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Toolshed: Spring Training camps to watch

Ten groups worth following as top prospects showcase talents
Andrew Vaughn is playing for a designated hitter spot with the White Sox this spring. (Gregory Bull/AP)
February 24, 2021

Pitchers and catchers have been in Arizona and Florida a while. Position players have officially joined them in earnest. Look around you. It's decidedly spring. To celebrate the official opening of Spring Training and return of full-squad workouts, Toolshed presents 10 camps across the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues that prospect

Pitchers and catchers have been in Arizona and Florida a while. Position players have officially joined them in earnest. Look around you. It's decidedly spring.

To celebrate the official opening of Spring Training and return of full-squad workouts, Toolshed presents 10 camps across the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues that prospect fans should follow in the days and weeks ahead as the sport prepares for the upcoming 2021 season.

Chicago White Sox: There are a few new faces in the White Sox clubhouse this spring -- Lance Lynn and Liam Hendriks (and a returner in Adam Eaton) -- but a focus in camp still will be on the system’s top prospects, namely the big four. Nick Madrigal has the most Major League experience of the group and is slated to move back into his spot at second base, though he might have to wait until next month to get going as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. Michael Kopech has his eyes on a return to the Majors, where he last pitched in 2018, following Tommy John surgery and an opt-out from last year’s campaign. Garrett Crochet is very much in the bullpen mix after jumping to the Majors in his Draft year. The prospect who might be most closely watched, however, is top talent Andrew Vaughn. It’s no secret Chicago has an opening at DH, and while Vaughn played multiple positions at last year’s alternate site to get out of Jose Abreu’s shadow, he would slot in that lineup spot quite nicely given his plus combination of hit and power tools. Manager Tony La Russa joked that Vaughn is in No. 1 position to be the club’s DH, adding he’s tied with many others for that claim. Expect all four to get plenty of Cactus League work as they attempt solidify their places with the American League Central contenders.

Detroit Tigers: Sticking to the same division, Tigers camp could be interesting for much of the opposite reasons. The expected lack of contention in Motor City should allow prospects to get closer looks and brighter spotlights. Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize didn’t get off to the strongest Major League starts – certainly when considering their lofty ceilings – but both head to Lakeland in hopes of proving they’re worthy of more MLB experience right away. A forearm strain shut down Matt Manning last year; otherwise, he would have likely gotten a few Major League starts as well. This spring will offer him a chance to prove not only that he’s healthy, but that he can jump the line in the rotation himself. Moving more toward the non-roster invitee list, Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene are about as exciting a pair of position-player prospects you can find in the same organization. This will be Torkelson’s first spring, and it won’t be a surprise to see him run into more than a few balls in Grapefruit League play. The biggest emphasis, however, will be on the defensive end as Detroit continues to try working the 2020 No. 1 overall pick into a third baseman. Greene returns for an encore performance after homering twice and walking six times in 18 spring plate appearances a year ago before the shutdown. No shortage of storylines in Lakeland.

Kansas City Royals: The last time the Royals held a camp that mixed Major and Minor Leaguers, Brady Singer won a spot in the rotation and started the second game of the season for Kansas City. Could there be a repeat for a top prospect this go-round? It could be No. 29 overall prospect Daniel Lynch, who was teammates with Singer at Class A Advanced Wilmington in 2019 and likely would have seen the Majors in a regular 2020 season. Don’t expect it to be No. 30 overall prospect Asa Lacy, however. General manager Dayton Moore said earlier this week that the 2020 first-rounder would be eased into his first Spring Training, knowing he’ll also work out of Arizona for Minor League Spring Training in April. (By comparison, Lynch worked a bullpen session Tuesday alongside Singer and other Major Leaguers.) This also presents another opportunity to show off for top prospect Bobby Witt Jr.’s No. 7 overall prospect didn't receive a non-roster invite last spring but did punch a ticket to Summer Camp, the alternate site and instructs, where he performed beyond his years at age 20. A strong Cactus League could get the rest of the public a glimpse of what prospect fiends already know – Witt is a potential star at short.

Miami Marlins: The Fish have an upstart feel after finishing above .500 last year and making the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Even after some moves to address the bullpen and add Adam Duvall to the heart of the lineup, the optimism in southeast Florida continues to emanate from the prospect side. Sixto Sanchez retains prospect status, even after looking like a potential ace in the back half of 2020. (He’s wearing No. 45 this season for a reason.) No. 66 overall prospect Jazz Chisholm should use the spring to fight to get back to the Majors after 56 at-bats last year, and an open competition at second base should help the cause for the 23-year-old with above-average power and speed. JJ Bleday, the fourth overall pick in 2019, has yet to make the Majors, but should be right on the cusp as he enters his second Spring Training. Don’t rule out Trevor Rogers or Braxton Garrett forcing the rotation issue after they made surprise 2020 debuts. Unfortunately, the spring injury bug has already bitten Miami. Edward Cabrera is out with an inflamed nerve in his right biceps, though Don Mattingly says the club hopes to see him in the Majors at some point in 2021.

