MLB: 10 Storylines to Look Forward to in Anticipation of Spring Training
Major League Baseball is just weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting, and story lines are already taking shape heading into Spring Training.
Baseball is in the wake of the most exciting offseason in recent memory and Spring Training will be showcasing the most coveted prospects in baseball.
Spring Training opens up with Northeastern University vs. the Boston Red Sox for the Grapefruit League in Florida on Feb. 21, and the Cincinnati Reds vs. the Cleveland Indians for the Cactus League in Arizona on Feb. 22.
Here are 10 story lines to look forward to in anticipation of Spring Training.
1. Washington Nationals
The question every baseball fan, analyst and player will be asking heading into the 2013 season is, "just how good are these Washington Nationals?"
Few teams have matched the roster the Nationals have been able to compile this offseason, and they’re the clear favorite to take the National League East in 2013.
Some of general manager Mike Rizzo’s key moves this offseason have been resigning first baseman Adam LaRoche, trading for a true center fielder in Denard Span and recently signing free agent closer in Rafael Soriano.
Rizzo has virtually filled every hole the Nats had in 2012, putting together a team to be reckoned with in 2013.
With a bullpen consisting of Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard and Craig Stammen, and a rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren, the Nats have the No. 1 staff heading into Spring Training.
Expect talent like Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina to get a lot of playing time this spring in an attempt to earn a starting spot in this powerful lineup.
2. Chris Archer
This is going to be an important spring for Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer.
Archer will have to prove he belongs in a rotation with names like David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann and Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona).
The 24-year-old Archer—who posted a 1-3 record with a 4.60 ERA in six games (four starts)—is in jeopardy of spending 2013 in the bullpen or Triple-A Durham.
Archer needs to develop a more respectable arsenal of pitchers this spring and perfect his slider to have any chance at competing with Cobb and Niemann for the fourth and fifth sports in the rotation.
3. Houston Astros
Mirroring the hype behind the Washington Nationals, everyone is wondering just how bad the Houston Astros are going to be in 2013.
The storyline to watch is how the Astros compete in a revamped AL West with the offensively weighted Los Angeles Angels, the new-look Seattle Mariners, the always formidable Texas Rangers and the reigning division champion Oakland Athletics.
While the Astros are rebuilding and years away from competitive baseball, they’re fielding one of the worst rosters top-to-bottom baseball has ever seen.
That being said, they are going to be fielding a roster of exciting young talent in Spring Training, which will include first-overall draft pick Carlos Correa, first baseman Jonathan Singleton and outfielder George Springer.
This team should end 2013 with around 110 losse, but they’re on the right track in terms of rebuilding a franchise from the bottom-up.
4. Jurickson Profar
The 19-year-old Jurickson Profar is baseball’s top prospect heading into Spring Training and has a legitimate chance at relieving Texas Rangers’ shortstop Elvis Andrus of his starting role.
Profar—who batted .281 with 14 home runs and 62 RBI—is known to be the best prospect in terms of plate discipline.
On top of Spring Training, the Curacao-born shortstop will also be a member of the Netherlands’ World Baseball Classic squad.
With standout performances in the Classic and Spring Training, there’s little doubt that Profar will find his way into the Rangers’ starting lineup in the early months of the 2013 season.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
In what’s surely the move to define the 2013 offseason, the Toronto Blue Jays are the team to beat in the American League after acquiring shortstop Jose Reyes, left-handeed pitcher Mark Buehrle, right-handed pitcher Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck and utility man Emilio Bonifacio from the Miami Marlins back in November.
On paper, baseball’s only Canadian franchise is the team to beat in 2013, but nothing is written in stone after the Marlins' unlikely collapse last season.
The Blue Jays feature a balanced lineup of young talent and savvy veterans that will lead them to the promise land in the AL East.
Their squad will also include two 40-plus home run guys in Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera—who batted .346 last season—and NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.
How the Blue Jays bullpen keeps opposing teams at bay late in games will be what to watch in Spring Training. This is a pen that was clearly one of the worst in baseball last season with a 4.33 ERA.
Regardless, this team will likely be the most exciting in baseball and should capture their first AL East title since 1993.
6. Dominican Republic vs. New York Yankees, March 6
On March 6, the New York Yankees will take on the Dominican Republic’s World Baseball Classic team at Steinbrenner Field in Florida.
This will be the most watched game of Spring Training this year, as names like Hanley Ramirez, Wandy Rodriguez, Adrian Beltre and, yes, the return of Miguel Tejada will take on a Yankees lineup that is one of the weaker lineups in recent memory.
It will also feature some conflict of interest as Yankees bench coach Tony Pena will be leading the Dominican team. Robinson Cano is Dominican-born and it’s not clear which squad he’ll be suiting up for yet.
The Dominican team will not take this game lightly and it should be one of the more competitive spring games on the schedule.
7. Los Angeles Angels
Offense, offense and more offense. This Los Angeles Angels team will be packing a punch in 2013.
Last year’s team featured youth like Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, who shattered expectations and put up top-tier numbers.
The question is whether or not these young guys carry the momentum of last season into Spring Training.
The Angels will also feature the best three-four hitting tandem in baseball with Albert Pujols and newly acquired Josh Hamilton.
The offensive production will happen—no doubt—but what about the rest of the team?
Their rotation—featuring Jared Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton—borders being formidable enough to match division rival Texas.
Along with Toronto, Los Angeles is the team to watch in the American League pennant in 2013.
8. Dylan Bundy
Baltimore Orioles pitcher and 2011 first round draft pick Dylan Bundy is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, according to Baseball America.
Bundy was dominant in the minors last season with a combined 9-3 record with a 2.08 ERA in 23 games started at three levels.
The 20-year-old right-hander has a chance to earn a spot in a Baltimore rotation that desperately needs some help with a solid Spring Training.
General manager Dan Duqette has indicated that Bundy could see some time in the rotation, according to Britt Ghiroli of MLB.com.
As easily as Duquette is willing to give Bundy a shot in the rotation, it can be taken away with a poor Spring Training.
A lot is on the line for Bundy this spring, but expect him to live up to the expectations.
9. Wil Myers
Similar to Bundy and Profar, Tampa Bay Rays top prospect Wil Myers—who was acquired from the Royals in the James Shields deal—has a chance to work his way into the starting lineup in the early months with a successful Spring Training.
The 22-year-old outfielder from North Carolina will begin his season in the minors, but has a chance to pad his resume enough for the Rays to reconsider that decision.
Myers hit .304 with 24 home runs and 79 RBI for Triple-A Omaha last season.
There’s little doubt Myers will make his way up to the majors possibly as early as June. A lot will come down to his Spring Training performance.
10. San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants shocked the baseball world last November when they swept an extremely talented Detroit Tigers team in the World Series.
But, do they have enough to do it again?
All signs point to the contrary.
They lost their breakout star in Melky Cabrera to the Blue Jays and haven’t done much in terms of bolstering their mediocre offense.
The NL West will prove to be a very underrated and dangerous division this season with San Diego, Arizona and Los Angeles all getting better.
As it stands, Los Angeles is the favorite to take that division and it will be San Francisco fighting for a Wild Card spot.
Gear up for another incredible and exciting season of Major League Baseball.