Players with Most to Prove During Spring Training for Each MLB Team
Not every player in spring training is going to cruise through and have a guaranteed spot on the 25-man roster. There are plenty of players with invitations to camp who must prove their worth first.
The uncertainty could be because they haven’t performed well recently or are with a new club. Or perhaps there is a fast-rising prospect on their tail. Regardless, not everyone’s job is safe in spring training.
Separated by division, here’s a glance at one player from each MLB team who has the most to prove before the season begins.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: Nick Markakis, Outfielder
After an injury-plagued 2012, the Orioles need Nick Markakis to come back with a vengeance. He’s been on a steady decline the last couple of seasons and could soon be replaced by prospects Xavier Avery or L.J. Hoes if he cannot regain his old form.
Boston Red Sox: John Lackey, Starting Pitcher
John Lackey missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and the Red Sox need him now more than ever. He has yet to pitch well since coming over from Los Angeles. The Red Sox starting rotation was subpar last year, and a strong spring from Lackey would give them some reassurance.
New York Yankees: Mark Teixeira, First Baseman
Mark Teixeira hasn’t been as good as he could have been since joining the Yankees in 2009. He’s still slugging plenty of home runs, but his overall production is clearly on the decline. Teixeira also recently admitted he wasn’t going to get better in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
Tampa Bay Rays: Jeff Niemann, Starting Pitcher
Jeff Niemann is easily the worst starting pitcher in the projected Tampa Bay starting rotation—or at least the one with the lowest potential. He missed a chunk of time last season with a fractured fibula, and if he doesn’t pitch well in the spring, it’s likely he’ll lose his spot. The Rays have around four top pitching prospects waiting for someone to fail in the spring.
Toronto Blue Jays: Melky Cabrera, Outfielder
After missing considerable time last season with the Giants because of a positive drug test, Melky Cabrera received a nice contract from Toronto. But now that he’s off performance-enhancing drugs—or at least should be—he’ll have to prove that he’s still a great hitter and solid fielder.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: Chris Johnson, Third Baseman
With longtime third baseman Chipper Jones retiring after last season, the starting job at third base for the Atlanta Braves is probably going to go to Chris Johnson. But Atlanta certainly isn't going to just hand it to him —he has to earn it. Johnson played relatively well last season with the Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks, but Juan Francisco will certainly challenge him.
Miami Marlins: Rob Brantly, Catcher
Rob Brantly is one of the top prospects in Miami’s minor league system, but I want to see more of him before crowning him as a young star. Brantly posted good numbers in the minors last season and also had decent success in the majors, despite a small sample size. Brantly could end up being one of the Marlins' best players in 2013, but Jeff Mathis is sure to see time behind the plate as well.
New York Mets: Mike Baxter, Outfielder
Mike Baxter is certainly the lowest on the totem pole of potential starters in the outfield for New York. Baxter has seen limited time in the majors the past two seasons and hasn’t been that impressive. The Mets have a lot of outfielders on their roster, and Baxter needs to have a good spring in order to get playing time during the year.
Philadelphia Phillies: Delmon Young, Outfielder
Delmon Young is one of the more troubled former stars in baseball, and he really needs to showcase the skills he once had. The Phillies are also hoping that he’ll even be able to play in the spring after having ankle surgery. But if he’s healthy, he’ll probably be the starting right fielder on Opening Day. Domonic Brown or Darin Ruf could easily steal that job from him, though.
Washington Nationals: Kurt Suzuki, Catcher
Kurt Suzuki was Washington’s starting catcher down the stretch last year, but the only reason he even got a chance was because Wilson Ramos was injured for the entire season. Now, Ramos is healthy and will be looking to get his starting job behind the plate back. Suzuki, who performed better than his career averages with the Nationals last year, needs to continue to impress the Washington staff in order to keep his job.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: Gordon Beckham, Second Baseman
Calling Gordon Beckham a disappointment would be a major understatement. He was supposed to be one of the best players in Chicago’s organization by now, but after four years in the majors, he’s closer to being one of the worst. Carlos Sanchez, one of the White Sox’s most promising prospects, could give Beckham some competition this spring.
Cleveland Indians: Carlos Carrasco, Starting Pitcher
Carlos Carrasco is currently slotted to open the season as the Indians’ No. 5 starting pitcher, but that might not be the case if he has a poor spring. He fell short in 21 starts for Cleveland in 2011 and missed all of 2012 due to injury. He better watch out for the youth waiting for their shot —don’t think that Trevor Bauer isn’t major league-ready yet.
Detroit Tigers: Bruce Rondon, Relief Pitcher
Bruce Rondon has yet to pitch in the majors, but he does have fairly impressive minor league statistics. The Tigers will get their first true look at Rondon in the back end of their bullpen in the spring, and they hope to see good things. Detroit let Jose Valverde go in free agency and didn’t try to sign another closer. There’s a lot of pressure on Rondon to succeed early, and we should get a good preview of what type of pitcher he will be relatively soon.
Kansas City Royals: Eric Hosmer, First Baseman
When Eric Hosmer was a minor leaguer, he was considered to be one of the top prospects in the game. His rookie season was notable—finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting—but he suffered from a major sophomore slump in 2012. His batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS all dropped considerably. He needs to prove he isn’t a one-hit wonder.
