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Bleacher Report's MLB Experts Make Key Spring Training Predictions

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 6, 2014

Bleacher Report's MLB Experts Make Key Spring Training Predictions

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    Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

    Cue the annual montage of warm sun, green fields and the sounds of batting practice and games of catch, for the time has come.

    Yes, spring training is upon us. Opening Day is inching closer, and the job for the coming weeks is to lay some groundwork for the 2014 Major League Baseball season. 

    To that end, it's time to get some predictions for some key spring training storylines. Here to provide those are B/R MLB Lead Writers Jason CataniaJoe GiglioJason Martinez, Mike RosenbaumAdam Wells and, lastly, yours truly. Together, we'll tackle free-agent signings and trades yet to happen, key position battles, prospects to watch and more, starting...

    ...Now.

     

    Note: Stats are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted/linked.

Which Top Remaining Free Agent Will Be the Last to Sign? With Whom?

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Jason Catania: Kendrys Morales with...someone

    Joe Giglio: Kendrys Morales with Baltimore Orioles

    Jason Martinez: Stephen Drew with Boston Red Sox

    Mike Rosenbaum: Ubaldo Jimenez with Toronto Blue Jays

    Zachary D. Rymer: Kendrys Morales with Baltimore Orioles

    Adam Wells: Ubaldo Jimenez with Toronto Blue Jays

    That Kendrys Morales is the star of the show here should come as no surprise, as his market has been quiet all winter. Catania dished on what's holding it up, and he also explains why he didn't bother making a prediction for where Morales will land:

    Given that he’s tied to draft-pick compensation and more or less relegated to DH duties (and thus only AL teams), Morales may need to wait until an injury or unforeseen circumstance arises in spring training (read: early to mid-March). Trying to predict his destination isn’t even guessing—it’s roulette, Russian style.

    As for why Giglio and I tabbed Baltimore as Morales' destination, I have the Orioles eventually realizing that they need Morales as a designated hitter. Giglio, for his part, says that signing Morales will be Orioles general manager Dan Duquette doing "his best to salvage a strange offseason."

    Regarding the action that could take place elsewhere in the AL East, Martinez thinks Stephen Drew will return to the Red Sox for lack of a better option: "He'll hold out as long as possible, but the market for Drew isn't what he had hoped and the Red Sox can give him the best one-year deal (high salary, no draft-pick forfeiture)."

    Regarding more action still in the AL East, Rosenbaum and Wells noted that the Blue Jays have been linked to both Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana this winter, most recently by ESPN and MLB Network Radio’s Jim Bowden. In the end, Rosenbaum thinks they'll end up with Jimenez basically by default:

    Neither Jimenez nor Ervin Santana has been a model of consistency during their respective (and very similar) careers, but I think a team—a surprise team—will sign the latter first on account of his strong command profile. That will leave the Blue Jays with Jimenez, and I think the two sides reach an agreement by the third week of February. 

    The AL East already looks deep. Imagine how it will look if all these predictions come true.

Which Notable Player Will Be Traded Before Opening Day?

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    Brian Kersey/Getty Images

    Jason Catania: Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs

    Joe Giglio: Ike Davis, New York Mets

    Jason Martinez: Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs

    Mike Rosenbaum: Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals

    Zachary D. Rymer: Drew Storen, Washington Nationals

    Adam Wells: Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox

    With the two votes for Jeff Samardzija, we've once again strayed into "should come as no surprise" territory. Samardzija has been popping up in trade rumors all winter, and Catania pointed out that the Cubs now have the depth to be more aggressive about trading him:

    After recently agreeing to deals with Jason Hammel and James McDonald, the Cubs may have a little extra rotation depth, which could mean their top starter—who’s been a rumored trade chip for months—finally may be swapped for prospects to continue Chicago’s rebuilding phase.

    Ike Davis is another player who's been in trade rumors for much of the winter. As the buzz on him has died down, Giglio sees the Mets making another push to deal him in mid-March after they hand the starting first-base job to Lucas Duda (more on this later).

    Elsewhere in the NL East, Rosenbaum isn't buying that Danny Espinosa has a fair shot at Washington's starting second-base job: "Stating that he’ll have the opportunity to compete for the position this spring is merely an attempt to light a fire beneath Anthony Rendon's you-know-what; they’re certainly not going to relegate Rendon to a bench role."

