For all the Jeremy Hellicksons, Freddie Freemans and Brent Morels that are out there—top MLB prospects who are almost assured of making the opening-day big-league roster—there are even more young players in camp this spring who have little to no chance at making the club.
There's many reasons for these guys to be in Arizona or Florida.
For some, like Baltimore's Caleb Joseph, they're simply there because they play catcher, and during spring training teams bring catchers in by the truckload to help catch the overwhelming number of pitchers in camp. Filler, basically.
For others, like the much-hyped Bryce Harper, they're there to get a taste of what a professional baseball team looks like. They're there to get a long, good look at the big-leagues, the way it works, the way the players work, etc. They're there to gain as much knowledge as they can absorb, and hopefully it will benefit them on their own path through the minors.
And last but not least, there are the prospects in camp who have about a 5-10% chance of making the big-league club out of spring training and whose only hope is impress and improve their stock in the eyes of the decision-makers who litter the many fields scattered across the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues.
It's that latter two groups that we're going to focus on for this article, and I'll be selecting a player from each team who has the best potential as a pro, but has little realistic chance at making the big-league club.
The Diamondbacks haven't been shy over the years about exposing their top prospects, no matter how young, to the environment of spring training. Top pitcher Jarrod Parker is no exception. Parker is with the club so that team officials can get a good gauge on how he's recovered from Tommy John surgery—an injury that robbed him of his entire 2010 season.
And for Parker, the big key is that he's healthy, which is good because he's looked a lot like a pitcher that has barely pitched above Double-A. The hard-throwing right-hander has been battered in 4.1 innings, surrendering four runs on four hits and his control, a staple of his pre-surgery, all but abandoned him. He's issued five walks and struck out only one.
But, like I said before, Parker is just here to prove he's healthy and to get some big-league exposure. After all, he'll likely make an appearance back in Arizona towards the end of the 2011 season and could be a fixture near the top of their rotation by 2012.
Like fellow international super-prospect Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino has no legitimate shot to make the Braves opening day roster.
Still, the Braves feel like there's some benefit to having him play for a month with the big-league club, even if it's just to get a better look at his nasty stuff that has made him one of the Braves' top pitching prospects. Vizcaino hasn't gotten as much work as Delgado (three IP), but has shown advancement beyond his 20 years of age. He's surrendered only two hits and has one strikeout and no walks in two appearances.
Vizcaino is likely ticketed for High-A ball or possibly even Double-A.
Top Orioles pitching prospect Zach Britton made huge strides in his second big-league spring training start. In his first outing, he showed serious jitters and noted in conversations with reporters just how nervous he was.
In his second start against the Yankees however, Britton was great. He pitched three scoreless innings, gave up only two hits and struck out one. And the nerves that were so prominent during his first outing against the Phillies were nowhere to be found.
That said, there isn't a whole lot that Britton can do to secure the Orioles' last rotation spot. He was rumored as a dark-horse candidate for the No. 5 spot, but looks like he could still use some seasoning down at Triple-A.
Being ticketed for Triple-A hasn't affected the play of Boston's most notable international sign, Jose Iglesias.
On the contrary. Iglesias has received just as much play time as any other player in Sox camp and has looked pretty good in nine games. His .333 average in 18 at bats is fifth on the team among players with more than 15 at bats.
He's second on the team with six runs and he's only struck out once.
And on defense he's been as good as advertised, making both the routine and the flashy plays.
Still, that likely won't save him from being among the second or third group of cuts as spring training draws to a close.
Outfielder Brett Jackson is arguably the most exciting player in Chicago's farm system, combining electric speed with a high-average bat. And he's getting a chance to show the big-wigs what he's capable of at the big-league level in Arizona.
Unfortunately, most of what the Cubs have seen from Jackson hasn't been all that impressive. While he's displayed his usual defensive prowess in centerfield and some pretty solid plate discipline, he's had a terribly difficult time getting on base. He is only hitting .083 in 12 at bats.
Jackson was thought of as a pretty polished hitter coming out of Cal a few years back and hasn't disappointed with his rise through the Cubs system. He reached Double-A last season and hit (and ran) very well. He should start the 2011 season off at Triple-A with a chance for a late season cameo with the Cubs.
