Scouting Reports, Predictions for All 30 MLB Team's Top Prospect in Spring Camp
Even though the games in spring training don't count, their value for all 30 Major League Baseball teams and every player is incalculable.
It's the one time of the year where the established big leaguers will play on the same field as the young prospects making their way through the system, preparing to join the ranks of MLB stars.
As we get set for the start of camp in 2014, teams are preparing to get another extended look at their future stars. Some of them will be fighting to make the 25-man roster out of camp, while others are looking to show that they are advancing faster than expected.
Putting these talented young stars alongside big leaguers will help show how far along they are on the development curve, as well as the work that still remains before they can take that final step.
We are going to make things easy for you to keep track of, providing a comprehensive scouting report of the top prospect for each team and offering our expectations for what you will see when these players take the field in spring games.
Note: All stats courtesy of MiLB.com.
The Player: Archie Bradley, RHP
Highest Level: Double-A (Mobile)
Bradley took the raw ingredients that made him the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft and turned them into a dominating performance across two levels last season.
His fastball, always featuring plus velocity (92-98) and movement, especially to right-handed hitters, took a huge step forward thanks to improved control. His arm slot and release points are still a little erratic but nothing to worry about.
His big leg kick and movement in the windup will likely limit his command profile to average, but Bradley will have no problems missing bats. His curveball is an absolute hammer, thrown in the mid 80s with two-plane break, sharp spin and drops off a table when it gets into the zone.
Bradley is still learning to use his changeup. It profiles as an above-average pitch, which is more than enough to get by with two 70-grade pitches.
One thing Arizona has done well is load up on young starting pitching. Wade Miley, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Cahill, Josh Collmenter and Randall Delgado are all under 28 years old.
Brandon McCarthy is the elder statesman of the group, at the ripe old age of 30. Youth and depth put Bradley in a position where he will have to wait for multiple injuries to get a shot.
The good news is Bradley wasn't going to break camp with the team anyway, I assume. He did start 21 games at Double-A, but the control and changeup still need work before he takes his rightful place at the top of a loaded rotation.
Getting through spring healthy and showing some minor improvements (repeating delivery, command) will make Bradley No. 1 on the list of pitchers to be called up if/when one of the incumbent starters gets injured.
The Player: Lucas Sims, RHP
Highest Level: Low-A (Rome)
The Braves stayed in their backyard to draft Lucas Sims with the 21st pick in the 2012 draft. He rewarded them with an impressive full-season debut last year that raised his stock, giving the team another potential front-line starting pitcher.
Sims has good size (6'2", 195 pounds) with room to fill out and is a very good athlete, repeating his mechanics well and holding velocity deep into games. The fastball showed better velocity in 2014, sitting 92-95 with some late movement.
His power curveball will be a big bat-misser in the future, as it features excellent shape and two-plane break. He's still learning to throw it for strikes. His changeup was the biggest difference maker in 2013, showing more fade than in high school and projects as an above-average offering.
This spring will be a learning experience for Sims. He's not even on Atlanta's 40-man roster yet, so there is plenty of time for him to try and make a name for himself.
The Braves usually take their time with prospects, so all Sims has to do is show that the improvements from last season were just the start of what he can do. Barring any injury setback, the 19-year-old will start 2014 in High-A.
Video via Christopher Blessing, Bullpen Banter
The Player: Kevin Gausman, RHP
Highest Level: MLB
Kevin Gausman, the No. 4 pick in the 2012 draft, impressed the Orioles so much with his combination of stuff and polish that he was promoted to the big leagues less than two months into the 2013 season.
While he struggled with location, Gausman showed the stuff to project as a front-line starting pitcher. He works with 70-grade pitches (fastball and changeup) that are good enough to get big league hitters out right now.
The heater is thrown with excellent velocity (92-97), but Gausman will throw different fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer) to get movement and induce weak contact. The changeup is a beast, showing great deception on arm speed and serious fade as it reaches the plate.
Command in the zone and development of the slider are the only things holding Gausman back right now. Given hiscurrent arsenal, ability to throw strikes and bulldog mentality, don't bet against him figuring things out quickly.
Given how weak Baltimore's rotation is, and how little the team has spent in free agency (thus far) to address it, Gausman has a real chance to make the big leagues out of spring training.
Even if his slider isn't where it needs to be, Gausman has two major weapons right now and could be used in a long-relief role while working on the breaking ball.
His future is in the rotation, so I still think the Orioles will monitor the slider in camp before deciding what to do. Another stint in Triple-A to start the season, with the goal of being brought up on or around June 1, seems like Gausman's path to the big leagues in 2014.
Boston Red Sox
The Player: Xander Bogaerts, SS
Highest Level: MLB
Xander Bogaerts is one of the most impressive young hitters in baseball, as we all saw in October. That wasn't a fluke, as the 21-year-old shortstop is going to be a fixture in the middle of Boston's lineup for years.
The hardest thing for young hitters to do is avoid chasing close pitches just off the plate. Bogaerts not only has that skill already but is so far advanced that he's better than a lot of big leaguers. He's also willing to sit back and go with a pitch up the middle or the other way.
