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Minor Developments: Spring watch

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Spring Training is in full swing, so let’s take a look at the early returns. Keep in mind, these stats are only a small sample. While jobs can be won with a strong spring, if those results don’t continue when the real games count, it’s back to riding the minor league bus and gaining additional experience.

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The future could be now for Cubs prospect Javier Baez. (USAT)

One of the more intriguing stories of the spring is whether Cubs top prospect Javier Baez can do enough to open the season as the starting third baseman, despite manager Rick Renteria’s insistence that he’ll begin at Triple-A. So far, he’s given the club a lot to think about, starting out 5-for-15 with two homers. His competition, former top prospect and now current reclamation project Mike Olt, is 3-for-14 with a home run thus far. Smart money is on Baez starting off in the minors regardless of what Olt does, but if Starlin Castro’s hamstring injury is worse than feared and keeps him out of action, he could stick at short. Either way, Baez is an intriguing late-round flier for those in mixers and NL-only leagues.

Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco has gotten off to a nice start, going 6-for-20 with a homer run and steal. He’ll be ticketed for Triple-A to begin the year, but if former top prospects Travis Snider, Jose Tabata , and Andrew Lambo prove ineffective, a June promotion may be in the cards. Polanco’s tremendous defensive ability, along with his power and speed potential, make him another fantasy asset in an already loaded Pirates outfield.

Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers hasn’t ruled out top prospect Archie Bradley in the starting rotation yet, but there’s a logjam ahead of him. Bradley has been excellent so far, posting 6.1 scoreless innings with nine strikeouts and four walks. The young fireballer would benefit for more time at Triple-A refining his control and dominating less skilled hitters, as the walks will catch up to him in the majors. He should find his way to the show at some point this summer, at the very least as a shutdown reliever if a rotation spot doesn’t open up.

The Reds have to be pleased, thus far, with the progress of speedster Billy Hamilton, as it appears the work on developing his bunting is paying off - he’s picked up a few hits by laying it down already this spring. Hamilton has gotten off to a 5-for-16 start, while scoring six runs and also stealing six bases. His game-breaking speed is unlike anything seen in baseball since the days of Vince Coleman, and I’m expecting gaudy stolen base totals. I’ve seen a lot of people be conservative with their predictions for Hamilton, but I’m not one of them. I’m all in for 80 bags.

Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos is doing what he does best, spraying hits all over the field, going 7-for-22 with a homer thus far. He’s always been lauded for his hit tool, with the main question being whether or not his power will ever materialize into 20 homer seasons. I’m not expecting a sudden surge during his rookie campaign, but if he can settle in with 12-15 homers this year, it would bode very well for his future.

It’s been a slow start for Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong, who is 3-for-15 with a steal to start the spring. Wong is a contact hitter who should bring a high average and good speed to the Cardinals, making him a good bet for solid counting stats if he hits near the top of the lineup. With the recent signing of top Cuban prospect Aledmys Diaz though, it will be interesting to see what the Cardinals do long term at second base, as Diaz profiles better there defensively.

Finally, we’ll close with baseball’s consensus top prospect, Twins outfielder Byron Buxton. The toolsy Buxton clubbed his first homer of the spring last week, a highlight in what has been a struggle thus far, as he’s mustered only three hits through his first 19 at-bats. With an eye toward 2015, the Twins are content on letting their prized prospect learn from this experience, and hopeful that he’ll continue his meteoric rise toward the majors with another strong minor league season in ’14. Along with a healthy Miguel Sano, who should be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery next year, the future looks bright in Minnesota. Rob Steingall is a syndicated fantasy analyst. Follow him on Twitter @rsteingall

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