There's a good chance Elvis Andrus doesn't start the season with the Texas Rangers.
Now that spring training is officially underway, it’s time to start sorting through what will and won’t happen before Opening Day.
Position battles are in full swing. Players who had poor or injury-plagued 2012 seasons are starting with a clean slate, and there are still plenty of roster spots to be won. Not every team has issues to work out this spring, but several teams have question marks that stretch from Arizona to Florida.
Nearly all of the winter’s free-agent class has signed—with the exception of Kyle Lohse—and those who went to new teams will be looking to mesh with their new teammates. The same goes for players who were traded over the offseason.
So what will happen over the next couple of weeks?
Prediction: Jair Jurrjens Wins Starting Role
The Baltimore Orioles have a couple of pitchers contending for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation—one being Jair Jurrjens.
Baltimore signed the former All-Star to a minor league deal over the winter with the intention of giving him a shot this spring. After a couple of successful seasons with the Braves, Jurrjens went on a steep decline and lost his job as a starter.
Jurrjens told Peter Schmuck of The Baltimore Sun that “If I’m out there and can stay on the mound, I know what I can do. A lot of people know what I can do. I’m just going to come here and show everybody that I’m healthy and I can pitch again.”
Even if Jurrjens is healthy again, he’ll have to regain the confidence he once had. Spending the majority of the 2012 season in the minor leagues had to be a blow to the right-hander, but getting a fresh start with a new team is definitely what’s best for his future.
Prediction: Jose Iglesias Shows He Can Hit
Over the winter, the Boston Red Sox signed free agent Stephen Drew to a one-year deal. Although no one came out and said it, the contract meant that prospect Jose Iglesias wouldn’t be the starting shortstop in 2013.
Questions regarding Igelsias’ offensive potential have always surrounded the 23-year-old, as his defense has been what’s kept him in the picture. Iglesias worked with second baseman Dustin Pedroia extensively over the offseason trying to improve overall.
About Iglesisas, Pedroia told Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe:
Seeing the ball good, standing tall always on top—kind of like you’re playing pepper—and hitting the ball where it’s pitched—then your power comes. You get mistakes and you’re on time [with your swing] and that’s when you can generate power. I talked to him about that.
It’s still extremely early, but Iglesias is already showing that his offseason work was a success. On Saturday, he swung at the first pitch he saw against the Tampa Bay Rays and launched it over the Green Monster in left field at the Red Sox's spring-training facility for a two-run homer.
Prediction: Mark Teixeira Continues to Struggle
Mark Teixeira isn’t the player he used to be. He’s gotten worse each year since coming to the New York Yankees for the 2009 season. Last season, he struggled and had calf issues late in the year.
Teixeira was extremely inconsistent month-to-month, playing well in May and July, but poorly in June and August. He was decent in the ALDS, but terrible in the ALCS. Coming into 2013, Teixeira doesn’t have the best attitude, either, telling Daniel Barbarisi of The Wall Street Journal:
I looked at the first six or seven years of my career, I was in my 20s, it was easy. I wasn’t searching for the right formula. To think that I’m going to get remarkably better as I get older and am breaking down a little bit more, it’s not going to happen.
Well, even though Teixeira doesn’t think it’s going to happen, the Yankees have to hope it does. New York is already missing Alex Rodriguez for the majority of the season due to hip surgery, and it found out Sunday that Curtis Granderson will miss 10 weeks due to a fractured forearm.
Prediction: Alex Cobb Loses Job in Rotation
Alex Cobb started 23 games for the Tampa Bay Rays last season, going 11-9 with a 4.03 ERA in 136.1 innings. Over the course of the year, he struck out 106 batters and walked 40.
With Tampa Bay trading James Shields and Wade Davis over the offseason, there were spots in the 2013 rotation for the taking. Cobb is expected to compete for one of them, along with a couple of other bright young arms.
But can Cobb out-pitch the competition in spring training to win his job back? I’m not so sure. He will be competing against Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi—who the Rays acquired in the Shields trade—and Alex Colome. Of the four pitchers in contention, Cobb is arguably the third best—or the one with the third-highest potential.