You could make the argument that Dayan Viciedo has been the White Sox best hitter so far in spring training. He's received the second-most number of at bats and leads the team in hits and runs, and is second with a .476 average.
Still, he's going to have to be even better than that to earn a spot on the Sox opening day roster. Yes, Viciedo offers prodigious power, the likes of which the Sox haven't seen in their system in quite some time, but he also has a ton of work left before he's a polished big-league prospect.
First, his selectivity at the plate. Last season, at Triple-A, Viciedo struck out 78 times while walking only 11 times. This spring, he has five strikeouts in 21 at-bats.
Also, he needs to work on his defense. Once a third-baseman, Viciedo has undergone two position changes and now appears locked on the outfield, where he looked pretty good during the past few spring games but he'll need tons of work to play the position at a big-league level.
If the Reds didn't have first-base occupied by reigning National League MVP Joey Votto, then their top hitting prospect Yonder Alonso would already be ticketed for an opening day start.
However they do have Votto, and because Votto is still relatively young, the Reds are at a loss over what to do with Alonso. The indecision hasn't affected the 23-year-old though. He's hitting .417 with one homer and two RBI through seven games so far for Cincinnati.
The Reds have tried just about everything to get Alonso on the field. They tried a position change to the outfield, which failed miserably, and have even tinkered with the idea of moving him to third-base, but his below-average arm likely makes that idea a wash too.
Simply put, Alonso's best position is at first-base, where he isn't likely to get a shot unless Votto succumbs to an injury. Alonso is stuck in a pretty terrible place and could be a trade target as the season wears on.
Lonnie Chisenhall is not only the best hitter in Cleveland's system but also one of the top bats in the minors, so it's really no surprise that he's been the Indians best hitter this spring.
In 21 at bats, he leads the squad in hits, doubles, total bases, homers and batting average, signaling what the Indians have to look forward to when the third baseman makes his ascension to the big-leagues, possibly as early as the middle of this season.
If the Indians fall out of contention fast, look for the administration to give Chisenhall a very long look.
Rockies top relief prospect Rex Brothers could likely pitch out of the Colorado bullpen right now, but the team is going to be smart with the 2009 first-round pick and send him back to Triple-A for some final tune ups before unleashing him on National League west hitters.
But that doesn't mean that the team isn't using spring training as a forum to get a good look at what Brothers has to offer. He's only made one appearance so far—a scoreless inning against the Giants last week, but that was enough to make him a dark-horse candidate for the last spot in the Rockies bullpen and the first guy they're going to turn to in case of injury.
That could keep Brothers in camp longer than most prospects remain, but he's likely headed to Colorado Springs.
The Tigers have been very adamant about moving their top pitching prospects through the system as fast as their arms will allow, and it looks like 2009 ninth-overall pick Jacob Turner will be no different.
Last season, Turner reached High-A ball as a 19-year-old, and this year he's likely headed to Double-A, but not before the team gets a good look at him in spring training.
So far, Turner has made two appearances and has looked very good, allowing five hits and one earned run in six innings. He earned his first big-league victory in his first start against the Blue Jays, and in his most recent start, also against Toronto, he struck out three batters in three scoreless innings. He has a 1.50 ERA.
Turner actually made a brief appearance last spring as well, pitching in one game.
There has been much talk, especially in the past few days about the realistic possibility of Marlins' top prospect Matt Dominguez making the opening day roster.
Let's put an end to it here and now. Dominguez won't be on that roster, despite his team leading two homers and ten RBI, and his .400 average. He won't make the team out of spring camp, because the Marlins know that no matter what he does this month, he's still not ready to handle big-league pitching full-time.
Still, that doesn't mean Dominguez isn't talented. He's moved incredibly fast for a high-schooler, thanks to his big-league ready defensive ability. He's worked amazingly hard to become a good hitter and for the most part it's paid off, but Dominguez has still yet to face Triple-A pitching.
He'll head to Triple-A to start the 2011 season and if he continues to perform there like he has this spring, then the Marlins might be more receptive to him.
Houston prospect Jordan Lyles has shot through the system, reaching Triple-A by age 19 and challenging for a big-league rotation spot despite being only 20.