His power is still developing, but Bogaerts makes such loud, consistent contact with tremendous wrist acceleration and hip rotation that he will end up as a consistent 25-30 homer player.
Still growing into his 6'3", 185-pound frame, Bogaerts may eventually outgrow shortstop but has shown enough range and arm strength to project as an average defender there for at least the next few years.
There's no fear of the spring stage, surrounded by MLB players, being too big for Bogaerts after his stellar postseason performance. He's going to be in Boston's Opening Day lineup, likely at shortstop unless something changes with Stephen Drew.
The Red Sox don't have to invest millions of dollars to bring Drew back, because they know how good Bogaerts is. There's certainly no question that he's ready for a full season in the big leagues.
In fact, given his advanced approach, Bogaerts will be one of the most-talked about players in baseball this spring. That's how good he is.
Chicago White Sox
The Player: Erik Johnson, RHP
Highest Level: MLB
A polished college pitcher out of the University of California, Berkeley, Erik Johnson has ascended up the White Sox prospect rankings by being a quality strike thrower with a strong understanding of how to pitch.
Johnson isn't going to dominate hitters with raw stuff, but he has a deep arsenal that includes a plus fastball thrown in the low 90s with movement and a slider with hard tilt that will get big league hitters out.
He also has a workhorse frame at 6'3", 235 pounds. The 24-year-old is a solid athlete and has quieted his mechanics to repeat his delivery. Johnson also has a loose, easy arm action and pushes the ball down in the zone, making it hard for hitters to elevate.
With the White Sox fully embracing a long overdue rebuilding effort, Johnson figures to be in the mix for an MLB job right out of spring. He made five starts at the end of 2013, getting hit around with 32 hits allowed in 27.2 innings.
Johnson will come into camp and do exactly what he's done the last two years in the minors: throw strikes and get hitters out.
The results are not always going to be pretty, nor is he going to strike out 10 every start, but a solid mid-rotation arm who costs next to nothing is a valuable asset for a franchise focused on the future.
The Player: Javier Baez, SS
Highest Level: Double-A (Tennessee)
There isn't a more exciting hitter in the minors to watch than Javier Baez. He's still searching for consistency and some semblance of an approach, but when contact is made, the ball explodes off his bat.
Baez owns the best pure bat speed in baseball, regardless of level. He absolutely whips the barrel through the zone and drives the ball with authority. His aggressive nature gets the best of him at times, leading to a lot of strikeouts and chasing pitches way out of the zone.
He did appear to get more comfortable as the season went on, taking 19 walks in 218 Double-A at-bats after drawing 21 free passes in 299 High-A at-bats. That was huge for his development, though there are still moments where the hacker gets the best of him.
The 21-year-old is also an inconsistent defender, leading to questions about his future position. Lapses in concentration led to 44 errors in 123 games, though he does have the arm strength and athleticism to stay at shortstop with some adjustments in his style.
Even with a fringe-average defensive profile. Baez's offensive ceiling would make him an MVP candidate at shortstop or third base. He's still got a wide gap between present and future, giving him more risk than a lot of top prospects.
There will be a lot of pressure around Chicago to promote Baez right out of spring, especially if he has a monster camp like he did in 2013. He's not ready for the jump yet, still needing to refine his approach and work with the glove.
Keep an eye on the quality of at-bats Baez is putting together from game to game, not just the end results. He's going to get a taste of the big leagues in 2014, barring an injury setback, but it's not going to happen right away.
The Player: Robert Stephenson, RHP
Highest Level: Double-A (Pensacola)
With the exception of Archie Bradley, no pitcher in the minors had more helium by the end of 2013 than Robert Stephenson. The 20-year-old has a sturdy 6'2", 190-pound frame with the ability to add more muscle.
Combining athleticism with an easy, repeatable delivery and power arsenal, Stephenson has all the makings of a quality No. 2 starter. His fastball is an easy 93-98 and plays better than that thanks to a long stride toward the plate that gives hitters less time to react.
Also like Bradley, Stephenson has a monster curveball with incredible break and tight spin. He's still learning to throw it for strikes consistently but has shown more control than most pitchers his age.
His changeup will flash plus with feel and deception. Stephenson still doesn't trust it as much as the fastball or curveball, but it looks good enough to be a weapon in MLB.
His command in the strike zone still needs work, but he is mature beyond his years. He doesn't have to correct much to be on the big league radar this season.
It will be interesting to see how aggressive the Reds are with their top prospect, given the state of their starting staff and need to contend now. Stephenson is almost ready for the big leagues, likely putting himself on the radar for a call-up by June or July.
With Homer Bailey a free agent at the end of 2014, the Reds will want Stephenson to get innings this season to be ready for a breakout season in 2015.
He won't break camp with the MLB team, but a strong spring could allow Stephenson to be in the big leagues sooner than expected.
Video via Reds Minor Leagues
The Player: Francisco Lindor, SS
Highest Level: Double-A (Akron)
One of the most frequent words you will see used to describe Francisco Lindor is mature. He's one of the rare prospects in baseball likely to reach his full potential because of his approach in every facet of the game and few weaknesses.
