Alec Burleson

Alec Burleson

Height: 6-2
Weight: 225 lbs
Age: 25
St Louis Cardinals

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The Score1 player from each MLB team standing out in spring

Every spring, there are a number of MLB players who open eyes with strong performances in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues. Here, we look at a player from each team who's made an impact.*All stats from spring training gamesRyne Nelson, Diamondbacks Norm Hall / Getty Images Sport / Getty IP ERA WHIP K 20.1 2.66 1.43 26 Nelson has been effective so far this spring as he tries to lock up the No. 5 spot in Arizona's rotation to start the season. The 26-year-old struggled to the tune of a 5.31 ERA and 1.42 WHIP over 27 starts last season but will be counted on early in the campaign with Eduardo Rodriguez sidelined.Chris Sale, Braves Julio Aguilar / Getty Images Sport / Getty IP ERA WHIP K 11.2 3.86 1.20 17 The Braves surprised many when they acquired Sale from the Red Sox. The veteran left-hander struggled through injuries over the past few seasons. Atlanta is hoping to keep Sale healthy when the postseason rolls around to give them a formidable top of the rotation alongside Spencer Strider, who has been his dominant self in spring, and Max Fried. The 34-year-old looks primed for a big season, flashing his trademark brilliance so far this spring.Colton Cowser, Orioles Brace Hemmelgarn / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 18 6 13 .304/.418/.717 1.135 Cowser struggled in his first 26 MLB games last season, hitting just .115 with zero home runs. Jackson Holliday has dominated the conversation at Orioles camp so far this spring, but Cowser, the team's No. 2 prospect, put together quite an audition to secure a roster spot for Opening Day.Ceddanne Rafaela, Red Sox Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 21 3 8 .281/.339/.544 .883 Rafaela has put himself in position to earn the Opening Day center field job for the Red Sox after Rob Refsnyder broke his toe. The 23-year-old is a consensus top-100 prospect on most lists and has showcased his five-tool potential this spring. The development of Rafaela will be one of the more exciting storylines for Red Sox fans to follow in 2024.Shota Imanaga, Cubs Chris Coduto / Getty Images Sport / Getty Innings ERA WHIP Strikeouts 9.2 4.66 1.24 19 The Cubs handed Imanaga a four-year, $53-million contract, hoping he could emerge as a No. 2 or No. 3 in the rotation. The 30-year-old has already shown flashes of what he might be capable of this spring, punching out nine batters in his first start against Oakland. Imanaga has good command and a variety of different offerings to throw at hitters with two strikes.Eloy Jim nez, White Sox Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 18 2 13 .333/.370/.529 .899 Jim nez played 100 games for only the second time in his career last season but produced middling offensive numbers. The 27-year-old hasn't reached the 20-homer plateau since his rookie campaign in 2019. With the White Sox firmly in a rebuild, Jim nez could emerge as a prime trade chip if he's able to carry over his strong spring performance into the regular season.Elly De La Cruz, Reds Dylan Buell / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP 2B 3B HR SB AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 17 3 2 2 5 .280/.379/.540 .919 De La Cruz had an up-and-down rookie season, setting the house on fire right out of the gate before slumping badly down the stretch. The 22-year-old already ranks among the game's most electrifying players. If he can find a bit more consistency at the plate, the sky is the limit for De La Cruz heading into his first full MLB season.Shane Bieber, Guardians Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty IP ERA K WHIP OPP AVG 17.1 1.56 19 0.81 .130 Bieber is entering his final season under contract and looking to rebound after a less-than-stellar performance in 2023. The 2020 AL Cy Young has flashed some increased velocity so far this spring, raising hope in Cleveland that a return to his past form might be in the cards for 2024. Bieber could emerge as one of the season's most interesting trade candidates if Cleveland falls out of contention and he stays both healthy and productive on the mound.Michael Toglia, Rockies Diamond Images / Diamond Images / Getty GP 2B HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 21 3 5 13 .260/.339/.620 .959 Toglia's power has been on full display during spring training. The 25-year-old has had issues with strikeouts during his career but made some improvements in 78 Triple-A games last season. Toglia appears ticketed for the minors to start the season but should get another MLB opportunity at some point in 2024.Andy Ib ez, Tigers Megan Briggs / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 20 5 11 .279/.333/.674 