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Who's turning heads in camp? These 30, that's who

The players who have opened eyes, in the words of their teammates
@mattkellyMLB
March 4, 2020

Spring Training statistics are generally meaningless, but the impression a ballplayer gives off at camp can be quite the opposite. While managers speak on their teams’ progress every day, MLB.com’s beat writers used the halfway point of Spring Training to go straight to the players with a simple question: "Who

Spring Training statistics are generally meaningless, but the impression a ballplayer gives off at camp can be quite the opposite.

While managers speak on their teams’ progress every day, MLB.com’s beat writers used the halfway point of Spring Training to go straight to the players with a simple question: "Who has impressed you the most?" The answers ranged all over the spectrum, from hotshot prospects to wizened veterans to those just trying to make the big league rosters.

Straight from the clubhouse voices, here is each team’s most impressive spring standout so far.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Blue Jays: Nate Pearson, RHP

The situation: The Blue Jays’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 8 prospect in all of baseball, Pearson routinely dials up triple-digit heat and he’s dominated hitters this spring. Pearson’s three innings have included six strikeouts, generating plenty of excitement in Toronto. He’s expected to open the season at Triple-A Buffalo, but he could be lighting up Rogers Centre soon.

What they’re saying: “He works really hard," shortstop Bo Bichette said. "You can tell in the way he goes about his business, he’s very professional and beyond his years. I’m not older than him, but for a guy who hasn’t been in the big leagues, he carries himself like a big leaguer and obviously performs like one.” More >

Orioles: Chris Davis, 1B

The situation: The soon-to-be 34-year-old Davis is coming off a well-documented nightmarish year, but he’s turning heads this spring by mostly refusing to make an out. Buffed up and homering again with regularity, Davis has gone from considering retirement months ago to one of the spring’s best stories.

What they’re saying: "CD has surprised me a lot," said infielder Hanser Alberto. "He seems really focused at the plate, not taking too many pitches and not swinging and missing as much. He reminds me of how he used to be in the past.” More >

Rays: Hunter Renfroe, OF

The situation: Acquired from the Padres in December in the deal that sent Tommy Pham to San Diego, Renfroe is the Rays’ projected starter in left field. He’s a solid defender, like the rest of Tampa’s outfielders, but he’s made the biggest impression with his bat.

What they’re saying: “I’ve been in the outfield when he’s hitting, and there aren’t many balls to be caught because most of them are flying over the fence,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “I played against Hunter when he was at Mississippi State and in the Minors when he was with San Diego. Obviously, [there's] the numbers he put up last year, but I think he’s just getting better and better. That power is going to be big in our lineup.” More >

Red Sox: Jarren Duran, OF

The situation: Jackie Bradley Jr. is one season away from free agency, and the speedy Duran could be in line to replace him in center field. Boston’s No. 8 prospect was converted from second base to center, where his speed should play better.

What they’re saying: “He’s fun to watch, honestly,” said infielder Michael Chavis. “He’s got, I don’t know what you call it, just that factor that makes him fun to watch. He’s fast as hell. Watching him run, it’s special. And you’ve seen him develop and grow as a hitter and a player. That’s just cool. And he’s a good dude as well. I’m definitely pulling for him.” More >

Yankees: Jonathan Loaisiga

The situation: Loaisiga could be the Yankees' fifth starter or a swingman in the bullpen. He's coming off a 4.55 ERA and 37 strikeouts over 31 2/3 big league innings in 2019, and he has not permitted a hit or walk across five scoreless innings this spring.

What they're saying: "I think Lo, the first time I saw him pitch, I was like, 'Dang! He's got some good stuff,'" said reliever Chad Green. "For his first couple of outings here, to harness it and be in the zone all the time, that's pretty much all he has to do, because he's got swing-and-miss stuff on three pitches. Not a lot of guys have that.

