10 Big MLB Names Under the Most Pressure in Spring Training
Spring training is renowned for its relaxed environment.
Of course, that's not the case for every player taking part in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues. For young players trying to crack a team's roster, veterans looking to prove they still belong and free agents who still don't have a job, spring training can be downright stressful.
Here's the list of the 10 big MLB names under the most pressure in spring training. The list begins with No. 10 and counts down to the player facing the most pressure of all.
Note: All stats and salary information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
There were a ton of players under consideration for the list of big-name MLB players under the most pressure this spring. So, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a few shoutouts.
CC Sabathia, Ike Davis, Andre Ethier, Josh Reddick, Robinson Cano, Albert Pujols, Chase Headley and Rickie Weeks were all part of the conversation, but ultimately missed out on making the cut.
10. Billy Hamilton
Everybody knows what Billy Hamilton will do as soon as he reaches first base.
Back in 2012, the outfielder set a professional baseball record with 155 stolen bases, as explained in the video above. The question for Hamilton, of course, is just how successful he'll be at getting on base in his first season as the leadoff man for the Cincinnati Reds.
Hamilton has the unenviable task of replacing Shin-Soo Choo, who last year produced a .423 OBP. Hamilton posted just a .308 OBP last season in Triple-A, but does own a career .350 OBP over five minor league campaigns.
Manager Bryan Price has already started to diffuse the pressure that Hamilton will face, per Hal McCoy of Fox Sports Ohio: "If we are going to be the team we think we can be, we have to disperse the responsibility throughout our lineup. We can't just worry that Hamilton can handle the leadoff spot, but we have to hope get production from the other seven guys in the lineup."
So, what do you think, Reds fans? Will Hamilton reach base enough in 2014 to utilize his impressive speed?
9. Jackie Bradley Jr.
Jackie Bradley Jr. is comfortable taking over for Jacoby Ellsbury in center field, as the outfielder explained to reporters at the Boston Red Sox's spring training camp: "I don't feel any pressure. I'm not replacing Jacoby. I'm just going to be myself."
That's a completely reasonable response from the 23-year-old, especially considering the fact that there are very few players in all of baseball who could "replace" Ellsbury. Still, Bradley will be at least be feeling some "pressure" this spring as he battles with Grady Sizemore for the starting spot in center field.
Sizemore hasn't appeared in a big league game since 2011, but that didn't stop the Red Sox from dishing out a major league deal worth a minimum of $750,000 with incentives that could make the deal worth $6 million.
If Sizemore rediscovers the form that saw him earn All-Star honors in three straight seasons from 2006 to 2008, then Bradley will find himself in one of the fiercer positional battles of the entire spring.
8. Kolten Wong
Like Billy Hamilton and Jackie Bradley Jr., Kolten Wong is yet another highly touted young player with an inside track to a starting job.
The biggest obstacle that stands between Wong and starting for the St. Louis Cardinals at second base on Opening Day is Mark Ellis. Back in December, the Cardinals signed the veteran second baseman to a one-year, $5.25 million deal.
Manager Mike Matheny has made it clear that the job will be won out on the field, per The Associated Press via the Tulsa World:
Let's let these guys go play the game and that will make it obvious for itself. But there are going to be opportunities for Kolten and there are going to be opportunities for Mark as well.
Wong fully grasps the situation he finds himself in, as he explained to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com: "I come in here knowing that the job is not mine by any means. I still have a lot to prove. I have to show them that I'm ready to play up here."
With Ellis pushing him, it won't be easy for Wong to claim the starting job at second base this spring.
7. Adam Dunn
Adam Dunn's four-year, $56 million deal with the Chicago White Sox hasn't exactly gone according to plan.
In three seasons with the club, Dunn has hit .197/.317/.405. Admittedly, the 34-year-old has slugged 86 home runs in his time with the White Sox.
With Jose Abreu set to take over at first base, Dunn now finds himself in a tenuous position with the team. Dunn will split time at the designated hitter's spot with Paul Konerko and has even been getting work in the outfield during spring training, according to Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune.
