All 30 MLB Team's X-Factor to Watch in Spring Training
Each MLB team needs that one player who's a game-changer, a difference-maker, an X-factor.
Spring training doesn’t count once the season starts, but it’s a fantastic time for teams to build chemistry, develop young talent and see who on the roster is going to be the guy who comes through with a big hit—or gets out of a jam on the mound—late in the game.
That one player could be the difference between making the postseason or ending the season prematurely, but for now, players will try to show that they can be depended on.
Here’s a look at each team’s X-factor to watch during spring training.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: Brian Roberts, Second Baseman
The Baltimore Orioles haven’t had the pleasure of slotting Brian Roberts into the everyday lineup regularly for a while. The last time Roberts played in more than 60 games was in 2009 when he played in all but three regular-season matchups.
This year, Roberts comes into spring training healthy and looking to make an impact for the surging O’s. If he can bounce back to his old ways, there’s no reason why Baltimore can’t be a playoff contender again. But if he struggles to stay healthy, the Birds will need to find a quick replacement.
Boston Red Sox: Mike Napoli, First Baseman
The Boston Red Sox spent a great deal of time negotiating a deal to sign free-agent first baseman Mike Napoli. After discovering an ailment with his hips, the Red Sox and Napoli finally agreed to a one-year deal.
But Napoli has been restricted thus far in practice and won’t play for at least another week or so. Once Napoli takes the field, though, it’s essential he brings his big bat to the lineup. Boston recently acquired Mike Carp just in case things go wrong, and it has Lyle Overbay, Daniel Nava and Mauro Gomez as backup options as well.
New York Yankees: Mark Teixeira, First Baseman
Mark Teixeira needs to have a good spring training because he's going to be extremely important for the New York Yankees in 2013. The Yankees lost a lot of talent this past offseason and didn’t do much to replace the players that signed elsewhere.
With Alex Rodriguez set to miss the majority of the season, Teixeira needs to step up as a big bat in the heart of the New York lineup. Teixeira has been poor overall the last three seasons, and both he and the Bronx Bombers need a solid performance this upcoming year.
Tampa Bay Rays: Matt Moore, Starting Pitcher
Matt Moore pitched well for the Tampa Bay Rays last season in his rookie campaign, despite finishing the year with an even win-loss record. Moore tossed more than 175 innings and averaged around a strikeout per inning while posting a 3.81 ERA.
Moore is expected to be the No. 3 starter in Tampa Bay’s rotation after the offseason departure of James Shields and will likely play a large role in the team’s performance. Moore is one of the top young starters in baseball, and the Rays need a big sophomore year from him.
Toronto Blue Jays: Mark Buehrle, Starting Pitcher
Mark Buehrle is still close to the pitcher he once was with the Chicago White Sox, but the Toronto Blue Jays will attempt to squeeze some of the remaining juice out of him this year. Buehrle has won at least 13 games the last five seasons and has thrown at least 200 innings in each of the last 12 seasons.
If the Blue Jays can’t get double-digit wins and a significant innings total in 2013, the deal he signed won’t look nearly as good as it might have earlier in the winter. If Toronto gets the most of the veteran left-hander, though, he’ll be extremely valuable heading into the playoffs.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: Chris Johnson, Third Baseman
Chris Johnson has a big hole to fill at third base with the retirement of Chipper Jones. Juan Francisco is also expected to compete for the starting job, but my money is on Johnson emerging as the starter.
Johnson will likely hit low in the batting order, but that doesn’t mean they won’t look for him to contribute. Getting on base so that the top of the lineup can hit him home will be crucial for the Braves this season.
Miami Marlins: Rob Brantly, Catcher
The Miami Marlins are hoping that their group of young talent and seasoned veterans will help them avoid the MLB basement this season. Miami is likely to contend with the Houston Astros for the worst record in the league.
