MLB Spring Training 2012: Burning Questions for All 30 Teams
Spring training has officially arrived, and with it, the countdown to opening day has begun. The introduction of an extra wild card to each league helps a lot of teams improve their playoff chances while also putting more emphasis on winning their division.
Whether teams are rebuilding, in the playoff hunt or contenders for a World Series title, they all have question marks in 2012.
Here is one burning question for each MLB team.
Can the Diamondbacks repeat as NL West Champions?
The D'Backs came out of nowhere in 2011 to claim the NL West title with a 94-68 record. They had a powerful offense with Justin Upton and his 31 home runs leading the way. Their pitching staff was average, but included a 20-game winner in Ian Kennedy.
The road to repeat will be a tough one for Arizona. The Giants, Rockies and Dodgers are all looking to make a run for the division in 2012.
Prediction: No, Rockies or Giants take the crown
Will Jason Heyward bounce back in 2012?
Heyward had a successful rookie campaign, hitting .277 with 18 home runs. He came back in 2011 and was struck by the dreaded sophomore slump, hard. He hit .227 in just 128 games due to ineffectiveness and injury.
The Braves have a shot at challenging the Phillies and winning the NL East. A healthy and effective Heyward would go a long way in helping them accomplish this.
Prediction: Yes, Heyward hits .270 with 20-plus home runs
Can the Orioles lock up Adam Jones long-term?
Sorry, Orioles fans, there's not much to look forward to in 2012 with four good teams in the AL East. Baltimore needs to worry about the future and signing Adam Jones to a big deal would be a great start.
Jones avoided arbitration this season and agreed to a $6.15 million deal for 2012. He will become a free agent after the 2013 season and may want to test the waters. The Orioles must ink a deal this year or trade him to avoid losing him to free agency.
Prediction: No, Jones gets traded at the deadline for prospects
Boston Red Sox
Will Bobby Valentine help Boston avenge the historic collapse of 2011?
The collapse that haunted Red Sox fans in 2011 caused a number of changes this offseason for Boston. Bobby Valentine will replace Terry Francona as the new manager for 2012. He has already set new rules on alcohol after the issues this past season.
With the second wild card being added, there is even more incentive to win the AL East. The Rays and Yankees are both capable of taking home the division crown this year. Adrian Gonzalez and the Red Sox better be prepared for a tough 2012 season.
Prediction: Yes, Red Sox win the AL East
Chicago White Sox
Can 2011 busts get back into 2010 form under Ventura?
The White Sox underwent some big changes in the offseason, most notably losing Mark Buehrle and Ozzie Guillen to the Miami Marlins. It looks to be a rebuilding season for the South Siders under new manager Robin Ventura.
There is some talent still left on the team. Both Alex Rios and Adam Dunn put up big numbers in 2010, only to be huge busts in 2011. This year will show us whether last season was just a fluke or if these two have just put their best seasons behind them.
Prediction: No and yes, Rios improves only slightly while Dunn hits 30-plus home runs
How will Theo's rebuilding process go in year one?
The Cubs started planning for the future this offseason, unloading Carlos Zambrano, Sean Marshall and Andrew Cashner, among others, to bring in some great young prospects. The most highly regarded of the incoming players is Anthony Rizzo, a 22-year-old first baseman from the San Diego Padres.
It remains to be seen how Rizzo and other young prospects like Brett Jackson perform in 2012, but all eyes will be on what moves Theo makes with the team's possible trade pieces.
Prediction: Cubs clean house at the deadline; trade Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol, Matt Garza and Marlon Byrd
Can they pull it all together and win the NL Central?
Two years ago, NL MVP Joey Votto led the Reds to a 91-71 record and an NL Central title. Last year, Cincinnati took a step backwards and finished the season at 79-83, good for third in the division behind the Cardinals and Brewers.
These are the two teams that the Reds will have to battle in 2012, but the departure of Prince Fielder from the Brewers and Albert Pujols from the Cardinals put the Reds in prime position to take the division. New addition Mat Latos will help a troubled rotation, and Votto and Bruce will lead the powerful offense in Cincinnati.
Prediction: Yes, Reds win 90 games and take the division
Can Ubaldo Jimenez and Jason Kipnis perform in their first full year with the Tribe?
A deadline deal sent Ubaldo Jimenez to the Indians from the Rockies in July 2011, and the former phenom struggled in 11 starts. Jason Kipnis was called up from the minors in the same month and hit .272 with seven home runs in just 150 plate appearances.