If Archer or Odorizzi can get the attention of Joe Maddon during spring training, don’t be surprised if Cobb is moved to the bullpen or sent to the minors to start the year. They’re more likely to be bigger components of the Rays’ future rotation than Cobb.
Prediction: Ricky Romero Survives Spring Training
Last season, Ricky Romero was the Opening Day starter for the Toronto Blue Jays. This season, he might not even be in the starting rotation. A slew of offseason moves has Romero competing for the No. 5 spot this spring.
Although Romero is the favorite, there is reason to believe he wouldn’t win. Romero is coming off the worst season of his career. He went 9-14 with a career-high 5.77 ERA in 181 innings, walking more than 100 batters for the first time. Romero had elbow issues throughout last season, but told Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com that he is confident he’ll be healthy this year.
It feels 100 times better. I wasn’t able to rotate [the elbow] at one point, I was so sore at the end of the year. That’s when I decided we should get it checked out. Right now, it feels great, pretty much back to how it should feel.
A couple of solid spring outings from Romero should secure him a spot in the rotation, pitching alongside R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow and Mark Buehrle.
Prediction: Gordon Beckham Gets Hot
Through the first four years of Gordon Beckham’s major league career, he hasn't met the expectations placed on a top draft pick. He’s hit .245/.312/.694, with average power for a second baseman, and has played decently on defense.
Beckham’s rookie campaign was easily his best, but he has been inconsistent ever since. Last season, he hit .234/.296/.371 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI. Those numbers aren’t very eye-appealing, but he significantly improved his strikeout rate and walked more often.
Could 2013 be the year Beckham finally turns the corner and develops into one of the better second basemen in baseball? Beckham joked that if he hits better this year, maybe then he can win a Gold Glove at second base, tellling Doug Padilla of ESPN Chicago:.
I’d like to be in the conversation for sure. I wasn’t a finalist last year and that was frustrating. But it’s not really the end-all. It’s not really a big deal. I’ll hit better this year and then win a Gold Glove.
Prediction: Pitching Looks Better Than Offense
The Cleveland Indians’ pitching staff wasn’t very good last season, finishing with the fifth-lowest WAR in baseball. But they tended to put a bigger emphasis on improving the offense this past winter.
Cleveland brought in some of the top talent on the free-agent market, signing Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn—who are expected to hit atop the Indians’ lineup. While in terms of pitching, Cleveland acquired Trevor Bauer in a deal and also signed Daisuke Matsuzaka and Brett Myers.
With Terry Francona coming in to manage the club, I’m more optimistic about the pitching than the offense. Sure, the offense now features some very dangerous batters, but they still don’t have that one star who completes the lineup. Instead, they have a bunch of nice complementary players who might jell enough to win.
But for the pitching staff, if a couple of guys can pitch like they used to, Cleveland will be in a good position to make the postseason. Ubaldo Jimenez used to be one of the best pitchers in baseball, but hasn’t succeeded recently. Justin Masterson could easily win 15 games, as could Myers or Matsuzaka if they have bounce-back seasons.
Don’t count out Cleveland’s pitching just yet.
Prediction: Miguel Cabrera Doesn't Miss a Step
Last season, Miguel Cabrera put together one of the most impressive seasons in Major League Baseball history. He led the American League in batting average, home runs and RBI, winning the Triple Crown for the first time since 1967.
Coming into 2013, it’s clear that Cabrera is the best offensive player in baseball, but not the best player. That t title belongs to Mike Trout. But is it possible for Cabrera to replicate his success from 2012? B/R Featured Columnist Ron Juckett recently raised that question.
While Cabrera repeating as Triple Crown winner may not be probable, it certainly is plausible. A player needs a certain amount of luck to pull it off to begin with. Cabrera has the skills to go with that luck.
Cabrera started his spring on the right foot. In a 10-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, he went 1-for-3 with a solo home run in the third inning.
Prediction: James Shields Pitches Poorly
The biggest move of the offseason by the Kansas City Royals was trading away top prospect Wil Myers in a package deal that acquired James Shields and others from the Tampa Bay Rays. Now, the Royals get to see if they made the right move.
