By: Chris Larson
Spring Training is quickly approaching. In fact, pitchers and catchers have already reported for all 30 teams, position players are reporting over the next handful of days, and the first Spring Training game will take place next Thursday between the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics.
With that being said, Spring Training is an opportunistic time of year. One in which, every fan and all 30 teams, believe they have the makings of a postseason caliber team and with the optimism that their team will outperform all expectations that have already been laid out on paper. While some of those dreams are more inflated for some teams than others, it's still a fascinating time of year when fans get the chance to watch the talent coming up through their team's system and witness first hand some of the exciting steps forward that those top prospects take over the course of the spring.
Although there are plenty of exciting, young-and-upcoming prospects sprinkled throughout the game right now, here are five names that you should watch this spring.
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Toronto Blue Jays) - While Toronto Blue Jays General Manager, Ross Atkins, mentioned that the team doesn't have a hard date set in stone as to when Guerrero Jr. will be placed on their 25-man roster, the fact is that the organization still views him highly and will certainly hand him a roster spot, assuming he continues to perform throughout the spring. The sky is basically the ceiling for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who was recently named as the best prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline, and he is certainly a staple of the next, best Blue Jays baseball team. Last season, there was a lot of controversy because the Blue Jays never called Guerrero Jr. up to the big leagues because they wanted that extra year of service time, but don't be surprised if he shows enough during Spring Training to break camp as a member of the team's 25-man roster.
As has been mentioned before, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., is quickly following in his father's footsteps, according to scouting reports, and possesses all five tools of an All-Star, MVP caliber player. Scouts note that he has a tremendously high amount of plate discipline and plenty of strength to rip the ball to the other side of the outfield. Originally when he was first scouted, Guerrero Jr. was viewed as an outfielder, but later made the transition over to third base. Some ultimately believe he could be a first baseman down the stretch, which is a position that is currently blocked by Justin Smoak, but certainly not out of the question as Toronto would likely trade Smoak, if given the opportunity. Regardless, there's a lot of power and strength that comes off of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s bat, so he will be a draw for all fans that attend a Spring Training game or two in Dunedin this spring.
2. Fernando Tatis Jr. (San Diego Padres) - Fernando Tatis Jr. is another young, up-and-coming player that should be one of the future stars in the big leagues. The amount of talent that he possesses is first class and he is going to be an exciting watch in the middle infield. Just imagine him handling shortstop with someone like, Manny Machado, over at third base and the type of defensive show that would take place on a nightly basis in San Diego. It would be amazing and something that would tremendously benefit the San Diego Padres in their pursuit of becoming relevant again and returning to contention, something that hasn't happened since, 1996! For all of the San Diego Padres fans out there, you can attest to how badly every fan wants to see San Diego play in October and by having someone such as, Fernando Tatis Jr. on the 25-man roster, is one step closer to making that happen.
In addition to the flashy defensive abilities that Tatis Jr. possesses, many scouts project him to have spectacular offensive skills and the ability to hit much higher than league average. Given that he is still only 20 years old, many scouts believe that his offensive abilities are just coming into the fold and that there is plenty of development that he will still undergo, which is an extremely exciting thought to think about. To this point, over three seasons in the minor leagues, Tatis Jr. has hit: .280/.358/.487 over 1,205 plate appearances with 296 hits, 66 doubles, 14 triples, 42 home runs, 143 RBI, 63 stolen bases, 123 walks, and 307 strikeouts. While the amount of strikeouts is high, you have to remember that this is still a very young player and he will eventually find his groove, putting up higher power numbers and fewer strikeouts. However, he's definitely someone to watch this spring, as the San Diego Padres continue to construct their 25-man roster and look ahead to the future.
3. Nick Senzel (Cincinnati Reds) - All offseason long, Nick Senzel's name was mentioned numerous times on the trade market, but there's a reason the Cincinnati Reds didn't trade him, because they believe in his potential and want him to be a future part of this team. While Senzel is currently blocked by Scooter Gennett at second base and Eugenio Suarez at third base, that doesn't mean that all is lost given that Cincinnati Reds skipper, David Bell, mentioned that Senzel could be looked at in centerfield during Spring Training. However, Senzel will have to find a way to stay healthy throughout the spring and continue performing to his high potential, as indicated by his ranking as the 6th best prospect in all of baseball currently, according to MLB Pipeline. Since being drafted in 2016, Nick Senzel has moved up quickly throughout the ranks of the Cincinnati Reds farm system and this is the spring where he will quickly persuade the Reds front office to give him a spot on the 25-man roster.
