Spring training is one of the best times of the year for baseball fans. Not only are the players out on the field again, but there are a number of intriguing story lines.
Prospects wearing jersey numbers up into the 70s and 80s are out on the field trying to compete with the stars of the MLB. Big-name free agents are making their debuts with new teams. There are also a number of managers that get in on the springtime fun.
This spring, there are a number of figures that are worth following as the season creeps closer and closer.
Bobby Valentine has a fun side and a serious side. His fun side was evident during his time with the New York Mets and was exemplified when he came out in a disguise after being ejected from a game. His serious side recently came out when he banned beer in the Boston Red Sox clubhouse.
Hired to replace longtime manager Terry Francona, Bobby V has the difficult task of guiding the Red Sox back into the playoffs.
For the first time in his career, Albert Pujols will not be wearing a St. Louis Cardinals jersey during spring training.
While the games may not mean much, it will be interesting to follow Pujols during his first spring with the Los Angeles Angels.
One of the top pitchers in baseball did not take the mound in 2011 as a result of shoulder surgery. The New York Mets will be happy to have Johan Santana back this year.
Santana has been working hard this winter and is slated to appear in multiple spring training games.
Adam Wainwright was another one of the game's top pitchers that was forced to miss last season as a result of an injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery last year.
The defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals will be happy to have Wainwright back in their rotation. He will be a key piece in their quest to defend their title.
Even though he missed the 2011 season, Jamie Moyer was not ready to retire from baseball. He inked a minor-league deal with the Colorado Rockies.
The 49-year-old pitcher will be trying to make Colorado's starting rotation out of spring training. His journey should be fun to watch this spring.
There are few managers in the game that are more entertaining than Ozzie Guillen. He is now with the Miami Marlins and should have a fresh start with this new team.
Expect some antics from Guillen this spring. Even if he does not go too crazy, he should still deliver a number of funny tweets.
While Logan Morrison's old manager thought that Twitter was the name of his dog, Morrison's new manager is a big fan of the micro-blogging service. Guillen will likely have no problem with LoMo sending out messages to all of his followers.
Morrison should not only be a fun player to follow online, but one to watch on the field after an up-and-down 2011.
Carlos Zambrano was pretty dysfunctional towards the end of his tenure with the Chicago Cubs. His pitching abilities also declined.
The Miami Marlins took a risk by trading for Zambrano. They are hoping that he pitches well and does not harm their clubhouse chemistry. Spring training should give several indications of how this pairing will fair.
To say the past two years have been a major disappointment for Jason Bay would be an understatement. He has been terrible for the New York Mets.
If Bay doesn't pick things up, he could find himself as one of the most expensive platoon players in baseball. Following him in spring training might give a hint as to what direction his career is heading.
If recent commentary on his new Twitter feed are any indication, Sandy Alderson should be a lot of fun to follow during spring training. That being said, he will need to get much more serious once the games begin.
Alderson will have some tough roster decisions to make when he chooses the team's Opening Day roster.
No prospect will garner more attention this spring than Bryce Harper. He is one of the top youngsters in the game and is trying to play his way onto the Washington Nationals' Opening Day roster.
Harper should make it to the major leagues this season and he could be there sooner rather than later if he is able to put together an impressive spring.
Another prospect that has a chance to make his team's major league roster coming out of spring training is Mike Trout.
Trout had a stint in the majors last year and he was very impressive considering the fact that he was only 19 years old.
The Tampa Bay Rays have arguable one of the best starting rotations in baseball, and it could be getting even better this year.
Matt Moore, who burst onto the scene late last season, will be fighting for one of the last spots in the Rays rotation. The elite prospect should have the inside track for the spot.
By trading Derek Lowe to the Cleveland Indians this winter, the Atlanta Braves opened up a spot in their starting rotation.
Julio Teheran, one of the game's top prospects, will be looking to fill that spot. The Braves might be tempted to have him start the season down to the minors, but if he is impressive this spring he will likely begin the year with the big league squad.
After spending his entire career at shortstop, Hanley Ramirez will be in for a big change this spring, moving to third base for the new-look Miami Marlins.
