With the temperature beginning to rise, it's only appropriate that spring training is starting to heat up as well.
This is about the apex of baseball preseason. There's been enough to whet fans' appetites, yet not too much as to make them completely tired of spring training and simply ready for the regular season.
Although college basketball is starting to hit March Madness, baseball is offering plenty of compelling reasons to keep the attention of the sporting public.
While spring training is largely meaningless over the course of the entire season, fans can get an idea of the young players and new acquisitions who will emerge for their respective teams.
Here's a quick preview of the action to come this week.
Games to Watch
New York Yankees vs. St. Louis Cardinals, Monday, March 11 at 1:05 p.m. ET
This is one of the highest profile matchups of the week, featuring two teams at the opposite ends of the spectrum.
The New York Yankees have had an absolutely miserable spring. New York is last in the Grapefruit League with a 4-11 record. Then you look at the Yankees' injury report. They will be missing Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson for at least the first month of the season.
On the other hand, the St. Louis Cardinals have had a pretty solid run this spring. The Cards are third in the Grapefruit League with an 8-6 record and remained largely free of major injuries, barring Rafael Furcal. Shane Robinson has also been tearing the cover off the ball, with a .519 average, three home runs and 11 runs batted in so far.
Kansas City Royals vs. Seattle Mariners, Wednesday, March 13 at 1:05 ET
The stakes are pretty high for this one, or at least as high as spring training stakes can be. The Kansas City Royals have been scorching this spring, sitting at 13-1. The team behind them in the Cactus League is the Seattle Mariners, who sit three games back.
Not that spring training is necessarily the strongest indicator of regular season success to come, but fans in Seattle and Kansas City both must be encouraged by what they're seeing on the field. The Mariners and Royals only combined to win 147 games in 2012.
Oakland A's vs. Texas Rangers, Thursday, March 14 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Nothing like a strong interdivision game to spice up the spring. It was of course the Oakland A's who came from behind to beat the Texas Rangers on the final day of the season for the AL West crown.
Although spring training is a far departure from the pressure of October baseball, you can bet that both of these teams would love to get the upper hand on Thursday. Coming into the week, the A's and Rangers were each 7-7 in the Cactus League.
Players to Watch
Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers
Rick Porcello has shown flashes but never really put it all together on the mound. For his career, he's only 48-42 with a 4.55 ERA. It's easy to forget, though, that Porcello is only 24 years old. There's still time for him to get his career back on track.
He's starting 2013 off very well. In 13 innings pitched, Porcello has kept a 2.08 ERA and struck out 14 batters.
According to Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com, Porcello is also a target for the Rangers. Should he continue looking strong this spring, the Detroit Tigers may just want to hold on to Porcello.
Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
2013 always looked like the year Brandon Belt would really emerge as a top talent. Whatever struggles Belt would have last year would be completely forgiven by San Francisco Giants fans. On the contrary, Belt put on a very strong showing in 145 games in 2012. He finished with a .275 average to go with seven home runs and 56 runs batted in.
This is a guy who hit .343 in his two minor league seasons. At 24 years old, Belt is just starting to enter the prime of his career.
He's had a very good spring. His .467 average is fifth in the league, while he's tied for the lead in home runs, with four.
Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
2012 was a very strong season for Mike Moustakas. He finished with 20 home runs and 72 runs batted in. It was a bit troubling that Moustakas only hit .242 and had an on-base percentage of .296. The 24-year-old isn't going to hit in the .300s consistently, but fans should expect him to get on base a little more down the road.
Over five years in the minors, Moustakas hit .282 with an on-base percentage of .337.
The fact that he's hitting .452 has to be encouraging for Royals fans. 2013 can be a very good year for Kansas City, and Moustakas will be a big part of his team's success.
Storylines to Follow
Can Kansas City Royals Continue Hot Streak?
As previously mentioned, the Royals have been the talk of the spring. Much has been made of the young talent Royals management has stockpiled over recent years. In a bid to strengthen the team in the present, Kansas City traded for James Shields and Wade Davis, with Jake Odorizzi and Wil Myers the highest-profile players the Royals gave up.
It was an incredibly risky move to part with a prospect like Myers, and there have been polarizing reactions among fans and experts alike. Davis and Shields have both looked good in their limited appearances so far. They've combined to give up zero runs in nine innings pitched.
Alex Gordon has also been on fire this spring, hitting .520 to complement the strong play of the aforementioned Moustakas.
Royals fans deserve to have a winner. It's great to see Kansas City having the kind of run it is. The question now is whether the team can keep it up.
The Continued Rehabilitation of Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter just made his spring debut on Saturday. It was the first time he's seen game action since fracturing his ankle in the 2012 ALCS.
Despite being 38 years old, Jeter had a very strong 2012 season offensively. He hit .316 and led the majors in hits with 216.
He'll be 39 in June and coming off a major ankle injury. Jeter's range has always been a bit suspect despite how acrobatic his plays at short have been. Throwing in that injury will do nothing to help Jeter's defense.
The shortstop is just symbolic of this Yankees team as a whole right now. Most of the key players are either aging veterans, injured or both. There is a very real possibility the Yankees finish the season under .500. At this stage, Jeter's rate of recovery is of vital importance for New York.
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