For the first time in too long, it’s time for baseball.
It’s time to watch veterans, rookies, prospects and new acquisitions practice and play in exhibitions in Florida and Arizona as Major League Baseball prepares for the start of the 2013 season.
Plenty of teams made move after move this winter with the hopes of contending for a World Series title this upcoming season. Other teams decided to stay quiet, hoping what they had will be enough for a postseason berth.
Spring training might not count in the standings, but players are still evaluated and analyzed at the highest of levels. These next few weeks will be an opportunity for fans to watch players they haven’t seen for the last couple of months.
So, who are the teams looking forward to seeing in February and March? Here’s a look.
Baltimore Orioles: Manny Machado, Third Baseman
Manny Machado is the future of the Orioles, and after getting his feet wet last season, he’s prepared for his first full season in the majors.
Unless Baltimore trades J.J. Hardy—which seems unlikely—Machado will open the season at third base, where he played for the Orioles in 2012. In 51 games last season, he hit .262/.294/.445 with 18 extra-base hits.
Boston Red Sox: Mike Napoli, First Baseman
Most of Boston’s offseason was spent negotiating a contract with first baseman/catcher Mike Napoli. After agreeing to a three-year deal and finding an issue with his hips, the Red Sox later signed him to a one-year deal. The Red Sox will get their first good look at Napoli early and need him to stay healthy for as long as possible, as they don’t really have a backup.
New York Yankees: Mariano Rivera, Relief Pitcher
The Yankees were without closer Mariano Rivera for nearly the entire season in 2012 after he tore his ACL during batting practice. Coming off of knee surgery, New York will expect him to return to form as quickly as possible. The Yankees decided to let their backup plan—Rafael Soriano—walk in free agency. If Rivera doesn’t bounce back quickly, there could be trouble in the Bronx.
Tampa Bay Rays: Wil Myers, Outfielder
The Rays took a big risk this offseason investing in one of the top prospects in baseball, Wil Myers. Tampa Bay acquired Myers in a deal that sent James Shields and Co. to the Royals—a deal that could backfire quickly if Myers doesn’t pan out and Shield succeeds in Kansas City. Between Double-A and Triple-A last season, Myers hit .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs and 109 RBI.
Toronto Blue Jays: R.A. Dickey, Starting Pitcher
In one of the biggest moves of the winter, the Blue Jays managed to acquire 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets for a couple of prospects. Dickey will lead Toronto’s starting rotation and replicate—if not improve—his campaign last season in New York. Toronto fans will get their first look at the knuckleballer once pitchers and catchers report.
Chicago White Sox: Tyler Flowers, Catcher
With veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski walking in free agency, the White Sox will have a new player behind home plate for the first time in a while.
That player is expected to be Tyler Flowers. Flowers has been Pierzynski’s backup over the last couple of seasons, but will now get his shot to shine. In 52 games last season, he hit .213/.296/.412 with seven home runs and 13 RBI.
Cleveland Indians: Nick Swisher, Outfielder
The Indians made a couple of moves to improve off of last season’s result and one of them included the signing of free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher. Swisher is expected to take the place of Shin-Soo Choo—defensively and in the lineup—who Cleveland traded this winter. Swisher, who can play first base or corner outfield, has hit at least 23 home runs in each of the last five seasons.
Detroit Tigers: Bruce Rondon, Relief Pitcher
Detroit is going to go with its young reliever, Bruce Rondon, in 2013 as the team’s closer. The Tigers decided to let Jose Valverde walk in free agency—which no one is questioning—but they also didn’t do much to replace him. Detroit is trusting Rondon to get the job done late in the game as it tries to repeat as American League champions. Rondon has been very successful in the minors, but hasn’t had much experience in Triple-A.
Kansas City Royals: James Shields, Starting Pitcher
With the intention of competing in 2013, the Royals made a huge offseason move, trading for James Shields and Wade Davis. But, for those two pieces, Kansas City may have gotten rid of a future MVP candidate in Wil Myers. Shields has a lot of expectations to live up to, and many will be looking to see how he adjusts to pitching for an American League Central team.
