Spring training is a beautiful time, isn’t it? Aside from just getting to see your team—or any team for that matter—play ball, spring training provides just enough excitement to hold us all over until opening day.
But imagine yourself a MLB manager.
Imagine having a plethora of shiny new toys to tinker with as you fine tune that hopeful championship team for two months.
Now that’s excitement!
The 2011 season will be introducing us to a myriad of new faces who will one day take the majors by storm.
So let’s take a look at some of those toys and see what’s in store for, not only this season, but what’s in store for years to come.
Keep in mind that not all of these players will be seen this year and not all of these players are turning heads just because of spring training, as we are only a few games into the season. We’ll take a look at several aspects, ranging from scouting and ranking to coaches comments in an effort to afford everyone some insight into what is currently happening.
I figured I would get some of the more familiar names out of the way before digging in the dirt, so to speak, for some lesser-known players.
Everyone knows that Harper was ranked No. 1 by Baseball Prospect, and everyone is clear on just how much talent this kid has—they say he’s the next Chipper Jones you know.
But what the Nationals like even more is Bryce Harper’s bravado and ability to adjust.
In the very early going, people were putting the kid under a microscope in the Florida Instructional League—par for the course if you’re a rookie—but eventually everyone saw glimpses of the kid’s ability by October of last year as Harper hit .319 and led in numerous team categories.
Now, in 2011, Harper’s goal is to flat out make the Nationals’ roster.
While Bryce Harper will inevitably start in Class-A Hagerstown, it’s going to be very hard for the Nationals to ignore a kid that has been decorated with seven All-America selections, a Nevada batting title (2008), a Babe Ruth Award (for his world-record home run at Tropicana Field in 2009) and the 2010 Golden Spikes Award.
Not a traditional prospect in the sense of the word due to the fact that he did see some playing time in 2010, but Hellickson is a guy who turned heads last year in just four games started.
Jeremy Hellickson went 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA in four starts for the Rays last season. He also struck out 8.5 batters per nine innings and posted an extraordinary 0.76 WHIP as a starter with an additional win in relief against the Yanks in September.
But the kid also went a combined 49-16 with a 2.71 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and an unbelievable 9.8 K/9 rate over six seasons in the minors.
While Hellickson is a candidate to round out the fifth spot in the Rays lineup, he is not a lock with Matt Moore and Andy Sonnanstine in the mix. Still, given the kid’s track record and the affinity the Rays have for him, Hellickson should have no trouble rounding out that bottom.
There has been quite the debate surrounding J.P. Arencibia and whether or not he is a quality prospect destined for big things in the bigs.
The majority of the arguments have been split down the middle concerning Arencibia’s near-pedestrian numbers and his questionable defense as a catcher.
The thing is, though, both of these situations are expected from a rookie catcher.
Your numbers will suffer in the early going as you improve upon your defensive mechanics. Developing a catcher’s defense takes time in the majors.
Arencibia appeared in only 11 games last season, largely because of old man Buck (John Buck, for those of you who don’t know).
But the Buck has been passed to the rookie, and it’s his job to lose now.
Arencibia hit .275 with 83 homers, 121 doubles and 290 RBI in 409 minor league games. He was named Pacific Coast League MVP (Triple-A) last season and he hit two taters in his debut against the Tampa Bay Rays last year.
Aroldis Chapman is probably one of the more interesting stories out of Cincy right now, given the immediate birth of rumors that Chapman—a converted starting pitcher, momentarily—would take over closer Francisco Cordero’s job after a brilliant debut out of the pen in 2010.
And to be honest, he really didn’t disappoint, going 2-2 with a 2.03 ERA, 13 strikeouts and five walks in 13 innings pitched. He has a nasty slider and changeup, and his fastball has crossed the 100 mph plane a few times.
But as Reds’ manager Dusty Baker already vehemently told the Cincinnati Enquirer:
“One thing I want to squash right now is closer-situation controversy. I know everyone wants to be in a hurry to rush him in there. But we’ve got to get him acclimated to what he’s doing first. (Francisco) Cordero, even though it’s been exciting at times, he’s still second at least in our league in saves the last two years. That’s something that most people overlook.”
And there you go.
The deal is the Reds want Chapman to eventually become the dominating starter they feel he can be. And with three deadly pitches already in his arsenal, and some quality time spent in the offseason, you can bet it will happen...eventually.
I don’t think anyone can truly ignore first baseman Freddie Freeman and his head-turning ability.
After just hitting .167 in 24 plate appearances last season, many started to immediately think Freeman was a bust.
But that's just a small sample of what the kid can do.
Freddie Freeman was a .301 hitter in the minors, he showed great gap power and he could wind up being a serious candidate for NL Rookie of the Year this season.
The current knock on Freeman is the lack of power and the fact he only dropped 50 bombs in 1,580 AB in the minors.
But with Dan Uggla and Brian McCann swinging for the fences, the Braves can afford to let the kid develop his power a bit longer.
