A little over a week from now, teams will be starting up the 2013 season and working toward the ultimate goal: claiming the title of World Series champions. Players have been working year round and spent this past winter trying to fine tune their craft and adding new dimensions to their game.
Four players have stood out so far this spring who have added to their skill set as a major league player and have already seen tangible results this spring.
If spring training is any indication for Jon Lester, it looks like he will be working quicker on the mound in 2013. This could apply to all of the Red Sox' pitchers as this is something new manager John Farrell has been preaching this spring.
Lester has shown the most improvement of Boston's pitching staff and looks like he is on pace to regain his 2010 form when he went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA. So far this spring, he has gone 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA in five starts.
It remains to be seen if this increased tempo will help translate his spring training success to the regular season, but Lester should be able to improve over his stats from last season.
Jeff Francis was drafted by the Rockies back in the first round in the 2002 MLB Draft and consider to be a top prospect for the organization. The potential that many thought he had never translated to continued success in the majors. His best season came in 2007 when he went 17-9 with a 4.22 ERA but since that year he has gone 20-39 with an ERA around five.
After a few seasons with the Royals, Francis is back with Colorado and looking to redevelop his career as the crafty veteran. He understands the days of overpowering hitters with his fastball is gone, and instead he will try to keep batters off balance with his curveball pitches and his changeup.
He also tried to focus on his rhythm on the mound like Jon Lester. Based on his stats this spring, this new approach could be working. In five games this year, he has a record of 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA and held opponents to a .239 batting average.
It is hard to remember the last time the Houston Astros have had a catcher who wasn't a liability at the plate, but Jason Castro is trying to change that trend.
Castro is two years removed from a knee injury he suffered in spring training that made him miss the entire 2011 season. He has entered camp looking much stronger than any of his previous seasons.
A completely healthy Castro has translated to five home runs in 29 at-bats this spring, or one home run every five at-bats. This trend is highly unlikely to continue, but it is much higher than his career average of hitting one home run every 56 at-bats.
This added power from Castro, with the additions of Carlos Pena and Chris Carter, should help Houston improve on their rank of 21st in home runs last year.
Eric Hosmer fell victim to the sophomore slump last season after having a stellar rookie year. He saw his numbers decline in hits, home runs, RBI and batting average and spent this past offseason trying to figure out why.
Over the past few months he has spent a lot of time focusing on his hitting and believes the decline was attributed to "leaking out in front with my back side a lot." He elaborated by saying, via The Kansas City Star:
That caused me not to be able to catch up on pitches, he said. Then I wanted to get going earlier because I was late on pitches. It got worse. I’d see a breaking ball but, because I’m cheating earlier and already going, I didn't have enough time to hold back.
Since he replaced Mark Teixeira on Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, he spent limited time in spring training but did hit .364, one home run and nine RBI in 33 at-bats. The Royals are hoping Hosmer's work this winter will help him get back to hitting like he did his rookie season.