Bold Spring Training Predictions for All 30 MLB Teams
As we push ever closer to spring training, there are already a number of position battles shaping up for each MLB team as Opening Day roster questions become the main focus of fanbases.
Whether it is a rookie playing his way onto the roster or a veteran who makes good on a minor league contract, there are always more than a few surprise roster moves in the spring.
In an effort to identify some of those potential surprise moves, here is one bold prediction for all 30 teams this spring.
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Dylan Bundy will be dominant, but he'll still open the season in the minors.
The Orioles arguably have the best pitching prospect in all of baseball in Dylan Bundy. While he made his big-league debut at the end of last season, that doesn't guarantee him a spot on the team this coming spring.
Even if he's dominant in the spring, the 20-year-old will likely open the season in the minors, and that is exactly what I see happening. He'll have eye-opening numbers, but he'll be waiting for a midseason call-up.
Boston Red Sox
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John Lackey is traded in a move similar to last spring's A.J. Burnett deal.
The Red Sox don't have much in the way of position battles this spring after making a plethora of additions this offseason, so let's go outside the box a bit here.
Last spring saw the Yankees cut ties with disappointing starter A.J. Burnett, dealing him to the Pirates for little more than salary relief. Still due $33 million over three years, the Yankees ate $20 million of that.
If Lackey proves at least healthy this spring, the Red Sox could look to flip him in a comparable deal. He's due $30.5 million over the next two seasons. That would likely mean a rotation spot for Alfredo Aceves, and a bullpen spot for Daniel Bard.
New York Yankees
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Someone not currently on the roster will be the Opening Day catcher.
With a new emphasis on defense behind the plate, the Yankees appear ready to open the season with someone from the group of Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and Bobby Wilson serving as the starting catcher (via Yankees.com).
I'll believe that when I see it, as Stewart (.583 career OPS), Cervelli (.692) and Wilson (.593) are all essentially dead spots in the lineup with no discerning offensive ability.
I think one of them will secure the backup job, but the team will bring in someone else to fill the starting catching duties.
Kelly Shoppach, Chris Snyder and Miguel Olivo are possible free-agent options, and Ramon Hernandez could likely be had from the Rockies following the emergence of Wilin Rosario. Of that group, Olivo may be the best option, as he has solid pop and handles a staff well.
Tampa Bay Rays
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Michael Bourn will be signed to fill the center field void.
As we push ever closer to the start of spring training, it is looking more possible that top free agents Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse could wind up waiting until spring training starts to sign a contract for 2013.
According to a tweet from Jayson Stark of ESPN, the team is still in the market for a center fielder, with Desmond Jennings likely shifting to left field.
Stark goes on to wonder whether Bourn could be a potential option for the Rays. If he can be had on a short-term deal, he could certainly give the Rays offense a boost. I think it's a move that makes a lot of sense and has a real chance of happening.
Toronto Blue Jays
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J.A. Happ will open the season in the minors.
Happ burst onto the scene with the Phillies in 2009, going 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA to finish second in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
He was shipped to Houston at the deadline in 2010, and he was moved again at the deadline last year to Toronto in a nine-player trade.
He'll be competing with Brad Lincoln to be the team's long reliever. While he could stick in the bullpen as a second left-hander, I think he gets shipped to Triple-A to open the season. That way the Blue Jays can keep him stretched out as the next in line to join the rotation if someone gets hurt.
Chicago White Sox
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Gavin Floyd will be traded, opening up a rotation spot for Hector Santiago.
A free agent at season's end, the White Sox have actively shopped starter Gavin Floyd this offseason but have yet to find a taker.
Following their signing of Matt Lindstrom, left-hander Hector Santiago (42 games, four games started, 4-1, 3.33 ERA in 2012) looks to be the odd man out in the White Sox bullpen.
Floyd will likely be moved one way or another this season, and dealing him this spring to give Santiago a rotation spot right out of spring training may be the best approach for the team.
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Scott Kazmir will earn a spot in the team's bullpen.
A two-time All-Star and the former ace of the Rays staff, Kazmir last appeared in a major league game on April 3, 2011, when he allowed five runs in 1.2 innings of work in what was his only appearance of the season.
He spent last season in the Independent League, pitching for the same Sugar Land Skeeters team that Roger Clemens pitched for at the end of last season.
