to any National League team. The Nationals also could use Turner’s speed. His best chance at breaking camp with the team may lie in his ability to showcase it on the bases and on the field.
A disappointing 2015 season could motivate the Nationals to go with their best guys at the jump—assuming Turner proves himself as one this spring.
SP Steven Matz, Mets
He may be an obvious choice, but listing Mets starter Steven Matz is an obligation at this point, even if it’s the result of a technicality.
Matz, drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft, made his major league debut in June of last season. But after his first two starts, Matz went on the disabled list for seven weeks with a lat injury.
So because of how little he played in 2015, he is considered a rookie and still a prospect.
He finished the season 4-0 in six starts with a 2.27 ERA and started a World Series game, which is to say he could fail to record an out this spring and still make the 25-man roster.
3B/OF Joey Gallo, Rangers
Joey Gallo has one thing any team craves: raw power.
He hit six home runs in only 108 at-bats last season. In 87 minor league games in 2015 between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock, Gallo hit 23 homers and 63 RBI.
But he strikes out a lot, too. Last season, he had 139 strikeouts in the minors and whiffed a whopping 57 times in 36 games in the majors. Experience ultimately may be the best route in helping Gallo improve his contact.
The Rangers weren’t hurting for power in 2015, either. The team was third in the majors with 707 RBI and ranked a respectable 11th with 172 homers. However, proving that his approach is better may be all he needs to do this spring to make the roster.
P Frankie Montas, Dodgers
But he isn’t even the Dodgers’ best pitcher! Yes, I know. Many consider Julio Urias and Jose De Leon to be better than Frankie Montas.
Montas, however, throws the hardest. In its latest prospect rankings, MLB.com states that Montas has a fastball that has reached 102 miles per hour. It further notes that there are questions over whether he will end up as a starter or reliever.
So if a need arises for a hard-throwing bullpen arm, it would make sense for Montas to be the first selected of the three. De Leon and Urias project as starters right now.
Remember, ESPN reported that the Dodgers had agreed on a trade for flame-thrower Aroldis Chapman. But the deal fell through after it was alleged that Chapman fired a gun in his Miami garage, according to a police report obtained by Yahoo Sports.