    Why do I think Drew Storen could follow Espinosa out of town? Mainly because Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com reported that the Nationals want to trade the right-hander. They don't need to, but he could be their ticket to take advantage of low supply and high demand for quality late-inning relief.

    As for Wells' pick of Adam Dunn, he noted that Dunn is one of three first base/DH types in Chicago, with the other two being Paul Konerko and Cuban import Jose Abreu. Since there are only two spots open, one of them will be an odd man out.

    And that's where Wells' vision of the future comes in:

    It’s plausible the White Sox plan to platoon Dunn and Konerko at DH. Konerko had a .923 OPS vs. lefties in 2013; Dunn hit 28 homers and slugged .459 against righties in 2013.

    But given Dunn’s $15 million salary, combined with the state of the White Sox right now, it would be in their best interest to dump him for anything they can get, avoiding the risk of a bad half season and sapping what little trade value he has left.

    Anybody interested in dealing for a guy with 440 career home runs? Maybe we'll find out.

Which Notable Player Will Be Released Before Opening Day?

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Jason Catania: Joe Blanton, Los Angeles Angels

    Joe Giglio: Paul Konerko, Chicago White Sox

    Jason Martinez: Brandon League, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Mike Rosenbaum: Travis Snider, Pittsburgh Pirates

    Zachary D. Rymer: Grady Sizemore, Boston Red Sox

    Adam Wells: Grady Sizemore, Boston Red Sox

    It wasn't all that long ago that Grady Sizemore joined the Red Sox on an incentive-laden $750,000 contract. But as much as they want to see it happen, neither Wells nor yours truly can see him breaking camp with the Red Sox.

    For me, it's simple: Sizemore has missed two years with injuries and was on the way down even before then with rough years in 2010 and 2011. It's just hard to see him working out, and the Red Sox can certainly afford to swallow his $750,000 contract.

    Wells noted that Boston's outfield depth is another barrier for Sizemore to cross. If he doesn't beat out Jackie Bradley Jr. for the starting job in center field, Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp will be standing in his way of a bench job.

    Rosenbaum thinks Travis Snider will join Sizemore on the unemployment line because he's not sold on the former top prospect's value to the Pirates: "The 26-year-old has batted .226/.295/.332 in 430 plate appearances since joining the Pirates in 2012. I think the organization can find a better left-handed-hitting outfielder elsewhere."

    As for the other picks, here's Catania explaining Joe Blanton:

    The additions of Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago will make it that much easier for L.A. to say bye-bye to Blanton, who went 2-14 with a 6.04 ERA last year, even if they still owe him $7.5 million in 2014 and $1 million for a 2015 buyout.

    Giglio explaining Paul Konerko:

    Despite re-signing Konerko to a one-year, $2.5 million deal, the White Sox will continue to see how much his skills have quickly eroded. With Jose Abreu set to play first base and Adam Dunn taking up a roster spot as a designated hitter, Konerko's lack of versatility will make him a surprise cut before the season begins.

    And Martinez explaining Brandon League:

    There will be worse relief pitchers on major league rosters than League. But after re-signing Brian Wilson and J.P. Howell and bringing in free agents Chris Perez and Jamey Wright, the Dodgers might not have a free spot in their bullpen for the unreliable League, who is still due $15 million over the next two seasons.

    If eating $15 million just to get rid of League sounds like a stretch, remember, these are the Dodgers we're talking about.

Which Will Be the Most Heated Position Battle?

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Jason Catania: Texas Rangers closer role

    Joe Giglio: New York Mets starting 1B job 

    Jason Martinez: Boston Red Sox starting CF job

    Mike Rosenbaum: Arizona Diamondbacks starting SS job

    Zachary D. Rymer: St. Louis Cardinals rotation

    Adam Wells: Los Angeles Dodgers outfield

    The notion that Sizemore won't make it out of spring training isn't a consensus. Martinez sees him giving Jackie Bradley Jr. a run for his money in Boston's camp this spring.

    Says Martinez of Sizemore: "If healthy, it would be tough to not give the three-time All-Star regular playing time to see if he can still be a productive player at age 31."

    While a veteran fights for a job in Boston, Catania is looking forward to watching three strong candidates fight to replace a veteran in Texas:

    With three legitimate candidates—Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria and Tanner Scheppers—Texas will spend much of March trying to figure out who should replace the active saves leader (Joe Nathan). There will be even more scrutiny because the Rangers revamped their lineup this winter in an effort to get over the disappointment of the past two seasons.