Nick Hagadone (27 games, 6.39 ERA) and Scott Barnes (16 games, 4.26 ERA) are the only left-handed relievers on the 40-man roster, so a strong spring could find Kazmir in the Indians bullpen to open the season.
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Al Alburquerque will win the closer's job this spring.
The Tigers have opted to replace closer Jose Valverde in-house. They have no shortage of options with rookie Bruce Rondon, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Al Alburquerque all in the running.
The flame-throwing Rondon is viewed as the front-runner, but I think Alburquerque will come away with the job.
Though he made just eight appearances last season, Alburquerque allowed just one earned run and struck out 18 hitters in 13.1 innings of work.
In his rookie season of 2011, he had a 1.87 ERA and struck out 67 batters over 43.1 innings of work. He's posted a 5.9 BB/9 mark to this point in his career, so he'll need to show better control, but there is no question he has the stuff to close.
Kansas City Royals
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Luke Hochevar will lose out on the fifth starter job and get traded.
The Royals have completely retooled their starting rotation this offseason, trading for James Shields, Wade Davis and Ervin Santana as well as re-signing Jeremy Guthrie.
That leaves holdovers Luke Hochevar (8-16, 5.73 ERA) and Bruce Chen (11-14, 5.07 ERA) to battle for the fifth spot in the rotation, and both will make $4.5 million this coming season.
My guess is Chen will win the job and Hochevar will be shipped out before the start of the season. He could turn things around given a fresh start.
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Rich Harden will earn a roster spot and serve as a key setup man.
The Twins pitching staff was terrible last season, aside from the emergence of Scott Diamond. Minnesota has taken steps to improve it this offseason.
Vance Worley was acquired from the Phillies, and Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey were signed as free agents.
The most intriguing arm they've added, though, is Rich Harden, who signed a minor league contract and will be vying for a rotation spot.
The 31-year-old did not pitch in the majors last season, and he has battled injuries throughout his career. However, he has a 9.2 K/9 mark for his career, and a move to the bullpen could get his career back on track.
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Erik Bedard will earn a rotation spot and be a solid trade chip at the deadline.
As they continue the rebuilding process, the Astros have added a handful of low-cost veteran options this offseason to fill out their roster.
The most recent addition was the 33-year-old Bedard, who signed a minor league deal with the team on Monday.
He went 7-14 with a 5.01 ERA in 24 starts with the Pirates last season, but in the previous season, he had a 3.62 ERA over 24 starts. There is still something left in the tank at this point.
If he does pitch well and shows enough to win a rotation spot, he could be a decent trade chip for the Astros come July.
Los Angeles Angels
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The team will eat the bulk of Vernon Wells' contract and find a trade partner.
In two seasons with the Angels, Wells has hit just .222 over 748 at-bats with a .667 OPS, and he is still due $21 million in 2013 and 2014.
Last season, injuries limited him to just 77 games, but he's back healthy and will be looking for at-bats in a crowded Angels outfield.
The Phillies (h/t CBSSports) and Yankees (h/t Jon Heyman via Twitter) have reportedly shown some level of interest, and if the Angels can save a few million dollars and find a taker, they'd likely jump at the chance.
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Grant Green will win a roster spot and see significant at-bats as a super utility player.
A first-round pick back in 2009, Green hit .318 with 20 home runs and 87 RBI in his first pro season to emerge as a top prospect.
After a subpar 2011 season, he hit .296 with 15 home runs, 75 RBI and a .796 OPS last season in Triple-A action, and he has little left to prove in the minors.
At 25 years old, he's on the fringe of being a prospect, and he has a great chance to beat out Adam Rosales for the utility spot with a strong spring training.
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Mike Zunino wins starting catching job.
The third pick in last year's draft out of the University of Florida, Zunino hit .360/.447/.689 with 13 home runs and 43 RBI in just 161 at-bats.
He reached Double-A for a 15-game stint to end the season, and after the Mariners made a number of moves this offseason, he could get a shot at the everyday catching job.
The team could opt to go with Kendrys Morales at DH, Jesus Montero at catcher, Michael Morse at first base and Raul Ibanez in left field, but they likely won't want to count on Montero as the everyday catcher.
Instead, they could opt to go with Zunino at catcher, Montero at DH, Morales at first base, Morse in left field, Ibanez in right field and a platoon of Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders in right field.
