1 player on each team who's made a big impression this spring

March 20th, 2023

Spring Training presents a valuable opportunity for many players to open eyes, whether it’s a veteran competing for a roster spot, a young player looking to cement his role or a top prospect getting a chance to play in big league games for the first time.

Here are the players -- one for every team -- who have made the biggest impressions this spring.


Blue Jays: SS/3B Addison Barger

There have been plenty of young standouts in camp, including Otto Lopez, but Barger has quickly shown that the hype he built in 2022 is warranted. Toronto’s No. 6 prospect is coming off a 26-homer season with a .933 OPS, ending with a promotion to Triple-A. It’s likely he returns to Buffalo to open the season, but this spring, he’s shown the Blue Jays that he can be an option very soon. The club’s decision to get Barger some work in the outfield along with his usual infield work should only open more avenues for the talented 23-year-old. -- Keegan Matheson

Orioles: OF Heston Kjerstad

Kjerstad is proving he can put up big offensive numbers wherever he goes. After winning MVP honors in last year’s Arizona Fall League -- where he hit .357 and belted five homers in 22 games -- the Orioles' No. 6 prospect is raking again this spring. Through 19 Grapefruit League games entering Sunday, Kjerstad was slashing .394/.429/.788 with three homers. Because he missed all of 2021 due to myocarditis and early ‘22 with a left hamstring strain, Kjerstad has only 65 games of Minor League experience, including none above High-A. So he won’t break camp with Baltimore. But the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft (and MLB Pipeline’s No. 80 overall prospect) has made another big impression with his bat. -- Jake Rill

Rays: 1B Kyle Manzardo

The Rays knew they had something in Manzardo (Tampa Bay's No. 4 prospect) when they selected him out of Washington State University in the second round of the 2021 Draft. He validated their belief by hitting .327/.426/.617 with 22 homers in 93 games at High-A and Double-A in his first full season. He’s continued to rake this spring, impressing the big league coaching staff with his ability to consistently make hard contact to all fields. He’s ticketed for the Minors and may not reach the Majors until 2024, but he looks like Tampa Bay’s first baseman of the relatively near future. -- Adam Berry

Red Sox: OF Alex Verdugo

Red Sox manager Alex Cora has continually mentioned how impressed he has been with Verdugo this spring, and that has continued into the World Baseball Classic, where Boston’s starting right fielder has helped Mexico advance to the semifinals. Verdugo came to camp in noticeably better shape and could be primed to have a breakout season at the age of 26. Last season, Verdugo played through a painful fracture in the big toe of his right foot. -- Ian Browne

Yankees: SS Anthony Volpe

Volpe's terrific spring has accelerated his big league timetable, and there is a very real possibility that he could be the Yankees' Opening Day shortstop. Manager Aaron Boone expects a formal roster meeting early next week, providing opportunities for decision-makers to voice opinions about the team's No. 1 prospect and “pound the table, if they want.” The 21-year-old has stated a convincing case to come north; Boone said that he sees Volpe as a future contributor at the top or in the middle of the batting order who will have a long career in the middle of the infield. -- Bryan Hoch


Guardians: 1B Micah Pries

There haven’t been a ton of surprises for the Guardians this spring. Nearly all of their roster is returning from last year and everyone has performed as expected. But a prospect that isn’t ranked in the Guardians’ Top 30 by MLB Pipeline is making quite the impression. Pries told manager Terry Francona at the beginning of the spring that he knows he’s flying under the radar and is trying to make an impression. Francona reassured him that to the organization, he’s been as important as anyone else to keep an eye on. In his first 16 spring games, he clubbed two homers, logged three doubles and recorded one triple with six RBIs and a 1.075 OPS. -- Mandy Bell