Shields is expected to be Kansas City’s No. 1 starter, according to Bob Dutton of The Kansas City Star. He tends to have successful seasons in pairs. After struggling in 2006, his first season in the majors, Shields has been very good for two seasons, not so good for two seasons and very good for two seasons. So what should the Royals expect from him in 2013?
If healthy, Shields will likely throw more than 200 innings for the seventh straight season and will probably strike out more than 200 batters, something he’s done in each of the last two seasons. But will his walk rate stay at around 2.3 walks per nine innings?
I think that this spring will show that Shields has lost a little bit of his command. Walks might become an issue.
Prediction: Joe Mauer Gets Injured
The Minnesota Twins enter spring training with Joe Mauer healthy and ready to contribute. Due to an array of injuries, last season was the first since 2008 in which Mauer played in at least 140 games.
He has missed time for everything from pneumonia to thumb sprains to his most detrimental ailment, leg fatigue. The leg fatigue has made him more of a first baseman/designated hitter than the All-Star catcher he once was.
As Mauer told La Velle E. Neal III of the Minnesota Star Tribune:
You have to remember that in 2011 I had offseason knee surgery and was kind of behind the 8-ball then. This is the best I’ve felt in a couple years coming into camp. I’m trying to get my legs underneath me and get ready to catch.
But instead of throwing Mauer back behind the plate, I think they should have him at first base for the majority of the year. He’s much too valuable in the lineup to risk having his legs become a problem again.
There’s nothing wrong with Justin Morneau as the team’s designated hitter for most of 2013. Mauer must accept he’s not a catcher anymore.
Prediction: Carlos Pena Loses DH Job
The Houston Astros are planning to field a team without much major league talent. Seriously, Houston’s projected 25-man roster is embarrassing. But being bad in 2013 is part of the team’s long-term plan.
Switching to the American League after last season, the Astros signed Carlos Pena to be the team’s first designated hitter. The former slugger is well past his prime and is no longer a good enough fielder to play first base. Brett Wallace will replace him there.
But I don’t think the Astros knew what they were getting themselves into by signing Pena. Although he was healthy enough to play in 160 games last season, he was absolutely horrible. He hit .197 and struck out more than 30 percent of the time.
Pena has become such a bad hitter that Brian Smith of The Houston Chronicle reports that he was getting hitting advice from his 70-year-old father. Pena claims that a routine he used in college helped his hitting, so he has adopted it once again.
Prediction: Angels' Trio is Impossible to Stop
When the Los Angeles Angels signed Josh Hamilton this winter, adding him to a lineup that already included Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, many thought the Angels now had the best trio of hitters in baseball.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t appealing when the Angels approached me to think about placing myself in the lineup with these guys,” Hamilton told Jorge Ortiz of USA Today.
Those three will hit in the top four spots in Los Angeles’ lineup this season. Trout arguably was the MVP last season, and Hamilton and Pujols are both former MVPs. So how will the trio of Angels perform when they start playing together?
Let’s just take a wild guess and say that they’re absolutely unstoppable, which is probably the likeliest of scenarios. Trout was incredible last year, as was Hamilton, and Pujols didn’t have a bad season either. If all three play to their highest potential, the Angels could make history in 2013.
Prediction: Jemile Weeks Wins 2B Starting Job
Heading into spring training, the Oakland Athletics had quite the logjam at second base. Several contenders are fighting to win the starting job, including Jemile Weeks, who was the starter for the majority of the 2012 season.
But Weeks lost his job midyear after performing poorly at the plate and on defense. In 118 games, Weeks hit .221/.305/.304 with two home runs, 20 RBI and 54 runs scored. Those numbers were down considerably from his rookie year when he hit .303, drove in 36 runs and scored 50 runs.
Now, Weeks is no longer the favorite to win the job; Scott Sizemore is.
Weeks told John Hickey of The San Jose Mercury News:
It’s very important to me to be the starter again. The next 35-40 days are a time when I can prove myself, show myself and force the A’s hand. It’s up to the brass to make the decisions, but I’m going to make it hard on them.
