20 Predictions for the Second Half of MLB Spring Training 2013
Amazingly enough, the 2013 MLB regular season starts in less than three weeks.
Time flies when, well...time just flies.
With the clock ticking, more and more prospects are being sent to minor league camp as teams begin to home in on the handful of players who will battle it out for the final spots on their 25-man rosters for Opening Day.
Even for players assured spots on the roster, there are some cases in which starters at specific positions—and who will come off the bench—have yet to be determined.
From position battles to veterans trying to extend their careers for one more year, there are still more questions than answers for many teams in camps around baseball.
Let's see if we can't make some sense of it all and figure out how things will play out over the second half of spring training.
Zach Britton Will Be Baltimore's 5th Starter
While Orioles fans dream of the day when Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are the top two pitchers atop Baltimore's rotation, that scenario is at least another season away from becoming a reality.
In the here and now, Baltimore's rotation has four of its five spots spoken for. Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez are locks to take the ball from manager Buck Showalter every fifth day.
While there are still a handful of candidates for the fifth and final spot in the rotation, the finalists for the job are likely Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton and Jair Jurrjens.
Both Arrieta and Britton have had varying levels of success in Baltimore over the past few years, while Jurrjens is the newcomer to the mix, having spent the previous five years with the Atlanta Braves.
So far this spring, it's been the holdovers that have been the most impressive:
Jurrjens, whom I pegged as the player who would be the biggest surprise (in a positive sense) for the Orioles earlier this year and the only member of the trio with an All-Star Game appearance on his resume, has by far been the least effective.
While Arrieta has thrown the ball well (he threw four scoreless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates in his last start, striking out five), Britton has been his equal, showing better command of his arsenal of pitches than his competitor.
This is likely to be a fluid situation throughout the regular season, but when camp breaks, it will be Britton who gets the nod for the final spot in the rotation.
*While Brian Matusz is also in the mix, I am convinced he is heading back to the bullpen, where he was outstanding down the stretch for the Orioles in 2012. Thus, he was omitted as a candidate for the final rotation spot.
Jackie Bradley Jr. Will Stick with the Boston Red Sox
While Shane Victorino continues to prove that his subpar 2012 season was not a fluke for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and that Boston's decision to sign him to a three-year contract was a mistake—something I've already written about—Jackie Bradley Jr. continues to play at a level that demands we re-think how we describe the 23-year-old.
It's time to ditch the word "prospect" from the equation, replacing it with the phrase "major league outfielder."
Say it aloud. Say it twice.
It rolls off the tongue easily—almost as easy (seemingly, anyway) as it's been for Bradley to make solid contact in nearly every spring training at-bat he's taken.
Rob Bradford of WEEI 93.7 FM in Boston caught up with Boston manager John Farrell to ask him about how the 23-year-old outfielder has handled things as spring training has progressed:
As he’s shown all camp, right-handed pitching, left-handed pitching, his balance at the plate, he stays inside the ball. We’re seeing as we get deeper into camp pitchers are getting their timing. They’re repeating their delivery and making good pitches, and he’s handled many types of guys. He’s had a strong camp.
It's true that spring training statistics are about as valuable as the piece of rock-hard gum I tried to chew out of a pack of 1986 Topps trading cards when I was 10 years old, and that Bradley hitting .536 (15-for-28) is not a signal that he's going to contend for an American League batting title.
But as John Tomase of the Boston Herald writes in a nearly infallible argument as to why the youngster should break camp as one of Boston's starting outfielders, there's no debate that Bradley Jr. doesn't give the Red Sox a better chance to win than Jonny Gomes, currently slotted to get the starting nod in left field.
After all, what better way to leave the Bobby Valentine error in the past than by winning in 2013?
The New York Yankees Will Not Sign a Veteran to Play First...or Third
The New York Yankees will hit Opening Day without a pair of former All-Stars manning the corner spots of the infield. This has led to rampant speculation that the team would go out and sign a veteran free agent to man one of the two spots, moving Kevin Youkilis to whichever spot remained vacant.
