10 Younger Players Who Will Get Us Buzzing in Spring Training

Karl BuscheckContributor IIIJanuary 30, 2014

10 Younger Players Who Will Get Us Buzzing in Spring Training

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Last year during spring training, a relatively unknown minor league outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers took the Cactus League by storm as he hit an astounding .517.

    Despite that performance, Yasiel Puig didn't break camp with the Dodgers in 2013. However, after a couple of months of battering Double-A pitching, Puig was in the big leagues to stay.

    The following list consists of young standouts who, like Puig a year ago, are on the verge of breaking out. As was the case with Puig, not all of these young players will make the Opening Day rosters for their respective clubs. Still, they're names you won't want to forget anytime soon.

     

    Note: All stats via Baseball-Reference.com.

Addison Russell, SS, Oakland Athletics

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    Addison Russell is on the fast track. 

    The No. 11 overall pick from the 2012 draft had a busy first full professional season in 2013. The shortstop began the year in Single-A playing for the Stockton Ports, where he hit .275/.377/.508. That performance earned him a spot in the Futures Game and also Cal League Rookie of the Year honors.

    Russell ended the the regular season with a brief cameo in Triple-A before heading off to play in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.

    ESPN's Keith Law (subscription required) tabbed Russell, still just 20 years old, as the No. 3 prospect in all of the minors. General manager Billy Beane explained to Jane Lee of MLB.com that Russell will start 2014 in Double-A or above.

    The big question, of course, is just how soon he'll reach Oakland.

    According to Joe Stiglich of CSN Bay Area, it "seems a stretch" that Russell will join the club by midseason. Stiglich added that Russell would "have to tear up AA/AAA."

    Based on Russell's rapid ascension to this point, tearing it up doesn't seem out of the question.

     

    Note: Video courtesy of MLB Advanced Media.

Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Jim Callis of MLB.com dished out some high praise for Oscar Taveras, who is the top prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals organization:

    Oscar Taveras is the best prospect to come through the Cardinals' system since Albert Pujols. He could be the best hitting prospect to come through the Minor Leagues since Pujols graduated to St. Louis in 2001.

    In five minor league seasons, Taveras has hit .320/.377/.518. That impressive level of production prompted Callis to suggest that Taveras will challenge for batting titles and hit at least 25 home runs per year when he reached the big leagues.

    His MLB debut should occur at some point in 2014, but for now it remains to be seen just how soon Taveras will land in St. Louis. 2013 was essentially a lost season for the outfielder after a serious ankle injury limited him to just 47 games.

    General manager John Mozeliak explained to Callis that the club expects Taveras to be 100 percent healthy by spring training. Still, the Cardinals will likely take a cautious approach with him.

    The Cardinals have no need to rush Taveras, as Jon Jay, Peter Bourjos, Allen Craig, Matt Holliday and Shane Robinson are all in the outfield mix. With a huge spring training performance, though, Taveras could easily force his way into one of the best lineups in the National League.

Taijuan Walker, SP, Seattle Mariners

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Taijuan Walker began the 2013 season in Double-A, but he ended the year in the big leagues with the Seattle Mariners.

    In three starts with the Mariners, Walker went 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA. The right-hander earned that promotion after posting a 2.93 ERA in 25 starts for Seattle's Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. For his performance last year, Walker earned the No. 6 spot on MLB.com's top 100 prospects list.

    Seattle's new manager, Lloyd McClendon, has lofty expectations for the highly touted starter. McClendon explained to Doug Miller of MLB.com that he not only expects Walker to make the Mariners' rotation out of spring training, but that he'd be "very disappointed" if Walker doesn't.

George Springer, OF, Houston Astros

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    George Springer had a monster season in the minors in 2013. 

    The outfielder hit .303/.411/.600 with 37 home runs and 45 steals while splitting time between the Houston Astros' Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. 

    The only negative from 2013 was Springer's high strikeout total. In 590 plate appearances, Springer went down swinging 161 times.

    GM Jeff Luhnow told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com that Springer "will be a starting outfielder in Houston this year" but wouldn't guarantee that it would happen by Opening Day.

    As Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle points out, concerns over service time could impact when Springer makes his debut for the Astros. However, with a big spring it will be hard to keep Springer out of Houston's lineup for long.

Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers

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    With Miguel Cabrera headed across the diamond to play first base, Nick Castellanos is slated to become the new third baseman for the Detroit Tigers in 2014, according to Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press.

