Bryce Harper and Each Team's Player We Can't Wait to See This Spring

Sean ZerilloCorrespondent IIMarch 8, 2011

Bryce Harper and Each Team's Player We Can't Wait to See This Spring

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    Spring training is a rite of passage for all of the greats. 

    Some experience it when they're young, while others can take a while to break with the big league camp.

    In 2011, as an 18-year-old, Bryce Harper is experiencing spring training for the first time.

    Baseball's top prospect (or second best, depending on who you ask) is a transcendent talent. His ceiling is as high as any player throughout baseball. 

    No matter their skill level, however, every player goes into spring training with certain expectations for the upcoming season.

    The individual teams only expect spring training to provide hope. 

    What follows is a list of 30 players, each of whom provide hope for their respective clubs either now or for the future.

    Some are prospects near the top of their organization's young player rankings. Some are post-hype talents giving it one last go with their current team.

    Fewer are players who merely have interesting storylines as we move through March. 

    Combined, their stories help to make up the convoluted world that is talent evaluation in Major League Baseball. 


    Data Courtesy Of:

Arizona Diamondbacks: Brandon Allen

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    Brandon Allen will be competing for playing time at first base and in left field with Juan Miranda and Xavier Nady. 

    Allen is already 25 years old, but he has prodigious power. He had previously been slated as the Diamondbacks first baseman of the future, but plate discipline issues have kept him in the minor leagues. 

    In 2010, with 83 walks and 95 strikeouts in a full season of Triple-A at-bats to go with 18 doubles, 23 homers, and a .933 OPS, Allen proved that there are no further strides he can make.

    The Diamondbacks already have one of the best young offenses in the league but Allen can provide some much needed power from the left side.

    He'll be given a fair shake to fight for time in spring training. 

Atlanta Braves: Julio Teheran

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    According to Baseball America, Julio Teheran is the best pitching prospect in baseball.

    The rail-thin Colombian possesses an explosive mid 90's fastball with a slow but sharp 12 to six curveball.

    He's also been developing a changeup but has had issues maintaining arm speed consistent with the fastball.

    Teheran projects as a strikeout per inning type pitcher in the major leagues, with very sound control. 
    However, with only seven starts thus far in Double-A, he is still likely at least a year away.

    The Braves hope their top arm can overcome his back spasm issues this spring so he can get some work in against major league talent. 

    With time, Teheran can be special. At just 20 years old, there's no sense in rushing this phenom. 

Baltimore Orioles: Zach Britton

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    It would be very surprising if Zachary Britton is not a full-time member of the Orioles rotation by the end of the season. 

    The 23-year-old left-hander, drafted in 2006 out of the Texas high school ranks, has smooth mechanics and throws a devastating low 90's sinker. 

    Britton relies heavily on his main pitch, which basically negates left-handed hitters. But he is still fine-tuning his slider and changeup to get righties out. 

    Britton has some impressive minor league numbers. His stats between Double-A and Triple-A last season kept with his minor league averages, as Britton recorded 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) with just three walks per nine innings (BB/9).

    This was good for a sound 2.43:1 strikeout to walk ratio (K/BB) with just seven home runs allowed in 153 innings. 

    Britton should slot nicely in behind Brian Matusz in the Orioles rotation for the foreseeable future. 

Boston Red Sox: Jose Iglesias

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    The Red Sox have had a revolving door at shortstop since trading Nomar Garciaparra for Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera in an effort to win the 2004 World Series. 

    The organization hopes Jose Iglesias can finally fill the void that Pokey Reese, Edgar Renteria, Julio Lugo and others have been unable to. 

    Although his bat isn't close to major league ready, Iglesias could soon force his way into the big leagues with defense. The 21-year-old Cuban has good range with a great arm and excellent instincts.

    He has all the makings of a future Gold Glover.

    If he gets a bit better at the plate, Jose Iglesias can challenge Jed Lowrie to be the Opening Day shortstop come next spring. 

