All 30 MLB Teams' Biggest Storylines Halfway Through Spring Training

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2013

All 30 MLB Teams' Biggest Storylines Halfway Through Spring Training

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    We're midway through spring training, and already there are storylines aplenty that have cropped up league wide.

    From ongoing position battles to key injuries to surprise stars, this has been an eventful spring on the diamond and there promise to be more big stories that break in the weeks ahead.

    For now, here is a look at the biggest storyline for all 30 MLB teams halfway through spring training.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The Struggles of Tyler Skaggs

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    Part of the reason the Diamondbacks were able to deal one of the game's top pitching prospects this winter in Trevor Bauer was because they had another of the game's top young arms in Tyler Skaggs.

    After another strong showing in the minors last year, the 21-year-old left-hander was expected to be the front-runner for the No. 5 starter spot this season. Instead, he has allowed nine earned runs on 11 hits in 6.1 innings this spring, having pitched poorly in all three of his outings.

Atlanta Braves: The Continued Emergence of Evan Gattis

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    Evan Gattis' path to the big leagues has been an interesting one to say the least. In case you're not familiar with his story, I recommend reading this piece from the Atlanta Journal Constitution last year.

    Despite having just 222 minor league games under his belt, including only 49 games above Single-A, Gattis has a real chance at winning a bench job with the Braves this spring.

    After hitting .305 last season in three minor league stops, with a .389 on-base percentage and .607 slugging percentage, Gattis tore up the Venezuelan winter league with a .960 OBP and a league-high 16 home runs in just 195 at-bats. 

    He is 11-for-26 with three doubles and two home runs so far this spring.

Baltimore Orioles: More Health Woes for Nick Markakis

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    From 2007 to 2011, Nick Markakis was as durable as any player in the game, averaging 160 games per season and never playing fewer than 157 in any of those campaigns.

    Last year marked the first time that he missed significant action as a wrist injury and then a broken thumb limited him to 104 games.

    The 29-year-old Orioles right fielder is battling neck problems this spring, having been scratched from a game on March 3 with neck spasms. He has not seen the field since.

Boston Red Sox: The Retirement of Ryan Westmoreland

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    A fifth-round pick by the Red Sox in 2008, Ryan Westmoreland was a legitimate five-tool talent coming out of high school.

    He hit .296/.401/.484 with seven home runs and 19 steals in his first pro season at Low Single-A Lowell, but that would be the only season he would play as a pair of brain surgeries brought his career to an end and put his life in jeopardy.

    B/R writer Zachary D. Rymer wrote a solid piece chronicling the whole Westmoreland story, as it is a sad but inspirational one.

Chicago Cubs: The Play of Brian Bogusevic

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    A former first-round pick in 2005, Brian Bogusevic was waived by the Astros to start the offseason and signed a minor league deal with the Cubs.

    After hitting just .203/.297/.299 with seven home runs and 15 steals in 355 at-bats in Houston last season, it was no real surprise he didn't factor into the team's long-term plans.

    Looking to beat out Dave Sappelt and Brent Lillibridge for a bench spot, the 29-year-old has gone 10-for-24 with four doubles, a triple and a home run so far this spring.

Chicago White Sox: The Chris Sale Extension

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    After spending the first two seasons of his career as a setup man, the White Sox moved Chris Sale to the rotation last season and he responded by going 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA, emerging as the ace of the staff.

    That was enough for the White Sox to sign him to a five-year, $32.5 million extension this winter that could be worth up to $60 million if his two option years are exercised (h/t ESPN).

    Sale's max-effort delivery has made some wonder whether he will run into arm problems down the line, but so far, he has given the White Sox no reason to think of him as anything but one of the top young arms in all of baseball.

Cincinnati Reds: Armando Galarraga and Jason Donald Now Teammates

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    Right-hander Armando Galarraga will forever be remembered for the perfect game that wasn't, as umpire Jim Joyce mistakenly called Cleveland Indians baserunner Jason Donald safe at first base to rob Galarraga of a perfect game while with the Detroit Tigers on June 2, 2010.

    Now, Donald and Galarraga both find themselves battling to win a roster spot this spring in Cincinnati.

    Galarraga has his work cut out for him, but he has pitched well so far, allowing just five hits and one earned run over six innings.

    Donald, who was acquired by the Reds from the Indians in the trade that also landed Shin-Soo Choo in Cincinnati, is competing for the utility infield spot and has gone 6-for-20 with two doubles so far this spring.

Cleveland Indians: The Scott Kazmir Comeback

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    There is no shortage of new faces in Indians camp this year after a busy offseason, but the most interesting newcomer of all may be non-roster invitee Scott Kazmir.

