Corey Dickerson Traded to Pirates; Rays Receive Daniel Hudson, Tristan Gray

The Pittsburgh Pirates announced Thursday they acquired outfielder Corey Dickerson via trade from the Tampa Bay Rays.

Dickerson appeared in 150 games for Tampa Bay in 2017, slashing .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs and 62 RBI as a solid source of power. Pittsburgh gave up pitcher Daniel Hudson, minor league infielder Tristan Gray and cash considerations to land him.

               

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

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Shohei Ohtani to Make Angels Cactus League Debut vs. Brewers as Pitcher

Los Angeles Angels dual-threat sensation Shohei Ohtani is expected to make his first Spring Training start as a pitcher Saturday against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Jeff Fletcher of the Southern California News Group passed along the update Thursday from Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who also noted Ohtani won't be part of the lineup the day after he pitches, leaving Monday's game with the San Diego Padres as his first potential hitting appearance.

                  

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

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Russell Wilson to Participate at Yankees Spring Training for ‘Multiple Days’

New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Thursday that Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson will spend "multiple days" with the team in spring training, according to ESPN.com's Coley Harvey.

Per ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick, Wilson will arrive at spring training in Tampa, Florida, on Monday and stay for six days through March 3.

The Yankees acquired Wilson in a trade with the Texas Rangers on Feb. 7.

            

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

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Colby Rasmus Reportedly Signs Orioles Contract After Sitting Out 2017 Season

Outfielder Colby Rasmus stepped away from baseball during the 2017 season, but the Baltimore Orioles have offered him a route back into the game.

The Associated Press reported the news Wednesday, noting Rasmus was in camp to complete a physical and sign a minor league contract (h/t ESPN.com).

This comes after the Tampa Bay Rays announced in July that Rasmus was stepping away from the game, being placed him on the restricted list as a result. What's more, hip surgery prevented his 2017 debut until May 2, so he played just 37 games during his one season with the Rays.

He slashed .281/.318/.579 in those 37 contests, with nine home runs and 23 RBI.

Rasmus has also played for the St. Louis  Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros and isn't far removed from being a significant power threat.

He drilled a career-high 25 long balls for Houston in 2015, which marked the fourth time he surpassed 20 home runs. He also has a .242 career batting average and .311 on-base percentage and has thrived in the postseason.

Rasmus has played nine playoff games, for the Cardinals and Astros, and sports a .423/.571/1.038 slash line with four home runs.

While it is a small sample size, the 31-year-old could be a veteran leader who thrives under pressure down the stretch if the Orioles are competing for a playoff spot.

Baltimore will need plenty of offense to overcome the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the American League East, and Rasmus would provide some power if he recaptures the form he demonstrated in his prime.

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Colby Rasmus Reportedly Signs Orioles Contract After Sitting Out 2017 Season

Outfielder Colby Rasmus stepped away from baseball during the 2017 season, but the Baltimore Orioles have offered him a route back into the game.

The Associated Press reported the news Wednesday, noting Rasmus was in camp to complete a physical and sign a minor league contract (h/t ESPN.com).

This comes after the Tampa Bay Rays announced in July that Rasmus was stepping away from the game, being placed him on the restricted list as a result. What's more, hip surgery prevented his 2017 debut until May 2, so he played just 37 games during his one season with the Rays.

He slashed .281/.318/.579 in those 37 contests, with nine home runs and 23 RBI.

Rasmus has also played for the St. Louis  Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros and isn't far removed from being a significant power threat.

He drilled a career-high 25 long balls for Houston in 2015, which marked the fourth time he surpassed 20 home runs. He also has a .242 career batting average and .311 on-base percentage and has thrived in the postseason.

Rasmus has played nine playoff games, for the Cardinals and Astros, and sports a .423/.571/1.038 slash line with four home runs.

While it is a small sample size, the 31-year-old could be a veteran leader who thrives under pressure down the stretch if the Orioles are competing for a playoff spot.

Baltimore will need plenty of offense to overcome the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the American League East, and Rasmus would provide some power if he recaptures the form he demonstrated in his prime.

