Over the course of the Grapefruit and Cactus League schedules, countless prospects get the chance to show what they can do on a larger stage. While some are simply there to gain experience, others are fighting for a spot on the Major League club.
As teams are finalizing their rosters in preparation for Opening Day, several prospects are learning thier fate. A couple — Chance Sisco (Orioles No. 3) and Yairo Munoz (Cardinals No. 12) — found out on Friday that they will be in the Majors when the season gets underway and several other prospects will hear similiar news throughout the weekend.
Conversely, some of the best prospects in the game have been recently sent down. There is no doubt Braves phenom Ronald Acuna, MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 overall prospect, will be in Atlanta sooner rather than later, with his reassignment more about service time than anything else. No. 6 prospect Victor Robles was also just optioned, though he struggled while Acuna soared this spring, and his move to Minor League camp had more to do with a lack of an outfield opening with the Nationals. Keep in mind that both are just 20 years old.
The top two active pitching prospects, No. 10 Michael Kopech of the White Sox and No. 12 Walker Buehler of the Dodgers, will also begin the year in the Minors. Kopech wasn’t ever considered a candidate to break camp with Chicago and Buehler needs time to get stretched out after getting just four innings of work.
Of course, it’s not how you start, but how you finish. Last year’s American League Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge may have made the Yankees out of Spring Training, but the NL winner, Cody Bellinger, did not.
Here’s a look at baseball’s top prospects who are vying to win Opening Day roster spots, and whether they’re locks, contenders or long shots.
Shohei Ohtani, RHP/DH (LAA No. 1, MLB No. 1) — Yes, he’s struggled. Could some time in the Minors be beneficial? Perhaps. But he wasn’t brought in to be a Minor Leaguer. It would be a shock if he didn’t start the year on the 25-man roster.
J.P. Crawford, SS (PHI No. 3, MLB No. 37) — The Phillies traded Freddy Galvis to make room for Crawford, who has had an OK-but-not-spectacular spring. Look for him to hold his own at the plate while playing excellent defense.
Jesse Winker, OF (CIN No. 4, MLB No. 82) — The guy has a pretty good track record of hitting and he’s done it this spring (.371/.436/.535) in 43 at-bats. He’ll be part of the Reds outfield with Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Billy Hamilton and it’s not difficult to see him hitting his way to an everyday role.
Jorge Alfaro, C (PHI No. 7) — The Phillies’ primary catcher for the final two months of 2017, Alfaro is entrenched as the team’s No. 1 backstop and has had a strong spring (.286/.390/.543) to boot.
Brian Anderson, 3B (MIA No. 9) — Anderson was already knocking on the door, which was swung wide open when the Marlins announced that Martin Prado would start the season on the disabled list, and his .277/.375/.617 Spring Training slash line and four homers certainly haven’t hurt.
Mitch Garver, C (MIN No. 19) — Garver has struggled somewhat this spring, batting .156 (5-for-32) through Friday, but he remains a lock to back up Jason Castro behind the plate for Minnesota.
A.J. Minter, LHP (ATL No. 15) — Minter’s somewhat historic debut last year have led many in Atlanta to drum up comparisons to a young Craig Kimbrel. Minter has only stoked that hype this spring, striking out 10 batters while walking just one over 7 1/3 scoreless frames through Friday. He’s a lock for the Braves’ Opening Day roster, barring injury, and should attract plenty of eyes when he takes the mound.
Colin Moran, 3B (PIT No. 8) — The Pirates saw Moran as their starting third baseman when they acquired him from Houston in the Gerrit Cole trade, and Moran (.333 average through Friday) hasn’t done anything this spring to dispel that notion.
Yairo Munoz, UTIL (STL No. 12) — Munoz forced Mike Matheny and the Cardinals’ coaching staff to take notice this spring, slugging over .600 and clubbing two home runs in the same inning against the Orioles last month. He won the Cardinals’ final roster spot in the outfield over the team’s No. 5 prospect, Harrison Bader, who was optioned to Triple-A Memphis on Friday.