    The Red Sox organization has high hopes that Iglesias can become their next homegrown star. 

Chicago Cubs: Brett Jackson

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    The Chicago Cubs drafted Brett Jackson in the first round out of UC-Berkeley in 2009. In this Golden Bear, they may have found their future center fielder and leadoff hitter.

    Based on his minor league track record, there is almost no doubting that Brett Jackson will be an All-Star on the north side of Chicago for years to come.

    Although he strikes out twice as often as he walks, Jackson has maintained a +.100 point split from his batting average to his on-base percentage, indicating his patience. His minor league career OBP mark (over 829 at-bats) is an impressive .402. 

    This is a trend that goes back to his college days.

    But even though he gets on base, Brett Jackson is not your typical leadoff hitter. He also generates high slugging percentages due to the tendency for his well-placed hits to find gaps. 

    Jackson registered 32 doubles, 14 triples and 12 homers over 580 at-bats between High-A and Double-A in 2010. He also stole 30 bases in 41 tries. 

    Amazingly enough, Jackson might be even more highly regarded as a defender. 

    Brett Jackson is going to be a star. He might still be a year away, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him get a run-out in September if the Cubs are fading in the NL Central. 

Chicago White Sox: Dayan Viciedo

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    All reports from White Sox camp about Dayan Viciedo have been glowing. 

    The husky, power hitting Cuban showed up to spring training in great shape in 2011. The White Sox have planned to move Viciedo to right field, a position he played while in the Cuban leagues.

    Since signing with the White Sox, however, Dayan has only played at the corner infield positions. 

    Although he has miserable strikeout rates in the minor leagues, Viciedo has elite power which will only improve as he gets older.

    He walked just two times in 104 major league at-bats last year, so the .308 batting average was likely an abberation. Viciedo also stuck out 25 times, or one in every four trips to the plate.

    I honestly believe that Dayan Viciedo is unnecessarily being rushed to the major leagues. The White Sox will realize their mistake when he's hitting .220 in mid-May and has to be sent back down for more seasoning. 

    He's going to be a good player, but not until the plate discipline improves. 

Cincinnati Reds: Yonder Alonso

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    With the inability to play the outfield and the fact that he is blocked by National League MVP Joey Votto at first base, Yonder Alonso is likely trade-bait for the Cincinnati Reds. 

    The former Miami Hurricane was drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2008 after smashing 24 home runs, with 76 walks and only 35 strikeouts, in 211 at-bats during his junior year in Coral Gables.  

    The home run power has not translated to the minor leagues as the Reds had expected, however. Instead, Alonso has become much more of a doubles hitter. He has hit 61 doubles and 24 homers in two seasons worth of minor league at-bats.

    Scouts still think Yonder has the potential to be a 30 home-run anchor as a major league first baseman. But if a guy doesn't show it in the minors, he usually never shows it in the majors.

    Alonso has gotten off to a fast start in the spring, however, so this could be a major breakout year for him. If that happens, the Reds could dangle him as part of a package for whatever they need come trade deadline time. 

Cleveland Indians: Lonnie Chisenhall

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    Scouts don't really know what to make of Lonnie Chisenhall, other than the fact that he has a pretty swing. 

    They don't know how much power he'll have in the major leagues. Nor can they decide upon what position he should play. 

    But they know he can hit. 

    Chisenhall tore apart High-A ball as a 20-year-old in 2009, hitting .276 with 26 doubles and 18 homers in 99 games. He was promoted to Double-A for the remainder of the season but he struggled and his average fell below the Mendoza line.

    It took some time, but Chisenhall figured out Double-A in 2010, suggesting that he is a legitimate prospect. He hit .278 with 22 doubles and 17 homers over 524 at-bats.

    I doubt his ceiling as a major league hitter goes much higher than that, but at the age of 22 Chisenhall still has time to get bigger and stronger. 