Although I originally predicted Sizemore to win the starting job, I’ve changed my mind. I think that since Weeks has this chip on his shoulder, he’s going to do everything he can to prove that he’s the better second baseman.
Prediction: Jason Bay Bounces Back
Jason Bay hasn’t been in the news for good reasons since he played for the Boston Red Sox in 2009. That year, Bay hit .267/.384/.537 with 36 home runs and 119 RBI.
That offseason, he signed a monster deal with the New York Mets. In three years in New York, he hit .234/.318/.369 with 26 home runs and 124 RBI while only playing an average of 96 games per season. He and the Mets parted ways this offseason, as he found a new home with the Seattle Mariners.
A new start may be exactly what Bay needed. “I am glad we were able to put this together and bring Jason back to the Northwest to continue his baseball career,” Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik told the Associated Press (h/t ESPN). “This is a good opportunity for Jason as well as the Seattle Mariners.”
Bay got off to a great start, hitting a home run in his first at-bat of the spring this weekend. He told Greg Johns of MLB.com that “I’ve kind of re-found it,” meaning his swing is feeling like it did with Boston.
Prediction: Elvis Andrus Gets Traded
For top prospect Jurickson Profar to play for the Rangers in 2013, something has to give. There’s no room in the infield with Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler slotted in the middle infield.
I’m against moving any of these players to another position. For example, it would be against Texas’ better judgment to move Andrus or Profar to center field, or Kinsler to first base. It doesn’t work like that.
But the Rangers do need to move one of the three. And if I’m general manager Jon Daniels, I’m trading Andrus.
But apparently Daniels doesn’t agree. “We would love to extend his [Andrus’] contract…but Elvin will have to say that to us…,” he told Jim Bowden of ESPN. Andrus told Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News that he wants to explore an extension, so a trade seems unlikely.
Maybe the Rangers will trade Kinsler instead. Eventually, they have to realize that Profar needs to play. Keeping him in the minor leagues is a waste of talent. Once Daniels realizes this spring that Profar is the real deal, he needs to send Andrus packing.
Prediction: Julio Teheran Shines Early and Often
Of the starting pitchers vying for the No. 5 spot in the Atlanta Braves’ starting rotation, Julio Teheran is the clear favorite. Teheran only has a handful of appearances in the big leagues, but he’s one of the top prospects in the organization and is ready for a real shot.
Teheran, however, has been inconsistent in the minor leagues. In 2011, he went 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA in Triple-A. Last season, still in Triple-A, he went 7-9 with a 5.08 ERA. In 2011, he threw more innings and struck out more batters, which was a little concerning considering he’s one of the system’s top arms.
Braves starter Tim Hudson told Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
We need Teheran—he’s a big X-factor. If he can come in and believe that he can pitch at this level and be as good in the big leagues as he is in Triple-A, I think he’s going to be pretty good for us.
Teheran told O’Brien that he has more confidence heading into this season and thinks that if he works hard, n he’ll be the fifth starter. That should be true, unless something crazy happens. With a couple of solid starts showing that he can face major league batters, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t start 2013 with the Braves.
Prediction: Giancarlo Stanton Stays with Marlins
Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is not the most popular person in Florida. He saw his Marlins play at the lowest of levels last season and changed everything up this winter, trading away a slew of talent to start fresh.
Those plans, however, didn’t include trading Giancarlo Stanton. He appears to be the centerpiece of the rebuilding project. Loria says that “acquiring high-profile players just didn’t work, and nearly everyone on our team underperformed as compared to their career numbers,” according to a full-page ad he took out in several Florida newspapers (h/t USA Today).
Stanton just doesn’t seem to care much about what Loria and the Marlins are trying to do. He told Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan, “What are you gonna do? Honestly, what? There’s nothing you can do. You express your feelings, and that’s about it.”
Stanton is easily the Marlins’ top player, but would he have also liked to be traded? That hasn’t been confirmed. But what we do know is that the Marlins are going to be horrible with or without him in 2013.
Prediction: Zack Wheeler Makes 25-Man Roster
The New York Mets traded their top pitcher, R.A. Dickey, over the offseason to acquire young arms and legs to add to their minor league system. That opened up a spot in the starting rotation.
