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Blue Jays land Grichuk from Cards for 2 arms

Right-hander Leone, pitching prospect Greene headed to St. Louis for outfielder
MLB.com @_dadler

The Blue Jays and the Cardinals swung a trade on Friday afternoon, with St. Louis sending outfielder Randal Grichuk to Toronto in exchange for right-hander Dominic Leone and righty pitching prospect Conner Greene.

The deal fills needs for both teams. Grichuk provides an immediate boost to the Blue Jays' outfield, which had a vacancy in right field with longtime franchise cornerstone Jose Bautista now a free agent. The 26-year-old has plenty of pop -- Grichuk hit 22 home runs in 122 games for the Cardinals last season. But he had a rocky season overall at the plate, including a stint in the Minors in June to work on his offense, and he finished the year with a .238/.285/.473 slash line.

The Blue Jays and the Cardinals swung a trade on Friday afternoon, with St. Louis sending outfielder Randal Grichuk to Toronto in exchange for right-hander Dominic Leone and righty pitching prospect Conner Greene.

The deal fills needs for both teams. Grichuk provides an immediate boost to the Blue Jays' outfield, which had a vacancy in right field with longtime franchise cornerstone Jose Bautista now a free agent. The 26-year-old has plenty of pop -- Grichuk hit 22 home runs in 122 games for the Cardinals last season. But he had a rocky season overall at the plate, including a stint in the Minors in June to work on his offense, and he finished the year with a .238/.285/.473 slash line.

The Cards, meanwhile, add another productive reliever to a bullpen that lost now-free-agent Trevor Rosenthal to Tommy John surgery and saw its 2016 closer, Seung Hwan Oh (also now a free agent), struggle last year. The 26-year-old Leone had a 2.56 ERA in 65 relief appearances for Toronto last year, his first with the team, and he notched 81 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings. He should slot in nicely in front of new closer Luke Gregerson, whom St. Louis signed in December.

The Cardinals also picked up the Blue Jays' No. 11 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, in Greene. A 22-year-old righty starter who can hit triple digits with his fastball, Greene spent the 2017 season with Toronto's Double-A affiliate. In 26 games, 25 of them starts, he went 5-10 with a 5.29 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 132 2/3 innings.

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Now set to hold a regular role on a team with a hitter-friendly home park, Grichuk has the power (lifetime 39.7 percent hard-hit rate, .239 ISO) to tally 30 long balls and 75 RBIs in spite of his poor plate discipline (career 0.2 BB/K ratio). While the 26-year-old gains late-round status in mixed leagues, the deal will have the opposite effect for youngster Teoscar Hernandez. Likely to open 2018 in Triple-A, Hernandez can go undrafted in all mixed formats. Meanwhile, Jose Martinez (career .903 OPS) becomes a sleeper in deep mixed leagues on the expectation that he will serve as a fourth outfielder and backup first baseman for the Cardinals.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

 

St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Randal Grichuk

Best Machado fit might be Cleveland

Tribe has depth in rotation to send Baltimore a much-needed starter
MLB.com @jonmorosi

The Manny Machado trade market has been relatively quiet in recent days, but a number of intriguing destinations remain -- including Cleveland, where his brother-in-law, Yonder Alonso, signed a two-year contract in December.

The Indians and Orioles were in contact last month regarding a possible Machado trade, although sources said Friday that the sides aren't actively discussing him now.

The Manny Machado trade market has been relatively quiet in recent days, but a number of intriguing destinations remain -- including Cleveland, where his brother-in-law, Yonder Alonso, signed a two-year contract in December.

The Indians and Orioles were in contact last month regarding a possible Machado trade, although sources said Friday that the sides aren't actively discussing him now.

The Orioles signaled early in the offseason that they are willing to entertain trade offers for Machado. The D-backs have shown the "most persistent" interest in trading for the three-time All-Star, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal.

• Hot Stove Tracker

On the surface, the Indians and Orioles match up well on a Machado trade. Baltimore has only two proven Major League starting pitchers on its roster -- Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman -- and Cleveland has a surplus of starters.

Video: NYY@CLE: Salazar K's 12 over seven frames vs. Yankees

Many in the industry believe the Indians are open to trading right-hander Danny Salazar, a talented yet inconsistent starter who has averaged roughly 120 innings pitched over the past two seasons. A trade of Salazar would signal that the Indians are confident in Mike Clevinger as a full-time starter in 2018; Clevinger compiled a 3.11 ERA in 121 2/3 innings for the Indians during the '17 regular season, mostly as a starter, but pitched out of the bullpen during the Indians' American League Division Series loss to the Yankees.

If Machado were traded to the Indians, he'd likely become Cleveland's everyday third baseman, with Jose Ramirez at second base. That would leave Jason Kipnis without an everyday position on the infield, unless he was included in the trade to Baltimore or dealt elsewhere.

The Mets nearly acquired Kipnis in a trade earlier this offseason before the deal fell apart, "very likely" for financial reasons, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

Machado and the Orioles avoided salary arbitration last week by agreeing to a one-year, $16 million contract. Machado is on track to become a free agent after the 2018 season; based on recent trades involving J.D. Martinez and Andrew McCutchen, teams are reluctant to pay a high acquisition cost for one year (or less) of control on even the most accomplished position players.

Thus far, the Orioles have not made major moves in advance of what's likely to be a pivotal year for the franchise. Machado, center fielder Adam Jones, manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette all are unsigned beyond 2018. If the Orioles trade Machado now, they could find his long-term replacement in a slow-moving free-agent market that still includes third basemen Mike Moustakas and Todd Frazier.

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network.

 

Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, Manny Machado

Giants introduce Longoria to Bay Area

Three-time All-Star eager for fresh start, opportunity to win
MLB.com @_dadler

Evan Longoria has been preparing to play for his first new team in a decade-long career, and he's ready to go.

The Giants third baseman, acquired from the Rays in late December, was officially introduced to the San Francisco media at a news conference on Friday. Last week, Longoria joined MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM to discuss joining San Francisco after spending his first 10 Major League seasons with Tampa Bay.

Evan Longoria has been preparing to play for his first new team in a decade-long career, and he's ready to go.

The Giants third baseman, acquired from the Rays in late December, was officially introduced to the San Francisco media at a news conference on Friday. Last week, Longoria joined MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM to discuss joining San Francisco after spending his first 10 Major League seasons with Tampa Bay.

"It shook everything up, definitely," Longoria said. "It's gonna take some time to settle in. There's gonna be a lot of things that I'm gonna experience this year -- having to find a place in a new city, having to get the fans on my side again, go out and perform in a new environment. All those things are legitimately scary. It's like going to a new school when you're a kid."