    What comes next is likely a mid-season call-up to the major leagues. Chisenhall is expected to break camp with the Triple-A club, but he could make the Opening Day lineup. 

    Either way, Lonnie Chisenhall should be in the running for the 2011 American League Rookie of the Year award. 

Colorado Rockies: Casey Weathers

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    Casey Weathers was drafted seven slots behind Rays ace and Vanderbilt teammate David Price as the eighth overall pick in the 2007 amateur draft. 

    Weathers is a power arm who, as a reliever, tied Price for the Vanderbilt team lead in wins in 2007, with 12. He also registered seven saves and struck out an astounding 75 batters in 49 innings of work.

    After making it to Double-A ball by 2008, Weathers blew out his elbow and was forced to have Tommy John surgery. He missed the remainder of 2008 and the entirety of 2009.

    Weathers' arm appears to have healed well as he struck out 46 batters in only 29 minor league innings last season. All of those came against Single-A competition, however, and Weathers struggled mightily with his control during the second half of the year. 

    The good news is that he has his arm back. Now Casey Weathers just needs to refine his mechanics. With a nice season, Weathers could find himself pitching big innings for the Rockies down the stretch. 

Detroit Tigers: Jacob Turner

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    The Detroit Tigers have had a recent tendency to rush young pitchers. After all, a 95 mile per hour fastball is the same thing in Single-A as it is in the major leagues. 

    Arms also peak younger than bats, so it makes sense that you would want to maximize the value that you're able to get out of them before they wear down.

    However, if a young pitcher struggles in the major leagues early in his career, he might never recover.

    The Tigers rotation appears set heading into the season. It is doubtful, however, that Brad Penny and reliever convert Phil Coke will stay healthy all year long. A door will likely open for the Tigers top prospect, Jacob Turner.

    Turner is a very big (6'5", 210 pounds) 19-year-old with an upper 90's fastball and a developing curveball and changeup. In time, his secondary pitches can become plus offerings. 

    He will likely begin the season in Double-A but his major league debut will probably occur during the 2011 season.

    With Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner, the Tigers should have a very dominant rotation for the next five or six years at least. 

Florida Marlins: Logan Morrison

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    Logan Morrison had a nice cup of coffee with the Florida Marlins in 2010. 

    The converted first baseman held his own in left field, hitting .283 with 41 walks and 51 strikeouts over 62 games and 244 at-bats. 

    The bulky left-hander managed just two home runs, but also smacked 20 doubles and seven triples which afforded the former 22nd round pick a respectable .837 rookie year OPS.

    Morrison looks the part of a power hitter, but with the exception of a 24 homer campaign in Single-A in 2007 he hasn't shown even an above average ability to smack long balls. 

    Morrison does have a great eye, however. He walked more times than he struck out in each of the last two seasons between Double-A and Triple-A.

    At worst, Morrison will be a doubles feasting corner outfielder who walks a ton and plays average defense. At best, he should be a wonderful complementary No. 3 hitter to power phenom Mike Stanton. 

    Morrison's development will greatly impact how good the Marlins offense can be moving forward.

    If his power develops, a core of Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison can certainly get the Marlins back in the title hunt. 

Houston Astros: Jordan Lyles

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    Jordan Lyles has ascended quickly through the Houston Astros minor league system.

    Lyles doesn't posses any overpowering pitches but he already owns three major league ready offerings.

    He throws a low 90's fastball with a solid changeup and curveball. Lyles can also locate all three pitches with precision.

    Jordan owns a stout 3.68 strikeout to walk rate throughout his minor league career. Although he isn't considered a strikeout pitcher, Lyles has rung up 372 strikeouts in 358 minor league innings. 

    As a 19-year-old in Double-A in 2010, Lyles struck out 115 batters and walked 35 over 127 innings. These are pretty impressive numbers for a teenager.

    Standing 6'4", Jordan Lyles has lots of time to add bulk to his lanky frame. More muscle will lead to increases in velocity, durability and strikeout rate. 

