For veterans and superstars, spring training is a time to get into big league shape and prepare for the upcoming season. For those players competing for a spot on the team, it can be a bit more stressful. But for baseball's prospects—young minor leaguers who flock to Arizona and Florida each year—spring training plays a different role.
For minor leaguers, spring training is about making an impression. Scouts may see a prospect many times during a given season, but big league managers and GMs are far too busy with the day to day operations of the club.
A good impression can do wonders for a player, and while a bad spring training is no death sentence, it leaves a poor taste in a manager's mouth and questions the readiness of the player. What prospects hurt their big league stock, or at least temporarily delayed their impact? Here are seven.
A few months ago, Jesus Montero was on top of the baseball world.
After a slow start to the 2010 season, Montero caught fire in the second half and OPS'd well over 1.000 from July 1st onward, despite being just 20 years old and spending the season in AAA. Even better news was that Montero was improving behind the plate.
When Brian Cashman said this offseason that Jorge Posada would be a full time DH, Montero looked poised to grab a starting spot with the team.
Russell Martin was the first glitch in that plan. The Yankees signed Martin this winter after he was non-tendered by Los Angeles and seemed intent on giving him at least a shot at the big league job. But when Francisco Cervelli got hurt this spring, Montero looked like the de facto backup, if not more.
Montero had a poor spring though, hitting bellow the Mendoza Line. Many scouts believe Montero carried his offensive struggles behind the plate, and much of the progress he made last season vanished.
In the long term, Montero still appears to be an offensive monster, though questions about his defense persist. However, he did lose an opportunity this spring and will begin 2011 back in Scranton.
It's hard to imagine Michael Taylor hurting his stock too much after the season he had last year.
Arguably the centerpiece of the Roy Halladay trade, Taylor now finds himself inarguably the lowest rated of the former-Phillies minor leaguers sent to Toronto last winter. Taylor spent all of last season with the Athletic's organization, and hit just six home runs on the season with a .272 batting average and an OPS of .740.
Despite his struggles last year, Taylor was still seen as a potential starting left fielder heading into 2011 and entered spring competing with Conor Jackson for that role. Taylor hit under .200 in March.
While his combination of size, speed, power, and arm strength is still extremely attractive, his struggles last season were cause for serious concern and his terrible spring makes it look as though those troubles are far from behind him.
It's a small sample size of performance, and we don't want to draw too many conclusions from that, but he did play poorly and will begin 2011 at AAA Sacramento.
Unlike Montero and Taylor, Kipnis didn't enter spring with a legitimate shot a starting role.
The Indian's breakout prospect from last year hit .307 with a .386 OBP, 16 homers and 9 stolen bases. As a solid defensive infielder, that production is very valuable, and most consider Kipnis among the Indians top couple of prospects.
But Kipnis struggled this spring, collecting just three hits in nine games. While his performance was not of any particular note, it stood in stark contrast to fellow top-prospect Lonnie Chisenhall. The Indians other future stud infielder went 13-for-26, and hit two home runs on the spring.
In the long run, this poor nine game performance is not particularly distressing. Yet this is not to be ignored. If the Indians need to call up an infiender at some point during the season due to injury or poor performance, who do you think Manny Acta will want to see? The guy who got three hits, or the guy or tore apart big league pitching?
Dustin Ackley is a very good player. He's one of the best hitters in the minor league and gets on base frequently. He's also a capable, though not great, defensive second baseman and some believe there is more power to come from the athletic former Tar Heel.
The 2009 second overall pick has been somewhat of a disappointment in that category though, and this spring proved to be more of the same.
Ackley, who tore apart the AFL last fall, had a solid spring. But in 15 games with the Mariners he didn't go deep once. A repeat of his AFL performance might have landed him a spot with the big league club, and would have at least given us hope that a major breakout was coming.
Ackley will begin the season in the minor leagues. His spring performance wasn't terrible, but the longer we wait for something more, the less likely it will ever come.
Desmond Jennings is a good baseball player. He's been ranked in the top-100 prospect by Baseball America four years in a row, a fact that alone tells you how gifted he is. But his 2010 season was far from ideal and his prospect status slipped as he failed to repeat a career year.
With Carl Crawford out of town, many expected Jennings to step up and fill his role as the multi-faceted leadoff hitter and left fielder of the Rays. That wont happen, at least not yet.
Jennings hit .154 this spring, each of his four hits singles, and will begin 2011 back in AAA for the third consecutive season.
As good as we know Jennings could be, the inconsistency and the inability to stay on the field has always been an issue. He failed to win a starting job this spring, and as well as he might play with Durham those issues seem to be persistent. 2011 is a make or break season for the 25-year-old outfielder, and starting the year in AAA doesn't help.
To say Brown hurt his stock in the long term this spring might be a bit of an overstatement, but he certainly slowed his assent.
The Phillies top prospect, made untouchable in trade talks with Toronto a year ago, had a breakout 2010 season and was rated as a top-5 prospect by most reliable sources heading into the season. With Jayson Werth out of town, he was considered a favorite to land the right field job and many believed his 2011 season could mirror Jason Heyward's and Mike Stanton's of a year ago.
Brown was injured early in the camp though, and will be out for the first several weeks of the season. This injury not only keeps him from contributing at the big league level right away, it also slows his development and potentially wipes out a valuable year of experience.
Dominic Brown will be fine, but this is less than ideal.
How much JP Arencibia hurt his stock this spring is up for debate. The young Blue Jays catcher will still start 2011 with the big league club, and probably make most starts behind the plate. But he did have a tough spring and it could eat into his playing time, at least temporarily.
Arencibia, who has always struggled to make contact and hit for a high average, is a powerful hitter and a solid defensive catcher who made strides last season in AAA. The 23-year-old catcher hit .301 with 32 home runs for Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League.
The Jays top prospect entered the spring as the presumptive starting catcher, but he hit just .189 in 21games and Jose Molina appears poised to start at least 40% of the time next season.
You don't have to go far back to find offensive-minded catchers with power who struggled to find playing time because stubborn managers didn't trust them (*cough*Mike Napoli*cough*) and Arencibia better hope he's not the next.