Former Big-Name Prospects Making Waves in 2017 Spring Training

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2017

Former Big-Name Prospects Making Waves in 2017 Spring Training

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    Tom Pennington/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 2017 season.

IF Chris Taylor, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    Spring Stats

    13-for-25, 2 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 9 R, 8/6 BB/K

     

    Top Prospect History

    2014: No. 9 SEA prospect

     

    Outlook

    Just a few years ago, there was a logjam at the shortstop position shaping up for the Seattle Mariners as they had Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, Chris Taylor and Ketel Marte all working their way up the minor league ranks.

    Now all four players are suiting up elsewhere, and Jean Segura will open the season as Seattle's starting shortstop.

    Taylor joined the Los Angeles Dodgers last June, traded in exchange for another former top prospect in right-hander Zach Lee.

    The 26-year-old spent the bulk of the year in Triple-A, hitting a solid .322/.397/.474 with 34 extra-base hits and 17 stolen bases.

    Now he's battling Kike Hernandez and Charlie Culberson for the utility infield job and based on performance he has to be considered the favorite at this point.

1B Jesus Aguilar, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Spring Stats

    14-for-33, 2 2B, 4 HR, 10 RBI, 10 R, 6/7 BB/K

     

    Top Prospect History

    2013: No. 9 CLE prospect

     

    Outlook

    Jesus Aguilar has been buried on the Cleveland Indians depth chart the past few seasons.

    Now it looks like he'll finally get a chance to prove himself at the MLB level after being claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers during the offseason.

    "When I got claimed, they called me and told me I'd get a good opportunity," Aguilar said, per Tom Haudricourt and Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "When I got here, we had a meeting and they said I'd get a lot of at-bats. I came in mentally prepared, knowing I would get a chance."

    The 26-year-old slugged 26 doubles and 30 home runs in Triple-A last season, then followed that up with a 1.018 OPS that included 10 home runs and 22 RBI in 42 games in the Venezuelan Winter League.

    He stands to open the season as the right-handed hitting side of a platoon with Eric Thames at first base and the team's top pinch-hitter.

RF Patrick Kivlehan, Cincinnati Reds

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Spring Stats

    12-for-32, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 6 R, 2/3 BB/K

     

    Top Prospect History

    2015: No. 4 SEA prospect

     

    Outlook

    Patrick Kivlehan is part of a wide net cast by the Cincinnati Reds to fill out their bench with non-roster invitees this offseason.

    The 27-year-old carries an .814 OPS over parts of five minor league seasons, but he's yet to get an extended look at the MLB level.

    After spending time with the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres last season, he landed in Cincinnati as a waiver claim in September and now he's making a strong push to play his way on to the Opening Day roster.

    "He's athletic with big power," manager Bryan Price said, per Gary Schatz of the Dayton Daily News. "That's one thing we did see when we first claimed him. We had some video on him where he hit some absolute bombs. Maybe he just needs to find a home like (Adam) Duvall."

    Finding another surprise 30-homer threat would certainly be a boon to the Reds' rebuilding efforts.

RHP R.J. Alvarez, Texas Rangers

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Spring Stats

    4 G, 5.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K

     

    Top Prospect History

    2013: No. 8 LAA prospect
    2014: No. 4 LAA prospect

     

    Outlook

    R.J. Alvarez was expected to be one of the first to arrive in the majors from the 2012 draft class after a stellar junior season serving as the closer at Florida Atlantic.

    The right-hander tallied five wins and eight saves with a 0.72 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 47 strikeouts in 37.2 innings to close out his collegiate career and rose quickly through the minors as expected.

    He debuted with a September call-up in 2014, but he's yet to find success at the MLB level with a 7.39 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in 28.0 innings over 31 career appearances.

    The 25-year-old didn't pitch in the majors last year, and his season was interrupted by elbow surgery to remove a bone chip.

    Now he's looking to get his career back on track by winning a spot in the Texas Rangers bullpen.

SS Deven Marrero, Boston Red Sox

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    Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Spring Stats

    10-for-32, 3 2B, 3 RBI, 4 R, 2/7 BB/K

     

    Top Prospect History

    2013: No. 10 BOS prospect
    2015: No. 9 BOS prospect
    2016: No. 8 BOS prospect

     

    Outlook

    Deven Marrero is probably never going to live up to his billing as a former first-round pick.

    The Arizona State standout went No. 24 overall in the 2012 draft thanks in large part to his polished defensive skills, and his bat simply hasn't developed as hoped.

    The 26-year-old has hit .246/.316/.329 over five minor league seasons, including a forgettable .198/.245/.242 line in a full season at Triple-A Pawtucket last year.

    "Last year was tough but I learned so much," Marrero said, per Christopher Smith of MassLive. "Honestly I'm glad last year happened. I kind of learned a lot about myself and a lot about my game so that could never happen again."

    Even if he never hits, his glove up the middle still has value.

    A strong showing at the plate this spring could be enough to push him ahead of Rule 5 pick Josh Rutledge for the utility infield job.

CF Jacob May, Chicago White Sox

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Spring Stats

    11-for-36, 1 2B, 2 3B, 2 RBI, 6 R, 2/8 BB/K, 4 SB

     

    Top Prospect History

    2014: No. 9 CWS prospect
    2015: No. 10 CWS prospect
    2016: No. 7 CWS prospect

     

    Outlook

    Jacob May has some rich baseball bloodlines as the grandson of former Cincinnati Reds star Lee May.

    A third-round pick in 2013, May started off his pro career with a bang, hitting .303/.372/.458 and earning a promotion to the Single-A level.

