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7 unproven players standing out on spring stage

MLB.com @castrovince

Tim Tebow's Grapefruit League debut as a designated hitter Wednesday did not exactly indicate he's a threat to make the Mets' Opening Day roster -- especially considering that roster will be devoid of a DH.

But elsewhere in the exhibition season, there are other unproven players making a push for big league playing time. Here are just a handful of players who have stood out.

Tim Tebow's Grapefruit League debut as a designated hitter Wednesday did not exactly indicate he's a threat to make the Mets' Opening Day roster -- especially considering that roster will be devoid of a DH.

But elsewhere in the exhibition season, there are other unproven players making a push for big league playing time. Here are just a handful of players who have stood out.

1. Greg Bird, 1B, Yankees
Bird was the word in the late stages of the 2015 season, when he ripped 11 homers and nine doubles in his first 46 games in the bigs. But one can never be sure how quickly a player -- especially a 22-year-old with so little Major League track record -- will get back into the swing of things after missing a full season due to shoulder surgery. The Yankees signed Chris Carter as first-base insurance (specifically against left-handed pitching) for that very reason.

Video: BAL@NYY: Bird discusses his return from injury

But fair or not, media members and evaluators alike have already wondered aloud whether that Carter contract was a $3.5 million waste. That's just how sharp Bird has looked, with a few early homers. People are curious to see how he handles a larger load against lefties as the spring progresses.

2. Jae-gyun Hwang, 3B, Giants
Eduardo Nunez's sore shoulder held him out of San Francisco's lineup for a bit, but it shouldn't prevent him from retaining his starting role at the hot corner. Nunez's temporary absence from the field did, however, allow others in the Giants' camp to make an impression at the position -- Hwang first and foremost.

In his first stateside camp, Hwang, a 29-year-old with 10 seasons of experience in the Korea Baseball Organization, has provided early assurances that his low-risk Minor League deal was worthwhile. The 1.063 OPS through his first 16 at-bats was nice, but it's more that Hwang has shown that his instincts and approach that were celebrated in South Korea translate to the Major League stage.

Could Hwang push Nunez, a career utility man before a sudden emergence as a starter in Minnesota and then San Francisco last year, for playing time at third?

"That would not surprise me at all," said an evaluator who saw Hwang in South Korea.

3. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Royals
4. Bradley Zimmer, OF, Indians

Neither of the Zimmer brothers will be on an Opening Day roster (Kyle was optioned to the Royals' Double-A affiliate on Wednesday). But there were signs in the early spring games that even though they were born a year apart and drafted two years apart, these former first-rounders might both debut in the same summer.

Kyle, the elder Zimmer at 25, has had a professional career plagued with injuries, including surgeries for loose bodies in his elbow, shoulder tissue damage and thoracic outlet syndrome. That's a lot to overcome, but the Royals have expressed open-mindedness to the possibility of using Zimmer's sizzling raw stuff in a bullpen role this season, and we saw a small taste of that in the Cactus League.

Given the uncertainty in the Indians' outfield picture, especially with Michael Brantley trying to come back from two shoulder surgeries in left and the defensive questions associated with Tyler Naquin in center, it's not hard to envision opportunity opening for Bradley, 24, this season. He didn't have an inspiring statistical season at Double-A and Triple-A last year (.790 combined OPS), but he was in the midst of a major overhaul of his swing that bore Cactus League fruit.

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Zimmer to Majors by 2017?

5. Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Cubs
Candelario, 23, raked at Triple-A (.333/.417/.542) in 2016, and he's carried that confidence into what has so far been a strong camp with the Cubbies. One Cubs source called Candelario "one of the most Major League-ready prospects in the game," but unlike the others on this list, he has no obvious path to playing time with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo on the infield corners.

You never know what kind of mad experimentation Joe Maddon might have up his sleeve. But at the very least, Candelario is showing this spring that he's a legit trade chip on a club that could use some long-term pitching assets. So one way or another, he's a name of note.

6. Mike Hauschild, RHP, Rangers
It's an interesting dynamic when a club poaches from a division (and, in this case, in-state) rival in the Rule 5 Draft. Hauschild, a 27-year-old former 33rd-round pick of the Astros, was no prime prospect, but the Rangers took a chance on him in the Rule 5 Draft in December, with the initial intention of giving him a shot at winning a spot in the back of their rotation. But one National League scout who has seen Hauschild this spring thinks he'll claim a spot in Texas' bullpen. Hauschild had a 0.95 WHIP in his first 6 1/3 innings of Cactus play.

"Strike-thrower, heavy sink," the scout said. "Softer stuff, which is why he has his doubters, but he's been a tick harder in the bullpen -- just enough that I think he's on his way to earning a spot."

7. Mitch Haniger, OF, Mariners
Haniger is different from the others on this list in that he's not fighting for playing time, but he is instead out to justify the faith his new organization placed in him in essentially handing him the starting right-field job. Jerry Dipoto was enamored with Haniger's Minor League track record (.290/.370/.490 slash line in 455 games) when he acquired him, along with Jean Segura, in a swap with the D-backs. But some others in the industry weren't quite as sure that Haniger, who has 34 games of big league experience, was ready for an everyday position in the Majors.

We'll see what's real in the long run, but Haniger's power (two homers in his first 18 at-bats) and defensive ability in right field have made him an early star in camp.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Greg Bird, Jeimer Candelario, Mitch Haniger, Mike Hauschild, Jae-gyun Hwang, Kyle Zimmer, Bradley Zimmer