    Giglio's outlook on the Mets' first-base situation was hinted at earlier. Here's him expanding on it: "Mets GM Sandy Alderson will see power and patience from Duda, but only power from the free-swinging Davis."

    Elsewhere in the Senior Circuit, I have my eye on St. Louis' rotation because there's a legit embarrassment of riches there. Assuming that Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller are in, then it will be a battle between Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Joe Kelly and the Pedro-ific Carlos Martinez for the fourth and fifth spots. That's a fair amount of talent for just two spots.

    Out west, Rosenbaum thinks the competition between Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings for Arizona's starting shortstop job will be a dandy:

    Though Gregorius served as the team’s everyday shortstop for a majority of the 2013 season and opened eyes with his sharp defense, he also batted .252/.332/.373 in 404 plate appearances and failed to steal a base. Owings, meanwhile, is coming off a monster season at Triple-A Reno and strong showing in the major leagues as a September call-up. The 22-year-old is one of my favorite prospects, as he projects to hit for more average and power than Gregorius with the wheels to steal 15 to 20 bases. 

    Wells' outlook on the Dodgers outfield is a bit more complicated. Much will depend on the health of Matt Kemp, which is no sure thing given that he had two surgeries in October. But if Kemp is healthy, Wells sees him and Yasiel Puig starting, no questions asked.

    And that means...

    That leaves Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier battling it out for the final outfield spot. It’s hard to project a winner because both are left-handed hitters who have shown heavy platoon splits. Crawford had a .551 OPS against lefties in 2013, compared to Ethier’s .613 mark. Both are also signed to long-term deals guaranteed through 2017 that are going to be difficult to move, though if any team can eat  a lot of money, it’s the Dodgers.

    Ultimately: "Ethier strikes me as the odd man out because I think Don Mattingly likes Carl Crawford’s speed advantage at the top of the order."

Which Prospect Will Make a Surprise Bid for a Key Role?

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    Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

    Jason Catania: Tommy La Stella, Atlanta Braves

    Joe Giglio: Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

    Jason Martinez: Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates

    Mike Rosenbaum: Eddie Butler, Colorado Rockies

    Zachary D. Rymer: Alex Meyer, Minnesota Twins

    Adam Wells: Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays

    Rosenbaum is B/R's resident prospect expert, so you might want to listen to him on Eddie Butler:  

    The 22-year-old right-hander has solid command of three pitches that grade as plus or better (fastball/slider/changeup) and demonstrates a hugely underrated feel for pitching. His arsenal is one of the five best among starters within the organization, and I like him as a dark-horse candidate to open the season in the major leagues.

    Elsewhere, Carlos Correa has to be the most surprising name drop, but Giglio explained that he doesn't actually expect the Astros to break camp with the 2012 No. 1 overall pick at shortstop.

    However, Giglio thinks they will be tempted: "While it's unlikely that the Astros would start Correa's arbitration clock in April, the former No. 1 overall pick will be the star of Houston's camp and profile as the best player in the organization."

    Giglio added that he could see Correa being a midseason call-up in 2014. That's what Martinez sees for Pittsburgh prospect Gregory Polanco as well, but he grants that Polanco is "talented enough to force the Pirates' hand by giving him the job on Opening Day."

    As opposed to the two arms noted above, I recognize that the timing isn't ideal for the Twins to start Alex Meyer's clock. But because the back of their rotation is hardly uncrackable, and because Meyer throws in the upper 90s with an improving changeup, the Twins will be tempted.

    Regarding Marcus Stroman and the Blue Jays, Wells doesn't think that the young right-hander's arbitration clock will be a deal-breaker. Toronto could be desperate enough to go ahead and insert him:

    Most teams are going to hold their best players down for arbitration reasons, but Stroman is ready for the big leagues and is going to make a lot of MLB hitters look foolish in spring training to warrant a quick promotion.

    The most obscure pick here is probably Tommy La Stella. But considering where Dan Uggla is these days, Catania thinks La Stella has a golden opportunity this spring:

    Uggla’s days appear to be just about numbered even though Atlanta owes him $26 million through 2015. As an older, under-the-radar prospect who has battled injuries and has yet to play above Double-A, if La Stella does what he does best—he’s a career .327/.412/.496 hitter in the minors—and stays healthy, he could be Evan Gattis 2.0 for the Braves.