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The Next Vlad Guerrero: MLB’s Top Hitting Prospect Ronald Acuna Is Ready to Star

Alex Anthopoulos is still new on the job with the Atlanta Braves, hired as general manager barely three months ago after the guy who had the job before, John Coppolella, broke too many rules and eventually got banned from baseball. Anthopoulos knows he inherited an organization that should be on the rise, helped by a 20-year-old outfielder who may well be the best prospect in the game.

"I'm just anxious to see him play," Anthopoulos said by phone when Ronald Acuna's name came up this week.

So is everybody else. And while it's Anthopoulos and his staff who will have to make the decision on whether Acuna is ready for the big leagues right now, scouts who have followed the young Venezuelan on his quick journey through the minor leagues have no doubt he is.

"Tell Alex to turn him loose," one National League scout said. "Don't lose this kid by not challenging him."

The scout went on to say that Acuna is the best prospect he has seen in the last couple of years and that "his skills shadow" those of new Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero.

"Bottom line, he resembles a 30-30 type [30 home runs, 30 steals], a terrific athlete in the middle of the order playing a skilled position," the scout said. "He has a demeanor like Vlad. Loves to play. Work habits, makeup, instinct are sound. He's a guy you edge up on your seat when he gets in the box."

"He's ready," another NL scout agreed. "Just get out of the way and let him play."

So there you go, Alex, and you're welcome for the help making your decision easier.

"We're going to keep an open mind," Anthopoulos said. "We do feel he's going to impact us at some point in 2018."

"We'll let the spring play out," Braves manager Brian Snitker agreed. "And we'll see where we're at at the end of camp."

Fair enough. The Braves play their first Grapefruit League game Friday against the New York Mets. They have more than a month to go before their March 29 Opening Day game against the Philadelphia Phillies at SunTrust Park.

Acuna has plenty of time to make an impression.

Or maybe he already has.

"He's a better athlete than everybody else," Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson told David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "... I mean, it's pretty special. It's one of those things that’s even hard to explain really. If you just watch it, you can tell there's a difference, whether you know a lot about baseball or whether you know nothing, you just kind of say, that guy is doing something right."

"He's way ahead of me [as a prospect]," new Hall of Famer Chipper Jones told Mark Bowman of MLB.com. "... He's as good a prospect as I've seen."

On the traditional scouting scale of 20-80, Acuna has a 70 arm and is a 70 runner, one of the scouts said. Think of a .300 hitter who has 25 home runs a year and a guy who qualifies as a "grinder," even though he's a great player.

"He's going to be an All-Star," the scout said. "I don't see any issues."

Neither do the Braves, who originally signed Acuna for a bargain $100,000 and were convinced enough by his talent that they moved him from Class A to Double-A to Triple-A in 2017, all while he was still 19 years old.

On its list of baseball's top 100 prospects, MLB.com ranked Acuna second, behind Japanese import Shohei Ohtani (and just ahead of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.). Baseball America listed him first, ahead of Ohtani. On ESPN.com, Keith Law also listed him first, saying he has a "Mike Trout-ish" profile.

The Trout comparison is understandable if you only look at numbers. In his 54 games at Triple-A Gwinnett in 2017, Acuna had a .940 OPS. He hit with power (nine home runs, 14 doubles in just 243 plate appearances), and he stole 11 bases. And when he moved on to the Arizona Fall League, he had a 1.053 OPS and became the youngest MVP in AFL history.

When Baseball America put together a list of the best minor league seasons primarily above Class A by players who were still in their teens, Acuna was the only player since Trout in 2011 to make the top 10. Trout's 2011 OPS+ was 156; Acuna's OPS+ in 2017 was 155.

But scouts who have seen Acuna play reject the Trout comparison because their body types and profiles are so different. Trout is more powerful, Acuna more athletic.

Veteran Braves people prefer a comparison to Andruw Jones, who topped that Baseball America list with a 188 OPS+ in 1996 and went on to hit two home runs at Yankee Stadium in Game 1 of the World Series that fall.

