In looking around Major League Baseball one might find a number of players that haven’t yet panned out, yet still sit on a roster — sometimes prominently — taking up space, and often times earning seven figures via arbitration. There’s a reason they’re still around, however, and that’s because there’s a glimmer of hope the once-promising talent will finds it’s way through the muck to the surface. Here are nine I’m keeping an eye on this spring and summer — four in the bigs, five in the minors.
Desmond Jennings, CF — Tampa Bay Rays
Jennings long has been a favorite of mine, based on a set of tools that includes above-average range in center field, an adequate throwing arm, on-base skills, speed and even a little pop. Now 29, Jennings is coming off yet another injury-plagued season that yielded but 28 games played in 2015. This season likely will be his last in Tampa, as he’ll earn $3.3 million in Year 2 of arbitration. A strong showing in the first half could get Jennings dealt to a club in need of center field help, especially considering the presence of Kevin Kermeier manning the middle of the outfield at the Trop.
Dustin Ackley, IF/OF — New York Yankees
Ackley never showed consistency at the plate in Seattle, only teases. He teased Yankees fans after the trade last summer, and while the ballpark fits him better — his strength is to his pull side as much as any player in the big leagues — a quieter front side suggested by a new voice in the Bronx may be the elixir Ackley needs at 28 years of age. He’ll earn $3.2 million this season with one more go of arbitration next offseason.
Wil Myers, OF — San Diego Padres
Myers has but two years of service time, but after a poor 2014 in Tampa took it up a notch in 60 games with San Diego — .253/.336/.427. It’s nothing to write home about, but if Myers can stay on the field and build on those numbers, he may live up to a good portion of the initial potential, which included words such as ‘all-star.’ He’s 25, and will be all year, and may see some time at first base with the Padres in 2016, though he can handle right field just fine.
Myers was supposed to be part of GM A.J. Preller’s big first offseason running the Padres, so hell get every opportunity to succeed.
Oswaldo Arcia, OF — Minnesota Twins
Arcia, 24, is a bit more like Myers than Jennings or Ackley in that when hes healthy he’s done enough at the plate to warrant more time. He batted .231/.300/.452 in 103 games in 2014 and managed just 19 games in the bigs in 2015 due to injuries. He did bat .276/.338/.379 during that time, but he didn’t get a shot to take his promising ’14 and run with it. He’s a left-handed bat with a good eye at the plate but a long swing; he’s going to strike out, but there’s 20-25 homer power in the bat and enough plate skills to get on base at a league-average clip. He also throws well and can play an average or better right field with regular time.
Mikie Mahtook, OF — Tampa Bay Rays
Mahtook came out of LSU one of the more polished players in the class, ready to play some center field and perhaps within a year or so away with the bat. He had a cup of coffee in 2015 — 115 plate appearances: .295/.351/.619 — and looks ready to contribute regularly at 26. If not, Mahtook could be exposed in next year’s Rule 5 Draft.
Alex Meyer, RHP — Minnesota Twins
Meyer, now a reliever, has yet to command his plus fastball and slider, and his work on a changeup didn’t materialize into much over the course of four-plus years since draft day. This will be his first full season coming out out of the bullpen — maybe doing so will make a difference — but more strikes are necessary, which has been difficult for the 6-foot-9 240-pound Kentucky product.
Brandon Nimmo, OF — New York Mets
Nimmo was a first-round pick in 2011 but has yet to find a swing that fits his physical tool set. There’s still a chance he finds a playable level of power that plays in the majors, especially considering his overall lack of reps prior to the draft, but we’re four years into his pro career — he’ll be 23 in March) and he has 25 long balls in over 1,800 plate appearances. He does make contact and get on base, so there’s always the extra outfielder route, which is where he’s headed without a bump in extra-base production.
Zach Lee, RHP — Los Angeles Dodgers
Lee, now 24, was supposed to be an advanced prep arm when he gave up a chance to play QB at LSU to sign with the Dodgers. He was sitting low-90s in high school with command and a good changeup to go with big-time athleticism, but word is he’s stiffened up mechanically. Whatever happened, he’s now sitting 89-92 mph, the changeup is flatter than ever and neither his slider or curveball have stepped up to provide a swing-and-miss weapon.
Lee still throws a lot of strikes — he issued but 19 walks in 113 1/3 innings in Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2015 — but he isn’t locating well enough to make up for the lack of life and zip on the fastball and the absence of another high-quality pitch.
Jason A. Churchill
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