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Friday, March 15, 2013

MLB 2013: New Blood

Wild on Sports
MLB 2013: New Blood
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman
Eleven Key First Time Everyday Players-Hitters

Spring training stats are notoriously unreliable, yet nevertheless every year March serves as an audition for the regular season. While veterans simply fine tune before Opening Day, others have to make their time count for something more. Here are several young players who are on track to break camp with a starting job for the first time in their career. It is important to note that not all these guys are rookies. Sometimes it takes a few years before a player earns his way into the Opening Day lineup. Some of the following players are under the radar, but maybe not for long.

1      Dominic Brown, OF Phillies
WHY HE’LL START The once touted outfielder was Baseball America’s fourth best prospect going into 2011. He remains talented but the past two years he was never fully entrusted with a starting job and he failed to produce in limited playing. However, he’s having a strong spring, hitting almost .400 and playing every day. The Phillies corner outfield spots are unsettled and Brown has the most tools of anybody on their roster. Even his lackluster big league career shows he can take a walk. WHY HE WON’T Supposedly Brown and manager Charlie Manuel do not have a great relationship, one reason why the Phillies traded for Hunter Pence two years ago instead of going with Brown. Sometimes a team is reluctant to give a young player multiple chances, instead preferring a fresh face to the organization. We will find out in a few weeks.

2      Nick Castellanos, OF Tigers 
      WHY HE’LL START Detroit is aggressive about promoting their top prospects and Castellanos is the best of a thin group this year. Castellanos was great last year outside of a miserable August, and the Tigers might be willing to sustain his growing pains if they really believe he can still help the team. Castellanos might be the best option to start in left field. WHY HE WON’T Despite whatever he does in spring training, Castellanos is probably not ready. He was overly aggressive in the minors, which led to a late season collapse in AA. He’s also relatively new to the outfield, having moved there last year. You don’t want to ruin a potential batting champion by not giving him a chance to learn the strike zone.

3       Adam Eaton, OF Diamondbacks 
      WHY HE’LL START Adam Eaton is ready right now to be a leadoff hitter. His minor league numbers are insane and he did well in his September big league audition, getting on base and scoring runs. Power is the only true skill Eaton lacks at this point, but Arizona’s ballpark could allow him to hit 10-15 Home Runs or more. Arizona doesn’t have an equally potent base-stealing threat. WHY HE WON’T Arizona’s outfield is crowded, and if Arizona wants both Eaton and Gerardo Parra to play everyday, Eaton will probably start the year in the minor leagues. Inevitably, a contending team like Arizona will realize that neither Jason Kubel nor Cody Ross is good enough, but that might happen anytime between now and June.

4     Avisail Garcia, OF Tigers 
      WHY HE’LL START Both the Tigers and scouting community are intrigued by his athleticism and raw talent, and Detroit already showed that they aren’t afraid to rush him by giving him a brief call-up despite limited time above A-ball last year. Garcia hit an empty .320 down the stretch for the Tigers. WHY HE WON’T Garcia is even more aggressive at the plate than Nick Castellanos, and doesn’t offer the same offensive upside. If he can’t walk more than 20 times a year, Garcia probably shouldn’t be an everyday player. He also isn’t doing very much offensively this spring, although it’s hard to tell when spring stats matter to a team. 

5     Johnny Giavotella, 2B Royals 
      WHY HE’LL START Giavotella is a solid offensive prospect who bombed last year in his big league time but still offers better upside than incumbent Chris Getz, who is really just a placeholder. He’s having a decent spring and his upside-perhaps a .280-.290 average with plenty of walks-might be too difficult for them to ignore. He has nothing left to prove in AAA having spent the better part of the last two years mastering the Pacific Coast League. WHY HE WON’T Giavotella has now been given two chances to seize the big league job and so far he’s blown it, showing none of the keen batting eye or modest power he’s demonstrated in the minors. Kansas City has playoff aspirations this year and they may opt for a known mediocrity over a more unpredictable performer.