As for his first spring game on Saturday: Freeman went 3-for-3 with three doubles and a run scored. And he had a single run scored with a hit and a strikeout on Sunday.
Chris Sale entered the majors last year late, but he didn’t disappoint as he converted all four of his save opportunities. This year there is a bit of uncertainty surrounding Sale, but it has nothing to do with his stuff.
The original backup plan was to have Chris Sale compete for a role in the rotation while Jake Peavy continued his recovery process.
GM Kenny Williams has since said the kid will start the year in the bullpen, but manager Ozzie Guillen told the Chicago Sun-Times that Sale’s role is not set in stone:
“In the past, I named a closer right away because we had one,’’ Guillen said. “Now, I have to wait and see. Hopefully during spring training or at the start of the season, then we see who is the closer.’’
Chris Sale has impressed the Chicago brass from Day 1, offering good velocity, excellent movement and pinpoint location—three things a pitching prospect needs to pitch in the majors.
But in the usual case, most prospects only have two out of those three.
If Jake Peavy isn’t a go by Opening Day, there is a chance we could see this kid in the starting rotation. But if Peavy gets the thumbs up, we know for sure he will likely be one of the best setup men in the AL...at least that’s what Chicago thinks.
Sale went 2-1 with a stellar 1.93 ERA, 32 strikes, 10 walks and four saves in 23.1 innings pitched.
Mr. Jackson was the 31st player taken overall in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. After an excellent career playing for the Golden Bears (.303 average, 12 home runs, 86 RBI, 146 hits, 91 runs, 25 doubles, 11 triples, 27 stolen bases), Jackson was ranked as the second-best overall athlete among all available college players in the 2009 draft class by Baseball America.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Jackson was named to the 2009 all Pac-10 team after hitting .321 with eight homers, 17 doubles and 41 RBI in his junior season, and he is currently listed 46th on MLB.com’s Top 50 Prospect list.
His minor league totals are just as impressive:
.303/.402/.491, .893 OPS, 20 HR, 102 RBI, 43 SB, 213 H in 702 AB.
His time in the Arizona Fall League was cut short by an infection (more specifically cellulitis with an abscess in his shin), but the Cubs are viewing this kid as the future—and rightfully so.
The Cubs are flirting with a borderline-patchwork outfield that is not the long-term answer, and while there are other players in the mix, and the Cubs are basically stuck with Alfonso Soriano, Brett Jackson is that all-too-important puzzle piece the Cubs will need in the next year or so.
Kansas City is filled with hot-to-trot prospects similar to that of Tampa Bay, New York (AL) and Atlanta, and one of those guys is third baseman Mike Moustakas.
Earlier in the year, the guy wowed fans at the Royals FanFest and during his stellar time in the minors: he hit .293 last year in 52 games with Omaha and in 66 Double-A games he hit a .347 mark for Northwest Arkansas.
Combined he socked 36 homers to tie for the most in the minors, which are the budding skills that keep turning heads in KC.
The Royals truly believe Moustakas can help turn things around for the woeful Royals, although Moustakas will likely begin the season in the minors once again, until they can delay Moustakas' salary arbitration and free agency by a year.
Let's hope the Royals don't eventually get rid of a good thing—a happenstance that has occurred quite frequently in the club's history.
I don’t think it gets any better than Mike Trout, for all of what he has done to impress the Angels organization, as well as Angels manager Mike Scioscia.
"Mike Trout has tremendous upside," says Scioscia "He can really run, and he can do a lot of things on the field, offensively and defensively. Obviously, we're extremely high on him. He's an exciting player with a tremendous attitude.”
Trout dazzled last year by hitting .362 with 45 steals and a .526 slugging mark at Class A Cedar Rapids, and his equally impressive minor league line: .344/.426/.489, .915 OPS, 11 HR, 83 RBI, 236 H, 69 SB has everyone in the Golden State waiting on bated breath for his permanent addition to the roster.
Trout is not the type of guy who will offer a ton of power, but his 69 stolen bases and .915 OPS is what the Angels are really interested in here.
The guy can control the base paths and get on base…enough said.
Man, where do the Yankees find these guys?
The New York Yankees have a ton of developing talent, especially at the catcher position. In fact, they have so much talent that manager Joe Girardi said in an in-game interview on Saturday that it will probably take until the last few days of March to really evaluate where they are with these guys.
One of those players is Jesus Montero.
The guy can flat-out hit for average (.312/.371/.511/.882 in four seasons) and for power (58 HR and 251 RBI in 1,432 AB in four seasons) as displayed in his minor league numbers.
The Yankees even talked about this guy as being the heir to Jorge Posada.
But veteran Russell Martin was brought in for a reason and, according to GM Brian Cashman, that was to ensure they don’t rush Montero or any of the other prospects before they are ready.
Montero believes he is ready now.
Either way, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to play another year in Triple-A Scranton Wilkes/Barre.
The long-awaited call-up for outfielder Domonic Brown has finally come in Philadelphia, despite some early struggles for the youngster.
But the Phillies know there will be some growing pains along the way and are OK with it for now.