In fact, the only real flaw you can point to in Lindor's game is a lack of power due to a slight 5'11", 175-pound frame. But his ability to control the strike zone and underrated hand quickness makes it easy to project fringe-average power (12-15 homers) in the future.
Lindor's ability to slash the ball all over the field also gives him a real chance to hit 30-40 doubles per season. He's got a great eye and plan at the plate, boasting a 124-110 strikeout-to-walk ratio in two full years of pro ball.
Oh yeah, the 20-year-old is also one of the best defensive shortstops in the minors. He's an above-average runner but plays faster than that in the field thanks to a great first step and instincts that put him in the right spot to make difficult plays look routine.
If the Indians needed Lindor to play shortstop this season, he could probably do it while putting up a respectable on-base percentage and limited power.
Due to financial constraints, as well as Asdrubal Cabrera still being under contract for one more year, Lindor is likely going to come into camp showing the usual strong assortment of tools and trying to earn a bump to Triple-A after just 21 games in Double-A.
If Cabrera struggles in 2014 like he did last season, or the Indians trade him before the deadline in July, don't be shocked to see Lindor in Cleveland by the end of the year.
The Player: Jonathan Gray, RHP
Highest Level: High-A (Modesto)
No pitcher in the 2013 draft could match Jonathan Gray's ceiling, which is why the Rockies have to feel like they struck gold getting him with the No. 3 pick.
He has a huge power arm and stands tall on the mound at 6'4", 255 pounds. His stuff is electric, including a plus-plus fastball that touches triple digits. His velocity comes from excellent push off the mound and incredible arm speed that whips the ball to the plate.
He has a potentially elite slider, with mid-80s velocity and hard bite that will carve left-handed hitters out alive. His changeup is average, as it's a little too straight, but his good arm speed will deceive hitters.
Gray tends to lack finish in his delivery, ending up too tall and not creating plane on the fastball. It's a small flaw that can be corrected with pro coaching and experience, so it doesn't lower his ceiling.
Jonathan Gray is the pitcher I'm most looking forward to watching this spring. He still needs experience against advanced hitters, but a strong showing in camp could convince the Rockies he's ready for Double-A.
If the changeup is more consistent, Gray is going to be in Colorado by the end of the year. With him and Eddie Butler, the Rockies are going to have one of the most exciting one-two pitching duos in baseball very soon.
The Player: Nick Castellanos, 3B
Highest Level: MLB
There are few prospects you can put above Nick Castellanos when it comes to a pure hit tool. Other players might have louder tools, or more power, but from an ability to square up pitches and hit for average, Castellanos is about as good as it gets.
He's grown into a lanky 6'4" frame, weighing in at 210 pounds. That added bulk makes it easier to see plus power coming down the road, especially since the 21-year-old will show raw pop in batting practice.
Castellanos commands the zone so well, displaying excellent plate coverage and driving balls to the opposite field with ease. Even if he doesn't end up a big home run hitter, the average and raw strength project for 35-40 doubles and 15-18 homers.
His defense at third base is adequate thanks to solid lateral movement and above-average arm strength. Castellanos won't win a Gold Glove, but the offense is good enough to make him a star at the hot corner.
The Tigers made the decision to trade Prince Fielder to Texas this winter, opening up third base so that Miguel Cabrera no longer has to pretend to play the position.
Castellanos is a natural third baseman who the Tigers tried in the outfield when it looked like the hot corner would be occupied for a few years. He's going into camp as the team's starting third baseman, according to Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski (via Chris Iott of MLive.com).
Given his ability to hit, Castellanos should have no problem acclimating himself in MLB camp after being around the Tigers late last season.
The Player: Carlos Correa, SS
Highest Level: Low-A (Quad Cities)
The Astros challenged Carlos Correa, just 18 years old at the time, with an aggressive assignment to Low-A right out of spring training last season. He rewarded them with a brilliant season that showcased all the offensive tools that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2012.
Correa is still a teenager but controls the bat like a player in his mid-20s. He has a great feel for the hitting zone, displaying an approach and willingness to go the other way. A lanky 6'4", 205 pounds, he's still growing into his frame and will continue to add power in the next two years.
Excellent bat speed and quick wrists give Correa plus power projection in the future. A feel for the zone makes him a high-average hitter, and his speed is above average and will play average when his frame fills out.
Correa has a chance to stay at shortstop for a few years, thanks to excellent footwork and solid instincts at the position but will eventually end up at third base where his lateral quickness and plus arm strength will play fine.
Going into camp with a ton of young talent, it could be hard for one individual player to stand out in Houston. But Correa isn't your typical hitter. He's going to step into the box against MLB pitching and hold his own.
There will be rough spots because of his youth, but overall Correa will not look overmatched. He's going to hit and hit for some power. The Astros have taken things slow with him, leaving him in Low-A for all of 2013 when a promotion to High-A wouldn't have been a bad idea.