Lewis Brinson, OF (MIA No. 1, MLB No. 27) — He’s edging closer to being a lock, given the spring he’s had (.365/.393/.654) in 20 games. There’s a pretty good chance he’s the Opening Day center fielder. Hitting leadoff may not be a great fit, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Ryan McMahon, 1B/2B/3B (COL No. 2, MLB No. 41) — The bat is really going now (.355/.403/.581 in 27 games) and he’s helped by the fact he can play three infield spots. But there isn’t a clear roster spot for him and it might be better for him to play every day in Triple-A.
Tyler Mahle, RHP (CIN No. 5, MLB No. 84) — Injuries to other starters have opened the door for Mahle a bit, and he’s pitched well in Arizona (2.75 ERA, .152 BAA in 19 2/3 IP). It might be temporary until the hurt guys return, but Mahle could very well start the year in the big league rotation.
Brandon Woodruff, RHP (MIL No, 3, MLB No. 96) — His 7.04 ERA this spring doesn’t look great as he competes for a spot in the back end of the Brewers rotation. But he did give up just one run over four innings in his last outing, which was also his first Cactus League start.
Luke Bard, RHP (LAA No. 21) — The Rule 5 pick’s attempt to win a bullpen spot might not seem to be going well, given his 6.10 ERA, but if you take out one outing that saw him yield five runs in one-third of an inning, it goes down to 1.74 in his other eight outings.
Alex Blandino, INF (CIN No. 19) — Cincinnati’s starting infield looks locked in, leaving Blandino to battle for a bench spot. Dilson Herrera‘s slow recovery from shoulder surgery opened up a spot, but Blandino still faces competition in veterans Phil Gosselin and Cliff Pennington. Blandino has been one of the Reds’ best hitters this spring, compiling an .862 OPS through Friday’s action.
Victor Caratini, C (CHC No. 8) — The Cubs brought in veteran Chris Gimenez to provide comfortability to aces Jon Lester and Yu Darvish, but Caratini has made a compelling case to back up Willson Contreras. The 24-year old backstop was batting a respectable .257 through Friday, and manager Joe Maddon has praised his work behind the plate, too.
Franchy Cordero, OF (SD No. 10) — MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell predicts the Padres will carry five outfielders, but Wil Myers‘ move to right field means Cordero is still in a tight battle with Travis Jankowski, Hunter Renfroe and Matt Szczur. Cordero’s mix of power and speed will be hard for manager Andy Green to deny, and his spring numbers (eight extra-base hits and a 1.179 OPS through Friday) speak for themselves.
J.D. Davis, 1B (HOU No. 9) — Yuli Gurriel‘s hand injury has opened the door at the Astros’ first base position, with Davis locked in a three-way battle with A.J. Reed and Tyler White. White’s versatility will likely win out, though Davis’ spring performance (five home runs and a 1.104 OPS through Tuesday) is giving manager AJ Hinch a lot to ponder.
Phillip Ervin, OF (CIN No. 23) — Like Blandino, Ervin faces roadblocks as Cincinnati’s starting outfield (Duvall, Hamilton and Schebler) appears to be set while, Winker and veteran Ben Revere appear closer to locking up a backup role. Contact has been an issue this spring for Ervin, who had struck out 16 times in 40 at-bats through Friday.
Kyle Farmer, C/3B (LAD No. 25) — Farmer was already a viable third catcher for the Dodgers behind Austin Barnes and Yasmani Grandal, but Justin Turner‘s broken wrist has truly put him in contention for a final roster spot at third base. Farmer has submitted his own case as an improved hitter, posting a sterling 1.224 OPS and hitting three homers over 35 at-bats through Friday.
David Fletcher, SS/2B (LAA No. 23) — The Angels’ sixth-round pick out of Loyola Marymount in 2015, Fletcher has had a terrific spring (.340/.392/.447 in 47 ABs) while playing short and second in an effort to land a utility role.