One NL scout didn't totally dismiss the Jones comparison. He said Acuna isn't the center fielder Jones was but seems more driven to succeed.

The Braves don't need Acuna to be a center fielder, at least not now. They have Ender Inciarte in center, and he won a Gold Glove for the second straight time last year. They don't have an easy answer in left field, not unless they simply hand the position to Acuna.

"We want to do what's best for his development long-term," Anthopoulos said. "He rocketed through the minor leagues last year. There's been some talk about how Dansby Swanson was handled and whether he would have had fewer growing pains if he had stayed longer in the minor leagues."

It's a fair question, given that the Braves had to send Swanson back to the minors for a brief tuneup last July.

"This kid is different," the NL scout countered. "Dansby hurt Dansby because he's so tough on himself. Dansby will be a solid consistent complementary player when he realizes he can't save the world. Or the Braves!"

As for Acuna, he might be able to save the Braves. But he first needs to be unleashed.

                        

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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The Next Vlad Guerrero: MLB’s Top Hitting Prospect Ronald Acuna Is Ready to Star

Alex Anthopoulos is still new on the job with the Atlanta Braves, hired as general manager barely three months ago after the guy who had the job before, John Coppolella, broke too many rules and eventually got banned from baseball. Anthopoulos knows he inherited an organization that should be on the rise, helped by a 20-year-old outfielder who may well be the best prospect in the game.

"I'm just anxious to see him play," Anthopoulos said by phone when Ronald Acuna's name came up this week.

So is everybody else. And while it's Anthopoulos and his staff who will have to make the decision on whether Acuna is ready for the big leagues right now, scouts who have followed the young Venezuelan on his quick journey through the minor leagues have no doubt he is.

"Tell Alex to turn him loose," one National League scout said. "Don't lose this kid by not challenging him."

The scout went on to say that Acuna is the best prospect he has seen in the last couple of years and that "his skills shadow" those of new Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero.

"Bottom line, he resembles a 30-30 type [30 home runs, 30 steals], a terrific athlete in the middle of the order playing a skilled position," the scout said. "He has a demeanor like Vlad. Loves to play. Work habits, makeup, instinct are sound. He's a guy you edge up on your seat when he gets in the box."

"He's ready," another NL scout agreed. "Just get out of the way and let him play."

So there you go, Alex, and you're welcome for the help making your decision easier.

"We're going to keep an open mind," Anthopoulos said. "We do feel he's going to impact us at some point in 2018."

"We'll let the spring play out," Braves manager Brian Snitker agreed. "And we'll see where we're at at the end of camp."

Fair enough. The Braves play their first Grapefruit League game Friday against the New York Mets. They have more than a month to go before their March 29 Opening Day game against the Philadelphia Phillies at SunTrust Park.

Acuna has plenty of time to make an impression.

Or maybe he already has.

"He's a better athlete than everybody else," Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson told David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "... I mean, it's pretty special. It's one of those things that’s even hard to explain really. If you just watch it, you can tell there's a difference, whether you know a lot about baseball or whether you know nothing, you just kind of say, that guy is doing something right."

"He's way ahead of me [as a prospect]," new Hall of Famer Chipper Jones told Mark Bowman of MLB.com. "... He's as good a prospect as I've seen."

On the traditional scouting scale of 20-80, Acuna has a 70 arm and is a 70 runner, one of the scouts said. Think of a .300 hitter who has 25 home runs a year and a guy who qualifies as a "grinder," even though he's a great player.

"He's going to be an All-Star," the scout said. "I don't see any issues."

Neither do the Braves, who originally signed Acuna for a bargain $100,000 and were convinced enough by his talent that they moved him from Class A to Double-A to Triple-A in 2017, all while he was still 19 years old.

On its list of baseball's top 100 prospects, MLB.com ranked Acuna second, behind Japanese import Shohei Ohtani (and just ahead of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.). Baseball America listed him first, ahead of Ohtani. On ESPN.com, Keith Law also listed him first, saying he has a "Mike Trout-ish" profile.