    Once the ace of the Rays staff, Kazmir last appeared in a big league game on April 3, 2011, while pitching for the Angels.

    The 29-year-old left-hander spent last season pitching in the Independent League, going just 3-6 with a 5.34 ERA over 14 starts for the Sugar Land Skeeters. 

    In four innings of work this spring he has allowed no runs on two hits while striking out four and  competing for the No. 5 starter spot with Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Colorado Rockies: Jeff Francis Pitching Like an Ace

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    During the Rockies' surprising run to the World Series in 2007, left-hander Jeff Francis was the unquestioned ace of the staff as he went 17-9 with a 4.22 ERA.

    That marked the third straight season he won at least 13 games, and at 26, Francis was on his way to joining the ranks of the game's elite.

    Instead, he went just 4-10 with a 5.01 ERA (94 ERA+) while battling shoulder soreness the following season, then missed all of 2009 following shoulder surgery.

    After spending 2011 with the Royals, Francis rejoined the Rockies last season and led all Colorado starters with six wins and 113 innings. That was enough for the team to bring him back on a one-year, $1.5 million deal as the No. 5 starter.

    He's pitched like an ace early on this spring, opening with 13 consecutive scoreless innings of work before finally allowing a run.

Detroit Tigers: Who Fills the Closer Role?

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    The Tigers opted to let closer Jose Valverde walk when he became a free agent this offseason, due in part to his struggles at the end of last year, but also due to the presence of flame-throwing prospect Bruce Rondon.

    The 22-year-old had a 1.53 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 53 innings of work over three minor league levels last year, closing the season with nine appearances in Triple-A.

    He has struggled so far this spring though, allowing seven hits and three runs over 4.2 innings and walking five while striking out eight.

    The job could certainly still go to Rondon if he turns things around, but it has been enough for the team to at least question who will fill the ninth-inning role come Opening Day (h/t Yahoo Sports).

Houston Astros: Rick Ankiel Pushing for a Roster Spot

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    After spending the past two seasons with the Nationals, Rick Ankiel signed a minor league deal with the Astros this offseason with a real shot at winning a roster spot.

    So far, he has made a strong case to break camp with the team, going 8-for-19 with a double, a triple and a home run.

    He is the kind of low-cost veteran the Astros need to step forward to fill out their roster, and with a projected outfield of Chris Carter, Justin Maxwell and Fernando Martinez, he could very well play his way into significant at-bats.

Kansas City Royals: Donnie Joseph Looks Like Closer of the Future

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    A third-round pick by the Reds in 2009, Joseph was acquired by the Royals at the deadline last season for reliever Jonathan Broxton.

    He was terrific in 55 minor league appearances last season, posting a 2.33 ERA and recording 20 saves while striking out 87 hitters in 69.2 innings of work.

    In five innings this spring, he has allowed just two hits and one run while striking out 10. He has the classic fastball-slider combination that should play well in the late innings.

    Jospeh enters the season as the No. 14 prospect in the Royals organization according to the Baseball America Prospect Handbook, and has a real chance to be the team's closer of the future.

Los Angeles Angels: Could Strong Spring Make Vernon Wells Tradeable?

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    Still owed $42 million over the next two seasons and without a starting job, Vernon Wells will open the season as the most expensive bench player in the majors.

    The Angels would no doubt love to move the 34-year-old who has hit .222/.258/.409 in his two seasons with the team, even if it means eating a majority of his remaining salary.

    To this point, no one has made a play to acquire Wells, but he may become a viable trade chip if he continues to hit like he has this spring, starting out 7-for-15 with three home runs and eight RBI.

Los Angeles Dodgers: The Health of Zack Greinke

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    Signed to a six-year, $147 million deal this offseason to serve as the Dodgers' No. 2 starter, Zack Greinke has made just two spring appearances and pitched a total of five innings so far.

    He was scratched from his last start with elbow soreness, and after throwing a bullpen session on Friday the discomfort returned and he remains questionable for his start on Monday.

    Luckily for the Dodgers, they have a bevy of starting pitching options should the elbow problems continue, but getting their $100 million man on the field remains a priority.

Miami Marlins: Top Prospect Christian Yelich Gives Reason for Excitement

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    Although he doesn't have a real shot at breaking camp with the team, 21-year-old Christian Yelich has been the most impressive player in Marlins' camp so far.

    The team's No. 2 prospect entering the year (h/t Baseball America) behind right-hander Jose Fernandez, Yelich hit .329/.402/.516 with 12 home runs and 20 steals in High Single-A last season.

    So far this spring, he is 11-for-29 with three doubles, a triple, two home runs and nine RBI. A future outfield of Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton and Jake Marisnick should give Marlins fans something to get excited about.