    The Astros don't want to rush the young pitcher, but if Lyles keeps improving he may force their hand. He has been brought to spring training with a chance to make the major league roster. 

    If he doesn't make the team, Jordan Lyles will likely start out in Triple-A. Regardless, his major league debut will almost certainly come before season's end. 

Kansas City Royals: Mike Moustakas

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    The Kansas City Royals are hoping that Mike Moustakas can be the future face of their organization. If his minor league production is any indication, Moustakas is a star in waiting.

    The second overall pick in the 2007 draft has torn through the ranks of the minors. Making the jump to Double-A and then Triple-A in 2010 proved to be his best season yet. 

    Between the two levels Moustakas smashed 41 doubles and 36 homers over 534 at-bats. His triple slash line was an astounding .322/.369/.630. 

    Moustakas hopes to fulfill the expectations that the once-heralded Alex Gordon failed so miserably at attaining. 

    Along with fellow prospect Eric Hosmer, the Royals hope the corners of their infield are set for the future. 

    The two ranked in the top 10 of Baseball America's best 100 prospects. Hosmer came in at No. 8. Moustakas was No. 9. 

    The Royals boasted nine of their youngsters among the 100. Their minor league system is teeming with talent. 

    Moustakas is perhaps the best among them. 

Los Angeles Angels: Mike Trout

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    With all the attention on Bryce Harper, people keep forgetting that Mike Trout was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball by both ESPN and MLB Network. 

    Trout was also named the 2010 Spink Award Winner as MLB's minor league player of the year. At just 19 years and two months old, he became the youngest such player to win the award. 

    Between Single-A and High-A Trout hit .341 with 28 doubles, nine triples, and 10 home runs. His 73 walks contributed to a .428 on base percentage. His OPS was an impressive .918

    He also stole 56 bases, but was caught on 15 occasions. Although Trout has good speed, his numbers may have been inflated by opportunity. We'll see if he can keep a good success rate at the higher levels.

    Strikeouts could also be a concern. Trout will likely start 2011 in Double-A. This is the level where the men are separated from the boys as far as hitters are concerned.

    The question is whether Trout can maintain a high contact rate once he starts seeing better breaking pitches.

    Bryce Harper has already been coined by some as the LeBron James of baseball. He is, by all accounts, a once in a generation talent. 

    Mike Trout may be slightly overrated as a prospect. That is my assumption, not my prediction.

    Trout will get to prove his true worth against Double-A pitching in 2011.

    Although I don't think that he'll be a better pro that Harper, I do still think he will be a star talent.  



Los Angeles Dodgers: Jerry Sands

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    People in Los Angeles are talking about Jerry Sands potentially displacing James Loney as the Dodgers first baseman as soon as this season. 

    More than likely, Sands is still a year away. The doughy first baseman definitely has talent. But his destination post-camp should be back to Double-A Chattanooga. 

    In 2010, Sands first tore up the Single-A Midwest League to the tune of a .333/.432/.646 line. In just 69 games and 243 at-bats Sands hit 16 doubles and 18 home runs. Oddly enough, he also stole 14 bases. 

    Don't get me wrong, I just cant see him stealing bases at the major league level. Sands is big, at 6'4 and 225 pounds. His speed is what likely limits him to first base for the future.

    Good news is, he rates as a terrific defender there.

    The Dodgers skipped Sands to Double-A, over High-A Rancho Cucamonga and the offensive inflated environment of the California League.

    He continued his strong play with a .270/.360/529 split over 68 games. He hit an additional 35 home runs, giving him 35 for the year. This was a big jump, but Sands proved in 259 at-bats that he is at least legitimate.

    However, half a seasoning of Double-A ball is not seasoning enough. Sands still struck out 66 times and the league's pitchers haven't even had time of their own to figure him out yet. 

    Scouts have projected Jerry Sands as Jason Bay. I see him as something more.

