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Each team's player most likely to spring forward

March 13, 2016

It happens every season like clockwork. Meaningful contributors spring from unexpected places, rookie sensations crack the Majors, prospects surge through the Minor League ranks or veterans finally break out.One way or another, a few fresh names will join the upper echelon of big leaguers and help their clubs with breakout

It happens every season like clockwork. Meaningful contributors spring from unexpected places, rookie sensations crack the Majors, prospects surge through the Minor League ranks or veterans finally break out.
One way or another, a few fresh names will join the upper echelon of big leaguers and help their clubs with breakout campaigns this season.
Last year, rookies Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor took the Majors by storm, while veteran hurlers Dallas Keuchel and Jake Arrieta impressed with career years en route to Cy Young Awards. First-year All-Star Joe Panik built upon a solid rookie year, and Boston's Xander Bogaerts continued to progress his game, among many other breakout performances around the league.
It remains to be seen which players will make the leap in 2016, but as much of the country turns its clocks forward this morning, here's a look at some candidates who appear primed to spring forward in their own way with predictions for all 30 clubs.
Tyler Skaggs, LHP: The 24-year-old entered Spring Training more than 18 months removed from Tommy John surgery and now seems poised to establish himself as a full-season Major League starter. Skaggs impressed as a young rookie in 2014, ultimately posting a 4.30 ERA in 18 starts before tearing his ulnar collateral ligament on July 31 of that season.
A.J. Reed, 1B: While Jon Singleton is likely to start the season as the Opening Day first baseman, Reed is knocking on the door should Singleton struggle to deliver. Reed led all of Minor League baseball in home runs (34), RBIs (127) and OPS (1.044) last year while batting .340 in a 135 combined games between Double-A Corpus Christi and Class A Lancaster. All he needs now is an opportunity at the Major League level.

Chris Bassitt, RHP: The A's might be sitting on a late-blooming sleeper in the 27-year-old Bassitt, who came to Oakland in the Jeff Samardzija trade with the White Sox in December 2014. Bassitt went 1-8 for the A's last year, but he also had a 3.56 ERA and opponents batted .244 against him. He made 13 starts last year among his 18 appearances but figures to be a cog in the A's rotation in '16.
"I think the delivery is really going to benefit him, that he's cut down on a lot of the moving parts," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "And really, the last thing for him is being consistent with his breaking stuff and throwing the ball over the plate when he wants to. He's a terrific talent."
Blue Jays
Aaron Sanchez, RHP: It remains to be seen whether Sanchez will crack the Opening Day roster, but either way he will figure prominently into the club's plans this season. Sanchez transitioned to a starter's role this spring and he has the upside to eventually become a frontline pitcher. After going 7-6 with a 3.22 ERA last season in 11 starts and 30 appearances out of the 'pen, this could be the breakout year for the 23-year-old if he settles into a consistent role.
Aaron Blair, RHP: Spring Training has provided Blair a chance to acquaint himself with his new organization and prove why he's considered the most advanced of the Braves' top pitching prospects. The 23-year-old right-hander, who was acquired in December's blockbuster deal with the D-backs, could join Atlanta's starting rotation within this season's first three months. ranks Blair as the game's 56th-best prospect.

Zach Davies, RHP: Brewers manager Craig Counsell says of the 10 players he's most been impressed with in camp, Davies is the player he most expects to excel. The 23-year-old Davies had six starts for the Brewers last season, logging a 3-2 record, a 3.71 ERA and a 1.206 WHIP in 34 innings. As of Saturday, Davis had made made one start and a relief appearance in spring, allowing a run on four hits with no walks and four K's in three innings.
"We're happy with our young pitching and Zach Davies has been really good," Counsell said. "He started some games last year and we've all been really excited about the way he's gone about his business this spring. He's not projected for the rotation right now, but he's a very good possible sixth starter, swing man to give us some depth. He's a very nice option there."
Kolten Wong, 2B: Wong, who has shown flashes of power and speed, has been trying to make his case for the leadoff spot that would move Matt Carpenter down in the lineup. If Wong can prove he's capable, that might give Carpenter, who had 28 homers and 84 RBIs last season -- both career highs -- more RBI opportunities. 