"In the bullpen, guys don't have that at all. He can definitely handle it and be a big weapon out of the 'pen. He's been fun to watch." More >

AL CENTRAL

Indians: James Karinchak, RHP

The situation: Racking up 42 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings at Triple-A will get you noticed, and Karinchak is a popular pick to be a breakout reliever in 2020 after he struck out eight more hitters in just 5 1/3 big league innings last September. His stuff is seen as off the charts, with a high-octane fastball working in tandem with a hammer curve.

What they’re saying: “Watching Karinchak pitch is absolutely amazing,” outfielder Oscar Mercado said. “It’s kind of impressive what he can do on the bump, so I’d probably have to say that’s one of the things that I’ve been like ‘Whoa,’ about.” More >

Royals: Trevor Rosenthal, RHP

The situation: Rosenthal is signed on a Minor League deal and is coming off big struggles in 2019, when he finished with a 13.50 ERA in 22 games. The command was lacking then, but Rosenthal's velocity is still there -- he's reached 102 mph multiple times this spring.

What they're saying: “I remember him in his prime," said right-hander Ian Kennedy. "He said he had command issues last year. I don’t see any of that now.” More >

Tigers: Tarik Skubal, LHP

The situation: Skubal was nearly the universal pick in the Tigers clubhouse. Detroit’s No. 4 prospect reached Double-A in 2019 and, based on the impressions he’s given off this spring, he could be in the Majors sooner than many expected.

What they’re saying: “He’s one of the most impressive young guys I’ve seen in my career,” veteran reliever Alex Wilson said. Added right-hander Buck Farmer: “He throws 98 [miles per hour] from the left side and it looks like he’s not trying to throw at all. It looks like he’s playing catch.” More >

Twins: Royce Lewis, SS

The situation: Minnesota’s top prospect is coming off a difficult 2019 season in the Minor Leagues, but a walk through the Twins clubhouse revealed a very high amount of belief still invested in the young shortstop.

What they’re saying: “I went to see him in High-A in his first full season and it seemed like he was a little fatigued,” said slugger Nelson Cruz, “and since then, he went to the Fall League and he came here and he looks really mature. He's a really smart kid.

“It seems like he's always asking the right questions and he wants to learn. He always goes around. 'If you see something, let me know.' 'What about this?' Not only the active players. You see him talk to Rod [Carew] and Tony [Oliva] and Torii [Hunter]. The guy is always trying to absorb." More >

White Sox: Luis Robert, CF

The situation: Perhaps Robert is the easy pick here; he is the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball who signed a six-year, $50 million deal over the offseason before ever seeing a Major League regular-season pitch. But the 22-year-old is showing that he has the demeanor and the talent to deliver on expectations and become a star on the South Side. Entering Wednesday, Robert had already racked up a homer, double, triple and three stolen bases in spring games.

What they’re saying: “I’ve never been around him enough to get to see him play,” reliever Evan Marshall said. “Then you understand he’s the fastest guy on the team, he can hit a ball as far as anybody on the team and throw as hard as anybody on the team. That’s very impressive. He’s a five-tool guy." More >

AL WEST

Angels: Jason Castro, C

The situation: The Halos signed Castro to a one-year, $6.85 million contract to be their starting catcher. He’s already gaining favor with Los Angeles’ pitching staff, while also showing off the power he displayed last year with the Twins.

What they’re saying: “Usually you come into camp and you’re working with new catchers,” said right-hander Matt Andriese, “and it takes a little bit of a transition to get used to. I’ve thrown a lot of my bullpens with [Castro], and my two games have been with him. We’ve been on the same page a lot. It’s good to get the catchers early in camp. He’s been great and fun to work with.” More >

Astros: Taylor Jones, INF

The situation: Standing 6-foot-7 and having shown plenty of power last year with Triple-A Round Rock (.291, 22 homers, 22 doubles, .889 OPS in 125 games), Jones can play either corner of the infield. He could be the Astros’ heir apparent at first base with Yuli Gurriel entering free agency after this season.