Video: Longoria excited to join Giants' winning tradition

Longoria is in Arizona, where the Giants play their Spring Training games and where he already has a home. He made the drive to the Giants' Spring Training facility in Scottsdale for the first time on Monday, where he met some of his new teammates who have also started their workouts.

• Power behind Posey could perk up SF in 2018

"It hasn't really set in all that much," Longoria said. "It definitely feels foreign, putting on the different colors and trying to find a locker. It's a different experience."

Tweet from @SFGiants: Behind the scenes.#HelloLongo | #SFGiants pic.twitter.com/BIyNPRTyD1

"The conversations I've had with Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean, and the front office staff, we couldn't be more excited to add Evan to our core," GM Bobby Evans said. "The caliber of third base that he plays, the presence he has in the lineup. As I've talked to some of our players about -- Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford and others -- just the fact that you'll see that name in the lineup every day, and for Bruce Bochy, knowing that this is a guy that's gonna go out there every day, it's a thrill for us."

The 32-year-old was the face of the Rays, a three-time All-Star and the American League Rookie of the Year in 2008. That year, he helped lead Tampa Bay to its first World Series appearance, and he led the Rays to three more postseason appearances in 2010, '11 and '13. Longoria is the Rays' all-time leader in home runs (261), RBIs (892) and runs scored (780).

Video: Longoria expecting Giants to have success

"I thought I would be [with the Rays my whole career]," Longoria said on Monday, "but I also want to win, and I think that Tampa, they kind of made it clear that they wanted to go in a different direction. I'm very grateful to them for the way that they handled it, the way that the front office handled it, and for them to kind of just give me an opportunity to go out and win somewhere else."

Now he'll be the newest face in a clubhouse that's used to doing just that -- the Giants have won three World Series since 2010 -- and will also be trying to rebound from a disappointing 2017 season. San Francisco finished in last place in the National League West at 64-98 while three of its division foes -- the Dodgers, D-backs and Rockies -- made the playoffs.

"We're excited about our future," Giants CEO Larry Baer said. "We're excited about the core that we have. Evan provides another tremendous leadership presence in our clubhouse, and we're excited about the opportunity for Evan to take us back where we want to go."

Video: Longoria on becoming a Giant after trade from Rays

The Giants went out and got Longoria with postseason contention in mind for 2018. So after he was traded, Longoria reached out to Posey and Madison Bumgarner, the Giants' two franchise cornerstones who led them to those three championships.

"I just shot them a text to say, 'Obviously I'm here to win and I'm here to follow you guys' lead,'" Longoria said. "They obviously have been the two mainstays and the faces of the team for quite some time. So I definitely wanted to make it a point to reach out to them and let them know that I'm here to be on their program and I'm excited to be here."

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

 

San Francisco Giants, Evan Longoria

MLB Buzz: Red Sox's J.D. offer up to $125M

MLB.com

The Hot Stove is open for business. As the top free agents begin to ink new deals and clubs begin to make the moves they think will vault them into contention or put them over the top, MLB.com will have you covered with all the latest buzz right here.

Hot Stove Tracker

The Hot Stove is open for business. As the top free agents begin to ink new deals and clubs begin to make the moves they think will vault them into contention or put them over the top, MLB.com will have you covered with all the latest buzz right here.

Hot Stove Tracker

Red Sox's offer to Martinez reportedly $125 million
The Red Sox's much-discussed interest in free-agent slugger J.D. Martinez reached a new level on Friday with a report from the Boston Herald that the club has made Martinez an offer of five years and approximately $125 million. The club hasn't confirmed the report.

It had been reported recently that the Red Sox had extended an offer to Martinez of five years and about $100 million.

Martinez's agent, Scott Boras, told MLB Network insider Jon Heyman that the reports of the first offer, which was said to be less than what Martinez was seeking, were "not accurate." Heyman reported last week that Martinez is looking for a six-year deal valued at $30 million per year. Boston has been seen as the favorite to land Martinez.

Heyman reported last week that Martinez is willing to hold out until Spring Training for a contract that he believes meets his market value, which indicates other clubs are also involved in negotiations. Martinez was a catalyst for the D-backs last year in helping them reach the postseason for the first time since 2011, and Arizona is reportedly still interested in bringing him back, per Heyman.

Martinez hit 29 homers with 65 RBIs in just 62 games for the D-backs after being acquired on July 18, trailing only National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton in each category during that span. Martinez hit 45 homers during the 2017 season, despite playing in just 119 games. He became the first player in MLB history with that many home runs in so few games.

If the Red Sox do indeed sign Martinez, that would create a dilemma in the outfield. Martinez would reportedly prefer to play outfield, but Boston already has Gold Glove Award winner Mookie Betts, along with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi. That means Martinez would likely be the club's designated hitter, which in turn may give Arizona an edge, in addition to the fact that the club recently hired Martinez's personal hitting coach.

Yankees, Rangers, Marlins favorites for Cuban prospect Martinez
Twenty-one-year-old Cuban outfield prospect Julio Pablo Martinez is still waiting to be cleared by Major League Baseball to sign, but three teams have emerged as favorites to sign him if and when he becomes eligible.

The Marlins, Rangers and Yankees have separated themselves as favorites to sign Martinez, who is among the top young players from Cuba, sources tell MLB.com and as was first reported by Baseball America. Because of his age, Martinez will be subject to international bonus pool rules.

Martinez's talent is on par with a first-round Draft pick and that he would likely be ready for a Class A Advanced or Double-A assignment. At 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, the left-handed hitter has a promising combination of speed, power and athleticism that should allow him to stick in center field.

Martinez slashed .333/.469/.498 with six home runs and 24 stolen bases last season in the Cuban Serie Nacional while walking 52 times compared to 30 strikeouts. He also competed in the Canadian-American Association in 2017 and posted a .297/.345/.449 line with seven home runs and 20 stolen bases.

Martinez is likely to be cleared by Major League Baseball before the current signing period ends on June 15, but depending on which team he chooses, he could opt to sign in either the 2017-18 or 2018-19 period.

Because the Marlins and Yankees -- both of whom have held private workouts for him this week in Florida -- have limited bonus pool space left, Martinez would likely wait until July 2 to sign with either team. The Rangers, however, have significant international money left after failing to sign Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani and would likely choose to sign him in the current period.

Reynolds wants to return to Rockies on Major League deal
Free-agent first baseman Mark Reynolds would like to return to the Rockies, but not on a Minor League deal like he signed prior to the 2017 season, according to the Denver Post.

