Temperatures are in the low teens and there's snow on the ground as I write this in suburban Chicago, but it warms my heart to think that worthwhile baseball isn't too far away.
The NCAA Division I schedule begins next weekend, Spring Training games will start in less than three weeks, and the countdown to big league contests that actually matter in the standings is at 52 days.
MLBPipeline.com unveiled its new overall Top 100 Prospects list two weeks ago, and 17 players cracked the Top 50 after getting left off the Top 100 entering the 2015 season. Of that group, Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes (No. 13), Rays left-hander Blake Snell (No. 14) and Rangers outfielder Lewis Brinson (No. 16) currently rank the highest. Willson Contreras (No. 50), who's now baseball's best catching prospect, didn't even make our Cubs Top 30 Prospects list a year ago.
I'll give you an all-star team of candidates to make a similar leap in 2016:
C: Tyler Stephenson, Reds
1B: Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
2B: Alex Blandino, Reds
3B: Ke'Bryan Hayes, Pirates
SS: Lucius Fox, Giants
OF: Harold Ramirez, Pirates
OF: Raimel Tapia, Rockies
OF: Alex Verdugo, Dodgers
LHP: Justus Sheffield, Indians
RHP: Sean Reid-Foley, Blue Jays
@jimcallisMLB@MLBPipeline Urias & DeLeon given ST invites, do you foresee them sticking w/ the club on Opening day? Sal G Dodgertown
I can't imagine any club boasts a more intriguing pair of non-roster pitchers in its camp than the Dodgers do. Julio Urias is the best left-handed pitching prospect in the game, and he could make his big league debut as a teenager, while Jose De Leon is a 24th-round steal who led the Minors with 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2015. However, don't expect either of them to open the season in Los Angeles.
Even with Brandon McCarthy sidelined until midseason while he recovers from Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers have plenty of veteran rotation options in lefties Clayton Kershaw, Scott Kazmir, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Alex Wood and righties Brett Anderson, Kenta Maeda and Mike Bolsinger. Urias has logged 4 1/3 innings at Triple-A, and De Leon has yet to pitch at that level, so both figure to begin the year at Triple-A Oklahoma City. Though Los Angeles does have a lot of starter depth, that often thins out over the course of the season, and both Urias and De Leon are talented enough to force their way to the big leagues during the summer.
Martin, a fourth-round pick from Walters State (Tenn.) CC in 2014, already has established himself as one of the best left-handed pitching prospects in the Rangers' system. His best pitch is his curveball, and he also owns a low-90s fastball and a sinking changeup. He does a nice job of throwing strikes, has projection remaining in his lanky 6-foot-4 frame, and he could develop into a mid-rotation starter.
Cabbage also was a fourth-rounder, signing last summer out of Grainger High (Rutledge, Tenn.), and he could wind up as the Twins' third baseman of the future. He has the swing, approach and projectable build to hit for both average and power, and his athleticism and solid arm make him a good defender at the hot corner.
How do you compare college catchers Chris Okey (Clemson) and Sean Murphy (Wright State) in terms of raw tools and ceiling?
-- Francisco D., Atlanta
Okey is the lone catcher among MLBPipeline.com's Top 50 Draft Prospects, checking in at No. 42 overall. Murphy likely will make the list when it expands to 100 in mid-April. He actually has the two loudest tools between them, with well-above-average arm strength and plus raw power, but Okey has a better track record of success and has faced tougher competition.
Okey is more athletic than most catchers, and he could have four average tools when he's fully developed, projecting as a possible .260 hitter with 15 homers per season. Murphy has more offensive upside, but he also comes with more risk, because his right-handed swing can get long, and he's not as proven as a receiver and leader as Okey is. Both project as possible big league regulars, with Murphy perhaps having a great chance to become an All-Star, but Okey possessing the higher floor.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.