Cleveland has some pieces in place coming off an 80-win season. Jimenez needs to prove he can pitch like an ace, and Kipnis has to show he can perform well all season. If these two can find success, the Indians may be in the hunt for the second wild card spot in the American League.
Prediction: No and yes, Jimenez struggles but Kipnis has a great sophomore year
With two healthy superstars, can the Rockies make a playoff run?
One of the main problems for the Rockies in 2011 was injuries. Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki both missed games due to injury and had to play through them at times. If they can play a full season, things could improve significantly for Colorado.
Jhoulys Chacin is an ace in the making, while the rest of the rotation is patched up and new in 2012. With a few added bats on top of an already-dominant lineup, the Rockies could contend for the division title this season.
Prediction: Yes, Rockies make the playoffs
Can Prince Fielder help lead the Tigers to an AL pennant?
The Detroit Tigers won 95 games last year and made it to the ALCS, where they lost to the Texas Rangers. In the offseason, they lost Victor Martinez to injury for the year, but added slugger Prince Fielder. Miguel Cabrera will shift over to third to make room for him at first.
A returning Justin Verlander and a top-ranked offense make the Tigers favorites in the AL Central and one of the top teams in the league. This year, their sights are set on the World Series, where they haven't been since 2006.
Prediction: No, Tigers win the division but lose in the ALCS again
Can Brett Myers be a successful closer in 2012?
The Houston Astros recently made the move to send Brett Myers to the bullpen. The Astros desperately need a reliable closer after blowing 25 of 50 save opportunities last season.
Myers was the closer for the Phillies in 2007 and had success, saving 21 of 24 games with a K/9 over 10. His departure from the starting rotation leaves room for younger guys to develop and makes the team's closer role less of a question mark.
Prediction: Yes, Myers finishes with around 30 saves and good numbers
Kansas City Royals
Can Eric Hosmer lead the Royals to a wild card berth?
The Kansas City Royals won just 71 games last year, but had a great offense. They scored the 10th-most runs in the major leagues with a lineup led by Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler. Their offense also includes Alex Gordon, Jeff Francoeur and Mike Moustakas.
To improve their rotation, they sent Melky Cabrera to the Giants in an offseason trade for lefty Jonathan Sanchez. He joins Luke Hochevar at the top of the Royals pitching rotation. The team has the potential to make a run for the playoffs in 2012.
Prediction: No, but the Royals finish with a record above .500
Los Angeles Angels
Can new additions help overtake Texas and win the division?
The Angels got a big boost in the offseason, signing both Albert Pujols and former Ranger C.J. Wilson. Albert gets put in the middle of a crowded lineup situation where young players with potential and talented veterans are fighting for lineup spots.
Wilson, on the other hand, joins Dan Haren and Jered Weaver to create one of the best rotations in baseball. For the Angels to wear the AL West crown, they will have to defeat the two-time defending AL Champion Texas Rangers.
Prediction: Yes, Angels take the AL West
Los Angeles Dodgers
Can Matt Kemp go 40/40?
Last season, Matt Kemp finished just one home run shy of becoming only the fifth member of the 40/40 club. He had the best statistical season of anyone in the league, but lost out on the MVP to Ryan Braun and his NL Central-winning Milwaukee Brewers.
This year, Matt Kemp has his sights set very high, even predicting a 50/50 season. Though that would be impressive to see, it won't happen in 2012, but 40/40 might. Kemp just needs a constant green light on the bases and to show a little more power this season.
Prediction: No, Kemp finishes with 35 home runs and 34 stolen bases
Can new additions lead the Marlins to the playoffs?
The Marlins have changed a lot since we last saw them in 2011. They moved to Miami, hired Ozzie Guillen as manager and signed Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes. Oh, and now they have really ugly uniforms too.
The new additions join an already talented team, with Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton in the middle of the lineup and Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez at the top of the rotation. Miami is expecting nothing less than a playoff appearance in 2012, but they have their work cut out for them in a difficult NL East.
Prediction: No, Marlins just miss out on the second wild card
How will the absence of Prince Fielder affect the Brewers?
The Brewers won 96 games last year and made it to the NLCS where they lost to the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals. Prince Fielder was a big part of the reason they got that far, teaming up with Ryan Braun to form one of the best hitting tandems in the league.