Milwaukee Brewers: Carlos Gomez Ready for a Breakout Season?

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    A top prospect during his time with the Mets, Gomez was part of the package New York sent to the Twins for Johan Santana back in 2008.

    Traded to the Brewers the following year in a deal that sent shortstop J.J. Hardy to Minnesota, Gomez served as a fourth outfielder during his first two years in Milwaukee.

    Gomez took a big step forward last season as he hit .260/.305/.463 with 19 home runs and 37 steals.

    About to turn 27 this season, Gomez could be ready to break out. He has looked good so far this spring, going 8-for-15 with a double and a home run.

Minnesota Twins: Aaron Hicks Making a Push to Be Starting Center Fielder

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    Aaron Hicks has been one of the Twins' top prospects since being taken in the first round of the 2008 draft. He enters this season as the No. 72 prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America.

    After Denard Span and Ben Revere were traded over the offseason, the Twins have two outfield spots up for grabs and Hicks has done everything he can so far to land one of them.

    The 23-year-old is 13-for-32 and leads the Grapefruit League with four home runs and 13 RBI. Last Thursday, he went 4-for-5 with three home runs and six RBI against the Phillies.

New York Mets: Top Prospect Zack Wheeler Will Open Season in Minors

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    After Matt Harvey dazzled in his debut last season, Mets fans are no doubt excited to see fellow top prospect Zack Wheeler alongside him in the New York rotation.

    They'll have to wait a little longer for that to happen now as Wheeler was among 10 players the team optioned to minor league camp on Sunday.

    The 22-year-old made just one spring appearance, as an oblique injury got in the way of his push to break camp with the team, but he'll likely be up by midseason if all goes well.

    Last year, Harvey went 12-8 with a 3.26 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 149 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, and he ranks as one of the game's top pitching prospects.

New York Yankees: Who Will Hit the Disabled List Next?

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    Already viewed as an aging group on the decline before spring play even began, the Yankees have been dealt one blow after another this spring.

    Derek Jeter was already questionable to start the season following offseason ankle surgery and Alex Rodriguez was expected to miss at least the first half after hip surgery.

    Add to that list Mark Teixeira, who will miss 8-10 weeks with a wrist injury, Curtis Granderson who should miss at least a couple months with a broken forearm, and Phil Hughes, who is dealing with a bulging disk in his back and things have gone from bad to worse for the Yankees.

Oakland Athletics: Brett Anderson Injury Concerns

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    A's starter Brett Anderson faced just two batters and threw just eight pitches before being removed from his outing on Sunday with a strained right trapezius.

    The left-hander made just six starts last season after opening the year on the DL while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He was 4-2 with a 2.57 ERA during the regular season and won his lone playoff start by allowing no runs on two hits in six innings of work against Detroit.

    The 25-year-old is the veteran of a young A's staff and was expected to be the Opening Day starter. The injury doesn't appear to be anything serious (h/t MLB.com), but it's something worth watching moving forward.

Philadelphia Phillies: Ryan Howard Looking to Get Career Back on Track

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    One of the most feared sluggers in the game when he's right, Howard missed the start of last season after rupturing his Achilles during the 2011 playoffs.

    Howard played in just 71 games in 2012 and hit .219/.295/.423 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI in 260 at-bats.

    The 33-year-old is signed for $95 million over the next four years with an option for 2017 that contains a $10 million buyout, so, for better or worse, the Phillies are essentially stuck with him for the foreseeable future.

    That's just fine if he keeps hitting like he has this spring where he has gone 13-for-39 with four home runs and 12 RBI.

Pittsburgh Pirates: When Will We See Gerrit Cole in Pittsburgh?

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    The No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft, Gerrit Cole was solid in his pro debut last year, going 9-7 with a 2.80 ERA and posting 136 strikeouts in 132 innings while finishing the season in Triple-A.

    He made his second appearance of the spring on Sunday, allowing two hits and two earned runs on a home run by Ryan Flaherty over four innings of work.

    With just one Triple-A start under his belt, Cole will likely open the season in the minors, but he could be up by the break as he starts to make his way towards the role of staff ace.

San Diego Padres: Is This the Year Kyle Blanks Breaks Out?

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    When Kyle Blanks hit 10 home runs in 148 at-bats as a 22-year-old back in 2009, he appeared to be on his way to big things.

    Instead, injuries have limited him to just 92 games total the past three seasons and he played in all of four games last year before a torn labrum ended his season.

    Still only 26, the 6'6" Blanks is still capable of turning things around and making good on his potential. He's off to a great start this spring, going 12-for-30 with three doubles, a triple, two home runs and seven RBI.

