Feature Photo: J.T. Riddle, 3B, Marlins
Every year in spring training, the excitement of seeing players back on the diamond can quickly wear off, as players and beat writers alike come to the realization that there’s still a long month to go before Opening Day. Spring training is full of down time, and fans love to use that time to ask questions about – and hear reporters’ analysis of – open roster spots, recent transactions, who the fifth starter will be, or who the next big prospect might be to help improve their favorite team.
It’s always a longshot for a non-roster invitee to head north as part of their team’s Opening Day roster, but seeing them in a big league camp, competing for a spot on the 25-man roster against the best competition, is always exciting. Here’s a look at ten prospects that 2080’s Mauricio Rubio Jr. and Jeff Moore are watching as spring training approaches.
Hader is the odds-on favorite to have the aforementioned story written about him at some point during the Brewers’ time in Maryvale, AZ this March, with the perfect mix of electric stuff, general proximity to the big leagues, and a bad major league roster in need of exciting stories. He won’t make Milwaukee’s roster because he’s just not ready right now, but there will be times in Cactus League games where he’ll look like he is. With a mix of three potentially major league-average pitches, and a fastball and curveball that are already there and should ascend significantly higher, Hader is going to impress anyone who hasn’t seen him in a while. I noted at the Arizona Fall League that if the Brewers were going to be a more competitive team this season, Hader could probably help them out of the bullpen at some point during the second half of the season. Of course, the Brewers aren’t going to be competitive, so there’s no reason to do that, and there’s also no reason not to keep developing him as a starter, until he proves otherwise incapable of doing so. There will be excitement surrounding Hader this March, but another season of building arm strength, improving his in-zone command, and trying to exceed his career-high 123 innings as a professional are all important developmental steps he still needs to take. After spring training, those steps will begin at Triple-A Colorado Springs. – Jeff Moore
Take all the excitement I just described regarding Hader and add a realistic chance of actually breaking camp with the team, and that’s what we’ll find this March in Fort Myers, FL with Joe Berrios and the Twins.
When we say ‘a realistic chance’ in terms of prospects breaking camp with teams, we’re still talking long odds that have nothing to do with Berrios’s ability. On a team loaded with veterans and a full 40-man roster, there’s little incentive for the Twins to break camp with Berrios in tow – other than winning games of course, which he will help them do the moment he arrives in the major leagues. Berrios has been incredibly effective at every minor league level, and the concerns about durability that once plagued him early in his career have all but disappeared. With a mid-90s fastball, plus breaking ball and potentially double-plus changeup, Berrios has all the tools to miss bats, something that has been missing on the Twins’ pitching staff since Johan Santana left town. Berrios won’t break camp with the Twins, but he won’t be gone for too long. – Jeff Moore
It’s easier for pitchers to wow people in spring training because their physical tools are more easily displayed in bullpens. But if there’s a player who could wow teammates and writers alike during simple activities like shagging fly balls or taking batting practice, it’s Anthony Alford.
Make no mistake; Alford is nowhere near ready for the big leagues. After splitting time early in his professional career playing Division I football at Ole Miss, Alford broke out in 2015 after dedicating himself to the diamond. Physically gifted, Alford has the potential to be both an impact hitter and up-the-middle defender in the Adam Jones mold, but he’s still playing catch-up in terms of gaining baseball experience (though you wouldn’t know it from the way he approaches his at-bats).
Alford still has a year or two of minor league baseball in front of him, but in a camp full of aging veterans, his speed and athleticism are sure to wow people in spring training. – Jeff Moore
Mark Appel, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
At this point, Appel’s story has been told and told again. There has been little doubting his pure stuff, which turned him into a top ten pick in back-to-back drafts. But the application of his stuff has been disappointing, a fact that has led to theories that have criticized, fairly or unfairly, everything from his teams’ developmental strategies to his intestinal fortitude.
Now Appel gets a fresh start with a new franchise, and February in Clearwater, FL will be our first view of his last chance as a true prospect. It’s unfair to write him off already, and would be unwise to do so, but it’s also unrealistic to ignore the fact that players with his pure stuff and pedigree don’t usually struggle as badly as he has, and that another season similar to 2015 would force even his biggest supporters to change their expectations.
