Teams began to open Spring Training camps on Wednesday, the first on-field step toward the launching of the 2021 season. While the initial focus will be on new faces in new places — Nolan Arenado with the Cardinals, Francisco Lindor with the Mets, Yu Darvish and Blake Snell with the Padres — there also are plenty of intriguing storylines with non-roster invitees.
Below, we spotlight an interesting prospect in big league camp with each club. Several of them could make an impact on the coming season.
Blue Jays: Jordan Groshans, SS (MLB No. 46)
There are so many Minor Leaguers to look forward to seeing play in a competitive environment again after the lost 2020 season, but that is especially true of Groshans. The No. 46 overall prospect last played in a Minor League game on May 13, 2019 before a foot injury ended what was meant to be his first full season. Though he was a full participant at last year’s alternate training site, Grapefruit League at-bats will give the public a better idea of the progress on his above-average offensive tools.
Orioles: Adley Rutschman, C (MLB No. 2)
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 Draft more than held his own during his pro debut after signing, but we haven’t actually seen him since then because of the shutdown. All of the reports were that he was as good, if not better, than advertised during his time at the Orioles’ alternate training site last summer. Now we will get the chance to see just how close to big league ready he is.
Rays: Wander Franco, SS (MLB No. 1)
Sometimes, obvious things are obvious. The game’s top overall prospect might be the most closely watched non-roster invite in Florida or Arizona. Even after a lost year, the 19-year-old switch-hitter projects to have one of the best hit tools in the sport as he matures, and he could be on track for a 2021 debut. A hot spring in which he sprays the ball around Grapefruit League parks would help push that timeline.
Red Sox: Jeter Downs, SS/2B (MLB No. 49)
Part of the Mookie Betts trade with the Dodgers a year ago, Downs looks like Boston’s second baseman of the (not-too-distant) future. A potential 20-20 guy with a good eye at the plate, he can start laying the groundwork this spring for pushing free-agent acquisition Enrique Hernández to his accustomed utility role.
Yankees: Luis Medina, RHP
Signed for $280,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, Medina has crazy stuff: a fastball that reaches 102 mph with natural cut and flashes of a well-above-average curveball and changeup — when he can harness them. He made progress throwing strikes at two Class A levels at the end of the 2019 season and performed well in Puerto Rico this winter, signs that he may be about to take off.
Indians: Bo Naylor, C
Bo and Josh Naylor, the first Canadian brothers to both become first-round picks, were reunited when the Indians acquired Josh from the Padres in the Mike Clevinger trade last summer. Bo was one of the best pure hitters in the 2018 high school class and has taken to full-time catching better than anticipated, so he has the brighter future.
Royals: Daniel Lynch, LHP (MLB No. 29)
Kansas City got aggressive by pushing Brady Singer and Kris Bubic to the Majors and riding them both in the rotation for much of 2020. Lynch, a teammate of both at Class A Advanced Wilmington in 2019, could very well be next in line. Ranked at No. 29 overall, the southpaw can touch the high-90s with his heater and showcases a plus slider and above-average changeup. Bringing such a well-rounded arsenal to Arizona would help the 24-year-old’s case for a first-half debut.
Tigers: Spencer Torkelson, 3B/1B (MLB No. 3)
Come for the light-tower power. Stay for the defensive questions. The Tigers didn’t shock anyone by taking Torkelson first overall last June, but they did provide some intrigue by announcing him as a third baseman after he played the opposite corner at Arizona State. The No. 3 overall prospect will continue that work with the glove in Lakeland, but his plus-plus power and 60-grade overall hit tool are more likely to provide highlights and grab headlines.
Twins: Royce Lewis, SS (MLB No. 17)
After Lewis had an up-and-down 2019 season that ultimately saw him reach Double-A for the first time, he added an MVP performance in the Arizona Fall League. He spent 2020 at the Twins’ alternate training site, but was not one of the prospects who was brought to the big leagues. The 2021 season could be a big one for the former No. 1 overall pick in terms of beginning to show why he was worthy of being the first selection in the 2017 Draft.
