8 MLB Prospects Making Early Waves in 2021 Spring TrainingMarch 16, 2021
8 MLB Prospects Making Early Waves in 2021 Spring Training
Major League Baseball is a month into spring training, so the games are getting interesting. The big leaguers are getting their reps in ahead of the 2021 season, and prospects are being thoroughly evaluated.
Some prospects are well on their way to the majors. Some are getting valuable experience. And some are just eating innings, hoping to hang around big league camps for as long as possible.
But a handful of prospects are getting noticed when they take the field. They've faced top talent and have had some success, whether they're pushing for roster spots or just previewing the future for their organizations.
Here are five of them making an impact with their play on the field, two of them garnering attention for their storylines and one making waves with a huge home run.
SS Bobby Witt Jr., Kansas City Royals
Bobby Witt Jr. isn't yet 21 years old, but those around the Royals say he already carries himself like a veteran.
The second pick in the 2019 draft out of Colleyville, Texas, has made his presence felt with a power bat, speed on the basepaths and strong play in the infield. Witt has played 11 games and has made the most of it. He's hitting .333 (9-for-27) with three home runs and seven RBI.
Witt had a particularly impressive performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday. Facing Julio Urias, the pitcher who closed out the World Series in the fall, Witt led off by working a 12-pitch walk, scored from second later on an error by shortstop Corey Seager and then homered in the second inning.
Witt has played only 37 games of rookie ball since the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020 minor league season. It would not be unheard of for a 20-year-old to make some noise in the major leagues. Washington Nationals left fielder Juan Soto nearly won the National League Rookie of the Year Award at 19, finishing behind the 20-year-old Ronald Acuna Jr. in 2018.
The Royals have a tough decision on their hands: Start Witt's service time clock or let him develop in the minors.
OF Jarred Kelenic, Seattle Mariners
You might remember Jarred Kelenic from the trade that sent Robinson Cano to the New York Mets in December 2018.
Kelenic is the No. 4 prospect by Baseball America and MLB.com, and there is pressure on the Seattle Mariners to deploy him in the major leagues this season.
Kelenic and his agent, Brodie Scoffield, have claimed the club refused to call him up in 2020 in order to manipulate his service time. In his now infamous remarks to a Rotary Club, former team president Kevin Mather seemed to confirm that theory.
But now it's on the 21-year-old outfielder to solidify a spot. A strained adductor in his left knee has held him out of Cactus League play since March 5. Prior to the injury, he was 2-for-8 with a home run in four games.
The Mariners anticipate Kelenic will return this week. His health and performance throughout the rest of spring training will determine whether he breaks camp with the team or starts the season in the minors.
LHP MacKenzie Gore, San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres should be one of the better teams in the National League this season, and MacKenzie Gore is ready to get in on the action.
The rotation is loaded after the club added Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove in the offseason, but Gore—the Padres' top prospect—is still hoping to crack the group. He told Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune he intends "to be ready for the majors" by Opening Day.
Breaking camp with options is never a bad idea, especially for a team such as the Padres that hopes to compete for the National League pennant. If Dinelson Lamet isn't healthy enough to start the season, then Gore could step into his place.
The 22-year-old southpaw was drafted third overall in 2017 and has not disappointed. His high leg kick gives him velocity in the mid-90s and he has a 2.56 ERA in the minor leagues. Through two spring training starts, Gore has a 4.50 ERA with six strikeouts in four innings.
RHP Deivi Garcia, New York Yankees
Will the New York Yankees break camp with Domingo German or Deivi Garcia in the rotation? That appears to be a big question with only two weeks until Opening Day.
The buzz around Garcia has been building. He got into six games last season, and the results were mixed. Garcia allowed the Mets just one unearned run in six innings in his major league debut and was used as an opener in the American League Division Series, but he was clearly trying to work through some adjustments in a few other outings.