So far in three appearances, Lyles has been effective although erratic. He's walked two batters and given up nine hits in eight innings. He recorded his first two strikeouts this afternoon but also surrendered his first earned runs in a relief appearance. For the second time in five days, he was saddled with the loss.
However well he pitches though, he's not likely to lock down the fifth spot in the Astros rotation. Lyles made only six Triple-A starts last season and got battered pretty badly—enough to prevent him from becoming one of the youngest pitchers to make a big-league debut in quite some time.
Still, even if he does head back to Triple-A, he'll likely make his big-league debut sometime in 2011, possibly even before the All-Star break provided he throws well for Astros Triple-A affiliate.
Mike Moustakas played incredibly well in 52 games at Triple-A Omaha last season, swatting 15 homers and driving in 48 runs. That was nothing compared to his .347, 21 homer, 76 RBI line that he had in Double-A.
But as advanced as Moustakas is, he likely won't be joining the squad when they head back to K.C. for opening day. As the 22-year-old has shown this spring (3-for-17, .176 average, 5 Ks in 17 at-bats), he still has plenty to work on before graduating to the Majors.
For starters, he needs to improve his plate discipline, which was much worse during his time at Triple-A last season, possibly because he was pushing for a late-season call-up to the big-league squad. He also needs to sharpen his defensive skills. He's been an average defender in the minors, but will have to put even more work into it to be as good in the Majors.
By starting the season at Triple-A, the Royals can time his promotion to give the team an extra year of control over him. It's not like they're going to be competing this year anyways.
There isn't a whole lot that uber-prospect Mike Trout can't do.
But for all the things he can do, the one thing that he won't be able to do is make the big-league opening day roster, despite his .300 average and three-to-one walk-to-strikeout ratio in seven spring contests.
Trout has opened plenty of eyes at camp with his blazing speed on the base-paths and his stellar defensive work in the outfield. He's continuing his meteoric rise through the Angels' system—a rise that will find him back in High-A ball to start the season.
Playing in the most friendly hitting league in the minors, it's going to be exciting to see how huge of numbers he's capable of.
One of the unheralded stars of the 2010 MiLB season was L.A.'s Rubby de la Rosa.
The 22-year-old Dominican went 7-2 and posted a 2.37 ERA in 22 games (13 starts). He struck out 94 batters in 110.1 innings of work, but the most impressive part of his season was that he flashed a fastball that regularly touched triple digits.
It's no surprise then that the Dodgers invited him to spring training to get a long, hard look at this kid who might be an integral part of their future.
De la Rosa has only been utilized twice so far—both times in relief—and he was night and day. In his first outing, he pitched two innings in relief of Hiroki Kuroda. He gave up two hits and served up a long home run to Angels slugger Mark Trumbo. In his second outing, he was effective and efficient, getting three strikeouts in two innings and giving up only one hit.
Still, de la Rosa has only 28 career starts under his belt, and if the Dodgers want him to start, he's headed back to Double-A where he pitched the last half of 2010.
The influx of young pitching has been a great help to the Brewers over the past few seasons (Zach Braddock and John Axford) and it looks like they have another talented pitcher down the pipe in Cody Scarpetta, who has joined the big-league club in action on two occasions.
Scarpetta ended the 2010 season in High-A with a 3.87 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 128 innings. Despite his impressive performances thus far in spring, he's still headed back to the minors, with at least a few years of seasoning ahead of him.
Scarpetta, pitching strictly in relief, has looked strong against big-leaguers, racking up five strikeouts in only three innings and he has one of the team's two saves.
It took only one season for Kyle Gibson to go from a big question mark to a potential big-league starter.
Unfortunately for the 23-year-old, and as his performance has indicated, he's not ready for the big-leagues just yet and is likely headed back to Triple-A once the season starts. Not that he'll be there for that long. Gibson ended the 2010 season in Rochester and pitched well in three starts after breezing his way through High-A and Double-A, posting an overall line of 11-6, 2.96 ERA, 126-to-39 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Gibson will be the first name called if a Twins starter goes down with an injury or if Francisco Liriano ends up wearing pinstripes by opening day.
Despite a big home run in today's game against Houston, Met's prospect Kirk Nieuwenhuis isn't likely to stick with the big-league club when they head north for opening day.