GM Brian Cashman has done nothing to quiet those rumors, confirming to reporters that he had reached out to the recently retired Chipper Jones and free agent Derrek Lee, who for all intents and purposes is retired after sitting out the 2012 season.
While that duo, along with other free agents, including Aubrey Huff and Scott Rolen, all make sense on one level or another, Cashman will ultimately keep the team's checkbook locked away in his office and go with one of the options already in camp with the club: Dan Johnson, Ronnier Mustelier or Juan Rivera.
Both Johnson and Rivera have had varying degrees of success over their respective major league careers, while Mustelier is looking to make his major league debut.
Scott Kazmir Will Be Cleveland's 5th Starter
On a team that has a questionable starting rotation, that the Cleveland Indians have so many candidates for the fifth and final spot among the group is a sign that things are at least starting to move in the right direction.
Three fairly well-known names—Trevor Bauer, Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka—are battling it out in an attempt to break camp with the club at the end of the month.
So far this spring, each has been fairly impressive:
Without a doubt, Bauer represents the future of the Indians' starting rotation and is likely the one fans would like to see get the nod. Only 22, he was the biggest piece the Indians acquired in the three-team trade that saw Shin-Soo Choo on a plane to Cincinnati.
But Bauer has minor league options left, and some more seasoning at the Triple-A level certainly isn't going to stunt his development or growth as a pitcher.
That leaves Kazmir and Matsuzaka as the final two. Despite Dice-K's success, opposing batters haven't had problems making solid contact with his stuff.
They have with Kazmir, who has gotten some high praise from notable places, most recently Hall of Fame reporter Peter Gammons:
Scott Kazmir was really good in 4 shutout IP for Indians today. 89-93, P inside, delivery restored.— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) March 11, 2013
Assuming Kazmir's body doesn't betray him—injuries derailed what was once an incredibly promising career, as he had a pair of All-Star selections and a strikeout title under his belt from 2006 through 2008—the Indians may have gotten themselves one of the steals of the offseason.
Nolan Ryan Will Stay with the Texas Rangers
Things have changed in the Texas Rangers' front office, and reports for the past few weeks have indicated that Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, the team's president, was none too happy with the shakeup.
I can't say that I blame him.
After the team had significant success with GM Jon Daniels reporting to Ryan, things have been flipped, with Ryan, 66, now reporting to Daniels, a man nearly half his age at 35 years old.
Not only does Daniels, now the team's president of baseball operations (in addition to his general manager duties), have the final say on baseball matters, but Rick George now has the final say on business dealings involving the club.
But where would Ryan go if he left?
It's unfathomable to think that he'd leave the state of Texas, and with the rebuilding Houston Astros years away from being competitive, the grass certainly isn't greener on the other side.
While he's no longer the judge, jury and executioner for moves pertaining to the franchise, Ryan still remains in a position of power, with significant influence over all aspects of the Rangers operations.
He'll stick around to see how the post-Josh Hamilton Rangers do on the field.
Bruce Rondon Will Not Be the Detroit Tigers Closer
While skipper Jim Leyland continues to insist that 22-year-old Bruce Rondon still figures into the ninth-inning mix for the defending American League champions, it's hard to see how.
Opposing batters have had a field day against Rondon, hitting .360 against him—when he finds the strike zone, that is.
Rondon, who has an electric fastball that routinely hits triple digits, has struggled not only to throw strikes, but also to throw his secondary pitches effectively, which has allowed batters to sit on his heater.
When you look at his performance this spring compared to the other members of Detroit's bullpen who are in the ninth-inning mix—Al Alburquerque, Joakim Benoit, Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel and Bryan Villareal—well, the numbers speak for themselves:
The Tigers are built to win now, and giving the talented prospect a trial-by-fire in the first weeks of the regular season could be costly in the long haul.