One of the players who is sure to make a difference for Miami in 2013 is Rob Brantly, an up-and-coming catcher. Brantly is one of the top prospects in the organization and could make an immediate impact at the major league level.
New York Mets: Ike Davis, First Baseman
The New York Mets aren’t expected to make much noise in 2013, especially after failing to sign free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn, but Ike Davis could still have a great season. Although Davis may have improved overall last season, he wasn't consistent.
Davis played in all but six games for New York in 2012, hitting .227/.308/.462 with 32 home runs and 90 RBI. If Davis could improve his batting average and continue his hot streak, he could be a dark-horse MVP candidate.
Philadelphia Phillies: Roy Halladay, Starting Pitcher
Roy Halladay had a lackluster 2012 season that was one of the worst in his 15-year career. Injuries plagued his campaign and allowed him to pitch just 156.1 innings in 25 starters. During those starts, he went 11-8 with a 4.49 ERA, the second highest of his career.
2013 will be a huge season for Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies as they try to compete for the NL East title. Philadelphia absolutely needs Halladay to bounce back as quickly as possible to give it the best chance at making the postseason.
Washington Nationals: Dan Haren, Starting Pitcher
Dan Haren was signed this winter to take the place of Edwin Jackson, who did an adequate job for the Washington Nationals in the one season he pitched for them. Haren, an established veteran who has spent nearly his entire career in the AL, is looking to replicate his past success with the reigning NL East champions.
Haren had a rough 2012, his third year with the Los Angeles Angels, and he would like to make a good first impression with Washington. The Nationals should have one of the top rotations in baseball, and they definitely will if Haren pitches well.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: Tyler Flowers, Catcher
I’ve talked a lot about Tyler Flowers and the starting catcher role for the Chicago White Sox this offseason. Good thing it’s spring training now, and I can start fresh. I’m unsure of how Flowers will handle the job for Chicago this season.
It’s a lot of pressure on the young backstop, and whether he’ll succeed or fail is certainly a question that will be answered this season. It will be tough for Flowers to have the career that A.J. Pierzynski did with the White Sox, but there are high hopes for him.
Cleveland Indians: Justin Masterson, Starting Pitcher
Justin Masterson just hasn’t been himself as of late, but I have a good feeling that new manager Terry Francona will be able to get him back to where he needs to be as a leader of the Cleveland Indians.
Masterson went 11-15 for Cleveland last season, posting a career-high 4.93 ERA in 206.1 innings pitching behind Ubaldo Jimenez—who has also struggled mightily. Masterson has an arsenal of pitches that should make him one of the best pitchers in the division, but he seems to have a big problem with being consistent.
Detroit Tigers: Victor Martinez, Designated Hitter
Coming off a major injury, Victor Martinez looks to make his mark with one of the top teams in the league, the Detroit Tigers. The switch-hitting designated hitter is expected to hit fifth in the Detroit lineup after missing all of the 2012 season.
Another strong bat in the lineup is exactly what the Tigers could have used during the World Series even with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, but unfortunately, Martinez was unable to play. This year, however, he will be available and should make a big difference in the Detroit offense.
Kansas City Royals: Mike Moustakas, Third Baseman
I think that Mike Moustakas was bound to fail after being named one of the top prospects in baseball while still a minor leaguer. He came into a Kansas City Royals team that lacked talent, and he immediately struggled.
But there is still a chance he can turn his young career around in 2013 with a somewhat improved ball club. Moustakas hit just .242/.396/.412, but he did slug 20 home runs and drive in 73 runs. If he can hit more consistently and continue to post solid power numbers, he should be just fine this upcoming season.
Minnesota Twins: Vance Worley, Starting Pitcher
There isn’t a ton to look for from the Minnesota Twins this season, but it will be interesting to see how Vance Worley does in his first season in the AL Central. Worley, who was traded during the offseason from the Philadelphia Phillies, is expected to lead the Minnesota rotation in 2013.
