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The Class of 2013

Which fab freshmen are likely to be this year's Mike Trout or Bryce Harper?

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Looking for this year's top rookie?

So is every team in the major leagues, and a fortunate few clubs are taking long looks this spring at players who could be the next to take baseball by storm.

Maybe this year's group won't approach the immediate impact of Trout and Harper -- but these guys are talented enough to keep the maybe attached to the statement.

And if nothing else, the specter of finding the next uber prospect -- and the fear of dealing him -- often forces teams to assign high values to their younger players.

"Prospects do get overvalued, and the reason is that you can dream on the upside of the prospect," says Cleveland Indians president Mark Shapiro, who acquired a young prize in pitcher Trevor Bauer this winter. "A veteran is more dependable and reliable, but you're pretty well aware of the upside.

"The younger player has more volatility, but that volatility can happen on both sides, the downside and upside of the prospect."

With that in mind, here's a look at the next wave of potential young stars. Like Trout and Harper, they will likely start the year in the minor leagues. Where they finish? That's what keeps executives dreaming.

Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers

Texas Rangers infielder Jurickson Profar made the March 5 cover of Baseball America as the publication's choice of the game's top prospect, just the latest accolade bestowed on the switch-hitter from Curacao.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is quite aware of the hype surrounding Profar and likes that it's largely coming from outside his organization, but his job is to decide what serves both the team and the player's best interests now and in the future.

For all of Profar's talents -- a quick bat, nice pop for a middle infielder, running speed, a gifted glove and a strong arm -- he's hardly a lock to make the opening day roster, let alone earn a starting position.

Texas happens to be set at Profar's two most likely spots -- he's a shortstop who can also play second base -- with all-stars Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler, respectively, claiming those positions.

The Rangers briefly toyed with the idea of shifting Kinsler to first base and also considered trying Profar in the outfield but discarded both options, at least for now.

"The guy's an infielder," Daniels says. "When we had him in the Dominican (during winter ball), he went out and shagged some balls in the outfield. He's an athlete. If we needed him to do that, I don't think it would be an issue. But we have him focusing in the infield. With Elvis going to the WBC, there should be a lot of playing time for him with the first team."

Profar, who turned 20 in February, passed on the chance to play for The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic in an effort to secure his spot on the Rangers.

He certainly made an impression on them when called up last September, becoming the third teenager and the youngest player in American League history to homer in his first big-league at-bat.

That came on the heels of batting .281 with 14 homers and an .820 OPS at Class AA Frisco (Texas), boosting his prospect stock.

Naturally, Profar would rather stay with the Rangers as a utilityman than play every day in the minors, although simply earning a living as a ballplayer is satisfying in itself.

"This is what I have loved to do since I was a kid and now I get to do it as my job," Profar says, "so you have to enjoy it."

Daniels says the Rangers won't keep Profar around as a seldom-used backup, but may look for creative ways to get him on the field if he makes the team. If not, he'll get other chances soon enough.

"It's not going to kill him to get more development time," Daniels said. "But he's got a maturity about him. He's pretty polished for his age."

Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles

Manager Buck Showalter says the Baltimore Orioles have a plan for their best pitching prospect.

It won't be the Stephen Strasburg plan, probably not exactly the Kris Medlen plan either.

If there's a promising pitcher whose workload this year will be under the microscope, it's Bundy, who pitched a highly regulated 105 innings last season.

"Last year, they were starting me out slow," Bundy, 20, says of his first pro season. "I'll get to throw a lot more this year. Hopefully, this year get up to 150, 160. I understand it a little bit. They want to keep me in progression."

The Orioles aren't revealing the specifics, so don't expect any Strasburg-like hysteria over a late-season shutdown.

"I have a sheet on my desk with every pitcher in the organization and where they're going to go pitch their innings this year," Showalter says, who also considers rookie Kevin Gausman as a candidate for the major league rotation.

Showalter promises this: "We're going to get where they have innings in September and October for the major league team if we think they're a possibility. The important thing with those young guys is that they go through a season, a professional season. We don't want them sitting around in August and not understand what it's like to grind out the last two months of the season."

The hard-throwing Bundy, who made his major league debut last September with 12/3 innings in two games, could find himself relieving late in the season if that's what's needed, which would be the opposite of Atlanta using Medlen out of the bullpen early in the year and moving him to the rotation for a late-season flourish.

"Bundy will start with a longer rope early," Showalter says of likely five-inning starts instead of the three innings he was allowed early last year. Gausman, who's two years older, will get a little more freedom.

"They're going to have an inning count that allows them to do whatever we want them to do for the major league club," Showalter says. "Provided they don't make this club out of spring training."

Adam Eaton, Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks rookie Adam Eaton was about to answer a question about the type of player he is when new teammate Cody Ross arrived at the locker next to him.

"Like Cody always says, 'I'm a baseball player,'" Eaton said, pleased with the generic term.

"Not one great tool, just a baseball player," Ross chimed in.

That simple assessment reflects on Eaton's all-around game -- he runs and throws well, shows surprising pop for his size and can play all three outfield positions -- but it might be selling him short.

The left-handed-hitting Eaton batted at least .300 with an on-base-percentage of better than .400 at each of his stops in the minors, where he posted an impressive career slugging percentage of .510. He projects as the Diamondbacks' starting center fielder after they traded incumbent Chris Young and right fielder Justin Upton in the off-season.

Eaton, 24, got his first taste of the majors last September and may be the answer to the Diamondbacks' years-long search for a prototypical leadoff hitter, a role ideally suited to a player with a .456 OBP in three seasons in the minors.

Like any rookie, he faces a steep learning curve, although it was made easier by his call-up.