The Trout comparison is understandable if you only look at numbers. In his 54 games at Triple-A Gwinnett in 2017, Acuna had a .940 OPS. He hit with power (nine home runs, 14 doubles in just 243 plate appearances), and he stole 11 bases. And when he moved on to the Arizona Fall League, he had a 1.053 OPS and became the youngest MVP in AFL history.

When Baseball America put together a list of the best minor league seasons primarily above Class A by players who were still in their teens, Acuna was the only player since Trout in 2011 to make the top 10. Trout's 2011 OPS+ was 156; Acuna's OPS+ in 2017 was 155.

But scouts who have seen Acuna play reject the Trout comparison because their body types and profiles are so different. Trout is more powerful, Acuna more athletic.

Veteran Braves people prefer a comparison to Andruw Jones, who topped that Baseball America list with a 188 OPS+ in 1996 and went on to hit two home runs at Yankee Stadium in Game 1 of the World Series that fall.

One NL scout didn't totally dismiss the Jones comparison. He said Acuna isn't the center fielder Jones was but seems more driven to succeed.

The Braves don't need Acuna to be a center fielder, at least not now. They have Ender Inciarte in center, and he won a Gold Glove for the second straight time last year. They don't have an easy answer in left field, not unless they simply hand the position to Acuna.

"We want to do what's best for his development long-term," Anthopoulos said. "He rocketed through the minor leagues last year. There's been some talk about how Dansby Swanson was handled and whether he would have had fewer growing pains if he had stayed longer in the minor leagues."

It's a fair question, given that the Braves had to send Swanson back to the minors for a brief tuneup last July.

"This kid is different," the NL scout countered. "Dansby hurt Dansby because he's so tough on himself. Dansby will be a solid consistent complementary player when he realizes he can't save the world. Or the Braves!"

As for Acuna, he might be able to save the Braves. But he first needs to be unleashed.

                        

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Brian Cashman Calls Yankees ‘The Little Engine That Could’

The New York Yankees have 27 World Series championships and play in a massive media market, but general manager Brian Cashman likened them to underdogs Wednesday while appearing on ESPN New York's The Michael Kay Show.

"We're 'The Little Engine That Could,'" Cashman said, via Coley Harvey of ESPN.com.

The description came when he was asked to compare the Bronx Bombers to the defending American League East champion and archrival Boston Red Sox.

               

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

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Report: MLB Discussed Letting Losing Team Use Any Hitters It Wants in 9th Inning

Some MLB executives have discusse the idea of allowing a losing team's manager to put any hitter at the plate in the ninth inning, Rich Eisen reported on his radio show Tuesday.

According to Eisen, the proposed rule would only apply to the ninth inning, and managers would be able to designate any three hitters to start the inning:

Eisen shared a comment from the anonymous executive about the rule:

"Best argument is that no other sport has the best players sitting on the bench in the final minutes of a game. Imagine [Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James] or [New England Patriots quarterback] Tom Brady or [Pittsburgh Penguins forward] Sidney Crosby or [Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo] watching on the sideline."

MLB is taking a number of steps in order to speed up the pace of play and make baseball more engaging for the viewing audience. Most recently, the league announced teams are limited to six mound visits per game—not related to pitching changes—as well as a measure to cut down slightly on the time between innings.

Although MLB decided against implementing a pitch clock ahead of the 2018 season, that will almost certainly be on the table once again when the league wants to address the pace of play.

The idea of allowing a manager of the losing team to reshuffle the first three batters in the ninth inning will probably be too radical for serious consideration.

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Top Astros Prospect Forrest Whitley Suspended 50 Games for Drug Violation

Houston Astros prospect Forrest Whitley has been suspended 50 games for violating minor league baseball's drug program.

Per MLB.com's Brian McTaggart, Major League Baseball announced Whitley's suspension Wednesday.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow addressed Whitley's failed drug test, via McTaggart:

"We're disappointed in the outcome. We support Major League Baseball's drug program, and we do everything we can to educate our guys and keep them from making decisions that results in suspensions. But in this case, as an organization, we're going to suffer a little bit. But we're still hopeful and optimistic Forrest is going to be a big part of our future."

