10 Surprising Things to Expect to See in Spring Training
Spring training is the time of year for baseball teams to see what they have. No more "what ifs." No more wondering what certain guys have left in the tank.
The teams are (for the most part) assembled and jobs are won and lost.
But, things pop up along the way.
Injuries occur. The front office decides to make a move to supplement the roster. Some guys exceed expectations and steal jobs away.
So, what's in store in the major leagues once pitchers and catchers report? Several storylines could emerge.
Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse Will Remain Unsigned to Start Spring Training
The ol' draft-pick compensation has been a real punch in the gut for both Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse this offseason.
Any team signing one of these guys will forfeit their first-round draft pick to his previous employer since both the Atlanta Braves (with Bourn) and the St. Louis Cardinals (with Lohse) offered the players a $13.3 million qualifying offer.
With teams prioritizing building through the draft these days, Bourn and Lohse remain unemployed despite being two of the better free agents on the market.
In recent weeks, the New York Mets have shown interest in Bourn. But a squabble over whether the Mets could retain their first-round pick seems to be the sticking point to whether or not they pursue the move any further (per Adam Rubin of ESPN New York).
Likewise, there is interest in Lohse (per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports). But there is more reluctance in surrendering a top draft pick.
Both players will end up with jobs before the start of the season. It seems pretty clear neither one will get the lengthy, high-dollar contract they and their agent, Scott Boras, had their eyes set on at the start of the offseason.
It may take both the player and a team getting creative on a contract in terms of money, options and opt-out clauses. Somebody will be too enticed by the talent each player offers.
But Bourn and Lohse will have exuded a significant amount of patience by the time all is said and done.
Andrelton Simmons Will Be the Most Impressive Player in Braves Camp
The Upton brothers (B.J. and Justin) will be the biggest story in spring training for the Atlanta Braves. With good reason too.
Not only are they brothers brought together to play on the same team this offseason, but they are also the most talented additions made to the Braves. It's a feel-good story, both on and off the field.
While the Uptons steal the headlines, somewhere on a back field Andrelton Simmons will be busting his tail to get better.
Simmons' rookie season in 2012 was interrupted by a broken finger that cost him two months. But in 182 plate appearances, Simmons hit .289 with with three home runs and a .751 OPS. And his defense shined even brighter.
Simmons, 23, is guaranteed the starting shortstop position. Manager Fredi Gonzalez will put him at the top of the lineup, either in the leadoff spot or in the 2-hole behind B.J. Upton.
With so many talented veterans around him to shelter him from lofty expectations, he can go to work as usual and continue to improve his game.
It seems Simmons' career is on the rise and his rookie season was just a glimmer of what he might become. The 2013 season could be a breakout year for Simmons, and he has the potential to far exceed expectations for Atlanta.
Alfonso Soriano Will Be Traded
Despite reports that nothing is imminent on the Alfonso Soriano trade front (h/t MLB Trade Rumors) and Soriano saying he has no desire to go anywhere (per Carrie Muskat of MLB.com), the writing is on the wall.
Soriano wants to help bring a World Series to Chicago. That is very noble of him and he may, indeed, be telling the truth.
But let's be honest. The Cubs are not competing for titles anytime soon.
Soriano has 10-and-5 rights, meaning he can block any trade proposal involving him from going through. That has not stopped the Cubbies from throwing his name out there in trade talks.
He is owed $36 million over the next two seasons. While that is a deterrent, interested clubs are looking at his 32 home runs and 108 RBI in 2012 as a sign he can be a productive bat.
So, maybe it's Philadelphia. Or perhaps Baltimore. Cubs president Theo Epstein will look to find a taker for Soriano, paying a large portion of the money owed to him in hopes of getting back a quality prospect or two who will help expedite the rebuilding process at Wrigley Field.
Rafael Soriano Will Be on a Short Leash as Washington Nationals Closer
From one Soriano to another...
Rafael Soriano signed a two-year, $28 million deal with the Washington Nationals in January.