Jeimer Candelario, 3B: While Bryant has a stranglehold on third base for the foreseeable future, that doesn't mean others behind him can't continue to develop. So keep an eye on Candelario. The 22-year-old batted .291 at Double-A Tennessee last season and was impressive in the Arizona Fall League. Said Miguel Montero: "For me, he's going to be a big league Gold Glove, solid third baseman. Watching him play, he reminds me of Aramis Ramirez, but a switch hitter."
Jake Lamb, 3B: The D-backs' second-year third baseman appears ready to put it all together this year. Lamb spent the entire 2015 season in the big leagues and learned quite a bit about the mental approach it takes to be successful at that level. That combined with his physical gifts could lead to a big 2016.
Trayce Thompson, OF: Judging from the playing time he's been getting in early spring games, the club is expecting Thompson to be a factor on the Major League team. Thompson has impressed management on both offense and defense, excelled in a callup with the White Sox last season, and could be ready to step in should center fielder Joc Pederson not rebound from his second-half slide in 2015.

Clayton Blackburn, RHP: The 23-year-old didn't receive a September callup last year despite leading the Pacific Coast League with a 2.85 ERA. This spring, he has shown the Giants what they missed, limiting opponents to a .200 batting average in three appearances. Blackburn probably will begin the season in Triple-A, but he'll likely be the first pitcher to be summoned to the Majors when the Giants need reinforcements in their starting rotation.
Tyler Naquin, OF: Injuries hindered Naquin's playing time with Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus in 2015, but the former first-round pick has positioned himself to reach the Majors in '16. He hit .300 overall last season and has arguably the best outfield arm in the Tribe's system. With the Indians in need of outfield help, and prospects Brad Zimmer and Clint Frazier still a couple years away, Naquin is knocking on the Majors' door.
Tony Zych, RHP: The hard-throwing 25-year-old opened eyes as a September callup last year, striking out 24 with just three walks in 18 1/3 innings. If he continues commanding the zone with his upper-90s fastball and quality slider, Zych could be an integral part of the Mariners' revamped bullpen.
"He's attacking guys when he takes the mound," said manager Scott Servais. "He's wired like a late-inning reliever."

Adam Conley, LHP: The 25-year-old lefty is competing for a rotation spot and, based on how he threw last season and so far in Spring Training, he has an excellent chance to secure it. If not, Conley will open at Triple-A New Orleans, and from there, it will be a matter of time before he becomes a rotation regular. The lefty has been clocked 91-97 mph in Spring Training.
Michael Conforto, OF: The young outfielder did not need much of an adjustment period during his rookie season, hitting .270 with nine home runs in 56 games. A full season as the starting left fielder could be what Conforto needs to spring forward into the ranks of the game's elite young players.
Trea Turner, SS: The No. 2 prospect in the Nationals organization is battling Danny Espinosa for the starting job at shortstop. Turner already has impressed manager Dusty Baker with his speed, but in order for him to start the season in the big leagues, he has to hit during Spring Training. If he starts the season with Triple-A Syracuse, Turner is expected to be back with the big club by mid-summer.

Dylan Bundy, RHP: The Orioles made Bundy the fourth overall pick of the 2011 Draft, and he tore through the Minors the following year, eventually pitching two games for Baltimore at age 19. Injuries have hampered the righty ever since, but Bundy (now 23) remains the organization's No. 2 prospect. He is out of Minor League options and should get the chance to contribute out of the bullpen this season, if healthy. The stuff is still there and he should get a chance to show it.
Manuel Margot, OF: The 21-year-old outfielder acquired from the Red Sox in the Craig Kimbrel deal hasn't just put himself on the team's radar with a strong start to spring. Margot, rated as the organization's top prospect, has impressed manager Andy Green with his ability to spray line drives, his quick-twitch muscles and his general baseball acumen. Margot will likely begin the season in Double-A but could move fast. "He's got an innate feel for the game," Green said.
Maikel Franco, 3B: Franco has shown every reason that he'll pick up where he left off this year and establish himself as a cornerstone building block for the Phillies' rebuilding. "He looks so much different than he has in past springs," said manager Pete Mackanin. "I think he feels like he's in for a big year, and I hope he is."
Gregory Polanco, OF: After an inconsistent rookie season in 2014, Polanco showed flashes of his enormous potential last year, batting .276/.324/.425 in the second half. Polanco hopes to put it all together this season, rounding out a star-studded outfield with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte.
"This year is big for me. I want to do what I can do," Polanco said during the offseason. "This is the year that I want to play how I'd been playing in the Minor Leagues, like a star player."