    There is a lot of underdog in Jerry Sands. He was a 25th round pick out of Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina. 

    25th round picks shouldn't post a .960 OPS over 915 at-bats, no matter the level.

    Jerry Sands can be an icon in Dodgertown for years to come. With James Loney producing adequately and the team in flux this season, Sands should stay in the minors for at least a bit longer.  

Milwaukee Brewers: Mat Gamel

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    Mat Gamel falls into the post-hype category.

    With the Brewers in win now mode, Gamel might have a problem finding a place on the roster; an oblique strain currently has him sidelined in spring training.

    He was expected to backup Casey McGehee at third base and to spot start in the outfield corners. This is quite the fall for a prospect who just two years ago was near the top of numerous charts. 

    In reality, Gamel was only given a 61 game tryout. His 160 minor league doubles and 77 home runs speak for themselves. As does an .865 OPS. 

    Perhaps the Brewers have seen more holes in his swing than they've liked as his 63 strikeouts in 145 major league at-bats might attest. 

    Maybe its just not destiny. 

    Gamel needs to get on the field, and fight his way onto the roster if he wants to stay in Milwaukee. 

    Otherwise, he can seek employment elsewhere and try to become the next Jayson Werth. 

Minnesota Twins: Kyle Gibson

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    Gibson is the top pitching prospect in the Twins organization. For a team that is already deiciding between Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey for it's No. 5 slot, depth certainty isn't an issue.

    For any other contender, getting Kyle Gibson to the majors would be the No. 1 concern at the moment.

    He fell to the 22nd pick in the 2009 draft due to forearm concerns in college that scouts believed would eventually lead to Tommy John surgery.

    Gibson thwarted college hitters at Missouri. During his junior year at Mizzou, Gibson went 11-3 with 131 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 106 innings.

    Gibson is 6'6" and throws a nasty low 90's sinker with an even better low 80's slider. The slider has tight, late break and it will probably become his best attribute. He can throw it for strikes consistently as well.

    Gibson climbed all the way to Triple-A in 2010 but his 93 innings in Double-A provide us a glimpse into his future. 

    7.5 K/9, 2.11 BB/9, with a 3.50 K/BB ratio are solid rate stats. If they are accompanied by an elite ground-ball rate, Gibson should be a tough major league pitcher.

    You can tell in interviews that he felt slighted about falling in the draft and losing signing bonus leverage. 

    Nothing is better than a good pitcher who is motivated to crush you. 

    If that arm holds up, the Twins have made quite the investment. 

New York Mets: Kirk Nieuwenhuis

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    With Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran and Angel Pagan all expected to play as many games as possible, the 2010 Mets don't have the room for Kirk Nieuwenhuis just yet.

    That's probably a good thing, because the former third round pick needs to cut down on his strikeout rate if he wants to avoid the bust label. 

    Between Double-A and Triple-A, Nieuwenhuis struck out 132 times in 2010.

    In fact, throughout his minor league career, Nieuwenhuis has stuck out 329 times; or in 22 percent of his plate appearances. 

    This is an alarming rate, but it is something that can be corrected by being given time to learn the league that you're playing in. 

    Nieuwenhuis has thus far hit well at every level except Triple-A. He'll likely get another shot there to begin 2011. 

    His potential for 35+ doubles and 20 home runs per season is an appealing proposition no matter the on base ability. 

    When Carlos Beltran eventually goes down, the Mets may come calling.

New York Yankees: Ivan Nova

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    Ivan Nova is competing this spring with washed up veterans Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon for the fourth and fifth starters spots in the Yankees rotation.

    Garcia, who is less washed up than Colon, will probably get one of the spots. Nova, because he's actually talented, should get the other. 

    He boasts a nice four pitch repertoire. Nova throws a mid 90's four-seamer, a low 90's two-seamer/sinker, a mid 80's changeup and a low 80's slider. 

    These pitches complement one another very well, and they allow Nova to attack each hand of hitter with two different pitches. 

