Around the league: a look at some top prospects in spring training

Probably the best part about ST...that FL weather - Leon Halip

How did some of the league's best prospects perform during spring training?

Let's take a look at how some of the top MLB prospects fared during Spring Training 2014 and how it affected their roster status. Spring Training stats mean little in the grand scheme of things, but it can be interesting to take a quick glance at some future MLB talent who do stand to gain something from a solid spring performance. Since it has already been covered in a number of other posts here, this article will not include any Baltimore prospects. This isn't an exhaustive list, but rather a few names that stood out.

Top prospects who shined:

Nick Castellanos (3B - Detroit Tigers): Including Castellanos on this list seems weak considering it was an almost certainty that he'd make the Tigers Opening Day roster now that the Prince Fielder is in Texas. That said, he had just 18 MLB PAs last season. He played OF at AAA last season, but has shifted back to 3B for this season, as Miguel Cabrera has moved back to 1B. Castellanos saw the 2nd most PAs of any Tiger in ST and made the most of them, recording 21 hits (2 HR) and knocking in 16 runs. He ended the spring with a .920 OPS. Castellanos was named the Tigers Opening Day starter at 3B and has responded with a 5 for 15 week (.385/.467/.462).

Javier Baez (SS - Chicago Cubs): Baez, ranked on some lists as the Cubs top prospect, showed up to ST ready for action. He racked up 5 HR in 53 plate appearances, good for a .604 SLG percentage. He also added 3 doubles and 2 stolen bases. Plate discipline will continue to be a factor (17 Ks), but there's no question he's got plus power and great bat speed. Defense could be a issue as well, considering Baez does not really have a position. His defense at short hasn't been great and some believe he might move (where to is another question - depending on the report, he's been linked to 2B, 3B, and LF). However, if the Cubs incumbent SS Starlin Castro continues his 2013 struggles and/or is slowed by a ST hamstring injury, Baez could be at the majors sooner, rather than later. The Cubs assigned him to AAA Iowa and he's off to a slow start at 1-11, 1 HR, and 6Ks.

George Springer (OF - Houston Astros): Last season, Springer torched AA/AAA pitched for a combined OPS of 1.010 (37 homers). He's also a significant threat on the basepaths. The power didn't quite shine at ST (just 1 homer), but he did swipe 5 bases and produced a .413 OBP. That's not bad for a guy who's had a swing-and-miss tendency throughout his professional baseball career. Springer finished ST at 9-36 (.250) with 10 BB and 11 K. He's begun the 2014 season at AAA, where he's off to a 4-19 start (.821 OPS). Springer figures to be in the majors at some point early in the 2nd half.

Aaron Sanchez (SP - Toronto Blue Jays): Toronto may have gutted their farm system acquiring some big names, but Aaron Sanchez remains. Ranked as the Blue Jays' top prospect, Sanchez tossed over 15 innings of scoreless ball this spring, including some time against the "A" ST lineups from several teams. He started one game (appeared five times in relief) and allowed just 10 hits and a .200 BAA. Walks could be a concern (6 BB to 11 K), as shown in his minor league stats, but he has the raw tools to find some MLB success. He was assigned to AA New Hampshire and allowed just 1 hit over 5 innings in his first start. He struck out 5 and walked 3.

Gregory Polanco (OF - Pittsburgh Pirates): While just 22 years old, Polanco has been in the Pirates system since 2010. He got off to a very slow start in his professional career, but has upped his game as he's moved up in level. With Gerrit Cole's promotion to the majors last season, MLB.com has slotted Polanco in as the Pirates top prospect this season. He responded in ST with a 6-22, including 2 doubles and a homer, good for an .804 OPS. He is projected to get some time in the majors this season, and he's helped his cause so far with a strong spring and opening week at AAA. Over the first week at AAA Indianapolis, Polanco is 6 for 15 with a homer and 4 RBI. He currently sports a 1.104 OPS.

Honorable Mentions - Francisco Lindor (SS - Cleveland Indians) and Gary Sanchez (C - New York Yankees): Fangraphs lists both of these guys as the top prospects in their respective systems. Lindor is a contact hitter who also provides some solid defense and good base running. He makes the honorable mention list, as he had only 19 ABs during ST. In those nineteen, he had six hits, including 2 doubles and a home run (slash line of .316/.350/.579). He has started the year with AA Akron (currently sitting at .353/.389/.529), but it's possible he could be turning double plays with Jason Kipnis by the end of season if Asdrubal Cabrera continues his 2013 struggles. Meanwhile, Gary Sanchez received just 11 ABs in ST, yet still managed to slug two homers and post a .364/.364/.909 slash line. He's back at AA to start the season (currently 4-16 with a grand slam), but will likely finish the year at AAA. As the Yankees signed Brian McCann away from the Braves in the offseason, it gives them some flexibility to let Sanchez develop further in the minors.

Top prospects who didn't:

Carlos Correa (SS - Houston Astros): Nothing wrong with a .467 SLG (.717 OPS) and 2 homers in 30 ABs, but Correa struggled to get on base in ST. Thirty ABs is a fair amount for a rookie and he struck out in nearly half of them (12 Ks). That's a strange number considering he whiffed just 16 percent of the time last year in A ball. It's not likely this is a concern, considering he's 19 and off to a .471/.545/.706 start at high-A, but he's over-matched by MLB pitching at the moment.

Maikel Franco (3B - Philadelphia Phillies): Here's a solid example of how a poor spring performance can cost you a shot to start with the MLB club. Franco, listed as the Phillies' top prospect by Fangraphs, had a relatively abysmal ST, hitting 7 for 38 with 6 Ks. He did not have an extra base hit, leaving him with a line of .184/.225/.184. Considering he was in a competition with Cody Asche (per the Phillies front office), that's not how you'll win a job. Asche's numbers (.170/.274/.377) probably don't inspire significant confidence either, but he had the upper hand as the incumbent and manager Ryne Sandberg mentioned that the team was impressed by his 50 games last season. Franco was assigned to AAA where he's begun the season with just two hits in 16 ABs.

Jesse Biddle (SP - Philadelphia Phillies): Speaking of Philly prospect struggles, Jesse Biddle, the organization's number two prospect, had issues as well. In just three innings of work, Biddle was knocked around for 5 hits and 4 runs (2 BB and 3 Ks). He was promptly re-assigned to minor league camp. Biddle started his first game for AA Reading on Thursday and lasted just 3.1 innings. He gave up 4 runs on 9 hits while walking two (5 Ks).

Kris Bryant (3B - Chicago Cubs): Although unlikely Bryant was going to make the team out of ST, his performance against decent pitching was fairly underwhelming. Known for his power stroke, Bryant struck out in 11 of his 18 ABs and left ST without a homer. He's at AA Tennessee now and has begun the season 3-13 with two homers, including one in his first AB. He has, however, struck out 5 times (31.3 percent) and that's something he'll need to cut down on before he makes the majors.

Travis D'Arnaud (C - New York Mets): Lucky for D'Arnaud, the Mets are not exactly stocked at the catcher position. He's suffered a number of injuries in his short career before finally getting to the MLB for 31 games last season. He struggled there and continued to struggle through spring training (8-49, .163/.241/.388). He had already been handed the starting job, so a poor spring did not affect his roster status. He is hitless in 17 plate appearances for the Mets this season.

Byron Buxton (OF - Minnesota Twins): The "honorable mention" of the didn't shine list, perhpas? Buxton recorded 3 hits in 19 ABs before a sprained wrist ended his spring. Major League Baseball's top prospect (by many accounts) will start the year in AA whenever he's back in action.

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