White Sox: Andrew Vaughn, 1B (MLB No. 14)
An already potent White Sox lineup will become even more formidable when Vaughn arrives, which could be as early as Opening Day. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 Draft, he has no flaws at the plate and projects as a .300 hitter with 30 homers and 80 walks in his prime.
Angels: Reid Detmers, LHP (MLB No. 74)
This Louisville standout was the No. 10 overall pick in the 2020 Draft largely because of his advanced feel for pitching and the belief that he could move quickly to the big leagues. His pitchability stood out at the Angels’ alternate site last summer to the point where some believed he might get called up to Los Angeles before the season was over, though the Angels say that was never a consideration. Even so, his first big league camp will be his first step in showing how quickly he can move up the ladder.
Astros: Pedro Leon, OF
Leon will see his first on-field action with the Astros since signing in January for $4 million, the largest bonus in this year’s international class. A Cuban defector, he’s a center fielder with 30-30 upside and top-of-the-scale arm strength, and he could move quickly if he can adapt to advanced pitching.
A’s: Tyler Soderstrom, C
Soderstrom possessed one of the most advanced bats among high school players in the 2020 Draft class, so the A’s were thrilled when he slipped to the end of the first round. The son of former big leaguer Steve Soderstrom, this young catcher held his own against much older competition at the A’s alternate site last summer. He has work to do behind the plate, but as he showed at the alternate training site, he’s not afraid to work on that part of his game.
Mariners: Julio Rodriguez, OF (MLB No. 5)
There are many intriguing options to choose from in this big league camp, including Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert, who likely have a better chance of hitting Seattle before Rodriguez. But a lot of eyes will be on Rodriguez to see if he’ll be ready to force Seattle’s hand sooner rather than later, especially since he’s coming back from the wrist injury that shut him down last summer.
Rangers: Fernery Ozuna, RHP
Though Ozuna’s experience of pitching in game action consists of 12 innings in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 2018, he could make the Texas bullpen at some point this year. Originally signed by the D-backs as an infielder out of the Dominican in 2012, he was released in March 2018 and moved to the mound when the Rangers picked him up two months later. He blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery, but since his return he has displayed a 96-100 mph fastball and upper-80s slider.
Braves: Drew Waters, OF (MLB No. 35)
While it might not seem fair that the Braves have yet another elite level young outfielder on the way, Waters is just about knocking on the door to join Ronald Acuña Jr. and Cristian Pache in one of the most exciting young outfields in baseball. Keep an eye on Waters’ approach and discipline at the plate, the one thing concerning some about his big league readiness.
Marlins: Max Meyer, RHP (MLB No. 28)
The first pitcher drafted in 2020, Meyer went third overall and matched Hall of Famer Paul Molitor (1977) as the highest pick in University of Minnesota history. Armed with the best pitch in last year’s Draft (a wipeout slider) as well as a mid-90s fastball and a sneaky-good changeup, he could surface in Miami at some point this year.
Mets: Matthew Allan, RHP (MLB No. 75)
For all of its promising position-player talent, the Mets’ system is actually fairly low on pitching, and that will put even more eyes on the 2019 third-rounder. Allan spent time at the alternate training site in Brooklyn and instructs in Florida, so he won’t arrive in Port St. Lucie completely cold. Allan’s fastball and curve both have plus potential, and he and the Mets seemed even more pleased with the development of his changeup in 2020. How often he goes to that third option will be followed closely in Florida.
Phillies: Johan Rojas, OF
Just 20, Rojas made his United States debut in 2019 and was one of the best performers at instructs last fall. He’s got tremendous raw power and can flat out play center field, with this spring his first opportunity to show the big league staff what he can do.
Nationals: Cade Cavalli, RHP (MLB No. 99)
The 2020 first-rounder arrives to his first Spring Training camp as his organization’s only Top-100 prospect, meaning his appearances will have an even sharper focus. The 22-year-old right-hander could have jumped even higher in the Draft with a fuller spring last year as he got further away from back and arm injuries. His fastball and slider are both good enough to see him moving quickly, and some appearances in southeast Florida would certainly add some fuel to his prospect rocket.
