Spring training is good for more than suntans and unchecked optimism. It's the time of the year when prospect list rankings and Opening Day roster projections are published on a steady basis. At some point, those concepts must converge -- more often than not this spring, that point has been after St. Louis Cardinals outfielder and No. 6 prospect Jordan Walker punishes a pitch.
Walker entered the week hitting .429/.429/1.000 with three home runs and three doubles in his first 21 at-bats. Baseball Reference tracks each player's quality of competition during the exhibition season based on where they played last season. Per their calculations, Walker's average opponent faced has been closer to Triple-A-quality than big-league-quality, yet that hasn't muted increasing calls for Walker to crack St. Louis' Opening Day roster. The Cardinals seem open to the possibility based on their comments thus far.
'We're a handful of games in and there's still a lot of camp left," manager Oli Marmol told Katie Woo of The Athletic. "But if it's a matter of if he's showing well and showing that he can hold his own at the big league level at the moment? Yeah, he's showing that he's capable."
Walker isn't the only top prospect fighting for a roster spot. Below, CBS Sports has highlighted 10 other players who are at least in consideration. You might wonder what makes someone a top prospect -- for the purposes of this article, the definition is "anyone who made CBS Sports' top 50 list." Easy enough.
Now, let's get to it. (Do note that the players are presented in order of their prospect rank.)
1. Gunnar Henderson, INF, Baltimore Orioles (No. 1)
Welcome to the show, Gunnar Henderson! His first hit is a homer!!! pic.twitter.com/degCCLZTHP— MLB (@MLB) August 31, 2022
The player: Henderson batted .259/.348/.440 (123 OPS+), fielded at three infield positions last season during a 34-game stint and ranked as my top prospect over the winter because of his impact potential on both sides of the ball. He pairs well-above-average raw power with a good approach, and he has the requisite footwork and arm strength to play the left side of the infield. The biggest knock on him right now is his lackluster performance versus lefties.
The situation: Henderson is certain to make the Opening Day roster, though how Brandon Hyde divides Baltimore's infield assignments is to be seen. It's probably fair to assume Henderson will be the shortstop most days, with Ramón Urías getting the nod at the hot corner. Free-agent signing Adam Frazier and last year's shortstop Jorge Mateo could form a platoon, with Frazier seeing action against right-handed pitching. The path of least resistance would have Mateo slotting in at second, leaving Henderson undisturbed. It's possible the Orioles would prefer to have Mateo play short on those days, with Henderson sliding elsewhere to make room. Whatever the case, Henderson will enter the year with favorable odds of becoming the second consecutive Oriole to finish highly in the AL Rookie of the Year Award balloting.
2. Corbin Carroll, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks (No. 2)
The player: Carroll too reached the majors late last season, batting .260/.330/.500 (133 OPS+) with four home runs and two steals in 32 games. Carroll possesses top-of-the-scale speed, empowering him to be a high-quality defensive outfielder. He both hits for more power and swings-and-misses more than his small, slight frame suggests he should. Nevertheless, Carroll has All-Star potential thanks to his wide array of tools.
The situation: Carroll's outlook is similar to Henderson's: he's going to make the cut, but it's not clear where he'll be used defensively. Torey Lovullo favored Daulton Varsho and Alek Thomas in center last season; Varsho is now with the Blue Jays, and Thomas still has to prove he's big-league-ready. It's conceivable that Carroll ping-pongs between center and left, with the exact breakdown being determined by how the rest of Arizona's outfield develops.
3. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (No. 7)
The player: Rodriguez would have debuted last season had he not suffered a right lat strain that wiped out most of his second half. He has a big, strong frame and his repertoire includes three high-grade offerings in his fastball, slider, and changeup. He struck out 37 percent of the batters he faced last season, suggesting he's ready to square off against big-league competition.
The situation: General manager Mike Elias has said that he expects Rodriguez to crack Baltimore's Opening Day rotation. The Orioles do have several other pitchers competing for spots: offseason acquisitions Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin would seem to be locks, leaving three spots to be earned by some combination of Rodriguez, Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Austin Voth, Spenser Watkins, and Tyler Wells. We will note that if the Orioles want to limit Rodriguez's workload (he's never thrown more than 103 innings in a season), it might make sense for them to start him off in Triple-A, where his outings can be micromanaged without concern for the game's outcome. Otherwise, Baltimore may have to deploy a spot starter at times throughout the year.
4. Ezequiel Tovar, SS, Colorado Rockies (No. 27)
No. 2 @Rockies prospect Ezequiel Tovar (MLB No. 27) connects on his first homer in The Show! pic.twitter.com/Yi8OE1JQYA— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) October 5, 2022
The player: Tovar received a cup of coffee late last season, popping up in nine games without making much noise at the plate. He hit .319/.387/.540 across the upper minors last season, however, and scouts have projected him to hit for average and some power at maturation. Tovar has a wide berth at the plate because of his glove: he's a smooth-fielding shortstop with a strong arm.