Dustin Fowler, OF (OAK No. 5) — Fowler hasn’t overwhelmed at the plate this spring, struggling to a .471 OPS in 41 at-bats through Friday’s games, but manager Bob Melvin said he’s looking more comfortable as he returns from major knee surgery. Fowler has an excellent shot to be Oakland’s starting center fielder and finally get his first Major League plate appearance on Opening Day.
Domingo German, RHP (NYY No. 18) — The right-hander has certainly made a case to stick around, with a 2.30 ERA and 17 K’s in 15 2/3 innings in Florida.
Zack Granite, OF (MIN No. 27) — It will likely come down to Granite and Robbie Grossman for the Twins’ fourth outfield spot, and Granite’s ability to play all three spots figures to give him an edge. But Grossman is a more established big league hitter and is also out of Minor League options, and those two facts could be the ultimate factors in the Twins’ decision.
Jordan Luplow, OF (PIT No. 23) — Luplow made his Major League debut last year, batting .205 in 87 plate appearances for the Pirates in the second half. While Pittsburgh’s outfield remains crowded, the 24-year-old has hit four Spring Training homers in an attempt to mash his way onto the roster.
Ryan Merritt, LHP (CLE No. 22) — After posting a 1.71 ERA in nine appearances for the Indians in the past two seasons — as well as 4 1/3 scoreless frames in an ALCS Game 5 start last October — Merritt is seeking a spot in Cleveland’s deep rotation. The 26-year-old lefty has not sparkled in his most recent audition, however, as he has a 9.31 ERA in 9 2/3 spring innings.
Tanner Rainey, RHP (CIN No. 30) — Rainey has impressed this spring, allowing two runs and striking out 13 batters over 8 1/3 innings through Friday, but he still appears to be on the outside looking in as a non-roster invitee among Cincinnati’s crowded competition for bullpen spots.
Jacob Rhame, RHP (NYM No. 30) — New York’s bullpen mix is crowded, with a handful of starters like Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo likely moving back there to join mainstays like Jeurys Familia and Hansel Robles. The 25-year-old Rhame (5.06 ERA over 11 appearances through Friday) is on the outside looking in, and will likely begin the year with Triple-A Las Vegas.
Edgar Santana, RHP (PIT No. 27) — The Pirates have a wide-open competition for their bullpen spots behind Felipe Rivero this spring. Santana has done his fair share to keep his name in that mix, compiling a 0.86 WHIP and holding hitters to a .206 average over eight appearances through Friday.
Burch Smith, RHP (KC No. 17) — Smith has struggled with his command this spring (11 walks and 10 earned runs allowed in 12 innings through Friday), but the Royals are in a transition period and Smith’s high ceiling should be enough to push him into one of the clubs’ last bullpen slots.
Taylor Williams, RHP (MIL No. 18) — The Brewers handled Williams carefully in 2017 following two years of injury, and so the thought here is they will begin the talented righty in the Minors to further manage his workload. Williams has impressed manager Craig Counsell and his staff while pairing 10 strikeouts with just one walk and permitting two earned runs over 8 2/3 innings.
Dan Vogelbach, 1B (SEA No. 11) — An injury to Ryon Healy opened the door for Vogelbach, and he’s doing everything he can to step through it, hitting .388/.508/.878 in 49 Cactus League at-bats.
Austin Hays, OF (BAL No. 1, MLB No. 23) — He’s hit a little better of late, but he’s still just hitting .243 with a .572 OPS in 37 spring ABs. Missing time early with a back issue certainly did not help him make his case to land a spot. Having him play every day in the upper levels seems a better bet.
Scott Kingery, 2B (PHI No. 2, MLB No. 35) — He’s done all he can to show he belongs, hitting .383 with four homers and four steals while playing second, third and even some short. It’s more likely he starts the year in Triple-A and waits for an opening.
Franklin Barreto, SS/2B (OAK No. 3, MLB No. 66) — He’s making a strong impression in Cactus League action, with three homers and a .566 SLG in 19 games. Like with McMahon, there isn’t a clear path for Barreto, even though he can play on either side of second.