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Kyle Lohse is signed to fill out the starting rotation.
It's been a tough offseason for the Rangers. They lost a number of key players to free agency and missed out on their main targets to replace them.
As of now, the fifth spot in their rotation will be filled by unproven prospect Martin Perez. Right-handers Neftali Feliz and Colby Lewis are expected to open the season on the disabled list.
GM Jon Daniels told MLB.com that the team hasn't ruled out signing top remaining free agents Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse, and I think Lohse is the better fit of the two.
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Evan Gattis will be the answer in left field.
After battling substance abuse and depression early on in his career, Gattis has gotten things back on track and turned in a terrific season last year (h/t MLB.com).
The 25-year-old opened the season in the Rookie League and finished in Double-A, hitting a combined .305/.389/.607 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI.
He can catch and play corner outfield. With the Braves looking for a backup catcher to start the season and a left fielder, a strong spring could be enough for him to not only earn a roster spot, but also see significant playing time.
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Austin Kearns wins a spot as the team's fourth outfielder.
Kearns served as a backup for the Marlins last season, seeing limited action and posting a less-than-impressive .245 batting average with four home runs and 16 RBI.
However, he went 13-for-40 as a pinch-hitter with a .907 OPS, taking well to the role of key bat off the bench.
He signed a minor league deal with the Marlins this offseason, and he'll have to beat out Gorkys Hernandez or Bryan Petersen, but his pinch-hitting prowess should be enough to do that.
New York Mets
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Pedro Feliciano wins a spot in the bullpen.
Feliciano was the most-used pitcher in the league each season from 2008-2010, making 86, 88 and 92 appearances, respectively, with a 3.44 ERA and 8.5 K/9.
That earned him a two-year, $8 million deal with the Yankees, but he never appeared in a game with them due to injuries.
He pitched in the Puerto Rican Winter League this offseason and posted a 1.23 ERA in seven appearances. That was enough for the Mets to give him a minor league deal.
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Tyler Cloyd will win a rotation spot.
Beyond their big three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, the Phillies' final two rotation spots are a question mark.
The spots will come down to Kyle Kendrick, John Lannan, Tyler Cloyd and Aaron Cook, and my bet is that Cloyd beats out at least two of those guys to claim a rotation spot.
Cloyd went 15-1 with a 2.26 ERA in 26 starts between Double-A and Triple-A last season, and he went 2-2 with a 4.91 ERA in six big-league starts. At 25, the time is now for him to claim a rotation spot, and I think he'll step up and do that.
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Christian Garcia will serve a key role in the bullpen.
Though he's far from a prospect at 27 years old, Garcia turned in an eye-opening season between Double-A and Triple-A last season.
In 45 appearances, he recorded 21 saves with a 0.86 ERA and 11.4 K/9. He was solid in 13 big-league appearances as well with a 2.13 ERA and 10.7 K/9.
The Nationals bullpen is stacked, and it got even deeper with the signing of Rafael Soriano, but Garcia will pitch his way into a key role this spring and continue to put up impressive numbers.
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Brett Jackson will claim the starting center field job.
Former first-round pick Brett Jackson made his big-league debut last season, hitting just .175 and striking out a whopping 59 times in just 120 at-bats.
With that coming after less-than-impressive numbers in Triple-A, where he hit .256 with 158 strikeouts in 407 at-bats, there is little doubt he'll need to cut down on his strikeouts to succeed.
According to a report from Carrie Muskat of MLB.com, Jackson has completely overhauled his swing this offseason and has made "huge, huge strides" heading into the season.
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Cesar Izturis will make the team as the backup middle infielder.
While he provides little in the way of offense at this point in his career, Izturis is still a slick-fielding shortstop. He'll compete with Jason Donald to be the team's backup middle infielder.
Donald hasn't hit much either during his time in the big leagues, so he'll need to show something offensively or Izturis will likely win the job.
The 32-year-old Izturis split last season between the Brewers and Nationals, hitting .241/.254/.343 and playing all four infield positions.
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Mat Gamel will lead the spring leagues in home runs and RBI.
After spending a number of seasons trapped behind Prince Fielder in the Brewers system, Gamel finally got his crack at the everyday first base job last season.