    Nova also generates ground balls and prevents home runs, both of which are valuable when pitching at Yankee Stadium.

    His minor league numbers aren't impressive, but Ivan Nova appeared to have found something in 2010. The 6'4" Dominican righty built on success, in Triple-A, that he had had two seasons earlier in High-A Tampa. 

    Nova got his strikeout to walk ratio over the 2:1 threshold for just the second time in his career. He struck out 115 batters and walked just 48 over 145 innings. He finished 12-3 with a 2.86 ERA.

    Ivan Nova could become the next homegrown Yankees starter to have success at the major league level. 

Oakland Athletics: Jemile Weeks

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    Jemile Weeks may never end up being as good of a hitter as his brother Rickie, who just signed a four year, $38.5 million extension with the Brewers. Nor is it likely that he'll live up to the bar that was set when Billy Beane drafted him 12th overall in 2008. 

    But the younger Weeks certainly has a future in the major leagues. 

    Jemile doesn't have flashy offensive numbers in the minors. But he does own a career .360 on-base percentage and he'll be more than capable of stealing 25-30 bases per year in the majors at around a 75 percent clip. 

    Jemile also uses his speed to leg out doubles and triples, which should help his OPS mark to the high .700's in the major leagues. 

    This is adequate offensive production from a player who is vastly underrated for his defense. 

    The only concern is staying on the field. 

    Like the man he could eventually replace because of health issues, Mark Ellis, Jemile has constant injury concerns of his own.

    He was able to play in only 80 and 77 games during his first two full minor league years, respectively. 

    With stout young pitching, a dominant bullpen and an improved lineup, the Oakland A's should be much improved in 2010.

    A healthy and improved Jemile Weeks could be a much needed spark for Oakland's chances by mid-season. 

Philadelphia Phillies: Ben Francisco

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    Francisco is an oddity on this list in that he is by far the oldest player, at 29 years old.

    The Phillies acquired the former fifth round pick out of UCLA in the original deal that brought Cliff Lee over from the Cleveland Indians.

    Despite the fact that he is now on the downside of his prime years, Francisco has never been given more than 447 at-bats in a major league season.

    Based on his skills and minor league track record, Francisco can be to the 2011 Phillies what Angel Pagan was to the 2010 Mets; but with just average outfield defense. 

    With the departure of Jayson Werth, and with spring training injuries to Domonic Brown and Chase Utley, the Phillies could use a surprise player or two on offense this season.

    With a full slate of playing time, Francisco is more than capable of posting a .290/357/.459 line this season with around 25 doubles, five triples, and 15+ homers. He should also be able to steal at least 20 bases. 

    If given the opportunity, Ben Francisco could be primed for a big year. 

Pittsburgh Pirates: Andrew Lambo

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    The Pittsburgh Pirates hope that Andrew Lambo will become their third long-term solution in the outfield alongside Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata.

    Pittsburgh acquired Lambo from the Dodgers, along with James McDonald, as part of the deal that sent Octavio Dotel to Los Angeles last July. 

    Lambo hasn't done anything overly impressive in the minor leagues, but all the scouting reports on his talent have been glowing.

    Lambo owns a career minor league OPS of .792, but he did most of his damage in Rookie and Single-A ball in his first two seasons.

    His rates fell upon arriving in Double-A in 2009, primarily due to a high amount of strikeouts; with 95 over 492 at-bats. 

    Lambo looked poised to improve in 2010 before he was suspended 50 games for a second violation of MLB's anti-drug policy; not for steroids, but for marijuana. 

    Andrew Lambo is still just 22 years old, however. He still has time to develop the power that has caused scouts to hold him in such high regard.

    Although the Pirates envision Lambo in right field with his strong arm, a lack of speed could eventually limit him to first base where he should be an above average defender. 

    An uptick in performance this year will have Lambo on the fast track to the major leagues. 

