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USA Today

The Los Angeles Dodgers have something special in Julio Urias.

The 17-year-old Urias made himself known to a larger audience this spring after receiving an invitation to the Dodgers’ major league spring training. While he made only one appearance before a reassignment to the minor leagues, the highly touted left-hander made an indelible impression.

Getting the start for the Dodgers on March 15, Urias worked a perfect first inning against the San Diego Padres, striking out big leaguers Will Venable and Yonder Alonso in the process. The Dodgers went on to win the game, 5-4, and Urias was credited with the win.

The Dodgers discovered Urias during a trip to Mexico to scout Yasiel Puig. According to Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

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Nobody really knew what to expect from Jose Abreu headed into the season. Sure, we’d all heard about his exploits while playing in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, but it was difficult to say with any certainty how his game would translate in the major leagues.

Well, it turns out the Chicago White Sox knew exactly what they were doing last offseason by signing the 27-year-old first baseman for six years and $68 million. The contract is already looking like a bargain with Abreu’s impressive start to the season, and if he puts up the numbers it seems he will, then the White Sox could have their first Rookie of the Year since Ozzie Guillen in 1985.

Abreu is only batting .217 through his first 15 games in the major leagues, but he was sitting at .300 on April 11 before playing the Indians. Since then the right-handed-hitting slugger has been mired in the first slump of his career, as he’s gone 1-for-20 with eight strikeouts in his last five contests.

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After missing the final two months of the 2013 regular season due to injury, Albert Pujols is out to prove this year that he’s still the same guy who won three NL Most Valuable Player awards in a five-year span.

Pujols was, without question, the most productive hitter in baseball during his time with the Cardinals (2001 to 2011), as his average season consisted of a .328/.420/.617 batting line, 41 doubles, 40 home runs, 121 RBI and a 64/89 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Pujols continued to mash in 2012, his first season with the Angels, batting .285/.343/.516 with 50 doubles, 30 home runs and 105 RBI. But he also recorded more strikeouts (76) than walks (52) for the first time since his 2001 rookie campaign.

Last year, Pujols simply wasn’t himself. He struggled out of the gate—at least by his standards—with a .762 OPS and four home runs in April/March, followed by a .703 OPS and four more long balls in May.

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The Houston Astros are promoting top prospect George Springer before Wednesday’s game.

The 24-year-old outfielder gets the call after a red-hot start this spring at Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he batted .353/.459/.647 with 17 runs, three home runs, nine RBI and four steals in 13 games. The promotion also comes in the midst of a six-game hitting streak, during which he batted .478 (11-for-23) with three home runs, three steals and six RBI.

"We feel pretty good with the reps he's got in Spring Training and the reps he's gotten so far during the season that defensively he's ready to go," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com. "Offensively, he's been heating up the last week or so, and we want to get a guy when he's hot."

If Springer spends the rest of the season in the major leagues, he will accumulate 166 days of service time and remain under team control through the 2020 season, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

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Yordano Ventura picked up the first win of his promising career on Tuesday night against the Astros, and he set new career highs with seven strikeouts and seven innings pitched.

More importantly, the 22-year-old right-hander guided the scuffling Kansas City Royals to their first road win of the season.

Ventura scattered two hits and struck out six over six scoreless innings last week against the Rays in his season debut. On Tuesday night, he was equally impressive despite allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits and three walks. He finished the outing with 101 pitches, 66 of which were strikes.

Ventura had his entire arsenal on display against the Astros, who entered the game with a major league-worst .189 batting average through 13 games.

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Charlie Neibergall

The 2014 Minor League Baseball season isn’t even two weeks young, but countless prospects have already made strong early impressions at each of the four full-season levels.

With most teams having played roughly 10-plus games since Opening Day (April 4), it’s important to acknowledge the role of small sample sizes when evaluating a player's success using statistics. However, it's impossible to ignore there’s still a large contingent of young hitters that have either opened the season on a tear or struggled to get things going at the dish.

Here are at the hottest and coldest hitters at every minor league level to begin the 2014 season.

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After batting just .162 with zero extra-base hits and two RBI headed through his first 10 games, Brian McCann’s bat finally came alive over the weekend.

In Saturday afternoon's contest against the Boston Red Sox, the 30-year-old hit his first two home runs in a Yankees uniform and plated three of his team’s seven runs in a 7-4 win. McCann’s long-ball tear didn’t carry over to Sunday’s game, but he still turned in another strong performance at the plate, going 1-for-3 with a double and walk.

McCann’s weekend outburst raised his triple-slash line from .162/.184/.162 to .205/.239/.364, and he’s in a good position to build on his success this week in the Yankees' upcoming two-game series against the Chicago Cubs.

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Chris Carlson

One of the great disadvantages to playing professional baseball is that the structure of the season is such that a bad day can turn into a bad week very quickly, leading to inevitable questions about what's wrong with someone. 

Minor leaguers are under an even more intense microscope because fans have heard and read so much about a lot of these players for so long that facing non-MLB competition is supposed to be a breeze. 

Unfortunately baseball, regardless of the level, doesn't work like that. Hitters and pitchers have to adjust all the time, especially in the minors, so a slow start in the middle of April shouldn't be misconstrued as a sign of things to come. 

Instead, for the 30 players on this particular list, take the critique of their early season performance as constructive criticism. All of the players have talent and will get better as the year moves along, but they just need time to get in the swing of things. 

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When a teenage pitcher is ranked among the sport’s top prospects prior to his full-season debut, it’s a pretty big deal. After all, with a young arm, any number of things might happen in the coming years that could derail his development and affect his future projection.

Yet, despite the inherent risk and volatility tied to high-risk/reward arms, the entire baseball industry seemed to be all-in on Lucas Giolito entering the season. Here at Prospect Pipeline, we ranked Giolito as the No. 15 prospect for 2014.

Giolito, 19, was viewed as a candidate to go No. 1 overall in the 2012 draft after the right-hander lit up radar guns with his fastball and dropped jaws with his curveball early in the spring for Harvard-Westlake School (Calif.).

Unfortunately, Giolito suffered a strained ligament in his right elbow roughly two months into the season and was shut down indefinitely. He avoided surgery, but the injury ultimately cost Giolito the remainder of his high school campaign and the chance to be the first prep right-hander drafted No. 1 overall.

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Gene J. Puskar

Gregory Polanco proved during spring training that he’s nearly ready for an audition in the major leagues, as the 22-year-old posted an .804 OPS with three extra-base hits while appearing in 10 games.

And with his red-hot start this season at Triple-A Indianapolis, it’s only a matter of time until the toolsy outfielder gets the call.

Polanco seemingly emerged from nowhere to turn in one of the top breakout performances of the 2012 season. Playing in 116 games for Low-A West Virginia in the South Atlantic League, Polanco batted an impressive .325/.388/.522 with 16 home runs and 40 stolen bases in 485 plate appearances.

He followed the eye-opening full-season debut with an even better showing in 2013, as the toolsy outfielder excelled at three levels and finished the year in Triple-A. Between all stops, Polanco batted .285/.356/.434 with 26 doubles, 16 home runs, 85 RBI and 40 stolen bases in 485 plate appearances.