1.007 Ib ez showed some promise last season and appears to have carried some of that momentum into the spring. The 30-year-old has shown good knowledge of the strike zone throughout his career and has the offensive profile to be an effective bench piece for a Tigers team looking to contend in the AL Central.Ronel Blanco, Astros Megan Briggs / Getty Images Sport / Getty IP ERA K WHIP OPP AVG 15.2 0.00 18 0.64 .118 Blanco's spring performance has been a huge development as the Astros navigate several injuries in the rotation, including ones to Justin Verlander and Jos Urquidy. The 30-year-old is expected to begin the season as either the No. 4 or No. 5 in the rotation.Nick Pratto, Royals Jamie Squire / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 13 4 13 .421/.476/.816 1.292 The Royals optioned Pratto to Triple-A despite his monster numbers this spring. The 2017 first-round pick struggled last season, posting a 79 wRC+ with a 40% strikeout rate. He could earn another look at the major-league level with a strong start to the season.Aaron Hicks, Angels Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty GP 2B HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 17 3 2 6 .385/.510/.667 1.177 Hicks resurrected his career with the Orioles last season, hitting seven home runs with an .806 OPS after a trade from the Yankees. The Angels added Hicks on a league-minimum deal, and he's looking to secure an outfield spot for Opening Day. He's outperformed former top prospect Jo Adell to this point in spring.James Outman, Dodgers MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images / MediaNews Group / Getty GP 2B HR .AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 12 3 2 .345/.441/.655 1.096 Outman's spring performance flew under the radar amid the hype at Dodgers camp surrounding Shohei Ohtani. The 26-year-old put together a nice rookie campaign but struggled at times, especially against left-handed pitching. It appears the Dodgers are going to give him every opportunity as the starting center fielder in 2024. A.J. Puk, Marlins Megan Briggs / Getty Images Sport / Getty IP ERA WHIP K OPP AVG 13.2 1.32 1.17 23 .231 The Marlins have been ravaged by injuries in the rotation to Sandy Alcantara, Braxton Garrett, Edward Cabrera, and Eury P rez. Puk is making the shift back to starting after spending time as Miami's closer in 2023. The left-hander was drafted as a starter in the first round back in 2016 and is showing why he was a highly-touted prospect with his performance this spring.Eric Haase, Brewers Michael Reaves / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP 2B HR .AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 17 3 4 .378/.452/.784 1.236 The veteran catcher has opened some eyes at Brewers camp with an impressive showing at the plate. Haase struggled mightily last season but was an above-average offensive player, totaling 36 home runs over the 2021 and 2022 seasons. The 31-year-old appears to have done enough to earn the backup catcher spot behind William Contreras.Bailey Ober, Twins David Berding / Getty Images Sport / Getty Innings ERA WHIP Strikeouts 10 4.50 1.20 16 Ober had a breakout season in 2023, registering a 3.43 ERA and 9.1 K/9 across 144 1/3 innings. The right-hander has carried that momentum over and appears primed to build off last season's success. Ober's velocity has ticked up this spring, and he earned the praise of Phillies star Bryce Harper after an outing against Philadelphia.Luis Severino, Mets Newsday LLC / Newsday / Getty Innings ERA WHIP Strikeouts 14 1.29 0.71 12 The Mets took a gamble on Severino after he posted a 6.65 ERA in 89 1/3 innings for the Yankees last season. The veteran right-hander has looked sharp on the mound in spring with strong velocity as he aims to stay healthy and recapture some of his past form. Juan Soto, Yankees New York Yankees / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP 2B HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 15 3 4 10 .326/.396/.674 1.070 Soto looks primed to return to his perch as one of the game's best offensive players after two years that were slightly below the lofty standard he set early in his career. The 25-year-old should give the Yankees baseball's most intimidating offensive duo alongside 2022 AL MVP Aaron Judge. Soto seems set on testing free agency next winter, and the stars appear to be aligned for him to put together a monstrous walk season in the Bronx.Mason Miller, Athletics Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images IP ERA WHIP K OPP AVG 6.2 4.05 1.05 11 .200 The Athletics moved Miller to a bullpen role after he made six starts last season. The 25-year-old has an impressive fastball that can reach triple digits and pairs it with a good slider. Miller has all the tools to earn the closer's role in Oakland and could be one of the most