Royals: RHP Brad Keller

The Royals were hopeful Keller would come into Spring Training ready to earn a rotation spot, and he appears to have done all that and then some so far. Slimmed down and stronger, Keller impressed before even stepping on the mound. Then he showed off the work he put in with Driveline Baseball this offseason, and the Royals got even more excited. Keller is throwing a curveball now and is committed to throwing it in games, and he’s gotten good results from the pitch. He’s also throwing a sweeping slider in addition to his tighter slider and cutting fastball. The Royals haven’t made any decisions about their rotation yet, but Keller, who has allowed five runs in 10 1/3 Cactus League innings, appears on his way to locking up a spot. The 27-year-old might be on the verge of a breakout year in his final season before free agency. -- Anne Rogers

Tigers: C Jake Rogers

Rogers entered camp having not caught in a game since the summer of 2021, before Tommy John surgery cost him nearly a season and a half. He was expected to battle for the backup catcher job, but by seemingly picking up where he left off before the surgery, including three home runs and a strong arm, he not only has earned a job in Detroit but has made a case for a timeshare behind the plate. The fact that the Tigers have given Eric Haase some games in left field this spring speaks volumes about their trust that Rogers is back, moustache and all. -- Jason Beck

Twins: RHP Bailey Ober

The Twins' trade for Pablo López seemingly left Ober as the odd man out of a possible five-man rotation, but Ober has taken it upon himself to make it as difficult as possible for the Twins to leave him out of the starting group. He has already matched his hardest velocity of 2022 this spring, and he has yet to allow a hit through six innings across three Grapefruit League starts, impressing to the point that Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said he had become more open to the possibility of a six-man rotation. -- Do-Hyoung Park

White Sox: OF Oscar Colas

Colas is the answer to many questions involving the White Sox during Spring Training because the rookie might be an important component to their lineup and defense. Chicago's No. 2 prospect figured to have the edge in right field entering Pedro Grifol’s first camp as manager, although nobody has said it on record nor will do so until the Opening Day lineups are officially announced. But Colas has earned his spot with a strong work ethic in Arizona, along with solid production overall. Has the left-handed power bat in a right-handed heavy lineup been perfect? No, but he has a willingness to learn from his mistakes and improve on such things as hitting the cutoff man and secondary leads. Colas doesn’t need to be a featured player in this veteran lineup but could end up being a significant producer. -- Scott Merkin


Angels: RHP Ben Joyce

Joyce has turned heads this spring with his velocity and has also had a strong spring. Joyce, a third-round selection in last year’s Draft and the team's current No. 11 prospect, has reached as high as 104 mph with his fastball this spring, but also has shown off a new hard slider to go along with his sweeping slider. He has yet to give up a run in Cactus League play and could pitch his way onto the Opening Day roster. But he’s not on the 40-man roster, so there’s a chance they could send him to the Minors for more seasoning. -- Rhett Bollinger

Astros: OF Justin Dirden

Dirden has opened eyes all camp and has put himself in a position to make the Opening Day roster, especially if Michael Brantley (shoulder) begins the year on the injured list, which is expected. Dirden, an undrafted free agent signed out of Southeast Missouri State in 2020, is 7-for-20 in Grapefruit League play and has flashed his speed and strong defense in the outfield, where he can play all three positions. -- Brian McTaggart

Athletics: OF Lawrence Butler

Butler’s energetic style of play certainly made an impression on the A’s coaching staff. Oakland’s No. 11 prospect appeared in 11 Cactus League games and went 11-for-20 (.550) with a homer, four doubles, a triple and 10 RBIs. Set to begin the season at Double-A Midland, a call to the Majors by season’s end is not out of the question based on what he showed the big league staff this spring. -- Martín Gallegos

Mariners: OF Jarred Kelenic

Who else? He entered camp with the most to prove, went on to become Seattle’s most interesting player and has followed it up as one of MLB’s top performers this spring. It’s not just the massive home runs that have impressed, but the overhauled approach that has stood out to Mariners brass. For the former top prospect, results won’t matter until Opening Day -- but he has far and away been the Mariners’ most eye-opening player. -- Daniel Kramer

Rangers: 3B Josh Jung

The Rangers' No. 1 prospect, Jung is finally healthy and will be Texas' third baseman on Opening Day and for the foreseeable future. He made his MLB debut in September, hitting just .204 in 26 games, but this spring he’s truly shown what he’s capable of, both at the plate and in the field. Jung, MLB’s No. 34 overall prospect, has gone 10-for-34 in 14 Cactus League games, with three doubles and three home runs and has more than impressed new manager Bruce Bochy in the process. -- Kennedi Landry