The 34-year-old Reynolds slashed .267/.352/.487 with 30 home runs in 148 games for Colorado in 2017, providing a lift when Ian Desmond, whom the club signed to a five-year, $70 million contract to play first base, was injured to open the season.

Despite slumping in the second half (.762 OPS with 11 homers), Reynolds produced a 105 OPS+ overall, his best since 2012. He did have stark home-road splits, however, slashing .294/.393/.584 at Coors Field, and .242/.311/.392 away from Denver.

When the Rockies signed Reynolds to a Minor League deal last February, he was coming off an injury-shortened season in which he posted an .806 OPS with 14 homers in 118 games for Colorado.

"I think I proved last year that I can produce and help a team," Reynolds told the Post. "I am looking to sign a Major League deal. ... Things are different this year."

The Rockies could use a first baseman, with Ryan McMahon waiting in the wings. Signing Reynolds could open the possibility of a platoon between him and McMahon, especially given that the 148 games Reynolds played in last season were his most since 2011.

Video: LAD@COL: Reynolds reaches 30 homers with two-run shot

Marlins want Acuna in a Yelich deal with Braves
Christian Yelich's name has been in the trade rumor mill for much of the offseason, and the buzz has picked up again after the center fielder's agent said Tuesday that Yelich hopes to be traded before Spring Training starts. According to MLB Network insider Peter Gammons, any deal would have to bring a "huge return" for Miami.

Citing conversations with teams that have called the Marlins about Yelich, Gammons said Wednesday on MLB Tonight that the Marlins won't move the 26-year-old unless they get back "star-level talent." As one example, Gammons said Miami has told the Braves that uber-prospect Ronald Acuna would have to be included in any trade for Yelich.

"The Marlins told the Braves, 'Look, we'll do a three- or four- or five-for-one, but Ronald Acuna has to be in it or we don't go even to the second player,'" Gammons said on MLB Network.

Acuna is one of baseball's very top prospects. He currently ranks as MLB's No. 6 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and could move up even further on that list in the upcoming 2018 rankings. The 20-year-old outfielder seems likely to be promoted to the big league club early next season.

Gammons said Acuna is a player the Braves won't trade, and the fact that the Marlins would tell the Braves that he would have to be the minimum headliner of any Yelich deal indicates that they're "shooting very high."

Following Miami's trades of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon to the Yankees, Cardinals and Mariners, respectively, Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto have been floated as the next players the team could potentially move as part of its rebuilding effort.

Gammons also mentioned Realmuto in the segment, saying that other teams' general managers think the Marlins might wait to trade Realmuto closer to the 2018 Trade Deadline.

Video: Gammons on Marlins asking for Acuna in Yelich deal

Castellanos on the trade block?
While the Tigers were ultimately able to avoid an arbitration hearing with Nicholas Castellanos, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports that Detroit remains open to trading the rising slugger, citing multiple clubs that have engaged in discussions with the Tigers this offseason.

Video: Castrovince, Justice on Tigers, Castellanos' options

Castellanos, 25, agreed to a one-year, $6.05 million contract with the Tigers on Friday. Detroit's first-round Draft choice from 2010 is about to embark on his first full season in right field, but Fenech reports that the Tigers' uncertainty about his defensive ability could still lead to a trade before Opening Day. Castellanos has primarily manned third base during his first four full seasons in the Motor City, but he has rated below average in terms of Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in each of those campaigns. He played 21 games in right last season.

Castellanos' prowess at the plate is much less in doubt. He broke out for a career-high 26 home runs and 101 RBIs for the Tigers in 2017 while recording a league-adjusted 110 OPS+ (where 100 is average) and pacing the American League with 10 triples. He was even more productive in some respects in '16, finishing with a 120 OPS+ over 110 games. While Castellanos will be eligible for arbitration again next winter, he will not test the free-agent market until 2020. That means Castellanos, for the moment, represents a controllable, relatively cheap hitter coming into his own -- regardless of his defensive ability.

Tigers general manager Al Avila revealed at the Winter Meetings that the team approached Castellanos about a contract extension toward the end of last season, but that no progress has been made.

If Pirates aren't contending, J-Hay wants to be dealt
A day after Andrew McCutchen was traded to San Francisco, Josh Harrison effectively asked to be traded "if indeed the team does not expect to contend this year or next" in a statement released Tuesday to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal. Harrison, 30, is under contract for $10.25 million this year, with club options for 2019 ($10.5 million) and '20 ($11.5 million). More >

Giants still looking for OF upgrades
Fresh off acquiring Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates on Monday, the Giants are trying to add even more talent to their outfield, with the former National League Most Valuable Player being told that he'll play a corner spot with the team this season, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.

San Francisco's main desire is to upgrade defensively in center field, and sources tell ESPN's Jerry Crasnick that the Giants rank Jarrod Dyson as their most coveted option behind Lorenzo Cain. The club is also interested in Jon Jay and Cameron Maybin, according to Crasnick, but values Dyson's "speed, defensive metrics and stolen-base ability."

The Giants, after bringing in McCutchen via a trade with the Pirates, do not have the space under the luxury-tax threshold to sign Cain at his projected salary, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi. Morosi reported that the club is looking to add a "defense-first player" in center field "who will be less expensive than Cain."

Dyson, Jay and Maybin will certainly all be less expensive than the former Royals center fielder, and Dyson led that group with seven Outs Above Average last season, according to Statcast™. Maybin was at plus-2 two while Jay was minus-3.

Dyson, 33, has stolen at least 25 bases in each of the past six seasons and would be a big boost to a Giants club that ranked 20th in the Majors with 76 steals last year. Jay has 51 steals in eight Major League seasons, but his .738 career on-base-plus-slugging percentage bests Dyson's .677 total.

Maybin owns a career .693 OPS and stole 33 bases during his time split between the Astros and Angels last season.

Brewers remain interested in Arrieta, Moustakas
The Brewers "continue to be in" on free-agent right-hander Jake Arrieta and third baseman Mike Moustakas, according to Jim Bowden of SiriusXM.

The Brewers have been known to be seeking starting pitching in free agency, and Arrieta would certainly be a boost to Milwaukee's rotation, especially with Jimmy Nelson's 2018 status unclear. Nelson, who underwent surgery on his right shoulder in September, went 12-6 with a team-best 3.49 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 175 1/3 innings last season.

It was reported earlier in January that the Cubs and Cardinals were the two clubs most interested in Arrieta's services, but the Brewers' desire to sign the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner could create a potential bidding war between the NL Central rivals.