What they’re saying: “I’m a big fan of Jones,” said outfielder George Springer. “I’ve seen him take a lot of BP. His swings in the game and the way he plays the field [are impressive]. Big dude. I think what gets lost about him is pretty much how athletic he is for being 6-foot-7 or whatever he is. For being that big, to be able to move the way he does, I think it’s impressive.

“I do think the next wave of guys, whenever that is, is going to put this organization right where they want to be.” More >

Athletics: Jesus Luzardo, LHP

The situation: Oakland’s No. 1 prospect turned heads in his first cup of coffee last September, and he’s been electric in two scoreless outings this spring. He’s expected to join the A’s starting rotation and make big contributions to the AL West hopefuls.

What they’re saying: “His velo is really good right now,” said right-hander Chris Bassitt. “Every pitch he has is working right now. He’s like [in] midseason form already.” More >

Mariners: Kendall Graveman, RHP

The situation: The next time Graveman pitches in the regular season will mark his first appearance since 2018, when he underwent Tommy John surgery while with the division-rival A’s. He’s looked strong in his return to action this spring, sitting around 95 mph with his fastball and posting four scoreless innings.

What they’re saying: “Not a lot of guys come back the same, but it looks like he’s come back the same, if not better,” reliever Dan Altavilla said. “Just watching his outings, the life on his pitches. The velo he’s been able to get to in spring this far, he’s looked really good. I’m excited for what he’s going to bring this season. Hopefully he just keeps building on it and gets stronger and stronger.” More >

Rangers: Jonathan Hernández, RHP

The situation: The Rangers intended to stretch Hernández out as a starter, but he’s also looking like a viable candidate for the bullpen. He’s already racked up six strikeouts in four innings this spring.

What they’re saying: “He is more mature now,” veteran pitcher Edinson Vólquez said. “He is taking everything more easily than last year. He has a better idea of what he is trying to do. Last year, for him, everything was fast. Now he has settled down. Last year he had a taste of the big leagues.” More >

NL EAST

Braves: Austin Riley, 3B

The situation: Riley is launching massive homers once again this spring, reminding Braves fans of the torrid start to his Major League career last summer. But more importantly, he had struck out just three times in 19 plate appearances entering Wednesday. That’s the key after Riley had a 42% strikeout rate over the season’s final three months.

What they’re saying: “I was standing on second base when he hit that double off [Phillies pitcher Zach] Eflin on Monday night,” said star first baseman Freddie Freeman. “That ball whizzed over my head and hit the center-field wall. That’s impressive -- and he did it against a slider.

“We know what he is capable of doing, and from everything I’ve seen, he’s ready to get back to where he was when he came up last year.” More >

Marlins: Jazz Chisholm, SS

The situation: “Let the kids play” has been the Marlins’ mantra this spring, and Chisholm has showed out in the early going. Acquired from the D-backs in last July’s trade that sent Zac Gallen to Arizona, Chisholm projects as Miami’s shortstop of the future.

What they’re saying: “The way he has been playing the game, and the joy that he plays with is contagious and refreshing,” said shortstop Miguel Rojas. “It’s refreshing, and that pushes you to get better.” More >

Mets: Justin Wilson, LHP

The situation: Wilson is looking for much more in the second year of his contract after he missed a significant portion of 2019 with left elbow soreness. He’s coming off an offseason of rest and looks fresh in camp, fanning four of the six batters he had faced in game action entering Wednesday. A healthy season from Wilson would be a boost to the Mets’ bullpen.

What they’re saying: “I got to see him pretty good last year, but he looks fully healthy,” reliever Brad Brach said. “He looks awesome. Usually, the velocity’s down a little bit in the spring. He’s like, ‘Oh, don’t worry, I won’t be throwing 100.’ His first outing [was] 94-96, and I’m like, ‘Oh, screw you guys.’” More >

Nationals: Joe Ross, RHP

The situation: Nationals fans last saw Ross fill in as the emergency starter for Max Scherzer in Game 5 of the 2019 World Series, but he’s looking to be a rotation mainstay this season. Now three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Ross has yet to allow a run after two spring appearances.

