The calendar still says February, so spring training is remains nothing but positive. Everyone looks great, everyone is primed for a great season, and everyone has a chance to make the roster. So instead of talking about sure-fire Rookie of the Year candidates, let's take the road less traveled and make some dart throws at some possibilities to still be on a big-league roster come April. None are an especially good bet, or even a favorite to earn a spot, but they all have the ability to at least makes things interesting.
Dustin Ackley, 2B, Mariners
For now, the Mariners ostensibly plan to have glove wizard Jack Wilson at shortstop and wizard with the glove Brendan Ryan at second base. Of course, Wilson had a sickening .282 on-base percentage last year, while Ryan's was a nauseating .279. That's not exactly encouraging news for a team that scored at least 100 runs less than any other team in the American League. Enter Ackley, whose glove work will never remind anyone of medieval magic users, but at least he can get on base. The second overall pick in the 2009 draft could be a perfect No. 2 hitter in the lineup right now, and after last year's disaster the Mariners have to realize that defense can only get you so far.
Brandon Belt, 1B/LF, Giants
No player in the minors had a bigger breakout in 2010 than Belt, who began the year as a lightly regarded fifth-round pick and ended it with a .352/.455/.620 line across three levels while generating scouting reports nearly as impressive as the numbers. While the re-signing of Aubrey Huff confused things a bit, both Belt and Huff are capable in left field, where the competition for now is utility player Mark DeRosa and strikeout machine Pat Burrell. Belt could help right now, but anticipate the Giants following the Buster Posey path, and managing Belt's service time by not bringing him up until late May.
Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Indians
Make no doubt about it, Chisehall isn't ready. The 22-year-old 2008 first-round pick is coming off a solid .278/.351/.450 showing that included a big second half, but he needs more seasons, and a few hundred at-bats in the breaking ball-heavy International League would help with his development. At the same time, have you looked at a Cleveland depth chart? Right now, the hot corner belongs to either Jayson Nix or Jason Donald. Both are out of position there and neither can hit, although Nix is a very good defender who also has an extra Y in his name. Despite his need for at least half of year in the minors, Chisenhall could out-perform either right now, and if the Indians had a shot at competing, they'd have a far more interesting decision on their hands.
Brad Emaus, 2B, Mets
Our first Rule 5 pick of the day, Emaus is part of a wide-open competition for the Mets' second-base job, with the incumbent being Luis Castillo, who is coming off a miserable injury-plagued season. An 11th-round pick out of Tulane in 2007, Emaus is more grinder than tools guy, but he understands the value of a walk and has more power than your average middle infielder. That said, his .298/.395/.495 line at Triple-A Las Vegas last year was buoyed by friendly home park, as he slugged .609 at home and just just .386 on the road. If the Mets decide to go with new blood, Emaus is the best non-veteran option and a better player than Justin Turner or Chin-Lung Hu.
Yunesky Maya, RHP, Nationals
A long-time star of the Cuban national team, after defecting he signed with the Nationals to a $7.4 million deal last year, with the thought that he could move quickly. He did just that, getting to the big leagues after just five minor-league appearances, but he turned out to not be the pitcher he was back in the day, going from a power pitcher with plus control to merely a strike-thrower with little velocity. An inability to miss bats led to troubles in the big leagues, but scouts noted some adjusted this winter, where he put up a 1.32 ERA for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. His competition for the last two rotation slots in Washington are Luis Atilano and John Lannan, which helps his cause even more.
Hector Noesi, RHP, Yankees
All the hype in Yankee pitcher prospect land goes to Manuel Banuelos and Dellin Betances, and with good reason, as both have true star potential. That said, neither is anywhere close to big-league ready, as they've combined for fewer than 30 innings above A-ball. After failing to signed a big-name free agent in the offseason, the contest for the last two rotation slots is down to Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre while seeing whether way-past-prime veterans Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon have anything left in the tank. Enter Noesi, who doesn't have the ceiling of the more well-known pitching prospects in the system, but could be the most likely to hold his own in the big leagues right now, which is pretty much the expectations for a fifth starter these days. With a slightly above-average fastball, solid changeup, and fringy breaking ball, Noesi doesn't fill up a scouting report, but his ability to throw strikes with every pitch always gives him a chance to compete.
Aneury Rodriguez, RHP, Astros
Another Rule 5 pick, Rodriguez is in a perfect spot with the Astros, as he has the goods to compete for one of the final rotation jobs in Houston, and can slot easily into the bullpen as he needs to stay in the big leagues to avoid getting returned to Tampa Bay. While Rodriguez had a solid 2010 season, it was his showing with the Toros del Este in the Dominican this winter, when his fastball suddenly ticked up to 92-94 mph, that had him seen as the most obvious pick last December. He's athletic, he has good stuff, and he throws strikes, and the Astros will find every way to try to keep him on the roster.
Julio Teheran, RHP, Braves
He's the best pitching prospect in the game, but he also just turned 20 years old next week and his experience at the upper levels consists of a grand total of seven Double-A starts at the end of last season. However, to repeat, he is the best pitching prospect in the game, with an envious combination of outstanding stuff and command. The chances of his making the big-league roster out of spring are infinitesimal, but he could be coming quicker than you think, with some early whispers suggesting that he could begin the year at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he can get accustomed to the Atlanta area by playing in the suburbs while being just a short drive away when needed.
Mark Trumbo, 1B, Angels
The unfortunate celebration of Kendry Morales last May still haunts the Angels, as the slugger arrived to camp this spring with far from completely healthy, and his availability for Opening Day is very much in doubt. Enter Trumbo, who tied for the minor-league homer lead last year with 36, and had an equally impressive winter with Magallanes in Venezuela, batting .336/.405/.579. Athletically, he's limited to first base, so he needs the break (no pun intended), and it's one that Morales' ankle looks like it might provide.
Vance Worley, RHP, Phillies
For now, the Phillies' rotation is four big stars and Joe Blanton, but there are plenty of whispers that the Phillies are looking to deal Blanton, who is owed $17 million for the next two years and could offer a solid starting option to some teams desperately in need. (Hello, New York!) Should that deal happen early in order to provide the Phillies with some financial flexibility this spring, Worley is the best bet to step in. A third-round pick in 2008 who made a pair of good big league starts last September, Worley's ceiling is that of a back-end rotation piece, but the good news is that he's already there as a strike-thrower with a deep but somewhat pedestrian arsenal.
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