Arrieta, 31, went 64-29 with a 2.67 ERA in 119 starts for the Cubs over the past four seasons.

According to Bowden, the Brewers' interest in Moustakas comes with the idea that the club "could trade Travis Shaw" to the Yankees, Braves or Mets.

Milwaukee does not necessarily have a need at third base with the incumbent Shaw being younger and cheaper than Moustakas. The 27-year-old Shaw, under team control through 2022, also excelled for the Brewers last season, batting .273/.349/.513 with 31 home runs and 101 RBIs in 144 games.

 

McKay, McMahon pace Top 10 1B Prospects list

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

It's time to move around the infield with MLB Pipeline's Top 10 by position lists, starting with first basemen. It's a position that has a certain profile associated with it, involving power and run production. Some on this list look the part already, others are more hit-over-power right now, with perhaps the need to show more extra-base ability to match that description.

It's quite a different list than a year ago, thanks largely to the 2017 Draft. Four of the top five on this year's list were taken in the first round, starting with the top spot. The Rays took Brendan McKay with the No. 4 overall pick in the Draft and while he's going to both hit and pitch in 2018, many see a permanent move to the infield in the future. Pavin Smith was also a top 10 pick, going No. 7 to the D-backs while Nick Pratto (Royals, No. 14) and Evan White (Mariners, No. 17) went in the teens. Pratto is the lone high schooler from that quartet.

It's time to move around the infield with MLB Pipeline's Top 10 by position lists, starting with first basemen. It's a position that has a certain profile associated with it, involving power and run production. Some on this list look the part already, others are more hit-over-power right now, with perhaps the need to show more extra-base ability to match that description.

It's quite a different list than a year ago, thanks largely to the 2017 Draft. Four of the top five on this year's list were taken in the first round, starting with the top spot. The Rays took Brendan McKay with the No. 4 overall pick in the Draft and while he's going to both hit and pitch in 2018, many see a permanent move to the infield in the future. Pavin Smith was also a top 10 pick, going No. 7 to the D-backs while Nick Pratto (Royals, No. 14) and Evan White (Mariners, No. 17) went in the teens. Pratto is the lone high schooler from that quartet.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

The Top 10
1. Brendan McKay, Rays More »
2. Ryan McMahon, Rockies More »
3. Pavin Smith, D-backs More »
4. Nick Pratto, Royals More »
5. Evan White, Mariners More »
6. Bobby Bradley, Indians More »
7. Peter Alonso, Mets More »
8. Ronald Guzman, Rangers More »
9. Lewin Diaz, Twins More »
10. Matt Thaiss, Angels More »

Top tools

Hit: 60 -- McKay, Smith
Both were called the best advanced college hitters in the 2017 Draft class by different scouts. Smith gets the slight pure hit tool edge mostly because of his plate discipline after walking more than he struck out in three years at Virginia and continuing that pattern during his pro debut (27 walks, 24 K's last summer).

Video: Top Prospects: Brendan McKay, 1B, Rays

Power: 60 -- Bradley
The Indians prospect has as much, if not more, raw power than anyone on this list and he's tapped into it consistently as he's moved up the ladder, as evidenced by his .499 career slugging percentage and an average of more than 26 homers per year in each of his first three full seasons of pro ball.

Video: Top Prospects: Bobby Bradley, 1B, Indians

Run: 60 -- White
You don't see many above-average or plus run grades from this position, but White isn't your typical first baseman. He's athletic enough to play the outfield well, which did he for the U.S. National Collegiate Team.

Arm: 60 -- McKay
The guy's on the Top 10 LHP Prospect list after all, so this is a no-brainer. He throws 92-95 mph off the mound and the arm works well in the infield.

Field: 70 -- White
Here's the reason why the Mariners will let White develop at first rather than in the outfield. He has the defensive chops to be a Gold Glove-caliber player at the infield corner position in the future.

Video: Top Prospects: Evan White, 1B, Mariners

Highest ceiling: McKay
McKay is tied for the highest hit tool and has a 50 power grade, with a very, very good chance of reaching, if not surpassing, that in terms of production. And if he starts focusing only on hitting eventually? Look out.

Highest floor: Smith
With such an advanced approach at the plate, the combination of pure hitting ability, low strikeout rate and high walk rate, few doubt Smith will hit his way up to the big leagues. Just how much the power shows up will ultimately determine his ceiling.

Video: Top Prospects: Pavin Smith, 1B, D-backs

Rookie of the Year candidate: McMahon
None of the others on this list are likely to see time in the big leagues to compete for top rookie honors. McMahon is ready to hit in Coors Field full-time, even if he has to move around the infield a bit to get at-bats for the time being.

Video: Top Prospecst: Ryan McMahon, 1B, Rockies

Highest riser: Alonso
Alonso entered his first full season of pro ball nowhere near the Top 10 first basemen list, even though he had hit very well during his summer debut following his second-round selection by the Mets out of the University of Florida. But then he showed that wasn't an aberration and hit his way to Double-A, with very solid hit and power tools showing up.

Video: Top Prospects: Peter Alonso, 1B, Mets

Humblest beginnings: Bradley
Five of the 10 on this list are former first-round picks, but the Indians got Bradley in the third round of the 2014 Draft. He did get an above pick value bonus to sign, but he's moved gradually, one station at a time, through Cleveland's system to be knocking on the door now.

Most to prove: Thaiss
The 2016 first-round pick out of Virginia did make it to Double-A in his first full season, fulfilling the scouting report as an advanced college bat with 77 walks and a .375 OBP. But Thaiss will eventually have to prove that he has extra-base pop (he slugged .395) to fit the everyday first-base profile in the big leagues.

Video: Top Prospects: Matt Thaiss, 1B, Angels

Keep an eye on: Gavin Sheets, White Sox
Chicago nabbed Sheets in the second round of last June's Draft after he topped the ACC with 21 homers and 84 RBIs in his junior season at Wake Forest. Larry Sheets' kid had a solid pro debut, mostly with full-season Kannapolis, and has the offensive tools to hit for average and power.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

 

Why Chipper is a no-doubt HOF selection

A closer look at the Braves legend's incredible career
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- Chipper Jones grew up and progressed through his distinguished Major League career aspiring to be like his father's childhood idol, Mickey Mantle. During his successful journey, the Braves' legend earned the opportunity to forever be included within discussions that solely focus on Cooperstown's most revered immortal residents.