exciting Athletics to watch in 2024. Whit Merrifield, Phillies Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty GP 2B HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 15 6 2 7 .390/.390/.732 1.122 The Phillies signed Merrifield to a one-year, $8-million contract with plans to have him fill a utility role at a handful of different positions. The 35-year-old's skill set feels like an ideal fit for a team that has visions of yet another deep October run.Oneil Cruz, Pirates Ben Jackson / Major League Baseball / Getty GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 15 7 14 .273/.347/.773 1.120 A devastating ankle injury limited Cruz to only nine games in 2023. The young star's declared himself fully healthy this spring, and his performance at the plate drives that home. Cruz has been hitting the ball with authority, including a home run with an exit velocity of 116 mph. The Pirates are a trendy sleeper pick in a less-than-stellar NL Central. A healthy and productive season from Cruz would go a long way to helping Pittsburgh play its way into contention for the first time in almost a decade.Jackson Merrill, Padres Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP 2B HR RBI SB AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 13 3 2 6 2 .351/.400/.595 .995 Merrill forced the Padres' hand with a strong spring performance, earning the club's starting center field job. The 21-year-old is one of baseball's premier prospects, thanks in part to a polished offensive profile that utilizes all parts of the field effectively. Merrill should be a mainstay for the Friars for many years to come.Matt Chapman, Giants Christian Petersen / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 9 2 .280/.400/.560 .960 Chapman's looked sharp at the plate and in the field despite getting a late start to spring after signing in early March. The Gold Glove third baseman should provide a huge boost to the Giants, who ranked 21st in fWAR and 23rd in wRC+ at the position in 2023.Jorge Polanco, Mariners John E. Moore III / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 16 3 15 .436/.511/.769 1.280 Polanco looks very comfortable at the plate in his first spring with the Mariners after he was acquired in a trade from the Twins. Seattle's second basemen combined to hit 17 home runs with a .212 average last season. Polanco is a lifetime .269 hitter with a 111 wRC+. He'll provide a major upgrade at the position in 2024.Alec Burleson, Cardinals Mitchell Leff / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP 2B HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 19 4 1 .364/.442/.523 .965 Burleson appears ticketed for left field to start the season with the Cardinals navigating injuries to Tommy Edman and Lars Nootbaar. The versatile Burleson does a good job putting the ball in play and avoiding strikeouts with a career 13.5% strikeout rate. He's struck out in just three of 43 at-bats this spring. Zack Littell, Rays Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images Sport / Getty IP ERA WHIP K OPP AVG 13.1 1.35 1.13 13 .240 The Rays will be counting on Littell to become a consistent performer in the rotation with injuries to Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, and Jeffrey Springs. Littell had a career season in 2023 and has carried over some of that momentum into spring training.Wyatt Langford, Rangers Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 19 6 20 .375/.429/.732 1.161 The fourth overall pick from last summer's draft has showcased his immense power potential so far this spring, utilizing all parts of the field to earn an Opening Day roster spot. Langford only played five games at Triple-A last season but made a strong case that he's ready to showcase his skills at baseball's highest level.Alejandro Kirk, Blue Jays Alika Jenner / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 14 3 9 .342/.390/.684 1.074 Kirk's hit the ground running so far this spring after a so-so performance at the plate in 2023. The Blue Jays will be heavily reliant on Kirk early in the season with catching partner Danny Jansen sidelined due to a broken bone in his wrist. Kirk returning to All-Star form would go a long way to helping the Blue Jays rebound from a disappointing offensive season last year.James Wood, Nationals Rich Storry / Getty Images Sport / Getty GP HR RBI BB AVG/OBP/SLG OPS 22 4 7 10 .372/.509/.721 1.230 Wood was one of the big pieces the Nationals acquired in the Juan Soto blockbuster in 2022. The 21-year-old already looks like a future building block for the Nationals with five-tool potential. Wood hit a few impressive home runs this spring and despite failing to make the Opening Day roster, it might not be long until he makes is MLB debut. Copyright © 2024 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Source: The Score
Monday, Mar 25, 2024