However, a torn ACL in May ended his season before it ever got going, and with Corey Hart taking over at first base, it looked as though he'd again be stuck in the minors or in a backup role.
With Hart likely to miss the first six weeks of the season after undergoing knee surgery, Gamel will again get a chance to prove himself, and he'll make the most of it this time around starting this spring.
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Gaby Sanchez will claim the everyday first base job; Garrett Jones to right field; Travis Snider to the bench.
An All-Star in 2011, Gaby Sanchez struggled last season to the point of being demoted to Triple-A, and the Marlins shipped him to the Pirates at the deadline.
In total, he finished the season with a .217/.279/.341 slash line with seven home runs and 30 RBI in 299 at-bats.
With a strong spring, he could play his way into everyday at-bats in the middle of a Pirates lineup that could certainly use another power bat. If not, he could find himself in a platoon with Travis Snider in right field at best.
St. Louis Cardinals
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Kolten Wong will win the second base job.
While Daniel Descalso is a solid fielder, his .227 average simply doesn't cut it as an everyday player, and he's far better suited as a utility infielder.
With Skip Schumaker traded to the Dodgers, the team has Pete Kozma, Matt Carpenter and Ty Wigginton to compete for at-bats in the infield off the bench.
However, another option at second base could be 22-year-old Kolten Wong. A first-round pick in 2011, Wong hit .287 with nine home runs, 52 RBI and 21 steals in a full season at Double-A last year.
He followed that up by hitting .324 in the Arizona Fall League, and he could be given a real chance to win the second base job this spring.
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Patrick Corbin, not Tyler Skaggs, will win the fifth starter spot.
The Diamondbacks have a handful of options to fill their fifth starter spot this coming season after Trevor Bauer was traded to the Indians.
Tyler Skaggs, Patrick Corbin and Josh Collmenter are all in the running for the job, and while Skaggs appears to be the favorite, it was Corbin who had the best season of the three in 2012.
The 23-year-old went 6-8 with a 4.54 ERA in 22 appearances last season, 17 of which were starts. If he can out-pitch Skaggs this spring, the job will likely be his to open the year.
Rockies will sign Carl Pavano and Derek Lowe.
The Rockies have been quiet on the starting pitching front this offseason, despite having the worst starting staff in all of baseball last season.
Chris Volstad and Miguel Batista have been signed to minor league deals, and Jeff Francis was re-signed to a one-year deal.
According to Troy Renck of the Denver Post, the team is aggressively pursuing veteran right-handers Carl Pavano and Derek Lowe. Whether it is in the next week or after the start of camp, I think the team will wind up adding them both.
Los Angeles Dodgers
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No starters will be traded, and the Triple-A staff will be formidable.
The Dodgers have an abundance of starting pitchers following the offseason signings of Zack Greinke and Ryu Hyun-jin.
Those two join Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Josh Beckett, Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly to compete for five rotation spots.
It will likely come down to Harang, Capuano and Lilly competing for the fifth spot, and Billingsley opening the season on the disabled list.
With a seemingly endless supply of money, the Dodgers won't view trading a starter as a necessity and will instead relish the depth they have and open the season with a number of veterans in Triple-A.
San Diego Padres
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Jedd Gyorko will win the starting second base job.
At this time last season, Gyorko looked like the future third baseman in San Diego. Chase Headley appeared to be on his way to being dealt at the deadline, and Gyorko was coming off of season where he hit .333 with 25 home runs and 114 RBI.
However, with Headley breaking out in a big way, it now seems at least possible that the Padres could come to terms on a big extension with him.
Meanwhile, Gyorko again put up gaudy numbers, hitting .311 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A. He split time between third base and second base, and second appears to be where is future lies.
A strong spring could be enough to beat out Logan Forsythe for the starting job, as the Padres would certainly welcome another power bat in their lineup.
San Francisco Giants
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Francisco Peguero will beat out Andres Torres for the fourth outfielder spot.
Long one of the Giants' top prospects, Francisco Peguero has hit .305/.335/.428 with 128 steals in seven minor league seasons.
He made his big-league debut last year, and he'll likely get a long look this spring. The 24-year-old has little left to prove in the minors.
The Giants signed Andres Torres to a one-year, $2 million deal to platoon with Gregor Blanco in left field, but a strong spring from Peguero could push him to a fifth outfield spot or see him traded.