According to scouts, Senzel is an extremely dangerous hitter from the right side of the plate and possesses enough offensive potential to be a middle of the order bat. When he's up to bat at the plate, Senzel is continually making a hard amount of contact with the baseball and has the plate discipline of someone who has the makings of winning some notable awards during his big league career. Of course, that might be difficult given that the Reds play in the smallest market in all of baseball and don't get a lot of attention nationally, but the true baseball diehards and smart baseball journalists, will know who they are watching and vote for him to win an award when appropriate. While speed isn't necessarily a strength of Senzel's game, he should still make for a great watch this spring and someone who will significantly boost the future outlook of the Reds 25-man roster.
4. Forrest Whitley (Houston Astros) - Heading into this season, even after the addition of Wade Miley, an argument can be made that the Houston Astros still are in need of additional help to bolster their pitching staff, especially in the starting rotation. However, Astros General Manager, Jeff Luhnow, knows that he possesses enough in-house options to fulfill that need and doesn't necessarily need to go out to reunite with lefty, Dallas Keuchel, or pick up someone else that remains on the free agent market. One of those in-house options is right-hander, Forrest Whitley, who ranks as the 8th best prospect in all of baseball and has the makings of being the next Houston Astros horse, a top the starting rotation. Even though the Houston Astros have been asked about Whitley numerous times in the past in various trade proposals, they elected to hang onto him, which might end up being one of the best decisions in the history of the Houston Astros franchise.
It was just three years ago that Forrest Whitley was drafted during the 1st round of the 2016 MLB Amateur Draft with the 17th pick overall and has certainly put up a tremendous track record behind his name, during his minor league tenure. In fact, during the 2017 season alone, Whitley averaged a strikeouts-per-9 rate of 13.9, which is absolutely fascinating and a reason why he was able to make it to Double A during his first full season of minor league baseball. Furthermore, Whitley possesses four different pitches, but his most notable one is his fastball, which frequently hits the mid-90s and keeps hitters on their toes during their entire at-bat. While Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and Justin Verlander will draw a lot of fanfare during Spring Training, there should be plenty of fans cheering for Forrest Whitley in the stands, as he looks to secure a spot in the Astros starting rotation, prior to Opening Day.
5. Joey Bart (San Francisco Giants) - The San Francisco Giants are currently in a time of transition, under the guidance of a new General Manager and front office staff, which means that it is likely time to turn the page after their championship reign and look ahead to the future. One very promising staple of the future lies in catcher, Joey Bart, who became famous this past week in Spring Training when he got the opportunity to catch a bullpen session for one of the Giants famous pitchers (that you might have heard of before), Madison Bumgarner. Simply put, the honor to catch a bullpen session for Madison Bumgarner at a young age is something that thrilled Bart, but what's even better is that it signals how highly the San Francisco Giants view the 6-foot, 3", 220 pound catcher, who could easily be the next Buster Posey for the next best era of San Francisco Giants baseball.
Overall, there is a lot to like about the makeup of Joey Bart and the future trajectory that he possesses in terms of staying behind the plate for the long-term. According to scouts, Joey Bart is someone that knows how to call a game behind the plate and has a strong enough arm to deter the opposing team from running on the base paths. Don't be surprised if Bart continues to develop his throwing arm and becomes one of the elite caught stealing catchers moving forward. Beyond that, Joey Bart also has plenty of strength and power to spray the baseball to all corners of the field, which is something that the San Francisco Giants will greatly benefit from down the stretch. While Joey Bart won't be handed the full-time catching role due to Buster Posey there and because of the development that he still has to undergo, he probably won't crack the 25-man roster out of camp, but he is most definitely someone to watch this spring, especially since he's the San Francisco Giants, number one prospect currently.