Braves: LHP Jared Shuster

Braden Shewmake could fit this description, too, as he’s making a run to begin the season as Atlanta’s starting shortstop. But it’s hard to argue against Shuster (Braves No. 1 prospect), who has struck out 16 and allowed just one run over 12 2/3 Grapefruit League innings. His slider improved greatly near the end of last year and he now has another swing-and-miss pitch to complement his changeup. The lefty should begin the year as Atlanta’s fifth starter and his spring success creates reason to wonder whether he might become a mainstay within the Braves’ rotation. -- Mark Bowman

Marlins: LHP Trevor Rogers

Rogers came into camp with the most to prove after a rough sophomore campaign in 2022, and he had been spectacular until Friday's outing. Prior to giving up eight runs across four innings to the Cardinals, Rogers looked more like his 2021 NL Rookie of the Year runner-up form through three spring starts by posting a 0.56 WHIP and an 11 K/9. -- Christina De Nicola

Mets: SS Ronny Mauricio

Few have impressed more than Mauricio, who has hit four spring homers (including two of at least 450 feet). The Mets’ No. 6 prospect arrived at camp with virtually no chance to make the Opening Day roster, and while that hasn’t changed, Mauricio has opened eyes with both his play and his physical growth -- he’s now listed at 6-foot-3, 202 pounds, and most accounts have him a bit taller and heavier than that. Questions remain as to where Mauricio might ultimately play -- Third base? Center field? A different franchise? -- but if he continues down this path, he’ll be a factor in some fashion later this summer. -- Anthony DiComo

Nationals: INF Jeter Downs

When building their roster, the Nationals covet players who can provide defensive versatility. Ideally, that means playing both the infield and outfield. The Nats have been impressed by Downs, 24, whose reps have been expanded from second base, third base and shortstop to center field as well. Downs is embracing a fresh start with Washington after being designated for assignment in December by Boston, where he was ranked as the club's No. 1 prospect in 2020. -- Jessica Camerato

Phillies: INF Scott Kingery

Kingery’s performance this spring has become an intriguing storyline for the Phillies. He signed a six-year, $24 million contract before he even played an inning in the big leagues in 2018. Nothing has gone as planned since then. Kingery’s swing mechanics changed, which caused struggles. Then he battled injuries, and had right shoulder surgery in 2021. He was eventually removed from the 40-man roster. But Kingery looks like his old self this spring. He is hitting line drives all over the field, putting him back in contention for a spot on the Opening Day roster. -- Todd Zolecki


Brewers: INF Brice Turang

Turang will play a role in the Majors at some point in 2023 – perhaps a significant one. The Brewers’ fifth-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline, Turang’s power arrived last year at Triple-A Nashville, where he added some center field to a defensive repertoire that already included shortstop, second base and some third base. With Brewers infielders Willy Adames, Luis Urías and Abraham Toro playing in the World Baseball Classic, Turang has seen extensive playing time this spring and has impressed manager Craig Counsell and the coaches both at the plate and in the field. -- Adam McCalvy

Cardinals: OF Jordan Walker

Walker, the No. 1 player in the Cards system and the No. 4 overall prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline, showed up at camp as the player to watch and somehow he’s still exceeded all expectations. The 20-year-old needed just 10 Grapefruit League games to record five multi-hit performances. Included in that stretch was a 102.6 mph line drive base hit off Yankees ace Gerrit Cole and a 4-for-4, two-home run, four-RBI performance against the Nats. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound converted third baseman also proved himself capable in the outfield by making several plus plays. At this point, he’s almost assuredly played his way onto the Opening Day roster. -- John Denton

