Early Lessons from 2014 MLB Spring Training

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2014

Early Lessons from 2014 MLB Spring Training

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    Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

    Spring training games have been underway for roughly a week now, and while it's wise not to put too much stock in spring performance, there are still legitimate takeaways from the MLB's preseason.

    There is still a lot to be done between now and the start of the regular season, from trimming down rosters to determining pitching roles and batting orders.

    Here is a look at some early lessons from 2014 MLB spring training to this point, from general rules regarding player evaluation to more player-specific predictions based on the early games.

Avoid Hunting/Fishing at All Costs

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    Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

    It seems as though every spring there are a handful of freak injuries that wind up costing guys time, and we've already had our first such occurrence here in 2014.

    Boston Red Sox right-hander Jake Peavy sliced a knuckle on his non-throwing hand with a fishing knife while out fishing with his son, and wound up needing stitches, according to Gordon Edes of ESPN.

    Last offseason, a pair of accidents also took place in the great outdoors. San Diego Padres right-hander Andrew Cashner cut a tendon in his right thumb while out hunting, and Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum was accidentally shot by Hall of Famer and former teammate Robin Yount during a hunting trip.

Russell Wilson Can Draw a Crowd, Regardless of What Sport He's Playing

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    The Texas Rangers made headlines when they chose Russell Wilson in the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 draft, selecting him away from the Colorado Rockies, who had held his player rights since they selected him back in 2010.

    The Super Bowl-winning quarterback is not likely to leave the gridiron any time soon, but the Rangers opted to bring him into big league camp on March 3 to workout with their players and serve as a motivational tool.

    He took part in infield drills and talked to the team, and the fans flocked to the stadium for a chance to see him on the baseball diamond. B/R writer Kyle Newport put together a piece with a look at some pictures from the day.

Billy Hamilton Is Not the Only "Billy" with Wheels

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    One of the biggest stories of the spring is whether or not Billy Hamilton can step forward and prove to be a viable replacement for Shin-Soo Choo in center field and atop the lineup for the Cincinnati Reds.

    Hamilton has already made a name for himself with his blazing speed, but he's not the only Billy in a big league camp who has some notable wheels.

    A 32nd-round pick back in 2011, Billy Burns split last season between the High-A and Double-A levels, hitting .314/.423/.382 and succeeding on 74-of-81 stolen base attempts.

    The Oakland Athletics acquired Burns from the Washington Nationals this offseason for reliever Jerry Blevins, and he is in camp as a non-roster invitee.

    The 24-year-old is 7-for-22 at the plate this spring, and he has already stolen seven bases. He likely needs more seasoning at the minor league level, but he could make a serious impact with his speed in Oakland before too long.

Mike Foltynewicz Might Be This Year's Breakout Prospect

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The No. 19 pick in the 2010 draft out of high school, Mike Foltynewicz has quietly emerged as one of the better pitching prospects in a very good Houston Astros farm system.

    He opens the season as the No. 59 prospect in all of baseball, according to Baseball America, but he could wind up much higher before the season is over. His curveball/changeup combination still needs some refining, but his fastball is among the best in the minors and can touch triple digits.

    The right-hander was 6-3 with a 3.06 ERA and 124 strikeouts in 129.1 innings of work last season, splitting the year between High-A and Double-A.

    He has continued his solid play this spring, allowing just one hit and no walks in four innings of work. He'll start the season in the minors, but he could very well beat fellow prospect Mark Appel to the majors and has the potential to be a future ace.

Dustin Ackley Could Finally Be Ready to Break out

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    The No. 2 pick in the 2009 draft, Dustin Ackley was expected to be a key piece of the Seattle Mariners future when he was taken, but he's yet to truly break out.

    In fact, he struggled to the point of demotion last season, hitting just .205/.266/.250 through his first 45 games. He returned a month after his demotion, and went on to hit .304/.374/.435 after the All-Star break.