Minnesota Twins: Vance Worley, Starting Pitcher
In one of Minnesota’s moves this winter, it acquired starting pitcher Vance Worley from the Phillies. Worley, who pitched at the back end of the rotation for Philadelphia, is expected to lead the Twins’ starting five. In 23 starts last season, Worley went 6-9 with a 4.20 ERA in 133 innings. Worley, who has never tossed more than 133 innings in a season, will be taking on a bigger workload in 2013.
Houston Astros: Jarred Cosart, Starting Pitcher
There isn’t much to look forward to if you’re an Astros fan except for the prospects. The 25-man roster is bound to be a loser, but there is some talent in the lower parts of the organization.
One of the top prospects in Houston’s system is Jarred Cosart, who could pitch in the majors as early as late 2013. Cosart spent most of 2012 in Double-A, going 5-5 with a 3.52 ERA in 87 innings.
Los Angeles Angels: Josh Hamilton, Outfielder
The Angels were able to hook the biggest fish in the pond this winter, signing free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton. Last season, the biggest attraction was Albert Pujols—and Mike Trout once he was promoted. This season, it will be about Hamilton and how he meshes with the other two MVP candidates. Hamilton is the newest face on Los Angeles and all eyes will be on his performance.
Oakland Athletics: Hiroyuki Nakajima, Shortstop
The Athletics had the magical touch last season, and 2013 will be about trying to win games that don’t require a walk-off—although they are exciting. Oakland has made couple of moves this winter and one of the bigger ones was adding Hiroyuki Nakajima. The Japanese shortstop will take over full-time and look to bring his consistent bat to the United States. He’s bound to provide a spark on and off the field.
Seattle Mariners: Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales, First Basemen
Seattle has put a lot of emphasis on improving its offense this winter, which makes a lot of sense since the Mariners scored the fourth-fewest runs in 2012. In separate moves, Seattle managed to acquire Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales via trades. Both are expected to hit in the heart of the Mariners lineup and bring their powerful bats with them. The Mariners aren’t very exciting, but seeing how these two play should be.
Texas Rangers: Lance Berkman, Designated Hitter
The Rangers lost a lot of offense this offseason through trades and free agency and haven’t done much to replace those players. Of the few moves Texas did make, they signed free-agent first baseman/designated hitter Lance Berkman. The Rangers are hoping his injuries are behind him, and he is expected to hit in the middle of their lineup. He’s going to need to pick up some of the slack, especially if Nelson Cruz is suspended for taking performance-enhancing drugs.
Atlanta Braves: B.J. and Justin Upton, Outfielders
The Braves managed to acquire a pair of young, talented outfielders this season and they just happened to be brothers.
Atlanta signed B.J. Upton early on this winter and more recently traded for his brother, Justin. The Braves now have one of the best outfields in baseball, adding the siblings to Jason Heyward. As if they haven’t drawn a lot of buzz already, Atlanta is certainly a team to watch in 2013.
Miami Marlins: Giancarlo Stanton, Outfielder
If Marlins fans can watch Giancarlo Stanton play in spring training, that’s the most they could ask for. Miami traded away a ton of talent this offseason, leaving Stanton pretty much by his lonesome. Stanton is obviously one of the top players in the game, so watching him play in general is something fans can look forward to. Marlins fans just have to hope that he’s still a Marlin by the time spring training actually starts.
New York Mets: Matt Harvey, Starting Pitcher
The Mets made a bold move this winter, trading away last season’s Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey, for a couple of prospects. The move, however, really opens up a spot for youngster Matt Harvey to shine. Harvey is one of the best prospects in New York’s organization and pitched pretty well last season. In 10 starts with the Mets, he went 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA in 59.1 innings of work.
Philadelphia Phillies: Ben Revere, Outfielder
Philadelphia is getting older and older and the window for contending for a World Series is most definitely getting smaller. That’s one of the reasons the Phillies traded for former Minnesota center fielder Ben Revere this offseason. Revere is on the brink of being a star in the big leagues as he already has many of the tools necessary to do so. Although he doesn’t hit for any power, he’s one of the biggest threats the Phillies will have in 2013.
Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg, Starting Pitcher
Controversy struck in the nation’s capital last season when the Nationals decided it would be a smart idea to have Stephen Strasburg hang up his cleats early. After hitting a team-induced innings limit, Strasburg missed a chunk of the regular season and all of the postseason. Spring training will be the first time a long time that Strasburg will take for the mound for Washington. But will the extra rest be good or bad for him?