    However, he's failed to build off of that strong debut in subsequent seasons, and he bottomed out last year with a .266/.309/.352 line in Triple-A.

    "Though the White Sox had hopes that May would develop into a starting center fielder, he now looks like more of a fourth outfielder because he has done little damage against upper-level pitching," MLB.com's Prospect Watch noted.

    That may be the case, but with non-roster invitee Peter Bourjos and injured prospect Charlie Tilson looking like the leading candidates for playing time in center field, May could get one last opportunity to prove himself.

    The 25-year-old can still be a weapon on the bases with his plus-plus speed.

RHP Taylor Jungmann, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Spring Stats

    7 G, 8.0 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K

     

    Top Prospect History

    2012: No. 2 MIL prospect, No. 70 MLB prospect
    2013: No. 3 MIL prospect
    2014: No. 6 MIL prospect
    2015: No. 10 MIL prospect

     

    Outlook

    The Milwaukee Brewers looked to be building out the future rotation when they took a pair of college arms in Taylor Jungmann (No. 12) and Jed Bradley (No. 15) in the first round of the 2011 draft.

    Neither pitcher has developed as hoped, though.

    Jungmann looked to be on his way to a long-term rotation spot when he went 9-8 with a 3.77 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 107 strikeouts in 119.1 innings as a rookie in 2015.

    That earned him a spot in the Opening Day rotation last year, but he struggled to a 9.15 ERA over his first five starts before being demoted to the minors.

    "It was a chance to relax a little bit, slow it down and get into some situations that weren't as competitive," Jungmann said, per Andrew Wagner of the Wisconsin State Journal. "I was trying to do a little too much in games but coming down here and being able to throw some live (batting practice) and bullpens where I didn't have to worry so much (about) results as much as getting work in."

    Now he's trying to stand out in a crowded race for the final three rotation spots behind Junior Guerra and Zach Davies.

RHP Rafael Montero, New York Mets

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    Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

    Spring Stats

    7 G, 11.1 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 7 BB, 17 K

     

    Top Prospect History

    2013: No. 5 NYM prospect
    2014: 
    No. 3 NYM prospect, No. 68 MLB prospect
    2015: 
    No. 8 NYM prospect

     

    Outlook

    Rafael Montero checked in as the No. 3 prospect in a deep New York Mets system at the start of the 2014 season, according to Baseball America.

    Jacob deGrom was No. 10 and Steven Matz was No. 12. Unlike those guys, Montero is yet to find success at the MLB level.

    The 26-year-old has compiled a 5.15 ERA and 1.64 WHIP in 73.1 innings of work in the majors the past three seasons, but he's been impressive so far this spring.

    "His control is better, his velocity is up, he [is] using his slider a little more, and he has a little more command of it," manager Terry Collins told Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News. "He's throwing the ball good."

    With no open spot in the rotation, he's pitching for a job in the bullpen and a potential long-relief role.

    He still has the power stuff that made him such a prized prospect, and it could play up with a full-time move to the bullpen.

RHP Kyle Crick, San Francisco Giants

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Spring Stats

    5 G, 7.0 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K

     

    Top Prospect History

    2012: No. 8 SF prospect
    2013: 
    No. 1 SF prospect, No. 66 MLB prospect
    2014: 
    No. 1 SF prospect, No. 33 MLB prospect
    2015: 
    No. 3 SF prospect

     

    Outlook

    The clock is ticking on Kyle Crick.

    Viewed as one of the game's elite pitching prospects heading into the 2013 and 2014 seasons, he's never been able to rein in his electric stuff.

    The 24-year-old has pitched to a 3.41 ERA with 10.0 K/9 over the course of his minor league career, but he's also walked hitters at a 6.2 BB/9 clip for a 1.50 WHIP.

    In his third go-around at the Double-A level last season, he posted a 5.04 ERA, 1.62 WHIP and an 86-to-67 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 109 innings of work.

    It looks like things might finally be clicking this spring, though.

    "He's starting to figure out himself, realize what his abilities are and be confident," veteran starter Matt Cain told Chris Haft of MLB.com. "He has tremendous talent and I think it's whether he wants to be able to put it all together and show the rest of the guys, 'Hey, I've got big league stuff.'"

    He may never develop the command necessary to be a starter, but he still has the stuff to be a useful bullpen arm if he can continue to make adjustments.

IF/OF Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers

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    Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

    Spring Stats

    ST: 1-for-1, 1 RBI, 1 R, 2/0 BB/K
    WBC: 12-for-23, 5 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 6 R, 3/3 BB/K

     

    Top Prospect History

    2010: No. 5 TEX prospect
    2011: 
    No. 2 TEX prospect, No. 74 MLB prospect
    2012: 
    No. 1 TEX prospect, No, 7 MLB prospect
    2013: 
    No. 1 TEX prospect, No, 1 MLB prospect

     

    Outlook

    In the past, the World Baseball Classic has been an opportunity for international players to audition for a future big league job.

    For Jurickson Profar, it's been a chance to show the Texas Rangers that he's ready for a more significant role.

    Playing center field and hitting third for Team Netherlands, he's gone 12-for-23 with five doubles and a home run so far in the tournament.

    "He's proven to the world what kind of player he is," Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens told Danny Knobler for MLB.com.

    A .235/.311/.341 career line to this point over 648 MLB plate appearances has left him well short of the expectations that come with being a former No. 1 overall prospect.

    However, the 24-year-old could finally get a crack at regular at-bats this season after serving in a utility role last year, and that could open the door for a breakout performance.

           

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