With the exception of the Chicago White Sox, each of the other teams in the AL Central are significantly stronger than they were in 2012 and are sure to give Detroit a tough time as it attempts to defend its division title.
Detroit simply cannot afford to have Rondon giving games away early in the season. Look for Dotel, the most experienced closer on the team, or Alburquerque, another flamethrower, to get the nod while Rondon gets his stuff and confidence back in Triple-A.
Collin Cowgill Will Lock Up a Starting Spot in the New York Mets Outfield
Whenever I see Collin Cowgill's name, I immediately replay the classic Will Ferrell/Christopher Walken skit from Saturday Night Live, simply known as "Cowbell," over and over in my head.
It's fitting, of course, because given the sorry state of affairs in the New York Mets outfield these days, fans should be demanding more cowbell, er...more Cowgill.
As in, a daily dose.
Cowgill, acquired from the Oakland Athletics back in December for minor league third baseman Jefry Marte, has been nothing short of excellent for the Mets this spring—and he's played well enough to lock down a starting spot in New York's outfield.
With a .379/.471/.690 slash line, five extra-base hits (including a pair of home runs) and an aggressive approach both on the basepaths and in the outfield, Cowgill is the kind of blue-collar, gritty player who New Yorkers are quick to fall in love with.
Miguel Tejada Will Break Camp with the Kansas City Royals
It's been more than a decade since Miguel Tejada was named the American League MVP, and more than a calendar year since he appeared in a major league game.
The last time Tejada played on a regular basis was in 2010, when he hit .269 with 15 home runs and 71 RBI in 156 games for the Baltimore Orioles and San Diego Padres.
Yet the 38-year-old infielder will make his return to the show in 2013 as a member of the Kansas City Royals.
For all of the young talent the Royals have in the lineup, none of them have playoff experience.
These guys don't know how to win, by no fault of their own.
But things are changing in Kansas City, and Tejada has been part of winning clubs for much of his career.
He's a role player at this point, best served as a right-handed bat off the bench. But it's his leadership and wealth of knowledge about the game that will prove to be the most valuable to an upstart Royals ballclub that I fully expect to be in the thick of the playoff race in the American League this season.
Adam LaRoche's Slow Start Won't Last...
After going through drawn-out negotiations on a new contract this winter, Adam LaRoche and the Washington Nationals finally agreed on a two-year, $24 million deal with a mutual option for a third year.
LaRoche, 33, enjoyed the best season of his nine-year major league career for Washington in 2012, hitting .271 with 33 home runs and 100 RBI.
Through eight games this spring, LaRoche has looked anything like a $12 million-a-year player, mustering only a pair of singles in 18 at-bats.
His struggles won't last, as this is simply a case of LaRoche working himself into regular-season shape, something he told Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post when asked how he felt about possibly replacing Mark Teixeira on Team USA's roster for the World Baseball Classic (LaRoche was never asked):
I think it’s a neat idea. You just want to be game-ready when you go there, mentally and physically. And I’m not. I could go play, no question. If we’re playing something where we need to win that, I’d want to be going in there with quite a few more at-bats, really locked in.
That’s not to say I wouldn’t possibly suck it up and go and try to do it. I don’t know. I guess I should shut my phone off now.
Once LaRoche works off the rust, he'll go back to providing power in the five-hole for the Nationals and should exceed his RBI total of a year ago thanks to an improved Nationals offensive attack.
...and Neither Will Denard Span's
Like his new teammate Adam LaRoche, center fielder Denard Span has gotten off to an ice-cold start in spring training for the Washington Nationals, going 4-for-25 (.160) with a pair of doubles.
Just like LaRoche, Span's struggles won't last—as there's a reason for his frigid start.
Span is trying to rediscover the swing that he had back in 2009, his breakout season, when he posted a .311/.392/.415 slash line with eight home runs, 68 RBI and 97 runs scored—all career bests—for the Minnesota Twins.
“We’re just trying to get him back to being the feel of what he’s looking for,” Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein told Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. “There was a feel in ’09 that he had that he kept talking about. We’re really trying to just find that feel.”
