(Photo via BoysofSpring.com)
Depending on who you ask, Spring Training can be a cruel or rewarding place. For prospects it’s a chance to showcase their skills against major league competition, and if everything goes right, maybe even break camp with their respective big league club.
The prospects that break camp are the lucky ones, and often they’ve been lucky for their entire baseball careers. You know, the guys drafted straight out of high school in the early rounds who make light work of the minors and find their way onto a big league roster in no time. Sometimes, though, a prospect’s path from highschool to college to the big league’s is much more obscure. Whether it’s a late draft pick who defied the odds or a college no-name that developed faster than usual, here are four prospects with interesting backgrounds that might just break camp this spring.
Woodruff has won a spot in the back end of the Milwaukee Brewers starting rotation. Although the right-hander hasn’t had an ideal spring training so far (7.04 ERA), he is a good prospect with high upside and might have done enough to earn a coveted roster spot.
After being drafted out of high school by the Texas Rangers in the fifth round of the 2011 entry draft, Woodruff decided on attending Mississippi State rather than signing. In three seasons at Mississippi State he struggled with injuries and never fully lived up to his potential, posting a 4.49 ERA with a 3-6 record in that time. Still, Woodruff was drafted in the 11th round (326th overall) of the 2014 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. How did an 11th round draft pick enter 2018 as the Brewers best prospect, according to Baseball America? By fighting his way up the minor leagues and striking out the competition.
In 2016 Woodruff led the minor leagues in both strikeouts (173) and strikeout rate (27.3), going 14-9 with a 2.68 ERA in High-A and Double-A. 2017 saw Woodruff step up to Triple-A, where he went 6-5 with a 4.30 ERA with 8.4 SO9 (strikeouts per nine innings), enough to earn him three different stints with the Brewers. In the majors Woodruff continued to strikeout his competition (6.7 K/9) but was somewhat inconsistent, producing three quality starts in his eight appearances. He now has a chance to shine, but will need to find consistency early for his leash to extend further into 2018.
Duggar is becoming hard to ignore as the 24-year-old makes a push for the San Francisco Giants center-field job. In his 45 spring training at-bats Duggar is hitting .244/.346/.533 with four home runs, 10 RBIs and two stolen bases. Although the competition for the center-field job is tight with Gregor Blanco, Gorkys Hernandez and Austin Jackson all more experienced ball players vying for the job, Duggar has the most potential and is making a name for himself.
Drafted in the sixth round (186th overall) of the 2015 entry draft out of Clemson University where he was a two-time Third Team All-ACC selection and a starting outfielder in all three years of his collegiate career with a career batting average of .299. Duggar made light work of his first two seasons in the minors, hitting .293/.390/.367 in 2015 with Salem-Keizer of the North West league and .302/.388/.448 in 2016 in High-A and Double-A. 2017 is when things got interesting for Duggar, as a right flexor strain in his elbow forced him out of the first seven weeks of the season and then shortly after returning he suffered a left hamstring strain the put him right back on the disabled list.
Things looked grim for Duggar but fortunately he was able to rebound in his 44 games since returning from the DL, combining for a .262 batting average, 12 doubles, six homers and 26 RBI in his short 2017 season. In the offseason he played in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .263 in 20 games and was named to the All-Prospect Team earning him a non-roster invite to Giants camp for the first time in his career. Nobody expect Duggar to rebound from injury this quickly or turn this many heads at his first spring training, but here he is. Soon enough he will likely be a regular contributor to a Giants team on the rebound.
It has been a long journey for Kyle Jensen, but come May it looks like the California native will finally be a regular contributor for a big league club. It looks like Jensen, who will turn 31 in May, will start the season as the first baseman for the San Francisco Giants.
Drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 12th round (368th overall) of the 2009 entry draft, Jensen is not your typical prospect. His baseball career took off at St. Mary’s College where he was named All-West Coast Conference his sophomore and junior seasons, doing enough to sign with the Marlins in 2009. Since then Jensen has spent the last 10 years in the minors and independent leagues, moving through four different big league organizations. After playing eight seasons in the Minor Leagues and Japanese Pacific League, Jensen totaled 3,427 career at-bats with thirteen different baseball clubs, including more than 1,000 at bats in Triple-A.
Finally, on September 3, 2016, Jensen made his Major League debut with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Jensen got off to a hot start, driving in five runs in his first 10 major league at-bats, but he slowly regressed and finished the season batting just .194. Just when things were looking bright, the Diamondbacks released Jesen in the 2016 offseason and he went to play in Japan. In January of 2018 the San Francisco Giants became the fourth major league organization to sign Jensen, inviting him to spring training for the third time in his career. Fortunately this time Jensen is making the most of his opportunity, hitting .333/.526/.926 with five home runs and 10 RBIs in just 27 at bats. He has also played well in the field, and at 30 years of age it looks like Jensen’s years of hard work will finally pay off as the first baseman will finally be a member of a big league roster come opening day.
Born in Elgin, Illinois, Court is a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. This spring he might have a chance to make his major league debut with the club he has admired his entire life.
Drafted in the 23rd round (694th overall) by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2011 draft, Court is an infielder from Illinois State University where he was named to the All-Missouri Valley Conference First Team in 2011 and made 159 straight starts over his final three seasons. That determination he showed in college continued after being drafted as Court battled his way through the minor leagues first in the Diamondbacks system and later with the Red Sox, batting .276 (592-for-2,142) with 141 doubles, 18 triples and 46 homers in six minor league seasons. Court has reached Triple-A in each of his last two seasons including the entirety of last season where he played for Triple-A Pawtucket and hit .263/.347/.410 with 21 doubles, 10 homers, and 44 RBIs. Court’s career could have went many different ways at the end of last season, ultimately ending with the 29-year-old electing free agency and eventually signing with his hometown organization, the Cubs.
“I knew that’s where I wanted to go,” Court said of returning home to Chicago. “Talking to the front office, it was a no-brainer for me. I’m 29, I don’t have any big league time. If I’m going to make the big leagues, I want to earn it.”
Though Court isn’t going to bump Addison Russell or Anthony Rizzo off the infield, he could provide valuable depth. He is hitting an impressive .378/.472/.711 with four homers, seven RBIs, and five stolen bases in 45 at-bats making himself hard to ignore. If he does brake camp with the Cubs this spring, or even gets called up later in the year, it will be a momentous occasion for the lifelong Cubs fan and Illinois native.
Staff Writer at CBBSN. Oren Weisfeld is a freelance writer based out of Toronto having previously worked for VICE Sports, The Western Gazette, London Lightning Basketball, CHRW Radio, and more. He is passionate about sports, music, comedy, politics, and pop culture. Check out Oren's blog at orenweisfeld.com.