The Astros selected Whitley with the 17th overall pick in the 2016 MLB draft. His name was frequently mentioned in trade talks during the offseason, including in the lead-up to Houston's acquisition of Gerrit Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates last month.

"I'm not going to lie to you, I've been paying pretty close attention to it," Whitley told McTaggart in January about the trade talks. "It's got me on my toes, but that's out of my control. That's up to Jeff, that's up to people higher up in the Astros."

Whitley is Houston's top prospect and the No. 9 prospect overall in 2018, per MLB.com. The 20-year-old had a 2.83 ERA with 143 strikeouts in 92.1 innings across three levels last season.

Currently on the roster of the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks, Whitley will be eligible to return May 29 against the Springfield Cardinals.

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Chris Tillman Re-Signs with Orioles on Reported 1-Year Contract

Chris Tillman has returned to the Baltimore Orioles after agreeing to a one-year contract.

Baltimore announced the deal Wednesday after Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com reported the contract Monday.

Tillman is coming off the worst season of his MLB career. The 29-year-old right-hander didn't debut until May 7 as he spent April rehabbing a lingering shoulder injury.

The shoulder may have been an issue for Tillman throughout the 2017 campaign as he finished 1-7 with a 7.84 ERA in 24 appearances. According to FanGraphs, his 6.93 FIP was the highest among pitchers who logged at least 90 innings.

Beginning in August, Tillman shuttled between the rotation and the bullpen. Orioles manager Buck Showalter questioned whether the shoulder injury factored into the pitcher's poor performance.

"What would the indicators be?" Showalter said to reporters. "He's throwing the ball harder than he has in the last two or three years. He's throwing the ball 92-94 [mph] last night."

Showalter's assessment was a little off the mark, though. According to Brooks Baseball, Tillman's fastball averaged 91.24 mph, and his sinker clocked in at 90.89 mph. He averaged 92.90 and 92.74 mph on the two pitches, respectively, in 2016.

Pitching with an injury would help explain why a pitcher who had a career 4.13 ERA and a 4.45 FIP, per Baseball Reference, became one of the worst starters in baseball. Tillman also walked 4.9 batters per nine innings in 2017, compared to 3.2 from 2009 to 2016.

MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko questioned whether Tillman would want to stay in Baltimore after such a rough season.  

"It makes no sense on the surface for a pitcher attempting to reestablish his value on the market to reside in the American League East and call Camden Yards home," Kubatko wrote. "But I've also heard about the lure of being in an organization that already knows him and likely would exhibit more patience if he gets off to a slow start in spring training."  

Tillman could be a solid bounce-back candidate in 2018. If his shoulder was bothering him, then he has had an entire offseason to rest and get back to 100 percent. The opportunity to pitch his way to a bigger contract will also be a strong incentive.  

Over his career, Tillman has been a mid-rotation starter, so expecting him to pitch like an ace in 2018 is unrealistic. Should he return to his pre-2017 self, though, he'll be a solid value signing for the Orioles.  

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Cameron Maybin, Marlins Agree on Contract, LF Already in Camp

Outfielder Cameron Maybin struggled at the plate during the 2017 season, but the Miami Marlins have provided him with another opportunity.

On Wednesday, the Marlins announced the deal with Maybin (h/t Joe Frisaro of MLB.com) after Tim Healey of the Sun Sentinel first reported Maybin had signed with the Marlins and was already at spring training. He previously played for the organization from 2008-10.

Maybin's somewhat journeyman career has contained stints for the Detroit Tigers, then-Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Angels and Houston Astros.

He finished the 2017 campaign on the Astros after they acquired him from the Angels in August before the waiver trade deadline.

In all, Maybin slashed .228/.318/.365 in 114 games for Los Angeles and Houston in 2017. While his 10 home runs tied a career high and his 33 stolen bases were impressive, he struggled to make much of an impact for the Astros during the pennant race, with a .186/.226/.441 slash line in 21 games.