Presumably, that kind of dough makes Soriano the Opening Day closer. But with Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard also taking up residence in the Washington bullpen, the Nationals have more than one arm capable of shouldering the closer responsibilities. Clippard saved 32 games for the Nationals in 2012 while Storen was on the disabled list. Storen logged 43 saves the year before.
Soriano was no chump himself in 2012, saving 42 games for the New York Yankees after Mariano Rivera tore his ACL. He also had 72 saves in 2009 for Atlanta and 2010 in Tampa Bay. But in 2011, as Rivera's setup man, Soriano struggled on his way to a 4.12 ERA.
Soriano's deal will give him the closer's spot for Davey Johnson come April. But should he falter, dollar signs will not save his job. For a team with World Series aspirations, Johnson can't afford to coddle Soriano should he struggle when he has other trusted arms in the bullpen.
Aroldis Chapman Will Be the Cincinnati Reds Closer on Opening Day
Certain people were born to do certain things.
Aroldis Chapman was put on this earth to hurl 105 mph fastballs at helpless hitters. It's just that simple.
Chapman recorded 38 saves in 2012, even though he did not take over the closer's role until May 20. With a 1.51 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 71.2 innings, Chapman is a closer. A dominant one at that.
He is a known commodity as a reliever. That all changes as a starting pitcher.
Manager Dusty Baker is ready to slot him into the starting rotation, seeing potential for a No. 1 or No. 2 starter. Chapman joins an already solid rotation featuring Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey. And, with the re-signing of reliever Jonathan Broxton, the Reds have a capable replacement for Chapman at closer.
But there is no guarantee of success despite an immense amount of talent.
How will Chapman's arm hold up with such an increase in innings pitched? Can he maintain the velocity on his fastball when going through the lineup three times? Will hitters get more comfortable against his electric stuff when they are able to see it more often than just one at-bat a game?
Mike Leake (28 wins in three seasons) is the odd man out of the rotation if Chapman is in it. Leake would be able to step back into that role should Chapman falter.
If Chapman does not have a good spring as a starter, it will be hard for the Reds to press forward, knowing what an asset he is as their closer.
After all, it's what he was born to do.
Jordany Valdespin Will Be Starting in the New York Mets Outfield on Opening Day
In its current state, the New York Mets outfield is an unmitigated disaster.
If the season were to start today, Lucas Duda would be in left field, Kirk Nieuwenhuis would be in center field and either Mike Baxter or Collin Cowgill would be in right.
Adjust your pitching staffs accordingly to deal with that Murderers' Row.
Enter Jordany Valdespin.
To be sure, he is no savior. In 191 at-bats in 2012, Valdespin hit .241 with eight home runs, 26 RBI and 10 steals.
He is one of those guys that brings energy a la Jose Reyes and gets under the skin of his opponents.
He is not without his faults. His pictures posted on Twitter show that he can be a bit conceited. And can you at least wear the hat of the team that signs your paychecks and not another team's in the division?
But in an outfield devoid of much upside, Valdespin could be the spark plug the Mets have missed since Reyes left for South Beach.
To get the blood flowing in Queens, manager Terry Collins could do worse things than sticking Valdespin in the lineup every day and giving the outfield some much-needed speed, a little pop and some bravado.
Dexter Fowler Will Be Traded
With Justin Upton finally being traded, the top outfield trade target on the market right now is the Colorado Rockies' Dexter Fowler.
Fowler hit .300 with 13 home runs and 53 RBI for the Rockies in 2012. However, lost in those numbers is the fact that Fowler had a .390 BABIP (per FanGraphs), which is not very sustainable. The average BABIP is .300. Anything above that means the player received more than average luck when putting the ball in play. So, .390 is very fortunate. That number should come down in 2013.
So, now may be the time to sell high on Fowler.
The Upton trade took Fowler's hometown of Atlanta off the list of interested parties. So did Cincinnati's acquisition of Shin-Soo Choo.