Minnesota Twins: Brian Duensing, Starting Pitcher
With Kyle Gibson waiting anxiously in Triple-A, the Twins may consider giving him a spot in the starting rotation. If Brian Duensing was to falter in spring training, he would likely be the odd man out. He’s gone 13-26 with a 5.19 ERA the last two seasons combined. The Twins may not be contenders, but those numbers wouldn't cut it on any major league team.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: David DeJesus, Outfielder
David DeJesus has been very inconsistent over the course of his 10-year career. He’s not all that impressive and usually does just the minimum. The past two seasons haven’t been anything special, and there’s no reason to believe that’ll change this year. There’s a good chance he loses his starting job this spring if he doesn’t live up to the low expectations set for him.
Cincinnati Reds: Shin-Soo Choo, Outfielder
Shin-Soo Choo was great with the Cleveland Indians, and the Reds hope he can replicate his former success in Cincinnati. The Reds completed a big trade this offseason in order to acquire an outfielder with star potential, and they clearly believe Choo will break out. It'll be interesting to witness his center field play this spring, since he’s primarily been a right fielder.
Milwaukee Brewers: Chris Narveson, Starting Pitcher
Chris Narveson only started two games last season after having to undergo rotator cuff surgery. That injury, combined with his fairly decent campaigns the two previous years, isn’t going to help his chances of making it in the Brewers rotation this season. There’s a good possibility that if he struggles, his spot in the rotation will go to someone like prospect Tyler Thornburg.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Jason Grilli, Relief Pitcher
The Pirates made a bold move this offseason in dealing away their closer, Joel Hanrahan. The move virtually gave Jason Grilli the closer role without much of a discussion. Grilli has never been a closer in his 10-year career and certainly needs to show that he’s capable of sustaining success late in games. He has been relatively good as a reliever the past two seasons, though, so he should be able to perform well in this role.
St. Louis Cardinals: Allen Craig, First Baseman
I understand that Allen Craig is one of the main names in the Cardinals lineup, but eventually St. Louis is going to have to address the first base situation. Craig has been great as the team’s first baseman, but Matt Adams is about ready to play in the big leagues on a regular basis. Craig can play the outfield, but there aren’t any open spots. He better not let Adams outplay him this spring, or he could start the year on the bench.
American League West
Houston Astros: Carlos Pena, Designated Hitter
The Houston Astros didn’t do much this offseason, but they did invest in former slugger Carlos Pena. Pena hasn’t hit .230 since 2008 and has the tendency to strike out more often than most players in baseball. Last season, he struck out 182 times in 497 at-bats. The Astros have a lackluster lineup, but Pena is supposed to bring some talent to it.
Los Angeles Angels: Joe Blanton, Starting Pitcher
Joe Blanton hasn’t been efficient in quite some time, but he’ll try to switch things up with a new team in 2013. He hasn’t posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2007, and during that season his ERA was 3.95. If Blanton struggles in spring training, look for prospect Nick Maronde to make a run at his rotation spot. Blanton needs to prove that he’s still worthy of a starting role.
Oakland Athletics: Hiroyuki Nakajima, Shortstop
Hiroyuki Nakajima hasn’t even taken the field in the United States yet and already has to prove himself. Nakajima was signed during the offseason and expected to be Oakland’s starting shortstop, but the recent trade for Jed Lowrie will mean competition for the Japanese contact hitter.
Seattle Mariners: Michael Morse, Outfielder
The Seattle Mariners swung and missed on a couple of targets this offseason, but they were able to land slugging utility man Michael Morse. Morse will hit in the heart of Seattle’s lineup, providing the power he showed while with the Washington Nationals. He wasn’t the leader in Washington, but he will certainly play a leadership role in Seattle.
Texas Rangers: Lance Berkman, Designated Hitter
The Rangers lost a lot of talent this offseason, and one of the players brought in to help was Lance Berkman. Berkman has struggled to stay healthy the last couple of seasons, and he has to be able to prove he won’t get injured early in the spring. The Rangers need him to produce like he used to with the Astros.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Adam Eaton, Outfielder
Part of the reason Arizona traded MVP-candidate Justin Upton away this offseason was because there wasn’t a spot for Adam Eaton. Eaton is one of the top prospects in the Diamondbacks’ minor league system and needed to play on a daily basis. Now that he has a clear-cut starting role, he needs to prove he deserves it and can live up to the high expectations associated with being a young star.
Colorado Rockies: Chris Nelson, Third Baseman
Who thought Chris Nelson would hit over .300 last season? Despite his 2012 productivity, he still needs to prove that this success was not a fluke. The Rockies have a lot of infielders in camp who will be vying for the third baseman spot that currently has Nelson’s name attached to it. It wouldn’t be the craziest thing in the world if he lost his job this spring.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Carl Crawford, Outfielder
Carl Crawford hasn’t been 100-percent healthy in a very long time, but he should be close to it by the time spring training starts. Crawford was an utter disappointment in Boston and needs to turn things around in a fresh start with the Dodgers. Everyone will be watching to see how he performs this spring and whether his elbow will allow him to play at the level he once was at.
San Diego Padres: Eric Stults, Starting Pitcher
The Padres have a handful of starting pitching studs in the minor leagues waiting for someone to have a subpar spring. That person will most likely be Eric Stults, who’s projected to be San Diego’s No. 4 starter this season. Although he pitched well for the Padres last season, that was over just 18 games. He has far from proven himself as a reliable starter just yet.
San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum, Starting Pitcher
Tim Lincecum was so bad last season that he lost his job in the starting rotation in the postseason. That’s pretty remarkable considering he was one of the top pitchers in baseball just a short time ago. Lincecum has to prove to the Giants that he’s capable of being a starter again, and a very good one. If he doesn’t, San Francisco will have to decide whether to redefine his role or cut "The Freak" and move on.