Fielder left for Detroit in the offseason, leaving a gaping hole in the Brewers lineup. Milwaukee signed Aramis Ramirez to fill the void, but the powerful third baseman is still a significant offensive downgrade. The team looks to repeat as NL Central champs with Braun leading a good offense and Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo heading the pitching staff.
Prediction: Ramirez struggles, Brewers don't repeat
Can Joe Mauer stay healthy and put up superstar-like numbers?
The last time Joe Mauer had 600 plate appearances was 2009. He hit 28 home runs with a .365 average and won an AL MVP that season. Last season, Mauer had to deal with all sorts of injuries and never really looked like himself on the field.
In 2012, the Twins will play Mauer in more places than just catcher in order to keep his legs fresh and try to maximize his playing time. He's a three-time Gold Glove winner at the position, but his bat and health are worth much more than his defense at this point in his career.
Prediction: Mauer hits the 600 PA mark and hits over .320
New York Mets
Can David Wright continue his trend and have a big year?
David Wright is exhibiting a Josh Beckett-like trend in his past few years. In 2008 and 2010, he hit a combined 62 home runs with 227 RBI. In 2009 and 2011, Wright hit a combined 24 home runs for 133 RBI. Citi Field is partially to blame, but that doesn't explain his 2010 year.
With the dimensions of Citi Field being shortened in 2012, Wright may have an easier time improving those power numbers. He is still just 29 and has plenty of great years ahead of him.
Prediction: Yes, Wright finishes with 30 home runs and 15 steals
New York Yankees
How will new starters fare in the AL East?
The Yankees went out and got Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda in the offseason to bolster their rotation. Pineda came over from the Mariners in a trade that sent Jesus Montero packing, and Kuroda was signed to a one-year deal.
The transition of both of these players may take some time. Pineda is young and coming off a spectacular rookie season, while Kuroda is at the back end of an extremely solid career. Both are coming from major pitcher-friendly parks in Safeco Field and Dodger Stadium. Neither have had to pitch against a level of competition like what they will be asked to do in the AL East.
A slow start may be in store for the newcomers, but it all depends on how long that transitional period lasts.
Prediction: Pineda pitches well while Kuroda has trouble adjusting
Can big free-agent signings put on a show worth watching in Oakland?
For the past three years, the Oakland Athletics have finished second to last or dead last in attendance. Their last playoff appearance was in 2006, which is also the last time they finished over .500 and finished first in the division.
Over the offseason, the rebuilding A's signed Cuban free-agent talent Yoenis Cespedes to a four year deal and gave the always-entertaining Manny Ramirez a one-year contract. Oakland may not be ready to compete with the Rangers or Angels, but they can certainly put an exciting product on the field this year.
Prediction: Oakland's added publicity helps attendance hit 20,000 per game for first time since 2008
Can the Phillies carry their regular season success into the playoffs?
Last season, the Philadelphia Phillies led the majors with 102 wins against just 60 losses. This regular season dominance did not result in playoff success, though. The team lost in the fifth game of the NLDS to the eventual World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals.
The Phillies are an aging team, but arguably have the best rotation in baseball with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels leading the way. Ryan Howard is out for an undisclosed amount of time, and the NL East got a lot better over the offseason with the exception of the New York Mets.
The Phillies will have a tough time winning the division for the sixth straight time, let alone going deep into the playoffs.
Prediction: Yes, Philly takes the division and makes a deep run in the playoffs
Is this the year they finish over .500?
The Pittsburgh Pirates' last winning season was in 1992, the year they lost the NLCS to the Atlanta Braves. They did make significant progress last year, though, winning 15 more games than they did in 2010 and finishing with a 72-90 record. They were also over the .500 mark as late as August 1.
The Pirates have a young core centered around Andrew McCutchen, who could become a full-fledged superstar this season. Pittsburgh could also benefit with a good year from Pedro Alvarez and A.J. Burnett. Alvarez played fairly well in his rookie season, but fell off the map in 2011, while Burnett was acquired from the Yankees, but will miss two to three months because of the freak bunting incident.
The team, though talented, needs everything to come together in order to have a winning season in 2012.
Prediction: No, but they improve over last year's mark
San Diego Padres
How will players from Latos deal perform in 2012?
The San Diego Padres sent Mat Latos packing for Cincinnati over the winter, but brought back a load of young talent in return. The two highlights of the deal for the Padres were starting pitcher Edinson Volquez and first baseman Yonder Alonso.
Volquez was great in 2008, but hasn't made more than 20 starts in a season since then. Alonso showed us his bat last year, but with Votto at first, he didn't have a place to play everyday. San Diego is a young team, and these two players can set a solid foundation for the team over the next few years.