Jones has had a few years to prepare for the celebration that will take place on Wednesday, when he is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The only remaining questions about his candidacy center around where his vote total will rank in comparison with the Hall's previous near-unanimous electees. No player has been unanimously elected via the ballots cast by qualified members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

ATLANTA -- Chipper Jones grew up and progressed through his distinguished Major League career aspiring to be like his father's childhood idol, Mickey Mantle. During his successful journey, the Braves' legend earned the opportunity to forever be included within discussions that solely focus on Cooperstown's most revered immortal residents.

Jones has had a few years to prepare for the celebration that will take place on Wednesday, when he is elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The only remaining questions about his candidacy center around where his vote total will rank in comparison with the Hall's previous near-unanimous electees. No player has been unanimously elected via the ballots cast by qualified members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

As of Thursday afternoon, Jones had received a vote on 98.5 percent of the 195 ballots that had been submitted to ballot tracker Ryan Thibodaux, who provides regular balloting updates via his @NotMrTibbs Twitter account. It remains to be seen how many votes Jones receives from the approximately 150 voters (442 official ballots were submitted last year), who have chosen to not publicly reveal their ballot.

If Jones' percentage remains the same, he would become just the seventh Hall of Famer to be elected while being included on at least 98 percent of the ballots. The legends who have already gained this distinction are Ken Griffey Jr. (99.3 percent), Tom Seaver (98.8), Nolan Ryan (98.8), Cal Ripken (98.5) George Brett (98.2) and Ty Cobb (98.2).

There's a chance Jones' percentage could drop when the final results account for the ballots not made public. But it still appears he is destined to become just the 16th Hall of Famer to gain election while being included on at least 95 percent of the ballots. This list includes the players listed in the previous paragraph, along with Hank Aaron (97.8), Tony Gwynn (97.6), Randy Johnson (97.3), Greg Maddux (97.2), Mike Schmidt (96.5), Johnny Bench (96.4), Babe Ruth (95.1) and Honus Wagner (95.1).

Video: Tom Glavine on Chipper Jones as a player with Braves

However you look at it, Jones will be joining elite company as he reaps the rewards of a career that included a .303 batting average, a .401 on-base percentage, a .529 slugging percentage, 468 home runs, 1,623 RBIs and 1,619 runs scored. He earned eight All-Star selections, won the 1999 National League Most Valuable Player Award and proudly retired having struck out fewer times (1,409) than he walked (1,512).

Here's a glance at some numbers that validate why Jones has garnered so much love from this year's Hall of Fame voters.

Hanging with The Babe, Stan The Man and The Iron Horse
Jones joins Ruth, Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Mel Ott and Ted Williams as one of only six players in MLB history to record a .300 batting average, a .400 on-base percentage, a .500 slugging percentage, 450 home runs, 1,500 walks, 1,600 RBIs and 1,600 runs.

If you want to take runs, RBIs and walks out of the equation -- because they are dependent on more variables than the other outputs -- Jones stands as one of nine players to hit .300 with a .400 OBP, .500 SLG and 450 HRs. This club consists of the six players mentioned above, Ott, Jimmie Foxx and Manny Ramirez.

Video: Bowman on Chipper, Andruw Jones' HOF chances

Patience is a virtue 
Jones stands as one of 39 players to hit at least 450 home runs and just one of 12 players to do so while producing a .400 OBP. He drew the 11th-most walks among the members of the 450-homer club and recorded the 14th-fewest strikeouts.

The sample size isn't necessarily large as the longevity and era of Jones' career led him to become one of just 93 players to strike out at least 1,400 times. But it should be noted that he stands with Mantle, Schmidt, Jim Thome, Harmon Killebrew, Rickey Henderson, Barry Bonds and Darrell Evans as the only players to reach that strikeout total while still drawing at least 1,500 walks.

Bonds (.444), Mantle (.421), Thome (.402), Henderson (.401) and Jones (.401) were the only members of that more-walks-than-strikeouts group to produce a .400 on-base percentage.

Mastering both sides
Among switch-hitters who have compiled at least 5,000 plate appearances, Jones ranks third in home runs, third in batting average, fourth in on-base percentage, third in slugging percentage and third in OPS.

Jones will be the 12th switch-hitting position player elected to the Hall of Fame, but just the seventh who has played within the past 75 years. The only other switch-hitting position players who played after the end of World War II and were elected to the HOF are Mantle, Eddie Murray, Ozzie Smith, Tim Raines, Roberto Alomar and Red Schoendienst.

Jones' switch-hitting splits highlighted the consistency of his career. He hit .304/.391/.498 against left-handers and .303/.405/.541 against right-handers.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

 

Atlanta Braves

Tebow headlines Mets' spring camp NRIs

MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- Tim Tebow is about to receive his most significant exposure yet to top-level baseball competition. The Mets announced Friday that they have invited Tebow to Major League Spring Training, giving the former college and professional football star another opportunity to stride forward in his baseball career.

Tebow is among 13 non-roster invitees to Spring Training -- a list that also includes blue-chip first-base prospect Peter Alonso (ranked as the Mets' No. 7 prospect by MLB Pipeline) former Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton and Drew Smith, the reliever the Mets acquired for Lucas Duda last July.

NEW YORK -- Tim Tebow is about to receive his most significant exposure yet to top-level baseball competition. The Mets announced Friday that they have invited Tebow to Major League Spring Training, giving the former college and professional football star another opportunity to stride forward in his baseball career.

Tebow is among 13 non-roster invitees to Spring Training -- a list that also includes blue-chip first-base prospect Peter Alonso (ranked as the Mets' No. 7 prospect by MLB Pipeline) former Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton and Drew Smith, the reliever the Mets acquired for Lucas Duda last July.

But the most significant number of eyes will surely follow Tebow, as they did a year ago when the Mets -- citing a need for outfielders, though general manager Sandy Alderson later admitted that his motivations at least partially had roots in the "entertainment business" -- frequently borrowed him for Grapefruit League games. Tebow hit .148 in nine such contests, going on to bat .226 with eight home runs over two Minor League levels. Following a successful debut at Class A Columbia, Tebow ended his season with Class A Advanced St. Lucie.

"I think he's exceeded a lot of people's expectations," Alderson said during the summer.

The former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at the University of Florida drew rave reviews for his plate discipline and power, putting on batting practice shows during Spring Training. He took so many practice cuts early in the year that his hands bled, calloused over and bled again. But it wasn't all storybook stuff; Tebow also struck out in 26 percent of his professional plate appearances and was raw on defense, his overall numbers overshadowing his clear improvement over the course of the season.

"It's not the grind of football, where you're like, 'Dang, some days I don't know if I can get out of bed,'" Tebow said during a midsummer interview. "This is more of a monotonous, every day, having to lock in with that focus. It's the awareness every day to make sure you're not just trying to get by, but you're getting better."