Adjusting to third base could be a difficult process for the budding superstar. He may or may not be disgruntled about the move, but either way, he is going to need to live with.
The New York Yankees were finally able to get rid of A.J. Burnett. They sent him to the Pittsburgh Pirates who, for some reason. were interested in him.
Burnett will try to turn his career around with the Pirates. Spring training could indicate if he has anything left in the tank.
Ike Davis was off to a torrid start for the New York Mets in 2011 before he suffered an ankle injury that kept him out for the rest of the season.
The Mets will certainly be excited to have Davis back in their everyday lineup. He could be a big difference maker for the team this season.
After suffering one of the odder injuries that baseball has seen, Kendrys Morales is ready to get back on the baseball diamond.
Comeback effort aside, one thing is for certain—Morales won't be jumping on home plate the next time he hits a home run.
Joe Mauer is one of the best catchers in the major leagues. Part of the reason that the Minnesota Twins struggled so much last season was because he was hurt.
The former American League MVP will be looking to get his year off on the right foot with a good start in spring training.
Josh Hamilton has had an interesting few months. He unfortunately relapsed earlier this year and he stated that he doesn't feel like he owes the Texas Rangers anything.
Hamilton, a free agent after the 2012 season, will have a lot to prove this year and it will be about more than just his play on the field.
Buster Posey won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2010 and he was on his way to another good season in 2011 before he suffered a gruesome injury in a collision at home plate.
It will be interesting to see how Posey plays in his return to the majors. Will he shy away from contact defensively? Will the injury have an impact on his swing? These questions could be answered in spring training.
There have been a number of highly touted pitchers that have come over from Japan in the past, but none of them have really lived up to the hype.
Yu Darvish is supposed to be different. He is supposed to be the one that can actually live up to the expectations.
People love a mystery, and that is exactly what Yoenis Cespedes is. His numbers from Cuba are known, but no one really knows how they will translate to the major leagues.
Cespedes has a number of tools, but he will face several challenges. As long as he doesn't have a bad spring, he should start the year in the major leagues.
Wei-Yin Chen is yet another international signing that will make his way to the big leagues this season. He had decent numbers in Japan and the Baltimore Orioles decided to take a chance on him.
At the moment Chen is penciled in as the Orioles number two starter. He should be an interesting player to keep an eye on this spring.
Nyjer Morgan—aka Tony Plush—is a player that likes to have fun both on and off the field.
Spring training is certainly a time when Morgan can be less serious, so he should be up to his usual hijinks.
For years, top prospect Fernando Martinez was considered to be untouchable. The Mets wouldn't even trade him for Manny Ramirez back in 2008.
This winter the Mets let Martinez go through waivers and Martinez, now 23, was claimed by the Houston Astros. He has a chance to win a starting outfielder job with the Houston this spring.
Ryan Braun will be more interesting to follow off the field than on it this spring.
The 2011 MVP was the first player to have an appeal of a drug test upheld. Though he will be focusing on his baseball-related performance, a number of questions on performance enhancing drugs will surely be brought up.
The Minnesota Twins were expecting that Tsuyoshi Nishioka could be the answer to their problems at shortstop when they signed him last season. He was not very good when he was healthy and he only played 68 games last year.
Nishioka will need to win the starting job this spring or he will be stuck in a reserve role for Minnesota.
The San Diego Padres gave Jesus Guzman his first extended look in the major leagues during the 2011 season. Guzman took advantage of his opportunity to say the least.
With new Padre Yonder Alonso lurking, Guzman will likely need to prove himself again this spring.
It will be hard for David Freese to live up to the heroics that he displayed last year during the playoffs.
Freese has yet to play more than 100 games at the major league level, but the expectations are sky high.
There are a number of teams that have made the decision to move one of their relievers to their starting rotation.
The Texas Rangers have done this successfully in the past and are trying to repeat history with Neftali Feliz. The former closer has a good chance to develop into a high-quality starter.
Chris Sale had some success in the Chicago White Sox bullpen but the team believes that there are bigger things ahead of him.