It's only a matter of time before Span gets back into the swing of things (no pun intended) and starts to see the results at the plate that he's looking for.
Rick Porcello Will Be Traded
The subject of trade rumors for the past few months, 24-year-old right-handed starter Rick Porcello has only increased his value around the league with his scintillating start to spring training.
Through his first four starts for the Detroit Tigers this spring, Porcello has pitched to a 2.08 ERA and 0.77 WHIP, allowing only 10 hits over 13 innings of work, striking out 14 without issuing a walk.
With the Tigers having 23-year-old Drew Smyly and 24-year-old prospect Casey Crosby waiting in the wings for a rotation spot to open up, Porcello has become somewhat expendable.
Not only has Porcello regained his confidence on the mound, but he's also throwing his secondary pitches with confidence and for strikes—against batters from both sides of the plate.
With the start he's off to, Porcello's value may be at an all-time high.
As we get deeper into spring training and teams have members of their respective starting rotations working deeper into games, the chance for injury increases.
It will only take one injury to a starting pitcher on a team that fancies itself a contender for Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski's phone to start ringing.
Detroit doesn't have many glaring needs outside of an established major league closer, but that alone wouldn't be enough to pry Porcello from the Motor City, considering his age, major league experience (both in the regular season and playoffs) and upside.
Someone will bite and overpay the Tigers for the promising youngster.
Aaron Hicks Will Be Minnesota's Starting Center Fielder
I wrote last week that 23-year-old Aaron Hicks was ready for the major leagues, and wouldn't you know it, it sounds as if the Minnesota Twins agree.
According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, Hicks is expected to be named the team's starting center fielder, replacing the departed Denard Span and pushing 27-year-old Darin Mastrioanni into a reserve role.
All Hicks has done is hit in the Grapefruit League, posting a .342/.350/.737 slash line with seven extra-base hits (four home runs), 13 RBI and 11 runs scored.
He strikes out far too often and walks too infrequently—he's fanned nine times this spring while drawing only one walk—which will bring his batting average and on-base percentage down considerably during the regular season.
But make no mistake about it, Hicks can swing the bat.
Named the 72nd-best prospect in baseball heading into the season by Baseball America, Hicks is coming off of a season that saw him put up a .286/.384/.460 slash line with 14 home runs, 68 RBI and 32 stolen bases, crossing home plate 100 times for Double-A New Britain.
With the Twins facing increased competition in both the AL Central and the American League overall, they've got nothing to lose by playing someone with the upside of Hicks on a daily basis.
Luke Hochevar Will Remain with the Kansas City Royals
Since being selected with the first overall pick in the 2006 MLB draft by the Kansas City Royals, Luke Hochevar has been a colossal disappointment.
Owner of a career 5.39 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, the 29-year-old right-hander has been brutal this spring, allowing six earned runs and nine hits over eight innings of work, walking six and striking out nine.
With no shot at cracking the team's vastly improved starting rotation, the Royals have put him on the trade block, according to CBS Sports' Danny Knobler:
Interesting (and surprising) on Hochevar: Teams that asked about trading for him were told Royals wanted quite a bit in return.— DannyKnoblerCBS (@DKnobler) March 13, 2013
For as good a job as Royals GM Dayton Moore did this past winter in rebuilding the team's rotation, he seems to have bumped his head on the way to answering the phone.
Considering Hochevar's terrible major league track record, how Moore could expect any team, no matter how desperate, to surrender significant value for the right-hander is bizarre.
Unless Moore comes to his senses, Hochevar will remain in Kansas City, likely as a middle reliever or swing man out of the bullpen.
Brennan Boesch Will Sign with the Boston Red Sox
One of the most disappointing parts of the 2012 season was the performance turned in by Brennan Boesch.
With Boesch hitting between Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera to start the season in Detroit's lineup, I had him pegged as one of baseball's biggest breakout stars heading into the season.