San Diego Padres: Casey Kelly

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    Kelly was the centerpiece of the Padres trade that shipped slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox this offseason. 

    Kelly was Boston's top prospect, and upon arriving in San Diego he claimed that status with the Padres as well.

    The Red Sox had a tough time convincing Kelly that his future was on a major league mound.

    The team and the player couldn't reach an agreement after the 2008 draft until the Red Sox guaranteed Kelly that he'd be given a chance to play his way up as a shortstop.

    Although Kelly showed flash defensively, the bat never came around and he made the full-time move to pitching this season. 

    Kelly's 6'3", 195 pound frame provides him with a nice athletic frame to work off of. He has room to add strength, which could get his average fastball speed up from the low to the mid 90's.

    Casey complements the four-seamer with an improving mid 80' changeup, and a dominant high 70's 12 to six curveball.

    The latter will serve as his out pitch, and could become well known throughout the league after it appears countless times on Baseball Tonight's, "That's Nasty" 

    The Padres have high hopes for Kelly's future. With depth in the rotation, there is still lots of time to let him develop. 

    File this one away for next season. 

San Francisco Giants: Jose Casilla

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    The first thing that jumps out about Jose Casilla is his power sinker. 

    Over 185 minor league innings, the younger brother of current Giants reliever Santiago Casilla has surrendered just two home runs. He has also struck out 164 batters, walking just 54. 

    The San Francisco Giants will once again need to commit to their pitching if they want to repeat as World Series champions in 2011. Barring a let down season, their lineup appears to be set. As does the rotation.

    The bullpen is the only place that I could see the Giants reasonably looking to improve. With the cost to trade for relievers usually higher than its worth, San Francisco could look to promote from within.

    If Casilla can show in Double-A what he showed in Single-A last season, he and his never ending diet of ground balls might be teaming up with his brother in the Giants bullpen sooner than you'd think. 

Seattle Mariners: Justin Smoak

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    Justin Smoak was supposed to be the Texas Rangers first baseman of the future. He had it all; great college numbers, a good minor league history, and an even better name.

    But with Chris Davis and Mitch Moreland also capable of handling time at first, and with the chance to make the playoffs and go to the World Series, the Rangers pulled the trigger on a deal which sent a package involving Smoak to the pacific northwest for Cliff Lee.

    Smoak showed incredible plate discipline in the minors. His 131 strikeouts over 625 at-bats were offset by 119 walks, leading to a .404 on-base percentage. 

    Smoak didn't flash all that much power, but he did show his long swing that has the ability, when it connects, to drive the baseball a very long way.

    His 2010 debut was oddly very much unlike his minor league career. Smoak struggled with his discipline, striking out 91 times over 348 at-bats. But he also hit 14 doubles and 13 homers, most of which were no doubters. 

    Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik did a great job buying low on the slugging first baseman. The Mariners now have a bat in their lineup, other than Ichrio, who might be able to hit. 

St. Louis Cardinals: Shelby Miller

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    With the injury to Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals title hopes in the NL Central faded a bit for this season.

    If he's able to return to full strength, however, St. Louis could have a dominant front four in their rotation within two seasons.

    Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garica, rotation incumbents, would occupy two of those slots. Wainwright would be the third. Cardinals top pitching prospect Shelby Miller is likely the fourth.

    Miller was the 19th overall pick in 2009. He is built a lot like Casey Kelly, and he throws the same three pitches; fastball, changeup, and curveball. 

    However, unlike Kelly, Miller's changeup is better than his curve. His out pitch led to 140 strikeouts to just 33 walks as a 20-year-old in Single-A last season. 

    Miller will make the jump up a level this season. If the Cardinals need the pitching help, they could give him a call up down the stretch.

    Pitching coach Dave Duncan is probably excited to be able to work with yet another talented young arm. 

Tampa Bay Rays: Jake McGee

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    With the departure of Rafael Soriano to the riches of the Yankees set-up role, Jake McGee feels that he can assume the Rays closing responsibilities this season.