During his five years in the minors, Brown hit .296/.373/.464 with 48 HR and 232 RBI in 1,593 AB; that’s why.
But it's also his excellent defense that the Phillies are really interested in, which is why he is the heir-apparent for the Phillies.
Brown must work on his high strikeout rate if he is to solidify his spot on the roster permanently, especially with fellow prospect John Mayberry Jr. right behind him.
But whichever way Philly goes, it appears to be a promising road.
Remember, this was the one guy the Phillies refused to trade when they were wheeling and dealing in the offseason, and with good reason.
While you will not see 19-year-old Jacob Turner by Opening Day, the chances of seeing him at some point in the season isn’t out of the question.
Just ask GM Dave Dombrowski, who said of Turner:
"He's outstanding. He's a guy that really is good. He is a very consistent mid-90s [fastball] guy. He's an advanced youngster, as far as his breaking ball, changeup and ability to pitch, and has very good control and command."
The Tigers basically want the turkey to cook as long as possible before serving what they feel could—in time—be their main dish a la Ricky Porcello.
Turner went 6-5 with a 3.28 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP and a 4.43 SO/BB rate in 2010.
Lakeland is probably where the kid will begin the season, but don’t be surprised if you see him on the mound by August.
I hate to double dip on a single team, but Teheran is an appealing prospect to say the very least.
Teheran went 9-8 with a 2.59 ERA in 24 combined starts in the minors in 2010, while going 2-2 with a 1.14 ERA in seven starts for Class A Rome—a much higher level of difficulty.
Between Myrtle Beach (Class A+) and Mississippi (AA), Teheran continued to chug along, going 7-6 with a 3.18 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP and a nice 9.7 K/9 rate.
Even pitching coach Eddie Perez is impressed with the maturation of the kid and his aspirations of becoming a member of the starting rotation.
Albeit, that is unlikely in the early going, but stranger things have happened.
With fellow prospect Mike Minor about to take the league by storm this year, veteran arm Tim Hudson in the mix and sensation Tommy Hanson, the Braves are literally chomping at the bit to employ these four guys and unleash their own National League East version of a four-headed pitching monster.
Dustin Ackley…Dustin Ackley. What an interesting fellow this guy is.
Taken in the first round—second choice overall in 2009—Ackley’s slow start at Double-A West Tennessee was a bit of concern.
Eventually, the guy finished with a .267/.368/.407 batting line with 7 HR and 51 RBI in 501 AB.
Not all that great? Sort of…pedestrian?
Oh OK, because I was going to follow that up with Ackley’s literal takeover in the Arizona League, where he hit .424 while leading everyone in just about every category.
Did I mention he also won MVP honors or that his fielding percentage was .965?
This year, Ackley is being given the chance to compete for a starting job at second base against Brendan Ryan, so there is legitimate reason to believe he could be the opening-day starter—a situation I am sure the Mariners would be comfortable with.
Ackley’s only knock is that he won’t provide a ton of power, but home runs are kind of an uncommon commodity in Safeco Field anyway.
Quick! Who’s going to play first base this season for the Giants? Aubrey Huff? Pablo Sandoval? How about an esteemed member of Bleacher Report’s staff?
Well, whoever it is, they’re going to have a world of trouble holding off prospect Brandon Belt.
Aubrey Huff is 34 and on the decline—not exactly what I would call a long-term answer—and Pablo Sandoval had to drop a whopping 40-plus pounds just to prevent the organization from sending him to the minors.
Not to mention, Sandoval is in his contract year.
As far as an esteemed member of B/R's staff, it’s speculated that the entire staff declined to try out for the team on account that the Giants are like four blocks away…that’s far when you’re already on the fourth freaking floor ya know!
Brandon Belt showed just why the Giants view him as the future power bat for San Francisco, hitting a combined .352 with 23 home runs and 112 RBI in with 93 walks, a .455 on-base percentage and a .620 slugging percentage in right around 136 games…what?
He also had a respectable 99 strikeouts in 492 at bats, but it doesn’t stop there.
In the Arizona Fall League, Belt hit .372 with 16 RBI and a .427 on-base percentage in just 22 games.
While I firmly believe the Giants will do their best to improve upon their patchwork outfield in the coming years, I can surely see them calling up the kid in an effort to provide some run insurance for an entire season—run insurance that has limited liability that is.
A new face for the dirty dozen, so to speak.
And with that type of an approach, it will be real tough to keep the Giants out of postseason contention for years to come.
Amazing what one player could potentially bring to the plate, isn't it?
I hope you guys enjoyed and feel free to check out my work as a Fantasy Baseball Columnist by clicking the link.
As a final caveat, there are so many other player I could've mentioned such as Mike Minor more extensively, Jordan Lyles, Josh Vitters, Matt Moore, Zach Wheeler and so on and so on.
But I had a limited space to work with here, so by all means, don't just be the reader. Chime in with who you think is a great prospect to mentioned for the upcoming 2011 season and let the discussion begin!