Rather, he'll have to bide his time back in Triple-A, where he hit a paltry .225 in 30-games last season. Before that slide, Nieuwenhuis was hitting .289 with 16 homers and 60 RBI for Double-A Binghamton. So far this spring, the 23-year-old outfielder is hitting .130 with the aforementioned homer and three strikeouts in 23 at bats.
Nieuwenhuis is the most complete all-around player that the Mets have in their pipeline and the most big-league ready position player prospect, as most of New York's top talent is playing below Double-A, meaning that he could get the chance to see a lot of big-league action as the season progresses.
Eduardo Nunez isn't the most high-profile prospect in Yankees camp, or even one with the most definable future, but he has put on the best performance so far and is going to be real hard to turn away and send back to the minors.
Nunez looked solid in 30-games last season for the Yankees, batting .280 with one homer, seven RBI and five steals. He has looked just as good, if not better this spring, hitting .348 with one homer, five RBI and two steals in nine games.
Nunez can easily handle shortstop, and might have been the opening day starter had Derek Jeter not re-signed with the club, but with so much big-league talent on the roster, the Yanks might have to send Nunez back to Triple-A where he hit .289 with 23 steals.
If you've been paying attention to Oakland's spring training, you've undoubtedly been made aware of the Michael Choice fever. If you haven't, here's what you've been missing.
Anyone who's anyone in the scouting and development world out in Arizona is falling head over heels in love with Choice, the A's first-round pick in last year's draft. His combination of power, speed and athleticism is wowing even the team that selected him.
Choice made headlines by beating team speedster Coco Crisp in the 20-yard dash, and has since followed that feat up with several monster batting practice sessions, during which teammates and coaches have praised him for his professional work ethic and attitude.
Choice hasn't gotten too much playing time so far in camp, but does have six hits (.375) and one RBI. He's continued his free-swinging ways that he begun last season and has three strikeouts in only 16 at-bats.
Choice played most of the 2010 season for Low-A Vancouver, but could see a good amount of time in Double-A this year, even if he starts out at High-A.
With each passing day, it looks more and more likely that Domonic Brown is headed back to the minors.
One of the top prospects in all of baseball has fallen victim to the same swing issues that plagued him last season and has fallen behind Ben Francisco on the depth chart, leaving his final destination as Triple-A Lehigh Valley. A one for 16 start with nine strikeouts will do that to you.
Fret not Phillies fans, Brown is still a major part of the Phillies' future, but his time with the team likely won't start on opening day. And for all the minor league fans out there, it's just one more chance to see Brown.
Most teams thought the Pirates were completely off their rocker when they passed on Mike Minor, Jacob Turner, Shelby Miller, Tyler Matzek, Grant Green, Alex White, Kyle Gibson and of course, Mike Trout in favor of Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez.
And while Sanchez hasn't gone on to a Matt Wieters-like minor league career, he has developed into the best position prospect in the Pirates system and one of the best all-around catchers in the minors. While he's only reached High-A ball in two seasons as a pro, Sanchez has earned back-to-back spring training invites.
This season, he's only seen action in one game, going one for two with a double and a strikeout.
Sanchez will move on up to Double-A in 2011, with his big-league ETA sometime around 2012. He's the first franchise catcher the organization has had since Jason Kendall.
The Cardinals have certainly shown little hesitation moving fire-baller Shelby Miller as quickly as they have.
The 20-year-old just spent the past season dominating hitters in the Low-A Midwest League. This season he's poised to take on High-A, with an outside shot at reaching Double-A, especially if he continues to pitch like he did down the stretch in 2010.
Of course, naturally the Cards brought him back to spring training and he looks miles ahead of last year. He's only made one appearance, striking out one and allowing one hit in two scoreless innings.
Next spring training, Miller might actually have a shot at making the rotation.
Casey Kelly's first taste of the San Diego organization has come in spring training, and so far the former Red Sox top pitching prospect has looked better than advertised.
Kelly was brought over from Boston along with Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes in exchange for slugger Adrian Gonzalez, and has made a great early impression on the staff in Arizona. In three outings, Kelly has allowed two hits and has issued two walks in five innings. While those numbers don't seem all that impressive, they are.
Especially for a 21-year-old who should be pitching for the Padres Triple-A affiliate in 2011. Kelly has a shot at a late-season call-up, and could join the rotation full-time in 2012.
