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Former Big-Name Prospects Making Waves in 2016 Spring Training

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2016

Former Big-Name Prospects Making Waves in 2016 Spring Training

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Established veterans shaking off the rust and heralded prospects trying to make an impression alongside big league talent—that's generally the storyline during spring training.

    But what about the guys who fall somewhere in between?

    Each team has a handful of players fighting for a spot on the 25-man roster, and mixed in with those bubble guys there are always at least a few former top prospects who are still trying to break through.

    Not all highly touted prospects pan out, but the flops don't simply disappear either.

    Even if a former top prospect doesn't live up to his lofty billing, he's still capable of carving out a role at the MLB level and enjoying a productive career.

    With that in mind, what follows is a look at 10 former big-name prospects who are making waves this spring.

    In order to qualify for inclusion, a player had to have appeared at some point among the top 10 prospects in an organization, according to Baseball America.

    Since the focus here is on post-hype guys, they must also no longer appear among their team's top 10 prospects heading into the 2016 season.

RHP Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox

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    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Spring Stats

    5 G, 7.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K

     

    Top 10 Prospect History

    2012: No. 8 BOS prospect
    2013: No. 3 BOS prospect
    2014: No. 9 BOS prospect
    2015: No. 8 BOS prospect

     

    Overview

    Matt Barnes was one of the fastest risers in the 2011 draft, eventually landing at No. 19 overall to the Boston Red Sox after a standout junior season at the University of Connecticut.

    He's always flashed plus stuff during his time in the minors, but things never quite clicked as a starter. He made the move to the bullpen last season.

    The 25-year-old split the year between Triple-A and the big leagues, posting a 5.44 ERA, 1.651 WHIP and 8.2 strikeout per nine innings in 32 appearances in Boston.

    Now, he's looking to land one of the final spots in the bullpen and break camp with the team, and he's off to a strong start.

    "I'm going out there, trying to put up zeros, get guys out, trying to throw the ball well and help the team win," Barnes told Christopher Smith of MassLive.com. "That's kind of what it's about at the end of the day. In terms of where I start—making the team, not making the team—my job is to make that decision as tough as possible."

3B Matt Davidson, Chicago White Sox

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Spring Stats

    12 G, 10-for-24, 1 2B, 4 HR, 7 RBI, 7 R, 0 BB, 2 K

     

    Top 10 Prospect History

    2010: No. 10 ARI prospect
    2011: No. 3 ARI prospect, No. 99 MLB prospect
    2012: No. 4 ARI prospect, No. 97 MLB prospect
    2013: No. 5 ARI prospect, No. 88 MLB prospect
    2014: No. 4 ARI prospect, No. 72 MLB prospect

     

    Overview

    The Chicago White Sox acquired Matt Davidson in 2013 from the Arizona Diamondbacks on the heels of a terrific season in 2013 that saw him post an .831 OPS with 32 doubles and 17 home runs at the Triple-A level.

    Emerging closer Addison Reed was shipped to the D'Backs in exchange, and the thought was that Davidson would take over the everyday third base job at some point in 2014.

    Instead, he's spent the past two seasons back in Triple-A Charlotte, hitting .201 and striking out at a dizzying 31.1 percent rate in the process.

    That included 191 strikeouts in 602 plate appearances last year, and when Conor Gillaspie faltered, the team passed over Davidson in favor of Tyler Saladino as a replacement.

    Davidson has made a strong impression so far this spring, but after the offseason addition of Todd Frazier, the 24-year-old is once again blocked.

    "The White Sox want to produce at third base, and obviously I haven't been doing that," Davidson told Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune. "No hurt feelings. I would have done the same thing if I was in their position."

    So what does he need to do to take his game to that next level?

    "Putting the ball in play more, hitting my pitches when I get them," he told Kane. "I fouled off a lot of pitches. I was really indecisive last year, trying to hit everything and worrying about every pitch. A lot of mental stuff that you can't do."

Of Reymond Fuentes, Kansas City Royals

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Spring Stats

    13 G, 9-for-24, 2 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 5 R, 3 BB, 5 K

     

    Top 10 Prospect History

    2010: No. 7 BOS prospect
    2011: 
    No. 4 SD prospect

     

    Overview

    Reymond Fuentes has yet to carve out a role at the MLB level, but he has a real chance of sticking with the Kansas City Royals as a fourth outfielder.

    The team recently optioned Jose Martinez, Brett Eibner and prospects Jorge Bonifacio and Bubba Starling, narrowing the crop of outfielders who are vying for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

    Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain are locked into two starting spots, while Fuentes, Paulo Orlando, Terrance Gore and non-roster invitee Travis Snider are the only other outfielders currently in camp.

    Three of those four are likely to make the roster while Jarrod Dyson continues to rehab a strained oblique. Gore is a one-dimensional speed threat, so what does Fuentes bring to the table?