Brewers: Aaron Ashby, LHP
In so far as any prospect could break out in 2020, Ashby seemed to fit the bill as he showed improved mid-90s velocity, two solid breaking pitches and a decent changeup at the alternate training site and instructs. Now, the 22-year-old southpaw will be able to show off that arsenal in a more open environment in Arizona. Control will remain a focus, and how he finds the zone this spring could determine just how close to Milwaukee he opens the 2021 campaign.
Cardinals: Nolan Gorman, 3B (MLB No. 38)
All eyes will be on a different Nolan at third base in Cardinals camp, but there will be more than a few that will want to check in on the game’s No. 38 overall prospect. Gorman told MiLB.com he was prepared to come to camp with several different gloves (including ones for second and the outfield) in hopes of finding a spot in the lineup next to Nolan Arenado. Regardless of the defense, his raw power is always worthy of following. Gorman has homered in each of the past two Grapefruit Leagues.
Cubs: Brendon Little, LHP
Little has struggled to maintain the quality of his stuff and throw strikes since the Cubs took him in the first round out of the State JC of Florida (Manatee-Sarasota) in 2017. But that wasn’t an issue in instructional league, where his fastball reached 99 mph and his slider hit 87, so Chicago hopes that he has turned a corner.
Pirates: Mason Martin, 1B
While there will definitely be higher ranked prospects in Pirates camp, seeing how Martin’s power bat plays against big league competition could be a lot of fun. Especially with the trade of Josh Bell to Washington, Martin looks like the future at first base, with the spring providing a chance for the big league staff to see how close he is.
Reds: Hunter Greene, RHP (MLB No. 71)
The Reds have invited a number of top prospects to their early camp in Arizona, and there’s no question that Greene will attract a lot of attention as always. The former No. 2 overall pick will bring his triple-digit fastball to camp, along with a new cutter he started to develop last summer during his time at the Reds’ alternate training site, all while making his way back from Tommy John surgery.
D-backs: Seth Beer, 1B/OF
The bigger and younger names of the D-backs farm system were left off the non-roster-invite list, so Beer it is. His hitting ability, particularly his power, has always been his calling card dating back to his early days at Clemson, and that has not changed even in a lost year. Questions remain about where he’ll play. The D-backs listed him as an infielder on the roster, but a few looks in the outfield are likely as well. Without a DH in the National League right now, it will be on Beer to prove his glove won’t be a detriment in the Cactus League.
Dodgers: Ryan Pepiot, RHP
Pepiot was the talk of the Dodgers’ alternate training site last summer, when he overmatched big league hitters while demonstrating improved stuff and control. The highest pick in Butler history (third round, 2019), he has a devastating changeup, worked at 93-96 mph with increased vertical movement on his fastball at alt camp and also made strides with his slider.
Giants: Marco Luciano, SS (MLB No. 16)
The top-rated middle infielder in the 2018 international class, Luciano has been on the fast track to superstardom since singing for $2.6 million out of the Dominican Republic. His bat speed and raw power have to be seen to be believed, and he also has advanced hitting ability and a high baseball IQ.
Padres: MacKenzie Gore, LHP (MLB No. 6)
San Diego acquired Blake Snell, Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove this offseason to bolster its rotation alongside Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack. Where does that leave Gore? This spring could provide some answers. The No. 6 overall prospect was passed over for a Major League look last season while he focused on mechanics at the alternate training site. If the 21-year-old southpaw looks more consistent in Arizona, he could push to the front of the line to help the NL West contenders.
Rockies: Ryan Vilade
Over the last year and a half, Vilade has made tremendous progress in his overall offensive game, going from someone with an advanced feel for hitting to someone who looks like he may have plus power when all is said and done. He’s also settled into playing left field, his most likely long-term home, with a bat that should be able to help out in Colorado sooner rather than later.