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Top MLB Prospects Making Early Waves at Spring Training

Jacob ShaferFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2017

Top MLB Prospects Making Early Waves at Spring Training

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    Chicago White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito.
    Chicago White Sox right-hander Lucas Giolito.Ron Vesely/Getty Images

    You've heard the caveats: Spring training is a crapshoot; beware of small samples; prospects are mercurial creatures.

    It's all technically true. You shouldn't draw firm conclusions at any point during the exhibition slate and certainly not after a couple of contests. Prospects with little or no big league experience can't be counted on.

    Come on, though. We've slogged through months of cold, soggy, baseball-free existence. Is it wrong to indulge in a little late-February optimism?

    Here, then, are 10 highly rated MLB prospects—based on the lists compiled by MLB.com, ESPN.com's Keith Law and Bleacher Report's Joel Reuterwho have shown flashes in the early going. Some have crushed it in game action; others have teased it in practice.

    Some are knocking on the door of a full-time big league gig, while others are years away from the Show.

    They've all made waves, however, one way or another. Add caveats if you must. As for me, I'm opting for a double scoop of optimism.

Lewis Brinson, CF, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

    Even casual Milwaukee Brewers fans know who Jonathan Lucroy is. He's the two-time All-Star catcher the Crew sent to the Texas Rangers at the 2016 trade deadline.

    Lewis Brinson, meanwhile, is part of the package the Rangers sent back to Milwaukee. If the Wisconsin faithful don't know him, they will soon.

    On Friday, in his first at-bats of the spring, the 22-year-old outfielder launched a pair of homers. Yes, they came in a game against the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers. 

    Still, it was an eye-opening initial impression from a player who ranks at or near the top of every Brewers prospect list.

    "He had a great game," Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said of Brinson, per MLB.com's Adam McCalvy. "It's his first at-bats of the season, and the timinghe made it look pretty easy."

Victor Robles, CF, Washington Nationals

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    Victor Robles isn't officially in the Washington Nationals' big league camp, but the 19-year-old outfielder provided some excitement nonetheless.

    Robles is generally regarded as the Nats' top prospect after Washington traded away numerous MiLB pieces this winter. He slipped into an intrasquad game Thursday and generated buzz, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post described:

    As a teenager in a nameless No. 91 jersey flew around first base and the baseball he hit flew toward center field, a few fans watching in the bleachers behind home plate nudged their neighbors.

    “Is that him?” one asked, a little more audibly than the rest, because the kid was not on her roster. Yes, someone told her: The kid with his socks pulled high, charging around Field 6 at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, was Victor Robles.

    Robles finished with one hit, an infield dribbler he beat out against Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark. More than that, the kid looked like he belonged.

    "I felt comfortable," Robles said, per Janes. "That's what I work for, to prepare myself and face big league pitchers."

Gleyber Torres, SS, New York Yankees

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    Once upon a time, not so long ago, New York Yankees fans were accustomed to championships. They still are.

    Now, though, the Bronx faithful are getting used to bust-out prospects and a slightly longer view of success.

    Last season, it was catcher Gary Sanchez, who burst on the scene and finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting despite playing only 53 games.

    Now, it's shortstop Gleyber Torres, among others.

    Torres, acquired from the Chicago Cubs at the 2016 trade deadline for closer Aroldis Chapman, became the youngest player ever to win the Arizona Fall League batting title and MVP.

    On Saturday, he doubled twice and scored a run against the Philadelphia Phillies. 

    "He's a bright kid who knows how to play the game," manager Joe Girardi said, per Mike Mazzeo of the New York Daily News.

    Added the 20-year-old Torres, per Mazzeo, "I think the best thing that I can accomplish this spring training is experience."

    That, and making Yanks fans think reflexive Derek Jeter/championship thoughts.

Aaron Judge, RF, New York Yankees

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Let's stick with Yankees prospects and highlight Aaron Judge, who has a strong chance of cracking the Opening Day roster.

    Judge increased those chances by launching a massive home run off the scoreboard at George M. Steinbrenner Field Friday.

    "If he gets the barrel of the bat to the ball, he's going to do a lot of damage," Girardi said, per MLB.com's Bryan Hoch. "There are going to be some strikeouts, and you can live with some strikeouts, but this is a guy that could be extremely productivejust because of the raw power that he hasand do significant damage."

    Recently, I compared Judge to Miami Marlins masher Giancarlo Stanton. Judge is a long way from that, Stanton's injury issues aside, but the comp isn't ludicrouswhich should tell you everything you need to know.

Amed Rosario, SS, New York Mets

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    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    Amed Rosario hit .324 with an .833 OPS between High-A and Double-A last season while playing superlative defense at shortstop. He's the New York Mets' consensus No. 1 prospect. Expectations are calibrated somewhere past can't-miss.

    Forgive Mets fans for salivating, then, when Rosario impressed in early batting practice.