    "(Fuentes) has the tools that the organization prizes: well above-average speed, defensive ability and versatility and a contact-hitting approach," wrote MLB.com's Prospect Watch.

    He flashed all of those skills during the 2013 season, hitting .330/.413/.448 with 33 extra-base hits and 35 stolen bases between the Double-A and Triple-A levels.

    Look for him to break camp with a bench spot and an opportunity to play his way into a semi-regular role, at least until Dyson returns.

OF Andrew Lambo, Oakland Athletics

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    Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

    Spring Stats

    13 G, 9-for-24, 2 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 6 R, 3 BB, 5 K

     

    Top 10 Prospect History

    2009: No. 1 LAD prospect, No. 49 MLB prospect
    2010: 
    No. 7 LAD prospect

     

    Overview

    A fourth-round pick out of high school in 2007, Lambo made his full-season debut the following year and hit .295/.351/.482 with 35 doubles, 18 home runs and 91 RBI between Single-A and Double-A as a 19-year-old.

    That was enough to catapult him into the top 50 prospects league-wide and make him the No. 1 prospect in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization heading into the 2009 season.

    However, he followed that up with a mediocre full season at the Double-A level, and his prospect star faded quickly from there.

    He popped back up on the radar in 2013 when he posted a .922 OPS with 32 home runs in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and got his first taste of big league action down the stretch that year.

    In limited action over the past three seasons, he's hit .191/.232/.298 with seven doubles and one home run in 99 plate appearances.

    The A's scooped him up off of waivers in November, and while there's no clear spot open on the Oakland bench, he's certainly setting the team up for a tough decision.

    "He's a guy we wanted to take a hard look at," manager Bob Melvin told Doug Miller of MLB.com. "And he's really swung the bat well for us."

RHP Kyle McPherson, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Spring Stats

    4 G, 5.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K

     

    Top 10 Prospect History

    2012: No. 6 PIT prospect
    2013: No. 7 PIT prospect

     

    Overview

    A 14th-round selection by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007, Kyle McPherson climbed into the organization's top 10 prospects after a breakout 2011 season.

    The right-hander went 12-6 with a 2.96 ERA, 1.019 WHIP and 142 strikeouts in 161.0 innings of work between High-A and Double-A that year.

    He pitched well again the next season and capped things off with three starts and seven relief appearances with the big club, posting a 2.73 ERA and 1.177 WHIP in 26.1 innings.

    He hasn't pitched in the majors since.

    Tommy John surgery ended his 2013 season after just two starts, and he followed that up with a second elbow surgery in 2014.

    He finally returned to the mound last June as a reliever, and the results weren't pretty, as he had a 6.95 ERA and 1.574 WHIP in 21 appearances over three levels.

    The Rays took a flier on the 28-year-old as a non-roster invitee, and he's pitched well so far in four spring appearances.

    He's a long shot to make the Opening Day roster, but he's worth keeping an eye on as he's capable of making an impact if he's back to 100 percent.

OF Steven Moya, Detroit Tigers

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    Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

    Spring Stats

    12 G, 8-for-22, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 5 R, 1 BB, 4 K

     

    Top 10 Prospect History

    2015: No. 1 DET prospect

     

    Overview

    Steven Moya shot to the top of the prospect rankings in the thin Detroit Tigers farm system after a big 2014 season, posting an .861 OPS with 33 doubles, 35 home runs and 105 RBI to win Eastern League Player of the Year honors.

    Those gaudy counting stats were great, but they were accompanied by a 29.3 percent strikeout rate and a paltry 4.2 percent walk rate that resulted in a .306 on-base percentage.

    Better pitching further exposed those weaknesses last year, as he hit .240/.283/.420 with a 30.3 percent strikeout rate at the Triple-A level.

    That lack of consistent contact and on-base skills is concerning, but Moya is still just 24 years old, and his power potential is legit.

    That pop has been on full display this spring, as he's slugged four home runs while hitting .364.

    "He looks more this spring like he did in 2014," manager Brad Ausmus told Jason Beck of MLB.com. "He looks a lot more comfortable, a lot more confident. He's had good at-bats. He really has."

    Moya is battling Tyler Collins for the fourth outfielder job, a spot opened up by a spring injury to Cameron Maybin.

LHP Sean Nolin, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Spring Stats

    4 G, 5.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K

     

    Top 10 Prospect History

    2014: No. 10 TOR prospect
    2015: 
    No. 8 OAK prospect

     

    Overview

    Part of the four-player package the Oakland Athletics acquired last offseason in exchange for eventual AL MVP Josh Donaldson, left-hander Sean Nolin is now vying for a bullpen spot with the rebuilding Brewers.

    Out of minor league options and without a clear spot in the Oakland pen, he was designated for assignment in February and quickly scooped up off waivers by Milwaukee.

    Nolin has mostly seen time as a starter in the minors, posting a 3.02 ERA and 1.218 WHIP over 485.1 innings in parts of six seasons.

