The 2014 spring training schedule is at nearly the halfway point, and several teams are starting to take shape for the regular season.
Whether it's David Ortiz or Miguel Cabrera finally cracking homers in the Grapefruit League or players like Robinson Cano slowly getting settled in with the Seattle Mariners, the spring has been a fun one thus far.
There's plenty of reason for optimism for every team, regardless of whether or not they end up with a winning record out of spring training. Much like preseason football, the games don't mean anything, but the players attempting to break camp in the majors are trying to make a name for themselves.
With many of the big name players making an impact in the spring now, here's a look at the most intriguing matchups over the next few days in both the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues.
Washington Nationals at Detroit Tigers, Friday at 1:05 p.m. ET
Both teams have a recent track record of success, but are beginning a new era with rookie skippers after their aging managers retired.
Following Jim Leyland is 44-year-old Brad Ausmus. Then there's 48-year-old Matt Williams taking the reins from Davey Johnson.
Luckily for both coaches, they came into great situations as both the Washington Nationals and Detroit Tigers are in line for a playoff run this season with the talent on the roster. As for that roster, Williams has already taken note of the immensely talented Bryce Harper, per Richard Justice of MLB.com:
He's a special talent and he's looking forward to taking that next step to turn all that talent into that MVP candidate that everybody expects him to be. That expectation was there at 19, and that's a good thing.
He's done all these things at a younger age than anyone else has done all these things. We still have to remember he's 21. He's a pretty special 21-year-old. We'll try to help him get to where he wants to go.
Speaking of MVP talent, the Tigers just so happen to have two former MVPs, Cabrera and Justin Verlander, on the roster along with last year's Cy Young award winner in Max Scherzer.
But one of the players they lost is a man by the name of Doug Fister, who now resides with the Nats and joins yet another stacked rotation with power arms. While Fister might not be facing his former team on the rubber, this matchup will be full of intrigue with talent everywhere on the field.
Atlanta Braves at New York Yankees, Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET
One of the biggest offseason moves that took place early on was Brian McCann signing with the New York Yankees. While it was just another signing in a long line of ridiculous contracts for the Yankees, it was a huge loss for the Braves and their fan base.
Outside of the Braves reuniting with their former All-Star teammate, they will also get to flex the muscle offensively that they still have on the roster. With the likes of Freddie Freeman, Evan Gattis and Jason Heyward coming up through the system, Atlanta might get the chance to show off for their former catcher.
As for the new "face of the franchise," the Braves have already found him by re-signing Freeman during the offseason, according to Bill Shanks of The Macon Telegraph:
But this is Freeman’s team now. With Brian McCann now in New York with the Yankees, Freeman has the team’s big contract. We know Freeman is going to be around for the next eight years, and therefore he is the new face of this franchise.
It might be somewhat superficial, but the hugs Freeman hands out in the dugout mean something. He’s a leader, and a team that has needed a personality for a long time seems to lean on him for emotional support in both good times and bad. Don’t think the Braves didn’t think about that when making that investment.
With both teams looking to compete for the top spot in both the NL and AL East, getting a chance to face off against each other before the regular season begins could make for a great opportunity to learn more about their respective teams.
The Braves rotation is going through a shake up with Brandon Beachy having to miss a start and Kris Medlen possibly having to undergo another Tommy John surgery. C.C. Sabathia, who's attempting to rebound from a lackluster season, hasn't pitched well this spring either.
While neither team has rounded into form completely this spring, it should be a fun game to watch as both teams feel each other out before the regular season gets underway.
Seattle Mariners at Los Angeles Angels, Sunday at 3:05 p.m. ET
So, there was that one team that everyone kept calling the "Yankees of the west" known as the Los Angeles Angels. Then their cross-town rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers took over that title.
Well, the Mariners one-upped both of them by actually out-Yankee-ing the Yankees by stealing away Cano. Long story short: both of these teams have spent a lot of money in the past few offseasons and have high hopes for the 2014 season.
Now, both will do battle in Arizona during Cactus League competition. And surprisingly enough, one of the players to watch is one that hasn't been overpaid in recent years. Along with Mike Trout's recent string of success, the Angels have another emerging star in Kole Calhoun.
The now starting right fielder after Mark Trumbo was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks only has 22 at bats. Despite his .227 average, he is getting the job done with his patience at the plate, as he told Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com:
I'm not scared to take a walk, to work a count, so I really don't see any advantage of going out hacking. I want to let those guys see how a guy's working early in a game and set the table for the guys behind me.
With both teams hoping to enjoy breakout seasons this year, they will have to continue growing throughout the spring training games. With Calhoun being thrust into the leadoff role and Cano still working to get used to his new team, both have work to do before the season starts.
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