Predicting 1 Breakout Spring Training Star at Each Position
With a new season comes new opportunities, and when the opportunity arises, young stars hope to deliver.
Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than a month, and many budding talents are expecting to make a lasting impression during the late winter months into spring renewal.
Baseball stars come and go, but if there is one thing we all learned from Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, the newest legends are just beyond the horizon.
Here is a breakdown of each position's 2013 star on the rise.
Catcher: Travis d'Arnaud, New York Mets
Highly regarded as the best catching prospect on the market, Travis d'Arnaud is ready to make an immediate impact with the New York Mets.
The Philadelphia Phillies drafted d'Arnaud straight out of high school, and the 37th overall pick in the 2007 amateur draft made his way to New York from Toronto via the trade that sent R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays.
In 2012, d'Arnaud batted .333 in 67 games for the Blue Jays' Triple-A affiliate, the Las Vegas 51s (who, ironically, are now the Mets' Triple-A team, while the Blue Jays take over in Buffalo). The previous year, he sported a .311 average with 21 home runs and 78 RBI at the Double-A level.
Kevin Kernan of the New York Post suspects the Mets will choose to begin d'Arnaud in Las Vegas to form chemistry with young pitcher Zach Wheeler. However, don't be surprised if the young catcher puts pressure on an early season call-up.
First Base: Mauro Gomez, Boston Red Sox
Is it really so difficult to imagine Mauro Gomez starting at first base come Opening Day?
The Red Sox and Mike Napoli have finally reached an agreement on a contract after his three-year, $39 million contract fell through, coming to terms on a one-year, $5 million base salary deal.
This leaves Gomez in a bit of a pickle, because the first base, third base (Will Middlebrooks) and the DH (David Ortiz) positions will all be filled.
However, for a Red Sox team in a rebuilding phase, all eyes will be on Gomez during spring training, as he attempts to prove his viability at the major league level.
Gomez led the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox in batting average (.310), home runs (24) and RBI (74) last season, as the team won the International League Governors' Cup.
His call-up last season with the big league club left much to be desired, but the future is bright for this slugger.
Second Base: Jedd Gyorko, San Diego Padres
With rising star Chase Headley having a breakout year for the Padres at third base, prospect Jedd Gyorko had some alterations to make.
Bleacher Report's own Gary Ousdahl gave some great reasons why Gyorko may be starting at second base for the Padres come Opening Day, mentioning that the 24-year-old was originally a second baseman.
Gyorko seamlessly transitioned to second, locking in a .988 fielding percentage in 2012. He also torched Triple-A pitching, hitting .325 with 24 home runs and 84 RBI over 92 games in the Pacific Coast League.
The West Virginian native is one of 21 non-roster invitees to Padres spring training and has a solid chance of making the 40-man roster upon a strong showing.
Third Base: Trevor Plouffe, Minnesota Twins
Trevor Plouffe showed signs of brilliance in 2012, posting scorching numbers in June (.327, 11 HR, 21 RBI). However, a broken thumb placed him on the disabled list near the end of the month, and his second-half-of-the-season numbers were nothing to write home about (.212, 5 HR, 19 RBI).
Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan has been vocal about putting pressure on Plouffe's position at third base. That may be just the motivation the 26-year-old needs to have a breakout season.
Plouffe was a first-round pick in the 2004 amateur draft and played his first full year for the Twins in 2012.
The kid can hit and should continue to mature in 2013.
Shortstop: Didi Gregorius, Arizona Diamondbacks
Any player swapped in a trade with highly touted pitching prospect Trevor Bauer (appearing later) should fit into the near future of the Diamondbacks.
Enter Didi Gregorius.
The Dutch shortstop has solidified the long-term need at middle infield for the Diamondbacks. Gregorius is a 22-year-old, sure-gloved fielder with a high ceiling.
Though he is recognized more for his excellent fielding abilities than his average bat—for the Reds, he hit just .243 in 48 games at the Triple-A level and .278 in 81 games at Double-A—the D-backs are hoping he is major league ready either this year or next.
Current shortstop Cliff Pennington is likely a short-term solution, as Gregorius is ready to burst onto the scene.
Left Field: Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates
Starling Marte is a young, Dominican native looking to make a name for himself in the majors. After all, he has the word "star" in his name, so it seems like his baseball destiny was preordained.
Marte is respected as a good defensive outfielder despite his .958 fielding percentage for the Pirates last season—which is likely a bad representation of his skills due to him playing in just 45 games.
The 24-year-old has a major league-ready bat and speed that allowed him to hit six triples and steal 12 bases in his short stint with the big club last season.
Marte should be the starting left fielder for the Pirates come Opening Day and could vie for the NL Rookie of the Year award in his first full season.
Center Field: Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays
Wil Myers made his way down to Florida early via a trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis from the Rays to the Royals, and sent Myers, along with fellow top prospect Jake Odorizzi, to Tampa Bay.
According to Roger Mooney of the Tampa Bay Tribune, Rays manager Joe Maddon expects Myers to begin the season in Triple-A Durham, N.C.:
I've always felt that it should be easier for a young player to make the team season in progress as opposed to out of spring training. When they make the team out of spring training expectations get raised even higher...
Myers was no match for Double-A pitching in 2012, hitting .343 through 35 games. He found similar success at the Triple-A level, batting .304 with 24 HR and 79 RBI through the rest of the season.
The young phenom (born in 1990) will generate a lot of electricity at Rays camp come February, and he will likely be up with the big club before the All-Star break.
Right Field: Chris Parmelee, Minnesota Twins
Chris Parmelee finally had a breakout season in Triple-A Rochester, batting .338 with 17 HR and 17 doubles. However, as Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com writes, Parmelee needs consistent at-bats at the major league level to prove his value.
The former first-round pick in 2006 began the season as the starting first baseman for the Twins in 2012, but he was optioned three times before being called up for good in August.
Due to the flip-flopping nature of his rookie season, Parmelee batted just .229 in the majors.
Now with the trades of Ben Revere and Denard Span, Parmelee will get the call to start in right field and hopes to translate his strong stat line from Triple-A to Target Field in 2013.
Starting Pitcher: Trevor Bauer, Cleveland Indians
Trevor Bauer should have no trouble molding a spot for himself in the Indians rotation, which was part of a pitching staff who posted the second-worst team ERA in all of baseball last season (4.78).
Bauer made his way from hot and dry Arizona to climate-controlled Cleveland through a three-team trade that sent Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds.
The 22-year-old was the third overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft, was named the Diamondbacks' Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going 12-2 with a 2.42 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A, and struck out 157 batters in 130.1 innings.
Bauer is a special talent, and since his brief performance in the majors last year was not indicative of his worth, he should be hungry for success right out of the gates in 2013.
Relief Pitcher: Al Alburquerque, Detroit Tigers
Since the American League champion Detroit Tigers declined to bring Jose Valverde back, there had been a gaping hole in the closer role—that is, until they named unproven rookie Bruce Rondon the closer.
Dominican (not New Mexico) native Al Alburquerque had a couple stints in the majors in 2011 and 2012, and most recently, he was recognized as "the pitcher with the funny name" during the World Series.
However, Alburquerque has serious stuff. He recorded a 1.87 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 43.1 innings for the Tigers in 2011. Then, after recovering from right elbow surgery, the 26-year-old posted a 0.68 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 13.1 innings in 2012.
Alburquerque has a mid-90s fastball and a wicked slider that can strike out batters at will.
Should Rondon struggle in the closer role, expect Alburquerque to be a top-tier replacement. Otherwise, he will likely be used in the middle-to-late innings to get necessary strikeouts in tough spots.