The undersized righty is known for having serious bend in his curveball, and he had some success with his slider last season. Garcia is only 5'9" and 163 pounds, but he's strong enough to throw throw in the 91-93 range and he's touched 96. But it does take some effort to throw that hard at his size.
Garcia has allowed five hits and two earned runs through eight innings in three Grapefruit League starts (2.25 ERA).
German has allowed five hits and zero runs in nine innings across three starts, so this is a competition worth watching.
CF Daz Cameron, Detroit Tigers
Daz Cameron, Mike Cameron's son, is another player who ended up with his organization via a big trade. The Houston Astros sent Cameron to the Detroit Tigers for Justin Verlander in a five-player swap in August 2017.
Verlander helped the Astros win the World Series, as Tigers general manager Al Avila said he would, but Detroit is still waiting to see if the players Verlander netted will pan out. (Catcher Jake Rogers and right-handed starter Franklin Perez are the others.)
There is little pressure on the club as it continues its rebuild, but there is pressure on Cameron. He hit only .214 with 152 strikeouts in 120 games with Triple-A Toledo in 2019. He missed summer camp last year after being hospitalized with COVID-19 and then hit .193 in a 17-game major league debut, but he injured his right elbow playing winter ball in Puerto Rico.
In spring training, he has yet to record a hit in three at-bats. Outfield depth is not a strength of the Tigers' and Cameron is in the mix for a roster spot, but he's competing with some more experienced outfielder like JaCoby Jones, Nomar Mazara and Victor Reyes. He could use a break when it comes to health, but new Tigers manager A.J. Hinch—the former Astros manager—said Cameron will see more time in center field.
3B Jake Burger, Chicago White Sox
Jake Burger was one of the top college hitters in 2017 when the Chicago White Sox drafted him out of Missouri State with the 11th pick.
But between an injury and the pandemic, the big third base prospect had an extra long layoff. Burger ruptured his Achilles in a spring game Feb. 26, 2018, and thought the injury would end his career.
It's a great comeback story. With the 2020 minor league season canceled, Burger played in a collegiate summer league. He spent some time at the club's alternate facility and has played seven games in spring training.
Burger is hitting .308 (4-for-13) with a double. It's a small sample size, but it's a positive indicator for a player who was out for so long. Even better: The St. Louis native grew up a fan of the Cardinals and idolized Sox manager Tony La Russa.
He may not be able to grab a roster spot in the next couple of weeks, but if Burger continues to develop, he should be in the majors in the near future.
SS Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays
Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America and MLB.com all rank Wander Franco as the top prospect in baseball.
He made a good push in seven Grapefruit League games, hitting .294 (5-for-17) with a home run before he was reassigned to minor league camp Monday.
Breaking camp with the major league team was never in the cards. Franco just turned 20 on March 1 and has yet to play a game above High-A. Giving him at-bats in spring training was a good way to gauge where he is in his development. And it was a preview for Franco to see how major leaguers work during spring training.
The future is clearly bright for the switch-hitting shortstop: The home run he hit was so deep it left the complex and couldn't be measured. Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash had him working out at second base, third base and shortstop.
Franco probably won't make many headlines in minor league camp, but he doesn't need to. The Rays don't seem like they're trying to expedite the development of a future star, so he'll have a full minor league season to take the next step in what will likely be a stellar career.
RHP Alek Manoah, Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays have a slew of talented young players, but you probably hadn't heard of Alek Manoah until he blanked the Yankees twice in 12 days.
In his latest outing Sunday, he threw three perfect innings with seven straight strikeouts.
He also had a good approach. He mixed up his pitches, using a lot more off-speed stuff after he went heavy on his fastball in the first outing.
A hard-throwing righty, the 6'6", 260-pound Manoah can spin a fastball and really spin his slider. It darts and dives all over the place, and he also has good command of his changeup, which is what could help set him apart from other similar pitchers.
Manoah and the Yankees may have some good battles as he develops into a starter for the upstart Blue Jays.