    Castellanos is coming off a strong, if not spectacular, Triple-A campaign, as he hit .276 with 18 home runs in 2013. It's worth noting, however, that Castellanos posted those numbers during his age-21 season, which made him one of the youngest players in the International League.  

    ESPN's Keith Law (subscription required) sees an incredibly bright future for the first-round pick from the 2010 draft. Law predicts that Castellanos will hit 25-30 home runs per with an average between .290-300. 

     

    Note: Video courtesy of MLB Advanced Media.

Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Gregory Polanco isn't expected to be a part of the Pittsburgh Pirates' Opening Day lineup, but it shouldn't be long before he joins the club.

    David Todd of 970 ESPN explained via Twitter that he "would be shocked" if Polanco didn't end up in Pittsburgh at some point in 2014.

    Last year, the left-handed hitter started the season in Single-A but finished it in Triple-A. While appearing in 127 games across three different levels, Polanco hit .285/.356/.434.

    Polanco followed that up with an explosive winter league campaign in his native Dominican Republic. The outfielder claimed Rookie of the Year and MVP honors as he batted .331/.428/.494, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.

    With just nine Triple-A at-bats on his resume, a little more minor league seasoning would certainly benefit Polanco. When he does join Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen in Pittsburgh, though, the Pirates will boast one of the most formidable outfield trios in MLB.

Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox

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    There's already been a lot of buzz surrounding Xander Bogaerts.

    The infielder made his debut for the Boston Red Sox last August before becoming a key component in the Red Sox's World Series-winning lineup. During the club's October run, Bogaerts hit .296 with a .412 OBP.

    Even though he's already broken into Boston's lineup, Bogaerts maintains his rookie status due to a lack of service time. As a result, the native of Aruba has been highly ranked on a variety of top 100 prospect lists.

    ESPN's Keith Law (subscription required), MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus all tabbed Bogaerts as the No. 2 prospect in the game. 

     

    Note: Video courtesy of MLB Advanced Media.

Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Byron Buxton is the consensus No. 1 prospect in all of the minor leagues.

    The outfielder ranked first on top-prospect lists produced by ESPN's Keith Law (subscription required), MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus. It's hard to argue with the rankings based on the stats Buxton put up during his age-19 season in 2013.

    Buxton hit .334/.424/.520 with 19 doubles, 18 triples, 12 home runs and 55 steals. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft posted those numbers while playing for a couple of the Twins' Single-A affiliates. As a result, Buxton will still have to prove himself in the upper minors before he arrives in Minnesota.

    Nonetheless, he's already a popular player with the Twins fanbase. Scott Beedy of KARE remarked that at Twins Fest, Buxton seemed to attract the most interest of any player outside of Joe Mauer.

Archie Bradley, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Archie Bradley enjoyed a sensational season in the minors in 2013.

    The seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft went 14-5 with a 1.84 ERA and 9.6 K/9 ratio while splitting time between the Arizona Diamondbacks' High-A and Double-A teams.

    Despite the fact that the 21-year-old has never pitched in Triple-A, he's very much in the running to land a rotation spot with the Diamondbacks.

    Steve Gilbert of MLB.com explained via Twitter that Bradley has a "good shot" to make the team out of spring training assuming "he pitches well during camp."

    Service-time questions will factor into the decision, but GM Kevin Towers echoed that sentiment via Nick Piecoro of azcentral.com: "if we think he's going to help us win more games and he's one of our best five, we'll take him. If we think he's mentally and physically ready, we'll take him."

    If Bradley reels off an impressive run of starts in the spring, Arizona's front office will face a seriously challenging question regarding what to do with the right-hander.

     

    Note: Video courtesy of MLB Advanced Media.

Jose Abreu, 1B/DH, Chicago White Sox

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    At 27 years old, Jose Abreu is the oldest player on the list. The Cuban slugger, who the Chicago White Sox inked to a six-year, $68 million deal, is also the biggest mystery of all.

    While playing in Cuba's Serie Nacional, Abreu posted some incredible power numbers. During the 2010-11 campaign, Abreu swatted 33 home runs in just 293 plate appearances, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. As Badler adds, Abreu hit 35 long balls in just 71 games the year after that.

    However, as Peter Gammons of GammonsDaily.com observes, some scouts still question if Abreu has the bat speed to succeed against big league pitching.

    Abreu will have the chance to start answering that question during spring training. That means tracking his progress will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the entire spring.

     

    Note: Video courtesy of MLB Advanced Media.