If he's dominating High-A early in 2014, don't be shocked to see the Astros get a little more aggressive and bump him to Double-A late in the year with a shot to play in the big leagues in 2015.
Kansas City Royals
The Player: Yordano Ventura, RHP
Highest Level: MLB
One of the most exciting arms in baseball, Yordano Ventura doesn't fit the natural profile of a No. 1 starter but has all the ingredients to be a dominant ace. He's just 5'11", 180 pounds, only slightly bigger than Tim Lincecum.
Ventura has one of the fastest arms you will see, getting plus-plus velocity on the fastball. He will routinely hit triple digits, holding that velocity deep into games. He doesn't get much movement on the pitch, nor does he have any plane on it due to his small stature, so command in and around the zone will be imperative for the 22-year-old to have success.
His curveball is a hammer, a true 12-6 breaker, showing tight spin and dropping off a table in the zone. He's throwing it with more confidence and strikes than ever before, turning it into a plus weapon.
Ventura's two biggest concerns are size and the changeup. His changeup flashes above average, throwing it with great, deceptive arm speed and fade, but he's still learning to throw it for strikes.
Given the quality of the stuff and ability to attack hitters, Ventura should start until he proves he can't do it. The worst-case scenario is he turns into a dominant closer with two elite pitches.
The best thing Kansas City did for Ventura was get him MLB experience late last season, as the team was chasing a playoff spot in September. Those efforts came up short, but the young right-hander dazzled with his stuff in three starts and will enter spring camp with a real chance to make the rotation.
The Royals are a very interesting team, thanks to the development of a great bullpen and return to form for Eric Hosmer. Ventura is a big part of that and just has to hold his own to be the No. 3 starter on this team in 2014.
Los Angeles Angels
The Player: Taylor Lindsey, 2B
Highest Level: Double-A (Arkansas)
In a season where most of Los Angeles' top prospects took a step back, Taylor Lindsey emerged as the best of an otherwise uninspired group. He's not an impact player who will change the fortunes of a team but shows enough acumen on both sides of the ball to be a quality big leaguer.
Lindsey's calling card is the hit tool. He's got a short, quick stroke through the zone, displaying hand quickness and bat-to-ball skills that make it easy to project for solid batting averages.
His offensive ceiling is limited due to a lack of natural power, starting with his hands low and trying to spray line drives to all fields. Lindsey also has a huge leg kick and timing mechanism that will make it difficult to catch advanced stuff consistently.
Lindsey's glove is adequate for second base, showing some range and feel for turning a double play. He's got plenty of arm strength, though that's more of an asset than requirement at second base.
With the Angels still in win-now mode, despite some issues pitching the last two years, and Howie Kendrick signed through 2015, Lindsey will be facing an uphill climb to the big leagues soon.
If Lindsey continues to hit, the Angels could package him in a deal to try upgrading their pitching staff further. This will be an important spring for him, to prove last year wasn't a fluke. He still needs time against advanced pitching, so I don't expect a dazzling performance, but a solid average with a few doubles wouldn't be out of the question.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Player: Corey Seager, SS
Highest Level: High-A
The brother of Seattle third baseman Kyle Seager, Corey has all the tools to be a better MLB player. He's playing shortstop in the minors, but at 6'4" and 215 pounds already, the 19-year-old will end up at third base sooner rather than later.
He's got soft hands, as you would expect from a shortstop, making the transition to third base easier. The arm strength and accuracy are plus, so he should be no worse than an above-average defender.
Moving to the hot corner puts pressure on Seager's bat, but he's an impressive hitter already. He's got plus raw power that's already showing up in games, as he hit 16 homers and slugged .473 across two levels last season.
Seager has a beautiful left-handed swing, getting great arm extension and displaying a knack for driving the ball to all fields. He still shows his youth against off-speed stuff and a lack of pitch recognition but makes enough contact to project as a plus hitter.
The Dodgers are building around their MLB talent right now but have a very interesting farm system with high-end talent at the top. Seager is the best of the bunch and should show excellent hitting acumen, even against advanced pitching, with a full offseason of rest.
I saw him in the Arizona Fall League, when it was clear a full season exhausted him, so picking up where he left off at his peak in 2013 isn't out of the question. A return to High-A seems likely, since he played just 27 games there, though a promotion to Double-A will happen by midseason.
The Player: Andrew Heaney, LHP
Highest Level: Double-A (Jacksonville)
Touted more for his polish than upside coming out of college, Andrew Heaney did exactly what you would expect in 2013, while showing better stuff across the board.
Not an overpowering pitcher, Heaney has above-average fastball velocity from the left side (91-93). It plays better than that because of some deception in the delivery and plus command in the strike zone.
He also has a knockout slider, easily projecting as a plus pitch, with excellent tilt and bite down in the zone that hitters struggle to drive. His changeup is still coming along, though it looks better now than it did in college thanks to arm-side fade and a good feel for the pitch.
A consistent strike thrower who wastes no time attacking hitters, Heaney reminds me of a Mark Buehrle-type pitcher with better stuff across the board. He will be a high-end No. 3 starter in Miami very soon.