On the other hand, Appel should be about as big league-ready of a pitching prospect as there is in baseball, and the Phillies are scheduled to be pretty terrible this year, leaving little in his way. A fresh start and potentially a new pitching philosophy could see Appel get right back on track. While it’s unlikely to see him break camp with the Phillies, there’s not a whole lot standing in his way either. A few impressive outings will have the dugout staff pressuring the front office to turn him loose. – Jeff Moore
Not every minor leaguer in camp is a big-name prospect, but that has little correlation with their chances of making a big league roster. Riddle isn’t a household name, but his skill set would fit quite well on a major league bench, and he could potentially be able to handle such a role as early as this spring.
Riddle doesn’t wow scouts with tools, but a sound left-handed swing and strong contact skills allow his offensive abilities to play up. He has below-average power, but he handles his primary shortstop position well and has enough arm for anywhere on the diamond.
The best scenario is to keep Riddle in the minors and let him spend the season at Triple-A New Orleans after moving quickly through High A and Double-A last year, but left-handed bats who can play multiple positions, including shortstop, make great bench pieces. A strong spring could see the 24-year-old Riddle jump straight to the big leagues. – Jeff Moore
When the White Sox selected Fulmer with the eighth overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, they did so knowing that they’ve had success with a profile like Fulmer’s in the past. Two cases come to mind when it comes to figuring Fulmer’s potential 2016 role. One is Carlos Rodon, who was fast-tracked to the major leagues and given the opportunity to start right out of the gate. The other is Chris Sale, who was similarly fast-tracked, but was relegated to a bullpen role in his first year before he earned his way into the big league rotation. Chicago has some options when it comes to Fulmer. They could use him out of the ‘pen in case their relief corps starts out slowly or suffers an injury They also believe Fulmer has the ability and stuff to start, so should Erik Johnson or John Danks struggle, he could start taking some turns in the rotation as well. For now, though, he’s expected to start the season at Triple-A Charlotte, as a starter. – Mauricio Rubio Jr.
Francisco Cervelli is firmly entrenched as the Pirates starting catcher as of writing thanks to his strong contact and on-base skills. As a direct comparison offensively, McGuire doesn’t match up well with Cervelli. But with Cervelli playing in 130 games last year, which is a lot for a catcher, it does leave 32 open games for another player to handle some starts. Where McGuire shines is behind the plate, so his contribution to the Pirates in 2016 figures to be that of a late-season call-up, and defensive spot starter. In the meantime, he’ll spend the balance of his upcoming season polishing his hit tool in the minors. – Mauricio Rubio Jr.
Relief prospects never get much love and it’s for good reason. Reliever volatility is such that a bad stretch of command can permanently sink a prospect’s future. Reliever volatility also exists at the major league level, however, and Burdi is riding a strong finish to 2015 into what may very well end up as being a key figure in the Twins bullpen. As it stands, Burdi would be the hardest throwing member of Minnesota’s relief corps, and he backs up his double-plus fastball with a hard slider with bat-missing potential. Like all relievers, Burdi’s future rests in how well he can harness his command, but he’s a strong start away from the majors. – Mauricio Rubio Jr.
The Rangers’ collection of outfielders is a volatile group. At this point who knows what Josh Hamilton will bring, Shin-Soo Choo had himself a nice rebound from 2014 but he’s creeping up there in age, and Delino DeShields had a solid rookie season, but he’s been anything but consistent over the course of his career. Lewis Brinson’s big question mark remains his contact skills but his secondary tools like his defense, speed, and power potential all give him an opportunity to earn some playing time – even if he’s not likely breaking camp with the big league club. – Mauricio Rubio Jr.
In the Nick Burdi capsule I referenced how relievers have a tendency to move quickly through a system if things break right. Rowland climbed three levels, riding his hard upper-90s heat all the way to Double A, and appearing in the Arizona Fall League in 2015. The Cardinals bullpen already features some serious heat with Trevor Rosenthal, Jordan Walden, Jonathan Broxton and Kevin Siegrist handling the end-of-game duties. Should anyone falter in the ‘pen, look for the Cardinals to give Rowland a long look at adding him to their roster. – Mauricio Rubio Jr.