But while the immediate spot is likely to go to prospect Matt Harvey, the Mets should make room for another prospect, Zack Wheeler. He is the Mets' best young arm and is about ready to make his major league debut.
Last season, Wheeler pitched primarily in Double-A, but did get promoted to Triple-A later in the year. Combined, he went 12-8 with a 3.26 ERA in 149 innings, striking out 148 batters and walking 59. He has an incredible fastball and a repertoire that many major leaguers don’t even have. But that doesn’t mean he’ll make the team out of camp.
“He’s going to be fine,” a scout told David Lennon of Newsday. “He’ll go to Vegas, come up in June and then carve himself up some hitters.”
But while Lennon explores the pros and cons of breaking camp with Wheeler on the 25-man roster, the temptation to keep him in the majors may be too strong for the Mets to resist.
Prediction: Domonic Brown Shows Signs of Life
The Phillies' Domonic Brown has been underwhelming in every shot at the major leagues he’s been given. Once considered one of the team’s top prospects, Brown just hasn’t panned out—yet.
In 147 games across three seasons, Brown has hit .236/.315/.388 with 12 home runs, 58 RBI and 57 runs scored. He hasn’t played well defensively and is not a threat on the basepaths. Brown has to be better this spring if he’s going to be a starting outfielder in 2013.
Brown told Chris Branch of The News Journal:
If I get 400, 500 at-bats, I think I can show what I’m really capable of. I’ve been waiting for that for a long time....Seriously, I go out and have fun and play my game and let my abilities take care of the rest.
For Brown to get that many at-bats, he needs to prove he deserves them this spring. He’s already off to a good start, hitting a home run Sunday against the Detroit Tigers in a pinch-hitting situation.
Prediction: Stephen Strasburg Feels Effects of Innings Cap
In one of the more controversial moves in recent memory, the Washington Nationals decided last year that they’d be better off restricting the number of pitches thrown by ace Stephen Strasburg to preserve his future.
Strasburg finished with a 15-6 record and a 3.16 ERA in 159.1 innings. He wasn’t allowed to pitch in the postseason, as he watched his teammates lose in the NLDS. With more than a normal amount of time off, it’ll be interesting to see how he pitches this spring.
Pitching on Saturday against the New York Mets, Strasburg didn’t fare well. He allowed two runs on three hits in two innings of work, striking out one without walking anyone. But that didn’t seem to shake him one bit.
Strasburg told Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post:
It doesn’t count. It doesn’t go toward your regular-season record. So this is the time where I need to stay the course, not read into things too much, not try and go out there and throw in the bullpen and right the ship for the next time.
Prediction: Alfonso Soriano Gets Dealt
Throughout the offseason, many of us, myself included, thought the Chicago Cubs would trade outfielder Alfonso Soriano. They didn’t and enter spring training with him slotted to hit in the heart of their lineup and play left field.
But that doesn’t mean that Soriano will end spring training with the Cubs. With news breaking Sunday that New York Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson had broken his forearm and would miss 10 weeks, ESPN’s Buster Olney suggested that Soriano could make sense as a replacement.
Olney also notes that the Cubs have made it clear that they’d be willing to eat the majority of his remaining contract. Joel Sherman of The New York Post, however, reported that the Cubs don’t anticipate the Bronx Bombers trying pry Soriano from them.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that a move can’t happen. The Yankees would be wise to acquire a veteran outfielder and the Cubs would be wise to get rid of Soriano while they have the opportunity to do so.
Even if it isn’t to the Yankees, I would expect Chicago to move Soriano this spring.
Prediction: Aroldis Chapman is Fine as Starter
The main focus of the Cincinnati Reds this spring is converting Aroldis Chapman from a closer into a starter. If all goes according to plan, Chapman will be the team’s No. 5 starter and Jonathan Broxton will be the team’s closer.
But will the experiment work out?
Chapman has been an unstoppable reliever. In three seasons coming out of the bullpen for the Reds, he’s 11-8 with a 2.33 ERA in 135 innings. He has a blazing fastball that he’s used to amass 212 strikeouts, a 14.13 strikeouts-per-nine-inning rate.