There is no end date for Tebow's flirtation with baseball. He remains active in his role as a football analyst for the SEC Network and with his foundation, which has raised millions for disabled orphans and children battling life-threatening diseases. For now, the Mets appear willing to accommodate Tebow for as long as he is willing to play.

But his prospects as a potential Major Leaguer remain dim. Now 30 years old, Tebow is at an age when many successful big leaguers' careers begin to wane. Still, the Mets often cited Tebow as a capable mentor for teammates a decade younger than him, considering his history of success on significant stages.

"I love what I'm doing," Tebow said last year. "And when you have a chance to love what you do and you're passionate about it, it's fun. You don't wake up and go, 'Man, I've got to go face this day.' You go, 'I'm excited about this day.' And that's a good feeling."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.

 

New York Mets

MLB could implement pitch clock this season

MLB.com @_dadler

The stage could be set for Major League Baseball to implement a slate of rules changes aimed at targeting pace of play for the 2018 season.

On Thursday, MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported that the MLB Players Association rejected the league's most recent proposal of pace-of-play rules, which was a revised version of an initial proposal submitted last year, addressing the players' concerns with the original. But with the union's rejection of the revised proposal, MLB could unilaterally implement the original rules changes -- even without the MLBPA's approval -- based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was ratified last offseason.

The stage could be set for Major League Baseball to implement a slate of rules changes aimed at targeting pace of play for the 2018 season.

On Thursday, MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi reported that the MLB Players Association rejected the league's most recent proposal of pace-of-play rules, which was a revised version of an initial proposal submitted last year, addressing the players' concerns with the original. But with the union's rejection of the revised proposal, MLB could unilaterally implement the original rules changes -- even without the MLBPA's approval -- based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was ratified last offseason.

The proposals would both include a form of a pitch clock limiting the time allowed between pitches. (According to Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan, the clock would start when the pitcher has the ball on the mound and stop when he begins his windup or comes set.)

Under Major League Baseball's CBA, the league must give the players' union a year's notice before implementing new rules. According to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal, that means that if MLB decides to move forward with the pace-of-play changes without MLBPA approval, it will have to be under last year's original proposal, rather than the new version rejected by the MLBPA.

MLB and the MLBPA could also still come to an agreement on a modified version of pace-of-play rules changes, and according to Rosenthal, Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark are scheduled to meet next week to discuss the issue.

Here's how they break down:

Original pace-of-play proposal
• 20-second pitch clock in all situations
• 30-second time limit between batters
• Beginning Opening Day 2018, all violations enforced with automatic ball/strike penalty
• One warning per player per game before being penalized
• One mound visit from manager, player or coach per inning; second visit necessitates a pitching change

New proposal (Rejected by MLBPA)
• 18-second pitch clock only with no runners on base
• 35-second time limit between batters
• 20-second timer with runners on base would be implemented after any season with an average time of game of more than three hours or a game-time increase of more than five minutes
• Automatic ball/strike penalty for violations would be delayed until May 1
• Six total mound visits per team per game

There are several key differences between the two proposals.

• Under the original proposal, the pitch clock would be 20 seconds and would be enforced even with runners on base -- a situation where pitchers tend to work more slowly and methodically. The revised proposal would have a slight time change to 18 seconds, but more importantly would not apply with runners on.

• The time limit between batters is five seconds longer under the new proposal, 35 seconds as opposed to 30.

• Under the original proposal, there is no phase-in period for the penalties for pace-of-play violations. Pitchers or batters taking too long would be penalized from the first game of the season. The new proposal allowed for a month-long period before enforcement of the penalties would begin.

• The new proposal, while more in line with the players' wants, would still allow stronger rules changes to be triggered in subsequent years if there wasn't a significant enough improvement in the pace of play. If game times stayed long enough over the course of a season, or increased by a large enough degree, then the 20-second runners-on-base pitch clock would kick in.

• The rules governing mound visits would be much different. The original proposal is largely similar to MLB's current rules, but with the major difference that a visit to the pitcher from a fellow player would also count toward the limit. The new proposal takes a different direction, allowing teams six "no-charge" visits where the pitcher wouldn't have to leave the game.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

 

Juan Francisco hits dinger, launches bat into sky

Former Major Leaguer Juan Francisco is playing for Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Winter League this year. He's a dinger legend in the D.R., already tying the league record for career long balls with his 60th last month. And he can't stop hitting them. The 30-year-old leads the league with eight homers in 35 games. And on Thursday night, he hit a grand slam that went ... well ... we're not really sure where it went. Nobody is. He also unleashed a bat flip that rivals some of the best of all time.

Busy Yadi returns to PR to continue relief effort

Molina dedicating time, money to native island in wake of Hurricane Maria among numerous offseason initiatives
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Having already spent two weeks going door-to-door to deliver food and water to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico last October, Yadier Molina is headed back to his homeland on Friday to continue assisting with relief efforts.

Molina is providing assistance through his personal foundation and has raised more than $180,000 for Puerto Rican aid through a Go Fund Me page that was set up by his wife in September. Donations, Molina said, are still welcome and needed for an island that will be recovering for many more months.

ST. LOUIS -- Having already spent two weeks going door-to-door to deliver food and water to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico last October, Yadier Molina is headed back to his homeland on Friday to continue assisting with relief efforts.

Molina is providing assistance through his personal foundation and has raised more than $180,000 for Puerto Rican aid through a Go Fund Me page that was set up by his wife in September. Donations, Molina said, are still welcome and needed for an island that will be recovering for many more months.

"The power is still out in some areas, but we're doing a lot better," Molina said. "We're slowly getting back."

This trip, however, is just another in a series of initiatives through which Molina has given back to various communities this offseason.

His work started in Puerto Rico when he arrived two days after the conclusion of the Cardinals' season. He supplemented that aid with a December Home Run Derby and Celebrity Softball Game that raised more than $200,000 for hurricane victims. Over 20,000 fans came to the event, which featured several current and former Major League players.

But his efforts have spanned other areas, too. After insisting to teammate Jose Martinez that he would come visit him in Venezuela, Molina took a trip to the politically unstable country so that he could work with aspiring Major Leaguers. Over three days, he provided instruction and advice to young players who are hoping to one day catch the eye of a big league scout.

"A lot of Venezuelans, they don't want to go to Venezuela right now," Martinez said. "And for him to come, it was pretty special because it shows you that you cannot forget where you come from. It [provided] life for the people."

"I just tried to go there and help any way I could," added Molina. "I had fun with the kids and tried to teach them. It was a good experience for me. I'm glad that I did go. Those kids love baseball. They're passionate about it."