    "My impression, when we first started batting practice, the first pitch he saw, he hit it off of the batter's eye. Which is eye-catching," manager Terry Collins said, per Abbey Mastracco of NJ Advance Media. "Looks like he's got a good eye, good hands and I just can't wait to see him play."

    Mastracco then described the following:

    Two days later, the shortstop was taking batting practice with a crowd so large it rivaled the one on the opposing field where stars like Yoenis Cespedes were working out. Fans chanted his name, "Amed! Amed!" trying desperately to get his attention. They asked him to sign batting gloves, baseballs, t-shirts and even their arms. But Rosario just got back to work. 

    This, for a kid who hasn't even played in Triple-A yet. 

    The point stands. Rosario hasn't proved anything yet and won't start the season in Queens barring an unforeseen turn of events.

    The hype is building, however, and it's feeling more drool-worthy by the moment.

Hunter Renfroe, RF, San Diego Padres

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    Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    Hunter Renfroe went 13-for-35 after a 2016 September call-up with the San Diego Padres. Before that, he hit 30 home runs with 105 RBI at Triple-A El Paso.

    This spring, he's speaking out about a fresh vibe in the Friars clubhouse.

    "I think the vibe is unbelievably different," Renfroe said, per Derek Togerson of NBC San Diego. "I think it's moved more towards a positive attitude and everybody's having a great time."

    In the past, Renfroe added, with experienced players in camp, the tendency was to "walk on egg shells because you don't want to insult them."

    The Pads are finally, fully committed to a necessary rebuild. Renfroe, meanwhile, is responding in deed as well as word after doubling and driving in a run in his first spring action. 

Cody Bellinger, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Dodgers will lean heavily on their veteran core as they angle for a fifth straight division title and a run at their first World Series since 1988.

    L.A. has a well-stocked farm system, too, headlined by Cody Bellinger.

    The Dodgers first baseman of the future made big noise Sunday, as he blasted one all the way out of the stadium at Maryvale Baseball Park against the Brewers.

    "Haven't seen one hit that well here," manager Dave Roberts said, per MLB.com's Ken Gurnick. "Haven't seen many guys in the big leagues that can hit a ball like that."

    Bellinger won't turn 22 until July and will almost assuredly begin the season at Triple-A. Then again, as Gurnick notes, veteran first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is dealing with elbow issues. At the least, that means Bellinger will get a long exhibition look.

    If he keeps hitting balls literally out of the park, he'll tread into issue-forcing territory. 

Lucas Giolito, RHP, Chicago White Sox

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    Ron Vesely/Getty Images

    I already told you about Chicago White Sox pitching prospect Michael Kopech and his triple-digit heater. Keep an eye on him.

    Keep the other one on Lucas Giolito.

    Acquired by Chicago from the Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade, Giolito had his struggles in 2016, as he posted a 6.75 ERA in 21.1 big league innings.

    The No. 2 pitching prospect in the game, according to MLB.com, the tall right-hander is saying encouraging things in Sox camp.

    "I made a lot of positive changes in the offseason trying to simplify thingsget back to basics, let the ball kind of come out of my hand instead of forcing it," Giolito said, per MLB.com's Scott Merkin. "And it's feeling very good."

    Those are the same platitudes you hear from countless players in spring. Giolito has already undergone his share of setbacks, including Tommy John surgery in 2012.

    His talent is undeniable, however, and he's poised to flaunt it for the ChiSox. For now, I'll swill the Kool-Aid. 

Francis Martes, RHP, Houston Astros

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    The Houston Astros beefed up their offense this winter but did little to address the starting rotation.

    They're hoping for a bounce-back from 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel and could still add an arm via trade.

    As they gaze to the future, the 'Stros should be excited about Francis Martes.

    The 21-year-old Dominican right-hander threw live batting practice Friday and drew glowing reviews.

    "I can see why a lot of people are talking about him," said catcher Max Stassi, who caught Martes' session, per Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle. "The stuff is really, really impressive."

    "Electric," Astros outfielder Josh Reddick said, per MLB.com's Brian McTaggart. "He's got a lot of movement, gets on you pretty quick."

    He won't break camp with Houston, but don't be surprised if Martes makes a cameo at some point.

Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Speaking of young pitchers flaunting their talent: On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Pirates Tyler Glasnow made a case for his position as the game's top pitching prospect and a member of the Bucs 2017 starting five.

    The 23-year-old righty recorded all six outs via strikeout while allowing just one single against the Baltimore Orioles. 

    His victims weren't scrubs either. Glasnow fanned Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, Seth Smith, Jonathan Schoop and Ryan Flaherty.

    Glasnow is competing for a rotation job with shoo-in veterans Gerrit Cole and Ivan Nova, as well as Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Drew Hutchison and Trevor Williams.

    "I think the secret is just not doing more than you have to," Glasnow said, per Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Don't put too much pressure on yourself, especially in a position like trying to compete for a spot. Do everything like you know you can." 

                                                            

    All statistics current as of Feb. 26 and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. 

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