With Adam Eaton, Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo and Avisail Garcia also jockeying for time in the outfield, though, there won't be much room for Dunn. That could make Dunn the "odd man out," according to Buster Olney of ESPN:
Eventually, you figure White Sox will need the roster flexibility, and clearly odd man out would be Dunn, given Abreu $ and Konerko legacy.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) January 25, 2014
Now that just $15 million remains on Dunn's contract, he's a top candidate to get shipped out as part of a salary-dump trade, or to get outright released.
6. David Price
David Price doesn't think he's going anywhere.
At least, that's what the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner told The Associated Press: "Right now, I don't think there's a very good chance of being traded because I'm here in spring training. I felt like if I could make it to spring training, that would solidify my place on this team."
Price is correct that making it to camp is a good sign, as spring training would make for a less-than-ideal time for the Rays to trade him. However, a trade during the season, especially if the Rays are in the race for the AL East, would make even less sense.
Despite his optimistic tone, the fact is that Price is absolutely on the trade block and could be moved at any moment.
5. Dan Uggla
Last year, Dan Uggla was one of the worst everyday players in baseball as he hit .179 with a .671 OPS and 22 home runs. In fact, he was so bad that the Atlanta Braves actually left him off the ALDS roster.
The second baseman only remains with the Braves because it's nearly impossible to trade a player who so drastically underperformed and who is still owed $26 million over the next two seasons.
In 2014, Uggla will have the chance to reclaim his role as the starter at second base. However, if he scuffles again in the spring, the Braves will have no choice but to bring in a more reliable producer at second base—even if that means making Uggla one of the most expensive bench players in MLB.
4. Ervin Santana
Ervin Santana is the first of the free agents attached to draft-pick compensation to hit the list.
After going 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA for the Kansas City Royals last season, Santana appeared perfectly positioned to score a major payday this winter. Instead, with spring training already underway, the right-hander is still without a job.
The one factor that Santana has in his favor is the fact that he's the only premier starting pitcher remaining on the market. However, if Santana is holding out for a deal in the range of the four-year, $50 million agreement that Ubaldo Jimenez reached with the Baltimore Orioles, he's in for a stressful spring, indeed.
3. Stephen Drew
Like Ervin Santana, Stephen Drew has seen his free-agent stock take a major hit because the next team that signs him will have to part with a draft pick.
It's remarkable that a shortstop who posted a .777 OPS in 2013 can't find a job, but it goes to show just how highly teams value their draft picks.
The market for Drew took an an additional hit once Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz became available earlier this week. The 23-year-old has drawn interest from an array of teams and is "engaged in talks" with seven teams, according to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As Strauss reports, Diaz is expected to sign a deal imminently.
So, just what exactly does that mean for Drew? Just one more team to cross off the list of potential landing spots as the wait wears on.
2. Nelson Cruz
Nelson Cruz is yet another premier free agent who's likely starting to regret his decision to turn down the Texas Rangers' qualifying offer.
Cruz swatted 27 home runs last year, but with spring training underway, he's still on the lookout for a job. Cruz lands ahead of Ervin Santana and Stephen Drew on the list because it's not just the draft-pick compensation issue that's keeping him from finding a new employer.
For interested suitors, there's also age to consider (he turns 34 in July), defensive limitations and the fact that he served a 50-game ban last season for using performance-enhancing drugs.
1. Kendrys Morales
Way back in October, ESPN's Buster Olney predicted that a qualifying offer would "crush" Kendrys Morales' value on the free-agent market. As it turns out, Olney was completely right.
Of course, the draft-pick compensation isn't the only factor that has made this a rough offseason for the switch-hitter. There's also the consideration that Morales has only played 57 games in the the field in the past two seasons. That lack of field work makes him a poor match for any NL club.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports recently mentioned the Seattle Mariners and Baltimore Orioles as potential destinations for Morales. However, Heyman also added "it remains uncertain how serious either team is."
Of all the players anchored down by draft-pick compensation, Morales is by far the most likely to remain unemployed on Opening Day. And for that reason, he ends up atop the list of big-name MLB players under the most pressure this spring.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.