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Every year we try to convince ourselves that spring statistics mean something, using a player’s small sample of production in March to project his performance over a full season in the major leagues. It’s a fun exercise after the long, boring offseason, but deep down inside, we know it’s not a true predictor for future success.

However, all the cautionary tales and disclaimers associated with spring statistics are blatantly disregarded when the player is a highly touted prospect.

When projecting a player’s future production, we generally look at his numbers from previous years to determine the areas of his game with the most room for improvement moving forward. Yet because most prospects are yet to even reach the major leagues, spring training offers a unique opportunity to evaluate them against proven big leaguers in a more realistic context.

That leaves us with one question: Can a prospect’s breakout performance in spring training actually be used to project his future success and career trajectory?

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With spring training now in full swing, prospects continue to receive significant playing time as their respective clubs evaluate each player’s developmental state and timetable for reaching the major leagues. 

However, keeping track of all the prospects in major league camp is never easy.

Therefore, we have put together a prospect report for each team’s top prospects in camp this year and assigned them each a performance-based letter grade.

Grades were determined based on how players have performed this spring relative to their playing time, while also taking into consideration whether the player is competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster or is merely in camp to gain experience and give the coaching staff a look at his potential.

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By its very definition, spring training is going to be filled with ups and downs for each major-league player, because they are all training to get their bodies back in playing shape and working on different skills when they step on the diamond.

For prospects, even though the goal is to make the big leagues, spring training is not when they should be trying to make the 25-man roster. If you go all out right out of the gate, more often than not, that's when injuries will occur. 

As we dive deep into the heart of spring training, there have been a few standout prospects showing the world why they are so highly regarded, while others have struggled to get their feet under them early in the season. 

Here is our prospect stock watch for the third week of spring training.

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USA Today

The New York Mets will be without ace Matt Harvey in 2014 as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Luckily, the team still has a host of promising young arms to look forward to in right-handers Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero.

While Wheeler is coming off an impressive rookie campaign, both Syndergaard and Montero are on the verge of reaching the major leagues and expected to debut during the 2014 season.

But how good will the trio actually be? Well, if each player stays healthy and comes close to reaching his respective ceiling, then the Mets should feature one of the best and most exciting starting rotations for the years to come.

 

Zack Wheeler

Wheeler is obviously the better-known pitcher of the Mets’ trio, as he was regarded as one of the best pitching prospects in the minor leagues headed into the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

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USA Today

Spring training statistics can be horribly misleading. With so many young, inexperienced prospects in big league camp, it’s important that all numbers be analyzed within context. At the same time, it’s hard not to get excited when a prospect makes an immediate impact against superior competition.

Since the start of Cactus and Grapefruit League games early last week, more and more top-ranked prospects have opened eyes with their respective performances this spring in spite of limited opportunities. On the other hand, numerous highly touted prospects have gotten off to rough starts this year and will need to right the ship as the spring unfolds.

Here’s a look at some of the best and worst performances after the first week-plus of spring training games.

 

Stock Up

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USA Today

Every year players blow past estimations of their potential and become stars.

Last season, the transformations of Jose Fernandez and Yasiel Puig from potential stars into actual stars happened almost immediately after each reached the major leagues.

On the other end of the breakout spectrum are players such as Chris Davis and Josh Donaldson, older guys who finally put things together in their late-20s to emerge as legitimate MVP candidates.

With the spring schedule underway and players finally doing meaningful things on the field, it’s time to look at the biggest emerging star at every position headed into the upcoming season.

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USA Today

Derek Jeter is finally healthy. In fact, the 39-year-old is feeling better than ever at the onset of his final spring training. 

"Everything is good," Jeter told Bryan Hoch of MLB.com, knocking his knuckles against the wood of his clubhouse locker. "Like I told you, I've been working extremely hard to get my strength back. I feel like it's back, I feel strong, so it's not an issue in my mind. I don't think about it."

Jeter, of course, was limited to just 17 games last year due to injuries and batted .190/.288/.254 in 73 plate appearances. The Yankee captain missed 111 games due to lingering effects from offseason surgery on his right ankle, and then announced prior to the start of spring training that 2014 will be his final season in the major leagues.

After spending the offseason running and conditioning and building up strength in his lower half, Jeter has been starting games on an every-other-day basis this spring. However, the plan is for him to eventually work up to playing three straight days and accrue about 60 spring-training at-bats.

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The St. Louis Cardinals reached the World Series last season for the fourth time in the last decade, and they did so with a roster of mostly homegrown players. Even after losing Carlos Beltran to free agency, the Cardinals were viewed as potential contenders headed into 2014 given the holdovers from last year’s club.

The decision not to re-sign Beltran enabled the team to address its two glaring holes at the major league level during the offseason, as it traded for speedy center field Peter Bourjos and signed free-agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta.

But in spite of their upgrades at both up-the-middle positions, the Cardinals will have several decisions to make in the coming weeks pertaining to their Opening Day roster.

 

Fifth Starter: Joe Kelly vs. Carlos Martinez vs. Tyler Lyons

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AP Images

Spring training statistics can be horribly misleading. With so many young, inexperienced prospects in big league camp, it’s imperative that all numbers be analyzed within context. At the same time, it’s hard not to get excited when a prospect makes an immediate impact.

Even though Cactus and Grapefruit League games began only a few days ago, numerous top-ranked prospects have already opened eyes with their performances against big league competition this spring in spite of limited opportunities. On the flip side, a small contingent of prospects got off to a rough start this past week and will look to right the ship as the spring unfolds.

Here’s a look at some of the best and worst performances after the first week of spring training.    

 

Stock Up

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AP Images

All eyes were on Jose Abreu Friday afternoon, as the Cuban slugger made his highly anticipated White Sox debut after signing a four-year, $68 million contract during the offseason.

Although the 27-year-old went hitless in two at-bats and was replaced in the bottom of the fourth inning, he certainly didn’t disappoint in his first taste of stateside baseball, lining to left field in his first at-bat and seeing 11 total pitches on the day.

Granted two at-bats is a ridiculously small sample on which to evaluate a player, but Abreu showed a defined approach in both trips to the plate on Friday. Suffice it to say it was a pleasant surprise for onlookers expecting a raw, free-swinger cut from the same mold as Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes.

Here’s what we learned about Cuban superstar Jose Abreu in his spring debut.