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Tuesday's top prospect performers

@mattkellyMLB
March 3, 2020

Reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander looked just fine in his spring debut for the Astros, but don’t sleep on the performance by two other prospects looking to crack Houston‘s 2020 rotation. Jose Urquidy has his sights set on the Astros’ No. 4 spot behind Verlander, Zack

Reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander looked just fine in his spring debut for the Astros, but don’t sleep on the performance by two other prospects looking to crack Houston‘s 2020 rotation.

Jose Urquidy has his sights set on the Astros’ No. 4 spot behind Verlander, Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers Jr., and the right-hander looked like he could fit right in with those three marquee names while twirling three scoreless innings in Houston’s 6-3 loss to the Cardinals on Tuesday. The Astros’ No. 2 prospect pounded the zone, throwing strikes on 31 of his 39 pitches while allowing two hits and striking out four. The Mexico native is hoping to build on a strong close to the 2019 season, which saw him spin five shutout innings against the Nationals to win Game 4 of the World Series.

The other ace of Houston’s farm system, Forrest Whitley, had himself a strong day, too. The righty relieved Urquidy to begin the bottom of the eighth and worked around an error and a walk to post a scoreless inning. Houston’s top overall prospect punched out two Cardinals hitters, including a swinging strikeout to end the frame and strand the runners. Whitley led the Arizona Fall League in strikeouts for the second straight year in 2019, and he’s looking to improve on some inconsistency in his first taste of Triple-A ball last year.

Here's how other top prospects performed on Tuesday:

Nico Hoerner, 2B, Cubs

The Cubs’ second-base job for Opening Day is still very much in the air, but Hoerner put his best foot forward Tuesday by going 3-for-4 with an opposite-field double in Chicago’s 11-10 loss to the Rockies. Hoerner’s youth and versatility might ultimately prevent him from winning that starting spot at second; he’s more likely to begin either in Triple-A or as Javier Báez’s backup at shortstop, where Hoerner started Tuesday’s game against Colorado. But the Cubs’ top prospect showed Tuesday why he could be a staple of the North Siders’ infield for years to come.

Kody Clemens, 2B, Tigers

Clemens father, Roger, carved up Major League hitters for nearly a quarter century on his way to seven Cy Young Awards, but his son is starting to return the favor by giving opposing pitchers fits. Clemens accounted for the Tigers’ only run in a 5-1 loss to the Twins with his first spring homer off Minnesota pitcher Sean Poppen. Clemens’ drive to left-center came in the top of the seventh, improving his spring line to 5-for-12 with three RBIs, one walk and just one strikeout across six games.

Clemens knocked his homer after he worked as quickly as possible to come off the bench and warm up. Though he is essentially an extra man for the Tigers when they go on the road, Clemens is showing why he’s the No. 18 prospect in Detroit’s system.

“We don’t have him in camp,” manager Ron Gardenhire said, “but we keep bringing him just because we just like watching him play.”

Clemens has plenty of pop: Last season, 42 of his 98 hits went for extra bases across his 115 games for Class A Advanced Lakeland before he ran into some struggles (.170 average) at Double-A Erie.

Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Cardinals

St. Louis’ No. 3 prospect posted a scoreless seventh inning in the Cardinals’ 6-3 win over the Astros, turning the tide a bit after he surrendered five runs and got just two outs in his spring debut against the Marlins last week. Liberatore’s curveball went viral after that outing against Miami, but Tuesday’s results are more of what the Cardinals expect from the southpaw they acquired him from Tampa Bay this offseason. Liberatore came out of the bullpen and struck out Kyle Tucker in an uncomfortable at-bat for the Astros’ talented young outfielder. He then got a groundout and a pop fly in foul territory for an easy 1-2-3 inning.

Jorge Mateo, INF, and Jonah Heim, C, Athletics

Mateo is one of five players in the running for Oakland’s second-base job, and so he will gladly take any big days, like Tuesday’s 3-for-4 performance with a pair of RBIs in the A’s 6-5 win over the White Sox, as a difference-maker in the wide-open race. Oakland’s No. 7 prospect is out of Minor League options in 2020, and so days like Tuesday are certainly welcome, especially after a slow start to the spring in his first seven games (.188 average). Mateo was MLB Pipeline’s choice as the A’s Minor League Hitter of the Year in 2019, and it could be tough for Oakland to watch Mateo walk away via waivers without him logging an inning in the Majors.

Heim, Oakland’s No. 11 prospect, went a perfect 3-for-3 and doubled off Chicago’s Carson Fulmer in the fifth to drive in a run. The 24-year-old backstop is now slashing a scorching .467/.529/.600 with five RBIs in seven games as he catches some eyeballs this spring. Heim is coming off a statement season in the Minors in which he hit .310 and threw out 52% of potential basestealers at Double- and Triple-A.

Zack Brown, RHP, Brewers

Brown rebounded from a tough start to the spring (three earned runs over two innings in his first two appearances) and struck out four of the six hitters he faced over two scoreless innings in the Brewers’ 9-0 loss to the Padres. The 25-year-old righty has long impressed the Crew with his ability to make adjustments, so perhaps Tuesday’s bounce-back isn’t all that surprising. Milwaukee’s No. 3 prospect is looking for a rebound once the season starts, too, after he struggled to a 5.79 ERA across 116 2/3 innings at Triple-A last year.

Anderson Tejada, SS, Rangers

Texas’ No. 8 prospect smacked a three-run homer in the sixth inning of the Rangers’ 6-5 win over the Giants on Tuesday. Tejada started the game in the No. 9 spot in the lineup, but he’s swung the bat more like a middle-of-the-order guy so far this spring, with Tuesday’s homer bringing his slash line up to .417/.500/.750 across seven games. Tejada is unlikely to challenge Elvis Andrus for the Rangers’ starting shortstop position this year, but he could leave a lasting impression if he continues to build off his first week of action.

Robert Dugger, RHP, Marlins

Dugger notched a hold in Miami’s 6-1 win over the Mets on Tuesday, posting three innings of scoreless ball with a hit and two walks allowed. The Marlins’ No. 30 prospect has yet to permit a run across 7 2/3 innings (three appearances) this spring, and opponents are hitting .154 against him. Dugger has struggled a bit since he’s been exposed to the upper levels of the Minors (5.15 ERA across Double- and Triple-A last year), and so this spring could be a confidence booster for the 24-year-old.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.