Prediction: Volquez has a decent year while Alonso takes home NL ROY
San Francisco Giants
Will the offense be enough to get the Giants into the postseason?
The San Francisco Giants have a dominant pitching staff with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain leading the way. They had the second-best ERA in all of baseball last season, but still didn't make the playoffs.
The problem was that their offense ranked 29th in the MLB in runs scored, putting up just over 3.5 runs per game. Some of the struggles the Giants had on offense were due to Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey being injured, so a healthy year for both will go a long way.
San Francisco also traded for Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera in the offseason in an effort to jumpstart the lackluster offense.
Prediction: Yes, Giants offense improves enough to play into October
Can Jesus Montero improve an anemic offense in Seattle?
Another offense tough to watch in 2011 was that of the Seattle Mariners. The problem here was less about injuries and more about lack of talent. Even Ichiro, the most talented and consistent hitter on the team, had a down year and hit just .272.
An offseason trade brought the highly-touted Jesus Montero over from the Yankees in return for pitcher Michael Pineda. He will hit in the middle of the order and likely be the Mariners designated hitter on most occasions. At just 22, Montero has the talent and potential to vastly improve the worst offense in the league.
Prediction: Yes, Seattle scores 50 more runs in 2012 than in 2011
St. Louis Cardinals
How will Adam Wainwright pitch post-Tommy John?
The defending World Series Champions were dealt a big blow when Albert Pujols left St. Louis, but with the signing of Carlos Beltran and the return of Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals may be just as good as they were last year.
Wainwright was hurt last February and needed Tommy John surgery, missing all of the 2011 season. The two years prior, he finished in the top three in Cy Young voting and won a Gold Glove.
With the effectiveness of the pitchers coming off this surgery in recent years, we can only hope Wainwright is just as dominant as he was before he was injured.
Prediction: He will start slow, but finish with 15 wins and a 3.00 ERA
Tampa Bay Rays
How will Matt Moore perform in his rookie year?
Matt Moore is one of the most talented prospects in the game today. He showed his talent at the end of last year, dazzling in two starts. He allowed zero runs and struck out 11 in his first start at Yankee Stadium and followed it with a playoff start in Texas, where he allowed no runs on two hits in seven innings of work.
He is a future ace and will be exciting to watch this year. The question is, will he have more of transition process in his first full year? Or will he continue his dominance from last year? I wouldn't put the latter past him in 2012.
Prediction: Moore wins AL ROY with a sub-3.00 ERA
How will Darvish and Feliz transition to an MLB starting role?
The Rangers rotation has a load of potential, but two out of the five pitchers in it have never started a game in the MLB. Yu Darvish came over from the Japan Pacific League in one of the biggest signings of the offseason. Neftali Feliz was the Rangers closer last season, but he will try his talents as a starter for the first time in his young career.
Having any idea how these two pitchers will transition to their new role is nearly impossible, but the potential that both have is extraordinary. Darvish dominated the JPL, posting a 1.44 ERA with 276 strikeouts in just 232 innings in 2011. Feliz has put up back-to-back 30 save seasons with an ERA under 3.00.
Prediction: Darvish has a solid year while Feliz struggles and goes back to the bullpen
Toronto Blue Jays
Is Brett Lawrie the next Ryan Braun?
There is plenty of hype this year surrounding Brett Lawrie, the young third baseman for the Toronto Blue Jays. Lawrie showed that he could hit in a short stint in the majors last year. In just 43 games, he hit .293 with nine home runs, eight doubles and seven steals.
There have been comparisons of Brett Lawrie to Ryan Braun, the five-tool Milwaukee outfielder that played third base when he first came into the league. If Lawrie can keep playing like he did in 2011, the 22-year-old could be at Braun's level in just a few years.
Prediction: Yes, Lawrie finishes 2012 with a 25/25 season
Is the talent worthy of the hype?
This question can be applied to multiple Nationals, most notably Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Strasburg has never played a full season, with injuries causing him to make just five starts in 2011. Harper has yet to be called up to the majors, but looks to make the team out of spring training in 2012.
At 23 and 19 respectively, Strasburg and Harper are two of the most hyped prospects in baseball history, but will their talent match the buzz surrounding them this year? If they can, the next decade could be a scary one for any club that plays the Nationals.
Prediction: Yes, Strasburg takes the league by storm while Harper has a solid rookie campaign