Each spring, clubs hold back talented prospects in extended spring training as they ready them to play in the short-season leagues in June. Here are the most promising examples, one for each of the 30 organizations.
The Braves may have scored one of the bargains on the 2011 international market when they signed Dominican lefthander Luis Merejo for $65,000. He struck out 53 and walked nine over 41 innings in the Gulf Coast League last season, commanding a low-90s fastball and flashing a solid curveball. Six feet and lean, Merejo gets another crack at the GCL this summer.
The Orioles sent all of their premium picks from the 2012 draft to full-season ball, so finding an organization holdover is a challenge. Perhaps the best place to look is off the beaten path, where St. Joseph’s righthander Jimmy Yacabonis, a 13th-round pick this year, could rack up strikeouts with his 95 mph heat at short-season Aberdeen. He could jump on the fast track as a reliever.
Boston Red Sox
Two talented international prospects began play in June with short-season Lowell: Taiwanese shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin and Dominican center fielder Manuel Margot. Lin, who signed for $2.05 million in 2012, showed good wheels and solid glove work while batting .255/.341/.318 in 29 Gulf Coast League games last season. Margot, who signed for $800,000 in 2011, has similar offensive upside to Lin, though with more power and less speed. Margot drew 36 walks and stole 33 bases while batting .285/.382/.423 in 68 games in the Dominican Summer League a year ago.
Avery Romero’s stocky body type draws instant comparisons with Dan Uggla, and the 2012 third-rounder from St. Augustine, Fla., is trying his hand at second base with short-season Batavia this summer. Romero played mostly third base last year in the Gulf Coast League, batting .223/.309/.347 in 33 games.
New York Mets
Shortstop Gavin Cecchini, the 12th pick in the 2012 draft, began his pro career in the Appalachian League last season, batting .246/.311/.330 in 53 games. The Mets believe the experience of playing in front of enthusiastic short-season Brooklyn fans holds value, so that’s where Cecchini begins his 2013 season. Also keep an eye on Rookie-level Kingsport shortstop Amed Rosario, a native of the Dominican Republic who signed for $1.75 million last summer, which was the most lucrative bonus for an international amateur in franchise history.
New York Yankees
With 2012 first-round righty Ty Hensley projected to miss the entire season after having hip surgery, the most anticipated prospect debut falls to last year’s second-rounder Austin Aune, a prep shortstop from Argyle, Texas. Heavily recruited as a football quarterback, Aune requires more reps on defense than he does in the batter’s box. He’s repeating the Gulf Coast League this summer after hitting .273/.358/.410 in 39 games there last season.
A supplemental first-rounder in 2012, righthander Mitch Gueller starred in three sports in high school, lending hope that he’ll be able to smooth his delivery and throw more strikes after notching a 5.27 ERA and walking nearly four batters per nine innings in eight Gulf Coast League appearances last season. The Rochester, Wash., product begins the year in the short-season Williamsport rotation.
Tampa Bay Rays
Touted teen Venezuelan righthander Jose Mujica makes his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League this summer, fresh off signing for $1 million during last year’s international signing period. The 17-year-old shows a heavy fastball, a nifty changeup and clean mechanics that make him a prime rotation candidate.
Toronto Blue Jays
Only one of Toronto’s first seven picks in the 2012 draft earned an assignment to full-season ball to begin 2013. Of the six prospects who begin in short-season ball, the most notable are first-round center fielder D.J. Davis, who hit .250/.355/.386 in 60 games at three short-season levels last summer, and supplemental first-rounders Matt Smoral, a lefthander, and third baseman Mitch Nay. Neither Smoral nor Nay played professionally after signing last season. Davis and Nay are teammates with Rookie-level Bluefield.
While the organization awaits 2012 first-rounder Lucas Giolito’s return to the field after having Tommy John surgery last summer, it can look to the future with this year’s top pick, second-round righthander Jake Johansen, as he makes his pro debut at short-season Auburn. He sat in the mid-90s at Dallas Baptist, though he’ll need to find a reliable second pitch to succeed against pro competition. He could climb on the fast track if Washington moves him to the bullpen.
Righthander Paul Blackburn, a supplemental first-round pick in 2012, was polished enough to consider promoting to low Class A Kane County. Instead he’s pitching at short-season Boise, where he allowed only one baserunner while striking out eight in his 2013 debut.
Chicago White Sox
Sammy Ayala has some work to do defensively as he adjusts to catching at the pro level, and he also needs to refine his approach at the plate. So it made sense that Ayala was held back to go to Rookie-level Great Falls instead of getting a more challenging full-season assignment.