The situation: The Rockies gave four players at least one start apiece at shortstop last season, and half of them are no longer with the organization. That leaves Tovar and Alan Trejo at the top of the depth chart. (Former first-round pick Cole Tucker signed a minor-league pact with Colorado.) Barring a disastrous spring, Tovar would appear to be the favorite for the job. Of course, the Rockies often march to the beat of their own drum machine, so it's reasonable to take a wait-and-see approach here.
5. Hunter Brown, RHP, Houston Astros (No. 28)
The player: Brown struck out 22 batters in 20 innings last season during a seven-game introduction to the majors. He worked primarily in relief, and it's possible that's where he ends up for the long haul. Brown has a high-octane fastball and a swing-and-miss breaker, but he needs to tighten his handle.
The situation: The Astros had enough big-league arms entering the spring -- including five starters with two-plus years of service time -- that it appeared an optimal deployment of Brown would have him working on his command in Triple-A to begin the season. Since then, Lance McCullers Jr.'s injury has all but paved the way for Brown to crack Houston's starting five.
6. Miguel Vargas, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers (No. 34)
The player: Vargas appeared in 18 big-league games last season without showing much life at the plate. That's unlikely to remain the case heading forward, as scouts are high on his marriage of contact and power skills.
The situation: Every indication is that Vargas is going to open the season as the Dodgers' starting second baseman. His experience at the hot corner could come in handy at some point if the Dodgers change plans at second base, or if they grow tired of either his defense at the keystone or Max Muncy's at third. The one risk factor here is that Vargas has been dealing with a fractured finger that has prevented him from swinging so far this spring. Provided he heals up in time, it shouldn't be a long-term issue.
7. Triston Casas, 1B, Boston Red Sox (No. 36)
Triston Casas has arrived. pic.twitter.com/NhsFhX0buC— Red Sox (@RedSox) September 6, 2022
The player: The lefty-swinging Casas was Boston's first-round pick in 2018. He had an unusual first spin in the majors last season, hitting .197/.358/.408 (113 OPS+) in 95 plate appearances. Casas showed good discipline and well-above-average juice during that stay, and he made contact at a league-average rate, a positive indicator as it relates to his batting average.
The situation: Casas is the favorite to open the season as Boston's first baseman. The Red Sox do have one other option in tow in Bobby Dalbec, but he performed poorly last season. If anything, the combination of Casas and Dalbec could make sense as part of a platoon situation. Shy of that, Dalbec surfaced in trade rumors during the winter, and he could be on his way out of the organization if he struggles to begin his age-28 season.
8. Oswald Peraza, SS New York Yankees (No. 41)
The player: Peraza, often overshadowed on the New York farm by the well-regarded Anthony Volpe, provided the Yankees lineup with a spark last season by hitting .306/.404/.429 (139 OPS+) in 18 games. He made an impressive amount of contact within the strike zone, and has received high marks for his speed and his glove. Indeed, Peraza's defense makes him -- not Volpe -- the odds-on favorite to serve as the Yankees' shortstop of the future.
The situation: The thing about the future is that sometimes it arrives without announcement. Shy of Peraza laying a goose egg or injuring himself later this spring, he would seem to have the inside lane on Isiah Kiner-Falefa as it pertains to the starting job. (Kiner-Falefa, for those who may have forgotten, had a tough first season in New York.) The Yankees also have Volpe coming at some point and Oswaldo Cabrera already in tow, but he would seem to be better deployed in a super-utility role.
9. Logan O'Hoppe, C, Los Angeles Angels (No. 43)
The player: O'Hoppe came over from the Phillies last summer in the trade that sent Brandon Marsh to the eventual National League champions. He's a well-rounded, if not particularly flashy backstop with a track record of performing well in the upper minors. He ended last season in the majors.
The situation: General manager Perry Minasian has taken an aggressive approach with young players during his tenure. Giving O'Hoppe first dibs at the starting catcher job would fit in with Minasian's greater philosophy. It's not as though the Angels have many other options to throw out there either. Veteran Max Stassi is best deployed in a timeshare, and former first-round pick Matt Thaiss probably isn't good enough behind the plate to merit the trouble.
10. Josh Jung, 3B, Texas Rangers (No. 50)
The player: Jung has taken the scenic route since being selected eighth overall in the 2019 draft. He missed most of last season because of a torn labrum, but he did work his way into The Show for a 26-game stretch late in the year. It didn't go well. He posted an 83 OPS+ and struck out 35 more times than he walked in 102 plate appearances. Jung has been praised by enough scouts for his pure hitting ability in the past to suggest better days are coming.
The situation: The Rangers blocked off half the infield the winter before last by signing Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to massive free-agent deals. Third base remains up for grabs, and Jung should get a prolonged opportunity to take it for his own this season. It is worth noting that he's entering his age-25 year, meaning that the Rangers might give up the ghost on him if he falters. In that scenario, Texas could slot in former trade acquisition Ezequiel Duran.