OF Aaron Hicks, Minnesota Twins
You could tell the switch-hitter needed more time at Triple-A Rochester last year, even though he broke camp as the starting 8. He was hitting .179 before a June hammy strain and sent back down in August.
Once a highly regarded prospect, the 24-year-old came into camp with a stronger build and hit .327 in 52 AB. He'll get a do-over in center field as the chief occupant before Byron Buxton arrives sometime in the next two years.
Hicks' 2-for-3 contest versus Chris Sale on Monday already matched the amount of hits in his first 49 AB last year. With more comfort in his second big-league go-around, Hicks could swipe 20 bags in a full season and perhaps approach double-digit homers. Recapturing his farm history of high walk rates could push him to leadoff and break the cupid's arrow that is blinding Ron Gardenhire in his devotion to Brian Dozier and Kurt Suzuki.
Jordan ready to fly
SP Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan, Washington Nationals
Doug Fister's lat strain gives these competitors for the fifth spot an extended trial. He may miss a month-plus of action, so they'll have plenty of time to build on their successful 2013 debuts.
If Washington had to decide between the two today, they'd probably go with the zone-pounding Roark, 27. Jordan, 25, who hasn't pitched in Triple-A yet. Though Roark pitched above his head last year, he's capable of having a stellar month or two and a fine mixed back-end season because he doesn't waste pitches.
But if you're playing the upside game, go with Jordan. His MLB opponents posted a 10.2 swinging-strike percentage, which belies his weak 5.05 K/9 and 13.2 K% from that stretch. His excellent spring command (20 K, 2 BB in 20 2/3 IP), more prominent GB history, and almost two-year-old recovery from Tommy John surgery mean a Jordan Zimmermann-like breakthrough is looming.
SP Robbie Erlin, San Diego Padres
Josh Johnson's latest injury (a forearm strain) opened up the No. 5 spot for the former Texas Rangers draftee. We've been talking about Erlin for some time, so it's easy to forget he's just 23. The southpaw's mediocre first 11 MLB games last year masked his fine control. He won't strike out the world but holds his own, and the fact he's not an elite grounder inducer doesn't hurt him as much in this environment.
While SD's quintet proved to be a shuttle in 2013, Erlin's development advantage over the other pipeline members gives him a reasonably long leash, especially for the earlier months. Johnson is known for long absences, and walk-suppressing starters that call PETCO Park home often go a long way.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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