Rookie-level Billings should be one of the more interesting clubs in the system as outfielders Jonathan Reynoso and Gabriel Rosa and lefthander Amir Garrett will all see how they fare in the hitter-happy Pioneer League. Reynoso is one of the toolsier prospects in the Reds system.
Want to see if big lefthander Luis Lugo is gaining velocity as he gains strength? The 19-year-old is pitching at short-season Mahoning Valley, so New York-Penn League fans will get plenty of chances to take a look at one of the Indians’ more promising young pitchers.
Outfielder Austin Schotts found out this spring that he wasn’t ready for the Midwest League. He hit .192/.248/.249 with 75 strikeouts in just 193 at-bats. He’s getting a chance to find out if the New York-Penn League is more his speed with an assignment to Connecticut.
Kansas City Royals
Outfielder Elier Hernandez struggled last year in Rookie-level Idaho Falls, so he’ll get another chance to catch up to the Northwest League. Considering he’s still one of the younger players in the league as an 18-year-old, repeating the level won’t put him on the slow track.
Supplemental first-round pick Devin Williams signed so quickly that he was able to get to the Brewers’ spring-training complex before the Arizona League season even started. Since the Brewers didn’t have a first-round pick, the righthander will be in the spotlight—as much spotlight as can occur in the Arizona League.
Outfielder Max Kepler had yet to play a game this season as he recovers from an elbow injury, but he will skip the return trip to Rookie-level Elizabethton. Instead he’ll move up to low Class A Cedar Rapids.
Righthander Luis Heredia was held back from a full-season league assignment in part to limit his innings this year. The gloves are off now, and Heredia finally got his assignment to low Class A West Virginia to start the second half of the South Atlantic League season.
St. Louis Cardinals
Third baseman Carson Kelly began the season at low Class A Peoria, but he proved unready for the Midwest League. After hitting .215/.282/.295 in 43 games, he was sent back to extended spring training to bide his time before an assignment to short-season State College (New York-Penn).
The D-backs’ top pick from 2012, catcher Stryker Trahan, was finally set to make his season debut with Rookie-level Missoula in the Pioneer League. Trahan was held back due to his unrefined defense, but his bat is advanced enough that he could make an impact at the plate in the hitter-friendly PL.
Michael Tauchman signed quickly after being drafted by the Rockies out of Bradley in the 10th round this June. After leading all Division I hitters with a .425 average in 2013, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound shortstop got off to a 7-for-15 start with short-season Tri-City (Northwest).
Tony Kemp kicked off his professional career with the short-season Tri-City ValleyCats in impressive fashion. Fresh off a Southeastern Conference player of the year season with Vanderbilt, the second baseman recorded three hits, including one double, in his professional debut on June 17th.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels gave righthander Yency Almonte $250,000 as a 17th-round pick last year, but he pitched just three innings after turning pro thanks to a shoulder problem. Almonte offers plenty of projection and already throws in the low 90s. He’ll get on the mound with Rookie-level Orem (Pioneer).
Los Angeles Dodgers
Outfielder Joey Curletta has some of the most intriguing raw power in the Dodgers system, but his swing has needed some work for him to hit more homers in game action. The 2012 sixth-round pick could put up some big power number in the Pioneer League with Ogden.
B.J Boyd will work on turning his tools into results with short-season Vermont. The outfielder, a fourth-round pick last year, was also a football recruit out of high school in the San Francisco Bay Area but gave up the gridiron to sign for a $300,000 bonus from the Athletics.
San Diego Padres
Righthander Trevor Gott, set Kentucky career and single-season saves records for being drafted by the Padres this June in the sixth round and signing for $200,000. He’ll get a chance to work out of the bullpen for short-season Eugene (Northwest).
San Francisco Giants
Lefthander Joe Kurrasch profiles better as a reliever due to his below-average breaking ball, but the Giants were still intrigued enough by his arm strength to sign him for $134,500 as an eighth-round pick last year from Penn State. He’ll get a chance to start for now with short-season Salem-Keizer.
East Carolina product Jack Reinheimer stood out in a 2013 draft class thin on college shortstops, helping him climb to the fifth-round where the Mariners tagged him. He has the tools to stick at shortstop, but his bat will be the question as he begins his pro career with short-season Everett.
The Rangers drafted pitchers with three of their first four picks this year and assigned two of them—righthanders Alex Gonzalez out of Oral Roberts and David Ledbetter from Cedarville (Ohio)—to short-season Spokane (Northwest). They will both join the rotation on a strict pitch count.