Buying or Selling MLB's Biggest Breakout Stars of Spring Training 2017

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMarch 29, 2017

Buying or Selling MLB's Biggest Breakout Stars of Spring Training 2017

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    New York Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres.
    New York Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Ah, spring training statistics, how you confound.

    On one hand, we know a strong exhibition showing can vanish once the games start to count. On the other, every year there are players who dominate in the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues and keep right on dominating.

    Hindsight is the only true arbiter, but let's run through a handful of breakout spring players and decide if we're buying or selling on their robust stat lines, using age, pedigree and past performance, plus a dollop of gut feeling.

    In this case, "breakout" means players without extended success at the big league level. So, while Bryce Harper's power surge is great news for the Washington Nationals, you won't find the former NL MVP on this list.

Jose Osuna, 1B/LF, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Jose Osuna is fighting for a spot on the Pittsburgh Pirates' Opening Day roster, and boy, is he stating his case loudly.

    In 20 spring games, the 24-year-old has gone 22-for-50 with four doubles, five home runs and 17 RBI. He credited a stint in winter ball for his fast exhibition start, per Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he has managed to keep his hot stick glowing.

    Even if he begins the season at Triple-A, Osuna has all but assured himself a call-up at some point this season.

    Bucs fans should temper their expectations. Osuna averaged a home run every 40.3 plate appearances over 722 minor league contests, so he's unlikely to replicate the power he's shown in camp.

    Still, he's young enough to believe in further development. At the least, he'd be a useful utility man, and he could be in line for more extensive playing time if any of the Pirates' veteran outfielders succumb to injury. 

    Verdict: Buying...sort of

Mitch Haniger, RF, Seattle Mariners

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    The Mariners are counting on Mitch Haniger to patrol right field. From the looks of things, he's up to the task.

    The 26-year-old rookie, acquired over the winter from the Arizona Diamondbacks, is hitting .412 in the Cactus League with a 1.151 OPS.

    Haniger hit .341 with 20 homers in 74 games last season at Triple-A, albeit in the hitter-happy Pacific Coast League.

    He's done enough to convince his skipper that his recent minor league output and spring production are no fluke. 

    "His approach and how he goes about his business, he's as prepared as any young player I've seen in a long time," Mariners manager Scott Servais said, per MLB.com's Greg Johns. "He's very disciplined, when he goes to the cage, how he takes his batting practice, what he does in his pregame. It's paying off."

    Verdict: Buying

Jabari Blash, RF/LF, San Diego Padres

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    As a 27-year-old with minimal big league experience buried on the San Diego Padres depth chart, Jabari Blash came into spring a forgotten man.

    Per Jeff Sanders of the San Diego Union-Tribune, he said: "My job is to come in and change somebody's mind, change the outlook of the player I am."

    It was much more than talk. Blash has been a beast, hitting seven home runs and driving in 19. In a camp featuring younger, more highly touted outfielders—including Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot—he has stood out in the crowd.

    Now the wet blanket: Blash struck out an eye-popping 680 times in 613 minor league games, and he's whiffed 23 times in 25 games so far this spring.

    At his age, players generally are what they are. What's Blash? He's a dude who can clear the fences but also misses the baseball an awful lot.

    Verdict: Selling

Jaime Schultz, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    In 14.2 exhibition innings with the Tampa Bay Rays, Jaime Schultz owns a 1.84 ERA with 22 strikeouts and has held opposing hitters to a .137 average.

    That hints at closer-quality stuff, and the 25-year-old righty has indeed looked the late-inning part.

    He posted a 5-7 record and 3.58 ERA at Triple-A last season, but he owns an impressive 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings across four minor league seasons, mostly as a starter.

    He's also walked 5.3 per nine in the minors and has issued 10 free passes. Command could be an issue.

    With that kind of bat-missing capability, though, the Rays have to be excited.

    "We've heard he's pretty comfortable in any role," manager Kevin Cash said of using Schultz out of the pen, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times 

    Comfortable, indeed.

    Verdict: Buying

Ian Happ, 2B, Chicago Cubs

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    Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images

    Hey, look, just what the Chicago Cubs needed—another young, homegrown player oozing talent and looking ready to take the big leagues by storm.

    In all seriousness, Ian Happ made an indelible impression in the Cactus Leage by hitting .415 with a 1.287 OPS and five home runs in 26 games.

    The ninth overall pick in the 2015 amateur draft, Happ is just 22 and will benefit from a bit more minor league seasoning. At the same time, he proved he's ready for an MLB audition at some point in 2017.

    "Right now, he looks great," manager Joe Maddon said, per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. "He's going to have to go out and play. That's it. I think he's really good. He's a major league player."

    Verdict: Buying

Jesus Aguilar, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Jesus Aguilar needed to rake this spring to win a job.

    He raked, and sure enough he'll be on the Milwaukee Brewers' Opening Day roster, per the team's official Twitter feed.

    Aguilar is hitting .463 on the spring with a 1.395 OPS, six homers and 16 RBI. Not bad for a guy who was claimed off waivers in early February.

    That said, Aguilar is 26 years old and owns a .172/.234/.190 slash line in 35 big league games, all with the Cleveland Indians.

    He's also limited defensively, so if his bat cools, his stay with the Crew could be short.

    Verdict: Selling

Kyle Kendrick, RHP, Boston Red Sox

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    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Strictly by the numbers, Kyle Kendrick ought to have a place on the Boston Red Sox's 25-man roster.

    In 29 Grapefruit League innings, the 32-year-old right-hander posted a 2.17 ERA with 26 strikeouts and just four walks. Still, he was reassigned to minor league camp on Tuesday, per Jen McCaffrey of MassLive.com.

    He should get a look at some point, if and when injuries or poor performance open a spot in the rotation or bullpen. 

    Kendrick hasn't posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2012 and put up a 6.32 ERA last season with the Colorado Rockies, which is ugly even by Mile High standards.

    He was a promising young pitcher once upon a time for the Philadelphia Phillies, and he finished fifth in National League Rookie of the Year balloting in 2007.

    Kendrick credited improved health and a new workout program for his spring success, per Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe.

    It's one thing to spin a best-shape-of-my-life yarn; it's another to back it up with results. And while the list of pitchers who've resurrected their careers past age 30 isn't terribly long, it does exist.

    Verdict: Buying...mostly

Gleyber Torres, SS, New York Yankees

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    After winning Arizona Fall League MVP honors at age 19, Gleyber Torres tore through the Grapefruit League, hitting .448 with a 1.400 OPS.

    The Yankees sent the 20-year-old to the minors, which makes sense from a development and service-time standpoint, as Brendan Kuty of NJ Advanced Media noted.

    Expect to see Torres in pinstripes sooner than later, however. New York's top prospect, acquired from the Cubs last July for Aroldis Chapman, has done nothing but impress everywhere he's gone.

    Despite his tender age, there's no reason to think his arrival in the Bronx will be any different.

    Verdict: Buying...all the shares

         

    All statistics current as of Tuesday and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.

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