In what is both the best and worst tradition of spring training, beat writers, who have the unenviable task of having to produce a story every day when there simply isn't always one, invariably write an article about how good some young pitcher in camp looks throwing bullpens or even facing some live hitters. The article will feature quotes from coaches saying how impressed they are with his velocity in their first look at said pitcher. It will contain comments from a catcher saying how he's got the best stuff of anybody on the team. And the kicker, it will contain a nondescript quote from someone in the front office that doesn't completely discount the possibility of this young phenom making the major league club, even though he has no more chance than the article's author.
In what becomes a well-written piece of unauthorized hype, the subject player is said to be doing things like "opening eyes" and "wowing his coaches" ultimately working his way into the conversation for a final roster spot of some sort. In reality, of course, the player has no more chance of making his club than he did when the trucks arrived in Florida or Arizona, but with story-lines at a premium in spring training, these are the kinds of headlines that generate interest. It's just writers doing their jobs, but it's both fun and frustrating nonetheless.
Not all prospects are eligible for the unwarranted hype. For example, Taijuan Walker has a very realistic of making the Mariners roster this spring, and the team is already penciling him into a rotation spot. Any article about how good he looks is, in fact, quite warranted. Yordano Ventura falls into the same category. He may not be as secure in his rotation spot with the Royals as Walker is with the Mariners, but his chances of making the big league rotation are legitimate and will not be the fabrication of a column deadline.
The same can not be said for the players on this list. I stuck with pitchers for now because the premium velocity that comes with young arms is the easiest thing to spot on back fields in March. None of these pitching prospects will make their team's opening day roster (barring a terrible decision), but you will read some kind of story about each of them this spring talking about how they might.
Archie Bradley - Bradley gets honorable mention because, while he shouldn't make the Diamondbacks roster for financial reasons, he is likely one of their five best pitchers and insinuating that he has a chance won't be complete hyperbole. If the Diamondbacks decide Bradley is ready, they have only a year of service time and money to lose. Any story claiming that he's ready to make the big league roster this spring will be accurate, though it doesn't mean that the Diamondbacks will have actually made that decision until they say so themselves.
Marcus Stroman - The Blue Jays would have the same financial concerns regarding Stroman (years of control, super-two, etc.) as the Diamondbacks do with Bradley, but the contingent of major leaguers standing in his way isn't as good as the ones blocking Bradley, so it would be less of a stretch to see him make the jump. Again, he probably won't, but he's going to turn some serious heads in Dunedin this spring and people will be talking.
Stephenson is going to put on a show in this his first major league spring training. Nothing creates more excitement than a plus-plus fastball popping the mitts in late February, and Stephenson can do just that. Stephenson is a wonder pitching prospect, but he'll turn just 21 this month and has only four starts in Double-A under his belt. He has zero chance to make the Reds starting rotation this spring, but that won't stop someone from making a ridiculous comparison between his fastball and Alrodis Chapman's. Stephenson's velocity is top-level, but it's not in the Chapman-shpere. No one's is. Stephenson will get a chance to face some major league hitters before he's cut and should fare just fine, especially if his curveball is on as well, but this is not his year.
4 - Mark Appel
Appel isn't going to wow people with eye-popping stuff the way Stephenson will (though Appel's stuff is impressive in its own right), but with his refined approach and mature demeanor both on and off the field, the ill-informed may mistake him for a major league veteran already. That coupled with his abilities and the Astros putrid major league pitching staff will bring up the inevitable questions, but the Astros have a good thing going and aren't going to mess it up by deviating from their plan. Appel should be in the majors in 2014, but it won't be in April.
3 - Jameson Taillon
Following almost the exact same storyline and path as former fellow prospect Gerrit Cole, Taillon will enter spring training, show off multiple plus pitches and make everyone wonder why he isn't already in the majors. The Pirates, however, have this down to a science at this point, making it a habit of calling up top prospects in June when the super-two deadline has passed. They're not going to change that plan for Taillon if they didn't change it for Cole, no matter what you read.
2 - Eddie Butler
The Rockies and Butler are the perfect storm of spring training hype in that the organization has serious question marks about its rotation and Butler has perhaps the most impressive pure arm in the minor leagues. One inning in the Future's Game this July put him on the national spotlight and a month full of throwing 96-mph bowling balls to major league hitters and breaking catcher's thumbs who haven't caught him before should be enough to get the papers talking. Butler still needs time and, while the Rockies have a lot of question marks in their rotation, they also have a lot of potential answers to check out before they turn to Butler. He'll get there this year, but more than six starts in Double-A would be nice before he gets thrown to the wolves at Coors Field.
All the forces come together for Syndergaard to be the victim of major spring training hype. He's a highly touted pitching prospect who should be ready for the majors at some point in 2014. He plays for a New York team with more writers covering it than most teams, leaving them grasping for story-lines come mid-March. It's the Mets, who have a track record of letting spring training performances dictate personnel decisions, most notably with the Jenrry Mejia fiasco. And lastly, their team isn't very good, opening the door for superior talent to overtake nondescript veterans. Syndergaard won't make the Mets roster this spring, but he is impressive and should sell some papers, especially with a decent outing or two before he gets cut.