A thumb injury was partially to blame for limiting him to just 94 games in 2016 during a second spell with the Tigers. He was more effective in those games, though, slashing .315/.383/.418 with 15 steals.

At his best, Maybin is a speed threat on the bases, which makes up for his lack of game-changing power. He tallied 40 stolen bases in 2011 for the Padres and has 164 in his career.

However, that speed didn't translate into particularly impressive defense in recent years. According to FanGraphs, Maybin was responsible for minus-11 total defensive runs saved above average in center field in 2016 and minus-16 in 2015.

Those numbers were a far cry from the plus-14 he posted in the same category in 2011 for the Padres.

Despite the injuries and declining defense, Maybin has shown enough at the plate and as a speedster on the bases for the Marlins to offer him a deal. He is just 30 years old and theoretically still in his prime, and Miami will look for consistent production amid a rebuild in 2018.

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Colby Rasmus Rumors: Orioles Focusing on Contract with Free-Agent LF

The Baltimore Orioles and free-agent outfielder Colby Rasmus reportedly have mutual interest in a contract, according to Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun

Per Encina, the O's have been in search of a left-handed hitting outfielder throughout free agency, and Rasmus fits the bill.

        

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available. 

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Sixto Sanchez: 19-Year-Old Pedro Martinez Clone Already Has 102 MPH Heat

The kid on the mound stood 6' tall, maybe a tick under. He had signed a couple of years earlier out of the Dominican Republic, and right away it was obvious he had a strong right arm.

Comparisons were made to Pedro Martinez. That was no surprise, because there are always Pedro Martinez comparisons for right-handed pitchers out of the Dominican Republic, especially the ones a tad shorter and slimmer than normal by major league standards.

But for one National League scout who showed up to watch Sixto Sanchez last summer at a Class A ballpark down by the Jersey shore, there was no need to imagine if this was what Pedro Martinez looked like at the same age. The scout had seen the young Pedro, well before he was winning Cy Youngs in Montreal and Boston and making All-Star teams and eventually riding an 18-year big league career right into Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame.

He'd seen Pedro as a thin kid pitching in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, and now he was watching Sanchez and having flashbacks.

"It was like he was a clone," the scout said a few months later. "Physically, he looks like him. He has the same style of pitching, the same delivery. And for a young guy, I loved his poise and presence. For me, he is Pedro Martinez."

Or as close as you're going to get at age 18, anyway.

Sanchez will turn 20 in July. He could be in Double-A by then, on a fast track to the big leagues and perhaps even to stardom. He could be a guy for whom one name is sufficient, where you just say "Sixto" and everyone knows it's him, just as you say "Pedro" and everyone knows which one you mean.

For now, he's Sixto Sanchez, one of the crown jewels of the Phillies system, a talent ranked 26th on MLB.com's list of the Top 100 prospects in the minor leagues, up from 47th a year ago. Baseball America has him one spot higher, at No. 25, up from No. 80 a year earlier.

MLB.com wasn't around when Pedro was young. Baseball America left Martinez off its Top 100 when he was 19, then listed him 10th when he had just turned 20. Brien Taylor, Todd Van Poppel and Roger Salkeld (all pitchers) were the top three prospects on that 1992 list—a rough reminder that prospects don't always develop as planned.

So far, there's no reason to believe Sanchez won't.

"He's one of those guys where you can't wait to see what he'll be in a couple years," said Shawn Williams, who managed Sanchez at Class A Clearwater, where he finished the 2017 season.

"I know I'm biased because I was his manager," said Marty Malloy, who had Sanchez at Class A Lakewood, his first 2017 stop. "But this kid is special. A special talent."


Watching Sanchez now, it's hard to imagine there was a time when he wasn't special. But back in the fall of 2014, he was just a 16-year-old shortstop who had just started learning how to pitch. A Phillies scout named Luis Garcia liked him enough to bring him to a workout at the Phillies' academy in the Dominican Republic.