He doesn’t have a lot of experience, but is still one of the pitchers the Twins are looking at to spark the future rotation. Minnesota has been planning for the future, and not just the upcoming season, and it seems that the Twins really like Worley.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: Anthony Rizzo, First Baseman
Anthony Rizzo is one of the up-and-coming stars for the Chicago Cubs, but the club may be pushing him to succeed too early. The Cubs don’t have all of the pieces he needs around him, and it’s tough to judge a player with so little experience in his career.
Rizzo won’t succeed unless he has more pieces around him, and that’s sure to come in the near future. The Cubs aren’t going to contend for an NL Central this year, but that doesn’t mean that Rizzo can’t continue to develop in a positive fashion. That’ll just make the Cubs’ jobs easier going forward.
Cincinnati Reds: Bronson Arroyo, Starting Pitcher
The Cincinnati Reds are in a fine position to contend for the pennant this upcoming season. But the starting rotation is going to have to hold up the entire season—although there isn’t any doubt that they couldn’t.
There are questions, however, surrounding Aroldis Chapman as a starting pitcher, but the rest of the rotation is intact. Bronson Arroyo needs to be a rock-solid No. 3 starter for the Reds to make it further than they did in last year’s postseason. He pitched very well last season and could be a big difference-maker in 2013.
Milwaukee Brewers: Ryan Braun, Outfielder
Ryan Braun is one of the best players in baseball, but he seems to be in a bit of legal trouble as of late. Braun has been continually linked to performance-enhancing drugs and may be in a bit of a pickle this time.
Last time, he slid back into third base, but this time around he might be tagged out at home. If Braun is proven innocent again, he’ll be the most important player on the Milwaukee Brewers. If he gets suspended, Milwaukee is in trouble. And then there’s the chance that if he does play, he doesn’t succeed, although that’s an unlikely scenario.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Garrett Jones, First Baseman
The Pittsburgh Pirates almost made the playoffs last season. But unfortunately for them, almost doesn’t count, and the Pirates couldn’t keep up their hot, early pace throughout the entire season.
If the Pirates are going to make the playoffs in 2013, they’ll need some help from all of their players, but Garrett Jones specifically. Jones is on the rise and needs to continue his recent success with another big season. Jones is a good hitter who needs to work on his eye this spring, working to draw more walks and strike out less frequently.
St. Louis Cardinals: Jake Westbrook, Starting Pitcher
With Chris Carpenter likely out for the season and Kyle Lohse still a free agent, there will be a ton of added pressure on the St. Louis Cardinals’ starting rotation. Shelby Miller could compete for a job, as will Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal, but the bulk of the pressure will land on Jake Westbrook, Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright.
Westbrook, a veteran right-hander, needs to have a big year. He’s pitched decently for St. Louis the past couple of years, but he needs to have a fantastic year to improve the Cardinals’ championship hopes.
American League West
Houston Astros: Chris Carter, Outfielder
Chris Carter is one of the players that the Houston Astros were able to bring into their rebuilding organization. But despite Carter not being much of a star in the past with the Oakland A’s, Houston will probably have him hit third or fourth in its lineup.
The Astros clearly aren’t going to be doing much competing this season, but there’s no reason why Carter can’t make a better name for himself. The best player on Houston is better than nothing, right? Well, first he has to become the best player on Houston, which is a wide-open race at the moment.
Los Angeles Angels: Josh Hamilton, Outfielder
It’s obvious that Josh Hamilton is going to play an important role for the 2013 Los Angeles Angels, but will he be able to live up to the hype? Hamilton has been an MVP candidate each season for a while now, and he should be able to make a smooth transition northwest to the Angels.
Hamilton is surrounded by stars in the Los Angeles lineup and in the outfield, and it’s tough to imagine that he won’t play well with the Angels. If he doesn’t, however, the Angels could be in trouble playoffs-wise. But there’s a greater probability he hits them into the postseason.