    Just ask him. 

    It's odd considering that McGee has started 129 games out of his 140 game minor league career. But the lefty knows that his path to the majors is blocked by Jeremy Hellickson and a multitude of other starting pitchers. 

    Since arriving as a 17-year-old out of high school in 2004, McGee has amassed 720 strikeouts in 620 innings. He has also only tossed 250 walks, good for a 2.88:1 ratio. 

    McGee's future is likely in the bullpen because he only has two legitimate pitches; a mid to upper 90's fastball, with movement, and probably a league average slider.

    McGee has the talent and the confidence to handle the ninth inning. We'll see if Rays manager Joe Maddon is able to trust that responsibility to a rookie. 

Texas Rangers: Mitch Moreland

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    The Rangers hope Mitch Moreland can succeed where Chris Davis and Justin Smoak have failed; to convincingly win the job at first base for the defending AL West champions and World Series runner-ups. 

    Moreland had a nice 145 at-bat debut in 2010, and he continued his strong play into the playoffs with a .348 average and a .900 OPS. He also surprised Rangers fans with his sound defensive play at first base. 

    At 6'2" and 230 pounds, Moreland generates a lot of natural power from his bulky frame. He owns an .892 OPS in the minor leagues, with a solid .383 on base percentage.

    Moreland is a 30+ doubles and 20+ home run hitter at his peak in the major leagues. That is far more than the Rangers are asking for this season; they just don't want Moreland to drop the ball completely.

    If he shows improvement, Mitch Moreland could become a key cog in getting the Rangers back in the AL pennant chase for the second straight season. 

Toronto Blue Jays: Brett Lawrie

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    Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos made a lot of noise this season. His biggest coup was getting rid of Vernon Wells and his albatross contract.

    But the best prospect Toronto acquired came in a deal from the Brewers; straight up for pitcher Shawn Marcum. 

    Brett Lawrie draws polarizing opinions from scouts and fans alike. Some see a 20-year-old who had a .797 OPS in Double-A with 36 doubles, 16 triples, eight homers, and 30 steals.

    Others see a hitter who doesn't walk enough, strikes out too much, doesn't have quite enough power and plays just average defense.

    With Aaron Hill poised to return from concussion symptoms that plagued his 2010 year, the Blue Jays are in no rush to get Lawrie to the majors. 

    But he is, without a doubt, their second baseman of the future.

    Time will tell if this Canadian prospect can have the same impact in the big leagues as his countryman Joey Votto.

    I think Lawrie will be a good player, just not quite as good as some scouting services have made him out to be. 

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper

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    Harper may have struck out in his first two spring training at-bats, but a slow start does not spell doom for baseball's most talented prospect.

    The first overall pick in the 2010 MLB draft has extremely high expectations. Fortunately, he has the natural talent to live up to them.

    I've said previously that Harper is a once in generation talent. He rated at a perfect 80 on MLB's 20 to 80 scale for both power and arm strength. His overall batting skills rated around 60.

    This indicates that Harper has the ability to hit 40-50 homers with a .300+ average during his prime. He will also be among the best defensive outfielders with his cannon for an arm and extremely underrated speed. 

    Bryce Harper has been hitting 500 foot home runs since he was 15 years old. He left high school early to attend a community college as a 17-year-old this past season. 

    All he did was hit .443/.526/.987 with 31 home runs. That's right, a .987 slugging percentage.

    The mark of 31 homers broke College of Southern Nevada's previous record of 12. Harper won the 2010 Golden Spikes Award as college baseball's best player.

    The Nationals have converted this promising catcher to right field in hopes that it will strengthen his career durability.

    It's a shame, really, since Harper had a chance to be the greatest offensive catcher of all time. For now, since defense isn't nearly as much of an issue, we'll just see Bryce Harper sooner.

    Perhaps not this season, but maybe as a 19-year-old to begin 2012.