Sanchez was not the featured player at the workout. Instead, he was there to throw batting practice to Lednier Ricardo, a Cuban catcher the Phillies wanted to check out. Ricardo was a big enough deal that then-Phils general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. sent special assistant Bart Braun to take a look.

"I remember calling Ruben and Mike [Ondo] and telling them, 'We're not going to sign the catcher, but we might have found a pitcher,'" Braun recalled in a 2016 interview with Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. "It was kind of an accident, a luck deal. We were in the right place at the right time. Sometimes, when you keep working, you bump into stuff."

The Phillies signed Sanchez for $35,000. Ladnier eventually signed with the New York Mets, never made it past Class A and was released after the 2016 season.

By then, Sanchez was on his way. He'd made 11 starts in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, pitching 54 innings and allowing just four runs (three earned) to go with 44 strikeouts and only eight walks.

"You want to see this kid," GCL Phils pitching coach Hector Mercado told Aaron Fultz, who was the pitching coach for Clearwater.

Fultz went to see Sanchez. Then he went to see him again.

"I must have seen five different starts that season," Fultz said. "He was already as good as any starter I had on the high-A team. He had poise, and he was as dominant a pitcher as I've ever see in the Gulf Coast League.

Sanchez was just 17, but he was already throwing his fastball 97-98 mph.

"It would be like [Justin] Verlander facing a team of 13-year-olds," Fultz said. "It was that dominating."


While the stats weren't there in five late-season starts with the Class A Threshers in 2017, the "stuff" was. Hidden in a 4.55 ERA was a fastball that has been clocked as high as 102 mph and a changeup Sanchez throws with great arm action. There's also a slider that shows potential and a curveball he can throw for strikes. Then there's the fast pace at which he works. He gets the ball and wants to throw the next pitch. There's no self doubt, no overthinking.

"He didn't act like he was 19," Williams said. "He wasn't scared at all. He wants to pitch every day, the whole game."

The Phillies didn't let him do that, choosing to put the same type of pitch and innings limits on Sanchez that just about every organization now imposes on young pitchers. Sanchez never exceeded 80 pitches in his 13 starts for the Lakewood Blue Claws, the Phillies' Class A affiliate, and never threw more than 85 pitches in a game all season.

He threw enough strikes to make it through five innings in all but one of his final 15 starts. There was even some concern that he threw too many strikes at times, that he still needed to learn how to spot the ball on or just off the corner with two strikes.

It's all part of his learning process. It wasn't long ago he was a shortstop.

"They made me a shortstop because I was little," Sanchez told Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer last winter. "I wasn't strong."

He's still not big, but there's no questioning his arm strength. His managers and coaches speak glowingly about his dedication to work, on the mound and also in the weight room. Even with the electric stuff, Malloy said Sanchez impressed him just as much with what he did when he wasn't pitching.

"Just the way he handled everything," Malloy said. "The smile on his face every day of the week. But maybe if I threw 100, I'd have that smile, too."


Scouts are always looking for comparables, using the image of a player you know to help you picture a prospect you haven't yet seen. Johnny Cueto, Jose Fernandez and Luis Severino come up as Sanchez comparables, but it's the Martinez correlation that may have the best chance to stick.

That would no doubt be fine with Sanchez, who told Gelb he admired the Hall of Famer.

"He's good-looking," Sanchez said. "And he's tough."

Martinez rode that toughness to Cooperstown. Sanchez has just reached Class A. Given his age and experience level, he'll begin this season back at Clearwater.

"The Florida State League is a good challenge for him," Phillies minor league director Joe Jordan said. "He's going to tell us when he needs a new challenge. If he stays in the Florida State League all season, that would be fine. But if he performs the way he has, that likely won't be the case."

Pitchers can move fast, particularly pitchers with 102 mph fastballs. And once a pitcher with Sanchez's potential gets to Double-A, he's only a hot streak, an injury-created need or a phone call away from his major league debut.

"To me, this year will be a big sign of where he is, how good he is, how good he's going to be," Malloy said. "It was easy for him last year. That's why, in my opinion, this year is going to be important."