    Uggla only hit .179 with a .671 OPS in 2013. If La Stella cracks Atlanta's major league roster, he won't have a hard act to follow.

Which Mediocre Player Is Going to Look Like a Star? Why?

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Jason Catania: Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants

    Joe Giglio: Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals

    Jason Martinez: Phil Hughes, Minnesota Twins

    Mike Rosenbaum: Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals

    Zachary D. Rymer: Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers

    Adam Wells: Joba Chamberlain, Detroit Tigers

    The two Yankees castoffs are the standouts here. With Joba Chamberlain, Wells sees both a change of scenery and improved conditioning being a factor:

    We won’t know if he’s able to throw strikes until games start, but Chamberlain told Jason Beck of MLB.com that he’s "probably lost 15-20 pounds." It’s no secret his body was getting out of control in New York, so to see him dedicated to getting back in shape is a huge step in the right direction.

    As for Phil Hughes, he's already making it clear that he's glad for the change of scenery. Beyond benefiting from being more comfortable, Martinez looked straight to the regular season and noted that Hughes is going to benefit greatly from the move from Yankee Stadium to Target Field.

    Elsewhere in the AL Central, Giglio's decision to tab Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas was simple:

    BSOHL Club. Likely headed for better luck on BABIP (.257 in 2013) and will respond to pressure applied by offseason acquisition Danny Valencia. If Moustakas doesn't improve, he'll be a platoon player soon.

    Rosenbaum also cited Moustakas' improved physical condition, and he likes that he got in some extra work playing in the Venezuelan Winter League.

    Also in the AL Central, this should be the last time I have to talk up Rick Porcello. He's a ground-ball pitcher who should benefit from having Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler up the middle and Miguel Cabrera back at first. Just as important, his strikeout habit, via FanGraphs, is on the way up. He's ready to turn a corner, and you'll see him take the first few steps this spring.

    While "mediocre" might be too strong a word to describe the Giants first baseman, Catania explained his pick of Brandon Belt like so: 

    Despite looking pretty mediocre through his first two-and-a-half seasons, this once-elite prospect changed his grip on the bat, moved back in the batter’s box and proceeded to triple-slash .326/.390/.525 over the second half of 2013. There's more to come in 2014.

    The Giants surely hope so. They haven't had an everyday first baseman hit .300 since Will Clark in 1992.

Which Big Acquisitions Will Make the Strongest/Weakest First Impressions?

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    Toru Takahashi/Associated Press

    Jason Catania: Jose Abreu and Robinson Cano

    Joe Giglio: Prince Fielder and Masahiro Tanaka

    Jason Martinez: Joe Nathan and Peter Bourjos

    Mike Rosenbaum: Brian McCann and Curtis Granderson

    Zachary D. Rymer: Mike Morse and Masahiro Tanaka

    Adam Wells: Robinson Cano and Masahiro Tanaka

    Why all the hate for Masahiro Tanaka?

    For Giglio and Wells, it's a matter of hype. After the Yankees spent $175 million to acquire the ace Japanese right-hander, Giglio says Tanaka "can't possibly do anything but disappoint." Wells agrees, saying that Tanaka will have to "pitch like Cy Young whenever he takes the mound to avoid hearing questions about what’s wrong with him."

    I think Tanaka will be fine eventually, but I need to see him make a key adjustment. ESPN's Keith Law (subscription required) noted that Tanaka tends to pitch up in the zone with his fastball. That's a habit that won't fly as well in the majors, and he'll learn that the hard way.

    Regarding Catania's and Wells' disagreement over Cano, both are approaching his situation from a hype perspective as well. Given where Seattle's offense has been in recent years, Wells thinks an elite hitter like Cano can only be a welcome sight. Catania, however, fears Cano will quickly become a "scapegoat" as it becomes apparent that Seattle's offense still has some serious holes in it.

    On the flip side, Rosenbaum noted that Brian McCann is walking into a different situation with the Yankees:

    Yankees catchers batted a dismal .213/.289/.298 with eight home runs last season. McCann, a six-time All-Star, has been on one of the most productive backstops since reaching the major leagues in 2005, with a career .823 OPS and 20-plus home runs in each of the last six seasons. The soon-to-be 30-year-old is poised to make an immediate impact batting in the heart of the Yankees’ vastly improved lineup.  

