From prospects to execs, excitement abounds for Spring Breakout

February 16th, 2024

The top pitching prospect in baseball has not yet faced the top hitting prospect. That may change on March 14, when they could face one another for the first time ahead of a season in which each hopes to make his MLB debut.

“Seeing Paul [Skenes] versus [Jackson] Holliday," said right-hander Bubba Chandler, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Pirates’ No. 5 prospect, "is going to be pretty cool."

While Spring Training is just getting started, top prospects around baseball are already buzzing about the chance to participate in Spring Breakout, a four-day event in March that will showcase the stars of the future by having them square off in exhibition games.

The inaugural edition will be held from March 14-17, at Grapefruit and Cactus league stadiums. Sixteen contests will be held across Arizona and Florida -- the Reds and Cardinals will play a pair each because of the uneven number of clubs in each state -- as part of the series. That includes Skenes' Pirates vs. Holliday's Orioles on March 14.

Each roster will be constructed using MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Prospects list for the club as its foundation, and every player in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 overall is eligible to participate.

With an MLB-leading seven prospects on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, the Cubs could field a particularly impressive Spring Breakout team in their matchup against White Sox prospects. The Cubs’ list of prospects is led by outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong (No. 16 overall), who said he thinks Spring Breakout is a great way to build recognition and excitement around some of the top prospects in the game.

“I think us, as prospects, I think we deserve that,” Crow-Armstrong said. “There’s always the walk you have to walk to get recognition and whatnot, but as of right now, to just keep people excited, I think it’s a great idea.”

Hard-throwing right-hander Tink Hence, the No. 2-ranked player in the Cardinals’ system and MLB Pipeline’s No. 64 overall prospect, echoed those sentiments.

“I really feel like that’s a great idea, putting some of the spotlight on the young guys who are coming up while the big league guys are still here,” said Hence. “I feel like it’s a great opportunity for guys to make their name known and let the fans know what type of player they are. I feel like it’s really a beautiful idea to hold the event during Spring Training.”

Outfielder James Wood, ranked as the No. 14 overall prospect and the Nationals’ No. 2, was also among the players to share their excitement for the event.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” said Wood, who joined the Washington organization in the Juan Soto blockbuster trade between the Nats and Padres in 2022. “It gives the younger guys some spotlight and gives them a chance to compete against each other.”

Another top prospect in the Washington system, Robert Hassell III (Nationals’ No. 1, No. 35 overall), highlighted the unique features of the event that make it so valuable for both prospects and fans.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “Depending on where you’re at, we run into each other throughout the year but we never really get a chance [to play] before then. The most important part is the fans are able to see all of us in one place. I think it’s great to get our names out there because we’re all going to be there, that’s the path we’re on. I think it’s exciting.”

Catcher Ethan Salas (Padres’ No. 1, No. 8 overall), who is getting his first taste of big league Spring Training at the age of 17, likes San Diego’s chances of having a strong showing against the Mariners at Spring Breakout. The Friars have five Top 100 prospects, tied for second most behind the Cubs.

"It should be cool, the best guys in the orgs facing each other," Salas said. "But in terms of the game, I'm betting on our guys. ... It should be fun."

Shortstop Marcelo Mayer, the Red Sox’s No. 1 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 15 overall, is especially looking forward to playing alongside fellow Boston prospects Roman Anthony (No. 24 overall) and Kyle Teel (No. 40) for the first time. It will likely be a sneak peak of what’s to come for Double-A Portland when the 2024 season gets underway.

“It will be exciting,” Mayer said. “Getting a chance to see what it will be like playing with Roman and Kyle, that’s going to be great. We will be on the big field, so it will be fun.”

Spring Breakout is certainly exciting for top prospects who will have a chance to participate in an event that will afford them exposure that they might not otherwise have gotten. But even before the inaugural showcase has taken place, it’s already seen by executives and managers as an important vehicle for building team camaraderie when players get to the Majors.

That’s exactly how Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris sees it.

“The reason I’m excited about it,” Harris said, “is we have an opportunity to let players that aren’t going to play together at affiliates play together on the same field. So we’ll have Flying Tigers playing with SeaWolves who are playing with Mud Hens, all on the same field. So it gives us an opportunity to create some culture within our farm system and allow these guys to play together.”

“It’s gonna be fun,” Guardians manager Stephen Vogt said. “This game is getting younger and younger and there’s more excitement around young players than any other time, really. … I think it’s an exciting time for organizations to show the talent that’s coming, and we’ve got a lot of it.”

D-backs senior vice president/assistant general manager Amiel Sawdaye knows the value of young players at the Major League level. His club made a surprise run all the way to the World Series last fall thanks in large part to contributors like National League Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll.

Sawdaye underscored just how fitting Spring Breakout is given the player development trends across baseball today.

“This game is trending towards young players playing a huge role on competitive teams,” he said. “It used to be that competitive teams would slowly break those players in and I think you take a look around the league and some of the best teams are starting rookies on Opening Day. So I think it's another step towards getting your best young prospects into the big leagues.

“Look, for many years the Arizona Fall League was the only way you could see kind of the best prospects in the game. Now with Spring Breakout we get a chance to expose even more fans and you get to watch your best prospects play against another organization’s best, which is pretty cool.”