What they’re saying: "Joe's coming in, and looks like he's in great shape,” said Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg. “His stuff's just jumping out of his hands. I'm excited to see what he has going in the tank this year.

“We both had Tommy John surgery, so I tried to be there for him as much as possible. You can see the progression is so similar with a lot of Tommy John guys where the velo comes back, everything's good and then it's breaking pitches. I think that's the one thing is you see the slider's back." More >

Phillies: Alec Bohm, 3B

The situation: Plenty is expected of Bohm, the Phillies' top prospect and baseball's No. 30 prospect overall, but he's taking on the pressure with aplomb so far. Entering Wednesday, Bohm was hitting .467 with a .500 on-base percentage across nine Spring Training games. He's aiming for a big league promotion sometime this summer.

What they're saying: “Bohm is just … his bat-to-ball skills are incredible," said utilityman Scott Kingery. "I’ve liked [Nick] Maton’s swing as well. It’s just really easy. He never gets beat by a fastball. But those two guys, lots of barrels, lots of hits. They’re in there swinging and I like it.

"Bohm has looked pretty athletic over there at third base. But he really understands his swing and how it works and what he needs to do to get to a position he wants to be to hit. But I mean, he’s obviously has a really good approach at the plate.” More >

NL CENTRAL

Brewers: Mark Mathias, UTIL

The situation: Mathias has a backstory worth rooting for, playing in the outfield this spring for the first time since he was a kid as he tries to sneak onto the Crew’s roster as a utilityman. He’s still a longshot after Milwaukee added several other utility players this winter, but he’s catching the attention of his teammates.

What they’re saying: “He’s a ballplayer,” said reliever Justin Grimm. “I was making a joke the other day, ‘Hey, Mark is in the lineup. We’re trying to win today.’ He’s been playing all kinds of different positions, and he’s been doing it well. That’s very valuable. And he’s hitting. He’s timed-up. He’s ready to go.” More >

Cardinals: Kwang-Hyun Kim, LHP

The situation: St. Louis’ newest starter hasn’t allowed a run in three innings, has struck out five and has impressed teammates and coaches with his pitch mix. He could fill one of two open spots in the back of the Cardinals’ rotation or serve as a valuable reliever in the bullpen.

What they’re saying: “I hadn’t known much about him, so I’m super excited I got to see him throw a few times,” reliever John Brebbia said. “And he looks really good. I think he’s going to be a dynamite addition to the team. His stuff is really good; he throws the ball where he wants to. He’s going to get a lot of really big outs, and he’s going to pitch a lot of really good games in a Cardinal uniform.” More >

Cubs: Victor Caratini, C

The situation: Two-time All-Star catcher Willson Contreras garners most of the attention, but his backup, Caratini, could probably be a starter on plenty of MLB teams. Caratini is a switch-hitter who posted a .266/.348/.447 slash line in '19. Chicago's pitchers rave about his game calling and receiving, and manager David Ross has repeatedly mentioned how Caratini provides a "professional at-bat" off the bench.

What they’re saying: "His swing from the right-handed side -- there's more pop,” superstar third baseman Kris Bryant said. “I don't know what he's changed in his swing, but everybody kind of sleeps on him, just because he doesn't get as much playing time. But, he could be a starter on pretty much any other team.

“He's kind of showing it in spring. Numbers don't really mean anything in spring. But just watching him in BP and his at-bats and catching and receiving and framing, he kind of does it all. It's impressive. He's definitely a catcher first, and then hitter. But, he's a really good hitter, too. That says a lot about just the type of ballplayer he is. He doesn't get enough credit." More >

Pirates: Oneil Cruz, SS

The situation: Cruz is the third-ranked prospect in the Pirates’ system and one of the more fascinating prospects across the Majors. One teammate nicknamed Cruz “Avatar” because of his lanky 6-foot-7 frame and athleticism, and he routinely puts on a show in batting practice with his incredible raw power. Cruz has also changed some opinions on his ability to play shortstop at his height.