Martin Perez, LHP: This should be the year that Perez springs forward and has a complete season in the Rangers' rotation. Perez, who turns 25 on April 4, is 18-19 with a 4.22 ERA in 48 career starts over the past four seasons, but he also missed 14 months because of Tommy John surgery. He is healthy this spring with a secure spot in the rotation.
Taylor Motter, UTIL: The super-versatile Motter has caught the eye of Rays manager Kevin Cash this spring with a .368 average. He hit .292 with 14 home runs and 72 RBIs for Triple-A Durham last year, and he could be on the verge of cracking a Major League roster for the first time at age 26.
"He can hit, man," says Cash of Motter, who has played every position but pitcher and catcher in five Minor League seasons. "He's a baseball player."
Eugenio Suarez, 3B: He already sprung forward in 2015 when he was called up from Triple-A to replace the injured Zack Cozart at shortstop. But he can take an even bigger step as the Reds' new third baseman, replacing Todd Frazier. Those are big shoes to fill, but Suarez has demonstrated solid hitting in spring that continued from last season's upward trend and he's shown good glove work at a new position. This will be his first time as a full-time regular in the Majors.

Red Sox
Jackie Bradley Jr. , OF: He was one of the most heralded players to make his way through the Red Sox organization in recent memory. But something happened when Bradley got to the big leagues. One of the best defensive outfielders at any level, his offense was almost nonexistent. In 164 games in '13-14, Bradley hit a combined .196/.268/.280 with 152 strikeouts. But in his final 50 games in '15, he began to show some promise, hitting .294 with a .366 on-base percentage and a .613 slugging percentage.
Trevor Story, SS: Story is bidding to be Colorado's Opening Day starting shortstop, with veteran Jose Reyes not in camp and facing a possible suspension. Being given a chance to win the job -- with Cristhian Adames, who could stick as a multiposition player, also in the running -- Story has displayed power and run-producing ability, and has been comfortable defensively.
Kyle Zimmer, RHP: The team's first-round pick in 2012, he likely won't make the 25-man roster out of camp, but the Royals believe he can have an impact on the big league team in the second half of '16. Zimmer, who has battled arm and shoulder problems since being drafted, has been healthy for over a year and is having a nice camp. In three appearances, Zimmer has given up just one run in five innings and struck out four while walking none.
Joe Jimenez, RHP: The 21-year-old right-hander compiled 17 saves with 61 strikeouts over 43 innings at Class A West Michigan last year and could jump to Double-A. "Joe has been a guy right now that we look at and say, 'Hey, that guy can be one of our bullpen guys in the near future,'" said Tigers general manager Al Avila.
Byron Buxton, OF: The center fielder is the No. 2 ranked prospect by and figures to be a giant piece in the Twins' future. If the 22-year-old can remain healthy, he can hurt teams with his bat but also has the skill set to provide Gold Glove-level defense. Buxton got a taste of the Majors last season, hitting .209 in 129 at-bats. Expect him to get more time this year.

White Sox
Avisail Garcia, OF: Garcia played in a World Series for the Tigers in 2012 before the outfielder hit 60 career regular-season plate appearances. But with just one full season under his belt and a new approach at the plate that has him standing taller with his hands lower and bat flatter, the 24-year-old Garcia has a chance to spring forward in '16. The addition of Austin Jackson makes for a crowded outfield, but the White Sox still have Garcia in play.
Aaron Judge, OF: The hulking Judge has commanded attention in Yankees camp, from his 6-foot-7, 275-pound frame to the towering blasts he sends over the wall in batting practice. Rated as the club's No. 2 prospect, Judge led all Yanks farmhands with 20 homers last season, finishing the year with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Though he is likely to begin the year in the Minors, he worked closely with Marcus Thames over the offseason on adjusting to higher-level pitching, suggesting that he could be ready to make the leap to the bigs as soon as this year. Judge has also been huddling with veteran Carlos Beltran as he prepares for a possible future in right field at Yankee Stadium.
"The Major League level is the highest level, so it's just getting used to playing in the games. The game kind of speeds up a little bit," Judge said. "Last year, I just learned how to slow it down, how to be professional. I was surrounded by a lot of good veterans and they showed me the way. I'm going to take that into my game this year again."

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for