    Martinez was quick to point out that Joe Nathan is walking into a similar situation in Detroit:

    It will become apparent right away that a Tigers lead will be in safe hands in the ninth inning, which will be a welcome feeling for everyone—players, coaches, management and fanbase—that has suffered through late-season bullpen collapses in consecutive seasons.

    Meanwhile in St. Louis, however, Martinez isn't sold on Peter Bourjos being the answer for the Cardinals in center field:

    Stellar defense is what makes Bourjos valuable. But if he gets off to a slow start, which wouldn't be a surprise considering he only played 55 games in 2013 due to injury, Cardinals fans could get restless.

    Likewise, Rosenbaum explained why he doesn't see Granderson solving any problems in New York. He sees an outfielder who's clearly on the decline:

    Granderson’s overall production has steadily declined since his monster 2011 season with the Yankees, when he batted .262/.364/.552 with 41 home runs and 25 stolen bases. He did hit a career-high 43 home runs the following year, but his power-oriented approach cost him over 100 points in OPS. Injuries limited the 32-year-old to only 61 games in 2013 and prevented him from tapping into his power once finally healthy. So don’t read too far into his seven home runs in 245 plate appearances.

    As for the three remaining strongest impressions, here's Catania on Jose Abreu:

    This is both a figurative and literal choice for strongest impression, as Abreu, who put up video-game numbers in his native country, could become MLB’s next Cuban star—following Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Fernandez.

    And Giglio on Prince Fielder:

    Freed from the weight of expectations and October failures in Detroit, he's poised to resurrect a path to Cooperstown in Texas. Upon Fielder's first batting practice laser show, the Rangers will be talking about him as the bat to finally replace Josh Hamilton's left-handed power in the lineup.

    Speaking of spring training laser shows, that's mainly why I tabbed Mike Morse. He's been a spring training superstar before, slugging nine spring homers in 2011 and 2013. Plus, nobody ever accused the guy of being unable to put on a batting practice display

Which 2014 Comeback Story (Injury or Otherwise) Will Get Off to the Best Start?

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Jason Catania: Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels

    Joe Giglio: Mark Mulder, Los Angeles Angels

    Jason Martinez: Josh Johnson, San Diego Padres

    Mike Rosenbaum: Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers

    Zachary D. Rymer: Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers

    Adam Wells: Matt Garza, Milwaukee Brewers

    For Catania and Giglio, going with the two Angels was simple.

    Here's Catania on Albert Pujols: "Now that his chronic foot injury has had an offseason and then some to heal, Pujols might be ready to prove he’s not washed up just yet."

    And Giglio on Mark Mulder: "Mulder's comeback, after years of serving as an analyst on ESPN, is made for a movie. The two-time All-Star will look fresh, ready and capable of boosting the Angels' rotation."

    Elsewhere in the AL West, Rosenbaum and I agree on Neftali Feliz in part because we've seen the same report from Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Feliz, who missed most of 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery, was clocked at 98 miles per hour this winter.

    Also, Feliz is returning to full-time relief duty. Rosenbaum reminds that he was pretty darn good in that role: "It’s easy to forget that the hard-throwing right-hander was one of baseball’s top closers during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, when he combined for 72 saves and a 2.73 ERA while appearing in 134 games."

    In the National League, Wells chose Garza because of how he disappointed with the Rangers after missing the early portion of 2013 with an injury. To that latter end, Wells offered a caveat before getting optimistic: 

    Garza is always an injury risk, and I wouldn’t be shocked to hear he gets shut down early in camp. But if he can stay on the mound, the Brewers will be looking at a bargain at $50 million over the next four years.

    Johnson is another pitcher looking to come back from a disappointing season, as he posted a 6.20 ERA in only 16 starts in Toronto. Martinez sees him not only coming back strong, but also starting off strong once the season begins:

    During the first month of the season, it's possible that Johnson makes three home starts at Petco Park, one in Washington's Nationals Park and one in San Francisco's AT&T Park. That's five starts in pitcher-friendly ballparks, which could be just what the doctor ordered after a rough 2013 season in Toronto.

    Johnson is still only 30 and is with San Diego on a one-year deal. If he bounces back, he'll be a highly sought free agent next winter.

Which 2013 Playoff Team Will Experience the Most Problems?