For most teams, I wouldn't expect Heaney to have a shot at playing in the big leagues right out of spring training. He's only made six starts at Double-A, but we saw how aggressive the Marlins were with Jose Fernandez last season and how well that worked out.
Even though Heaney is a different kind of pitcher than Fernandez, he's got a high level of pitchability and feel that would allow him to start 2014 in Miami without missing a beat.
I'll go on the conservative side and say that the Marlins let him ride out spring, throwing strikes as he always does, then sends him back to Double-A with a real shot to get called up in June.
The Player: Tyrone Taylor, OF
Highest Level: Low-A (Wisconsin)
Times are tough in Milwaukee. The MLB team lost 88 games in 2013 and doesn't have much to offer this season, though the return of Ryan Braun will make them more interesting (for so many reasons).
The farm system is one of the worst in baseball, boasting few players who project as MLB regulars. Tyrone Taylor is the best of the bunch, though he's still in A-ball and is more raw tools than in-game performance.
At least Taylor does offer a lot of projection, thanks to tremendous athleticism and a projectable 6'0", 185-pound frame. He's got a quick, easy swing with some excess load before committing but enough bat speed to make up for it.
There's plus raw power in the body, though it may only play average to slightly above due to an aggressive, rushed approach. The contact isn't always solid, but he doesn't strike out a lot and has plus speed to put pressure on defenses.
Taylor projects as plus defender thanks to range and above-average arm strength. He shows good instincts in the field and takes easy routes to the ball in center.
With Taylor still not cracking the 40-man roster, spring camp is going to be about showing that some of his raw skills will turn into performance as he prepares to make the leap to High-A.
The Brewers have a lot invested in getting him to reach that potential, otherwise there's nothing to get excited about for their position player prospects. He's going to struggle against Double-A pitching when he gets there, but the exciting tools package make him a player to watch.
Video via In The Shadows of Wrigley
The Player: Byron Buxton, OF
Highest Level: High-A (Fort Myers)
Byron Buxton, the best prospect in baseball, dazzled in 2013 with his advanced approach in all phases of the game and room for growth. He doesn't have any notable weakness and boasts above-average or better tools in all five categories.
Buxton has elite speed, which allows him to steal bases at will and gives him plus-plus range in center field. He's got one of the best throwing arms you will see from a center fielder, grading out as plus-plus.
There are times where Buxton's ability to make throws from anywhere in the outfield causes him to sail throws from center field, but with more discipline he will be fine.
His swing and bat speed are so effortless, boasting incredible power from his wrists and using a strong lower half to drive the ball to all fields. Buxton is still growing into his power but will eventually turn into a 25-homer threat when his body fills out.
The future is bright in Minnesota, thanks to a deep farm system led by Buxton. He's going to be one of the best players in baseball and an MVP candidate very soon.
Even though there may be an aggressive push from Twins fans to get Buxton in Minnesota soon, he still has work to do in the minors and will need time in Double-A.
Spring camp will be about building more excitement for the future. Buxton will show off all five tools, even against advanced pitching, and prove he's ready for the upper levels of the minors.
It's plausible the Twins could bring him up by the end of 2014, but given where the team is, 2015 seems more likely because they don't want to start his arbitration clock sooner than they have to.
New York Mets
The Player: Noah Syndergaard, RHP
Highest Level: Double-A (Binghamton)
One of the two big prospects New York acquired from Toronto, Noah Syndergaard has vaulted past catcher Travis d'Arnaud as the best player in the Mets farm system.
The 21-year-old right-hander has a workhorse body at 6'6", 240 pounds. He's got long limbs, which can cause some problems with his mechanics when trying to repeat his delivery and keep the same release point.
He ironed a lot of those flaws out last season, throwing more strikes than ever, and had the lowest walk rate of his minor league career (28 in 117.2 innings). His arsenal also improved, with the breaking ball being the biggest jumper.
Syndergaard has a huge fastball that sits 92-97 with explosive life. The pitch jumps on hitters because his long limbs allow him to release the ball way out in front of the mound.
His curveball has always had good shape but didn't have the velocity to get out advanced hitting. He's added some miles to it in the last year, generating more swings and misses in the process.
His changeup projects as average, though nothing more because it's too firm and he lacks consistent command with the pitch.
Like Matt Harvey in 2012 and Zack Wheeler in 2013, Noah Syndergaard will join the ranks of outstanding young starting pitchers to join the Mets rotation in 2014.
He's still got to work on the changeup, likely in Triple-A, so spring training will be about getting his timing back to make an effective transition to the highest level of minor league baseball. Syndergaard will dominate minor league hitters in the spring and prove to the Mets a midseason call-up is in order.
New York Yankees
The Player: Gary Sanchez, C
Highest Level: Double-A (Trenton)
Big things were expected for Gary Sanchez last season following a breakout 2012 campaign, but he failed to reach those dazzling heights again and left serious doubt his ability to be a star in the big leagues.
The raw tools are still there for Sanchez, particularly with the bat. He's got plus-plus raw power and a solid approach at the plate to get it playing in games. The 21-year-old wasn't driving the ball with the same authority last season, getting caught off-balance by quality breaking stuff and advanced pitching.