Instead of breaking out, Boesch played as if he was broken, losing his starting job and finishing the season with a .240/.286/.372 slash line, 12 home runs and 54 RBI.
The Tigers went out and signed Torii Hunter this winter, and with prospects Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos knocking on the door, Detroit sent him packing:
Multiple teams are thought to have interest in the 27-year-old, including the Boston Red Sox, according to the Boston Globe's Peter Abraham:
#RedSox talking internally about Brennan Boesch. Trying to determine if he is a bench upgrade.— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) March 13, 2013
Boesch may seem like a strange fit in Boston, especially given my expectation that Jackie Bradley Jr. will make the Opening Day roster, but the Red Sox have nothing to lose by bringing him in and seeing if he can regain his form from 2011, when he hit .283 with 16 home runs in 115 games for the Tigers.
With both Mike Carp and Daniel Nava on the bench as reserve outfielders/first basemen, Boesch could very well beat one of them out, becoming the primary backup outfielder and allowing the other to focus on backing up Mike Napoli at first base.
Jed Lowrie Will Be the Starting Shortstop in Oakland
When the Oakland A's and Houston Astros agreed upon a five-player deal that saw Jed Lowrie headed to Oakland last month, I wrote that while I liked the deal for both sides, I wasn't quite sure where Lowrie fit in the scheme of things for the A's.
As spring training has progressed, Lowrie's purpose in Oakland has become more clear—and the move has become yet another shrewd one by GM Billy Beane.
Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, who the A's signed to a two-year, $6.5 million deal this winter, has been a disappointment so far this spring, with a .250/.357/.292 slash line.
His play has been so disappointing—along with second baseman Scott Sizemore's—that, according to CBS Sports' Danny Knobler, the team describes the competition for both middle infield spots as "open."
With the A's no longer married to the idea of starting Nakajima, Lowrie will quickly emerge as the team's everyday shortstop.
Solid with the glove, Lowrie has posted a .375/.483/.708 slash line with four extra-base hits (two home runs), nine RBI and more walks (five) than strikeouts (four).
If Lowrie, who hit 16 home runs in only 97 games for the Houston Astros in 2012, can stay healthy, he could be a major contributor for an A's team looking to defend its AL West crown.
Chris Colabello Will Capitalize on His WBC Performance
One of the great stories of the 2013 World Baseball Classic was the unexpected run that the Italian national team made, advancing to the second round of the tournament before being eliminated by Puerto Rico on Wednesday night.
One of the biggest reasons for the team's success was the play of first baseman Chris Colabello, a relative unknown heading into the tournament but one of the most talked-about players during Italy's run.
A 29-year-old infielder who spent the first nine years of his professional career playing Independent ball in the Canadian-American Association, Colabello latched on with the Minnesota Twins in 2012 and produced, hitting .284 with 19 home runs and 98 RBI for the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats.
Over five games at the WBC, Colabello went 6-for-18 (.333) with two home runs and seven RBI.
Given incumbent first baseman Justin Morneau's spotty injury history, Minnesota needs to ensure that it has a solid backup in place, just in case.
With Chris Parmelee slated to be the team's starting right fielder and Jeff Clement not impressing anyone in spring training, the door is wide open for Colabello to make the team.
Not only will Colabello break camp with the Twins, but he'll wind up being a productive member of the club this season, finishing with double-digit home runs and becoming a fan favorite.
A Shortstop Will Be Milwaukee's Opening Day First Baseman
Corey Hart is still working his way back from offseason knee surgery, while Mat Gamel suffered his second consecutive season-ending knee injury, leaving one of baseball's most potent offenses without an everyday first baseman.
Prospect Hunter Morris has proven this spring that he needs more minor league seasoning, while Taylor Green is more valuable to the team in a utility role off the bench rather than entrenched at a corner infield spot.
With Jean Segura, the key piece of the package that Milwaukee received from the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for Zack Greinke last season, entrenched at shortstop, veteran Alex Gonzalez would be a man without a position.