San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt Could Be the Answer Offensively for Giants

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    Much was made about the fact that the Giants didn't make a push to sign an impact bat this offseason, and they'll once again rely on their terrific pitching staff and MVP Buster Posey to carry the team.

    However, one player who could take a step forward and make a significant impact at the plate is first baseman Brandon Belt.

    After a huge first pro season in 2010 in which he hit .352/.455/.620 with 23 home runs and 22 steals, Belt shot him up the prospect rankings and, after an up-and-down season in the majors in 2011, quietly had a good 2012 campaign.

    While his power wasn't there with just seven home runs, he hit .275/.360/.421. Belt, who will turn 25 this season, could be ready to take the next step and play a big part in the Giants' lineup.

    Having gone 14-for-30 with four home runs and nine RBI so far this spring, he'll look to keep that momentum going into the season.

Seattle Mariners: Now or Never for Justin Smoak

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    The key piece acquired in the Cliff Lee deal with the Rangers at the deadline in 2010, Smoak has been a major disappointment so far in Seattle, hitting .225/.306/.379.

    The power is there, as he launched 19 home runs in 483 at-bats last season, but he needs to show more complete all-around numbers at the plate to stick at first base.

    With the acquisitions of Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse, things have gotten crowded in Seattle. While Smoak will open the season as the starting first baseman, he'll need to prove something to keep his job.

    He is 9-for-25 with three doubles and two home runs this spring.

St. Louis Cardinals: Rafael Furcal Injury Leaves Hole at Shortstop

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    Entering the offseason, the Cardinals were as complete a team as any in baseball, with their only real need being a second left-handed reliever, which was quickly filled with the signing of Randy Choate.

    Midway through this spring, they find themselves with a significant hole at shortstop after Rafael Furcal was lost for the season to Tommy John surgery as he had opted against surgery last fall in favor of rest and rehab.

    That leaves Pete Kozma and Ronny Cedeno to man the shortstop position in his absence, with the 24-year-old Kozma likely to get the first crack at everyday at-bats.

    Kozma hit .333/.383/.569 in 26 games down the stretch last season, but just .236/.308/.344 over six minor league seasons.

Tampa Bay Rays: Leslie Anderson Making a Case for Roster Spot

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    A 30-year-old Cuban defector, Leslie Anderson has spent the past two seasons in Triple-A. Having hit 309/.355/.450 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI last year, he is off to a nice start this spring.

    The first baseman/outfielder is 13-for-32 with a team-best 11 RBI as he looks to win a bench spot for the Rays out of camp.

    Anderson doesn't have prototypical power, but he has top offensive tools nonetheless That is something the Rays can always use.

    He'll have to beat out non-roster invitee Shelley Duncan for a roster spot, although he's just 5-for-27 with two home runs in the early going.

Texas Rangers: Who Fills the Fifth Starter Role?

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    The Rangers were expected to turn the No. 5 starter job on the mound over to prospect Martin Perez this season, but a fractured ulna will sideline him for at least the next couple months.

    As a result, the Rangers are left scrambling to find a suitable fifth starter with recently signed veteran Derek Lowe competing with Robbie Ross and Justin Grimm for the job.

    Ross may be the best option of the group, but he is also incredibly valuable out of the bullpen so the Rangers may opt to leave him there. 

Toronto Blue Jays: Can Adam Lind Approach His 2009 Form?

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    The Blue Jays looked to have a budding superstar on their hands when Adam Lind hit .305 with 35 home runs and 114 RBI as a 26-year-old in 2009.

    However, he's averaged .246 with 20 home runs and 68 RBI the past three seasons and was actually demoted at one point last season.

    After their offseason retooling, Lind may be the biggest question mark in the Blue Jays' lineup entering the season.

    He's done his part to put those concerns to rest this spring, going 11-for-25 with three doubles and a home run. If he can land somewhere between his 2009 numbers and what he has done the past three seasons, he'll be a valuable weapon in the bottom part of the Toronto order.

Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper Set to Step into a Bigger Role

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    After hitting .270/.340/.477 with 22 home runs and 18 steals as a 19-year-old rookie last season, the Nationals appear ready to move Bryce Harper into a more important role in their lineup.

    He played in 139 games last season, with 117 of those spent hitting in the No. 2 spot in the lineup, but this season, he will move to the No. 3 hole and be looked on to serve as a key run producer (h/t Washington Post).

    There is always the risk of a sophomore slump, but if there is anyone who can avoid a letdown in their second season, Harper seems as good a candidate as any. A 30-HR, 100-RBI season isn't out of the realm of possibility.