A good athlete with plus arm strength, Sanchez has never translated his natural feel for catching into game ability. He doesn't block or receive well, though he's good enough to be a fringe defender behind the plate.
If the hit tool returns to the 2012 form, Sanchez will be a star because of his positional value at catcher.
Given some of the attitude issues Sanchez has displayed in the past, not to mention the Yankees' signing of Brian McCann, it's safe to say the team has real concerns about his future.
On the plus side, if Sanchez does hit well early in the season and the tools look like they are back, the Yankees will have a young player to plug somewhere in the lineup or, possibly, dangle as a trade chip in July to upgrade the rotation.
Sanchez strikes me as the type of player who will want to do so much against MLB competition in spring camp that he presses and winds up rolling over pitches he should drive the other way and missing pitches in the zone he would normally crush.
The Player: Addison Russell, SS
Highest Level: Triple-A (Sacramento)
The Athletics challenged Addison Russell right after he was drafted in 2012, moving him up three levels before ending the season in Low-A. He dominated the lowest levels and started last season in Double-A.
Following a slow start to 2013, Russell turned things on in the second half and finished the season with an impressive .269/.369/.495 line as a 19-year-old across two levels. That's not an accident, as he's a physically and mentally mature player with advanced skills on both sides of the ball.
Russell projects as a plus defensive shortstop thanks to plus arm strength and lateral quickness. His reads are still a bit crude, taking a poor first step but showing enough speed and range to make all the plays to the left and right.
He's an exciting offensive player, boasting plus raw power with a chance for more and still growing into a long 6'0", 195-pound frame. Russell has a lightning-quick bat that whips through the zone thanks to great wrist speed and a natural ability to barrel balls. He takes virtually no stride and sprays line drives all over the field, making consistently loud contact.
There's still some swing and miss to his game, but given the bat speed and advanced approach, Russell should be at least a .280 hitter in the big leagues with high OBP totals and 20-25 homers.
The A's could use Russell right out of spring training, but Jed Lowrie's presence will likely delay his debut until an injury occurs or when rosters expand in September.
He was in spring camp with the team last year and struggled in a small sample size of six games (.250/.294/.313). With a full season of professional experience under his belt, all of it in the upper levels of the minors, don't count on another poor spring.
Russell is a much better defensive shortstop now than when he was drafted, which will play in games now, and will hit for average in camp even if the power doesn't show up in the handful of games he plays.
The Player: J.P. Crawford, SS
Highest Level: Low-A (Lakewood)
J.P. Crawford was the only first-round prospect in the 2013 draft who projected to play shortstop at the highest level, causing the Phillies to select him with the 16th overall pick. He rewarded those efforts by showing a strong defensive acumen and better-than-expected offensive tools.
Boasting underrated strength in his 6'2", 180-pound frame, Crawford should grow into above-average power. He's got good bat speed and quick-twitch actions, especially in his wrists, to drive the ball when he pulls it. He also shows good ability to hit line drives to the opposite field.
Crawford has a mature approach at the plate, though his pitch recognition is still coming along. He is an excellent athlete with above-average speed. He also has a quick first step, and his instincts at shortstop help his limited range play up. He's got plus arm strength and projects as plus defender.
When the hit tool matures, Crawford projects to be a star player thanks to the power and defense at shortstop.
Given how good Crawford looked with a bat in 2013, a spring where he shows power and struggles to hit for average by chasing some pitches isn't going to be a surprise. The glove is going to be fine, regardless of what happens offensively.
The Phillies will likely send Crawford back to Low-A for the start of 2014 because he only played 14 games at Lakewood to end last year.
Video via Perfect Game Baseball
The Player: Gregory Polanco, OF
Highest Level: Triple-A (Indianapolis)
The evolution of Gregory Polanco, in many ways, is similar to what the Pirates have gone through in recent years. He entered pro ball as a skinny 6'4", 170-pound 17-year-old with potential and not much else.
Fast forward five years later, Polanco has filled out his frame to a solid 220 pounds, grew into plus raw power, still has plus running speed and plays plus defense in center field.
Polanco's two major knocks are a huge swing with a lot of load, pulling his hands back and up, that will prevent him from squaring up velocity, especially in on the hands, consistently and some poor routes in center field.
He's got enough bat speed, a solid approach and barrel-to-ball ability to let his power play, though he will get fooled by quality off-speed stuff.
Even with a .260 batting average, Polanco's ability to get on base, steal bases, hit 20-plus homers, track down balls in center field with plus range and plus arm strength makes him a potential All-Star.
Gregory Polanco just got a taste of Triple-A, playing two games at the end of last season, so the Pirates will send him back to Indianapolis for a few months. There's also the matter of wanting to delay his arbitration clock by another year, which the team can do by calling him up in June.
Advanced pitchers are still going to exploit Polanco's long swing, which he has to work on cutting down to make contact, giving the Pirates a legitimate reason to start him in the minors.