Teams like Philadelphia and Baltimore are in the market for outfielders. But there may be a better match in the Tampa Bay Rays.
With an outfield of Sam Fuld, Desmond Jennings and Matt Joyce, there may be room for an upgrade. Most logically, Fowler would be a more suitable replacement for Fuld than the other two.
Tampa has had interest in Fowler (h/t MLB Trade Rumors). And wouldn't you know Colorado is looking for pitching upgrades. When haven't they been in need of better pitching in that ballpark?
Even though the Rays have already sent away James Shields and Wade Davis this offseason, they still have plenty of enticing young pitching. A potential Fowler-for-Hellickson deal (per Troy Renck of The Denver Post) may make sense for both parties.
Derek Jeter Will Not Be in the Opening Day Lineup for the New York Yankees
Spring training is a time for rose-colored glasses and glass-half-full predictions.
Here we are in February and all parties concur that The Captain is on pace to start at shortstop April 1 against the rival Boston Red Sox (per Erik Boland of Newsday).
History shows to never put anything past Jeter. He has proven to be one of the most dependable, honest and well-respected people in baseball. He is everything that is good about the sport.
Recovery time was listed as four-five months. Everything seems to be right on track.
But at 38 years old, Father Time is at least in competition with Jeter's spirit. Rehab may take a bit longer than it used to for Jeter.
And this is the face of the franchise we're talking about. In a season lasting 162 games, there is no sense in rushing back the team's most important cog for Opening Day.
Jeter and the Yankees will take things nice and slow and work him back into action with ease at the start of spring. No setbacks have taken place so far.
To be sure of that, the Yankees would be better served going easy and not risking his entire 2013 season by making sure he is in uniform for the first game.
Maybe it's just a couple games, a couple weeks or even a month. But, the Yankees should make sure he is absolutely 100 percent before putting him back between the lines because once he touches dirt, Jeter knows no other speed than full speed.
A Philadelphia Phillies Veteran Will Suffer a Significant Injury
Roy Halladay. Cliff Lee. Ryan Howard. Jimmy Rollins. Chase Utley. Michael Young.
All are among the best the Philadelphia Phillies have to offer in 2013.
All are on the wrong side of 30 years old.
In 2012, Howard missed 91 games and Utley missed 79. Roy Halladay, who had topped 30 starts in each of the previous six seasons, managed just 25.
The 2011 season saw Utley miss 59 games and Rollins sat out 20.
Only Lee and Young have been completely healthy the last couple seasons.
This is what the Phillies have become. A high-priced, aging roster has caused Philly to fade in the division and in the baseball landscape as a whole.
Odds are at least one of these long-in-the-tooth veterans will miss significant time again in 2013. There is no telling who it may be.
But there are too many ailments and concerns on the Phillies roster among their best players to think the Phillies can be a serious contender this season.
Wil Myers Will Force His Way onto Tampa's Major League Roster
The prize of the James Shields trade this offseason, Wil Myers brings a premium young bat back to Tampa Bay.
Myers was touted as Kansas City's top prospect at the time of the trade and a guy capable of hitting .300 with 30 home runs at the big league level.
As previously mentioned when referencing Dexter Fowler and the Rays' interest in him, Tampa currently has an outfield of Sam Fuld, Desmond Jennings and Matt Joyce from left to right.
In 2012, those outfielders posted batting averages of .255 (Fuld), .246 (Jennings) and .241 (Joyce) and combined for 30 home runs and 111 RBI.
Myers could be seen as an upgrade to any of the three, as Tampa hopes he can eventually put up seasons that compare to what the three previously mentioned outfielders combined for last season.
If Tampa can deal from an area of strength (starting pitching) and get Fowler, the Rays could enter the season with Fowler in center, Myers in right and either Jennings or Joyce in left, with Fuld serving as a super-sub.
Either way, Myers has all the tools to succeed right now. The Rays gave away their second-best pitcher to get him. Roll him out there and see what he can do.