As much as Giants fans want him, there's no getting around the fact that Brandon Belt is headed back to Fresno to start the 2011 season.
How long he's going to stay there is another question entirely.
It likely won't be long if Belt continues to put up the kind of numbers he did in 2010, when he assaulted pitchers on three different levels, culminating in a 13-game trial in Triple-A. The total damage for Belt's pro debut looked like this:
.352, 99 runs, 73 hits, 43 doubles, 10 triples, 23 homers, 112 RBI, 22 stolen bases, and a 93-to-99 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
And even though Belt is headed back to Fresno, that hasn't stopped him from putting on a good show in spring training. He's hitting .280 with two doubles, one homer and six RBI in 11 games.
Belt will be up in San Fran sometime during the 2011 season, and could make a Buster Posey-like impact.
Just like with Belt, Mariners fans are clamoring for Dustin Ackley to make the 2011 opening day roster.
Also like Belt, Ackley is most likely headed back to Triple-A to get a little more seasoning and to earn the team one more year of control over him. That hasn't stopped him from trying to impress the big-wigs in camp this spring.
Showing off his finely-tuned new position (2B), Ackley has been all the rage, sharing the daily spotlight with fellow prospect Michael Pineda, who could have been a good pick here too. Ackley is easily the best hitter in the system, and is one of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues.
He'll report to Triple-A to start the season, but should be up as soon as the season starts heading south.
The Rays have so much pitching depth in their system that to make the big-league roster, you almost have to devote at least a year's worth of playing time at their Triple-A affiliate.
That means at least two more years of seasoning for top lefty prospect Matt Moore. Moore gained fame this past season for striking out 208 batters in just 144.2 innings. His stuff is wicked good, and he just might be the best pitcher in the Rays' system, but he pitched all of last year in High-A, which means he still has to work his way through Double- and Triple-A before he even gets a sniff at the Rays' bullpen, much less their rotation.
And while Moore isn't as safe a bet as Jeremy Hellickson, who is expected to join the rotation this year, his upside might be much, much higher.
Tanner Scheppers has one of the most electric fastballs in all of the minor leagues. Scouts, fans and team officials alike were all stoked to see him throw this spring.
And while he looked even better than everyone expected early on, he's since suffered some setbacks, the kind that make him a very, very dark horse to lock up one of Texas' open rotation spots.
It's hard to ignore the kind of stuff that Scheppers has, including a high 90s fastball that flirts with triple-digits, and the Rangers have had a tough time picking a long-term role for him. He pitched mostly in relief last season, but this year the Rangers have decided to stretch him out as preparation for a starting role.
When he is fully recovered from his back ailment, he'll return to Triple-A to begin his journey to Texas as a starter.
The Blue Jays were thrilled to get a prospect of Brett Lawrie's caliber in their trade that sent Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee. They've been even more thrilled with the progress they're claiming he's made as a second baseman. And last but not least, they're thrilled with the approach he's showed at the plate in limited playing time this spring.
In seven contests, Lawrie has posted a .333 average with one double, a homer and four RBI. His four runs-batted-in are tied for the team lead.
Still, Lawrie needs more seasoning and tons more practice at second, which means he'll be headed back down to Triple-A to get his first taste of minor league, A.L. East style, to start the 2011 season.
It shouldn't be too long before he's in the big-leagues for good though.
It might not have been the show everyone expected, especially the increasing fan base, but bringing Bryce Harper to spring training has allowed the Nats to get a better look at him and his transition to the outfield as well as gauge what kind of teammate he's going to be and expose him to the big-leagues, which they hope will do wonders for his rise through the minors.
Harper should reach the Majors before his 21st birthday, which means he could spend at least three full seasons in the minors. I'll take the under on that, and say Harper arrived near the end of 2012, for good in 2013.
There's no denying his talent. He's got probably the best power in the minors and is a great athlete. He'll be a stud in the outfield and should rank among the leaders in outfield assists regularly.
He's already notched a .357 average, two doubles and four RBI as an 18-year-old with zero professional experience and in the same camp as players who have as many as two decades on him.
Like fellow top-three picks Manny Machado and Jameson Taillon, Harper will start the 2011 season in Low-A ball.