"I think experience is more than half the battle in baseball," Eaton said. "Just experiencing certain situations (was helpful). Parks were a big key for me, to see the different aspects of the parks. And also getting more familiar with pitchers and how they attack you."

The 5-8, 185-pound Eaton has a fast-running motor, which can be an advantage for a leadoff hitter looking to create havoc on the base paths. It can also work against a young player who hasn't dealt with much of the failure built into the game, especially at the highest level.

The Diamondbacks saw some of that last season when Eaton, fresh off hitting .381 at Class AAA Reno, went 10-for-25 (.400) in his first five big-league games. Pitchers got to know him a bit more and Eaton fell into a 3-for-25 funk before bouncing back and finishing with a .259 average and .382 OBP in 22 games.

His season ended a bit prematurely on Sept. 29 when a pitch broke his right hand, which Eaton said is now fully healed .

Manager Kirk Gibson said Eaton "cares a ton," and he likes his competitiveness, but still wants to avoid heaping too many expectations on him.

"Everything he did in the minor leagues, we saw pieces of it last year," Gibson says. " To expect him to have 650 plate appearances and do that as a rookie and lead off, that's a lot to expect from a young kid. We'll have to try to get him to that point."

Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals

When the St. Louis Cardinals learned they would not have Chris Carpenter this season, there was no rush to look outside their organization for reinforcements.

It's one thing to have promising prospects available. It's quite another to have some who are big-game tested.

Miller pitched in the NL Championship Series last year. So did Trevor Rosenthal, another rookie who with Miller is part of the spring competition for the opening in the rotation.

Miller has been the top pitching prospect in the organization since he was drafted in the first round in 2009. Waiting his turn no longer is much of an option in his mind.

"That atmosphere benefits me a lot," Miller says of his playoff appearances, which were in relief. "You're in the big leagues and you're pitching for a chance to go to the World Series. It's a little bit of an adrenaline rush."

And it helps with the confidence that he's ready.

"The worst thing is, if there's no room for me, the best thing for me might be to be starting in (Class AAA) Memphis, but that would stink because you know what the big leagues is like. You're in Triple-A and thinking, 'Oh, man.'"

But the Cardinals are a playoff team with plenty of depth. Rosenthal could win the job. So could Joe Kelly, who has 114 major league innings (including playoffs) to Miller's 17. Any of them could end up in the St. Louis bullpen.

"Oh, yeah. I'd accept that," Miller says. "The biggest thing is trying to get a starting spot but if that doesn't happen, I just want to be in St. Louis. Heck, if it's me being a cheerleader, whatever it is."

Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays

The converted catcher was the centrepiece of one of the off-season's most controversial trades.

Even the Kansas City Royals, who traded him to get established major league pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis, were certain Myers is on the short list for the debate over best hitter in the minor leagues.

But the Royals want to end a stretch of 17 losing seasons in 18 years and gambled with a deal that also sent several other prospects to Tampa Bay, a low-revenue team that remains a contender by retooling with young talent.

Now, the Rays believe they have the player nearly ready to complement third baseman Evan Longoria in the middle of the batting order. Myers even has the boyish good looks to threaten Longoria as local matinee idol.

"Physically, he's gifted, different," says Rays manager Joe Maddon. "I look at a guy like that and my first thought is to not screw it up."

Myers' debut might have to wait because delaying it far as June would add a year before he would be eligible for potentially costly salary arbitration and eventually free agency.

"I understand; I can't worry about it," Myers says in the polished and soft-spoken manner that has impressed scouts and front-office executives nearly as much as the 22-year-old's burgeoning offensive credentials. He hit 37 home runs last year spread over Class AA and AAA.

Still, he'll be the Tampa Bay right fielder sooner rather than later. The pitching-rich Rays need offense if they're to improve on the 90-win season that left them three games short of a playoff spot.

The only focus for improvement the Rays see for Myers is the finer points of his defensive work. He's only been an outfielder two years after two years as a catcher. He calls the position switch more of a jolt than the trade.

"I went into 2011 thinking outfield was going to be real easy," he says. "But it's no joke out there. At this level, guys hit the ball so hard, it was an adjustment for me."

But it's still less demanding than catching and allows Myers to focus on the real reason he's on the verge of the major leagues.

"It's more about hitting now," he says.

Oscar Taveras, St. Louis Cardinals

Where is this guy going to play on a team without any apparent opening?

He's such an offensive monster, the appropriate answer might be, "Anywhere he wants."

Taveras, the 20-year-old Class AA Texas League batting champion, can play any of the three outfield positions, though he says he likes right field best.

Good answer. The Cardinals right fielder is Carlos Beltran, a 35-year-old in the final year of his contract. And that's who Taveras is shadowing this spring, a development the Cardinals deem so important they were taken aback when Taveras let it slip he was interested in playing for Canada in the World Baseball Classic.

Taveras is a Dominican but went to school for five years in Montreal, where his father lived, and has a Canadian passport. That's good enough for the sometimes-loose WBC eligibility rules.

The Cardinals' wishes that Taveras remain in their spring camp prevailed. Besides, Beltran left to play for Puerto Rico in the WBC, creating plenty of exhibition game playing time for Taveras.

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak calls Taveras the organization's most impressive offensive talent since Albert Pujols came through the minors.

So, what are the Cardinals waiting for?

Since he's not yet on the 40-man roster, the clock toward Taveras' free agency hasn't begun ticking. That's often a consideration for teams. But Beltran turns 36 in April and has a history of injuries. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny says he's cognizant of the wear and tear on left fielder Matt Holliday, who is 33 and has played at least 156 games three of the past four seasons.

It could be a matter of how soon the Cardinals could find enough major league at-bats for Taveras.

Can he hit in the major leagues right now?

"Yeah, for sure," he says.

-- USA Today

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 10, 2013 ??65528

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