Gonzalez, who has never played a position other than shortstop in the nearly 1,600 major league games in which he's appeared, is working out extensively at first base for the Brewers this spring.
"I can't tell you it's real easy," Gonzalez told Tom Haudricourt and Todd Rosiak of the Journal Sentinel of making the transition from shortstop to first base.
"You've got to make adjustments and try to have fun with it. I'm getting close, it's not like I feel real comfortable but it's getting there. The more time you play there, the more comfortable it is."
With few options via the open market, Gonzalez appears to be Milwaukee's best bet to replace some of the power that Hart provides in the middle of Milwaukee's lineup until the injured starter can return to action, expected to be toward the end of May.
The Dodgers Will Open the Season with a Plethora of Starting Pitching
Whenever you talked about the Los Angeles Dodgers this winter, the conversation quickly turned to the team's abundance of starting-pitching options.
Veteran hurlers such as Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly, along with youngsters Steven Fife, Zach Lee and Matt Magill, are all on the outside of the starting rotation looking in, leading to speculation that one or more of those arms will be moved to strengthen other areas of the team.
Not so fast.
With free-agent signing Zack Greinke having some elbow issues and longtime Dodger Chad Billingsley dealing with a groin problem, what appeared to be a surplus could now become needed depth, especially if the team decides to shut down one or both of those starters in a precautionary measure.
Sometimes, the best move a team can make is the one that it doesn't.
Colorado Will Foolishly Send Nolan Arenado Back to the Minors
Nolan Arenado has a sweet swing that allows him to drive the ball all over the field, with enough raw power to get the ball up and over the outfield fence while playing solid defense at third base.
He's everything that the Colorado Rockies had hoped Ian Stewart was a few years ago. And with all due respect to Chris Nelson and Jordan Pacheco, the 21-year-old Arenado is a superior player to both.
Yet the Colorado Rockies will send the team's second-best prospect back to Triple-A to start the season, despite the fact that he could add another dimension to what could be a very dangerous lineup.
This spring, Arenado has been far and away the more productive player:
As Troy Renck of the Denver Post notes, many of the decision makers in Colorado are enamored with Nelson, a 27-year-old who hit .301 with nine home runs and 53 RBI over 111 games for the club in 2012.
These are the same people who thought that a four-man starting rotation (which was, in all actuality, an eight-man rotation with each pitcher working a handful of innings) was a good idea.
Arenado has done everything needed to make the club out of spring training, and his bat in a lineup that features Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez, Wilin Rosario and Troy Tulowitzki would add another dimension to the Rockies' offensive attack.
But he'll wind up back in Triple-A, biding his time until someone in Colorado wakes up and realizes, "Hey, this Arenado kid is pretty good, maybe we should give him a look."
A Major Player Will Be Lost to Injury
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is going to happen.
On a spring training field somewhere, a big-time player is going to suffer a big-time injury, sending his team's entire 2013 season into a tailspin and leaving the team scrambling to fill his spot.
It might be a pitcher, it might be a position player, but someone's going down.
This sort of thing happens more often than we'd like to believe. Consider some of the names who, at one point in their careers, went down in spring training with a serious injury:
Ken Griffey Jr., Cincinnati, 2000: Hamstring, missed first two months of season.
Chipper Jones, Atlanta, 1994: ACL tear, missed entire season.
Joe Nathan, Minnesota, 2010: Elbow (Tommy John surgery), missed entire season.
Adam Wainwright, St. Louis, 2011: Elbow (Tommy John surgery), missed entire season.
So far this spring, we've seen the New York Yankees lose starting first baseman Mark Teixeira and center fielder Curtis Granderson for at least the first month of the season with injuries.
While some will make the argument that the Yankees injuries are some sort of karmic justice, make no mistake about it—the same thing could happen to someone on your favorite team.
So knock on wood, get down on your knees and pray to the baseball gods that they'll decide to spare the squad you support.
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