Oakland Athletics: Brandon Moss, First Baseman
The Oakland Athletics had ridiculous success late in games last season that led them all the way into the postseason, and Brandon Moss played an unexpected role in all of that. I mean, really, who would have thought Moss would play so well in 2012? I’m not included if you raised your hand.
But can Moss replicate his 2012 success in 2013? That’s a question that has yet to be answered, but soon it will. He will be playing in a great environment and clubhouse where everything is very easygoing, which usually means good things for a player.
Seattle Mariners: Jesus Montero, Catcher
The trade that brought Jesus Montero to the Mariners will never look bad for Seattle, but it won’t look good either unless he gets his act together.
It’s understandable that he didn’t play as well as some may have hoped last season, and he still has time to improve, but 2013 is when he needs to be at his best.The Mariners have brought in pieces to hit around him, and now is the time to break out. He needs to draw a lot more walks if he’s going to be a perennial power hitter in the AL West.
Texas Rangers: Lance Berkman, Designated Hitter
Without a lot of the star power that the Texas Rangers had control of last season, Lance Berkman is expected to at least make a dent in the production the club lost over the offseason. But Berkman is coming off of an injury-plagued season that only allowed him to play in 32 games in 2012.
He did play extremely well for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011, but his body isn’t getting younger, and the Rangers desperately need him to come up big this year. Trying to compete with the Angels, Berkman’s success is essential to Texas.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Brandon McCarthy, Starting Pitcher
Brandon McCarthy is coming off of a gruesome injury he suffered late last season, but is now fully recovered and ready to make his mark with his new team, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
McCarthy was one of the leaders of the Oakland rotation, and it’s expected that he be able to replicate that success in the NL. He’ll likely be the No. 2 starter behind Ian Kennedy and can do a lot of damage when he’s in the zone. If McCarthy can find a way to get in the zone, the rest of the NL West had better watch out.
Colorado Rockies: Wilin Rosario, Catcher
Wilin Rosario finished fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting last season after a fantastic first year with the underachieving Colorado Rockies. If Rosario can avoid a sophomore slump, he could become one of the main centerpieces of the future for Colorado, and that would be huge.
The Rockies don’t have a ton to work with in 2013, and getting another productive year from Rosario would really boost their confidence. And you never know what a team with confidence could do. I don’t want to say that they could be the 2012 Oakland A’s, but they could do better than expected—but still miss the playoffs.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp, Outfielder
The Los Angeles Dodgers have a stacked roster and are bound for success now and in the future. But their chances of winning a World Series would go down drastically if Matt Kemp suffers a slump or goes down with another injury.
Kemp played well last season, but injuries prevented him from having an MVP-caliber year. This year, however, has to be different if Kemp has his eyes on the prize. The Dodgers need Kemp to be great unless taking down the Giants is not going to be easy. As of now, the rivals are relatively even, but Kemp is the X-factor.
San Diego Padres: Edinson Volquez, Starting Pitcher
Edinson Volquez is the backbone of the San Diego Padres’ starting rotation, and he needs to continue being that backbone if the Padres are going to be relevant in 2013. Volquez had a fair year for San Diego last season despite playing for a poor team, posting a 4.14 ERA with an 11-11 record.
He needs help from the rest of the Padres starters, but if he can’t lead them, no one can. Volquez must be the ace-like pitcher the Padres need unless they’ll face to the bottom of the NL West cellar.
San Francisco Giants: Marco Scutaro, Second Baseman
Marco Scutaro was incredible for the San Francisco Giants last season and is another player that many never thought would be able to play so well. But somehow he did, and he was rewarded for it in the offseason, returning to the Giants.
Now Scutaro, who has been very consistent over the course of his long career, has another season to prove himself. Scutaro plays an important role for San Francisco, manning second base and hitting high up in the lineup. If he can’t produce like he usually does, the Giants could—although unlikely—be in trouble.