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5 players turning heads during early days of spring training

theScore logo theScore 3/7/2019 Simon Sharkey-Gotlieb
a man holding a baseball bat © Hannah Foslien / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Spring training is in full swing, and the league's stars are slowly working their way into regular-season shape.

But February and March aren't just about All-Stars rounding into form. Training camp is an important time for players who aren't guaranteed roster spots, or anyone trying to rebound from a rough season.

And although spring statistics don't always portend greatness once games matter, it doesn't hurt a player's cause to put on a show in the Grapefruit or Cactus League.

Here are five players turning heads early in spring training.

Lewis Brinson, Marlins

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Brinson was tabbed as a key piece of the Marlins' future after being acquired in last year's Christian Yelich trade. But the former top prospect hit rock bottom in 2018, slashing .199/.240/.338 (62 OPS+) with 120 strikeouts in 406 plate appearances. He also led all big-league outfielders with nine errors.

Many were quick to call him a bust after that abysmal campaign, a label Brinson is doing his best to ditch early in the spring. Through his first nine Grapefruit League contests, the 24-year-old has recorded a .429/.478/1.190 slash line with a spring-training high five homers (including two on Monday) and six runs scored.

If that's a sign of something finally clicking for Brinson, the Marlins will be in a very good place.

Byron Buxton, Twins

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Last year was a disaster for Buxton. After breaking out and leading the Twins to the playoffs in 2017, injuries plagued him in 2018. He spent more time in Triple-A than the majors, and despite his pedigree as a Gold Glove center fielder, the 25-year-old didn't receive a September call-up.

So far this spring, Buxton is putting 2018 behind him while slashing .429/.500/1.143 with three homers and 11 RBIs.

He's recorded just 14 at-bats, making for a small sample size even by spring standards. But that shouldn't be much of a downer for the Twins right now. The team needs the second overall pick in 2012 healthy and producing, and he's on track to reclaim his starting spot.

Pete Alonso, Mets

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Pete Alonso (don't call him Peter) is ripping up the Grapefruit League and throwing a wrench into the Mets' plan at first base.

Through seven games, Alonso is hitting .412 (7-for-17) with four extra-base hits and a pair of homers. He's making it difficult for New York to keep him down, but coming north is far from a guarantee. Dom Smith (.500, one home run) and J.D. Davis (8-for-26, one home run) are competing for the first-base job with Alonso and also having fine springs.

Then there's the whole service-time manipulation issue that could result in Alonso heading to Syracuse in April. Regardless, he's opening plenty of eyes this spring and should be manning first base in Queens soon.

Yusniel Diaz, Orioles

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Diaz is the Orioles' top prospect, and he was the centerpiece of the Manny Machado deal with the Dodgers last July.

His production dipped after the trade, but now the 22-year-old appears to have entered spring training on a mission. He's gone 10-for-26 with a homer through his first 10 games, and although the Cuban hasn't walked yet, he's struck out just four times.

Diaz hasn't played above Double-A, so he's probably ticketed for Triple-A Norfolk barring an injury. But a strong spring is putting the Orioles on notice that his major-league arrival is imminent.

Yu Darvish, Cubs

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Darvish's first season in Chicago was one to forget, as injuries limited him to just nine mediocre starts in 2018. If the spring is any indication, the second year of his contract with the Cubs is promising to be much better.

It's a very small sample size (3 1/3 innings), but the 32-year-old already owns a 2.70 ERA and has yet to allow a hit. Sure, he's only struck out three batters while walking five, but that's not important for Darvish right now since the veteran is hitting 97 mph with his electric fastball.

"I feel the best (I have) in my career," he told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times after his most recent outing. That should be music to Cubs fans' ears.

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