Chicago Cubs: Edwin Jackson, Starting Pitcher
Coming into the offseason, the Cubs looked to revamp their starting rotation. Adding a handful of quality starters, Chicago certainly did so.
The biggest name the Cubs landed this winter was easily Edwin Jackson, formerly with the Nationals. Jackson went 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA in 189.2 innings last season in Washington, and plenty of teams were interested in signing him. He should be a great addition pitching in the No. 3 spot for Chicago.
Cincinnati Reds: Billy Hamilton, Shortstop
It’s only a matter of time before Reds fans have to refrain from blinking so that they don’t miss Billy Hamilton. Easily one of the fastest and most dangerous baserunners of all time, Hamilton could make his way to Cincinnati this season. A shortstop who is expected to play outfield in the future, Hamilton has succeeded in each level he’s played in. In 50 games for Double-A last season, he hit .286/.406/.383 with 10 extra-base hits and 51 steals.
Milwaukee Brewers: Jean Segura, Shortstop
When the Brewers traded away Zack Greinke to the Angels, they took a big risk. Instead of having a Cy Young-caliber starting pitcher, they wanted a shortstop with the capability of becoming a star. That shortstop was Jean Segura, who was a top prospect at the time of the deal. Segura played all right for Milwaukee in limited time last season, but 2013 will be his first full shot in the big leagues. He’s a major factor in the future success of the Brewers.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Gerrit Cole, Starting Pitcher
When a player gets drafted No. 1 overall, a team never knows what it’s going to get. Even after just one year in the minor leagues, the Pirates really have something in Gerrit Cole. Arguably the top prospect in Pittsburgh’s minor league system, Cole is quickly rising through the organization. He was promoted twice during the year and could end up pitching for the Pirates at some point in 2013.
St. Louis Cardinals: Shelby Miller, Starting Pitcher
If Jaime Garcia isn’t ready to start the season, look for Shelby Miller to take his spot in the St. Louis starting rotation. Miller, the Cardinals’ top prospect, pitched briefly in the big leagues last season, but only made one start in six appearances. He struggled for the first time in his young career in 2012 in Triple-A, but is expected to bounce back in a big way. Miller is the future ace of the Cardinals rotation if he can come back with a positive year.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Tyler Skaggs, Starting Pitcher
What’s not to like about Arizona’s starting rotation? It’s got a ton of young talent; especially Tyler Skaggs, who pitched briefly for the Diamondbacks last season.
Skaggs, a tall lefty with slew of good pitches, has been dominating the minor leagues throughout his professional career. That earned him a chance to pitch for Arizona in 2012, going 1-3 with a 5.83 ERA in six starts. Skaggs is expected to open the season in the back end of Arizona’s rotation.
Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki, Shortstop
The Rockies were without their biggest weapon in 2012, Troy Tulowitzki. Dealing with constant groin problems, the Colorado shortstop rarely made it on the field. In just 47 games, he hit .287/.360/.486 with eight long balls and 27 RBI. Now supposed healthy again, the Rockies look for him to be the leader of the club. There’s a lot of weight on his shoulders to come back and look like he never missed a beat.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Zack Greinke, Starting Pitcher
The Dodgers have gone all-in over the last half-year or so with big move after big move. The biggest move Los Angeles made this winter was signing the top free-agent pitcher on the market, Zack Greinke. Greinke, a former Cy Young Award winner, signed a monster deal to pitch behind Clayton Kershaw for the next couple of seasons. Pitching well for nearly every team he’s played for, the Dodgers look for him to help bring home a World Series in 2013.
San Diego Padres: Rymer Liriano, Outfielder
Rymer Liriano has taken a while to progress through San Diego’s minor league system, but is still arguably the top prospect in the organization. Reaching Double-A for just the first time in 2012 despite five seasons as a professional, Liriano is certainly worth waiting for. He’s expected to be a star outfielder once he hits the majors, something the Padres desperately need.
San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum, Starting Pitcher
Tim Lincecum used to be one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. But is he still? Lincecum had a very poor 2012 campaign that led to him getting pulled from the Giants rotation during the playoffs. San Francisco has a great rotation, but without Lincecum pitching at his best, it gets considerably worse. Many will be watching early on to see which Lincecum takes the mound this year.