Sale is another pitcher trying to make the move from the bullpen to the rotation.
Some thought that Daniel Bard would become the Boston Red Sox closer if Jonathan Papelbon left as a free agent. That will not be the case.
The Red Sox have a number of injured starting pitchers and they will trying to convert Bard into a starter so that he can fill one of the holes in their rotation.
Travis Snider has shown a lot of promise, which is why he was able to reach the major leagues before his 21st birthday.
However, Snider has not been able to sustain his success in the majors. This could finally be the season that Snider breaks out and shows what he can do.
The Los Angeles Dodgers ownership saga has not yet been resolved and Frank McCourt is still the captain of the ship.
McCourt is an intriguing figure since he is selling the team. It will be interesting to see who comes up with the best bid for the Dodgers.
The New York Mets financial issues have been well documented by the media since the Bernie Madoff scandal. Fred Wilpon has had to secure loans from the MLB and major financial institutions to help with some of the bills.
Wilpon is selling minority shares in the team and his financial issues will be one of the biggest storylines for the Mets this season.
The 2011 season was a disaster for Adam Dunn. It was one of his worst seasons in recent memory and it goes without saying that the Chicago White Sox did not get what they expected from the slugger.
Spring training will give some indication of if 2012 will be another long season for Dunn and the White Sox.
Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer in baseball history and his storied career is coming to an end soon. This could be his final spring training.
Rivera has hinted at retirement and his contract is up at the end of the season. This could be the beginning of the end for Rivera.
Omar Vizquel began his major league baseball career in 1989 and he is still going strong. He is now a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
The wily old vet should be an interesting player to follow as he could be hanging up his cleats after the year.
Ryan Howard's achilles injury is one that could have a big impact on the Philadelphia Phillies' season.
Not having Howard in their lineup for an extended period of time is a big loss. Howard's rehab will be one of the most covered things in Phillies camp this spring.
Miguel Cabrera is one of the best hitters in baseball. He will be moving across the infield from first base to third base this year with the Detroit Tigers' acquisition of Prince Fielder.
This spring should go smoothly for Cabrera at the plate, but his defensive transition back to third might have a few bumps along the way.
Bud Selig has been pushing for a second Wild Card, but there has been no announcement if it will go into effect during the 2012 season or in the future.
According to Ken Davidoff of Newsday, the announcement should come soon, as a deadline of March 1st has been set for the decision. Selig wants the second Wild Card for this season and it should happen.
This year gives us the opportunity to tune into another season of Manny being Manny. It is almost certain that he will do something to generate attention this spring.
Ramirez will miss the first 50 games of the year for the A's as he is serving a suspension from a failing a drug test in 2011.
Ryan Zimmerman became a $100 million player when he signed an extension with the Washington Nationals.
With his new contract, Zimmerman has a lot to prove, and it all begins in spring training this year. Zimmerman has been injury-prone in the past so it will be important for him to stay healthy.
Even though Gerardo Parra won a Gold Glove in 2011, it does not mean that he will have a starting job with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Trade rumors will start to heat up if Parra ends up being the fourth outfielder for the Diamondbacks.
Matt Garza has been available on the trade market all winter, but he is still a Chicago Cub with spring training getting underway.
This does not mean that Garza will not get dealt this winter. If any team has a pitcher suffer an injury this spring, Garza's name will almost immediately be brought up.
Chipper Jones has had an outstanding career with the Atlanta Braves and he almost definitely is a future Hall of Famer. To reach that level of production, a player needs to come to camp in shape every year.
Jones has not done that this season.
After a long and drawn out saga, the Theo Epstein compensation drama was eventually resolved. The Boston Red Sox received Chris Carpenter.
There will likely be high expectations for Carpenter since he was acquired for the architect of some of the best Red Sox teams of the past few decades. Carpenter's first goal is to make the team's Opening Day roster.
There are few pitchers in the major leagues that are more exciting to watch then Clayton Kershaw. He is one of the most promising young arms in the game.
Kershaw won't throw too many innings in spring training but it should be fun to see the knees of minor league hitters buckle as the face the reigning NL Cy Young winner's wicked curveball.