Video via Baseball Instinct
San Diego Padres
The Player: Austin Hedges, C
Highest Level: Double-A (San Antonio)
Being able to hit is a luxury for most catchers, who have to spend so much time focusing on the defensive part of the game and planning to work with a different pitcher every day. Austin Hedges is the rare defensive star behind the plate with a hit tool that will play in the big leagues.
In fact, combining his rare ability as a catcher with a solid hit tool and above-average raw power, Hedges can turn into a Yadier Molina-type player. It's lofty praise, but that's how good he is.
Hedges is a nimble, athletic 6'1" catcher with excellent receiving skills, letting the ball find his glove in a way that's ballet-like. He is a confident game-caller and blocks anything in the dirt. His throwing arm is as good as it gets, regularly registering plus-plus pop times (1.8 seconds or less).
Despite lacking elite bat speed, Hedges has shown the ability to drive quality pitches to all fields. He's going to get beat on his hands against MLB velocity and will chase off-speed stuff but makes enough solid contact to project as an average hitter with 12-15 homers.
Hedges is going to be special. If the Padres wanted to put him behind the plate this season, he would be among the most valuable defensive players in the league.
Based on where his hit tool is and limited experience in Double-A, pitchers will still exploit his inability to make hard contact on the inner half. Hedges is going to struggle with the bat in spring camp, earning a trip back to Double-A, but should debut late in 2014.
San Francisco Giants
The Player: Kyle Crick, RHP
Highest Level: High-A (San Jose)
Another power arm for a franchise that has developed starting pitching as well as any in the last decade, Kyle Crick is an enigma who can dazzle in one inning and look like a career minor leaguer the next.
Crick's biggest issue is an inability to throw strikes. He has averaged 5.5 walks per nine innings in three minor league seasons. The issue stems from an inability to repeat his delivery, opening up way too early and dragging his body while the right arm gets way ahead of him.
He does check all the singular boxes to be a dominant starter, boasting a powerful 6'4", 220-pound frame. His fastball sits 93-97 and will touch a little higher with ease. His curveball is a knockout pitch when it's on, thrown in the low 80s with tight spin.
Unfortunately Crick doesn't know where the breaking ball is going when it comes out of his hand. His changeup has late fade down in the zone and excellent deception due to arm speed, but his fastball command has to improve, or actually exist, for hitters to respect the other pitches.
Having seen Crick in the Arizona Fall League, where he couldn't throw a strike to save his life, this is a huge year for his development.
Based on his past and lack of improvement, Crick's not going to inspire a lot of confidence in the small sample size of spring training. He will miss bats because hitters aren't going to be able to swing the bat, knowing if they get close to the plate, they may take one in the ear.
The Player: Taijuan Walker, RHP
Highest Level: MLB
Boasting an athletic, projectable 6'4", 210-pound frame, Taijuan Walker possesses all the ingredients to be a star pitcher. He's still trying to find consistency in his mechanics and off-speed pitches to reach that level.
Walker's delivery has taken a step back, as he doesn't finish out front as well as he used to. His stride toward the plate is shorter, causing him to get less plane and movement on the four-seam fastball.
His curveball still hasn't developed as expected. It is big and loopy, and he doesn't have the command of it, even though it's thrown with good velocity. His best pitch is a cut fastball thrown in the low 90s with incredible late movement that will eat bats alive.
Being able to throw consistent quality strikes and cleaning up his mechanics will get Walker back to looking like the No. 1 starter he was projected to be one year ago. Otherwise, he's probably a low-end No. 2/high-quality No. 3.
Given how young and athletic Walker is, combined with a full offseason to work, he's going to figure out his mechanics and take a step forward.
I'm at a point where the breaking ball probably is what it is, a fringe-average offering, but the fastball-cutter combination is so good that he will get away with it for a long time.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon has already said Walker will be on the 25-man roster when camp breaks, so all he has to do is not get hurt or fall on his face to have a successful spring.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Player: Oscar Taveras, OF
Highest Level: Triple-A (Memphis)
The best pure hitter in the minors, Oscar Taveras' path to St. Louis was delayed last season by an ankle injury that required surgery in August.
Despite the setback, Taveras is well on his way to being a fixture in the middle of the Cardinals lineup very soon. He's such an exciting, unique hitter to watch, invoking comparisons to Vladimir Guerrero with his ability to hit bad balls and taking such a violent swing.
It's so unorthodox when you watch Taveras in the box, but he makes it all work. His bat control is incredible, showing the ability to square up pitches that shouldn't be possible. He's aggressive, but not hacky, and makes more than enough hard contact to hit over .300 with high on-base percentages.
He's got plus raw power and will eventually hit 25-30 homers in the big leagues. The 21-year-old has above-average speed with solid range in right field and plus arm strength. He'll be an adequate defender in the corner, with the bat carrying him to many All-Star games.
Oscar Taveras' ability to hit will make it very tempting for the Cardinals to start him in the big leagues right out of camp, especially with Carlos Beltran no longer in town to block his path.