He's still just 19. His birthday is July 29. Pedro was a month from turning 21 when he made his major league debut in 1992.

Sanchez isn't Pedro, not yet. But the potential is there. And the reason to watch him is, too.

    

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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Ranking the Top 50 MLB Players at the Start of Spring Training Games

There are 750 players in Major League Baseball during the regular season. During spring training, many more vie for spots on 25-man rosters.

It's not easy to narrow a list of the best down to just 50 players. But go ahead and try to stop us.

There's no good way to do this objectively. The best we can do is make a subjective call by weighing the following factors:

  • Track Record: The better a guy has played in the major leagues, the fairer it is to refer to him as one of the best players in the major leagues. If a player doesn't have a big league track record, he has no place on this list. Looking at you, Shohei Ohtani.
  • Upside and Downside: However, players also rise and fall from year to year. Generally speaking, it's young, talented players who do the rising and older, more well-traveled players who do the falling.
  • Health: This is sort of an addendum to the above point, but it's worth iterating that good health helps inspire confidence. Players who are currently injured or recovering from injuries or operations might deserve some doubt by default.

Now, it's on to the honorable mentions and then the top 50.

Begin Slideshow

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Dodgers GM Declines Comment on Clayton Kershaw Contract, SP Has ‘Open Dialogue’

Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi said his team has kept an "open dialogue" with ace Clayton Kershaw as he approaches potential free agency next winter.

Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reported the news, noting Zaidi wouldn't specifically mention whether the two sides have discussed Kershaw's contract but that he still called him "our franchise player" when mentioning the dialogue.

The southpaw has an out clause in his contract and could test free agency following the 2018 season.

Kershaw will turn 30 on March 19 but showed few signs of slowing in 2017, notching a 2.31 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 202 strikeouts in 175 innings. The last time he had an ERA above 2.91 was during his rookie year in 2008, and he has posted an ERA below 2.00 three times.

He already has a Hall of Fame resume as the 2014 National League MVP, a three-time NL Cy Young Award winner, a five-time NL ERA titlist and a seven-time All-Star and likely has plenty of productive years remaining given his recent outputs, though he has missed time with back injuries the last two seasons.

Kershaw has been with the Dodgers his entire career, and it's difficult to envision him wearing any other uniform. He is arguably the most dominant force in the entire sport, however, and would almost assuredly generate massive interest and offers on the market.

His immediate future figures to be one of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason if he doesn't work something out with Los Angeles, as his presence alone could dramatically reshape any starting rotation.

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Willson Contreras: Cubs May Ignore Mound Visit Rule Changes

Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras is apparently no fan of Major League Baseball's new rules intended to improve pace of play. 

"I don't even care," Contreras said Tuesday while indicating he may visit the mound more times than allowed, per Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com. "If I have to go [out there] again and pay the price for my team I will."

His comments come after Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area noted Monday MLB announced new rules that include decreasing the time between innings and limiting mound visits to six per team in a nine-inning regulation contest.

Despite the new rules, the league decided against adding a pitch clock in 2018.

           

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

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Lance McCullers Jr. Rips MLB for New Mound Visit Rules, Talks Sign-Stealing

After Major League Baseball announced rule changes to limit mound visits per game, per USA Today, Houston Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. explained that the real problem was players stealing signals.

"You think I want to break rhythm and tempo during a game to talk about signs behind my glove?" McCullers added in a since-deleted tweet (via Charles Curtis of For The Win). "No, it's a necessary reaction to an issue we, as pitchers and catchers, are facing. I guess enforcing the integrity by hitting batters is better than an extra four minutes to exchange signs." 

       

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

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Report: Steven Souza Traded to D-Backs; Brandon Drury to Yankees in 3-Team Deal

The New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks reportedly have completed a three-team trade that will send third baseman Brandon Drury to the Yankees, second baseman Nick Solak to the Rays and right-fielder Steven Souza to the Diamondbacks, according to Robert Murray of FanRag Sports and Buster Olney of ESPN.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post added more context on the Drury addition for the Yankees:

         

This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.

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