Cubs: RHP Hayden Wesneski

The 25-year-old Wesneski (Cubs No. 5 prospect) pitched with a veteran presence down the stretch for the Cubs last season in his initial taste of The Show as a rookie. That has continued this spring, when the right-hander has put himself in a strong position to either earn a rotation spot or be one of the first call-ups. Through 12 innings in Cactus League play, Wesneski has racked up 17 strikeouts against four walks with four earned runs allowed. Both Wesneski and righty Javier Assad (a standout for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic) have been impressive this spring as the Cubs weigh how to construct their pitching staff. -- Jordan Bastian

Pirates: OF Travis Swaggerty

No one has played better in Pirates camp than Swaggerty. In 15 games, Swaggerty, the Pirates’ No. 22 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is hitting a blistering .400/.423/.760 with three home runs and nine RBIs. On Saturday, Swaggerty came off the bench and demolished the first pitch he saw for a 439-foot home run, the longest homer hit by any Pirate during Spring Training. Along with his bat, Swaggerty made one of the best defensive plays of Spring Training, throwing out a runner at the plate with a perfect throw from center field. -- Justice delos Santos

Reds: INF Christian Encarnacion-Strand

Cincinnati was big on Encarnacion-Strand’s raw power and his mature hitting approach when they acquired him in the Aug. 2 trade that sent starting pitcher Tyler Mahle to the Twins. It was all on display this spring as the 23-year-old prospect, ranked No. 7 in the organization by MLB Pipeline, got a long look as a non-roster invite. He batted .577 with 15 hits, four home runs, 13 RBIs and a 1.748 OPS. Encarnacion-Strand was sent down in camp cuts last week, in part so the natural third baseman could get more work at first base. He also had only 48 games with 208 plate appearances at Double-A last year. However, he could be in the big leagues quickly as he continues to make adjustments in the Minors. -- Mark Sheldon


D-backs: C Gabriel Moreno

The D-backs obviously thought highly of Moreno, so much so that they traded outfielder Daulton Varsho for him, but he’s been even better than advertised this spring. He’s displayed both power and an ability to go the other way when behind in the count. Defensively, pitchers have liked throwing to him and he has displayed a plus arm behind the plate. The D-backs will likely pick their spots to start him early on with Carson Kelly getting a lot of playing time, but given the impression he’s made this spring, the D-backs feel good about what they have in him. -- Steve Gilbert

Dodgers: 2B Miguel Vargas

Entering Spring Training, the biggest question mark around Vargas (Dodgers No. 3 prospect) was his defense at second base, but he has done a lot to ease the minds of people this spring. After going a couple of weeks without being able to swing the bat because of a hairline fracture on his right pinky, Vargas has looked the part at the plate, as expected. Time will tell, but he looks poised to have a big rookie season as the Dodgers' starting second baseman. -- Juan Toribio

Giants: OF Michael Conforto

There was some question as to how Conforto would look after missing the entire 2022 campaign due to right shoulder surgery, but he’s quickly regained the form that made him a premier bat for the Mets for the first seven years of his career. Conforto has a team-high four home runs over 11 games and has been cleared to return to the outfield, where he’s looked natural and athletic. If he maintains this production during the regular season, he could end up being a steal for the Giants, who signed Conforto to a two-year, $36 million deal with an opt-out clause after the 2023 campaign. -- Maria Guardado

Padres: LHP Jay Groome

Groome, the Padres’ return in last summer’s Eric Hosmer trade, was once a roster longshot. But with Joe Musgrove recovering from a fractured left big toe and a number of injuries in the bullpen, there’s suddenly a clear spot for a No. 6 starter or a length reliever. Groome, San Diego's No. 9 prospect, fits both. But it’s more than circumstance that has put Groome in the mix; it’s performance. He’s yet to allow a run in four spring outings, with fastball velocity that has ticked up into the mid-90s. -- AJ Cassavell

Rockies: UTL Harold Castro

Signed to a Minor League contract before camp, Castro has made his mark at the plate, with an average better than .400 and a four-figure OPS late in the week. The question is not whether he makes the team, but whether he starts the season as the regular in left field, although he can bring credible defense in the infield and the outfield. Castro came to the Rockies with a .284 average over five seasons with the Tigers. -- Thomas Harding