What they’re saying: “His BP is stupid,” outfielder Bryan Reynolds said. “It’s like he’s not even swinging and it’s coming off hot. It’s just too easy. I saw his home run in here. But just his BP, it’s like he’s not trying, then they’re coming off hotter than anybody.” More >

Reds: Jose Garcia, SS

The situation: Freddy Galvis likely has Cincinnati’s starting shortstop job locked up, but Garcia’s name was mentioned early and often in the Reds clubhouse. The Reds’ No. 5 prospect is a 21-year-old non-roster invitee who has never played an inning above the Class A Advanced level, but his wide array of talents have opened eyes.

What they’re saying: “He’s balling right now and it’s awesome to watch because he’s so young,” said reliever Amir Garrett. “It’s just sick to watch him. It’s his first camp and he’s coming in here showing his swagger, hitting home runs, making plays with his glove. I’m enjoying it.” More >

NL WEST

D-backs: Zac Gallen, RHP

The situation: Fantasy players are likely familiar with Gallen already after he arrived in Arizona prior to last year’s Trade Deadline and compiled a 2.89 ERA over his last eight starts. It would be a big upset if he didn’t land a spot in the D-backs’ rotation when camp breaks.

What they’re saying: “I love how he’s been going about it this spring,” said catcher Carson Kelly. “Watching his 'pens and catching his 'pens, the intent he has on every pitch, it’s just incredible. I think that’s going to translate in games and you’ve already seen it with his performance so far. I feel like it’s going to get him to that next level in his career.” More >

Dodgers: Zach McKinstry, INF and Cody Thomas, OF

The situation: How's this for descriptions: McKinstry is a 33rd-round Draft pick out of Central Michigan who says he's patterned his game after Pete Rose, and Thomas was once the backup quarterback to Baker Mayfield at the University of Oklahoma. They're getting the attention of Los Angeles' star-studded roster.

What they're saying: "It just seems like they’re both having good at-bats, playing good defense," said slugger Max Muncy. "Both driving the ball well. For a couple young guys coming up, that’s not always easy to do in your first big league camp.

"They’re trying to make an impression, and they’re doing a really good job of it. They’re doing it the right way. They’ve been working really hard, and that stands out the most. What I’ve noticed the most is what they’re doing off the field. Going about their business and being quiet.” More >

Giants: Mauricio Dubón, INF

The situation: Acquired from the Brewers in exchange for relievers Drew Pomeranz and Ray Black at last year’s Trade Deadline, Dubón is hoping to make himself a super utilityman for the Giants. He’s getting looks in center field in addition to the infield to maximize his versatility, and he entered Wednesday 7-for-14 with two home runs over six Cactus League games.

What they’re saying: “Watching Dubón has been pretty cool,” said outfielder Hunter Pence. “I've seen a lot of his at-bats. He’s just got athleticism, charisma and charm. It's fun to watch him play.” More >

Padres: Jake Cronenworth, INF/RHP

The situation: San Diego insisted that Tommy Pham wasn’t the only major piece it was getting in its December trade with the Rays that sent Renfroe and Minor Leaguer Xavier Edwards to Tampa Bay. The Padres also got Cronenworth, now their No. 17 prospect, who is a two-way player that can defend, hit from the left side and hurl a mid-90s fastball with two offspeed weapons off the mound.

What they’re saying: "He's just a really good athlete, which makes him good at a lot of different things,” said reliever Craig Stammen. “It just seems like he's under control at all times. He's never out of his element. He does it all. It's hard to make everything look natural, and he makes it all look natural -- hitting, pitching, fielding." More >

Rockies: Tyler Kinley, RHP

The situation: Colorado claimed Kinley off waivers from the Marlins in December, and there’s a feeling that his slider could net him a high-leverage spot in the Rockies’ bullpen. He posted a 3.65 ERA and 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings with Miami last year.

What they’re saying: “Kinley has looked really good,” said superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado. “He works his butt off and it’s fun to watch him go out there and compete. Facing him in Miami, I never really enjoyed it, so I’m really happy that he’s here.” More >

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