    That success looks to have carried over to the early-going this spring, as he's 6-for-13 with three doubles and a home run in his first five games. The center field job and leadoff spot in the lineup is his to lose this spring, and he is off to a good start so far.

The Future Is Incredibly Bright at Shortstop

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    Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

    Baseball America Top 100 Shortstop Prospects in Big League Camp

    RankAgePlayerSpring Stats
    221Xander Bogaerts, BOS3-for-9, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R
    521Javier Baez, CHI5-for-12, 2B, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 3 R
    719Carlos Correa, HOU2-for-9, 2B, 2 R
    1320Francisco Lindor, CLE3-for-9, 2B, HR, 4 RBI, 4 R
    1420Addison Russell, OAK3-for-17, 2 RBI

    This year's Top 100 prospect list features five shortstops who are 21 or younger, and they are all currently in big league camp with their respective teams.

    Barring something unforeseen happening, Xander Bogaerts is the only one who will break camp with the big league club. All five have the tools to be future stars, though, and it may not be long before they are battling it out for All-Star roster spots.

    With Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera set to hit free agency at the end of the year, Addison Russell and Francisco Lindor could be looking at everyday jobs by Opening Day next year. Meanwhile, it's only a matter of time before the rebuilding Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros turn things over to Javier Baez and Carlos Correa.

Closers Rarely Find Themselves Pitching in the Ninth Inning During the Spring

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Entering play on Wednesday, there have been a grand total of 54 saves recorded this spring, and not a single one of them has been by a pitcher projected to open the season as his team's closer.

    In fact, Arizona Diamondbacks newcomer Addison Reed is the only projected closer who has pitched in a save situation, and that came in the sixth inning of a game where the San Diego Padres were up 5-4.

    This is no doubt so teams can give their closers a chance to pitch against the other team's starting lineup, as most rosters are stripped down to minor leaguers and guys who won't make the Opening Day roster by the end of the game.

Spring Is as Important for Rule 5 Draft Picks as Anyone

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Only a few Rule 5 draft picks wind up sticking around and earning a spot on the Opening Day roster each spring, as the majority of them wind up shipped back to their former teams.

    They have but a short time to prove they are worth committing a 25-man roster spot to for the entire season, and already some have stepped forward as potential impact players for 2014.

    Right-hander Seth Rosin has been the biggest standout so far, making two appearances for the Los Angeles Dodgers this spring and allowing four hits and no walks while striking out eight over five innings of work.

    The Dodgers' bullpen situation is a crowded one, and it may take an injury for Rosin to wind up with a rotation spot, but he has been impressive so far and it will be hard to part with him if he keeps it up.

Spring Stats May Not Be Everything, but They Can Win You a Roster Spot

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    With so many players in camp for each team, there are always a handful of players who make the most of their chances during spring training and win themselves a roster spot.

    Last spring, Marlon Byrd went 20-for-56 and posted a .965 OPS to earn a spot on the New York Mets Opening Day roster after it looked like his career was over. In fact, sometimes, it's a completely unknown player who emerges to win a roster spot.

    This year, it could be Tommy Medica who emerges from the shadows. He has impressed in the early-going this spring for the San Diego Padres, going 10-for-18 with two doubles and a home run.

    He was added to the team's 40-man roster last September and he went 20-for-69 with two doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI down the stretch. Despite that, he entered spring on the outside looking in for a roster spot, but that could soon change if he keeps it up.

Even the Best in the Business Have Kinks to Work out

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    After signing a record seven-year, $215 million deal this offseason, Clayton Kershaw will be expected to once again be the game's best starting pitcher in 2014 and for the immediate future.

    He was nothing short of phenomenal last season, going 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA and 232 strikeouts in 236 innings of work. He's now captured three straight NL ERA titles and won the NL Cy Young in two of the past three seasons.

    Things have not gone all that well for the prized left-hander this spring, as he's allowed eight earned runs in four innings of work over his first two starts. He's given up seven hits and four walks, while striking out four as opponents are hitting .368 against him.