Spring training is here and with it comes the best and worst of America's pastime.
The first games of a new season are chalk full of prospects hoping to make an impression on the big club, veterans looking for a final shot in the big leagues and, more than anything else, an abundance of hope that this might just be the year.
Unfortunately, a new season inevitably brings injuries.
Seasons, even careers, can be ruined in meaningless games. Championship hopefuls can find themselves on the outside looking in at a playoff race.
So far, 2011 has been rather kind to the health of Major League Baseball players, with one notable exception. Still, seemingly minor injuries in March can stay with a player all season.
I'm not kidding.
Alcides Escobar was removed from the Royals' game on Sunday with an infection in his arm caused by a bug bite. Suffice it to say, this isn't a terribly serious injury. Escobar should be back in the lineup this week.
Still, I can't imagine this will help Alcides put a dreadful rookie year behind him. The former top prospect was dealt to Kansas City as part of the Zack Greinke trade. His calling card is his glove, but judging from his abysmal .614 OPS last season, Escobar could use all the spring at-bats he can get.
The Yankees are the Yankees and everything that happens at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida this spring will be magnified. Still, the team's backup catcher broke his foot.
With all due respect to Cervelli, this injury is not a big deal because of Francisco Cervelli. It's a big deal because it opens up a spot on the big-league roster for Jesus Montero to begin next season.
Montero, the team's top prospect and one of the five or 10 best prospects in baseball, will be the team's primary backup catcher when they head north. He should see time at catcher, first and DH.
Cervelli is out indefinitely. By the time he returns, Montero could easily have won the starting job. Russell Martin isn't going anywhere, which could leave Cervelli as the backup catcher in AAA or, more likely, trade bait.
Vicente Padilla has pitched fewer than 140 innings with the Dodgers since a mid-season trade in 2009. Yet in these innings he has established himself as a valuable piece of the pitching staff.
Padilla suffered from a pinched nerve in his throwing arm last season, an injury that finally required surgery a couple of weeks ago.
Elbow surgery is generally a big deal, but Padilla's operation was relatively minor. Recovery time can be as little as two months, putting him in the big leagues again by early May. Still, Padilla will be two months behind every other pitcher in the league when he returns.
Vicente was a long-shot to make the big-league rotation from the beginning and this injury essentially ruined his chances. But injuries happen. The Dodgers can certainly use him on board as a reliever, spot-starter, and in case of injury, a good back of the rotation arm.
Hopefully he can get back to 100 percent fairly quickly.
Carlos Beltran has had his share of bad luck since joining the New York Mets.
The former All-Star center fielder, who signed a massive seven-year contract after the 2004 season, is entering the final year of his deal following a career-worst 2010 season.
Beltran missed the first three months of last season recovering from knee surgery performed in January. After returning in mid-July, he never seemed fully comfortable and the knee trouble resurfaced this spring. Beltran returned to play on Sunday, but he was nearly scratched from Monday's game.
Right now, Beltran says he's healthy and he's playing in games, which is obviously a great sign. But keep an eye on his knee. This has been a recurring problem for Beltran for over a year. If he misses a game or two, don't be surprised to see that absence extended.
Watch out for this one.
Matt Cain was scratched from his second start of the season Thursday with elbow inflammation. When a pitcher of Cain's caliber—the Giants' No. 2 starter and a perennial Cy Young contender—has a problem with his pitching elbow, it's a big deal.
Cain took several days off from throwing after this flare up. He threw for the first time on flat ground Sunday, then threw a bullpen session on Monday. Both throwing sessions went well and Cain even mixed in a few breaking balls.
This isn't terribly serious yet, but the Giants are understandably moving slowly. A long-term injury to Cain would be devastating to their repeat chances.
This injury could have been a lot worse.
Josh Beckett experienced concussion symptoms after he was struck in the head by a batted ball this past Monday.
Thankfully for the Red Sox, Beckett resumed throwing soon after his concussion and threw a simulated game this past Friday. On Tuesday, he will start for Boston against the Astros. Right now this injury does not appear to be serious going forward.
The 30-year-old former World Series MVP is looking to bounce-back from a tough 2010 season, his worst as a member of the Red Sox. A hard-throwing righty with above-average command, Beckett figures to have a much better 2011, but injuries have plagued Beckett for years.
If he can't stay healthy, he can't be the pitcher the Red Sox paid for a year ago.
Adrian Beltre, the Rangers' big free-agent acquisition this past offseason and one of the best players in baseball last year, aggravated a strained calf muscle a couple of weeks ago. Since then, Beltre has been sidelined with this injury, delaying his debut as a Ranger.
Beltre was expected to play on Sunday but he was kept out of the lineup. He has, however, been taking ground balls at third base and hitting, though he's still yet to test his strained calf muscle in any hard-running drills.
The Rangers hope Beltre will be back on the field in the next few days and he is said to be progressing well as he recovers from this injury.
Assuming Beltre returns to the field in the near future, it's still worth keeping an eye on this situation. This is the kind of injury that could stay with Beltre for a while and disrupt his production both at the plate and on the field.
Dom Brown entered spring training as the heir apparent in right field, where the Phillies lost All-Star Jayson Werth this past offseason. The team's top prospect, who has been compared to Darryl Strawberry (amongst others), could be the face of the Phillies a few years down the road.
The Dominic Brown era will have to wait a little while, though. Brown will undergo surgery on a broken hand tomorrow and miss 4-6 weeks.
In the long run, this is just a minor speed bump for the uber-talented Brown. He'll likely get back the right field job from Ben Francisco when he returns and he's in an elite group of young NL East outfielders, along with Jason Heyward and Mike Stanton.
The Phillies will also be fine with Francisco in right field for now. It sucks that Brown will miss a couple months of development, but it's not the end of the world.
Chase Utley was one of a number of Philles to struggle through injuries last season, along with Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins. The perennial MVP candidate looked to put a bad season behind him heading into 2011, but a nagging knee injury has put those plans on hold.
Utley's knee injury has been diagnosed as tendinitis, but his slow recovery has led some to believe there might be more here. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. hinted as much in a recent interview, saying he still believes the injury to be tendinitis, but that more tests were needed.
Unlike Dom Brown's injury, this could be devastating.
The Phillies offense struggled last season and lost one of its top performers in Jayson Werth. Losing their best player this early in the season for any significant period of time would be terrible.
Utley has been plagued by a myriad of injuries since the end of the 2008 season and his 2010 OPS of .832 was his lowest as a full-time player. If Utley can get-and-stay healthy, he's still probably the second-best player in baseball, but for the 32-year-old second baseman, that's a big if.
Adam Wainwright, the 29-year-old ace of the St. Louis Cardinals, came into camp this season coming off consecutive top-three finishes in the NL Cy Young voting.
With Chris Carpenter and, more importantly, Albert Pujols in the final years of their contracts, the Cardinals were going all in this year and Wainwright was a big part of those plans.
Unfortunately, Wainwright experienced stiffness in his throwing arm shortly after reporting to camp. A couple of weeks ago it was announced that Wainwright would need Tommy John surgery, wiping out his 2011 season and likely the Cardinals 2011 season with it.
Given Pujols' contract situation, this could have even more significant long-term effects. This is not a freak injury, though. Wainwright's mechanics have always been a problem, arm injuries have been a part of his career and he pitched part of the 2010 season through pain.