Video: Yadi delivers water and supplies to Puerto Rico

Molina also found time this offseason to try his hand at managing, as he guided the Puerto Rican U-23 National Team to a 6-3 record and third-place finish in the Pan American U-23 Baseball Championships. In doing so, the team qualified for the U-23 Baseball World Cup, which will be held in October.

Molina enlisted his brother, Jose, and long-time Cardinals coach Jose Oquendo to serve on his coaching staff. Cardinals prospects Delvin Perez and Yariel Gonzalez played on the squad.

"It was fun," Molina said of that experience. "It was hard, too, to please 22 guys. But at the same time, I learned a lot. You have to learn to do different stuff than when you were a player."

Video: Molina explains Cardinals' tradition to young players

Molina added that it was "too early to decide" whether he would like to pursue a managerial career after he's done playing. The veteran catcher plans to retire after the 2020 season. As the longest-tenured player in the organization, Molina was also recently enlisted to speak to a group of Cardinals Minor League players at the club's January instructional league camp. There, he spoke about his experience as a Cardinal, what it means to play for such a storied organization and provided tips on how to make the most of one's abilities.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

St. Louis Cardinals, Yadier Molina

Source: Miami interested in Cuban OF Martinez

MLB.com @JoeFrisaro

MIAMI -- As part of their organizational makeover, the Marlins are placing a greater emphasis and more resources into signing international players. One of their early targets is Cuban-born outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez.

According to a source, MLB.com has confirmed Miami's interest in the 21-year-old left-handed power hitter, who held a private workout for the team on Thursday at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill was in attendance at the workout, though the club has not commented on it.

MIAMI -- As part of their organizational makeover, the Marlins are placing a greater emphasis and more resources into signing international players. One of their early targets is Cuban-born outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez.

According to a source, MLB.com has confirmed Miami's interest in the 21-year-old left-handed power hitter, who held a private workout for the team on Thursday at the Roger Dean Stadium complex in Jupiter, Fla. Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill was in attendance at the workout, though the club has not commented on it.

According to Baseball America, the Marlins, Yankees and Rangers are considered the three favorites for Martinez, who is also expected to have a private workout with the Yankees at their complex in Tampa, Fla.

The Marlins are going through a transitional phase on their international side. In recent months, Fernando Seguignol was named director of international operations, replacing Albert Gonzalez, who has joined the Royals after spending 12 years with Miami.

The Marlins would be looking to sign Martinez as part of the 2018-19 international signing period, which starts on July 2. That's when they get their new international pool figure.

Due to a couple of offseason trades, the Marlins are more limited in what they can currently spend on the international market, as they've already traded away $1.25 million in pool money.

In November, Miami dealt right-hander Michael King and $250,000 of pool money to the Yankees for left-hander Caleb Smith and first baseman/outfielder Garrett Cooper. A more hefty exchange came in December. The Marlins sent Dee Gordon and $1 million of international pool money to the Mariners for three prospects -- Nick Neidert, Chris Torres and Robert Dugger.

At the time, the Yankees and Mariners were making strong pushes for Shohei Ohtani, who eventually signed with the Angels.

Of the three favorites, the Rangers are better positioned -- pool wise -- to sign Martinez during the current international signing period, which runs through June 15.

Martinez defected from Cuba in November before establishing residency in Haiti. He's already petitioned MLB to become a free agent, and that formality is expected to happen before the current signing period ends.

Martinez is regarded as a first-round caliber talent who batted .333 with six home runs and 24 stolen bases in his final season playing in Cuba.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast.

 

Miami Marlins

15 phenoms ready to make the leap

Some of the game's superstars of the future will debut this season
MLB.com @RichardJustice

At some point this season, the Washington Nationals are going to pencil center fielder Victor Robles in their lineup and leave him there. This will be an important moment for the franchise, because Robles could be one of those special players that comes once a generation or so.

(Considering the Nationals already have one of those players in Bryce Harper, it happens more than once a generation for some franchises.)

At some point this season, the Washington Nationals are going to pencil center fielder Victor Robles in their lineup and leave him there. This will be an important moment for the franchise, because Robles could be one of those special players that comes once a generation or so.

(Considering the Nationals already have one of those players in Bryce Harper, it happens more than once a generation for some franchises.)

Robles can win games with his bat, glove, legs and arm. He has speed that dazzles and a confidence that's infectious. Did we mention that Robles is just 20 years old? Or that he has played only a handful of games above Class A ball?

Doesn't seem to matter anymore, does it? Robles may eventually be the poster boy for an entire franchise or maybe even a generation of players. For now, though, he's simply part of the next wave of young talent that has reshaped Major League Baseball.

Video: Top Prospects: Victor Robles, OF, Nationals

Once upon a time, teams were timid about pushing young players through their system. They relied more on timetables than talent.

Maybe things began to change in 2012, when the Nationals called up Harper and made him an everyday player at 19. He hit .270 that first season and had some good times and some not so good.

But there was never a moment when Harper looked overmatched on his way to making the National League All-Star team five times in six seasons and winning the NL MVP Award in 2015.

Around that time, other teams began to tear up the old player development formulas. They pushed their best prospects, challenged them, trusted their talent more than their age.

Yes, there's an economic component to all of this given that young players are cheaper and controllable for at least six seasons.

Since then, everything has changed. Last season, the All-Star Game had seven players 23 or younger, including 21-year-old Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger.

Almost half the 2017 All-Stars (33) were 27 or younger. Overall last season, MLB had 35 position players and 26 pitchers who were 22 years old or younger.

Which brings us to the threshold of another Spring Training, and an opportunity for all 30 teams to get a look at their best prospects. With that in mind, here are 15 to keep an eye on. Among them, all but three (Ozzie Albies, Rafael Devers and Yoan Moncada) still have rookie eligibility and ended last season on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list. And they'll almost certainly find themselves on the 2018 Top 100 list that will be revealed on MLB Network on Saturday, Jan. 27 at 8 p.m. ET.

Video: Robles hoping to build on breakthrough 2017 campaign

Victor Robles, CF, Nationals
Age: 20
2017: .875 OPS, 10 homers, eight triples, 27 steals at Class A/Double-A
The Nationals' outfield is set with Harper, Michael A. Taylor and Adam Eaton, so Robles almost certainly will open the season in the Minors. Harper's impending free agency could open a spot in 2019, but Robles appears to be ready now.

