5 Early MLB Storylines from the Grapefruit League

Alex GruberFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2013

5 Early MLB Storylines from the Grapefruit League

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    The Grapefruit League brings 15 of Major League Baseball's squads to sunny Florida for a month full of exhibition games to get the players warmed up and to get fans excited for the new season.

    This year's edition will be interrupted to an extent by the impending World Baseball Classic, but for now, the teams are in the business of observing their stars as well as players fighting for roster spots.

    With the action already in full swing, here's a rundown of some storylines to emerge from the Grapefruit League thus far.

    Statistics and standings valid through games played on February 26. Retrieved from MLB.com.

Evan Gattis Is Legit

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    With Brian McCann coming off shoulder surgery in October following a disappointing 2012 campaign, he may not be ready for Opening Day (via Atlanta Journal-Constitution). As such, the club brought in veteran Gerald Laird as a replacement for the departed David Ross to fill the void.

    But it has been a minor leaguer who's made the biggest impact so far: Evan Gattis. The 26-year-old has impressed early on, with five hits in just nine at-bats. His opening game against the Yankees was impressive enough, with a homer and a double.

    Gattis received playing time at both catcher and left field last season, and he could serve as a deputy for Justin Upton, a possible backup catcher or a top-class pinch-hitter. The AJC's David O'Brien spoke of how Gattis has impressed his coaches already, and he could be in line for a roster spot if he keeps it up.

AL East Is Definitely Wide Open

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    The American League East was one of the league's most competitive divisions in 2012, with just five games separating the top three teams (New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays).

    This season, with the newly-revamped Toronto Blue Jays, things should be more competitive than ever. The spring training results are showing that to an extent, with the Orioles and Rays flying high atop the Grapefruit League standings.

    If Toronto can live up to the hype, and if the Boston Red Sox can turn their fortunes around from last season, this could be a five-horse race for much of 2013. Unless, of course, there's a major injury that cripples a team.

Phillies Starters Will Be Fine

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    The Philadelphia Phillies endured a poor 2012 season, dropping well off the playoff map as a .500 team. And while Cole Hamels pitched well enough to earn a big-money contract extension, the rest of the Phillies' staff had a down year.

    Roy Halladay battled through injuries, Cliff Lee suffered a 6-9 record and Kyle Kendrick had a less than stellar season. In the first week of 2013, though, all four of these guys have gotten off to good starts.

    Halladay, despite allowing a homer, was especially encouraging, stating that he made a "baby step" towards becoming his old self (via Philadelphia Inquirer). If he can be the Roy Halladay of old this season, the Phillies should be competitive once again.

Curtis Granderson's Injury Will Be Devastating

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    As I hinted a couple slides ago, a major injury could be a turning point in the American League East. And indeed, the Yankees suffered a cruel blow when star center fielder Curtis Granderson suffered a broken arm after being hit by a pitch against the Blue Jays. The injury could see him out until May.

    Joe Girardi will have to evaluate some options across the outfield as a result. Brett Gardner will slide into center, able to use his speed to cover a lot of ground. Gardner's left field spot will be occupied by journeymen Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera, while Johnny Damon has hinted at a possible return to the Bronx (via ESPN).

    Needless to say, none of these guys can match Granderson's offensive production, even in the short term. In a lineup already without slugger Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees cannot afford to lose another big bat. They could find themselves a distance behind the pack before Granderson returns.

Pittsburgh Can Be Dark Horse Contenders

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    Over the last couple of seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates have gotten off to good starts, only to fall flat in the second half. But the Pirates have won two-of-three early on, and have showcased an immense depth of talent in their squad.

    From newly-acquired veterans like Russell Martin, Brandon Inge and Brad Hawpe, to accomplished holdovers like Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez, and a group of up-and-comers including Starling Marte and Alex Presley, signs are encouraging once again in Pittsburgh.

    Pitching-wise, they added Francisco Liriano to a solid rotation that already has A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald. Together, manager Clint Hurdle looks to have the right mix of guys to make this team a contender.