But with the ankle injury and limited game action in Triple-A last year, Taveras will showcase his hitting ability with the big league team in camp before getting sent back to the minors. He will start the season in Triple-A with an eye for a May or June call-up.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Player: Taylor Guerrieri, RHP
Highest Level: Low-A (Bowling Green)
A projectable right-hander, Taylor Guerrieri displayed impeccable control in his first two minor league seasons with just 89 hits allowed and 17 walks in 119 innings.
Guerrieri's stuff was starting to catch up to the projection. His fastball has above-average velocity, usually sitting 91-94, but plays a grade higher thanks to incredible sink. Hitters can't do anything with the pitch but beat it into the ground. He gets velocity with very loose, easy arm action and simple, repeatable mechanics.
He does have a tendency to whip his arm in the delivery, which helps create sink but puts stress on the elbow and shoulder. His curveball already flashes plus potential with tight snap, and he is still learning to command the pitch.
His changeup has average projection, thanks mostly to deception in delivery. He has makeup issues, getting suspended 50 games last season after testing positive for a drug of abuse. He will also miss most of the 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last July.
It's pretty simple what Guerrieri's spring will consist of: a lot of rehab and preparation for a potential return to the minors in July or August. It's too bad, because he was having a great season in Low-A last year and could have taken another huge step forward in High-A this season.
The always-conservative Rays aren't likely to push Guerrieri aggressively when he does return, pushing his timetable to the big leagues back to 2017.
Video via Christopher Blessing, Bullpen Banter
The Player: Rougned Odor, 2B
Highest Level: Double-A (Frisco)
Just when you think the Texas Rangers are going to run out of high-upside middle infielders, Rougned Odor shines across two levels in 2013 to remind us that the well is far from dry.
Unlike Jurickson Profar, who will take over the second base slot vacated by Ian Kinsler, Odor doesn't have the ability to play shortstop. He does, however, have an exciting hit tool with a mature approach against advanced pitching and will be a doubles machine with 10-12 homer pop.
Odor's small stature (5'11", 170 pounds) limits his power profile, but he has a beautiful swing from the left side. It's very smooth, getting power from excellent hip rotation and weight transfer. He's very quick to the ball and hits line drives all over the field.
He has an average defensive profile with some range thanks to a feel for the position and average speed. His arm strength is fringy, but he won't need much to play second base.
Odor's advanced hit tool will play up in the dry Arizona heat in February and March but not enough to put him on Texas' radar out of camp. He still needs seasoning in the upper levels of the minors.
One good thing about the Rangers having so much middle infield depth right now is being able to use it in a potential trade. I'm not saying Odor will get traded; just keep him in mind at the deadline if the team has a need to fill and the right player becomes available.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Player: Marcus Stroman, RHP
Highest Level: Double-A (New Hampshire)
Boasting the rare combination of power stuff and polish, Marcus Stroman continues to defy the odds often associated with being a 5'9" pitcher. He's dominated every level of the minors thus far and looks more like a front-line starter instead of the late-inning, high-leverage reliever it was assumed he was destined for.
Stroman has a deep arsenal of toys to play with, starting with a plus-plus fastball thrown in the 92-95 range that jumps on hitters; he also throws an above-average cutter. His knockout weapon is the slider, which has excellent tilt and bite down in the zone and confidence to throw it in any situation.
His changeup has above-average potential thanks to arm speed and deception, coming from the same angle and plane as the fastball.
He's an excellent athlete with an attacking mentality on the mound. A lack of plane on the fastball may be problematic, but his ability to manipulate the pitch and command it in the zone makes up for his small stature.
The Blue Jays have been trying to fill the void in their starting rotation but have a great in-house option with Stroman. He's got a full season of experience in Double-A and showed no signs of slowing down during an impressive Arizona Fall League stint.
It's a long shot, but with his present polish and dominant stuff, Stroman will impress the Blue Jays enough in spring training to earn a big league spot on Opening Day.
The Player: Lucas Giolito, RHP
Highest Level: Short-Season (Auburn)
The best arm in the 2012 draft, Lucas Giolito slid to the Nationals with the 16th pick due to concerns about his elbow. They wound up being warranted, as he had Tommy John surgery two months after the draft.
Giolito squashed any doubt that his career would be impeded by the surgery by returning late in 2013 and topping out at 100 mph with the fastball again. It's such easy velocity, with mechanics that are textbook thanks to incredible balance and arm speed.
He uses every bit of his 6'6", 225-pound frame to get plane on the fastball. Hitters can't pick up the ball out of his hand because he releases it so far out in front of his body that it's on them before they know what happened.
His curveball is a beast already, flashing plus-plus potential. It's thrown with rare velocity, in the mid 80s, and snaps down in the zone as it crosses the plate. His solid-average changeup plays up because of arm speed, but it can get a little too firm out of his hand.
The control is still coming back after surgery, but he has never had an issue throwing strikes or missing bats.
Given his size and stuff, Giolito could enter camp this season and destroy advanced hitters. The Nationals should play things safe with the right-hander, limiting his workload early this season before cutting him loose late in the year.
He hasn't played in a full-season league, but I anticipate him moving at least two levels to High-A by the end of 2014.
Video via Baseball Instinct
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