Video: HOU@TEX: Calhoun launches his first career home run

Willie Calhoun, LF, Rangers
Age: 23
2017: .927 OPS, six triples, 31 homers at Triple-A
Calhoun brings speed and power to the table. With him in left and 22-year-old Nomar Mazara in right, the Rangers seem set at the corner outfield spots for the foreseeable future.

Video: Top Prospects: Gleyber Torres, SS, Yankees

Gleyber Torres, 3B/2B, Yankees
Age: 21
2017: .863 OPS at Double-A/Triple-A
The Yankees could have dominated this list with infielder Miguel Andujar and pitchers Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield all expected to play this season. But Torres is the crown jewel of the Yanks' farm system, and he will be one of the most watched players in Spring Training.

Video: Must C Classic: Albies homers for first career hit

Ozzie Albies, 2B, Braves
Age: 21
2017: .810 OPS in 244 MLB plate appearances.
Albies did not disappoint in 57 games for the Braves last season, and he is one of the reasons Atlanta's future is so bright. (And, of course, there is also Ronald Acuna, Albies' teammates in Atlanta. He might be the most hyped youngster in baseball this side of Shohei Ohtani and doesn't need much more pub from me.)

Video: Must C Combo: Devers crushes two solo home runs

Rafael Devers, 3B, Red Sox
Age: 21
2017: .819 OPS in 240 MLB plate appearances
The Red Sox shopped for a veteran third baseman before becoming convinced Devers was their best option. He debuted at 20 in July and did almost everything well.

Video: CWS@KC: Moncada clears the bases with triple

Yoan Moncada, 2B, White Sox
Age: 22
2017: .750 OPS, eight homers in 231 MLB plate appearances
Moncada struggled some in 54 games, but his skillset and Minor League resume are so solid that he's almost certain to be a cornerstone for the South Siders' rebuild.

Video: Flaherty named Cardinals' Pipeline Pitcher of 2017

Jack Flaherty, RHP, Cardinals
Age: 22
2017: 8.9 K/9, 1.043 WHIP at Double-A/Triple-A
Flaherty has gotten consistently better during 72 Minor League starts, and he has developable four other serviceable pitches to go with a 95-mph fastball. The Cardinals have smartly resisted any temptation to deal him for a closer or third baseman.

Video: Top Prospects: A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics

A.J. Puk, LHP, A's
Age: 22
2017: 13.2 K/9, 1.248 WHIP at Class A/Double-A
Puk made 13 starts at Double-A last season, and he is on the fast track to make his Oakland debut sometime this season. The A's are getting better quickly, and Puk is one of the reasons.

Video: COL@LAD: Buehler tosses two shutout innings in debut

Walker Buehler, RHP, Dodgers
Age: 23
2017: 12.7 K/9, 1.11 WHIP at Class A/Double-A/Triple-A
Buehler's Twitter handle is @buehlersdayoff, and please don't tell me you have to look it up. He has three power pitches and will have his workload carefully monitored after throwing 98 innings last season in his return from Tommy John surgery.

Video: Top Prospects: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays

Vladimir Guerrero Jr., INF, and Bo Bichette, INF, Blue Jays
Age: Guerrero is 18, Bichette is 19
2017: Guerrero .910 OPS at Class A; Bichette .988 OPS at Class A
Neither is likely to play in the Majors this season, although stranger things have happened. Instead, they're two reasons Blue Jays fans should be optimistic about the future.

Video: Top Prospects: Jorge Alfaro, C, Phillies

Jorge Alfaro, C, Phillies
Age: 24
2017: .874 OPS in 114 MLB plate appearances
Alfaro was the cornerstone of the trade that sent Cole Hamels to the Rangers, and he is part of the foundation the Phillies are constructing. Power arm and power bat.

Video: Honeywell's potential impact in 2018

Brent Honeywell, RHP, Rays
Age: 22
2017: 11.3 K/9, 1.24 WHIP at Double-A/Triple-A
Honeywell's fastball touches 95 mph at times, and he has four other big league-ready pitches. But it's his changeup -- a screwball -- that generates a high number of swings and misses.

Video: Top Prospects: Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros

Forrest Whitley, RHP, and Kyle Tucker, OF, Astros
Age: Whitley 20, Tucker 21
2017: Whitley 13.9 K/9 at Class A/Double-A; Tucker .874 OPS, 25 HR at Class A/Double-A
GM Jeff Luhnow made both of these guys untouchable, and Houston could get nice contributions from both in 2018. Neither will open the season in the big leagues, but both give the Astros nice depth.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

 

After strong rookie year, Benintendi eyes more

Left fielder thinks experience will help him keep improving
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BOSTON -- Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi turned heads at Thursday's Boston Baseball Writers Dinner with strikingly shorter hair. Benintendi also plans on making something else a lot shorter in 2018 -- his slumps.

Although Benintendi collected the Red Sox Rookie of the Year Award on Thursday as voted on by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, he doesn't think he was good enough.

BOSTON -- Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi turned heads at Thursday's Boston Baseball Writers Dinner with strikingly shorter hair. Benintendi also plans on making something else a lot shorter in 2018 -- his slumps.

Although Benintendi collected the Red Sox Rookie of the Year Award on Thursday as voted on by the Boston chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, he doesn't think he was good enough.

Many rookies would love to have 20 homers, 90 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. But Benintendi scoffs at some of his other numbers, such as a .271 batting average, 84 runs and 26 doubles.

"I think I'm a better hitter than what I showed last year," Benintendi said. "There were too many slumps. More valleys than peaks, it seemed like -- just being inconsistent. I feel like every other month, it was a bad month. [I'm] just trying to even that up, and I think I'm going to be a lot better hitter overall."

Benintendi is demanding more of himself, and he doesn't think being a rookie was an excuse for being inconsistent.

"That's not the issue. I've just got to be better," Benintendi said.

There's no question, however, that a year of knowledge under his belt should position Benintendi for improvement.

"Going into this year, I'll have faced a lot of the guys before now, so I can go back, watch film, see how they pitched me and try to make adjustments," said Benintendi. "I know what to expect going into Spring Training, kind of how everything works. I know all the guys, and I know how to prepare for a full season. [I'm] just kind of looking forward to being down there, getting started."

Manager Alex Cora is excited about the type of damage Benintendi can do in the lineup, hitting behind leadoff man Mookie Betts.

Big Hot Stove move or not, Cora confident

"He's a good player. Stronger than I expected and put together," said Cora. "The way he runs the bases, the way he hits the ball out of the ballpark, it's impressive. He's a good player, and I think that the spots where we're going to use him and how we're going to use him, he's going to improve."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

 

Boston Red Sox, Andrew Benintendi