Chapman told the Associated Press (h/t ESPN):
I will prepare the same way I did last year. I would like to start a season and throw as many innings as I can, but that’s up to the team. When I was Cuba, I threw 150 innings. I will prepare myself to throw as many innings as they want me to throw.
If Chapman can make a smooth transition, he’s going to be one scary starting pitcher. But he will have to make full use of his changeup to be effective as a starter. That's, a pitch he worked on during the offseason.
Throwing only a slider and fastball may cut it pitching out of the bullpen, but they won’t be as effective the second and third time through a lineup.
Prediction: Ryan Braun Gets Suspended
Ryan Braun is one of the best players in the game, but he’s also one of the most suspected performance-enhancing drug users as well. After winning his case against Major League Baseball, proving he was innocent once before, Braun is now again in the news.
Braun was linked to Tony Bosch this offseason and MLB is sure to investigate the truthfulness of the report. Although Braun won last time, I would definitely be surprised if he was able to work his way out of this one. But his Brewers manager Ron Roenicke told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he doesn’t think it’ll be a distraction.
The guys with the makeup that can put things aside are a special breed. I think he can overcome some things that mentally some other guys are not able to do. They are going to perform better because they can do that.
I was content after Braun defeated MLB the first time. But if I’m Bud Selig and I’m trying to preserve the integrity of the game, there’s no way that Braun can get off the hook this time around. If he took PEDs, he deserves to be suspended for it.
Prediction: Gerrit Cole Continues to Turn Heads
The Pittsburgh Pirates have an interesting group of starting pitchers who are expected to be in the rotation come Opening Day. The group includes veterans with success, veterans without success and young pitchers without any experience.
Then there’s Gerrit Cole, who’s on the outside looking in.
He is the top prospect in Pittsburgh’s organization, just ahead of Jameson Taillon, who’s also in camp this spring. Cole doesn’t have a lot of starts in the minors, but he’s progressing quickly. In less than two seasons, he has already had a start in Triple-A.
Of Cole, catcher Russell Martin told the Associated Press (h/t ESPN: "I know that he’s an intense competitor. I know if he misses by three inches he’s not satisfied. Anybody with that type of mentality, that perfectionist mentality, they’re going to be pretty good.''
Cole is going to be pretty good, but it’s uncertain when he’ll make his debut with the Pirates. He’ll likely start the 2013 in Triple-A, then come up at some point during the regular season.
The Pirates don’t want to push him through the system too quickly, but he’s making that decision tough on them.
Prediction: Kyle Lohse Signs Three-Year Deal
With Chris Carpenter likely out for the season with numbness in his right arm and Kyle Lohse turning down a qualifying offer at the beginning of the winter, there are holes in the rotation of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Those voids could be filled by young starters such as Shelby Miller or Trevor Rosenthal. Or, the Cardinals could do their best to bring back Lohse, who’s still unsigned. He went 16-3 in 33 starts for St. Louis last season, posting a 2.86 ERA in 211 innings.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Cardinals are more likely to see how their young pitchers do early in spring training before showing serious interest in Lohse. But Heyman still writes that Lohse is a bigger loss than Carpenter.
The Cardinals need to re-sign Lohse and allow their younger pitchers to continue to develop. St. Louis should take advantage of the fact that Lohse is in a tough spot: without a team as spring training gets underway. Heyman also writes that while he may have wanted a four- or five-year deal early in the offseason, a three-year deal should do it now.
Prediction: Tyler Skaggs Looks Like an Ace
Late last season, the Arizona Diamondbacks called up Tyler Skaggs, one of their top pitching prospects. He started six games down the stretch and wasn’t very effective, going 1-3 with a 5.83 ERA in 29.1 innings, as he struggled with his command at times.
Skaggs had been very successful throughout his minor league career and still has a ton of potential. Heading into 2013, he’s expected to be one of Arizona’s five starting pitchers, likely opening the season in the No. 5 slot.
Skaggs told Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic:
I just needed to start throwing more. I started throwing a lot earlier this year, so I feel like my arm’s in better shape than it was last year. I’m trying to fix that because I know I’m a little bit of a slow pitcher. But once you get everything clicking, life is good.
