Prospect three-day weekend

This weekend marks the official start of spring training games, meaning we get to see actual major leaguers in actual big league uniforms (well, spring BP-type jerseys at least), and most importantly for prospect watchers, minor leaguers in action before they get sent down to minor league camp.

But before we get set for this weekend’s inaugural spring games, let’s catch you up on the week that was in prospect-land.

Moving the meter

In the News Out of the Blue category, it was reported on Saturday that Yankees catching prospect Gary Sanchez will undergo heart surgery. The 18-year-old apparently has had a condition since birth that was recently detected, and it was necessary to perform surgery to “cauterize an extra nerve” in his heart. I can’t pretend to know what that means exactly, but heart surgery is never a simple issue. The Yankees insist, however, that this will have no long-term effects on Sanchez as a prospect, but it remains to be seen when he will return to game action. Stay tuned.

In less serious, but more consequential, injury news, Jeremy Hellickson has been dealing with a hamstring injury thus far in camp, causing him to miss workouts for the better part of a week. The Rays rookie righthander first felt some discomfort last Thursday, and did not participate in team activities over the weekend, but is scheduled to throw off a mound this weekend.

The injury shouldn’t be serious or have any lasting effects, but the longer Hellickson misses time this spring, the more impact it will have on his preparation for the season. The Rays are counting on Hellickson to grab their fifth starter job and replace the departed Matt Garza in their rotation, but most teams are able to get through the first few weeks of the season without using a fifth starter, allowing the Rays to be cautious with their top prospect.

Annual spring hype

Every year, a prospect comes into camp, usually a highly touted flame-throwing pitching prospect that everyone is eager to see, and is so impressive it gets everyone talking about the possibility of him making the team, even though he has no realistic chance. Last year it was Jenrry Mejia, who was so impressive that the Mets actually gave in to their urges and broke camp with him in their bullpen. That said much less about the talents of Mejia and more about the general discombobulation of the Mets organization.

This year, that prospect is Julio Teheran of the Atlanta Braves, who with their stability and track record will almost assuredly handle this situation better and send Teheran back to the minors. But that hasn’t stopped the hype surrounding their top pitching prospect.

Luckily for Braves fans, the talk around the 20-year-old Columbian righthander is more along the lines of “man, he’s going to be great when he gets up here” and not “man, I wonder if we could ruin his development by rushing him to the majors as a seventh-inning bullpen arm, hurt his shoulder, send him back to the minors, turn him back into a starter, kill any progress being made with his breaking pitches, and slow his timetable to the majors down altogether.” (I’m paraphrasing the Mets logic from last year—they probably didn’t actually say that)

The ironic thing is that Teheran would probably be better suited for such an ill-advised jump then Mejia was, because the most remarkable thing about him at this point in his development is his pinpoint control. Mejia was getting by in the spring thanks to the devastating velocity/movement combination on his fastball, which was essentially his only fully developed pitch. Regardless, the Braves will make the right decision, if for no other reason than their already crowded major league rotation. Unlike the Mets last season, who were short on bullpen arms and were being led by a manager/GM combo that was fighting for their professional lives, the Braves brass is established enough not to succumb to temptation.

Prospect action this spring

A few prospects are already scheduled to appear in this weekend’s first batch of spring games. Andy Oliver will be starting the Tigers opener, while the Mets will do the same with Mejia. The Mariners have their intrasquad game on Friday and will pit prospect starters Michael Pineda and Blake Beavan against one another. And Brad Lincoln is the second pitcher scheduled to appear for the Pirates on Saturday.

And because, here at the Three-Day Weekend we like to go above and beyond for our readers, we’ll even point out to you that Bryce Harper will make his spring debut on Monday, as a replacement in either left or right field.

References & Resources

MLB’s Diversity Fellowship Is a Step in the Right Direction
It is not a perfect program, but it certainly counts as progress.

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You might be a bit harsh regarding the Mets’ treatment of Mejia last year.  I will grant you that (a) the Mets front office has been more than a little dysfunctional at times over the past couple of years and (b) Mejia to date doesn’t appear that he has taken well to the development path of the 2010 campaign.  However, lots of teams have historically asked top prospects to mature with middle relief innings before being asked to take on starting roles in the majors.  Earl Weaver is a well-known proponent of the practice and did this for years.  I… Read more »