Minnesota Twins: Alex Kirilloff was last seen in game action making his Major League debut in the postseason. How he is handled in his first Spring Training after that fairly unique circumstance makes the Minnesota camp in Fort Myers interesting on its own. With Eddie Rosario out of the outfield picture, left field is open for Kirilloff’s taking for good, and a good Grapefruit League for the No. 26 overall prospect would sew that up. Elsewhere, Royce Lewis remains much better than his 2019 version, though he showed that off mostly behind closed doors in alt-site play last year. The game’s No. 17 overall prospect won’t be rushed to the Majors following the signing of shortstop Andrelton Simmons this offseason, and how Lewis learns from the defensive wizard could provide long-term benefits. It’s also possible that the 2017 first overall pick gets looks at second, third and center as he did in the Arizona Fall League, and that will be required following. (Update: The Twins announced shortly after this story originally ran that Lewis suffered an ACL tear and will undergo reconstructive surgery later this week. He is expected to miss the entire 2021 season.)

San Diego Padres: The big winners of the offseason still managed to keep four Top-100 prospects in their pipeline. No. 6 overall prospect MacKenzie Gore will be the most interesting prospect in camp and not just because of his status. The Padres addressed their rotation in big ways by adding Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove in separate trades. Barring injury, there won’t be room for the 22-year-old left-hander. However, how Gore performs could determine his place on the depth chart. After missing out on a 2020 debut while ironing out mechanics at the alternate site, Gore should be itching to prove his Major League readiness in the Cactus League. Ryan Weathers already appeared in the Majors, albeit from a much lower position having never climbed above Class A before. How he’s handled as a new member of the 40-man could be fascinating, including whether he is to continue his development as a starter or move quicker (as he’s already done) in relief. No. 45 Luis Campusano’s one Major League hit before a suffering a wrist injury was a home run, so how he follows up that should be fascinating. Austin Nola and the recently acquired Victor Caratini should at least allow for some more development time for Campusano. CJ Abrams was a Summer Camp and alt-site participant, but this marks his first spring as a non-roster invitee. The No. 8 overall prospect has plenty of speed to burn, and his plus hit potential could make him a fan favorite quickly if he puts his full slate of tools on display in the weeks ahead.

Seattle Mariners: There’s no other way to spin it. It’s been a rough week for the Seattle organization, following the comments of former team president Kevin Mather concerning the club’s plans for Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert and – of all things – Julio Rodriguez’s English skills. (Note: Rodriguez speaks English well and did so on the Minor League Baseball podcast last year.) As the memory of Mather’s resignation starts to fade, there will be renewed focus on what those three prospects bring to the table for a Mariners club that should have its sights set on turning the corner in its rebuild this summer. Coming off a strong alt-site performance, Kelenic should absolutely be in the conversation for an outfield spot, and an impressive spring would make it tougher for him to head back to Tacoma. Steamer projections actually believe Gilbert is the readier of the three options, and the M’s have been clear that he is in the rotation conversation this February and March. Rodriguez is farther away, but after a 2020 limited by a fractured wrist and a subpar winter league by his standards, the No. 5 overall prospect has plenty to prove in his return to the field. Mariners fans know the club’s future will be as bright as its prospects are allowed to shine, and those young talents should get plenty of looks in Arizona.

St. Louis Cardinals: Dylan Carlson doesn’t have anything to prove. The switch-hitter ended 2020 as the Cardinals' right fielder following some in-season improvements at the plate, and barring injury, he should head right back to that spot on the grass and potentially a spot behind Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado in the batting order. Nolan Gorman, on the other hand, has much to prove. The Arenado acquisition blocks his route at third base for the foreseeable future. Gorman said he planned to show up to Jupiter fully prepared to man multiple positions, including second and the corner outfield spots. If St. Louis plays along and gets him looks at many different spots, it will be a sign it wants to get his plus-plus raw power to the Majors quickly.

Tampa Bay Rays: Randy Arozarena, still a prospect. Wander Franco, still the top overall prospect. Tampa Bay Rays, still the top farm system in the sport. As they enter the spring with an American League title to defend, the Rays are looking closely at their next young wave of prospect talent. Arozarena’s spot in left is assured. Franco won’t be knocking Willy Adames off short this spring, but a hot turn in Port Charlotte – namely a public exhibition of his 80-grade prospect tool – will build the 19-year-old’s case for a first-half promotion. New acquisition and No. 19 overall prospect Luis Patiño will be working his way into a Major League spot after debuting for San Diego last year, and Tampa Bay’s creativity in defining pitching roles should help that cause. The same for No. 84 Shane McClanahan, who also reached the Majors in last year’s playoff run. Expect a 2021 arrival date for noted speedster Vidal Brujan, but he has to find a defensive home -- likely up the middle at short, second or even center.

Toronto Blue Jays: Nate Pearson wouldn’t be a prospect if not for a flexor strain that limited his Major League workload in 2020. The No. 10 overall prospect should have that behind him and is back in Dunedin, showing why his triple-digit heat and plus slider make him worthy of a return to the Major League rotation. First-rounder Austin Martin is the top position-player prospect in camp at No. 22, and he faces defensive questions after playing multiple spots at Vanderbilt and focusing at short at the Jays’ alternate site. No. 46 Jordan Groshans is poised to make a lot of noise himself, despite not having played a game of pro ball since May 2019 at Class A due to a foot injury. The shortstop told last week’s Minor League Baseball podcast that he has retooled his swing to the point at which he’s confident he can do damage in Grapefruit League play. In fact, he believes making the Major League club out of camp is a worthy goal, even for someone with his limited Minor League experience. Only one way to find out. Oh yeah, Alejandro Kirk should continue to be a fan favorite behind the plate with his plus hit tool and size at a listed 5-foot-8, 265 pounds. The Jays say he has a chance to win a spot behind Danny Jansen, and strike-zone discipline (like what Kirk showed in the Majors last year) along with a few productive Dunedin hits would go long way toward cementing that spot for the 22-year-old.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.