    However, the Brewers will look to him as a second lefty out of the pen and potential swingman, provided he earns a spot on the roster.

    "I want to pitch in the big leagues," Nolin told Todd Rosiak and Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel after being claimed by Milwaukee. "I want to be there, feel like I'm ready and it doesn't matter how many innings—if it's 75 in the bullpen or 160-plus. I can always be a spot starter, long reliever, whatever. It kind of helps me a little bit to be a lefty, but also to have a little length to me."

    The 26-year-old has some legitimate potentialhe just hasn't gotten a chance to show what he can do at the highest level. For the rebuilding Brewers, he could be a pleasant surprise as a buy-low waiver claim.

OF Stefen Romero, Seattle Mariners

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    John Williamson/Getty Images

    Spring Stats

    11 G, 12-for-25, 2 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 5 R, 1 BB, 3 K

     

    Top 10 Prospect History

    2013: No. 8 SEA prospect

     

    Overview

    One of the few spots up for grabs on the Seattle Mariners roster this spring is finding a right-handed hitting platoon partner for newcomer Adam Lind at first base.

    It appeared to be a two-man race between Jesus Montero and Dae-Ho Lee, but Stefen Romero has pushed his way into the picture with a strong spring.

    "He’s swung the bat really well, and he’s certainly in the mix for that spot," manager Scott Servais told Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times.

    Romero, 27, was originally drafted as a second baseman, so he has some infield experience, though the bulk of his action in recent years has come in the outfield.

    In a full season at the Triple-A level in 2015, he hit .292/.333/.494 with 37 doubles, 17 home runs, 79 RBI and 10 stolen bases.

    He's hit just .192/.241/.308 with 13 extra-base hits in 214 plate appearances in limited big league action the past two years, but he's opening eyes this spring with his approach.

    "He's not up just dead-head hacking. He usually has a plan," Servais told Greg Johns of MLB.com. "Situationally, he's done a very good job of getting guys in from third. His two-strike approach has been very good. It's consistent, competitive at-bats. He's faced all kinds of pitching and handling himself very well."

1B Brett Wallace, San Diego Padres

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    Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    Spring Stats

    8 G, 6-for-17, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB, 4 K

     

    Top 10 Prospect History

    2009: No. 2 STL prospect, No. 40 MLB prospect
    2010: No. 2 OAK prospect, No. 27 MLB prospect

     

    Overview

    Brett Wallace has bounced around a ton since being taken with the No. 13 pick in the 2008 draft, starting with being the centerpiece of the blockbuster deal that sent Matt Holliday from Oakland to St. Louis at the deadline in 2009.

    All told, he's spent time with the Cardinals, Athletics, Blue Jays, Astros, Orioles and Blue Jays again before finally landing in San Diego as a free agent last offseason.

    In 64 games with the Padres last year, he hit .302/.374/.521 with six double and five home runs in 107 plate appearances.

    It was as a pinch-hitter that he really shined, going 15-for-53 (.349) with an MLB-best four home runs in that role.

    "He did a tremendous job last year. That's what we're grooming him for this year and he's really embraced the role," manager Andy Green told Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I think that's a big part of being successful off the bench—to actually embrace it and not feel like you deserve more."

    Wallace may start the year in a bench role, but as the backup to the oft-injured Wil Myers at first base it's not out of the question to think he could find himself in a bigger role at some point in 2016.

    "I try not to worry about at-bats, playing time, my rolethings you can't control,” Wallace told Sanders. "My job is to be prepared every day. If that means, playing every day, playing twice a week or pinch-hitting every day, that's not something I can control. I just worry about being ready to go whenever they call my number."

RHP Michael Ynoa, Chicago White Sox

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Spring Stats

    5 G, 5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 K

     

    Top 10 Prospect History

    2009: No. 3 OAK prospect
    2014: No. 5 OAK prospect

     

    Overview

    Michael Ynoa signed with the Oakland Athletics for a then-record $4.25 million bonus as an international free agent in 2008, but injuries limited him to just 161 innings in his five years with the organization.

    He was essentially a throw-in last winter in the blockbuster deal that sent Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox, but he took a solid step forward by staying healthy and pitching well out of the bullpen.

    In 28 appearances for High-A Winston-Salem, he posted a 2.61 ERA, 1.395 WHIP and 40 strikeouts in 38 innings of work, also recording six saves.

    The 24-year-old has a big 6'7" frame and a plus fastball, but his slider and changeup are still works in progress. He'll need to develop that slider into a legitimate strikeout pitch if he's going to settle in as an MLB reliever.

    A strong showing this spring was a step in the right direction, and it's not out of the question to think he could position himself for a late-season debut in Chicago with another healthy campaign.

    As MLB.com's Prospect Watch put it: "He has a ceiling of a late-inning reliever, but he'll have to add a lot of polish and prove he can stay healthy to reach it."

     

    All regular season stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, while spring stats come via MLB.com.

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