As Piecoro mentions, Skaggs has had trouble in the past pitching early in the season, so it’s good that even as a youngster, he’s working to correct that.
Skaggs has what it takes to be an ace and could easily have a breakout year, starting with a strong showing this spring.
Prediction: Todd Helton Loses Starting Job
Todd Helton is nearing the end of his career and is not likely to return after the 2013 season. But he didn’t get off to a great start to what could be his final go-around as a big leaguer. He was arrested for drunk driving right before camp and later apologized to his teammates for his actions.
Helton has become less and less productive each year recently. A hip problem has been a major factor in his slide. Last season, he was only able to play in 69 games, hitting .238/.343/.400 with seven home runs and 31 RBI. Heading into 2013, Helton told Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports that he plans on taking things slower.
I think I just realize my career is coming to a, um…coming to an end. And with that in your mind, it’s easier to be more focused every day, enjoying it a little more, slow yourself down, really to be in the moment. Good or bad, in the moment.
Unfortunately, I’m going to go on the side of “bad in the moment” for Helton in 2013. He had his hip repaired, but he’s still going to be held back a bit, plus the struggling Rockies need to start working for the future.
Tyler Colvin could end up stealing Helton’s spot at first base should he have a positive spring and Helton continue to regress.
Prediction: Dee Gordon is Still Bad
Last season, Dee Gordon began the season as the Dodgers' everyday shortstop. By season’s end, Hanley Ramirez was the starting shortstop and Gordon was in the minor leagues. That’s likely to be the case once again in 2013.
Gordon was terrible in the 87 games he played for Los Angeles last year. He hit .228/.280/.281 with 12 extra-base hits and 38 runs scored while committing 18 errors. But he is eager to atone for his subpar season.
“I like it like this,” Gordon told Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. “I like working for things. I was always taught that if you want something bad enough, you have to work for it.”
For the Dodgers to give him another opportunity to win the starting job, Gordon is going to have to work extremely hard and hope that Ramirez plays poorly. If that happens, Ramirez would shift back to third base, where he first played when acquired last year.
But the chances of Gordon bouncing back aren’t very high. I'd expect him to start the year in Triple-A.
Prediction: Casey Kelly and Freddy Garcia Make Team
The San Diego Padres’ starting rotation is far from impressive and likely will include veteran Freddy Garcia and top prospect Casey Kelly.
Garcia pitched for the New York Yankees last year while Kelly pitched in the minors and majors for the Padres. Although there’s only one true open spot in the rotation, and that appears to belong to Garcia, both pitchers have what it takes to beat out rotation members like Eric Stults or even Jason Marquis.
“That’s [pitching in the rotation] something I don’t think is impossible,” Kelly told Corey Brock of MLB.com. “I don’t think it’s that big a jump. I’m good to go and excited about this year.”
Both starting pitchers struggled in their spring training debuts, but there’s still plenty of time to prove their worth to the Padres. “I am fighting for a job,” Garcia told Bill Center of The San Diego Union-Times. “I just don’t have to be ready, I have to pitch good. I have to show people here.”
Prediction: Tim Lincecum Bounces Back
Tim Lincecum was a bit of an embarrassment for the San Francisco Giants last season, as he lost his spot in the starting rotation. He went 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA in 186 innings, striking out 190 batters and walking 90.
But Lincecum enters 2013 with a clean slate, looking to prove wrong everyone who thinks his slump will continue. He’s still expected to be in the Opening Day starting rotation, but that’s only if he pitches well in spring training. If he doesn’t, things could get messy.
As Lincecum told Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle:
I didn’t want to go through last year again. So changing my work ethic and doing the things to take care of my job and not embarrass myself—that was my mindset. I’m hoping to get back on that horse, be in the center of the rotation again and restate my claim as a starting pitcher. And a good one.
With his head in the right place, I think Lincecum has a bounce-back year in him. He was once one of the top pitchers in baseball. Then, in the blink of an eye, he wasn’t. I’m see last year as a fluke rather than the start of a trend for The Freak.