6     Aaron Hicks, OF Twins 
      WHY HE’LL START Hicks is showcasing himself this spring and the talented outfield has forced his way into the starting outfield race in Minnesota, who dealt two of them this winter and are now looking to their younger players to fill those spots. Hicks has moved slowly through the minors but did well in AA and offers the potential to contribute across the board. The Twins are not competing this year (probably) so this is a good opportunity for him to learn how to play in the big leagues. WHY HE WON’T Teams in Minnesota’s position sometimes opt to wait before calling up their top prospects in order to gain an extra year of service time. If Hicks promises to be *too* good then the Twins might let him mash in AAA for a few months before giving him a starting role. Although the Twins don’t necessarily have a track record for withholding their prospects until midseason, they are conservative with promotions.

7     Pete Kozma, SS Cardinals 
      WHY HE’LL START Rafael Furcal is done for the year and Pete Kozma is the next in line for playing time. Before last September he was a first-round bust, a punchless shortstop who was marginal even at AAA. Then he hit .333 with the Cardinals and became a playoff hero to boot. So far this spring Kozma has picked up right where he left off, hitting .382 with 2 HR in 34 at-bats. St. Louis clearly believes in him. WHY HE WON’T Kozma’s minor league track record is difficult to ignore. In over 800 at-bats at AAA, he’s hit just .223 with hardly any power. No reason as yet has been given for any sudden transformation; he could easily be a one-month wonder. The Cardinal’s don’t want to sink their playoff chances because they couldn’t find a starting shortstop.

8      Brett Jackson, OF Cubs 
      WHY HE’LL START Jackson has always had 20/20 potential and this spring he’s remade his swing in an attempt to cut down on strikeouts. The Cubs believe in him and they aren’t going to win anything this year. It’s worth finding out if Jackson is a long term answer in the outfield. WHY HE WON’T Jackson hit under .200 in his big league debut last year, whiffing far too many times to have major league success. The Cubs might be better seeing if his new approach at the plate can lead to success in the minors first before they give him the chance in Chicago. Spring training is a time when many players tout new abilities or motivations only to revert to their old self as soon as April 1.

9      Leonys Martin, OF Rangers 
      WHY HE’LL START Leonys Martin is already 25, has proved himself at AAA, and is the most well-rounded of candidates to play center field for the Rangers this year. He could be a solid leadoff hitter for them. Martin’s had a very strong spring, batting .394 so far in 33 at-bats. WHY HE WON’T The Rangers really like Craig Gentry’s defense and may prefer someone like Gentry who already has shown he can play in the majors. Martin did nothing in his brief major league time to show he can play every day for a powerhouse like Texas. He also needs to prove that he’s healthy.

1    Chris Parmelee, OF Twins 
      WHY HE’LL START Parmelee was a solid prospect coming through Minnesota’s farm system and he’s spent the past two years on the bench. With Span and Revere gone, the right field job may be Parmelee’s to lose. He offers solid power and will take his walks; at least he did in the minors. WHY HE WON’T Parmelee has had a lackluster spring and he’s already 25, so there might not be much growth left. He was serviceable in a bench role last year but still, hitting an aggressive .229 doesn’t exactly call for an increase in playing time. Parmelee certainly doesn’t have the upside of a true top prospect like Aaron Hicks, or even a five-tool sleeper like Joe Benson. 

1    Darrin Ruf, OF/1B/whatever Phillies 
      WHY HE’LL START The Phillies say that the believe minor league legend Ruf is more than just a late-blooming AAAA slugger. But are they just trying to save face in light of their shallow outfield depth? To Ruf’s credit, he hit well last year in AA even before his record-setting August, during which he hit 20 Home Runs. Ruf also did well in September with the Phillies. They may also reward his marginal versatility, as Ruf can technically play at any of the four corners (first, third, left field, right field). WHY HE WON’T Ruf has always been old for his league. There is a pretty common track record of older, defensively-challenged hitters failing to make the jump from the high minors. Ruf may not be anything more than a right-handed bat off the bench, as scouts are mixed at best about his offensive abilities. He may also be a liability in the field.

Honorable Mention: Jordany Valdespin, OF Mets  
Valdespin, even as a prospect, is neither hyped nor touted as much as the players above. However, he does fit the model of a young player forcing his way into discussion for an everyday job come Opening Day. Valdespin is an athlete who spent some time playing up the middle for the Mets last year. He showed surprising power, and has always demonstrated solid speed and defense, but his approach at the plate has never been strong. This winter, however, he worked hard to improve his plate discipline, and it looks like that has bled into his spring stats. The Mets outfield is so weak right now that if Valdespin shows the potential for even an average batting eye, he could be their best option to play center field.


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