Cody Carroll, RHP (NYY No. 17) — He’s likely on the outside looking in for a relief spot, but he has thrown well, with 10 K’s in nine innings of work.
Steven Duggar, OF (SF No. 3) — Duggar’s competition with veteran Austin Jackson for the Giants’ starting center field job is San Francisco’s headlining battle heading into the homestretch. Limited roster spots and Duggar’s remaining options mean he’ll likely be the runner-up, and he could benefit from a little more seasoning in the Minors after striking out in nearly one-third of his Cactus League at-bats.
Tom Eshelman, RHP (PHI No. 16) — Incoming ace Jake Arrieta has some catching up to do, meaning there’s still a chance Eshelman could sneak into a final swing rotation spot. The trouble is the same could be said for a host of other Phillies pitchers — including Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, Mark Leiter Jr. and Jake Thompson — and Eshelman’s 4.76 ERA through Friday didn’t stand out.
Joey Lucchesi, LHP (SD No. 9) — San Diego figures to have one left-handed spot open after bullpen locks Brad Hand, Jordan Lyles, Kazuhisa Makita, Craig Stammen, Kirby Yates and Chris Young. Lucchesi has allowed just two earned runs through Friday, but that southpaw spot figures to go to either Buddy Baumann or Kyle McGrath.
Renato Nunez, 3B/OF (OAK No. 20) — Reports surfaced Tuesday that Nunez will start 2018 on the disabled list — as had been expected — as he nurses a strained left hamstring back to health. Nunez suffered the injury in the A’s second Cactus League game this spring, giving him little opportunity to strut his stuff.
Top 100 prospects who have been optioned/reassigned:
No. 2 Ronald Acuna Jr. OF Braves, No. 4 Eloy Jimenez OF, White Sox, No. 5 Gleyber Torres, 2B/SS, Yankees, No 6 Victor Robles, OF, Nationals, No 7 Nick Senzel, 3B, Reds, No. 8 Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres, No. 10 Michael Kopech, RHP, White Sox, No. 11 Francisco Mejia, C, Indians, No. 12 Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers, No. 14 Brendan Rodgers, SS, Rockies, No. 16 Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros, No. 22 Willy Adames, 2B/SS, Rays, No. 28 Luis Robert, OF, White Sox, No. 30 Kyle Wright, RHP, Braves, No. 31 Mike Soroka, RHP, Braves, No. 32 A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics, No. 36 Luis Urias, SS, Padres, No. 38 Jack Flaherty, RHP, Cardinals, No. 40 Cal Quantrill, RHP, Padres, No. 44 Estevan Florial, OF, Yankees, No. 45 Austin Meadows, CF, Pirates, No. 46 Carson Kelly, C, Cardinals, No. 48 Justus Sheffield, LHP, Yankees, No. 52 Keibert Ruiz, C, Dodgers, No. 53 Willie Calhoun, OF, Rangers, No. 54 Alec Hansen, RHP, White Sox, No. 56 Keston Hiura, 2B, Brewers, No. 58 Kolby Allard, LHP, Braves, No. 61 Dylan Cease, RHP, White Sox, No. 64 Jack Bauers, OF/1B, Rays, No. 65 Miguel Andujar, 3B, Yankees, No. 68 Fernando Romero, RHP, Twins, No. 69 Corbin Burnes, RHP, Brewers, No. 72 Jorge Mateo, SS, Athletics, No. 74 Albert Abreu, RHP, Yankees, No. 75 Chance Adams, RHP, Yankees, No. 78 Stephen Gonsalves, LHP, Twins, No. 80 Nick Gordon, SS, Twins, No. 81 Christian Arroyo, INF, Rays, No. 83 Max Fried, LHP, Braves, No. 93 Jahmai Jones, CF, Angels, No. 94 Tyler O’Neill, RF, Cardinals, No. 97 Austin Riley, 3B, Braves, No. 98 Ryan Mountcastle, 3B/SS, Orioles