Watch out: Grapefruit League teams’ potential impact prospects
Spring in their step
Hope, pardon the pun, springs eternal in spring training, especially for the intrigue surrounding some of baseball's top young talent. Padrick Brewer takes a look at one prospect from each team in the Grapefruit League that should have your attention the next few weeks.
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Atlanta Braves: 2B Jose Peraza
The retooled Braves don't have much blocking Peraza, who turns 21 in April. A speedy second baseman, Peraza has to beat out only Alberto Callaspo, who is, well, Alberto Callaspo, and Phil Gosselin. Atlanta's infield boasts the defensively elite shortstop Andrelton Simmons, and Peraza is regarded as at least a solid defender. Chris Johnson has been a mess at third, and it would not be a surprise to see Callaspo move to the hot corner to make room for Peraza.
Baltimore Orioles: RHP Dylan Bundy
Bundy reached the majors as a 19-year-old in 2012, albeit for 1 2/3 innings. But his rapid rise through the system was derailed when he had Tommy John surgery in June 2013 before ever pitching in a game. Bundy returned to action last season, throwing 41 1/3 innings across two levels. Baltimore's rotation is the definition of mediocre, and the infusion of the electric Bundy coupled with some progression from Kevin Gausman could wash out the taste of giving 22 starts to Ubaldo Jimenez.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY SportsReinhold Matay
Boston Red Sox: C Blake Swihart
Catcher is the only Red Sox position with a glaring offensive weakness, and Swihart can change that. He had a near-.800 OPS in High-A in 2013, and he had 13 home runs and an .810 OPS across two levels last year (though he did struggle in 18 games at Triple-A). Boston's depth chart at catcher consists of Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan, who are both likely better receivers and framers. But Swihart isn't all that far behind them and offers much more potential at the plate.
Detroit Tigers: RHP Buck Farmer
Yes, the Tigers traded for Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon in the offseason, but the former was just about average in his first taste of major-league action (and was never mind-blowing in the minors) and the latter is a prime candidate for regression, especially given his miserable second half to last season. Farmer averaged a strikeout an inning in 155 career minor-league innings, and with Max Scherzer now with Washington, the 6-foot-4, 24-year-old has a good shot at giving Detroit something to think about this spring.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsRick Osentoski
Houston Astros: RHP Mark Appel
Appel's journey has been filled with ups and downs, from not signing with the Pirates in 2012 to going No. 1 overall in 2013, from thriving in his first stint in Low-A to getting hammered in Advanced-Class A in early 2014. But he was remarkably better upon his promotion to Double-A, and he hasn't lost anything off his top-tier fastball. Houston's rotation doesn't offer much in the way of sure things -- though Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh were remarkable in 2014 -- so Appel, could be in a major-league uniform sometime in 2015.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
Miami Marlins: LHP Justin Nicolino
When the Marlins jettisoned Andrew Heaney to the Dodgers for Dan Haren and Dee Gordon, Nicolino became the top lefty in Miami's system. The franchise's 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Nicolino enters camp as a rotation possibility. Jose Fernandez is out until at least mid-June, and though Henderson Alvarez, Mat Latos and Jarred Cosart would seem to have starting spots locked down, that leaves two for the slew of pitchers showing up to spring training.
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Minnesota Twins: OF Byron Buxton
Buxton, the second overall pick in 2012, had an injury-ravaged 2014. Wrist, head and finger ailments kept him off the field for the majority of the season, but he is still considered an elite outfielder with the tools and ability to be something special. His road to the major-league roster is "blocked" by the underwhelming Aaron Hicks (.201 hitter in 467 career at-bats) and the 39-year-old Torii Hunter, who remains viable as a hitter but not as a fielder.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
New York Mets: RHP Noah Syndergaard
At first glance, the Mets appear set with their rotation, but there is still room for Syndergaard, one of the prized returns from the 2012 R.A. Dickey trade with Toronto. The Mets will closely monitor Matt Harvey as he pitches for the first time since Tommy John surgery in 2013, and periodic rest is not out of the question. Dillon Gee is merely average, and Bartolo Colon will be 42 in May, so there is no reason for the Mets not to give a shot to Syndergaard, widely considered one of the two best pitching prospects in the game.
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY SportsJonathan Dyer
New York Yankees: C Gary Sanchez
In theory, plenty of New York prospects would have their eyes on making the club out of camp, given that Didi Gregorius is the only starting position player younger than 30. But in practice, there doesn't appear to be much room for anyone to break through. It doesn't take much imagination, however, to see Sanchez making an impact. He is better with the bat than behind the plate, and any injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira or Brian McCann could cause some shuffling of the catcher, first base and designated hitter positions.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
Philadelphia Phillies: 3B Maikel Franco
Signed as an international free agent in 2010, Franco is on the verge of breaking into the Phillies lineup ... somewhere. Third base, Franco's primary position, is occupied by Cody Asche, who started 105 games there last season. But Asche has not impressed thus far in his young career, and the Phillies are reportedly going to give him some play in the outfield in spring training. First base is also an option, though the albatross known as Ryan Howard is there. Franco can handle third and has enough power for first, so don't be surprised to see him unseat a starter in 2015.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY SportsEric Hartline
Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow
Right-hander Jameson Taillon won't be ready until sometime mid- to late season, so he won't be doing much this spring. But watch Glasnow, who is the franchise's Minor League Pitcher of the Year two years running. The 6-foot-7 Glasnow is an imposing figure who has racked up 321 strikeouts in 235 2/3 innings the past two seasons in the minors. He won't be 22 until August and might not make the majors this year (though the Pirates are hurting for pitching depth), but he has the talent to team with Gerrit Cole and Taillon to form a terrifying troika.
APGene J. Puskar
St. Louis Cardinals: LHP Marco Gonzales
Stephen Piscotty, the team's top prospect, is a non-roster invitee this spring, but St. Louis' outfield has firmly entrenched starters (Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Jason Heyward) and reasonable fourth and fifth options (Peter Bourjos, Randal Grichuk). So keep an eye on Gonzales, who made five regular-season starts and six postseason relief appearances for the Cardinals in 2014. He doesn't overwhelm anyone with his fastball, but he lives in the strike zone and has solid off-speed offerings.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY SportsJeff Curry
Toronto Blue Jays: LHP Daniel Norris
There is plenty to love about Norris, a lefty who is neck and neck with Aaron Sanchez for the top prospect in Toronto's system. Touted as having four average or better pitches to go with improving command, Norris can also boast having one of the coolest offseason traditions: He takes his van-turned-dwelling 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia microbus from his hometown of Johnson City, Tenn., to spring training in Dunedin.
Tampa Bay Rays: OF Steven Souza Jr.
A big, toolsy outfielder who was a former third-round pick and was acquired in an offseason trade. Sound familiar? Souza is older than the shipped-out Wil Myers -- the former will turn 26 shortly after Opening Day -- but the raw skills are enticing. He could be the team's starting right fielder in 2015, and though his cup of coffee with the Nationals last season was unimpressive, he has shown some power potential in the minors.
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Washington Nationals: OF Michael Taylor
The Nationals could have the most complete team in the majors in 2015. Thanks to the acquisition of Max Scherzer, their rotation goes six deep, so there is no place for A.J. Cole, the big, hard-throwing righty. Taylor's path is easier, given that Washington's outfield doesn't have much in the way of reliable backup options. Taylor, who is from South Florida, is said to be ready defensively, and his speed could be a useful weapon for a team that finished in the middle of the pack in stolen bases in 2014.