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Jason Catania: Cleveland Indians

    Joe Giglio: Cleveland Indians

    Jason Martinez: Cincinnati Reds

    Zachary D. Rymer: Pittsburgh Pirates

    Adam Wells: Cleveland Indians

    In other words: It could be a rough spring for Central fans.

    Regarding the Indians, one thing Wells noted is that Cleveland is a hard team to buy given that its hot stretch at the end of 2013 came against such weak competition. But he also took issue with the club's personnel:

    They need to get Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn back to their pre-Cleveland performance, which doesn’t seem likely given that both are on the wrong side of 30. They also have to replace key pitchers like Scott Kazmir, Ubaldo Jimenez (assuming some 11th-hour deal isn’t worked out), Joe Smith, Chris Perez, Rich Hill and Matt Albers.

    And call me crazy, but I don’t think John Axford is the answer at closer.

    Catania is also worried about the Indians' pitching depth after losing Kazmir and (possibly) Jimenez, but Giglio's eyes are mainly on the infield:

    With Carlos Santana moving to third base, instability in the rotation and Francisco Lindor's path to stardom blocked by Asdrubal Cabrera, Terry Francona will have plenty on his plate as the team tries to challenge the loaded Tigers in the AL Central.

    For Martinez, picking the Reds was largely a matter of how their lineup is poised to look much weaker because of the change they've made in center field: "The Reds are replacing free agent Shin-Soo Choo (.423 OBP, 21 HR) with rookie Billy Hamilton (.308 OBP in Triple-A) at the top of their order."

    But while Martinez also noted that the Reds won't look so great compared to the Cardinals and Pirates, I'm not so sure about the Pirates. The depth they gained when they added Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd toward the end of 2013 is gone. Their rotation isn't so great without A.J. Burnett either, as there's not much to look at beyond Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton.

    A return to irrelevance is too harsh a forecast, but it could definitely be apparent this spring that the Pirates are going to have a hard time maintaining their return to prominence.

Which 2013 Losing Team Is Going to Look Like a Contender?

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    Jason Catania: Los Angeles Angels

    Joe Giglio: Los Angeles Angels

    Jason Martinez: Toronto Blue Jays

    Zachary D. Rymer: San Francisco Giants

    Adam Wells: San Diego Padres

    While it may be a rough spring for Central fans, it could be a good one for California fans.

    When Catania looks at the Angels, he simply sees "too much damn talent" on their roster. Mike Trout is obviously the big talent there, but Giglio thinks the pitching depth the Angels added this winter will make a difference that will last right through the end of the regular season:

    Last year, the Angels allowed the trio of Jerome Williams, Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson to make 38 starts. While the struggles of Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols were well documented, pitching was the biggest issue in Los Angeles. If Tyler Skaggs, Hector Santiago and Mark Mulder can simply perform like league-average pitchers, Mike Trout will have his first chance to play meaningful late-September baseball.

    Elsewhere in the American League, Martinez pointed out that the Blue Jays are more talented than many probably remember:

    A Jays roster flush with talent was a major disappointment in 2013, in large part because lineup catalyst Jose Reyes missed nearly three months with an ankle injury. With the core of the roster intact, they could surprise in 2014 now that the spotlight is no longer shining on them. 

    Over in the National League, I'm going with the Giants because I spoke to a couple of their guys last week and they sold me on the differences between a post-championship offseason and a regular offseason. The latter, not surprisingly, offers a much more fulfilling recharge period. Given the talent their roster has, a fresher Giants team should look good.

    Regarding the Padres, Wells likes the pitching depth they added in signing Josh Johnson and Joaquin Benoit. And while he didn't have them pegged as a team to watch initially, he's since come around:

    I spent most of the offseason dismissing the Padres, but the closer we get to spring training, the more I like where they are at heading into 2014.

    Jedd Gyorko didn’t hit as well as expected in 2013, but he still hit 23 homers (13 at home) and slugged .444. Andrew Cashner was able to stay healthy and showed all the promise in that right arm, posting a 3.09 ERA and ranking third in the NL, via FanGraphs, with a 52.5 ground-ball percentage.

    Keep in mind the Padres won 76 games despite losing shortstop Everth Cabrera to a 50-game suspension, Chase Headley losing 128 points of OPS from 2012, Yonder Alonso and Carlos Quentin playing in less than 100 games and Jason Marquis making 20 starts.

    The Padres have yet to go to the playoffs in Bud Black's seven years at the helm. Maybe they have the goods to change that in 2014.

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